She slipped into the void- into perfect emptiness. Darkness, neither warm nor cool, and a constant but slow sensation of falling pulled at her. Thoughts tried to form, and failed her.
All was nothingness and exhaustion. Except… Somewhere, very far away, they called to her; voices she knew but had no names for.
Join us, Rey.
Join us, mighty daughter of the Jedi.
Be at peace.
For the briefest moment, resolve returned to Rey, and she tried to turn toward them, but there was no form left to her, and something was holding her back from the peace and purpose she sensed there; pulling her down into the oblivion below. Resolve slipped away again.
The voices grew fainter, and all that was and had been began to gently disintegrate.
And then, at the very edge of slow, painless obliteration-
She was soaring up then, all at once, and the light flashed bright and she was Rey again.
Rey gulped, panicked.
A sense of where she had been rolled back over her; inside the Sith temple. There was nothing to fear though: he had not returned.
She sensed him before she saw him.
I'm here, his deep voice called in her mind.
She recalled the void.
Rey's eyelids fluttered open.
There was a hesitation in his thoughts, and she realized she was in his arms. Her heart swelled and her cheeks flushed, and her limbs grew stronger with the the life essence he'd given her- was still giving her. She felt the hand pressed to her stomach.
Joy overcame Rey then, and she grinned at Ben, and pulled herself up a little.
He still looked unsure though; like a frightened boy, who hadn't quite accepted she'd come back... or perhaps that he should be touching her so.
There was no hesitation, the thought crossed her mind, and then she was kissing him, hand on his cheek.
All the tension, the anger, the pain and the sorrow she had sensed in him since that first day in the woods, melted away in that moment.
Peace, like Luke's had been at the end, filled him.
Rey felt his surprise melt into a joy that matched her own, and, when she finally pulled back, his grin mirrored her own.
And then, his peace turned into her horror. Rey felt him pulling away before he'd even gone limp in her arms.
Still weak, she was helpless to catch him, and Ben fell backwards onto the cold stone behind him.
"No!" she shouted, "No, Ben, please!" Rey could feel the last of his life essence waning- there just wasn't enough holding him here to this place and time.
"No!" and this time it was a scream, "Help me!"
But the Jedi of the past rarely responded to anguish… it wasn't their way. Rey placed a shaking hand over his heart. It had already stopped.
"No," she whispered, one last time.
She steadied herself, took one solid breath- I will not let you go - let it out slow… and pushed the life inside her back into him. The same life he'd just given her.
The world spun yet again as the strength slipped out of her. Rey felt her eyes roll back but only after they'd already gone dark. Some distant part of her registered her head bouncing off the stone floor when she fell again. It took everything in her power to keep her hand over his heart.
Please… let it be enough...
Exhaustion rolled over her once more- and the void promised rest, and relief from pain, if nothing else. It swept up suddenly to meet her, and Rey lifted her hand the instant before it would have overcome her.
The last thing she understood, was Ben's heart beneath her palm, pulsing.
"She's this way," Finn called behind him, stepping beneath the massive trapezoid of stone. He felt a brief wave of gratitude for the shelter from the constant lightning onslaught of Execol's atmosphere. He shook it off, focused again, and fell into a jog.
Poe, gasping behind him, called out, "You wanna tell me again how you know she's even here?"
"It's complicated, okay? I just do… And, I don't think she's doing alright."
BB-8 gave an alarmed little trill.
"Yeah, she feels kinda… Faint."
They quickened their pace.
Finn stopped dead in his tracks, and Rose -following too closely- slammed into his back.
"Sorry," Finn said, still gasping.
"What's up, why we stopping?" Poe asked.
Finn starred up at the slab of rock. He could feel a pulling from it- a darkness, compelling him to act. But he didn't have any idea how. He knocked on the ceiling, and felt a small sensation of emptiness from the other side.
"You got those thermal detonators still?"
Five minutes later, the party of four were down to three: BB-8 having had no way of ascending the towering hole in the stone. Finn took the grapple attachment off his blaster, and checked to make sure his charge was still high.
"Which way your feelings saying now?" Poe called, not a little derisive.
Finn shot him a look, and focused a moment.
He led them down a corridor two hundred feet tall- and felt his blood freeze when he realized the jagged columns above had hooded faces.
"What are they?" Rose asked, and she switched her blaster to her left hand, to take his free hand with her right.
He gave it a little squeeze, and sped up again.
"I don't know. Sith, maybe, like Kylo Ren?"
"I got a bad feeling about this," Poe muttered.
"Just, don't touch anything."
The drip of water from far above was the only noise besides their pounding hearts.
Finn was going so fast when they came at out from between the statues, he didn't even see them until Rose gasped, and Poe shouted, "Whoa! What the hell are those things?"
Finn thought he must have been hallucinating. A pair of naked, grotesque forms floated in the bacta tank, not two feet to their left.
Both had Supreme Leader Snoke's face.
He let out a breath he didn't knows he was holding, and sputtered out, "We shouldn't be here. Come on- she's close!"
They fell into a jog again, and Poe ignored it when something -or someone- scurried in the darkness behind them.
They stepped into a massive hall, then, though arena might have been a better word.
Light diffused from a gash in the stone ceiling maybe a mile above- and fell on the bodies at the center of the large space.
"Rey!" Finn shouted, letting go of Rose's hand to run.
He reached them first, and had his ear to her mouth a moment later.
"She's still breathing, but barely," he called as his friends caught up, "We need to get her to a medic."
Finn got his arms under her knees and hand, and rose to his feet. His vision swam, but leveled out after a few seconds; it had been a very, very long day.
Rose was checking Rey's pulse, and Finn was two steps towards the way they came before Poe called, "What about him?"
Finn spun, and considered Kylo Ren for the first time. The Sith looked… Different, when he was unconscious. Less intimidating and inhuman, to be sure, but there was something else. An innocence? No, that couldn't be it.
"What about him?" Finn shot back.
Poe tightened his grip on his blaster. A dark look came over his face as he stared down at the fallen ruler. Remembering that time Kylo tortured him for BB-8's location, perhaps?
"We should probably… you know."
"No, I don't." Poe gritted his teeth; they were wasting time.
"You want to kill him in cold blood?" Rose erupted from beside him.
"I mean," Poe's tone turned vehement, "The guy deserves it. You know I was there that night, on Jakku, when he personally ordered an entire village of civilians mowed down at blaster point."
Poe felt his stomach churn.
Yeah. He had been there, too, though he'd never told anyone about it. He still had nightmares, from time to time- waking up thrashing, and screaming.
Sweat broke out on his brow, and not from the weight of Rey in his arms, either.
"He should go on trial for war crimes, then," Rose was saying.
"Oh yeah?" Poe countered, "Who's gonna try him? There's no government left!"
Rose, not to be intimidated, crossed the distance between her and Poe, and shouted back at him.
"The Rebellion's leadership, then!"
"Yeah, so that's who, me and like three other people?"
"If you kill him like this, you're no better than he is…"
Their argument faded into the back of Finn's attention. Someone, or something was pulling at him. He glanced over, and noticed a throne and dias of the same stone that made up the walls, for the first time.
A voice seemed to hum from it, but Poe couldn't make out the words.
He shook himself, and turned his attention back to Rey- checked if she was still breathing.
That's when it struck him: if they left Ren here, Finn had little doubt that he would recover, and be back to hounding and haunting Rey again. How many times now, had she run off blindly to engage him? How many times had he found her, seemingly by magic? How many times had Finn seen her wake from nightmares that Ren had finally turned, captured, or killed her?
He swallowed hard, and turned back to the bickering pair.
"Do it," he said to Poe. "You're the general, after all. The world will be a better place without him."
Poe nodded, and gritted his teeth.
"Yeah," Poe breathed, "Alright. You guys, just uh, go ahead and start heading back."
Finn looked to Rose, and saw the blatant disgust and disapproval on her face. She shoved passed him, and Finn struggled to maintain his grip on Rey.
"Yeah," Poe ground out, and turned his back on Poe, to level the blaster Kylo Ren's head.
Finn shoved his eyelids shut tight, and braced for the shriek and flash of a blaster bolt.
"Oh no you don't!" The men spun, just in time to see Maz Kanata lower her jetpack the final few feet to the ground.
"Maz," Poe called, uncertainty in his voice, "What are you doing here?"
Was Finn just imagining the guilt coming off him, or maybe just projecting his own?
Maz crossed the distance between them and yanked Poe's blaster out of his hands- an impressive feat, given their differences in height.
"Cleaning up your mess before you can make it!" She tossed his blaster into the darkness.
Poe looked taken aback, but only for a moment. "I don't know what you're playing at, Maz-"
He stopped short when Maz's jetpack brought her up to his eye-level, seemingly of its own accord. Poe leaned back, but not before Maz got a hold of his chin with her long, spindly fingers. Then she bellowed in his face.
"Leia gave her life to turn that boy back towards the light! Do not undo that sacrifice for your own vengeance! Not in this place!"
Poe pulled backwards out of her grasp, nearly tripping over Ren in the process. He threw his hands up.
"Alright! Alright! Fine. But what do we do if he wakes up on our ship? And how are we getting him out of here?"
Maz landed, and placed a hand over Ren's face. Finn had seen enough.
"Do whatever you need to. I'm getting Rey out of here."
Maz looked up at that, and the furious glare she shot him was magnified by her massive bifocals. Finn took a step back. She leveled a finger at him. "I will deal with you later."
Maz's hand hovered over Rey's eyes, where she laid in her bed. Her pupils flashed rapidly to and fro beneath their lids in response. The med bay was a brilliant sterile white, that made Finn squint. Every few seconds the readout on Rey's bacta suit made a benign sounding " bloop da boop" , which Finn could only assume bore some relation to her vitals.
"Breath," Maz muttered in a monotone, "You're making me tense."
Finn hadn't realized he'd been holding his breath.
"Sorry," he said with an exhale, and consciously made himself stop wringing the corner of the jacket Poe had given him.
The medics had determined Rey to be in a deep comatose state, and -after making her comfortable- had declared that there was nothing else to be done.
Maz was testing that now.
Rose had spent the first hour or so holding Finn's hand, but had finally torn herself away to help with the others injured at the battle of Execol.
Finn cleared his throat.
"What uh, what's keeping her out like this?"
Maz sighed, and pulled back her shaky hand.
"Rey's spirit is very weak. She stands on the edge of life and death- her and Ben Solo, both. They are, bound with one another, now. What little energy they have, they share."
Finn felt his stomach churn.
"So he's holding her there?"
Maz clambered off the stool she'd been perched on.
"I did not say that. Whether either of them chooses to return to us now, though, is up to the Force."
Finn swallowed hard. His hands were balled into fists again.
"What can I do?"
Maz picked up the leather satchel she'd brought in with her, and walked to the door. She pressed the release switch, and it opened with a hiss.
"Be with her. I think you are coming to understand you have never been quite who you thought you were… Release that frustration, and that fear, and just be with her ."
"What's that supposed to-"
But Maz had already sealed the med bay doors behind her.
Finn let out a long sigh, and turned to his friend. Her eyes were still now. She looked… peaceful.
He crossed over to the other stool, and took Rey's slight, cool hands in his. Then he closed his eyes, and reached out towards her with his thoughts.
He could sense her there beside him- but also, very far away somehow. He reached out further, but she seemed to move away from him, whenever he got closer.
Rey, he called, but she didn't stir- didn't turn to meet him.
As he focused harder, he could sense Ren there also, near to her. Harder still, and something else came into focus. Only it was something, it was… nothing .
Finn jumped, gasped and snapped his eyes open. The Rey in the distance disappeared, and the precipice she sat on, with her. A bead of cold sweat rolled down his forehead, and he realized he'd been squeezing her hand far too hard, and let go, panting.
Finn wiped his forehead, and when he spoke, it was through tears.
"Come back to me, Rey. Please. "
"What a mess," Aftab Akbar rumbled.
"Yeah, you said it," Poe Dameron replied, and whirled around on Maz.
"I guess if he wakes up and slaughters everyone in camp I'll have the satisfaction of knowing that's on you."
Supreme Leader Kylo Ren was unconscious in the med bay across from Rey's. Benign as he may have appeared, missing his mask and cape now, and in an odd pair of First Order leg and foot binders, no one in the room was about to be lured into a false sense of security. Too many had seen him in action. Memories flooded to the front of his brain, and a chill ran up Poe's spine.
Nope, he told himself decidedly, Not right now.
Maz crossed her arms and glared him down. "He will not. Kylo Ren's days are over; Ben Solo has returned."
Poe snorted, tried not to snap, and ran a hand through his hair- an action limited some by the flight gloves he still wore.
"I'm glad you have all your mystical reassurances and stuff, Maz, but some of us like facts."
He glanced at Aftab for back up. "Jr.", as he preferred to call him, had lost his father in the same blast to the Raddus bridge that had seen Leia blown into space a year prior- the attack which had caused it having been led by Kylo himself.
The Mon Calamari blinked his two fist-sized eyes in response to the unspoken inquiry, and swallowed- looking back at Ren.
"We didn't owe him medical support, to be sure." In the first hour that Ben been brought back to camp, no one had suggested sticking Ren in a bacta suit. No one wanted to get that close.
Later however, Maz had splinted the leg they'd previously noticed hanging at a very wrong angle.
"It's what Leia would have wanted, " Rose countered to Aftab.
"Leia might still be alive if it wasn't for this-" Poe made himself stop with considerable effort, and turned the finger he was pointing at Ren into a clenched fist.
He turned to address Maz again. "You want a fair trial for him, right? Convict him of being the war criminal we all know he is?" Maz folded her arms, glowering, and Poe went on.
"Then find me a way to keep him from waking up and choking half of us to death in our sleep!"
Maz sighed, lifted her glasses, and rubbed at her tiny eyes. "There is a way, I think, but it is only a legend…"
There was no time, just a single moment stretching endless in either direction. That moment, and the void before her, and the warmth and light beside her. Once or twice, someone called to her, but she did not know then. No thought, no real way to grasp their meaning.
Only terror, and comfort; oblivion, and the presence of another, forever.
Then, the light disappeared.
Rey set stark upright, gasping- horrified, of what she did not know.
"Rey!" Finn was at her side in an instant, and took one of her hands in his, "I'm so glad you awake! You had us all so worried." He squeezed.
Tears brimmed at the corner of his eyes. Rey tried to squeeze back, and groaned a little.
"What happened? Palpatine?" The name tasted foul in her mouth, but maybe that was just the fact that she hadn't brushed her teeth in… How long, exactly?
"No sign of him. The Council was actually hoping you could tell us."
"Yeah," Finn said, "About a week ago we voted in a temporary Council, until the Republic can get back on its feet… Rey it's, it's really a mess out there… Everyone either wants to be in charge now, or wants to stop someone else from being in charge."
Rey wasn't listening.
Memories flooded back. The Sith temple. I am all the Jedi! Ben- bringing her back, and their kiss.
Rey gasped again.
"You mean Ren? He's across the hall. He's been out of it for almost two weeks now... just like you."
She reached towards him with her mind. Finn was still talking, "-Made us bring him back here of all places, but don't worry; we came up with something Maz swears will-"
Rey's blood ran cold.
"I can't sense him," she breathed.
"Yeah, that's what I was-"
"Help me up!" Rey shouted, fumbling for the rails on the bed. The room spun for a few seconds. Only then did Rey realize she was in a bacta suit. She got her feet over the edge of the bed, and Finn barely jumped back in time.
"I don't think you should be-"
"Where are my clothes?"
Finn's eyes went wide as she undid snaps at her wrists and behind her head.
"Uh, here," Finn said, seeming to choke on the words as he handed Rey her clothes. He very pointedly did not look her way, and walked to the other side of the room, back turned to her.
"What did they do to him?
She took the bundle of cloth, and slide the bacta suit up over her head.
"No body's done anything to him. A couple people wanted to just kill him outright, but Maz said we-"
A medical droid picked that exact moment to open the medbay doors, and let out a shriek of alarm before shutting it again.
Rey sighed in frustration, and pulled her pants up- fiddling with the ties.
"-just been waiting for you to wake up, and hoping you woke up first. I mean, most of us, anyway; Maz told me I should try to reach out to you-"
"Come on," she said, grabbing her lightsaber from a white table by the door.
"Rey," Finn snapped, "I'm trying to tell you somethi-"
She clapped him on the shoulder.
"Later, I promise! Right now, something's very wrong with Ben!"
She slapped the door's control panel, and stepped into the hall of the Resistance command center. Two armed Resistance fighters straightened up at the sight of her.
"Master Rey," they called in unison. She scowled, but ignored the new title, and stepped to the door's control panel.
She couldn't sense anything beyond the doors in front of her, and that had her fighting off panic.
"Forgive us, Master Jedi," said one of the fighters. Jenkins, Rey thought his name was, "But General Dameron says no one is allowed in here without express permission from the Council.
Rey scowled and whirled on Finn.
"I'm on the Council, right? I mean, I feel like I should probably-"
"Oh yeah, guys," Finn called over get shoulder, "She's on the Council. No worries."
His eyes were too wide though, and Rey could sense the tension coming off him without even trying.
"If it's all the same, ma'am," Jenkins started again, "I'd feel a lot better if General Dam-"
She flashed her teeth at him, and slapped the control panel.
"Feel free to have Poe come down here, then."
Then she turned and stepped into the medbay. At once the Force left her, and Rey collapsed.
"I told you, " Finn said, helping Rey to her feet. She glared him down on the way up, and he muttered, "I did tell you," but didn't let her go, and instead wound her arm over his shoulders.
Rey panted, and tried to make sense of the bizarre scene before her.
"I can't feel the Force! What are those things ?"
About a half-meter long each, the dozen or so long, furry creatures were shaped like oversized lizards, had a yellow tinge to their fur, and seemed to have their claws dug deep into the bark of the two colossal, potted trees someone had jammed into the tiny medbay.
Rey's gut churned, and she thought she might be sick.
"We're uh, we're not really sure. Maz sent Rose, Chewie, BB-8 and me into the inner rim to find them, about a week ago. Some uncharted planet. Poe had them brought in here about an hour ago…"
Rey glared at one, and stepped towards the bed. She sighed audibly when she saw Ben was still breathing- if lightly.
"Help me get him out of here," she snapped, "Why isn't he in a bacta suit?"
She glanced up at Finn, and he shifted his grip under one of her arms.
"I don't know, Rey-"
She shook her head.
"We're not leaving him in here. We're not. He can't heal without the Force."
Finn swallowed hard.
"I uh, think some people were sort of counting on that."
Rey pulled back from him a little, made no effort to hide the disapproval in her tone.
"And what about you?"
Finn wouldn't meet her eyes, and his voice was low but firm when he said, "The First Order is gone. I don't care what happens to him now."
Rey nodded, and unwound her arm from his shoulder.
"Fine then. I'll move him myself."
Finn sighed. "Come on Rey, don't be like that."
Unaffected, she wobbled her way to the bed, and set about getting her shaking arms under Ben's legs and neck. He looked paler than usual.
That's saying something, she worried internally. Oh no you don't. Not after everything we've been through .
Of course he couldn't hear her- maybe no one could. She tried to heave him up, but Ben hardly shifted in her arms.
"I feel like a child," Rey growled, and silently cursed the creatures keeping her from the Force. She tried again, grunting in frustration and glaring directly above Ben's bed at a relatively large specimen of the offending parties.
It yawned lazily down as her efforts, revealing a sizable tongue, and closed its eyes.
There was a deep sigh from behind her.
"Here, Rey, lemme help you," Finn said, at her side again.
He pressed a button on the side of the bed, and the entire thing lifted, hovering a few inches off its platform. Rey shot him a tense nod of gratitude, and together they spun the bed and made for the door.
The two guards stepped into their path.
"General Dameron specifically told us that he wasn't too be moved-"
"Well," Finn cut in, puffing himself up with visible effort, "General Finn says otherwise."
Rey tried, she really did, but even under such tense circumstances and the aid of biting her lip, she couldn't quite catch the little snicker before it got out.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Master Rey ," he countered, taking on her accent, "Is my title not impressive enough for you?"
She laughed outright now, and they wheeled the bed forward as one. Jenkins tried to step in front.
Rey interrupted him this time.
"Oh no- I'm terribly impressed. Really incredible. Who promoted you?"
If they could just get to the hall...
"Funny you should ask," Finn laughed, and as one they shoved past Jenkins. " General Dameron ."
They both lost it at that. A couple feet out of the makeshift prison, and Rey let out sigh as the Force washed over and into her.
Her relief was short lived though.
"You uh, you guys needed me?"
Poe didn't bother looking up from fiddling with his blaster, where he leaned against the far wall across from them. Rey didn't bother to stop moving. She rotated the bed towards the exit at the end of the hall, and Finn scrambled to match her pace now.
"Not terribly," she quipped over her shoulder. Poe gave a long-suffering sigh, and chased after them.
"Uh, Rey," he said, and -much to her surprise- held the exit door open for them, "What are you doing with the Council's prisoner?"
"Like the serpent?" Finn chimed in.
She waggled a finger his direction, enjoying herself just a little, now.
"Like the serpent. Top of the class, love."
They stepped into the forest of Yavin 4. Immediately, passing rebels began stopping to stare.
"Hello everyone," Rey called with the thickest false cheerfulness she could muster, "Nothing to see here."
"Why'd you need to be outside to heal him?" Finn asked. The curiosity bubbling off him was palpable.
Poe, meanwhile, had gone bug-eyed, and, based on his feelings, seemed to be flipping aggressively back and forth between helping push the bed, and drawing his blaster.
The rebels didn't seem to be taking the hint. In fact, their numbers had swollen to twenty or so individuals, most of whom were looking down at the bed's occupant with more than a little malice.
Rey tried to focus her still-foggy brain.
"I didn't," she muttered through a false grin, "I'm just getting us further away from those creatures, because they're just the worst."
Finally she stopped beside a pair of X-wings; the small crowd all but blocking them in. A murmur ran through them in a half-dozen different languages.
Rey took a deep breath to steal herself against the waves of hatred pulsing towards them- more specifically towards Ben.
"Rey," Poe murmured in her ear over the whispers of the rebel fighters' growing displeasure, "You're not gonna wake him up, here, are you?"
"I'm going to try," she replied, stepping to one side of the bed, and settling her hand over Ben's abdomen. His breathing was very faint, but a little better, she thought, than it had been in the medbay with those creatures.
"I think that's a really bad idea," Poe hissed, opposite her, then hissed into his com, "Can I get the rest of squadron eight to the medbay, Please? Armed?"
Rey saw a perfect image behind her eyelids then, of Poe drawing his blaster on her.
When she replied, it was in the slow, deliberate monotone the Light Side of the Force always gave her.
"I think you should leave matters of the Force up to those who can sense it…"
Poe opened his mouth to reply, but she cut him off.
No one said anything for a long moment, and then-
"What's that supposed to mean?" Poe asked.
"Wait- Rey, you know? How did you find out?" Finn demanded.
"I heard you," she murmured.
"Know what?" Poe demanded right back.
In the chaos of the following argument, Rey channeled every bit of life she dared into the body under her hand. She could feel it settle into the flesh, there- feel Ben's mind, so very far away, coming back, slowly.
When she finally dared do no more, and opened her eyes, Rey had to grip the side of the bed for support.
Finn was there before she could fall, catching her right elbow.
"-lose my mind if I have to deal with two-"
Still shouting, Poe stopped talking mid-sentence to help support her left side.
Ben was stronger, now, and nearer, too.
Ben, she called gently, It's time to wake up…
She could sense that he heard her, but there was no response.
She tried to call him again, but Poe and Finn broke her concentration.
"You know what I think? I think you're jealous of us."
"Yeah?" Poe asked, "'Cause I've always wanted to have other people shouting inside my head whenever I'm trying to concentrate- or be forever bothering people with my constant, inexplicable demands."
"Well maybe you should learn to listen to those of us who can sense the will of the Force!"
Rey stifled a snort at that.
"Oh sure, because you're so powerful and wise, buddy, all of a sudden, buddy," Poe retorted, "Please, keep going on to everybody about your feelings. We love that."
They're more annoying together.
"Ben," Rey breathed in relief
His eyes opened.
Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
The smallest hint of a smile played at the corner of Ben's eyes, and Rey couldn't stop herself from leaning down to hug him.
We did it.
There was an audible gasp from the onlookers. Several people muttered, and she even heard one person growl, "What is she doing?"
She could feel Ben try to suppress his unease, and let him go in response; straightening up to find a sea of scowling faces... Save one. Finn was wide-eyed, but sympathetic.
"Alright!" Poe shouted to the crowd of onlookers, "I know for a fact we all have better things to be doing. C'ai, am I right? How you coming on those turbothurst converter coils?"
The Abednedo grumbled at being called out, and turned to leave. The rest of the crowd shifted, and a few people broke off.
Thank you, Rey mouthed to him, but he just glowered at her, and turned to Ben, who was sitting up now, and looking very, very uncomfortable.
Poe drew his blaster, in spite of the dozen or so the now arrived Squadron Eight already had leveled on Ben.
"Supreme Leader Kylo Ren," Poe called, adopting a tone of authority and causing Rey to flinch, "Your regime is ended. Your Star Destroyers are gone. Your army are on the run, surrendered, or dead. I am hereby placing you under the arrest of the Republic and the Council of the Resistance- on charges of treason, crimes against sentient life, and terrorism."
Rey felt rage seep into her veins.
"You can't be serious."
Ben, for his part, looked bored- staring off into the sky as he responded to Poe, "Yeah, that sounds about right." He twisted a leg Rey noticed only now was in a splint.
"I'm amused though," Ben rumbled a little louder, "That you'd give me medical aid just so you can execute me." Poe and Rey spoke over each other.
"Yeah, well, that's what good people d-"
"No body's executing anyon-"
They broke off and gaped at one another.
"Uhhh," Poe glanced around nervously, lowered his voice and leaned in to whisper, "I mean, we might though, right? That's for sure not off the table."
Rey grinned, and with an icy laugh said, "Over my dead body."
She caught Ben cocking an eyebrow out of the corner of her eye, at that.
Poe gestured at Ben with his blaster.
"Keep him around, and we won't have to kill you."
"Stop waving that thing around!" Rey hissed.
"Guys," Finn cut in quietly, stepping between them and glancing between their faces and the circle of bystanders, "Maybe we could have this conversation somewhere else?"
Rey opened her mouth to respond, but the booming growl in Shyriiwook cut her off-
"Out of my way! Move! I'll kill him!"
Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
I knew this chapter was going to be very difficult to write.
I'm going through a divorce right now, and as such I've been desperately avoiding seeing Marriage Story, because I think it would hit too close to home right now.
However, to picture what I needed to picture in order to write this chapter, I ended up watching the now infamous "Argument Scene" from that movie a half-dozen times before sitting down to write this.
I'm still not sure I got it, but I'm tentatively hopeful some of you might disagree.
Thank you all for your continued support- it means the world.
If Ben had been taking things in stride thus far, that ended when the top of Chewbacca's head came into view.
Oh no, Rey thought in his direction. A half-dozen rebels were bowled over when they failed to get out of the Wookie's way fast enough.
Chewbacca broke through the line of bodies, and locked eyes on Ben.
For a fleeting second, a thought -wait, no, a memory- flicked through Ben's mind: a sunny sky, warm grass under his palms… laughter. His laughter.
Then Chewbacca had Ben by the throat with just one hand, and drug him bodily out of the bed to bring him up on eye level.
The fingers at Ben's throat restricted the flow of blood to his brain at once, and his vision swam.
When Chewbacca cried out next, the sound threatened to rupture Ben's eardrums.
" YOU TOOK EVERYTHING FROM ME !"
Then Chewbacca shook him so hard back and forth, Ben's teeth snapped together multiple times, and he thought they might break off at the roots. He could sense Rey wincing at it, and the crowd loving it; though no one made a sound, or took a step to either aid or stop the berserk Wookie.
Why should they? Ben thought through the pain and fog, I deserve this.
Still, when his vision blacked out entirely, Ben reached out to draw himself up with the Force just enough to breath. He felt a rush as the temptation to send Chewbacca flipping end over end into the crowd called to him. It would so easy-
Beside them now, Rey was reaching for the giant, hairy arm.
"Chewie," she shouted, "You don't understa-"
The Wookie shoved her off with his free arm, and bellowed in her face.
" BACK OFF, REY !"
The distraction was enough for Ben to drag in a jagged breath though.
"Chewi-" he started in a croak, and received another violent shaking for his efforts. This one knocked the wind out of him.
" Don't call me that !" Chewbacca growled deep enough that Ben's bones shook.
" I should rip your throat out !"
Underneath his own fear and agony, Ben sensed the crowd stiffen at that. Apparently they were all more than happy to see him dead- but didn't want to be caught cheering at the bloody spectacle of it all.
Rey wasn't breathing.
Neither are you, idiot! Ben thought, and drug himself up with the Force again.
"I didn't wa-" he managed to choke out.
Chewbacca made a noise between a shout, and a moan, crying, " I had a family again! We had a family! " This time when he stopped, Ben's head was throbbing, and he tasted blood in his mouth.
Worse -much worse, in fact- were the waves of anguish rapidly replacing Chewbacca's rage, and pouring over him.
Unbridled fury bubbled nearby though- promising relief from the thoughts Ben was now desperately trying to avoid thinking, and calling him to take hold of its power. The Dark Side of the Force.
When his mother's face danced behind his eyelids, Ben gave in.
He pulled raw energy straight from the Force itself, and was about to unleash all that energy straight into Chewbacca's chest -the following onslaught be damned- when he felt Rey sensing his intention.
Felt her horror.
No! Ben didn't know which one of them thought it- maybe both.
Teeth gritted, it took all of his will to let go of the energy, and he took another half, jagged breath again instead.
"I know," he whispered once more in the space between his and Chewbacca's face.
" That's not good enough! " But all the malice had left the Wookie's voice. He was shaking now- giving low and mournful sobs.
" Han ," Chewbacca cried, " Leia …"
Ben saw their faces there, in his mind, and wanted to recoil, but couldn't; Rey was seeing them too.
The words came back in a rush.
The face of my son.
Ben, come home.
So overcome was he, Ben didn't realize at first that the tears streaming down the cheeks where his, and not just Rey's.
"I know, " he breathed again, still fighting to pull himself up on Chewbacca's arm. He shook of his own accord now.
Chewie let out a wail, and flung him to the ground, but Ben barely felt it. He couldn't sense the crowd anymore, or even Rey.
All was shame. All was anguish.
A distant part of Ben's mind heard Chewie say, " For your mother ," but he couldn't respond, now.
He was on the ground, and he was very small, and he sobbed into his hands under the weight of all he had done.
Chapter 10: Chapter Ten
It was right around the time I was writing this chapter when I realized I only know how to write novels.
Oh well. Hope you all are in this for the long-haul. 🤘
"I guess I just thought it'd be easier to control, you know?" Finn was talking, rather excitedly and through a mouthful of bread.
Poe sat directly across from Rey, not even looking at his dinner. He looked like he was trying to tune Finn out.
Probably still not over our new guest- let alone my engagement of him.
The D'qar base mess hall was bubbling, but Rey could sense the unease every time someone glanced her way: over a year of fighting with the Resistance, and now all that trust was suddenly gone. And why? Because she'd healed a prisoner?
I guess it doesn't matter how many times I've saved all their lives, she thought, brooding. Help just one person they hate, and everything else goes out there window. Oh well.
"It will be," she replied, when no one else did, "You just need practice. A lot of practice. We'll start your training just as soon as I've gotten some more strength back."
"Wait, woah- hold on," Finn said, growing serious, "I didn't say I wanted to become a Jedi."
Rey nearly choked on her soup. She coughed a few times. Poe lightened up a little at that. Maybe he really is jealous of Finn…
"Well what else would you be?" Rey asked, trying to stay light.
"Are you the next Palpatine?" Jannah joked, elbowing Finn in the side, "Dark Lord of the Sith?"
Rey was suddenly grateful Finn wasn't very strong in the Force yet; he might have felt the gooseflesh ripple up her arms and her stomach churn at the mention of her grandfather.
The look of horror on his face said Finn had never considered that possibility.
"No," Rey cut in for him. "Not that. Don't worry." She reached across the table to squeeze his hand, "I'll talk to you more about it tonight, Finn. In the meantime, though, I think you should maybe limit the number of people you tell about all this to our friends that are here."
Finn frowned in confusion. Jannah cocked an eyebrow.
"You got a feeling?"
"I sense trouble surrounding it, yes. "
Not that she'd needed the Force to do so…
Rey stood, "Now if you would all excuse me, I need to attend to something."
"Later Rey," Poe grumbled, staring down at his soup.
"Bye," Jannah called, distractedly.
Rey returned her tray of food to the fighters on kitchen duty, thanking them, before picking up another.
Only a couple people noticed, but of course they immediately pointed out her actions to their peers.
Too bad, she stopped herself from saying, I'm not letting him starve.
On her way to the medical bay, Rey realized she hadn't seen Maz Kanata yet since waking up. She'd need to ask Finn about that…
I could really use her guidance now. I'm in way over my head.
Once Chewie had put Ben down , most of the fire had gone out of the crowd, and they'd begun to disperse.
Rey had sat beside him for sometime- until the discomfort and intimacy of it all had scared off everyone but Poe, his Eighth Squadron, Finn, BB-8 and Rose.
Ben had picked himself up without saying a word to any of them, and walked back into the medical bay. How he'd known the little pocket that repelled the Force was his prison was anyone's guess.
She'd asked him just that, through their connection, and received no answer.
From there, Rey had taken a much-needed shower, and spent a few hours catching up with everyone.
BB-8's antenna had needed straightening, and Poe, with his fractured humerus, hadn't been able to grip it the way he'd needed to in order to fix it, since the battle of Execol. Rey had been more than happy to fixl both of them, and Poe had warmed back up to her some; even grabbing her for a long embrace.
Rey snapped out of her musings when she sensed Chewie coming her way, down the hall. She rounded a corner, and found him shambling towards her with his head hung; murmuring to himself absently. Rey took a fortifying breath, fought for composure, and when she spoke her voice was cool instead of icy.
"Do you feel better, after all that?"
" I don't," he called, clearly dejected.
Rey sighed, and Chewie stopped before her, throwing his massive arms around her shoulders and letting out an incoherent, baleful moan as he hugged her.
Rey let go of the tray, grabbed it with the Force, and embraced him properly. Regret and relief poured off the Wookie in equal measures.
"It's alright," she said, holding him tightly and trying to avoid getting too much of his fur in her mouth. "We're all hurting right now."
He squeezed her tighter.
"Alright, that's- that enough, Chewie. I can't breathe."
Her released her with a murmured apology, and said, " I'll be working on the Falcon with Lando if you need me. "
"Alright. Thank you Chewie." Rey smiled after him, and plucked the tray from the air.
A minute later, and Jenkins and Not-Jenkins straightened up at her approach.
Alright, this is getting absurd .
"Evening gentlemen," she greeted them, mustering her warmest smile, "Forgive me, but what are your names again?"
Jenkins, clearly the more experienced fighter, and the elder of the two said, "Wabash Jenkins, ma'am. This here's Med Jordley."
She could sense the tension in him as he tried to remain both brave and professional in the face of wanting to do neither to her specifically.
"It's a pleasure," Rey said anyway, then clapped Jordley on the shoulder with her free hand. He jumped as if she'd shocked him.
Now there is a scary thought…
She forced herself to focus.
"Well, keep up the good work, gentlemen," she added, giving them each a terse nod before steeling herself and hitting the medbay door switch.
Chapter 11: Chapter Eleven
Ben? Oh right-
Rey cleared her throat.
"Ben? I've brought you something to eat. May I come in?"
No response. She squinted. Either someone else, or Ben, had turned the adjustable lights down considerably. What was left were non-standard blue and red tube lights on the ceiling, which put off a very dull purple glow.
For the trees, no doubt.
Rey could just make out Ben's figure on the medical bed's platform; after his conversation with Chewie, no one had wanted to disturb Ben by putting the hovering medical bed back where it belonged.
"Yes," he whispered finally.
She caught a glance of concern from Jenkins, stepped in, and sealed the door behind her- and groaned as the Force left her, and her limbs sagged. She could tell she had a fractured collarbone which hadn't fully healed yet, even with the Force and two weeks in a bacta suit. It blazed now as the Force left her.
Ben must feel terrible.
She shuffled forward.
"The medics said we should only eat a little, for now. Our stomachs have very likely shrunk considerably."
Ben said nothing. He was seated with his back to the wall; his forehead resting on his arms, which were crossed around his knees.
Rey actually yelped when a creature she hadn't sensed suddenly shifted beside her.
"It's alright," Ben said softly, without looking up. "They won't hurt you."
Rey crossed the last few steps more quickly, all the same.
"It just startled me… Not a lot sneaks up on me these days, you know?"
He said nothing.
Rey shuffled in front of him a moment, waiting for him to look up. When he didn't, she placed the tray and its measly contents on the platform, and sat down beside him.
Neither of them spoke for some time. She eventually settled into a meditation pose, and decided she'd try to reach the Force in spite of the creatures...
And soon grew bored. It was like it wasn't even there. Worse actually: it was like the Force had been aiding her in her ability to clear her mind all these years, and she'd never noticed because she'd had nothing else to compare it to.
I can't believe I miss having you in my head, she thought angrily towards Ben, but couldn't bring herself to say it out loud.
About the time she'd decided the soup must be cold, Ben suddenly reached over and took her hand. Again, without the Force to warn her, Rey flinched.
"I'm sorry," he amended at once, and snatched his hand back.
"No!" she said… perhaps too eagerly. Get a grip, Rey!
She took Ben's hand back, and some of the tension seemed to go out of his shoulders in response. He stared down at their hands, and when he met her gaze again, there was a contentment there.
Rey looked away to hide her own happiness and the heat on her face- clearing her throat. Then Ben ran a thumb over the back of her hand, and Rey sighed without thought. She leaned her head on his shoulder, and after a moment's hesitation, he set the side of his head on the top of hers.
Neither of them spoke for a very long while. Rey couldn't have cared less; his contentment was hers now, too.
Finally, when Rey was starting to grow tired, one of the creatures crawled a little too close on a tree trunk next to her, and Rey shouted in an attempt to frighten it away.
"Shoo! Go on then! Get!"
Ben chuckled- a deep, slow sound.
"I kind of like them. They're not dangerous at all, you know. "
She pulled her hand away, and replaced it with the other- flexed her numb fingers.
"I don't care. They creep me out."
"So they weren't not your idea, I take it?"
"Of course not," she replied, "I would never resort to blocking someone from the Force. It's inhumane. Like cutting fingers off."
Ben snorted, but whatever he found amusing, he didn't share it.
"I'm just supprised the Resistance found a way to utilize them before we did."
Rey twisted to gape up at him.
"You know what they are?"
"Hmm? Of course. You mean they don't?" he nodded to the door.
"No, not really… Maz might, I suppose."
"They're called Ysalamir. The First Order kept an archive about them; written by an old Grand Admiral after the fall of the Empire," he said, flatly, and reached out to stroke one's head. The creature's eyes went wide, but it didn't move. "A couple of years back, the person I thought was Snoke sent me to a planet called Myrkr to retrieve some, but they always died."
He sounded bored.
Ben shrugged. "I never found out."
Of course not , Rey mused sadly, Keeping things alive probably hadn't been a priority, back then.
Ben must have realized where her thoughts had gone; he stopped petting the Ysalamir , and let his legs drop until he was sitting cross-legged. Then he rested his head against the wall behind them, shut his eyes, and said no more.
Something near an hour past.
When she could stand the total silence no longer, Rey asked, "What are you thinking about? I don't like having to guess."
"Yeah. Me neither."
He took a long moment; looked directly away so she couldn't see his face, and seemed to be stealing himself.
"Bad things," Ben whispered, "Things I've done."
Rey nodded. That possibility had occurred to her. She was still trying to figure out what to say when he went on.
"And, I honestly don't understand why you don't hate me, too. Chewbacca is right about me. If you're smart, you'll leave."
He turned to look at her, and there was a quiet anger there that was much more familiar to Rey than his calm had been.
Rey pursed her lips, and shook her head.
"No, he wasn't. It was Palpatine- I know it was. You were a frightened boy."
Ben's brow furrowed deeper, and she could tell he was clenching his teeth- tell he was fighting for control.
"And you were just a scared girl, without even parents to guide you. And yet you resisted."
Rey narrowed her eyes, took her hand out of his, and straightened up.
"What are you getting at, Ben?"
He blinked a few times. Swallowed, and looked away again.
"You should listen to your friends. You're going to risk losing them for me, and I don't want that. I don't want to do that to you, too."
Rey stood- paced a few feet away in the darkness, like the space between them might give her the room she needed to think.
She shook her head when that didn't work, and rubbed at her forehead.
"I need you, Ben," she whispered.
"Yeah," he rumbled, "That's what I'm afraid of."
She frowned and turned around.
Ben was perfectly cool now.
"Because, if they decide they'd like to put a few dozen blaster bolts in my chest, I'm okay with that. I can accept that. But I'll die a lot easier, if I know you're not going to end up alone again because of me."
Fury bubbled up in her chest. Rey reached for her lightsaber out of impulse, but she'd never taken it out of her med bay.
She bared her teeth at him instead.
"No," she hissed, "I don't accept that."
"You don't hav-"
She crossed the space between them, and stuck a finger in his face as the tears started to flow.
"You want me to hate you? Do all of the evil you've done, and have it all amount to nothing- and yes, then I will hate you."
Ben's eyes went wide, and he pulled away from her as far as he could. Some distant part of her brain registered his fear. But Rey wasn't finished.
"You don't get to do horrible, unspeakable things, save the galaxy, feel sorry for yourself, and then just leave me here with these memories to put the pieces back together alone ."
He was shaking now, but so was she.
Rey crouched and leaned in until their faces were just inches apart, and when she spoke, it was a snarl.
"You're going to live, and you're going to face your past, and you're going to spend the rest of your life trying to fix as much of this as you can!" She jammed her finger into his chest. "You owe me trying to fix this , Ben!"
"I don't know how!" he erupted in her face.
"Figure it out!" she practically screamed.
Then she shoved away, and turned her back on him- walking several paces, crossing her arms to hold herself and sobbing openly now.
I don't care. This isn't my fault. He's a coward.
She heard him coming, but was still surprised when the large, warm hand settled on her shoulder.
She turned on instinct, fell into his chest, and cried.
Ben stroked at her hair, hesitantly at first, and she sobbed all the harder for it.
"Don't leave me," she whispered into him, as if her words could keep him there. They rocked slowly back and forth.
"Okay," he breathed into her hair, "Okay."
Then, a sudden desperation Rey didn't fully understand washed over her, and her fingers were in Ben's hair before she'd decided on it. She pulled his face down to hers, and kissed him as if it could keep him there, in her arms.
There was a pause, as she waited for his response- and then Ben had the back of her neck in one hand and her waist in the other, and was pulling them closer together, and kissing her with that same frantic need .
The door behind them hissed open.
Chapter 12: Chapter Twelve
Rey shoved out of Ben's arms, spun.
It might have taken Finn's eyes a moment to adjust, but whatever after-image he had made out must have still been damning.
"Whoa, uh, okay," Finn called, pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger, "That just… that makes too much sense."
Jenkins and Jordley were turning to look now, and Rey took a few more hurried steps away from Ben.
"What do you need, Finn?" she barked, hands on her hips.
Finn seemed to be trying to unsee whatever he'd caught: fingers laced behind his head as he stared up at the ceiling with closed eyes.
"The uh, Council," he called in a pained voice, "Needs to talk to you about something, Rey. It's urgent."
"Right," she called breathlessly, "I'll b-"
Finn nodded, gave her a quick thumbs up, and hit the door seal button before she could finish.
Rey swore, shook her hands in frustration and spun.
Ben was grinning like an absolute idiot.
"If you'll excuse," she snapped, and pecked him on the cheek.
"By all means," he called after her.
The two guards jumped into place when she emerged, and the second the Force hit her, Rey called straight into Finn's mind.
Finn, wait up!
Twenty paces ahead of her, Finn flinched- threw his hands up to protect his head as he looked around in confusion. Rey gripped the wall directly opposite them with the Force, and yanked herself through the space between them; to his side in an instant.
She stepped from under Finn's elbow, grabbing his arm. He jumped.
"Would you stop that !"
"Probably not," she confessed, "But I'll teach you how to anticipate it."
She glanced up and down the hall.
"Now listen," she whispered out loud, but finished by projecting her thoughts into his mind, You can't tell anyone what you just saw."
Finn laughed, derisive, and started down the hall again.
"As if anyone would want to hear about you tonguing the most hated guy in the galaxy."
She slapped him on the shoulder.
Shhh! With your thoughts, please!
He looked even more startled, and froze in place. Then, staring wide eyed-
CAN YOU HEAR ME?
It was Rey's turn to flinch.
"You don't need to shout!"
Down the hall behind them, Jenkins was leaning out from the medbay door's concave; confusion and curiosity rippling off of him.
Rey took a deep breath, let it out slowly.
And yes. I can always sense your thoughts if I want to, or more easily, your intentions; I just usually try not to if I don't have to. It's… impolite.
Finn opened his mouth to respond, but stopped himself. Rey pulled open a wooden door before them, and held it for Finn.
So why can't I say stuff into people's heads? he asked.
Because you have absolutely no idea what you're doing. Yet.
He scowled, and switched back on instinct to whispering.
"I thought I told you I wasn't sure if I even wanted to be a Jedi."
Rey had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.
Finn, I can sense your excitement about it without even trying. You're not fooling me.
Finn scowled, then shrugged.
I mean, it's just a lot, you know? I don't really know what I'm getting into… I don't want to turn out like- some people.
She took his hand, gave it a little squeeze.
That's not going to happen, I promise. You're the most kindhearted person I've ever met.
He mulled it over a few moments as they walked, hand in hand.
Alright, he flashed her a brilliant grin, When do we start?
When you swear to me you're not going to tell anyone about Ben... and me.
Finn shot her a smug grin.
What? About you and the grumpy dark lord?
Rey rolled her eyes.
I'm serious, Finn! You saw how they reacted outside earlier. If the Resistance found out about… whatever it is we are, not only would they lose any respect they still had for me, but I might not be able to convince them to pardon him.
Finn waved her off, and came to a stop outside the door to the mess hall.
"Relax, I'm kidding," he said, and hugged her, "Your secret's safe with me."
Besides, he added internally, If you wanna shag a disposed dictator with serious anger issues, who am I to judge?
She pulled back, and cocked a brow- grinned cheekily.
You're right: with tastes like yours , you're really not one to judge.
The door snapped open, and Poe stuck his head through, and hissed, "What's taking you guys so long?"
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
The mess hall was entirely cleared out, save two Resistence fighters, guarding the main entrance. A pair of tables had been shoved together in the center of the hall, board-room style.
Around the table sat Commander Aftab Ackbar, Chewbacca, Lieutenant Connix, and Vice Admiral Rose Tico. C-3PO and R2D2 stood off to one side- no doubt there for a reference to lingual, cultural, or analytical information.
The entire room stood as soon as they entered, and Rey felt her stomach flip.
At one head of the table stood Commander Larma D'Acy. Opposite her, an empty chair- with the two nearest pair also vacant.
Poe and Finn took the seats adjacent to the end, leaving Rey nowhere to sit but the head of the table.
"Master Rey," D'Acy called graciously, "May I speak for the entire council when I say how relieved we all are to see you back on your feet again."
"Erm, thank you," Rey stammered, fumbling with the chair.
Sith Lords are one thing... Council meetings, however...
"Without your leading us to Execol, there is little doubt we could have reached Palpatine before his fleet was operational," D'Acy continued, "Rest assured that we know, Master Rey, that without you unspeakable amounts of life would have been lost that day."
The council broke into a brief but heartfelt applause, and Rey bore it with all the sobriety and grace as she could muster.
Who's idea was the whole 'Master Rey' thing, anyway? she demanded of Finn.
Maz! Shh! I'm trying to concentrate!
Rey straightened up a little in her seat, and cleared her throat while D'Acy went on; "It is with that in mind, that I have the unfortunate duty of requesting your aid again so soon."
"Oh, well that's alright," Rey replied. Of course they needed her again. They always did. "But before we get to that, you should all know that Ben Solo was instrumental in my arriving on Execol, and defeating the Dark Lord who resided there."
Apprehension ran through the room.
"You all owe him your lives, too."
No one spoke. No one moved.
They don't believe me.
Finn's sympathy came through to her.
I'm sorry, Rey... For what it's wor-
Wait- am I actually on this Council, or not?
Finn's mind went pointedly blank.
Ah. I'm "Master Rey" now, but not on the Council. That's lovely.
"That is something we shall certainly take into consideration when it comes time for his trial," D'Acy replied, diplomatic as always, "Thank you, Master Rey. For now-" she tapped a button of the holoprojector console, and a map of the galaxy pulled up. Half of it was flashing red.
"The galaxy is tearing itself apart."
"Sixty-eight systems have declared themselves enemies of the First Order. With the fall of their leadership, much of the First Order has crumbled under the weight of themselves," D'Acy grew grave, "The rest have proven very difficult to protect, though, as they turn rogue. There is wide-spread looting, mass-executions, and a power vacuum that's left crime syndicates the galaxy over scrambling to maintain the grips on systems that they achieved under the First Order."
D'Acy hit a different button, and the blue display changed to green highlights instead.
"These are the systems which have pledged their support to the Resistance. Of those, twenty-nine chose elected dignitaries a week ago to represent their world's interests at a galactic summit, in the interest of bringing in a new era of stability and diplomacy."
She pressed the button again, and all but six systems vanished.
"Last night," D'Acy went on, "The four envoys on their way to the summit on Corescant were attacked. Of the twenty-nine dignitaries, six remain alive."
Rey gasped- but no one else did. Clearly they'd already been briefed on all this already...
"We believe the Black Sun Syndicate, along with aid from local First Order, were behind it. Their rendezvous were supposed to be highly confidential. We fear the assassinations may dissuade anyone else from coming forward to stand for a diplomatic, unified government."
Rey studied the six surviving diplomats' bios. Two humans, female and male, young and old, a Bothan, something that looked human saved for its glowing red eyes, a Quarren, and a Chagrian male.
"Where are the six remaining dignitaries now?" she asked.
"On Corescant," D'Acy replied, "Their pilot managed a crash landing, and took them to a local Resistance safe house."
D'Acy swallowed hard. Everyone was watching Rey now.
"That's where you come in, Master Rey. We need you to infiltrate a gang-controlled precinct in the Corescant underworld, retrieve the hidden diplomats, and show the galaxy that the Resistance can protect their leaders still."
"When do I leave?"
"As soon as you're recovered enough to travel," Poe cut in.
"I'm fit now," Rey replied with a sigh, "But I can't do it alone."
"Who do you need?" Aftab asked. The Moon Calamari's head wobbled as he readjusted in his seat.
"Threepio, certainly," Rey said, "For translation and cultural information. Surely that's never been more necessary than on Corescant. BB-8-"
"No," Poe cut in, "Not after you dropped a tree on him."
Rey glowered, but didn't feel like bickering; today had been rough enough.
"Fine. Artoo, then, as I trust the location of the safe house will need to be cryptically transmitted and decoded once I'm on Corescant."
There were a few nods of consent.
A few of the leaders stiffened.
Poe jumped right in.
"Uh, Rey, you notice how short staffed we are right now? Everyone in the Galaxy is trying to get Resistance help. Even with the influx of new recruits since the battle of Execol, we're down to just fifty-three fighters at the moment -myself and Finn included- and this is our base of operations… And you want to take one of our Generals?"
Rey folded her arms. As far as she was aware, only herself, Jannah, Chewie, Poe, Finn, and Threepio were aware of Finn's Force abilities.
I was gonna warn you about that, Finn said.
That have been nice , she replied.
"I'm more than happy to go," Chewie piped in helpfully.
"Thanks, Chewie- but I'm afraid you'll draw more attention than we're hoping for."
Chewie muttered to himself in disappointment. Rey took a deep breath and composed her features.
"You want my help with this because you know that you can't just send twenty Resistance fighters down to the Underworld: they're too noticeable, and would be quickly outnumbered once spotted. I'm your only option for a discreet removal, with any chance of surviving bad odds if things go poorly."
A few of the leaders murmured in resigned agreement.
"You're correct," D'Acy said, "You obviously stand the best chance of getting in, and carefully extracting the dignitaries aboard the Millennium Falcon. No one is questioning that Master Rey."
Rey stood, and placed both her palms flat on the table, and drew another deep, steadying breath.
"So you all trust me with their lives, and yet, since I woke up just a few hours ago, I've been questioned seemingly non-stop."
They all froze.
What are you doing, Rey?
"If you want my continued help," she said, softer now, "I need you all to trust me . You followed me into a maelstrom to face off against thousands of Star Destroyers, just two weeks ago. What's changed?"
Shame rolled through the Council, and Rey glanced from face to face to make sure she had them all. They knew what had changed, but weren't going to say it.
Rey was tired of dancing around the obvious, though. "Trust me now; I need Finn. It's Jedi business."
No one spoke for a moment, and D'Acy asked the group, "Does anyone have an objection?"
Poe ran a hand through his hair, then covered his mouth with it.
"Very well then," D'Acy said.
"And Rose," Rey tacked on, "The Falcon's much easier to pilot in combat with three people, and if I have valuable people aboard it, I think we can all agree that having the best mechanic in the Resistance is a smart idea."
No one objected.
Rey looked to Rose, half expecting her to be offended that no one was clambering to keep her on D'Qar, but she just grinned, seemingly excited to be chosen.
"I'm ready," Rose called.
I've got to stop underestimating her...
"And I want Ben Solo."
The room erupted, but Poe was loudest.
"Did you hit your head on Execol? Do we really need to explain to you why you showing up with the Supreme Leader of the First Order, to rescue a bunch of people who've just sworn their systems to our cause is a bad idea?"
Rey, Finn whispered in her head, Come on. It's not gonna happen...
Rey opened her mouth to respond to Poe, but Rose beat her to it.
"Besides, he still needs to stand trial. It's not just that we can't afford to be lumped in with a murderer, traitor, and war criminal; it's our duty to see to it that Kylo Ren is brought to justice."
"Justice," Rey agreed, "Not vengeance. You want me to leave him here with all of you, alone? Fine. I trust none of you to try and murder him."
Poe glared her down, but Rey ignored him.
"However," she said, straightening up and folding her arms over her chest. "To keep him from the Force is to deny him the ability to heal himself more quickly. It's cruelty, and far from what I had expected from you all."
Poe leaned in to hiss in Rey's ear, "You know he tortured me one time, right?"
And me, Rey conceded internally.
Technically he only got me tortured, Finn tacked on.
Quiet! I'm thinking!
"So that's how we measure ourselves now? 'Not humane, but better than the First Order'? I've given you my answer. If you want me to run your errands, Ben Solo will be allowed access to the Force, a bed, and two square meals a day."
Poe gritted his teeth.
"We're barely getting two meals a day."
"You've seen what he can do in person plenty of times," Rey said, and leaned in towards him, "Tell me, General; do you honestly believe Ben Solo would still be in his room right now if he didn't want to be?"
Poe stiffened at that, and held her gaze, but didn't answer.
Something piqued in Rey at his frustration, and she softened a bit. "I need to know you all trust me, after everything we've been through."
Rose and a few others wouldn't meet her gaze.
"I trust you to do the right thing. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to pack."
Then she walked out on them.
Tags have been updated for this chapter, and going forward
"What are you working on?"
Rey plopped down on the bed platform, and set one Jorgan fruit beside Ben,before biting into the other.
Ben glanced over at the fruit, and continued his brushstroke- squinting to see in the dark.
"A uh, record of events, of sorts. The guards were kind enough to bring me some brushes and parchment."
"Of course they were," Rey replied with a grin, and took another bite. Without thought or hesitation, she brushed the bangs out of Ben's eyes.
He blinked a couple times, pointedly, but his brush stroke didn't waver.
"Do you like writing, then?"
"Calligraphy, more so. But yes," he said, starting a new figure in the same language Rey didn't recognize, "At least, I used to. A long time ago."
"Hmm," she mused, then stood "I have something for you, hold on."
Rey returned a few minutes later with two large, leather-bound books under her arm, plus a pile of clothing, and the rest of the Jorgan fruit held in your mouth. She set the clothes down beside him, freeing up her mouth.
"The clothes are Finn's, sorry; I hope they're long enough… As for these," she passed him one of the books, and had the pleasure of watching Ben's face go from confounded to dumbstruck as he flipped through one, then the other.
"These are Jedi texts," he said with an air of accusation.
"Yes. The originals. I took them from the Jedi temple where he had been hiding."
Ben gaped, mouth open and eyes welling. He swallowed hard under her gaze.
Rey went on, "You'll have to wait for the other two; I want Finn to read them, for now."
Rey waited, but he didn't recover- she reached for his hand.
"Ben, what's wrong?"
He shivered a little.
"You trust me with these. You actually trust me."
"Yes, of course I do."
She scooted closer, put her hand on his leg.
"Ben- I trust you with my life. More importantly, actually, I trust you with the lives of my friends."
Ben seemed to be fighting for composure, and then turned away from her for a moment.
"Are you alright?"
"Yeah, sorry. I- I don't really know how to say what I want to... Is that alright?"
Rey could have cried herself, at that.
"Yes, Ben. Of course it is."
She took his face in her palm, then- turned him to look at her, and saw the tears in his eyes for just a moment before he wiped them away with his free hand. Rey savored the warmth, and the smoothness of his face under her palm- and marvelled at the way touching him sent her belly fluttering.
When Ben spoke, he didn't meet her gaze, but his voice was firm- decided. "Rey. I'd like to kiss you again."
Her pulse spiked.
"Always- erm, I mean, yes."
Ben turned, and scooped her up in his arms in a single fluid movement; found her mouth with the same desperation as before. He stood and swept her off her feet, then limped his way to the counter in one corner of the medbay, and set her down with a practiced sense of control.
Out of prying eyes , Rey realized, tangling her fingers up in his hair, and -curious- running her tongue over his lower lip.
Ben set a shaky hand on her face, and when he pulled her back from his mouth, Rey was panting.
His eyes were dead serious.
"Is this okay?"
Rey grinned, whispering, "Very," and found his lips again. His hands found her waist, and Rey spread her legs- pulled him in close.
Ben grunted softly.
She took his face in her hands again, and kissed him lightly down along his jaw, before finding the soft just beneath it.
Ben shuddered; and gave the most satisfying, muted moan at that, and Rey's pulse and heart soared.
"Rey," he asked, breathlessly, "Where, oh ! Uh, where are you going?"
She froze, straightened up, but wrapped her hands behind his neck and crossed her ankles behind his back- to keep him close.
"How did you know?" she asked.
He reached between them, and stroked the edge of her brown cotton shirt between thumb and forefinger.
Something in Rey urged her to arch her back, and-
"You always wear white," he answered, "The only reason you'd suddenly stop is if you didn't want to be recognized."
"Yes, well. I actually came in here to tell you- I just got a little, distracted , I'm afraid. . I'm leaving in about half-an-hour."
Ben nodded. Was that disappointment in his eyes? Perhaps sensing her gaze, he looked away.
"For how long?"
"Three days to get there. Two days to be planetside, just in case, then two days to get back."
"I'd ask where you're going, but I'm not even sure where we are, so…"
"Oh! Speaking of distracted- I didn't tell you; they're moving you into the other medbay while I'm gone. Come on!" She unwrapped her legs, and hopped off the counter. "Let's go over there to heal your leg, and then I'll help you get your things moves over."
It wasn't entirely without effort, getting Jenkins and Jordley to move out of Rey and Ben's way so they could limp across the hall; but ultimately Rey just flung their blazers aside, hissed, "You're being childish," and then they'd carried on. Neither one had been foolish enough to try picking their blasters back up.
Ben now sat on a stool in the brightly lit medbay room, and Rey ran a slow hand over the fracture in his right shin.
"You mentioned 'Finn' reading the texts," Ben asked as she worked.
Shhh, she thought, still enjoying the intimacy of having their minds linked once again.
Ben sighed as he felt the tingle, warmth, and itch of Force energy reknitting the bone. Rey's fingers were cool and soft on his exposed leg… and his mind began to wander upwards...
There's no time , Rey thought in response to the brief, unspoken desire.
"No!" he replied out loud, half-choking, "Sorry- I mean, I didn't-"
He stopped stammering when she stood, grinning, and kissed him on the cheek. Then she whispered in his ear, "I'd like that too, though."
Ben felt his face flush, and cleared his throat.
"Which one's Finn?" he tried again, a little hoarse.
"Oh sorry, right. He's the one who interrupted us earlier, and um, used to be a Stormtrooper… You guys fought that one time..."
She trailed off, and Ben could feel the apprehension coming off her.
"Ah. Finn. That's clever," he muttered, "Because his ID was FN-28-"
Rey cut him off.
"You mustn't call him that!"
Ben threw a hand up, "No no! I won't! Don't worry."
Rey sighed in relief.
"Sorry, it's just..."
He settled a hand on her shoulder, and said, "It's okay. I know. So you're taking him as a padawan learner?"
She narrowed her eyes in suspicion.
"The books he's reading," he replied to the unspoken thought, "And also I sensed something in him on Starkiller Base."
She bristled, and Ben regretted his words at once.
I guess I won't mention that either.
"No. It's alright. That was just a very… hard time."
Ben stared into her for some clue of what he should say. Nothing was forthcoming.
"I should apologize to him?" he tried.
Rey went wide-eyed.
"I um… I appreciate the sentiment, but I'm not sure how- Oh. speaking of which, here he comes. Just- be calm."
Oh good. My specialty .
The medbay doors hissed open, and FN- Finn , stood in the doorway, glancing over his shoulder.
"Rey, we gotta go."
Ben could sense Finn was trying very hard not to notice the Supreme Leader sitting before him.
As far as Ben was aware, the last time he'd spoken to the ex-stormtrooper was when Ben had demanded his uncle's lightsaber from him, then toyed with Finn for a minute or two before slicing up his back.
A painful flicker as he remembered the feel of Finn's agony under his saber's quillon… of twisting it deeper so he could absorb the traitor's pain and fear as raw, tantalizing power...
Rey jolted beside him. Finn's eyes went wide, and he'd looked like he might be sick.
I'm sorry, Ben snapped, and gritted his teeth hard enough they hurt. He wanted to crawl under a rock. Maybe if he could just lift a big enough boulder with the Force, and then sort of roll himself under it...
Finn narrowed his eyes, still not giving Ben so much as a glance.
"You okay?" Finn asked Rey.
He means 'are you a danger to her', Ben realized with a sinking feeling. Of course, Rey heard that, too.
She hugged Finn, briefly.
"Just fine. Give me five minutes, sorry- I'll meet you at the Falcon.
"'Kay," he said, and met Ben's eyes for a single, tense moment, before heading for the door. The distain Finn gave off was dull, but still there, inside him.
We all have our battles, Rey said, and ran her fingers through his hair.
A shiver ran down Ben's spine, and before he realized it, he was leaning into her, eyes closed.
Rey chortled, and kissed him gently.
"I need to go," she whispered in the space between them.
"I know," he pulled back to look her in the eyes, "Have you ever actually been to Corescant?"
Rey grinned, and his stomach sank.
"Never! I can't wait to see it. Is it true that it's civilized down to the core? I mean- I just assume you've been there..."
"Oh yeah, no... I have been," Ben said mildly, "It's… impressive. And also dangerous."
Her smile turned suspicious.
"Just," he went on, "Come back safe."
He kissed her quickly on the forehead, then spun her around to the door.
Rey turned, calling behind her as she slung her bag up on to her back, "Try to play nice with the Resistance, please."
He waved her off.
"And if you really need to reach me, just ask Poe Dameron- he's a friend."
"The pilot who ' arrested' me?"
"Yes that one. He hates you, but I trust him."
Rey hit the button on the door, and they were both taken aback to see the young woman standing outside; her fist raised to knock. Ben was sure he hadn't met this one.
Rose, Rey offered.
'Rose' gave him a once over, face carefully neutral, then turned to Rey and said, "Finn's saying we should leave without you."
Rey shot Ben one last look, said, "I'm ready," and hit the door switch.
I'll see you soon, she promised.
Be safe… Please.
"You mean you've never had your hair braided before?"
"Never," Rey breathed, eyes shut- and leaned her head back in the pilot's chair of the Millennium Falcon. Rose ran the comb through over her scalp again, and Rey got goosebumps down her forearms.
"Ow!" Finn shouted from the the main hold area. Neither girl reacted.
"Aw, that's so sad. Paige and I used to do each other's hair all the time," Rose replied, and then grew somber, "I really miss that."
"I'm sorry, Rose. I can't imagine."
"It's okay. I'll just have to teach you."
"I'd like that.
A few quiet moments went by.
"So how long have you been in love with tall dark and scary?"
"Ah! Dammit! Rey, you good?" Poe called.
"I'm fine, thank you!"
"You sure? I thought I just felt you panicking..."
"Er- try focusing harder!"
Rose stifled a laugh, which in turn made Rey stifle one of her own.
"How did you know?" Rey asked, growing solemn and leaning back again.
Rose chuckled lightly.
"It's clear you've been… intensely focused on him for a very long while; but your face said it all when I came to get you from his room today."
Poe yelped like he'd stubbed a toe.
Rey sighed a little.
"You're not clearing your mind properly," she shouted, monotone, then lowered her voice for Rose again. "You mustn't tell anyone, please. It could make people worry about things they don't actually need to."
Rose braided a few strands, and Rey could feel her searching for the right words; trying not to hurt her friend.
"Like whether or not your loyalty to the Resistance will weaken?"
"Dah! Blast it all! Dammit!"
Heavy foot-falls stomped down the hall towards them, and Rey sighed again.
"It's kinda hard to clear your mind when you're getting zapped every two seconds, isn't it?" Finn thundered. Rey didn't need to open her eyes to see him step into the cockpit, the blacked-out visor of his training helmet lifted, and Leia's lightsaber in hand.
"Watch out," she muttered to him. The training droid had followed, and zapped Finn yet again.
"That does it!" Finn erupted, and began swinging madly at the droid within the cramped cockpit.
Rey lifted a hand to freeze them both in place before Finn could hurt himself- disarming him and catching Leia's lightsaber in her palm before finally opened her eyes.
"You're going to take your foot off, behaving like that," she chided, releasing him almost at once, and turning the droid off with a flick of her wrist.
It clanged to the ground. In the hallway behind them, R2D2 gave a curious chirp before rolling in with them. He bumped the fallen training droid with one of his treds.
Rose tied off her braid, and whispered, "All done."
Finn was panting, and covered head-to-toe in sweat. Rey couldn't help herself- she stood, and clapped him on the back.
"It's alright. It will come to you in time."
"Yeah? Have you considered that I just might not ever be as powerful as you?"
"I had, yes."
That pulled him up short.
Behind them, Rey felt Rose's discomfort surge. Not because she felt out of place along the pair of Jedi, but out of sympathy for Finn's plight.
Rey gripped Finn in a tight hug then.
"But we're never going to know unless you try, are we?"
Finn sighed, nodding slowly.
"Yeah, yeah. You're right. I just-"
Rey had just enough warning to braced them all with the Force.
They snapped out of hyperspace. A full day ahead of schedule.
Ben ran through the marketplace as fast as his leg could manage; falling again and again as the adults and strangers whose waists he barely came up to kept bowling him over.
I'm here, Ben , Leia called calmly, but he couldn't find see her. Something with six legs knocked him to the ground, hard , and he grabbed at his bleeding mouth. He looked down at the blood on his hand, and began to cry.
What system were they visiting? He couldn't remember. They were always somewhere new, and he could never find her.
"Mom!" he screamed into the crowd- then caught a glimpse of her purple robes, and tore off again.
"Mom! Wait! Don't go!"
She was moving faster now, though, straight away from him. He darted between the legs of a Kaminoan, who recoiled and shrieked as if he were a viper, and Been wasn't sure why. He had little time to think before catapulting himself with the Force over a cart filled with colorful fruits, and stumbling into a run again. The Toydarian merchant who owned the cart cried out in alarm behind him.
Ben! his mother chided within the confines of his head, What have I told you about using the Force outside of your training?
"I'm sorry mom," he sobbed, "Please slow down!"
Then, as if in response to his pleading, the crowds parted, and Ben saw why she ran from him.
His father, Han Solo, had her by the hand, and was yanking her away with all his strength.
"Hurry, Leia" his father cried, and Ben registered the blaster and the sheer terror in Han's eyes as he took in his son, "He's seen us."
Suddenly Ben was very tall, and Kylo Ren's lightsaber was in his hand- his lightsaber was in his hand.
"Wait," he pleaded through his mask now, panting, "Mom!"
He reached up to take the mask off-
Han fired, and Ben blocked faster than thought- and the ricocheting bolt went straight through one of Leia's eyes.
Ben sat upright with a yell.
His calligraphy set, the two stools, the medical trays with their contents, and the hanging bactasuits flew away from him in response to a Force buffet he'd thrown without thought.
He gasp for breath- wiped the sweat out of his eyes.
The door to his cell, or room - whatever the hell they were calling it - hissed open, and a guard he didn't recognize activated the light on her blaster to peer in.
"What are you doing in there?" she shouted, but Ben could tell she was trying to force the fear out of her voice.
He was careful to keep his hands low and visible- but not for his sake. The sensation of his mother dying was fresh in his mind and and sour in his mouth as he responded to the frightened guard.
"I'm sorry," he called, "Just a nightmare. I'll clean it up."
He could feel the tremor in her hands. Feel her spiked pulse. She nodded, and Ben sensed her relief when the doors hissed shut between them again.
He gasped- couldn't seem to get enough air.
Rey? he called, reaching out, but he couldn't feel her. Maybe she was in hyperspace. Had they connected in hyperspace before?
Ben couldn't remember. Couldn't focus.
He flipped the too-warm, woolen blanket off; thought he might be sick. He gave himself a few minutes, and when that didn't work, set about fixing the room.
Still shaking while he did it, Ben allowed himself to cry.
From behind her, Rey heard Artoo shriek, then slam into something. Somewhere behind that , C-3PO clanged off the walls.
She let go of herself, Finn and Rose; then she whirled, and took in the chaos before them in the starlit battleground.
At once Rey yanked the control yoke towards the floor with the Force- and threw herself up over the back of, and into, the main pilot's chair.
The Millennium Falcon did the closest thing possible to a ninety-degree turn straight upright, but the Falcon's forward mandibles still grated on the burnt out hull of -Rey checked the readout- a massive cruiser she couldn't identify.
The entire ship screeched at the contact. Rey caught Rose an inch off the console, and pulled them all the way through the curve, until they faced the other direction- and immediately into a spiral as laser cannon fire erupted around them.
"I'm on it!"
He flew out of the room, vaulting over R2. Rose settled into the copilot's chair.
The Hyperdrive must have cut out automatically in response to something in their path- Rey glanced pointedly at the wrecked cruiser they'd nearly plowed into.
"Artoo, what'd we lose?" she shouted as they spun.
It took the droid a second to get back upright on his own, and reach a computer mainframe panel.
'Shield Projector erroring. Shields at thirty-seven percent, and falling," he replied in binary.
"Can you get down there and patch it?"
He whistled an affirmative, and zipped off.
Rey turned them back towards the hulking ship carcass, and threw them into the wreckage for some cover. Flaming corridors engulfed them on three sides.
"What's that planet down there?" she barked at Rose.
"Malastare," Rose snapped diverting some power to their upper quad laser cannon.
Rey sensed Finn getting chucked around the inside of the gun well as they cart-wheeled. He started to descend one of the ladders.
Take the upper cannon!
He changed directions.
Rey held back a yelp when the indent of the cruiser's side came to a sudden end, and launched them into the middle of a battle ground.
The two fleets were facing off right on the edge of the planet's atmosphere. Rey flinched at the mindless barrage the larger fleet was unloading on the planet's surface whenever there wasn't an immediate, better target for one of their cruisers.
"Who are they?" Rey called, dropping them as fast as she could over the edge of another blown-out ship. It disintegrated behind them at once.
"The one's trying to shoot us back there? Old, repurposed Republic fighters and frigates, and cruisers. They have Guavian Death Gang credentials."
"I'm in Rey," Finn called over the headset. The ship began to shudder as Finn returned fire, and Rey cut the engines, and redirected them down towards the planet's surface- exposing Finn's gunroom to their pursuers.
There was a sudden duel scream, and a pair of TIE-fighters roared up seemingly from nowhere, beneath them.
"I think you recognize our other friends," Rose added.
Rey shut her eyes on an impulse, and swerved them back, forth, and upside down out of the way of all but one glancing shot.
The Falcon shuddered, but the shields held. Then the TIE-fighters were under and behind them, and the Guavians switched targets- and traded casualties as two of the four opposing ships slammed into each other in twin, fiery spectacles.
"The Dug and Gran have both been transmitting to anyone they could for a few days now," Rose said.
"What did they want?"
"Some warlord gave them an ultimatum: clear out the last of the First Order, or she would do it for them, and then wipe out half of their cities before invad-"
Rose cut off as Rey jerked them around a crash, and they caught a blast from one of the Tie Fighters. She glanced at the shield generator readout:
"-ing the planet."
"We had no one to send them?" Rey asked in disbelief.
"We sent a small fleet- half of them got wiped out before the other half pulled out. No one else could pull away from their own conflicts to help. Malastare produces a rare gas for fuel, and the Guavians are almost certainly going to take over control of the supply chains."
They took another hit.
"Rey," Finn barked, "You gotta get us out of here!"
Shields at 8%
"I can't while the shields are this low. Any random space dust will go right through us! Artoo?"
His response came over the ship's internal comlink.
'I need thirty seconds!
But they didn't have thirty seconds. Five more TIEs had spotted them, and with no other option Rey had directed them towards the Guavian side of the battle -thinking the gangsters couldn't possibly hate the Resistance as much as the First Order did- but the largest cruiser must have disagreed. Rotating its main cannons, they started an intense triple volley straight for the Falcon. Had she not sensed the first blast charging through the Force, the Falcon would have taken it full force, and their shields would have failed. As it was, Rey tore off hard to their left, and one of the remaining TIEs took the hit for them.
In the chaos, Finn locked on to a TIE and got off a critical hit.
All at once and without warning, the barrage from the cruiser stopped.
"We're being hailed," Rose said, patching it through.
Rey plunged them over the edge of the cruiser, still spiraling through a tornado of cannon fire.
"Our apologies," came a raspy, male voice over the comlink, "We didn't realize who you were."
"We're flying Resistance credentials!" Rey snapped back.
"Forgive us, Master Jedi. Go in peace."
The Cruiser's fire had started up again, laying into the trail of TIEs trying to catch up to them.
'Ready!' Artoo screamed.
Rey jammed the throttle forward, Rose engaged the Hyperdrive, and the sky streaked white...
Rose and Rey just stared at each other.
Finn's voice came in on the overhead com.
"What the hell just happened?"
For the girl who showed me her attachment when I needed it most.
There was a knock on the medbay door.
Ben didn't respond, didn't move a muscle. Keeping his exhale even, and his mind clear, he finished the last stroke on the character he'd been painting.
Another knock- louder this time.
Ben examined his brush before dipping it in the ink well again, and starting the character for "crowded".
Poe Dameron strode in a moment later, and shut the door behind him. From his peripheral, Ben saw him lift his hands in obvious question.
Ben started the symbol for "boy".
Poe's voice dripped with malice.
"I'm sorry Supreme Leader- is this a bad time for you?"
Ben finished his stroke- took his time exhaling and straightened up to level his gaze with the other man. "Come to integrate me?" he asked, "That would be ironic."
There was a twinge of painful memory from Poe, which shifted into hatred- and Ben had to stop himself from recoiling on impulse.
The pilot clenched and released his fist a few times, then crossed the room and sat on one of the stools a few feet away from Ben. He rested one ankle on the knee of the other leg before responding.
"So you do remember me?" There was an edge in the smile he gave Ben.
Ben dipped his brush in the inkwell again- started the next character.
"How could I forget the best pilot in the Resistance? The one who led the attack on Starkiller Base? The same one who escaped, and later whose bombing fleet took out a Dreadnought? What can I do for you, Commander Dameron?"
Poe chuckled, and looked away, grinning. Ben could sense his attention focusing on the blaster at his hip.
"It's General Dameron, actually," he grew livid, and met Ben's eyes again, to growl out, "That was one of the last things your mother did... Before she died."
Ben's hand froze in midair, and he tasted metal.
A crystal clear image flickered through his mind, then: General Dameron, on his knees- face blue and eyes bloodshot. Begging. A possible future, right at his fingertips...
Ben exhaled, and let it pass with a gentle sigh.
"What can I do for you, General?"
Poe stared him down, but Been took up his painting again. He could sense Poe trying, it seemed, to figure out why he wasn't enjoying himself as much as he'd imagined he would. Ben saw him shrug slightly out of his peripheral.
"I'll be forward, Supreme Leader-"
"'Ben' is fine," he corrected, gently.
Poe went on like he hadn't heard.
"-The council is not feeling very optimistic about a pardon. Besides the fact that we all know the galaxy would be a lot better off if you 'caught a few'- there's also what might happen if we just kept you imprisoned for life, but ever accidentally let you get away. That's blood on our hands, you see..."
Ben dipped his brush, and started the symbol for "bright sunlight"
He was tempted to object to the word 'imprisoned', but let that go unchallenged, too. If the Resistance wanted to believe he couldn't leave this place, there wasn't any reason to correct them.
"I see," he murmured.
"Now, if it's about blood on hands, we gotta ask ourselves: how much blood could Kylo Ren -"
"'Ben' is preferable, even-"
"-Prevent if he were to be persuaded that it were in his best interest to help us."
"Hmm," Ben rumbled. He allowed himself a few moments to choose his words, then added slowly, "I was beginning to wonder what was taking the Resistance so long. You want my access codes, I assume."
"Wow, who knew," Poe said, leaning in with a wry laugh, "You're clever underneath all that... brooding edge."
"You're offering to let me live in exchange for access codes?"
"Hey, no," Poe sat back upright, straightened his jacket, "We're offering to consider it."
Ben set his brush down with deliberate slowness.
"And if I go on to kill millions more? Will that be justified?"
Poe scowled... Ben sensed his confusion. "I don't know what you're playing at, buddy, but we're only offering you this chance one ti-"
"Sorry, let me clarify; I would have expected the Resistance to have more ethical backbone than to put its political gains above carrying out justice."
Poe stood. Opened his mouth to speak, but closed it and folded his arms across his chest. Finally, he leveled a finger at Ben.
"This 'good kid taken by the Dark Side of the Force' routine might be working on Rey, but some of us don't hold with monsters making excuses for themselves, under the influence of an invisible entity no one can prove exists."
"You doubt the Force?"
Poe glared, started to open his mouth.
Ben raised a hand to cut him off, and when he spoke his voice was controlled, and slow, "Not that I'm judging. It's just strange to hear someone who is so taken by the Dark Side pass judgement on others who fell to it."
Poe laughed at that, but Ben could feel the back of his neck growing hot beneath the collar of a linen shirt.
"I didn't come here to get evaluated," Poe said with a sneer, and turned to leave.
"Fear. Anger. Hate. I've seen them all in you since I arrived," Ben said quietly. "Since you came in here, even. These are all of the Dark Side of the Force."
"You're driven by them," Ben said, all but v whispering, now "Like I was."
Poe turned slowly, and when he did his hand was lingering over his blaster's grip. He held it there a moment. The air grew thick, and seemed to whisper in the space between them.
Then Poe broke off his gaze with a terse laugh, and when he spoke it was guttural.
"I am nothing like you."
"No, of course not," Ben soothed, shifting in his cross legged seat. His words picked momentum, "But you could have been. Rey is stronger and wiser than both of us. But if the Force had chosen you, instead of her? Back on my ship? I could have turned you as easily as a luring a starving cur with rancid meat."
Ben felt it when the sweat broke out along Poe's hairline. He didn't stop, though- didn't even slow.
"I would have twisted you. I would have turned you into an unrecognizable tool for my bidding. Then I would have slaughtered you for practice."
Poe was white as a sheet, now.
"I've done it before, and people like you, General Dameron? With your battle lust and your pride and your hatred," he all but hissed the last word, then straightened up, "You're easily manipulated. You're your own worst weakness."
Poe was shaking visibly, now. A current of pity and shame ran through Ben, and he looked down at his work to save the man some dignity while he concluded, voice cool once more, "You don't know the ways of the Dark Side which compels you, but I do. I sense them in you. Even now."
Poe let out a long, shaky breath. Newrly a minute passed before he'd composed himself. When he spoke, Ben could make out the faint tremble he was trying so hard to hide.
"Alright, high and mighty Supreme Leader , I'll tell the council that's your decision."
Poe started to turn, but froze when Ben spoke again, "Oh, I'll give you the codes. Just not for a pardon."
It took Poe a long second to sort that out.
"You got a death wish or something, buddy?"
Ben dipped his brush again.
"Wouldn't you, in my position? I murdered my father in cold blood. My mother is dead, because of me."
Poe hesitated- weighed his words.
"Yeah. I guess I would."
Ben started the symbol for "chaos". When he spoke, his voice was almost a whisper again.
"If I hadn't felt Rey's attachment to me, for myself, I'd ask you to kill me where I sit, right now. Given the present situation, though, I'm afraid we're both out of luck."
Poe's confusion was palpable.
There was a long, painfully tense moment while Poe racked his brain. Finally, he asked, "What does she see in you, Ren?"
It was Ben's turn to ponder.
"Probably the same thing she sees in you." Ben set the brush down, and looked up from the completed work. "Hope."
"Checking out our dignitaries?" Finn asked as he slid into the booth beside Rey and Rose in the Falcon's main hold area. C-3PO stood across the table from them.
"Yeah," Rose said, taking notes.
"Fifteen?" Rey asked in astonishment. "Their queen is fifteen years old?"
Rose explained, "The Naboo don't elect leaders based on age, or wealth, or power. They only elect based on competency and pureness of heart... They've had much younger dignitaries."
"That's incredible," Rey said, grinning, "I could barely take care of myself at fifteen." She gave it a moment before her excitement was too much, and she asked, "Do we have to call her 'Your Highness?"
Rose looked up at C-3PO, who appeared startled to have been called upon, but gathered himself quickly.
"If my databanks are accurate, the Naboo have just recently returned to their former Republic diplomatic practices, and these did include calling the governing, elected Monarch by the title of 'Your Highness', 'Your Majesty', 'Your Royal Highness', 'Sir' or 'Ma'am'."
Rey's smiled deepened.
This is incredible.
"I've never met a queen before."
"I hope she's not stuck up," Finn added.
Rey switched the display from 'Queen Na'atarii Livena of Naboo', to Senator Eddark Ventrill of Takodana. Age: fifty-five. Species: human. A brief summary of his political career, with nothing noteworthy to remark on. He had been a double-agent for the Resistance for around four years.
"Takodana- Isn't that where we met Maz?" Finn asked.
"Didn't I tell you to meditate?" Rey shot back, scribbling a few notes if her own.
"I got bored," Finn murmured sheepishly, "It had been like an hour. I thought you forgot about me..."
"It was fifteen minutes- you're just undisciplined."
" Undisciplined? " Finn said, gaping at her, "You know I was a Stormtrooper, right? You ever stand in one spot without so much as flinching, for six hours in the rain bef-"
"Excuse me," Rose jumped in, hand raised, "Mission work here."
"Sorry," the two Force users chimed as one.
Rose went on.
"Yes that's where we met Maz. Want me to try and reach her?" Rose asked Rey, "See if she knows anything about him?"
"Sure. That's a good idea." Rey replied, and flipped to the next bio. "I've never delt with politicians before- have either of you?"
"I have, in case you're wondering," C-3PO cut in. No one responded to that.
Finn said, "Not unless General Organa counts."
A weight fell over the room at the mention of her name.
Rose cleared her throat.
"I've met individuals from every species here except Chiss. They're new to me. Threepio?"
"According to my databanks, the Chiss are a relatively new addition to our known galaxy. I've only a few individuals listed here for reference, the most well known being the late Grand Admiral Thrawn of the Galactic Empire."
"Well that doesn't bode well," Rey said, flipping to the bio of their particular Chiss.
Governor Kiap'aro'neth. Age: thirty-eight. Governor of the prison planet Wobani. He'd been installed as Governor two years ago, by none other than Supreme Leader Snoke himself. He'd only publicly switched alliances… a week prior.
Rey's stomach turned, she read her same anxieties on her friend's faces.
"Maybe he was just sort of forced into it?" Finn tried, wincing even as he spoke.
"Maybe you're projecting your own experiences a little, Finn?" Rose muttered, but when she glanced up she was grinning.
"Well we can't all have wholesome childhoods..."
"I thought I told you to go meditate," Rey argued dryly.
"You didn't, actually, but fine," he pushed himself up off the table with exaggerated weight. "I'll go back to staring at a wall 'till I hear voices."
He started towards the cockpit.
"You should be so lucky, to hear voices…" Rey called after him, trailing off. She glanced at Rose a few moments later, and found her companion cocking an eyebrow.
"Well, it's um, you see-"
"A Jedi thing," Rose said, raising a hand, "Say no more."
Rey chortled, and switched to the Deputy Regent of Champla, Doranma Cal Somman. Age: thirty.
"Have you ever met a Chagrian?"
"Not many," Rose conceded, "But I've heard of this one. He was super young when he succeeded his father as Deputy Regent. Everyone says it was because he sold him out to the First Order- but then, two years later, Somman reached out to the Resistance with First Order access panel override codes. Didn't want anything in return, either."
“So he was a double-agent?”
“Yeah- until last week when he publicly declared his support for the Resistance and accepted the Champala nomination for their representative.”
“He’s still very young,” Rey mused, clicking to change the readout, "Nothing compared to the Nabboo Queen though, I suppose…"
The last two bios were the Bothen Governor to Bothawui, and the Quarren Senator to Mon Cala. Nothing remarkable about either of them, though; both females were in their late forties to early fifties, and had been secret allies to the Resistance for nearly a decade, each.
“'Governor', 'Senator', and 'ma’am', I assume?”
“Sounds right," Rose replied, "I’m sure they’ll correct us.”
“Won’t that be fun,” Rey sighed, rubbing at her eyes before turning off the projector. “We ought to get some sleep. We’ll be at Corescant in six hours. From there, I’ll put us into a low orbit for a few hours so Artoo and I can check out the shield projector before we head down.”
“That’s probably for the best,” Rose said, stretching, “The last thing the Resistance needs for its 'image' is to get the diplomats out, and then have all of them, and their only Jedi, explode because of a beat up old ship.”
“Easy, the Falcon is a senior citizen. She deserves respect.”
“Yes Captain,” Rose said with a mock salute. “I need a real bed tonight,” she went on, climbing out of the booth and raising her voice then to call out towards the cockpit, “Finn, you mind taking co-pilot?”
“Oh come oh!” he called sarcastically from down the hall, “You messed up my concentration. I was just starting to hear voices!"
“And what did they say to you?” Rose asked, with a yawn. Finn stepped into the room, and Rose hugged him. He rested his chin on her head, and glared Rey down in mock contempt.
“They said I was going to be the most powerful and wise Jedi there’s ever been, and that Rey is going to have to start being nicer to me…"
He shot her a grin. Rey just shook her head with a smile, and walked passed him to the cockpit.
“Joke all you want; they sound pretty wise to me. Good night, Rose,” she called warmly.
"Good night, Mistress Rey," C-3PO called. The droids would enter into low power mode once they sensed they were not needed.
Rey got a blanket and a pillow from one of the bunks. Sleeping in the beds had always made her too nervous; especially now that they’d somehow almost plowed into a wrecked cruiser while in hyperspace.
Getting to sleep in the high-backed pilot chair took some getting used to, though, and one seldom got quality sleep. Rey leaned it as far back as it would go, and put her legs up on the control console. By the time she was something like comfortable, Finn walked in and sat down in the co-pilot’s chair. In his hands was a bowl of some kind of heated grains, and sweetener; Rey could smell it. The Falcon's galley was small, but you could still make a few things over the single burner stove.
Finn stared out at the the sky racing past them.
"Can I have a bite?" Rey asked. Somehow she'd forgotten to eat dinner again.
"'Course," Finn said, and scooped up a spoonful before offering it to her.
“You sleeping in here tonight?” she said through a hot mouthful of the chewy grains.
“I might,” Finn said thoughtfully, “I just wanted to ask you; is this normal? You say you can feel the Force, but like, can you feel It there at will, or do you have to wait for It to reach out to you?”
“I can feel It there, always. You said you couldn’t?” She yawned again, beginning to drift off.
He shook his head.
“Not really. The few times I’ve felt it, so far, it was like… like a light, coming on in my head- pulling me towards something.”
“And you’ve not moved anything yet?”
Finn swallowed, frowned.
“What- with my mind? No. Think I’d remember that... Is that bad?”
Rey shrugged under the thick woolen blanket.
“Probably not. I can’t really tell you for certain, though. From what I've found out, when the Force became active in me, it was far from a normal scenario. I’ve heard from Maz and a few others that before the fall of the Republic, Jedi weren’t evan allowed to start training if they were over the age of toddlers. They believed it made them too emotional to become proper Jedi.”
“Really?" Finn asked through another bite, and snorted, "Well that would be inconvenient for us."
Rey’s eyes had closed at some point, but she grinned anyway.
“Guess I can’t be a Jedi after all," she laughed, "Sorry everyone. I'll turn in my lightsaber."
She could feel it when Finn shook with quiet laughter.
"Speaking of lightsabers, we're going to need some. I know Lule and Leia wouldn't mind us borrowing theirs, but Ben's going to need one too," she yawned again, "Hopefully he can show us how to make them, because the Jedi texts are awfully vague sometimes."
Finn said nothing. Rey could sense what was brooding in him, though. It took her a while, but she eventually found the words to tell him what she needed to.
"You're a very passionate person, Finn, and I love that about you," she murmured, "But it may be that's what's getting in the way."
She heard him scraping out the bowl. He didn't answer for a long minute.
“When, uh, when did you start moving things?”
Rey frowned, right on the edge of sleep now.
“Luke’s lightsaber. It just sort of, flew to me.”
Finn chuckled quietly.
“Well, I’ll keep an eye out for things flying at my head, then.”
Rey didn't know how long passed then. When Finn spoke again, she was aware she was waking up to it. He sounded very small.
“Rey, if I can’t every really use the Force- if I never become a Jedi, are you going to be disappointed with me?”
Frowning, she sat up, took a deep breath and squinted at him against the control console and star lights.
“Finn,” she whispered, reaching over to set a hand on his back, “I could never be disappointed in you. You’re my family- you know that. I love you. Jedi or not.”
He stood, and bent down to hug her.
“Love you too, Rey. Get some sleep.”
This a very serious **TRIGGER WARNING** to anyone who's ever experienced a panic attack related to past trauma.
If anyone would prefer to read a less visceral version of this chapter, please don't hesitate to let me know, and I'll post a watered-down version as a chapter summery.
Please put your mental well-being first.
Ben jolted upright, covered in sweat, and blasted the room with Force energy… again.
He sat there gasping, trying to convince himself of where he actually was. Burying his head in his hands, he waited for the inevitable check-in from an angry sentry outside his door...
None came. Apparently this was becoming a regular enough occurrence, that everyone knew to expect it.
Humiliation turned him hotter still, and Ben crossed over to the sink to fling cold water over his face. He sat there, gasping and shaking.
"Ben? Are you alright?"
He sighed in relief as her presence washed over him, and turned slowly, fighting for composure.
"Nothing," Ben whispered between breaths, "Just another dream."
Rey stood a few feet from him- and also very far away. As usual, he couldn't see her surroundings. He glanced up, and caught the worry in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I get them too." There was a desire in her to comfort him, he could sense it; but also haste as she tried to sort out wearing a thigh blaster-holster over the brown pair of pants he'd last seen her in.
Ben looked away- and racked his brain.
"Did you make it to Corescant?"
"Yes; we're in a low orbit right now. We'll be landing shortly," she got the buckle working, and shifted to pulling on a deep-brown woolen cloak. "Ran into some trouble over Malastare yesterday, but we're alive."
Ben shifted to resting against the back wall.
"Are you alright?" he asked, partially to distract himself.
"We're fine," she answered, absently, "Finn's getting frustrated he can't feel the Force except when It reaches out to him, though... You were in training a lot longer than I was: have you ever heard of anything like that?"
Ben swallowed, still trying to calm his breathing. He wiped at the sweat on his brow.
"Uh, yeah, once. In a young girl. She was maybe seven or eight? One of Luke's padawans. It took her months to truly sense the Force. I think Luke was planning for me to take her as a padawan once I was a full Jedi; he used to have me work with her as part of my training."
"Aw, that's cute," Rey said, checking that her lightsaber was secured to her left wrist, beneath her cloak. "What ever happened to her?"
Ben tried not to, he really did- but the memories came in a torent anyway, and he could feel Rey witnessing them with him as he was swept under.
A cluster of terrified children, lit by a blue lightsaber's glow; woken in the night by the sound of a hut collapsing, and lightsabers drawing.
Terror, and agony as they rushed him… and fell one by one.
A little girl, setting down her tiny saber on the ground before him.
The feeling of a cold floor under his knees as Ben kneeled for the first time before Supreme Leader Snoke... and the three former padawans behind him sharing in his fear.
Long hours of dueling, and the torture of Force lightening when they stopped before Snoke was satisfied. Every other kind of torture. Endless, mind-numbing torture. Snoke said it would make them strong.
He was right.
A young man, losing an arm beneath Kylo Ren's lightsaber- that same lightsaber going through his throat in the next instant.
Snoke's voice in his head, praising him…
And the same little girl, ten or twelve now, wielding a red lightsaber of her own design... Fending off a much older Kylo Ren with all of her strength. Falling under his blade.
Searing pain, despair, and defeat.
Finally, the void.
Ben didn't remember crossing to the sink in the medbay- only knew that he was vomiting now.
Rey was beside him; hand on his back with all the strength she could spare as he heaved and sobbed.
He couldn't breathe. Why couldn't he breathe? He gripped the counter’s edge until he shook, afraid he might collapse.
Eventually, the bought passed. He dropped to the ground, and held himself. He didn’t know for how long. Until he was numb with cold.
"I'm sorry," she whispered in his ear, brushing her fingers through his hair. "I have to go."
He could feel her own horror at the memories, but also, a deep deep sadness. Not just for the girl, Sova, either- but for him. She felt sorry for him .
"Be safe," he whispered, and drew himself upright.
"I'll see you in a few days. Maybe sooner."
Then she was gone, and he was spent.
Ben hit the door switch, and it slid open with a hiss. He had sensed the guard change a few hours ago, and confirmed that he didn't recognize the woman standing before him now... Which was odd, because he could have sworn-
"Excuse me," he said, "Sorry, what's your name?"
She looked back and forth down the hall, as if she didn't believe she had heard him correctly…
Confused, but not scared. Interesting.
"Jannah," she answered, sounding more than a little suspicious.
He reached a hand out on impulse, and after a few moments consideration, she shook it.
"I'm Ben Solo."
She laughed at that.
"Oh good; I'm standing in front of the right door."
Ben cleared his throat, glanced around at the empty hallway.
"Sorry- I uh, I was just wondering if I could get some more of this parchment? I'm out."
He lifted the finished page, and she rolled her eyes.
"Some things never change," she muttered, then addressed him, "Sure, but could you take a step back for me? I'm pretty sure it stops counting as "guarding a prisoner" as soon as the prisoner is outside of their cell."
"Yeah, sure. No problem."
He stepped back, and she picked up her comm.
"We got any more parchment for the Supreme Leader?"
A voice chirped over it.
"What is he doing with it, writing a novel?"
"Uh, not exactl-"
"Not sure, but he's asking nicely, so…"
" Thank you ," Ben mouthed.
"I'll see what I can find."
"Thanks love," she called in response, then clipped her comm back on her belt. "Need anything else?"
"Yeah, actually... Um, I'm sorry- have we met?"
"Yeah. About three years back. On the Finalizer."
He frowned, then gasped when he finally placed her- or, more specifically, her mind.
"You were a Stormtrooper."
She frowned at that.
"I was. I was only stationed there for a few weeks, but I brought you food a couple times."
Ben felt the sweat break out on his palms.
"You look terrified. Relax," she slapped him on the shoulder, and it actually stung. "You weren't a jerk or anything… Though I certainly heard a few stories."
Ben swallowed hard and said, "Well, uh… thank you."
He didn't know what for.
"You're welcome," she said with a nod, and straightened up, "Will that be all, Supreme Leader?"
"Uh, yeah… yeah."
He shut the door between them.
Just be calm, Rey chided Finn, internally.
Oh yeah, he shot back, Bec ause you're doing so well.
Rey narrowly avoided being knocked over by hulking Gen'dia, who rumbled angrily as he shoved past their group. As it was, he knocked into C-3PO when the deiod couldn't get out of the way fast enough, and Rose had to steady him before he toppled over entirely. She got the droid righted after a moment's difficulty, and Rey started forward again.
The difference is I don't stay tense. You’re on high-alert constantly.
A pair of speeders roared dangerously close overhead, and Rey could feel Finn and Rose fighting the urge to flinch.
As soon as we're back on D'Qar, I'm sitting you down to meditate for four hours a day.
Oh, awesome. Being a Jedi has been just incredible so far, Finn griped.
You're not a Jedi yet; you're a padawan learner. As if to emphasize her point, Finn gasped when a creature the approximate size and shape of a mouse droid darted between him and Rey, before disappearing down a sludge filled alleyway.
So far, Corescant's Underworld left much to be desired.
This gets better all the time...
"You guys are awfully quiet," Rose called up.
Rey cleared her throat.
"Sorry Rose. We were just discussing how much Finn's enjoying his training."
They all went quiet as a pair of Devaronions shuffled passed, ogling them. Rey did her best to exude confidence, and superiority.
As soon as they were out of earshot, Rey asked R2 how much further.
"Half a mile," he replied in binary. An exhaust vent attached to the wall beside him suddenly let out a massive plume of foul smelling smoke, and R2D2 sped up with a distressed whistle.
"Quite right, Artoo," C-3PO, "This is the worst possible place try to hide anyone… Let alone the-"
"Threepio," Finn snapped, "We uh, need you not to talk unless you're doing translations, okay, buddy? Just for a little while."
Rey glanced back to see C-3PO stopped in the alley- arms raised in distress as he looked from side to side in apparent alarm.
Probably trying to figure out if he's allowed to answer that or not… poor dear.
"Keep up, Threepio," she called. He trundled after.
R2D2 stopped them fifteen minutes later, outside a small, metal door built into the side of a skyscraper whose top was shrouded in cloud somewhere far above. A Herglic towered before them, and it took everything Rey had not to gape at him. Having only heard them described, Rey had never imagined they'd be so large. This individual stood three heads above her, and had white stripes running down the length of his black head. Apart from a loincloth of sorts, he wore only five massive golden rings, a blaster on his thigh, and an ammo belt across his chest that Rey doubted she could have lifted without some serious aid from the Force.
"What is your business?" he grumbled in Basic. He punctuated this with a sharp exhale out of his blow hole.
"Svestar Creed is expecting us."
The Herglic looked a little flustered for a moment; folded arms thick as her torso across his bared chest, and said, "Go ahead."
"Thank you," Rey replied coolly, and opened the rusty door- and felt her breath catch.
The flashing lights, and pounding noise washed over them, and she had to fight hard to control herself from grinning- dumbfounded, by the sheer over stimulation of it all.
C-3PO shuffled in last, and Rose shut the door behind them. Rey could sense the tension and thrill coming off all of them, too.
Finn, like her, was trying not to smile.
"Come on," she shouting between these blaring beats, "We're looking for a Zabrak named Terson."
Rey led them down the suspended metal catwalk that surrounded on all sides the massive, underground space known as 'The Pit'.The air was humid and heavy, but not foul like the streets outside had been. Below them hundreds -maybe thousands- of sentient beings crowded a dance floor with the same square footage of a Corescant city block. Females and males, and several other descriptors, of dozens of different species danced on raised stages just above the crowd- each one more captivating than the last.
Focus, Rey warned when she glanced over her shoulder and found Finn's mouth open. Their cover story at this point, and which they had each memorized, was that they were runners of questionable alcohols out of Ord Mantell; come to establish trade with the owner of the largest club on Corescant. That wouldn't pass if any of them came across as the three very distinct forms of back-country yokel they actually were.
Yes Master, Finn replied, heavy on the sarcasm. Rey tried very hard, but still had to smile at that; he'd never called her Master before.
They came a glass elevator, which took them very slowly down the three stories to the main floor.
Rey had spotted five distinct bars scattered around the club's perimeter, and as they walked to the first, people folded out of their path. Their dark, brooding clothing must be working.
Maybe Ben is on to something...
They reached the bar without indecent, or Rey sensing any concerning attention. The protocol droid barkeep didn't make them wait long.
"What can I do for you, ma'am?" he called over the noise.
"I'm looking for Donivon Terson," she called with her best attempt at authority, and a clipped, Inner Rim accent.
He pointed to an indent in the wall to their right, and Rey could make out a dozen darkened forms therein. She shoved off the bar with a nod, and led her group over.
Rey hadn't reached the party of lounging, smoking humanoids before a Zabrak she assumed was Terson peeled off and came to her with haste.
"Genie Ostell!" he called her code name lovingly, gripping her hand. "So good to see you again, darling!"
Taken aback by his purple, crushed leather suit, and the chiffon head wrap huffing his horns, Rey let him pull her in for a quick hug, and a peck her cheek. His cologne sat right at the edge of overpowering.
She smiled warmly through it.
"Come come, dear. I'll take you straight to Mr. Creed's office."
He waved an enthusiastic farewell to the group in the conclave, and escorted their little party to a door in the nearest wall that Rey might have missed without deep inspection.
On the other side was a perfectly professional business hallway, and the sounds of the club died off almost entirely as soon as the door shut behind them.
Terson didn't bother looking at her again as they made their way down the hall. Twice, dancers in some the most dazzling costumes Rey had ever seen passed them, and Rey did her best not to gawk. Their eyes didn't linger, either.
"In here," Terson said, his tone dead serious now, and shuffled them into a large office.
"Svestar will be here in a just a minute," he called quietly, then dropped to a whisper, "Good luck, Rebels."
Then he closed the office door behind him, leaving them to take in the expensive wooden desk and bookshelves, and the bottles of vintage alcohol wracked up by a chaise lounge chair off to one side.
Rey spent their time waiting with her eyes closed, and mind cleared- trying to sense any encroaching danger. Nothing.
"He's coming," Rey said, a few moments before the door opened.
The man who stepped in had a strong presence about him; one Rey wasn't entirely sure she sensed with the Force. He looked them over for a brief moment before speaking.
"Welcome, friends," he said, non-committal, and shook each of their hands on turn. "I'm Svestar Creed." His large golden rings felt heavy on Rey's skin, and she thought she made out the ripple of muscle mass under a thin layer of fat, beneath the confines of his well-fitted pinstripe suit.
Rey took his hand.
"It's a pleasure. Are they close?"
"If you'll just follow me."
Svestar crossed to the back of the room, and shifted a stack of books. The wall perpendicular to the bookcase groaned quietly, and a dark hallway appeared behind it.
"Cool," Finn whispered.
Svestar started down the hall, and Rey stepped in behind him. A florescent light strip ran the length of a floor that looked to be permanently damp. R2D2 gave a wary chime from the rear of the party, and then the door closed behind them.
Ben knew he was dreaming, but for once his terror held at bay.
“Be at peace. Breathe, and let go,” called his master’s voice, but not to him. Ben was at peace. Perfect peace. “Let there be nothing in you, but breath and peace, children.”
Ben wore a helmet with a blocked out visor, but still sensed the droid as clearly as if he could see it. He deliberately did not turn to follow when it spun around behind him.
“See how he doesn’t even try to follow the droid? He lets his mind be totally clear of worry.”
The droid shot, and Ben whirled like lightning to block. There was a small, collective gasp from the younglings behind him.
The droid shot again, and again, and Ben danced; without thought or emotion, catching every blast more easily than the last.
Finally, the training droid gave up, and deactivated- fell to the ground with a muted thud .
Ben was sweating a little when he pulled the helmet off, and turned to see the four younglings grinning up at him in awe. He gave a little bow, and they giggled.
Luke Skywalker clapped him on the shoulder, then crouched down to be on the same level as the younglings.
“The key, children, is not to focus on what’s coming. Focus on what’s here, and now; on what you can affect. Only then will you as graceful as my young nephew.”
He shot a wink at Ben, and Ben grinned- looked away as his ears burned. He glanced instead to the western horizon, and saw the cluster of older padawans; suspended in the air as they meditated together on the hilltop above. Some were around Ben’s age, some were older.
He would be joining them soon; would have already, if his mother had sent him to his Uncle’s temple the year before, like he'd wanted. She had been afraid of something though... Perhaps of harm coming to him? Ben supposed all mothers were afraid for their children, to some extent.
“Your fear will only distract you- make it harder for you to let the Force flow through you. Sova, I’m talking to you here, understand?”
“Yes Master Luke,” the little girl replied.
Ben wasn’t listening; he'd felt its approach first in the Force, but soon in the soles of his feet. He knew the ship that crested the horizon like he knew his own heart- and Ben ook off running through the grassy hills, to the meadow Luke had designated as a landing field. He was at the Millenium Falcon’s ramp before it had fully lowered.
“Hey dad,” Ben shouted over the cooling engine. Han Solo stepped down, and pulled him in for a rough hug.
Come here, welp, Chewie bellowed, running down after them and yanking Ben from Han, before half crushing the teen in his own iron grip.
“Hey Uncle Chewie,” Ben ground out with a laugh, breathless. Chewie took the hint, and released him with one of his deep-chested chuckles.
“How you been, son? You liking it here?” Han asked, and steered them towards the circle of younglings where Luke still taught.
“I love it,” Ben replied, practically hopping in his excitement, “I uh, I know mom was hesitant about this, but I really think this is where I belong. Uncle Luke says I’m doing really well, and I feel like I’m growing more powerful in the Force every day!”
Ben had felt it all his life, but never fully understood the twinge of fear his father felt towards him, then. Ben swallowed hard in response.
“That’s, that’s really good, son,” Han went on, sounding a little winded, “I’m proud of you.”
Ben changed the subject.
“I thought you were hunting down a merchant past the Outer Rim. What brings you to Yavin 4?”
Han shot him a crooked grin.
“Your mother, and war- what else? I’m here to ask your uncle to come sit down with the Resistance. This whole “First Order” business is getting out of hand.”
Ben squared his shoulders.
“Well, once I’m a Jedi Knight, you’ll have another Jedi who can come help you fight them. I want to fly a fighter ship for the Resistance, and blast TIEs out of the sky, and go on infiltration missions with you. I want to use my power to stop the First Order, once and for all.”
That same pinge of fear, and Han threw an arm around his shoulders.
“That’s good son. You just- just focus on your training, for now. Let me worry about shooting people out of the sky.”
His father’s fear was harder for Ben to ignore this time. He hung his head.
“Okay dad. Love you.”
Ben was crying before he was fully awake. He lay there a few quiet moments, then dropped his hand over the bedside; brushed the leather of one of the Jedi texts with his finger tips…
Breath and peace. Breath and peace.
I know I don't deserve it, he called, but please, I just want peace.
"This is appalling!" C-3PO cried, having apparently decided his time being quiet was completed.
Rey had to agree with him, though.
The hallway had led into an underground catacomb. After weaving through that for nearly twenty minutes, they'd descended a manhole into the Underground's sewer system.
Now, as they walked through the darkness, there was a veritable river of waste to one side; drifting downard, slowly, to where only the Force knew. Judging by the way it steamed, Rey had little doubt that if someone were to fall in, their death would certainly be inevitable, but slow. She made sure to keep a loose mindfulness on the droids, in case they should slip in the inch of black slim that covered the floor.
On the other side of the walkway, the sewer walls showed obvious signs of frequent flooding; blackened with various layers of sludge, all the way to the tunnel’s ceiling. Finn had slipped early on in their arrival in the sewers, and had put his hand out to stop himself falling- the resulting chorus of disgust and retching had belonged to more than just Finn.
The only light came from a series of dull yellow, flickering bulbs set every few hundred feet, at ceiling height.
The stench was unbearable, and the ammonia burned at Rey's nose and eyes with every breath. Every now and then, she turned to make sure Rose and Finn were still breathing alright; their faces filtered by a scarf, and a cloak edge, respectively.
"It's not much further," Svestar promised- carefully watching where he placed his formerly spotless shoes.
Every now and then, they passed worker droids, mournfully scrubbing away at the building clots of waste along the sides of the sewer walls.
"Just be glad," Svestar went on, "That I maintain a small force who keeps this area free of Dianogas. The rest of the city sewer is crawling with them. "
Rey had never heard of them, but Finn shuddered audibly behind her.
"Oh that's exactly what I needed to hear right now," he grumbled.
"Well, if I were looking for someone, I would be hard pressed to come down here," said Rose, with her best attempt at diplomacy.
"Exactly, miss," Svestar said, then pointed, "Up here." They turned to a steep upward slope that went on for a dozen yards, and at the end of it, half hidden in the dark and pressed into a stone wall, was a door.
Svestar approached, and knocked five times, slowly.
The door opened inwards, to reveal a young woman in colorful dancer's garments.
She courtsied, and retreated inward to make way.
Rey could sense them all, but was still taken aback by the sight of the eight people crammed into the tiny, dimly lit space.
There was a small room off to one corner, which Rey thought must be a bathroom. Six chairs, and a dozen or so pillows and blankets scattered around a surprisingly clean floor... Otherwise, that was it.
As for the dignitaries, they looked like nothing so much as discarded baby animals; filthy, tattered, and wary. They stared up at her with curious, and mournful eyes.
The last person in the room was wearing a pilot's jumpsuit, and stepped forward to shake Rey's hand before she'd fully recovered.
"You must be Jedi Master Rey. I'm Captain Dustan Sar of the Resistance."
He shook hands with Rose and Finn in turn, and then went about introducing the dignitaries, starting with Governor Kiap'aro'nethwith, the Chiss.
Kiap'aro'nethwith's glowing eyes made Rey want to pull away when he reached for her hand, but when he addressed her in Cheunh, there was a gentle, warm smile on his face.
"He says he's most relieved at your presence," C-3PO translated.
Her Royal Highness Na’atarii Livena of Naboo was next.
Her hair was the first thing Rey noticed, but not the most striking. Done up nearly a foot above her head, Her Highness's locks were overshadowed by a composure and countenance to rival any Rey head ever felt before. She must have been a head shorter than Rey, and yet, the Jedi felt compelled to look to the floor under the weight of a gaze that clearly did not belong to a child.
"We are grateful for your aid in this trying time, Master Jedi," she said, in a cool monotone that shook Rey to her core.
Up until now, Rey's title had either been a joke, or an awkward formality. But now, as she glanced up and saw the look of respect in this, this Queen's eyes… even for one so young…
Something in the way Rey viewed herself shifted, in that moment: wouldn't ever be the same again.
"The pleasure is ours, Your Highness," she breathed, with the closest thing she could manage to a curtsy.
The human Senator Ventrill from Takodana took her hand, and shook it gently.
"It is an honor to know the Resistance has sent their best asset to protect us."
Rey could barely hear him now.
Please, she thought to her Masters, Let me protect them. Let me be enough.
"Thank you," she managed.
The other four dignitaries followed in similar fashion. Rey was even able to keep a level head when shaking the Qarren's three suction cupped fingers, despite how surprised she was by them.
When it came time for the Bothan Governor, though, Ashrea Toren'da of Bothawui seemed borderline hostile.
Rey couldn't say what is was, exactly, but something about the way her eyes narrowed into slits under thick brows, was just a little too much; gave Rey chills up her arms.
When the formalities were out of the way, the room grew quiet- and Rey realized with a pit in her stomach they were all waiting for her to say what came next.
She cleared her throat.
"Mr. Creed," she called, and found him outside the hut for sheer inability to fit.
"Yes, Master Rey?"
"When do you propose we leave?"
Ben had been sleeping peacefully, for a change.
Now, he held his throbbing forehead in his palms, and focused very hard on not electrocuting Jannah.
"Sorry to wake you, but the Council wants a word."
"Give me a minute," he growled.
The door shut, and he climbed out of bed- snatching his shirt from the wall hook he'd set it up on to dry, after washing it in the medbay sink the day before. It still had a hole in the front, and back from that time Rey stabbed him... Ben stuck a finger through one on impulse. This was getting ridiculous.
Why the hell am I putting up with these people?
Shirt on, Ben stepped out of the medbay and squinted against the fluorescents.
Jannah chuckled and asked, "You were fast asleep in the middle of the afternoon?"
Ben ran a hand through his messy hair- trying to find some kind of order for it, and ultimately giving up. He’d been washing out of a sink for four days, now.
"Time doesn't really seem to matter much in there. It's... getting to me."
Jannah glanced over his shoulder at the dark room.
"Yeah; I've done solitary for before. No fun. Right- off you go."
Her energy bow over her back, Jannah didn't bother pointing her A-180 blaster pistol at him, but gestured down the long, plain hall with it; a condescending motion Ben found surprisingly needling anyway.
She's just doing her job. Knock it off, he tried telling himself.
They took a couple turns, and eventually reached a set of double doors. Ben could sense Chewbacca on the other side, and felt his stomach churn at the prospect of being face to face with the Wookie again. He also sensed a dozen or so guards spread out around the perimeter of the room; and above, the mountainside side this room had been carved into. Forty feet of solid rock, straight up.
Jannah opened one door for him with her free hand.
Ben stepped into the mess hall, and took in this "Council" of theirs.
Not a lot of people.
Chewbacca locked eyes with him, glared, and panted heavier, but said nothing. Loathing poured off more than one member as he approached the long set of heavy wooden tables they had turned to face him.
Ben stopped ten feet off, folded his arms behind his back, held his chin high, and said nothing.
"Supreme Leader Kylo Ren," a middle aged woman said, standing, "I am Commander D'Acy of the Resistance. This Council has been informed by General Dameron that you are willing to cooperate with us, in entering the First Order databases with your security codes."
"That's correct,” he replied evenly.
She withdrew a data pad- handed it to Jannah, who passed it to Ben.
The codes were three, twelve-digit sequences of numbers- the middle of which required using the date and time, plugged into a mathematical formula.
Ben typed it all out, and passed the data pad back.
A few of the Council exchanged glances; he could sense their suspicion. Commander D'Acy looked it over, then passed the datapad to a young male in a green jumpsuit. He plugged the datapad into a hologram pedestal, and began to access the First Order's systems.
Ben cleared his throat, and waited.
"What do you want for this?" Chewie asked him, not politely, and shattering the silence.
Ben glanced at his shoes.
A ripple of confusion ran through them, but no one spoke as they watched the young man type. Ben shifted his weight a few times- flexed a fist.
"You uh, might not want to do that, though," he said.
All their gaze shifted to him.
"Why?" General Dameron snapped, “You getting cold feet?”
"No, not at all," he took a step forward, and everyone but Chewbacca and Jannah flinched. A couple of the guards raised their blasters at him. "At the moment, what's left of the First Order likely thinks I am either dead on Execol, or -and this will be very, very hard for them to believe- that I'm being held prisoner."
A murmur. Several people glared at him in suspicion.
"By all means, he amended, hands raised in defense, "Don't let me tell you how to make your military decisions. But my access will be logged -though this location should remain encrypted- and then they'll know I'm alive, because you can't get memorized codes out of a corpse. I'm merely suggesting you consider the impact that might have on Galactic affairs."
Commander D'Acy looked genuinely concerned now. General Dameron even seemed pulled up short for once.
Really? None of them thought of that?
A few Council members began to mutter amongst themselves. The tech-savvy fighter stopped typing.
Ben bore it all for a few moments, before finally gesturing over his shoulder with a thumb.
"Should I go back to my... room ?"
D'Acy stammered. "Erm, yes, thank you, Supreme Leader. Your cooperation will absolutely be noted when it comes time for your trial."
Ben snorted, and turned to go. Jannah stepped in behind him. Halfway to the door, he called back to them without turning.
"It's just 'Ben'."
Morning dawned, somewhere very far above. Rey woke stiff, but clear headed. She had fallen asleep meditating cross-legged in one corner of the old maintenance building. As she stirred, Poe's head moved where he rested; pressed up against one of her legs. He groaned, squinted, and looked up at her.
Shhh , she said, Not everyone's awake yet.
He grunted in response, rolled over, and snuggled up against her again.
Rey grinned, and shifted his cloak until under his head instead, so she could stand; patted him affectionately on the cheek.
She could hear Rose and the Queen of Naboo in the bathroom, talking in hushed tones.
Governor Kiap'aro'neth was huddled under a blanket on the other side of the room. He shot her a smile, which Rey returned. The Bothan Governor was awake, and digging through a bag, and not quietly. Rey shrugged and headed outside.
Svestar was approaching outside, with company, and Rey crept out to great him.
"Good morning, Master Rey. I trust you slept well?"
"Well enough, thank you. The others are still asleep though."
"That's probably for the best. You'll want to leave soon though; around mid-day, when the streets are the busiest. We've brought you all one last meal, and common clothes for our guests."
The dancer at Svestar’s side stepped forward, and Rey marveled that he wasn't cold, being bare-chested down in the sewers. He handed her two leather bags stuffed with clothing.
"Thank you, both of you. The Resistance won't forget what you've done for them."
Svestar grinned wide, took her hand, and kissed it briefly.
"It has been an honor, Master Rey. Godspeed to you all, today, and may the Force be with you."
Rey slipped back in, to find most of the room awake now. Finn was conscious, but was still holding out hope of a few more minutes.
"If I could have all of your attention please," Rey called, and most of them stirred or turned. The Queen and Rose poked their heads out of the Bathroom. The Bothan Governor Toren'da, though, continued brushing her hair- mane? Whatever it was- as if she hadn't heard, but Rey addressed them anyway.
"We are going to try and head out of here in about thirty minutes. Svestar dropped off ration bars for each of us, and some less suspicious clothing. If you could all clean up as best you can, change your clothing, and eat- I'd like to go over the plan one more time before we head out."
Queen Na'atarii of Naboo and Senator Elstra Tor, the Quarren female from Mon Cala, stood and drew closer.
Queen Na'atarii dipped, slightly, before taking the bundle of cloth from Rey, and the ration bar.
"Your wisdom and battle prowess are a comfort in this trying time, Master Jedi," she said in her strange almost-monotone.
Rey smiled, and caught herself before she could stammer.
"Yes, of course, Your Highness. Thank you."
Senator Ventrill of Takodana stood to her left, and looked like he hadn't slept at all the last three nights. He leaned in to whisper in her ear, "Honestly I’m just thrilled we're finally getting out of this swill hole."
Rey cleared her throat.
"Yes, I'm sure. I can't imagine."
Governor Kiap'aro'neth approached, tall and daunting, but there was just a hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth when he said in a tattered Basic, "Your kindness and strength are abundant."
I hate this.
"Thank you, Governor."
Deputy Regent Dor-
Oh no. What was it again? I can't do this-
Deputy Regent Doranma Cal Somman , Finn said, surprising her. He was getting better at projecting his thoughts, at least, if not sensing and utilizing the Force. He sat up with a groan.
Rey had just enough time time respond, Thank you, before Deputy Regent Doranma Cal Somman reached her. The lumbering Champala dipped his primary horns with a grin- missed her face by an inch.
He prattled something off in Chagri.
"He says you're as gracious as you are lovely, Master Rey, and you will make a fine clutch mother, someday."
Rey blanched. Rose went bug-eyed from where should stood in the bathroom doorway, and Finn, to his credit, stifled the laugh almost entirely. Queen Na'atarii actually narrowed her eyes at the back of Somman's head, which was more emotion than Rey had seen out of her so far.
"Er- thank you, Deputy Regent."
While she was still processing that , the Bothan Governor approached and snatched the dark cloth out of her hands. Rey was too startled to respond. Toren'da unfurled the tattered cloak, and hissed in disgust.
"You would dress us as destitutes? In the discarded clothes of prostitutes?"
No one came to her rescue. In the end, Rey took a deep breath, and replied evenly, "We would dress you as a large portion of Corescant's working class. If we want to get to our ship without being seen, we'll need to blend in. It's bad enough there are so many of us, with such... distinct features."
Deputy Reagent Somman swiveled from where he was trying to wrestle a dull gray pancho over his primary horns. The Champala looked stricken.
Bad word choice, Finn added.
But Rey had a louder problem. Governor Toren'da shook the cloth an inch from Rey's face.
"Such humiliation would not be necessary if the Resistance had not delivered us into an ambush. Perhaps you wish so many of us had not survived!"
She turned, and raised her voice for the other dignitaries to hear.
"Nor would we have had to spend three days in this festering swill hole, crammed in like starving children, and smelling each other's expulsions."
No one seemed to know where to look.
Toren’da whirled around on Rey, who took a step back.
"Do not think Bothawui will forget your incompetence so easily. Leaders are dead . If I had not decided to move to this Captain's ship-" she leveled a claw at Captain Sar "-I would have been slaughtered with the rest." She turned that claw on Rey, and tapped her chest once.
"Their blood is on Resistance hands. And who do they send to save us? This scrawny child, and her schoolyard friends."
A level but firm voice interrupted before Rey could reply.
"Master Rey was not responsible for the attack on us, Governor Tor'enda. You would do well to treat someone who is risking her life to help you with more respect."
Tor'enda whirled on Queen Na'atarii.
Before she could say something worse, Rey jumped in.
"The Resistance will be happy to discuss blame as soon as you're all safe on D'Qar," Governor Toren'da turned back, but Rey dropped her tone, and took a step towards her; finally finding her balance again, "I'm leaving for our ship in thirty minutes. Anyone who would like an escort from a scrawny child had better be ready to leave with me."
All clear- now! Rey called down to Finn, who repeated her words to the dignitaries and Captain Sar. Their filthy, tattered group began its exodus out of the sewers via a small cellar-style access door in the alley beneath one of the towering buildings. Rey noted the "Creed Enterprises" sign written in Aurebesh so high up on the skyscraper, she could barely make it out.
Artoo reached her first. It had been decided that he and C-3PO would follow directly behind Rey as she led; being the slowest, it only made sense for them to set the pace. Finn and Rose would take up the rear.
Next out were the dignitaries. Poor Deputy Regent Somman seemed to be having trouble keeping his robe out from under his feet. Whoever had selected it had erred on the side of caution when it came to finding something that could slip over his head. He grinned sheepishly at Rey as he gathered himself; his black, forked tongue flickering out.
Rey alternated between checking on her followers, and the crowded street over her shoulder. Senses on a hair trigger, she was monitoring for any suspicions intentions coming their way. So far, to her amazement, no one had so much as glanced down the alley, in their hurry up and down the street.
All the same, Rey breathed a sigh as Finn climbed out, and shut the doors behind them.
We're good .
Without a word, she set off. They melted into the flow of traffic.
It was two miles to the closest transit station. From there, they would hire a speeder to escort the party to the spaceport where the Falcon was currently resting under faked credentials. Rey glanced up at the noon day sun, and marveled when she realized it wasn't hazey out; those were thousands of speeders and ships blocking out half of the sunlight.
Coruscant was impressive, but Rey could never live here; the chaos and sound were draining, and she had to fight for focus, in spite of the high stakes. Behind her, nine sentient individuals, and two droids, were counting on her. It certainly didn’t help that the anxiety from the dignitaries and Captain Sar was palpable enough to wear on her own nerves.
They made it to the transit station without interruption, despite a few more stumbles on the part of Deputy Regent Somman.
Rey approached the Besalisk behind the transit station counter.
"I need a speeder for twelve to the Bayfew starship docks," she said, trying to sound self-assured.
He grumbled, and laughed.
"Can you pay for that, sweetheart?"
She flashed him the exact amount of Republic credits.
"Huh," he grunted, and counted them out before flipping a few switches on the panel behind him. “Only thing big enough for your group is an EasyRide. Fortunately for you, we keep a few old models up and running for just such an occasion. It can be here in,” he checked the read outs over his shoulder, “Ten minutes.”
“Thank you,” Rey said, bowing slightly.
She shuffled back to the group, who had bunkered down on a couple of sidewalk benches, nearby.
As she passed, Governor Toren’da grabbed her forearm. The Bothan had a powerful grip- to say nothing of her claws.
“How long? We are completely out in the open here!”
Rey gaped down at her in disbelief, and then yanked her arm free. She glanced about to see if anyone on the streets was paying them undo attention, before answering, “Just a few minutes.”
“Could you not have landed your ship closer?"
Rey couldn’t handle this.
Steady, Finn thought her way.
“Bayfew is the closet space port large enough to accommodate our ship. Thank you for your patience. ” Rey moved on, and dropped down on the benches between Queen Na’artarii and Finn. She could sense the hostility from the rest of the diplomats, but it wasn’t directed towards her. At least this childish behavior didn’t seem to be the norm among politicians.
Can you believe her? she shot at Finn.
Yeah, she's something else. Reminds me of a Lieutenant I had, once.
“We’re all going to die,” Toren’da growled as if to emphasis their thoughts, but more quietly now.
Beside her, the older Quarren, Senator Elstra Tor took Toren’da’s furry hand in her own three fingered suction cupped hands.
“Come now,” she murmured quietly in her garbled accent to Toren’da, “We must remain optimistic.”
Rey could sense the disgust coming off Governor Toren’da at being touched, but -to her low credit- she said nothing.
This is going to be a long trip home.
Rey’s pulse was just starting to go back down when the Besalisk counter agent meandered out onto the street. He shuffled over to Rey, pulled out a cigarra, and lit up.
“So what happened to you all?” he asked Rey in between drags, “Looks like you’ve been crawling through the gutters for a week.”
Rey was not a particularly skilled liar, and she had known so her whole life. Unkar Plutt had informed her of this, violently, on more than one occasion when she was a child. Even surviving on her own on Jaku, she’d never really gotten the hang of it. She had memorized a story though, and took a deep breath before launching into it.
“We’re refugees, from a camp operating off of Abridon. Most of us pooled our last few credits to get to Corescant, because we were told we’d be offered asylum if we could just make it to Galactic City.”
The Besalisk stroked at a scraggly mustache that reminded Rey of nothing so much as a particular scrub brush she use to clean parts with.
“Well you’re a long ways from Galactic City, aren’t you?”
Rey steeled herself, let out a deep breath, and raised two of the fingers folded in her lap.
“The man who promised to get us there lied; he led us into an ambush, and we were mugged. We’ve been surviving on the streets, ever since. We need to get to Bayfew, to meet a relative of mine who's loaning us credits.”
The Besalisk’s watery eyes glazed over.
“You were ambushed,” he muttered with a sigh, “That’s awful.”
“Yes,” Rey said, gaining confidence, “It would be better if no one remembered we were here, because we don’t want the people who ambushed us coming back to kill us.”
“It’s better if no one knows you’re here,” he repeated.
“You have a customer.”
“I have a cust-” he shook his head, scowled at Rey a moment in confusion, and glanced over at his counter, “Oh, um, if you’ll excuse me.”
Just then, their EasyRide speeder lowered itself to a small landing pad a few dozen paces off, and relief washed over Rey. She stood, and everyone else followed suit.
“Afternoon everybody,” called down the charismatic, and -if Rey was being honest- cute human male operating the control panel, “You’re gonna have to pack in tight I’m afraid.”
Rey allowed herself a shared smirk with Finn when the pilot turned his back, and then mounted the loading platform.
“We’ll manage,” Rey said with a smile. She climbed in, and took the spot directly next to the pilot. She sensed he was feeling a little uncomfortable at the poorly washed bodies, and the close proximity, but was hiding it well.
“I’m Rinc, your driver today. We’re heading for Bayfew, right miss?”
“You got it.”
The rest filed in, sideways, and Rey tried not to focus on how exposed they all were; packed in like fish in a tin, with their torsos sticking up out of the speeder’s top.
The young pilot was polite enough to not mention their distressed state, and actually took to pointing out a few landmarks to Rey as they flew, half a mile above the city planet. Corescant could be called beautiful from that high up, and Rey felt her breath catch as she took in the endless sea of speeders in every direction.
She felt the attention Rinc kept directing towards her, but from what she could tell, he just had that kind of quiet appreciation a lot of young men who’d just met her had.
He thinks you’re pretty , Finn teased. Rey blushed a little, but her mind went somewhere far away.
The flight was brief, and soon Rey spotted the massive ground complex that was the Bayfew ship docks. It stretched for ten square miles at least, ahead of them.
“Alright, Rinc said when their slow descent was nearly finished, “The gates are as far as I can take you. Thank you all for riding Kodoon cabs, and I hope you have a grea-”
They were still ten feet off the ground when the other speeder slammed into them.
His father’s fingertips rested on his cheek. They were already cold. His father held them there for an endless moment, and then they slipped away- his father’s life force slipped away.
This time, he was facing the wall, and the following burst of energy shot him out of bed. He crashed into one of the wooden stools, and it shattered. Ben lay groaning on the broken pieces and the stone floor.
That sensation, of life disintegrating into the void... He knew it so well.
It felt so real.
He felt it again, somewhere far off, and flinched in response.
Ben jumped to his feet an instant later- checked himself. Was he still asleep? No. There was that terrible sensation again; someone dying, nearby.
Then he heard them. Fighter engines.
Shirt halfway over his head, Ben flew to the medbay door and slapped it open.
“Jannah,” he snapped, and the guard -who’d been leaning against the wall with her arms limp and eyes shut- shot upright.
“Gah! What?” She blinked furiously, and lifted the energy bow in her hands… and froze when she registered that same overhead rumble Ben had. Somewhere, around the hall to their left, a door crashed open.
The sound of boots on a hard floor.
The screaming started.
"We're under attack!" came Dameron's voice over Jannah's comlink.
She locked eyes with Ben, and tightened her grip on her energy bow.
“Give me your side arm,” Ben ordered, palm extended.
Jannah stepped away from him, into the hall.
“Not on your life.”
Ben jerked a hand up, and threw her into the opposite medbay door.
There was so little time. If only she’d had more time.
Rey had done her best, in that moment the Force had given her; that moment before the impact. She had pressed against the oncoming speeder, of course, trying to slow it. At the same time, she had tilted the front of the EasyRide upward so that the brunt of the impact would hit the underside of the speeder, and not its intended target: all of their exposed torsos.
The result was that they all flew out as the giant pieces of metal collided.
Time seemed to slow. Rey felt them all; braced them all. Hit the ground and rolled with them all.
The screaming started.
Finn and Rose were conscious. The driver, Rinc had been centered straight-on with the impact. On his other side had been their oldest dignitary, Senator Elstra Tor.
Beside her, Rey felt both of their life forces disappear.
Rey pressed her palms into the dust, and pulled her face off the ground. She groaned, and got to her knees.
The speeder that had hit them had been small, for a blessing. Now, it lay twisted and smoldering with the EasyRide. Both had slammed and stopped against the ten foot wall that encompassed the starship docks.
Rey looked around, felt a stabbing in her neck, and strained to hear over the ringing in her ears, and the shrieking bystanders.
She got to her feet.
“We got to get up,” Rose was shouting at Finn.
She turned to look. Finn was dazed, but Rose was dragging him upright anyway. The Chiss Governor was pulling Queen Na’atarii to her feet. Senator Ventrill was checking Governor Tor’s pulse, and when he glanced up and saw Rey watching him, she just shook her head.
A hand clamped on her leg.
Governor Toren’da hissed up at her from the ground, “I told you that you would get us all killed!”
Rey’s stomach churned.
Focus! Finn shouted into her head, and something clicked, and Rey whirled.
Luke Skywalker's lightsaber was activated, and in her hand, and stopping the blaster bolt before she’d thought of it.
Then Rey saw them, and her knees nearly buckled.
The blaster bolt zipped through the space Jannah’s torso had been occupying the moment before Ben had thrown her.
Gasping, she met Ben’s eyes for the safety of the parallel doorway, and nodded. Tossed him her A-180 sidearm.
Ben poked his head around corner; scoped out their attackers.
Five of them. What caught his attention more were the tattoos.
He shot one, threw another back into his friends, and ducked back into the doorway; all before they got a shot off on him. Then he signaled a 'one', 'two', 'three' count with Jannah, and they put the other four down with systematic head shots.
"Black Sun?" Jannah panted.
"Yeah," Ben said, kneeling to disarm one of the gangsters. He tossed Jannah her pistol.
"No," she replied, "Thank you."
Jannah's comm was screeching.
"-many of them! All fighters, retreat to the mess hall!"
"That's us," Jannah said, and took off the other way. Ben caught up to her, and they both skidded to a stop when they reach a T in the hall ahead.
Ben held up a hand, and shut his eyes to sense the hallways.
He used Stormtrooper hand gestures to indicate there were eight fighters coming the way they needed to go.
Jannah signed back that they should hold position, Ben nodded, and they stepped back into another set of doorways ten feet from the intersection.
Ten seconds later, the small mob came running past.
Only two glanced to look down the hall Jannah and Ben were in, and they were the first ones to die.
By the time the rest had swiveled to look, Ben got a bolt in one's head, Force buffeted the life out of two more, and when the last three fired, he caught all three bolts, and returned them to their senders with a growl.
Huffing, he glanced over.
Jannah was gaping, open mouthed.
"You could have done that to me, this whole time?"
"Your friends didn't mention that?"
She just shook her head. Ben shrugged, and they took off again.
Two dozen fighters, at least. Half wore blue and gold uniforms. The other half, all black.
They poured off rooftops and out of the nearby shops, and from up the street behind them.
"Get up," Rey screamed- sent another bolt back on its owner. "We have to get out of here! Now!"
Bystanders were running now, and screaming in half a dozen different languages.
Rey limped to the center of the group of their group; something was wrong with her left ankle.
Toren'da was the last person on the ground, and Captain Sar yanked her up just before Rey would have with the Force.
"We have to get to the ship!" she called, blocking a bolt, and started for the gate; using the Force to take the weight off her bad ankle so she could run.
For a small blessing, their attackers seemed to be firing mostly at her.
We got the rear, Finn called in her head. He had Leia's lightsaber in one hand, and a pistol in the other, and Rey prayed he would find it in him to use them well.
She took in the ten or so security guards rushing down from the Bayfew gate towers. Whoever had set of the ambush, clearly hadn't paid off the guards; they were laying down cover fire for their party's retreat. As Rey stepped through the gates, a guard in Captain's uniform beckoned for her to hurry.
"Come on!" he shouted, as Rey turned to block a shot aimed at her head. The next bolt went through the captain's head.
Rey caught a glimpse of the streets behind them.
Swarming, was the only way to describe the enemy numbers.
Finn and Rose crossed the gate threshold, and Rey activated its switch. It was heavy, but wouldn't last for long.
She took stock, as they wound their way through the shipping docks; bowling other ship owners out of their way.
Governor Toren'da had been shot in the calf. The Chiss Governor Kiap'aro'neth was helping her limp along, in spite of the blood pouring down from his hairline. Finn was limping, but not horribly. The young Queen, for her part, seemed unscathed save a bloody nose. Captain Sar was following behind her like a human shield, and turned every few paces to check if he had a target for the blaster in his hand, yet. Senator Ventrill didn't seen to be able to use his left arm. And Deputy Regent Somman, the poor dear, was just trying his best to stay ahead of C-3PO. There was blood at his mouth that made Rey think something was wrong internally.
She turned them left, and a group of Twileks jumped out of their way, crying out in alarm.
Rey sensed it when the gate behind them failed, and a hundred boots stepped into the BayFew docks, fanning out at a full run.
We're not gonna make it in time.
"Hey!" Ben shouted down the hall.
"You can't go in there," Jannah called, with just a touch of humor.
Outside the mess hall's side door, the cluster of gangsters previously firing on it stopped, and turned almost as one.
Ben and Jannah opened fire.
The four shots their opponents got off before the last of them fell either missed, or went back to their owners.
"You're incredible," Jannah breathed, in the aftermath. The sound of blaster fire was heavy from inside the mess hall.
"Thanks," Ben said, putting a bolt between the eyes of a man who'd been shot clean through the throat, but was still trying to breathe.
Ben wiped his brow.
"Catching those is hard, though. This would be a lot easier if I had a lightsaber," he said, and used the Force to lift the hefty latch on the other side of the mess hall door. He started to open it- and leapt back, sweeping Jannah aside, as blaster fire singed the wood and the opening.
"Cease fire on the secondary west entrance!" Jannah hissed into her comm, "That's us, you idiots!"
No one shot, but someone called over the comlink.
A blaster bolt sizzled at the ground behind Finn. Then another. Then a dozen.
Deactivating her lightsaber, Rey turned as she ran, closed her eyes, and pulled several man-height fuel containers into the mob behind them.
Rose shot one before it hit the ground, and Rey could only hope that no civilians got swallowed up in the resulting firestorm. Fortunately, most seemed to have cleared out as soon as the shots had started at the front gates.
There was a customs gate ahead. A dozen First Order Stormtroopers were already hurrying out of it.
"Halt," one of them with a Captain's shoulder pauldron called. He raised his blaster, and Finn of all people shot over their group and caught the captain through the helmet.
That was good enough for Rey.
She activated Luke's lightsaber again, and returned five bolts in less two seconds- reached out with the Force and yanked on the wall of the customs station- dragging herself into the mass of troopers before they could get anymore shots off towards the dignitaries.
Then she was among them, and had three through the chest, and two of their heads off, and the final few nearby were running.
She let them go, panting.
Her group made it through the narrow checkpoint counters, but Rey glanced back and her stomach churned when she saw the mass of fighters, still coming and rounding the corner behind them, some fifty yards off. The barrage of blaster fire started again. Rey ran full speed through a pair of blast gates. They were designed to contain possible gas leaks and explosion to the hanger bay. If Rey could just get the rapidly lagging group through them, she could seal the gates and no amount of blaster fire would bring them down.
"Come on!" she shouted over her shoulder, "We're almost there!"
Finn took a bolt through the thigh.
Poe Dameron stared wide-eyed from his position behind an upturned, heavy wooden table, as Ben and Jannah made a mad dash across the battle field the mess hall become. They slid the final few paces, and Ben landed all but on top of Dameron; turning momentarily to Force pull Jannah's side-arm from where it had fallen, a dozen paces back.
"He's behaving?" Dameron asked Jannah, nodding to Ben.
Jannah went up on one knee to get a shot off at one of the other three side doors.
"I mean, he's killing their people, so I guess so," she shouted over the din.
"What's their numbers?" Ben snapped, rising to get off three shots. Two hit. Two other tables were overturned ahead of them, and Ben recognized most of the Council behind them -including Chewie- making much the same stand.
"We don't know," Dameron called, taking a few shots of his own before dropping back under cover. "They sniped our sentries first.”
Ben thought back to the deaths he’d felt.
Poe went on. "Somebody said they saw three standard-size frigates land; if I had to guess? That could be anywhere from fifty to two-hundred."
"And your numbers?"
"Whatever you see here," Dameron shouted through clenched teeth, and got off a kill shot of his own.
Ben did a quick scan. Somewhere around thirty five Resistance fighters had made it here, and were crammed in behind the tables together. Directly across from them stood the mess hall's main doors; heavy metal, blaster fire proof things that suggested to Ben that the mess hall had actually been a small ship hangar at one point. As long as the syndicate fighters were filling in from the four side entrances, the Resistance fighters had a chance of picking then off until the invading commanders decided the numbers weren't worth it.
Almost as if reading his thoughts, ship cannon fire started pounding into the blast doors outside.
Rey caught sight of the Falcon, and could have cried in relief. Fifty yards off.
The hanger had no ceiling; they had merely lowered themselves in to land, and would have to rise straight up to get out. Rose was helping Finn to limp along at the rear. Somewhere along the way, Queen Na'atarii and Senator Ventrill had gotten their hands on blasters, and were now providing whatever cover fire they could.
We're gonna make, Rey thought, fighting the urge to run to the Falcon and bring the ship back for everyone else. Her ankle was starting to blaze, and if anyone cut them off from her, Rey would have no way of getting them on board.
"Come on," she cried, pausing to spur them on, "We're almost there!"
There was a roar, overhead.
No, Rey and Finn shared the thought as Rey glanced up, and saw the old Republic fighter pull into view overhead.
A black sun painted on its hull.
As Ben watched, someone threw a thermal detonator, and it went over the nearest table; landed among the rebel’s feet. Ben swore, grabbed it with the Force, and lobbed it back. The whole room flinched as it went off, and limbs flew. Ben shot a dazed fighter in the chest, and another in the shin before dropping back down.
"How long do you think we have?"
"Two minutes, maybe," Dameron shouted back, "Then they're gonna light up this entire room."
"It's a nice corner you got your people backed into!” Ben snarled, “Reminds me of this one time on Crait!"
"You wanna switch armies sometime and see who’s the better strategist, buddy? Say the word!"
Ben wasn't listening. He allowed himself a few precious moments with his eyes shut. The blast doors were glowing red now. The ground shook with every cannon round.
Ben opened his eyes and watched as a Resistance fighter, a Sullustan, took a bolt through the head. Beside him, Chewbacca bellowed in rage, and stood; taking down three of the enemy before a girl with her hair in buns used her full body weight to yank the Wookie back down.
"General Dameron, what’s the plan?" D'Acy called from a table over.
Poe looked around frantically- his eyes landed on the side door Ben and Jannah had come in through. No one was coming from it.
"We're gonna have to make a break for it!"
Ben measured the distance between the farthest table, and the door.
"You do that, and most of you are going to get mowed down," Ben snapped.
"You got a better idea?"
Ben killed another two fighters to stall for time... weighing his worthless options.
He dropped back down, and swallowed hard.
"Yeah, I do!"
"Run! Don't stand still!" Rey screamed, and felt her vocal cords tear.
The diplomats scattered, and Rey had one second’s warning to jump bodily out of the way of the first point-blank cannon blast. Heat bit at her feet and back. She hit the ground on her forearms, and immediately fell into a roll to her left, as the ship blew a two-foot deep crater into the ground beside her.
For what it was worth, the light fighter seemed to be aiming solely at the Jedi Master. Rey had just enough time to throw herself upright with the Force, and jump out of the way of the next shot, once again.
The bigger problem now, she could sense, was the small army still approaching full-speed from the rear. Rey spared just enough time to glance behind, and see C-3PO waddling as fast as he could towards the center of the hanger... Trying to get the Falcon the fastest way possible: a straight line.
Behind him, and just on the edge of the blast gatess, Finn and Rose held off the barrage of the blaster-fire from their pursuers, as best as possible. Rey felt a swell of pride for one brief moment when she saw Finn deflecting bolts with Leia’s blade. Apparently he’d learned to use the lightsaber in the heat of the moment, after all.
Rey used the Force to throw herself backwards, violently, and saw that the rest of the party was halfway to the Falcon, now.
The star ship pivoted then- targeted the Falcon.
“What are you doing?” Poe shouted, as Ben rose- blaster dropped on the ground beside him.
“When I say so, get your people out of here,” Ben called back. He shaking now- nearly vibrating. Both palms held before him, he shut his eyes, and climbed over the wooden table.
At once, the blaster fire targeted him.
Ben caught the first three bolts without seeing them, held them just a moment, and returned them.
Took another step towards the blast doors.
Another six shots came in rapid succession.
Ben felt the muscles in his neck bulge with each shot. Still, he held them, and sent them back with a soft exhale.
This time, the series of screams broke the otherwise constant noise, and the Black Sun fighters were more hesitant to repeat the process.
The Resistance fighters, who up until now had seemed to not notice his presence, either froze to gawk or, if they were adaptable enough, started laying down cover fire on anyone who still dared to fire on Ben.
“What are you doing?” Chewbacca repeated in a bellow.
After that, Ben caught and returned only shot at a time, until he came to stand in the center of the room, still as a statue, and eyes shut.
He could feel the heat on his face, as the blast door started to fail; molten metal alloy dripping onto the stone floor a dozen paces before him. Every one-two double shot from the frigate outside made Ben's teeth in his skull. He could see the moment approaching: it was soon, and now, and past.
I know I’m not worthy, he thought, but only just barely, But please, if it’s time, just let me save Rey's family.
The blast doors failed.
Cannon fire came through.
Rey moved without thought, then. Eyes shut, right arm raised, she grabbed the light fighter star ship. It ground to a halt. She fixed its guns in place- pointed uselessly at the space between her, and the fleeing dignitaries.
Several things happened very fast, then.
With her left hand, Rey hit the external switch to lower the ramp to the Falcon. With any luck, the world leaders would get the shields up before Rey’s strength failed, or she got shot.
The task completed, she crossed her left arm over her torso, and spun to grab C-3PO, ten feet to her right.
She hurled him through space then, with a scream, and he stopped forty yards away, beside the ship.
Rey cried out again as the fighter increased its engine’s power; felt the sweat roll down her face. The Falcon's engine roared to life. With the last of her self-agency, she turned to grab Finn and R-
They were on the ground. Behind the blast gates. Surrounded.
Still, the mass of bodies kept coming; every one of them focused on Rey.
The red, ten-foot streaks of pure energy slowed before him. Almost stopped.
Ben hissed out through his teeth as every muscle stood on end, and he forced his shaking palms to stay up. The blasts, aimed directly at his chest, turned, ever so slowly... He let them go with an exhale- felt a dozen lives end as they slammed into the walls of the mess hall. Everything shook.
Ben screamed when the second round came, and again; turned the blasts, and released them.
“Go!” he bellowed with all the breath he had left- heard boots pound on the floor behind him.
The next round saw him shaking violently. He tasted blood in his mouth and the world swam before his eyes. Unable to redirect the bolts without hitting the fleeing Resistance, he held them in a deadly game of tug-o-war, and prayed the fighter wouldn’t fire again.
Still, the cannon fire inched closer...
Ben couldn’t breath; if he did, his concentration would fail, and he would be vaporized. If he did anything, he would be vaporized.
He stood his ground, mouth open in a silent scream of effort for an impossibly long time. Finally, when he had nothing left in him, and the cannon blasts were close enough that the heat sent blisters across his face- they froze in mid air.
Ben sent them back.
The fighter craft outside, taken unaware, sputtered a little under the impact of its own shots, but its shields held.
Ben gasped so deep he choked, then grabbed the fighter with the Force and both hands- and yanked it through the too small hole it had blown in the blast doors.
The next shot had already been primed, but the fighter was too far tilted forward, now, and when its cannons went off, the result was too much and too spectacular to be contained in the mess hall.
“No!” she shrieked- but even then her strength failed her, and she lost her grip on the overhead fighter as she turned to side-step a blaster bolt that grazed her left shoulder.
Rey was running for them, then, and every blaster bolt got harder to dodge as her ankle tried to fail, and the soldiers drew nearer, and the void began to call her again; demanding balance for the strength she’d stolen.
Finn locked eyes with her a second across the distance, before someone clubbed him in the temple with a rifle butt.
Don’t be stupid! he thought through the waves of pain, and forced himself up onto his hands again. Go! Get them out of here!
“I’m not leaving you!” she sobbed- vaulting over the head of a man who was trying to shoot her even as she was over him. Rey cut him down before her feet hit the ground.
Rose still had her blaster in hand, but a man was reaching for it, now. The muscles in her neck bulged as she screamed for Rey to go.
Finn raised his hand from where he knelt on the ground, and locked eyes with her again.
I’m sorry. His gaze shifted to the inside of the blast gates. The the control panel. His fingers wavered.
The last Rey saw of them, Rose was turning her nearly surrendered blaster...
The Rey felt the blast gate’s panel activate. The doors hissed and slammed closed with and audible thud , ten feet from where Rey stood. She felt Rose fire, and felt her shot hit the panel on the other side, short-circuiting it.
“No!” Rey screamed again. She didn’t even remember killing the last two guards; her body did it for her.
Behind her, the Falcon began to rise. Still shaking with despair and rage, Rey turned and sprinted for the ramp; jumped the fifteen feet to land on it. She felt it when Finn took another blow to the back of the head, and then she sensed him no more.
The ceiling- no, the whole cliff side, collapsed. Ben had time only to throw his hands up, and hope the rest of the Resistance was far enough away.
There was terrible noise, and pressure, and then there was darkness.
Well done, her voice echoed around the corners of his mind, W ell done, my son.
Rey was helped up the ramp by Governor Kiap'aro'neth. It sealed behind them, and though he didn't have much Basic, there was genuine concern in his eyes.
Governor Toren'da was screaming in pain, somewhere in the ship. Queen Na'atarii looked helpless as she hovered over Deputy Regent Somman; he was coughing up a mouthful of blood.
That got Rey moving again.
"Thank you," she muttered to Kiap'aro'neth, and shrugged out from under his shoulder- raced to Somman's side.
"Can you help him?" there was a tempered fear in the Queen's voice.
"I'll try," Rey breathed, and shut her eyes.
They jumped to lightspeed.
"Gah!" Ben threw the last boulder out of the way, and poked his head out of the hole he had shifted through the mass of fallen rocks. He got one arm free, then the other, and gripped the edge of the hole to wiggled the last of the way out- gasping and coughing past the handful of dirt in his lungs.
He choked. Spat.
"I hate that!" he shouted to no one, utterly enraged. "Every time! Damn it!"
He grabbed a random boulder from beside him, and lobbed it a hundred feet into the forest. It landed with a thunderous crack. A flock of birds took flight. A few more coughs, and his breathing began to settle.
Ben glanced around the rubble- and spotted for the first the young man, twenty feet off, gaping at him. He had a seismic scanner in his hand; looking for survivors, likely.
Ben let out a shaky sigh, and just shook his head.
The kid didn't move a muscle.
"Eh-" Ben broke off coughing again; took a moment to compose himself. "Excuse me; which way are the Medbays from here?"
"General Dameron," Ben called, descending a hill top. A dozen Resistance were scattered throughout the forest before him: bandaging each other, or shouting into portable interstellar comms, or putting fires out on their star fighters.
Poe Dameron spun around from a conversation with a Mon Calamari officer..
He blinked a few times, then threw his hands up in defeat.
"How are you still alive?"
"It's a curse," Ben grumbled, "Which way to the Medbay?"
Poe pointed a finger, and Ben hobbled that direction.
"If it's not life-threatening, don't bother," Poe called after him. "We got other people in line ahead of you."
"It's not for me!"
The only medic looked like a child.
At current, he was bent over Commander D'Acy, on the very bed Ben had been sleeping in only a few hours ago.
There medic's eyes went wide, and he took a few hurried steps back at the sight of Ben.
Ben lifted his hand, and limped forward.
"I'm here to help," he said, and looked to D'Acy.
Her breathing was ragged, her eyes wild, as she fought to force her abdomen higher. The oxygen mask on her face made her already jagged breaths hiss louder.
"What's wrong with her?"
The medic stopped retreating, and answered cautiously.
"She got shot in the side; collapsed lung. We need to seal it, but our only surgical driod is across the hall, putting back someone's insides."
Ben glanced that direction, but couldn't sense a thing because the Resistance had apparently decided moving the two colossal Ysalamir trees in the last four days was too much hassle, and had just opted to work around them.
Ben shook himself, and focused on the frantic, trembling woman before him.
"I think I can help," he said to the medic, and crept forward.
D'Acy's wide eyes bulged when they focused on him. She thrashed in the bed, tried to scramble towards the wall.
"She's not in her right mind," the medic whispered, and knelt, taking the Commander's hand.
"It's okay, ma'am, you're safe."
Ben felt a cold sweat break out on his forehead at the sight of her terror. He drew a deep breath to steady himself, and stepped forward.
She flinched- looked back and forth between the medic and Ben, making the same awful, gargling rasp all the while.
"It's okay," Ben repeated, and lowered himself to their level, "I'm… I'm gonna help you, I promise."
He reached a hand forward, and the older woman stared at it suspiciously, for a long moment.
Finally, she reached out to take it, and settled back into the bed; wild eyes still pinned on him.
Ben inched forward until he was beside her, then switched hands to free up his left. Carefully, he settled his palm over the hole, clean through her right ribcage.
He drew a breath, and she flinched, and this time he ignored her… let the breath out slowly.
He felt the connection they both shared through the Force, then, and with near perfect concentration, he poured his life force into her.
Tissue, fat, muscle, and bone knitted back in place under his palm. D'Acy's breaths turned softer. Ben opened his eyes to see her watching him, lids half closed in a look of relief.
"Thank you," she gasped through the mask, and he could feel her exhausted body start to drift off.
Ben stood, on shaky legs now.
"Captain Sar?" Rey called, bracing herself against the cockpit doorway.
He turned from checking their readouts, asking sharply, "Yes ma'am?"
"Are you injured?"
"I don't think so. My head's pounding terribly, but save that, a busted lip and some bruises, I think I'm whole."
Rey nodded, grateful. She didn't have much left in her.
"Would you like to take over, ma'am?" he asked; hands already braced on the armrests to rise. Rey glanced over his shoulder at their flight plan to D'Qar.
"No, I- I need a few minutes. You're doing fine. Thank you, Captain."
He threw her a crisp salute, and Rey half-stumbled back down the hall. The shell-shocked dignitaries had begun to unwind, a little.
Queen Na'atarii had gone off to bathe; Governor Kiap'aro'neth was currently raiding the galley with Govenor Toren'da; and Senator Ventrill seemed to be covertly making sure Deputy Regent Somman was recovered, now that Rey had healed him. The two sat at the hologame table, sipping at one of two bottles of liquor the Falcon had. Both men turned when Rey walked in, and she gave them a firm nod, then made for the crew sleeping quarters.
R2D2 gave a quiet, dejected whistle as she past, that loosely translated to condolences.
"Are you alright, Threepio?" she asked, rather listlessly as she passed. She'd thrown him pretty hard.
"I'll need maintenance when we reach the Resistance base, but I am fully functional in the meantime."
Rey nodded, and was halfway inside the sleeping quarters when he called after her.
"If you'll pardon my asking, mistress Rey; are you quite alright, yourself?"
Rey turned, gave him a nod and a forced smile, and shut the door behind her. Then she slipped to the floor, and allowed herself to cry.
“Come on, Finn,” Rose called to him in an anxious, sing-song, “I really need you to wake up .”
Finn grunted. Tried to touch his face. Above his head, something bit into his wrists and stopped him.
The memories flooded back with the ringing in his ears, and Finn jolted- snapped his eyes open.
“Wow, okay,” Rose muttered, “I did not think that was going to work.”
Finn looked up; found his hands bound above his head by thick, metal manicales. Rose was chained up similarly, with just enough room to almost stand on the flats of their feet. The chains were strung over a beam, spanning the gap of the two-story high, dome-shaped ceiling, with the other ends pinned to the floor some thirty feet behind them.
“How long was I out?” Finn asked through gritted teeth, and spit to clear the bloody taste from his mouth. His thigh felt like it was on fire where he’d been shot.
“Five hours, maybe? It’s kind of hard to tell in here.”
He glanced over.
Rose was shivering, and dried blood caked her hairline.
“Who got us? Black Sun?”
“I think so. They stuck us on a ship for around two hours, then dropped us off here. Wherever here, is...”
Finn frowned, tried to focus.
“Rey. Did, did she...?”
“Yeah, I think so. I heard the Millennium Falcon take off, at least. Didn’t sound like they got hit.”
Finn nodded, sucked a deep breath.
“Alright. How we getting out of this one?”
Rose gave a strained chuckle.
“I was hoping you had an idea. You’re the Jedi.”
Rey’s words rang in Finn’s ears.
You're not a Jedi yet; you're a padawan learner.
He swallowed hard, and regretted the action when it made his headache throb all the worse. He sighed, tried to clear his mind, and examined the rest of the room.
It was clear they were far above ground; clouds drifted past the cracks in the twisted, warped walls, and wind poured into the room every few seconds. The only way out was through a heavy wooden door directly across from them, and the floor beneath his feet was slick with the same green-brown slime that seemed to cover almost anything in sight.
"Why can't these people ever have nice, warm dungeons, with feather top beds?"
"Oh, and space heaters," Rose purred. She was chattering, now.
"Maybe a hot tub? A nice bottle of sunberry wine?" Finn added.
“I’d settle for engine grog right about now," she countered.
The door lurched open.
"Name's Troyer," the kid medic said, and offered Ben a hand he'd just wiped most of the blood from.
Ben accepted it. He’d learned since introducing himself to Jannah, though.
“Aren’t you a little young to be a medic?” he said instead of offering his name.
The kid laughed, and went a little red around the ears.
“I’m seventeen,” he said, and Ben could tell he was fighting to steel himself, before adding, “Aren’t you a little young to be the Supreme Leader of the Galaxy?”
Ben broke into a smothered laugh.
“I’ll give you that.”
Behind them, laid out on blankets, and tarps, and whatever else the able-bodied Resistance could find, were the eight or so non-critcally injured.
Ben had given up trying to heal all but those on the brink of death, and had shifted to more traditional means after explaining to Troyer that he’d end up in a comma if he wasn’t careful.
“We’re going to have to do something about your leg eventually,” Troyer said, eyeballing the appendage in question, where it rested on the parts chest Ben was using to keep it elevated.
“It’s nothing; probably just a sprain," he assured Troyer.
Another ship roared overhead.
The Reisitance had been transmitting an emergency aid request since the attack had first started, and more of the Galaxy had answered than Ben would have guessed. Part of the reason Black Sun had pulled out, was the half-dozen or so Resistance allies who had showed up shortly after the mess hall collapsed.
This is why I couldn’t stop them, Ben mused, Th ey’re scattered everywhere, and they always regroup… Like gnats.
A young woman in pilot’s gear stopped before them, then. Her arm -which Troyer and Ben had set an hour or so ago- was in a sling now. With the other hand, she offered up a plate with two hearty, steaming rolls. Ben took one, and forced a tense smile to the girl, who flushed a little. Troyer took the other, and Ben couldn't not feel the tension and elation coming off the boy.
The pilot dipped gracefully, and retreated.
“Sprain or not, you should let me look at it," Troyer went on through a mouthful, "That is unless you can heal it yourself.”
Ben took a bite, chewed for a while, and answered, “I don’t know. Haven’t really tried that, yet.”
“So Sith can heal others, but not themselves?”
Ben stopped chewing; the warm bread suddenly sour.
“I’m… not a Sith. Not anymore.”
Troyer was beet-red, now.
“Oh, sorry. You’re a Jedi, then?”
“I uh… I don’t really know. I don’t think Jedi are supposed to drop mountain sides on people.”
“Maybe. Wish I was a Jedi; I’ve seen Master Rey training before. She's is incredible!”
“Yeah, she’s pretty amazing.”
Ben felt a twinge of worry, then. If they had been attacked here… He toyed briefly with the idea of stealing a ship and heading out to find her...
Maz Kanata glared him down from a dozen meters off, and closing.
“Hide me,” he whispered to Troyer. The boy snorted.
Ben got to his feet- wiped his hands on his shirt before folding them in front of them, for lack of a better idea where to put them. Maz stopped before him- stared him down for some time, and Ben looked away under the weight of her gaze. The last time Ben had seen her, he'd still been just a boy… A very different boy.
“You have done a good thing today, Solo," she said, a deep gravity in her tone, "But there is much left to do.”
He looked back, stunned.
Maz shifted her gaze to Troyer, and her voice dropped.
“You tell that girl you love her yet?”
Troyer grew flustered.
“I don’t know, Maz… She’s… so much cooler than I-”
Maz waved him off.
“Get out of here, boy. Go to her," she dropped her volume even more, to a candid whisper, "You have saved lives today, and she has seen it .”
Troyer was red as a sunset when he stood. He glanced briefly to Ben, who give him a covert thumbs up, and then he was off.
Maz muttered something in a language Ben didn’t know, looking satisfied with herself, as she watched him go.
When she turned back to Ben, her smile faded.
She studied him for a moment, and sighed.
“You are tortured still, boy,” she whispered, and came around the ammunition crate he'd been sitting on. It took some effort, but Maz sat, and took Ben's hand to pull him down beside her.
Ben clenched his teeth, said nothing.
“They blame you still, yes.”
“Yeah. I noticed,” Ben grumbled, and glanced at the dried blood on his palms. They began to tremble.
“You can bear that, though. What you won’t survive, Ben, is if you can’t learn to stop blaming yourself.”
His throat tightened.
“You have done well,” Maz went on, “And it will get easier with time. Here," s he pulled a pouch from her hip, and turned Ben's hand, palm up, to take it. It made a clattering sound. “I should not have these any longer, but you will have need of them.”
"Now," Maz declared, standing and patting him twice on the knee, "If you'll excuse me."
She strode off towards Chewbacca.
Ben opened the pouch, still shaky, and peered inside. His breath caught.
Tags have been updated for this chapter, and going forward.
The door to the sleeping quarters opened slowly, and Rey stiffened- wiped at her eyes. She sensed who was entering, and moved to stand.
Queen Na’atarii interjected with her usual cool authority, palm raised.
“You saved my life today, more than once. Please, call me Nat, when we’re alone. I insist.”
“As you wish,” Rey said, dipping her head, and freezing when she saw the tray in the Queen’s hands. Na'atarii must have read her expression.
“You should eat something- and let me look at your arm. After all; you healed all of us.”
Rey glanced to where the bolt had grazed her upper arm; the muscle there was slightly visible, and charred.
“I hadn’t really noticed,” she breathed, and moved to take the tray.
“Please,” Nat said, and gestured to the bed, “Sit.”
The young Queen dipped a sterile bandage in the bowl of cleaning solution she’d brought.
“The ones left behind- they were very dear to you, weren't they?”
Rey hissed as the Queen began to gently dab at her arm.
“Yes,” Rey whispered. “Very dear.”
Na'atarii took out a roll of gauze, and began wrapping Rey’s arm, gently.
“I had three handmaidens with me when I left Naboo. They were, thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen-years-old. I knew each of their family members names; they were like my sisters. When Black Sun fired on our ship, and Captain Sar prepared for a crash landing, they surrounded me. They held me close, and shielded me with their own bodies," her voice held little emotion, but her eyes grew moist.
Rey held her breath.
“I lost three sisters that day.”
Rey was quiet for a moment, before she whispered, “I am so sorry.”
The Queen said nothing for a time; tied off the bandage.
“Black Sun will pay for the lives they’ve taken, but for now, it is important that we not blame ourselves for the survival our family would have wanted us to have. There will be no justice, without our survival. And I will have justice for our fallen comrades. ”
Na'atarii stood, set a steaming bowl of noodles and bone broth on the bed beside Rey, and turned to go.
“Thank you, Your-” Unbalanced, Rey caught herself, “Erh, Nat.”
The Queen dipped slightly.
“Thank you, Master Rey.”
The being that strode forward wasn’t human; that much was apparent. Had he been human, Finn would have guessed him to be in his early forties. Humanoid in shape, though, his colorless irises seemed to glow in the dim light, set in their gaunt sockets, and accentuated by the dark grey streaks running from where his eyebrows should have been, to tapering triangle points on his cheeks. There were three raised, scarification bumps going down the center of his forehead that almost gave the impression of an extra ridge bone, there. The sound of his long, black robes rustling on the ground as he stalked towards them was interrupted only by the occasional clash of Rose’s teeth against each other.
“Hello, friends,” their capture called in a purr, and flashed them each a brilliant smile. Finn couldn't have said whether this species had pointed teeth naturally, or whether this specimen had filled them.
“Hey baldy,” Finn tried, leveling his chin.
The smile turned dubious, as the predator gait brought their capture to a stop a few feet away.
“You must be General Finn of the Resistance… I’ve heard so much about you,” he straightened a little, folded his arms behind his back, and announced, “I, am Vikr Esse’J.”
“You,” Rose corrected, “Are a coward, and a terrorist.”
“Ah,” Vikr said, turning to her, “Vice Admiral Rose Tico.”
He leaned in until their faces where mere inches apart, and slowly, his gaze drifted lower.
Rose spat in his face.
Vikr grinned, and straightened; wiping delicately at his eyes with a sleeve. His volume rose.
“Tell me; do either of you recognize this?”
He withdrew Leia’s lightsaber from his cloak.
In a moment of adrenaline and inspiration, Finn tried calming himself and calling the lightsaber to his hand. Nothing happened. Apparently his earlier success with commanding the Force wasn't meant to last...
“I’m pretty sure Jedi call that a lightsaber,” Rose responded with a forced laugh.
Vikr wagged a finger in her direction.
“Feeling clever, I see,” Vikr turned to Finn, “You’ll soon find that ignoring me has certain unpleasant consequences.”
“I’ve never seen that thing before in my life.”
Vikr nodded knowingly- then, as if an afterthought, lifted his free hand.
It took Finn a terrible moment to realize what was happening. Every fiber of his being stood on end as the electricity ran through him. Rose was yelling beside him, but he couldn’t hear her words. He was aware his was jerking around like a fish on the end of a hook, but was powerless to stop.
Infinitely long, the lightning finally cut off.
Finn sagged at the end of his chains, gasping. He was wet head-to-toe now, in sweat, and shivered.
Vikr was an inch from his face then; pale eyes boring into Finn’s as he took in the agonized spectacle.
“Don’t lie to, boy,” he whispered. The he straighten, and began to pace throughout the room.
“I have it on good authority that the Jedi Master Rey has taken an apprentice- and also you were seen deflecting shots with this lightsaber before you were captured.” He glanced from the Leia’s saber to Finn, “I find that terribly hard to believe though, as you’re still chained up. Surely even a Jedi apprentice could escape this room…?”
Finn had nearly recovered himself. Gasping down at his feet, he called out, “I already told you, ugly: I’ve never seen that lightsaber before in my life.”
Vikr crouched before him.
“Interesting; you think you stand something to gain from convincing me you’re not the Jedi Padawan, and you also think you can withstand any pain I throw at you. But what about your friend?”
He turned his open palm to Rose.
“Twenty-two Resistance are dead,” General Dameron said to the group of over a hundred Resistance and their allies, now huddle around the rock slide that was once the mess hall. Torch and bonfire light flickered, and the wind howled mournfully through the trees as if to punctuate the General's statement. “That’s half of our brothers and sisters who woke up here, this morning.”
From his perch above them on the rubble, Ben froze in the process of wrapping his ankle.
No one made a sound.
“The funerals will be held tomorrow at dawn.”
An even longer moment of silence. The only sound was one or two individuals, fighting to contain their grief.
“Given the attack on the Republic dignitaries earlier this week, and the fact that we were ambushed on the very day Jedi Master Rey was farthest away, the Council now believes our suspicions have been correct: Black Sun has implanted one or more double agents inside our ranks.”
There was a ripple through the crowd. Their collective anxieties were enough to cause Ben to stiffen in response.
“And what of the enemy in our ranks?” a young Mon Calamari in Resistance Commander regalia called out from where he stood, beside Chewbacca. Ben recognized him from the council meeting… Aftab, he thought someone had called him. Ben had a moment of panic, then, when Aftab turned to stare of the hill, and point a hand-flipper combination at him before continuing to address the crowd. “Neither of these attacks occurred until Kylo Ren came to our base. Has it occurred to no one else that he may be using his Sith powers to communicate with Black Sun leaders?”
Ben’s face flushed, and he felt his temper flaring… heard the call to the Dark Side. He forced himself to take a deep breath before responding.
“I was unconscious until four days ago. When were your dignitaries ambushed, again?”
And I wasn’t a Sith… Technically. Although I guess my master actually was... he added internally, for his own self gratification. Wait, was I a Sith?
Aftab redirected, “A Sith trick, perhaps. Or you have another confidant. Only the forty individuals who were here this morning knew Rey and the others had left; and I certainly trust all of them more than you!” Aftab spun to address the onlookers. “Either way- he can’t possibly be trusted, and we are foolish to keep him around!”
That did it.
“Are you insane, or just stupid?” Ben snapped, standing. The crowd flinched. “I just saved all of your lives!”
“Another trick, to gain even more of our trust!”
“Idiot!” Ben snarled down at him, “Why would I do that? I could have just let you all die this morning! What better way could there possibly be to cripple the Resistance, then to wipe out all of their command?”
Aftab just doubled down again.
“You sit there, having not been tried for crimes we all know you’re guilty of, while our friends and family from around the Galaxy mourn our dead! It’s an affront of decency, and the memo-”
“ WOULD YOU SHUT UP? ” Chewbacca shouted. The Mon Calamari jumped.
No one so much as blinked.
After a long, tense couple of seconds, Poe cleared his throat and went on.
“Thank you, Chewbacca," Poe muttered, "In any case, and hour ago we received a message from the Millennium Falcon.”
Ben stiffened with the rest of them.
Why didn't anyone tell- his thought broke off. Of course they hadn’t told him; he'd just spent over a year trying to kill her, for starters...
Below, Poe seemed to be bracing himself.
“There was another attack this morning, on Corescant, at the same time we were being hit."
A few people actually cried out, at that.
“Senator Elstra Tor of Mon Cala was killed when Black Sun launched another terrorist-style attack, and rammed a speeder into the dignitaries’ transport. General Finn and Rose Tico are missing in action. Everyone else was able to escape, and Rey tells us they are stable, at this time. They’re scheduled to be back tomorrow evening.”
A series of sobs and cries of relief, and snarls went out. Aftab was glaring up at Ben, now.
Ben just sighed, and went back to wrapping his ankle.
“Alright! Stop it! I can use the Force! Just stop it!”
Rose’s scream died off with a convulsion.
“Leave her out of this!”
Finn felt his wrists tear as he strove to get close enough to kick their captor. Vikr snorted at the effort.
“Very good! You learn quick; that will make this so much easier.”
He moved to stand between the two of them.
“Your feelings for her are very strong… Is she your, oh what do humans call it again? Mate?”
Rose, still sagging, bristled a little. A smile twitched at the corner of her mouth, though.
Finn cleared his throat.
“Not, well, not exactly.” Before Vikr could run with that, he added, “But yes- I care about her. If you let her go, I’ll tell you whatever you want.”
“Finn!” Rose hissed.
Vikr laughed; a melodic, condescending sound.
“Why on earth would I do that, when you’re going to tell me anything I need to know, anyway?”
He stepped in, took Finn’s chin in between his thumb and forefinger, slowly.
Finn jerked his head back. He dropped his tone.
“Touch me again, and I’ll kill you. I swear it.”
Vikr laughed. Patted him on the head.
“So brazen, aren’t you? We will fix that, in due time. For now; would you care to tell me how, exactly, over a hundred members of Black Sun lost their lives yesterday, invading a Resistance base only forty-five strong?”
Finn felt his jaw drop.
"Ah, so this is the first you've heard of it," Vikr said.
Finn took a long moment to compose himself.
“I honestly have no idea.”
Unless… No, there was no way. Except... Rey seemed to think he had changed... Finn didn’t dare picture a name, or even a face. Poe had once told him that certain Force users could read your mind, and this creep seemed to be doing just that.
Vikr cocked an eyebrow-less arch- opened his hand towards Finn.
“I can sense your uncertainty. Would you care to revise that statement?”
Finn shook his head.
“You wouldn’t believe me anyway. Get on with it, coward.”
Rey turned off the comm.
Someone had led an attack on D’Qar, in her absence. She had wanted, terribly, to ask if Ben was alright, but with Captain Sar in the co-pilot’s chair beside her, she had decided it would be unwise. Rey took a deep breath, and bridged her fingers in front of her nose as she turned Poe's words over in her mind again.
Somebody must have tipped them off that you were off-world, and also known you'd be taking that transport, at that time.
The obvious most candidate, was Svestar Creed.
It would explain why they hadn't been hit inside the property he owned. Clearly, someone had waited until they were in a public, compromised position to strike…
She needed to tell the politicians. With a groan, Rey flipped on the ship intercom, and asked everyone to “-please meet in the main hold area, to discuss recent developments”.
By the time she herself got there, everyone else was assembled, and looking rather anxious. Everyone, that was, except Govenor Toren’da, who of course looked downright hostile. Rey was also taken aback to see that Queen Na’atarii’s face was now painted pure white, with two red dots running vertical down her forehead, and her lower lip having been painted red, as well.
Did she have a makeup compact on her this whole time?
Her hair was also rather elaborately braided above her head. The overall effect was striking.
Rey shook it off- steadied herself.
“Right, er… thank you all for your attention. I’ve just spoken to General Dameron of the Resistance. It appears, while we were being ambushed, the Resistance base on D’Qar was also attacked, by members of the Black Sun syndicate.”
To their credit, the dignitaries remained fairly composed- save Toren’da who let out a literal, feral hiss.
“This is of course, the same Resistance base you are taking us to?” she interrupted, and Rey flinched.
“It is. However, envoys from each of your systems have arrived to help with securing the base again, and they’ll be there to pick you up when we arri-”
“All expect for Mon Cala, yes?” Toren’da retorted, icy, “You told them how you failed to protect their Senat-”
Senator Ventrill caught her off.
“What did you do, Governor, when we were under attack? Did you defend anyone? How many holes would be inside you, now, if not for this young Jedi?”
“Did no one else notice they were shooting almost entirely at her?” Toren’da erupted. “Has it not occurred to you that maybe we are the bait to lure her out, and not the other way around?”
The room went silent.
Rey hadn’t considered that, no.
“Svestar Creed,” Deputy Regent Somman rumbled in his thick accent, but in Basic, “You trust this man?”
“I- I don’t know. I only met him when you all did.”
There was a buzzing in her ears now.
It couldn’t be.
“If they knew we were on Corescant, and they knew where we were hiding, then the only reason for them not to wipe us all out would be to lure this child-” Toren’da leveled a claw at Rey, “-out into the open. We may have been the target originally, but she is who they want dead now.”
She locked eyes with Rey.
“You are the reason Senator Tor is dead now.”
Rey felt like she'd been slapped.
"She's right," Queen Na'atarii called calmly, and Rey felt the floor drop out from under her. The Queen held up a hand before she could fall apart, though. "Not to say I think it is your fault, but the evidence cannot be denied; you were sent to retrieve us, and only upon your arrival was the Resistance base attacked. Clearly, our enemies know you are our strongest single individual, and want you removed."
Rey looked around- wanted to take a seat, but there were none free. She settled for a shipping container.
Governor Kiap'aro'neth commented in Cheunh, and C-3PO translated.
"He says surely you are not to blame, Master Rey; and the Resistance is very fortunate our enemies underestimated you so severely."
Torden'da looked awfully pleased with herself.
"Unfortunately, one thing is clear," Senetor Ventrill added, his tone grave, "We can no longer trust the Resistance with our safety."
Finn sagged, but various muscles kept twitching.
He exhaled finally- a shaky sigh.
Vikr folded his arms.
"Your will is very strong, I'll give you that."
"Stormtrooper reconditioning," he replied, and spat- barely missing Vikr's feet, "You got nothing on them."
"We will see." Then he reached beneath his long, dark gray robes. "Do you recognize this? Our men took it off of you."
Finn stared down at the lightsaber.
"Yeah," he murmured, "What about it?"
Virk turned it over in his palm, inspecting it.
"Who does it belong to?"
"Me, obviously? Why else would I have it?"
"No it doesn't. Not yet, anyway. Otherwise, you could ignite right now," Vikr held the blade end against his temple for emphasize, "Or you could undo those locks on your hands. Tell me; who gave it to you? Did you steal it from a real Jedi?"
Finn bristled at that.
"No.... They died."
"You don't deserve to hold that," Rose snarled beside him.
Vikr tilted his head towards her.
“He can take it back whenever he wants,” he tossed Leia Organa’s lightsaber lightly in his palm a few times. “Maybe he doesn’t actually want it, though? Be he likes it when I hurt you.”
He unleashed lightning on her again.
Rose arched her back- writhed and screamed.
“It belonged to General Leia Organa!” Finn shouted over her, “Stop it!”
Vikr smirked; stiffened as he re-doubled his one-handed efforts… and offered up the lightsaber with the other hand, a foot from Finn's bound wrists.
“Why don’t you try and stop me? Take it.”
"You get any sleep," Jannah asked in a whisper, and took a seat on the boulder beside the one Ben was using.
The same gentle drizzle that had gone on all night continued now, and made any kind of function miserable for the nearly two hundred people trying to live out of the few non-collapsed rooms, hallways, leantos and star fighters.
"Very little,” Ben grumbled, “You?"
Jannah shook her head.
"Not much. I was up late helping dig out tech."
"Why aren't you down there?"
Below them, in a field formerly used for holding fighter craft, fifteen of the twenty-two dead were being laid to rest; the others having all expressed a desire to be sent back to their home worlds. Ben couldn't hear what Poe was saying, but the anguish coming off the gathered mourners was intense.
"Didn't feel right,” Jannah replied, “I've not even been here a month, you know? Thought it might seem… disrespectful."
She leaned forward, elbows on her knees.
"Besides… Some of the Resistance have been... less than welcoming , to a former Stormtrooper." She flashed him a grin. "I'm sure you understand."
Ben snorted, and had to smile.
"Yeah, I guess so."
They were quiet for some time then, as the bodies draped in white linen were lowered into the dirt.
"How's your ankle?" Jannah asked when it was finished.
Reluctantly, Ben unwrapped the limb in question.
The exposed skin showed an ugly red, purple, and black pattern from the top of his foot, to halfway up his shin.
Jannah grimaced- showed him an eight-inch slash up her right forearm that someone had stapled together.
"Had to jump on a bastard on our way hightailing it out of that collapsing hallway; got me good with what looked like an overgrown skinning knife."
She grinned again, and Ben snorted. Her charisma was catching.
"You get the best of him?" Ben asked, staring off as another Resistance ally ship arrived in the sky.
"I did. No amount of staples is gonna fix what I did to him , I'm afraid."
She gestured to Ben’s leg.
"What'd you do?"
"I don't actually remember. I threw some energy up around me when the hanger collapsed, but I lost consciousness under the weight of it. When I woke up, this foot was sideways under a boulder. The wreckage probably shifted after I passed out."
Jannah nodded, and they fell into a silence Ben found not altogether unpleasant. He re-wrapped his ankle. A few minutes later, and Jannah began to shiver under her heavy, rain-soaked cloak.
"Sorry," Ben muttered,"You shouldn't have to be stuck out in the rain watching me. There just wasn't much room in the hallways outside the med bay, and I definitely wasn't… appreciated , there."
Jannah laughed. "I'm not stuck out here with you; the Resistance could seem to care less if you hijacked a ship and took off right now." She shoved him, playfully. "I just came to see how you were holding up."
Ben was aware his eyes went wide, but felt powerless to stop it. He looked away.
"Why are you still here, anyway?" Jannah asked, quietly. "You can bring down a mountain; why not take off? I'm not saying go back to the First Order, but- there's gotta be something better than waiting around for those zealots to stone you." She nodded down the hillside.
Ben looked down at his hands; felt his face flush.
"I'm... waiting for her to get back."
He bobbed his head once. Sighed.
"I don't even know what I would do, out there, without her. Where I would go..."
Footsteps on the wet stones below cut their conversation short.
Poe Dameron, looking like he'd been through hell, stopped a few yards off.
"You got a minute, Ben?"
"Stop it! You're gonna kill her!"
Vikr nodded, stoic.
"Maybe," he glanced at the unmoved lightsaber in his palm, "And yet, you haven't even tried to help her. I sense the conflict between you two… I'll reiterate my previous statement: maybe you want her to die."
Finn thrashed and snarled.
"How about you hand me that lightsaber, and we'll see how much you're reiterating when I'm done with you!"
Vikr broke into a grin, clamped his fist shut, and the lightning stopped for a moment. Rose gasped. Sobbed.
"That's the spirit." Vikr held to lightsaber an inch from Finn's face. "You want her to live? Go on; take it. Will it up into your hands. I'm not trying to trick you; I'm trying to help you realize your true potential."
Vikr brought forth the lightning again, and Finn cursed; pulled frantically at his bonds.
Then his own words came back to him.
It's kind of hard to clear your mind when you're being shocked.
That's sort of the idea , Rey had said.
He shut his eyes, and, against his every instinct, focused on relaxing even as Rose screamed all the louder beside him. He focused his will on the lightsaber...
Rose stopped screaming, and Finn opened his eyes to see her dangling limp at the end of her chain.
Vikr was laughing.
"Did your Jedi Master tell you to let go of your emotions? No wonder you can't do even such a simple task."
"Rose!" Finn shouted, "Rose!"
"Calm down," Vikr called over him, disgust coloring his tone, "She's still alive… But I don't think her heart is going to take much more of this, though."
"Choose something else!" Finn shouted, shaking now, "What do you want to know? You want military codes? Our other base locations? Whatever you want- just leave her alone."
Vikr snorted, grinned like a little boy pulling the legs off a frog.
"I want you to focus on your fear for your friend, and take back what's yours. "
Vikr turned his open palm back to Rose- it twitched.
"No!" Finn cried, and his terror consumed him.
Leia's lightsaber was in his hand, and on, and cutting through the chains above him before Finn knew what had happened.
Vikr grinned, and erupted in delighted laughter. The lightning cut off, and he shouted, "Well done!"
Finn took a step towards him as pure rage coursed into his veins.
Vikr just cocked a brow, gestured to Rose. Finn glanced over at her motionless form, and the fury drained out of him.
"By all means- go to your friend. I think you've earned it."
“Tell me everything you know about Black Sun.”
Ben shrugged- wiped the rain out of his eyes.
Poe scowled, and seemed to realize for the first time that Ben was soaked head-to-toe.
“You could really use like, a coat, or a cowl or something.”
“Yeah. That’d be nice.”
Poe nodded, and Ben went on.
“Nothing very useful. They’re one of the biggest syndicates, obviously. Right up there with Crimson Dawn and the Hutts. I’ve heard of a few of their leaders, but only in passing deals. The First Order caters to them, which is no secret, in exchange for them keeping the peace, or doing some dirty work the First Order doesn’t want to be caught smelling of.”
Poe crossed his arms, nodding.
“Yeah. We knew all that. How about their base of operations?”
“I’m afraid not. Some people said it was in the Hosnian system, but that doesn’t seem very likely, because, well… You know why.”
“Because you blew it up,” Poe finished.
“That, wasn’t my idea, actually. I… didn’t want that .”
“But you sure didn’t try to stop it, either, did you?”
Ben swallowed back the response he’d been preparing: that Snoke was too powerful. That he wouldn’t have stood a chance. That was a lie, and he knew it. Afraid he was going to lose control, Ben changed the subject, instead.
“You guys end up using my security codes?”
“Not yet. We wanted to at least wait until Rey got back, in case… Well, you know.”
“In case I was lying, and they were traceable, and I led the First Order here?”
Poe smiled a little.
Ben gestured around, to the burnout husks of trees that had caught fire the night before, from the heat coming off the blast doors.
“Well, at least this one wasn't me. What time is Rey scheduled back tonight?”
"Why do you want to know?"
Ben narrowed his eyes
“Could you stop being a m-”
“Alright! You’re right; I’m not exactly in a position to strong-arm you. Eighteen-hundred hours. Why?" Poe stepped in a little closer, and Ben gave him a once over.
“Just… Jedi things.”
Poe snorted, and actually smiled, then.
“Yeah. Sure buddy,” he went to move past him, and slapped Ben on the shoulder as he did. It stung. “Come on. Food’s almost ready.”
Ben waited his turn in line for rations just like everybody else... which he found disturbing. He kept having the worst flashbacks of being little, on Leia Organa’s hip, while she waited in just such a line, with just such a tray in her other hand.
He hoped he didn’t look as nervous as he felt.
“Hey Dark Lord,” Jannah said, suddenly behind him.
Ben jumped. He let a pent up breath out.
“Don’t what?" she said, laughing, "Talk to you?”
Ben didn’t know what to say to that. He settled for looking around, instead. The Abednedo directly in front of him in line was trying very hard not to think about him. The teenage boy scooping out what might pass for soup was dreading Ben's impending approach...
Jannah started talking before Ben could abandon the line for food altogether.
"Troyer wants you to swing by the medbay after breakfast. I told him about your leg."
Ben wanted to tell her that it wouldn't be necessary; that Rey would be back in a few hours, and would almost certainly heal him, but he wanted to collect his few personal items, anyway. The last he needed was to lose the Jedi texts after Rey had gone out of her way to entrust them to him...
It was his turn then, and Ben held out his tray.
The young teen gaped up at him- missed the bowl almost entirely. Brown, lumpy liquid went all over the tray, and upon looking down, the kid jolted as he realized his mistake.
Ben sighed again. He gave the kid a curt nod, and his best attempt at a friendly smile, and walked on.
Rey pinched the bridge of her nose. Less than two days since they'd left Coruscant, and she was about to throw Governor Toren'da into an escape pod and eject her into hyperspace
At current, she was prattling on, at top volume, about the sleep cycles of Bothans.
Rey couldn't take it. She snapped.
"Then, I'm sorry to tell you, ma'am, but you'll have to sleep in the cargo bay- or the main hold- or the bloody galley sink for all I care! Eight hours, per bed, per person! We have three beds, and six people! If you want the first shift, you get eight hours!"
Toren'da's bared her teeth.
"The Resistance will hear about your incompetence, Jedi."
Rey threw up her hands.
"Tell the whole galaxy about my incompetence, for all I care! If we make it back to D'Qar in spite of your constant bellyaching, I'll let you use this ship's comm to do it!"
Rey stormed out of the sleeping quarters. Governor Kiap'aro'neth was sitting at the halo table. He pointed over Rey's shoulder, and just nodded approvingly. It took him a couple tries, but he signaled a 'thumbs up'. Rey shot him a pained smiled and nod, and made for the cockpit.
There is a literal Queen on board, and a Governor is the one acting like she’s royalty!
Rey needed sleep. She'd tried to meditate, but Toren'da's constant attempts to rile up anyone who would listen were loud enough for Rey to hear without use of the Falcon's internal comm. And even if she managed to drown out that, then there was the constant, gut-wrenching fear for Rose and Finn. Would Rey be able to feel it if Finn…? she didn’t know. She couldn’t feel him now. How the hell was she going to find them?
Hours of racking her brain yielded no answers. She’d just have to hope someone on the Council, or Ben, had an idea. One thing was certain, though; if she had to cut her way through a dozen Black Sun dens, someone was going to tell her where Finn and Rose were.
“You needed me,” Ben asked, and stepped into the medbay without ysalamir.
Troyer straightened from where he was disinfecting the medbay bed, and wiped at his brow with and arm.
“Those parts you needed," he called, setting down the bottle of disinfectant, and striping off his gloves, "If I can’t find Dorium, you would Electrum work?”
Ben cocked a brow in surprise.
“Yeah, that would be better, actually.”
“Cool. I had to trade a set of stitches on a Quarren for some old field projector pieces you needed, but I think I can make this happen...”
"Well, thank you," Ben replied.
Troyer waved him off.
"Don't mention it. Consider it payment for how much you've been helping out with our injured."
Ben spotted the Jedi texts, then, where someone had placed them on the cabinets above the medbay sink. He pulled them carefully to himself with the Force, and Troyer feigned not noticing; trying to play it cool. Ben stifled a smile.
“What are you making,” Troyer said instead, handing over a bag of random pieces and parts. “A sink?”
“Not exactly. Thanks kid... How things go with your girl?”
Troyer turned his characteristic red.
“It went, uh good… Yeah. Really good.”
Ben turned a few of the Electrum rings over in his palm. A rare find indeed... Of course his mind was on Rey, though.
“I’m happy for you.”
“Good morning!” Vikr called with a nauseating pleasantness, “Shall we get started?”
From the corner in which they huddled together, Finn let go of Rose, and stood- putting almost all his weight on his good leg. He activated Leia’s lightsaber.
“Stay back,” he snarled to their captor.
The lightsaber was deactivated, and in Vikr’s hand before Finn could blink. Vikr motioned to the open door, behind him.
“Come with me, Finn. Your friend will be alright, you have my word."
Ben felt the ship come out of hyperspace, and searched it.
He found her a moment later.
Sighed in relief.
Ben. Her own relief hit him, and his heart soared for the briefest moment-
Another consciousness was close, though... Someone he knew...
Ben jerked as if he’d been electrocuted, and dropped the Jedi Text he’d been reading. He withdrew his entire being from the Force. From Rey.
He couldn’t breathe.
And then he was bounding down the hillside anyway.
“Dameron!” he shouted- slid in the wet underbrush without the Force to right him, and barely caught himself on hands and knees.
Ben snarled up at the General.
“You've got a really bad problem!”
Rey swallowed hard, and willed the Millenium Falcon’s ramp to lower faster. She was surprised to see the crowd of several dozen gathered around outside. It appeared half of the Resistance’s allies had turned out to protect their precious few diplomats.
When they began to clap, Rey’s stomach sunk in her shame. What would the Quarrens of Mon Cala say, if they could see her here; accepting praise for a mission that had failed them? Rey ducked her head, waved, and re-centered her thoughts.
Ben? She tried to see him again, but he’d vanished so suddenly...
I would have felt if he... she told herself not for the first time.
A half dozen men in military uniforms and holding blasters, four Chagrians, three Chiss, and at least ten Bothans, all seemed to be waiting for Rey to get out of the way.
A group of teenage girls in matching orange robes dipped, and strode past her. “Your Highness,” one called to their Queen, “We were so worried!”
She spun, and Poe grabbed her in a hug- yanking her into the parting crowd with the same gesture.
“Poe,” she cried, and at once the shame overwhelmed her. “I lost them, Poe,” she choked out, still being pulled away by him, “I’m so sorry… I lost them.”
“Shh,” he soothed, gripping her so tight it hurt, “It’s gonna be alright, but I need to tal-”
“Shh!” he repeated, more aggressively, and yanked her a little deeper into the mass. “There’s not a lot of ti-”
Shaken, Rey tore from his grasp; searched his eyes.
“Poe, what did you do?”
Poe looked stricken- recoiled a little, and Rey regretted her words at once. He took a deep breath though, let it out slow, and said, “Rey, I need you to trust me, now.”
The room was dark, but searing crimson light danced in rhythm with the two bodies at the center.
The battle froze as Finn and Vikr drew near. The female Togruta whirled- took her blade from the throat of the human boy who couldn't have been more than ten.
She turned, colorless in the intense red glow, and barred pointed teeth at Finn.
"Who did you find this time, Vikr?" she asked with an Inner Rim accent, and a sneer to match.
"My friends! Meet Finn. A gift, from our young Mistress."
Finn frowned, as four heads swiveled towards him.
A chill ran up his spine.
The Togruta laughed, and took a step towards him.
"Aw, he's terrified."
As if by her words, Finn's eyes adjusted, and he spotted the massive, metal chair on the other end of the room. His palms began to sweat, and and he dug in a deep breath. There was a deep, wry chuckle from the other end of the room, and a hulking male Klatooinian stepped from the shadows.
"He doesn't look very powerful," he rumbled in broken Basic.
"Let's find out," Vikr purred.
Before Finn knew what was happening, Vikr had placed Leia's lightsaber in Finn's sweaty, still-manacled palms, and shoved him forward.
Kylo Ren rolled his shoulders to stretch them- as much as he could anyway, what with his hands being chained over his head. They’d gone numb hours ago.
Beside him, a Ysalamir inched slowly closer; angled its head sideways to cast him a baleful, curious glance.
“Sorry,” he muttered, “No petting you this time.”
Kylo lifted and dropped his numb hands for emphasis, and flinched at the needling sensation. The Ysalamir flicked a crimson tongue out of its mouth, licked an eye, and lazily turned to climb back up its tree. Kylo sighed. His heart was pounding, and without the Force, not only did he have no means of peace, or distraction, but he would have no warning wh-
The door hissed open.
Kylo glowered from his seat on the stool, but didn’t move. Soft footfalls padded across the floor, in the darkened medbay. Stopped five paces off.
“What a pleasant surprise,” he rumbled.
“I knew I felt you here,” came the quiet response.
“And I, you,” Kylo replied evenly, “It’s been some time, hasn’t it, Sova ?”
Kylo felt her flinch at the name.
“You mean since you left a little girl, half your size, for dead on the floor of Snoke’s throne room?” She withdrew a few paces, and activated a red lightsaber; the tortured kyber crystal within visible behind a curving handle like glass and casting the darkened medbay red.
“Yes,” Kylo said, and allowed some merit to slip into his tone, “Since that day... Am I going insane, or are you dressed as the Queen of Naboo, of all ridiculous things?”
He chuckled, a low, derisive sound.
Na’atarii lifted her chin.
“Aren’t you observant, Supreme leader .” She gave a single, piercing laugh, “As if you had earned that sham title; as if my Master didn’t hand it over to you as easily as he made me Queen of his former home world.”
She began to pace before him then, lust in her eyes.
“He sensed it in you, you know? Even that day you thought you’d killed me. He knew you were split- weak! That you might betray him. He told me so himself, when he brought me to Execol and chose me as his most loyal servant.”
Kylo’s lips pulled back into a tight smile, that was part snarl.
“Palpatine is dead . I killed him- and took his strength for my own.”
Na’atarii nodded coolly, but her lips twitched in response to his taunt.
“That will be the third time you’ve betrayed me, then. The first; when I was little, and you said if we didn’t go with you we would starve alone on Yavin 4… And the second, when you stabbed me in the stomach, while I was still just a child . And now, you’ve betrayed the man who brought me back from the edge.”
“I felt you die,” Kylo ground out in defiance.
Na’atarii’s grimace turned to into a sneer.
“You felt whatever Darth Sidious wanted you to feel!" she said, laughing outright, now, "Always, you were his puppet! But me? I was his right hand.”
“Enough,” Kylo said evenly, and stood- kicked the stool out of his way, and brought his chained hands up in front of his chest. “Release me, and we will have our revenge on these pitiful rebels!”
Na’atarii was all but vibrating with anticipation and tension, now.
“Oh no, Ren; I’ve come for revenge, but not on them. Not yet, anyway. They may still be useful to me in crippling what’s left of the First Order. For years, my Master had me working behind the scenes with Black Sun; building strong the ties between them and the First Order. Now your pathetic attempt at an empire is disintegrating, and Black Sun is poised to become the strongest force in the Galaxy! When I felt Palpatine die, I knew my time as an apprentice was complete.”
She level her lightsaber at his chest.
Kylo had to laugh, at that.
“You don’t look very strong to me,” he jeered, grinning wide, “You’re just the same little girl I left on the floor.”
Na’atarii cocked her head, glanced pointedly at his bound wrists, and grinned.
“And for all your treachery, you look weaker than ever.”
She snarled then, and lashed out.
Finn just barely got his leg out of the way before the Togruta would have taken it off.
On instinct, Finn blocked a sweeping cut at eye height that would have taken his head off- grunted against the force at which she’d thrown it.
He stumbled back.
"You people are crazy," he shouted. At that, the Togruta, and the child cackled as one, and Finn scarcely sidestepped a lounge to his midriff.
She began a complex flourish at Finn's face then, and he tottered backwards all while blocking frantically; the lightsaber continuing an inch from his face, over and over again. In the end, he slipped on the damp floor, and fell backwards- cracking his skull on the flagstones.
The whole room laughed, at that, and the Togruta loomed over him, grinning with her lightsaber point so close to Finn's throat, it burned.
"He doesn't seem worth the effort," she said, looking to Esse'j. Then she deactivated her crimson blade, and turned on her heel.
"You may be right, Sarehn," Esse'j seemed to concede, and for the first time, he turned eyes full of contempt on Finn. “Perhaps the Jedi took him in out of pity.”
Something brushed against Finn’s mind then. A whisper, and a promise... Finn reached for it in his embarrassment, without conscious thought- touched it ever so gently, like he might greet Rey's mind...
It was like touching a live wire.
Finn was on his feet again, swinging at her back in the blink of an eye.
The Togruta was faster though, and laughed openly as she's spun so fast she blurred, and caught Finn's blade.
Finn growled in rage, lashed out at her with an undercut his brain hardly processed, and one he was sure he hadn’t learned from Rey. Burning strength flooded through him, and it was her turn to scurry out of the way.
"Not so tough now, are you?" he snarled, chasing her back and swinging for her head. A hundred scenarios seemed to dance through his mind, changing with every twist or shift of his blade and stance- they were his for the choosing!
Sarehn stepped back a few more times, then cackled and redoubled her efforts; catching Finn with a thrust to his upper arm.
Finn hissed as the fire shot up his arm, and then he saw red and all was movement and fury, and power.
He caught Sarehn across the cheek and she snarled before lifting a hand at him. Finn tensed in response, unsure what to expect, but Esse'j called from over Finn's shoulder.
Sarehn froze. Bared her fangs, but lowered her hand a little.
Someone snickered again to Finn's right, and he whirled- nearly slicing open the boy young beside him. The boy didn't finch, though; just stared Finn down with raw, unchecked malice.
Leia's lightsaber flew out of Finn’s hand.
"Maybe he does have some promise," Sarehn said, with interest, and something darker coloring her tone.
"Heziah," Vikr called, and the boy straightened, "Take our guest back to his room."
He threw Leia's lightsaber, and the boy caught it effortlessly.
"Give that to the guard outside."
Na’atarii stepped in to cut him down him with a high slice from above her shoulder.
It was close, without the use of the Force, but Kylo had just enough time to drop before the lightsaber passed through where his neck had been the instant before, and severed the now taunt metal chain that had been holding him to the wall.
Crouching low, he lunged, and she threw herself back. Kylo felt the heat on his cheek when she swung again, and he sidestepped- ducked, perilously close to plasma blade.
He took another two quick steps back, hands up by his face.
“You’re nothing ,” he snarled, “Even with a lightsaber!”
Na’atarii shrieked in fury, and stepped in to deliver a two-handed blow from straight over her head.
Quick as lightning, Kylo was inside and under the strike. He caught her hands in his own; stood to his full height and pushed them up over her head.
Na’atarii wasn’t done yet, though. Screaming in rage, she twisted her left leg between both his, stepped in closer, and head-butted Kylo, fore-head to nose. The cartilage shattered with a sound like crunching ice, but Kylo maintained his grip on the saber handle, and laughed through the blood streaking down his face.
Na’atarii let go of the saber with one hand, and moved to punch Kylo in the throat. He got an elbow down just in time, and knocked her blow sideways. Off balance now, Kylo stepped behind her leg, and shoved the lightsaber back and down. Na’atarii leaned into the fall though; rolled backwards, and turned off the lightsaber the moment before she would have landed on it. Then she planted her hands, and kicked off Kylo’s chest; flipping to land several feet away.
She was bringing the lightsaber up again when he kicked it out of her hands, and something crunched. The lightsaber banged off the far wall.
Na’atarii hissed, and lunged, but Kylo was faster again; caught her midsection with a flat snap-kick, that audibly knocked the wind out of her, and sent her spiraling to the floor. By the time she was upright, Kylo was leveling her own saber at her throat.
The teenager glared up at him with burning hatred in her eyes.
“Do it,” she snapped, “I’m not afraid to die.”
Kylo narrowed his eyes, and watched her a moment. Considered.
“No, you’re not. And you’re strong, even without the Force, and even in your foolishness.”
Na’atarii leveled her chin.
“At least I didn’t betray three masters. Better a fool, than a snake.”
“You’re loyal to your masters, I’ll give you that. But they’re all dead, now.”
He gripped the handle of her lightsaber high in one hand, and touched the blade to his wrist, never lowering the point from her throat. The restrainers hissed, popped, and fell to the floor.
“So tell me, girl; is your life worth your loyalty?”
So far, Finn had been silent as they strode through the desolate, murky halls of what he and Rose had concluded was some forgotten, war-ravaged palace. An ancient banner above him and torn in half now, bore the unmistakable emblem of the Galactic Empire.
Finn gasped, and shivered. They past what had once been an elegant parapet sculpted of black, glassy metal, and Finn stepped off line to glance over the fractured rail. A thousand feet below, there seemed to be some kind of primitive settlement; with the tell-tale sign of a few dozen flickering bonfires visible through the clouds drifting by.
He soon grew nauseous, and pulled back from the ledge; having to limp to catch back up with Heziah. The leg he'd been shot in was hurting more all the time...
“What’s your story, kid?” Finn asked a minute later, when he could stand the silence of the eerie halls no more.
The child spun, and his olive toned skin glowed- his dark eyes flashing with a malice that made Finn take an unconscious step back.
“Call me ‘kid’ again,” he hissed, lifting a small, rigid hand, “And I will crush your windpipe in your throat.”
Finn threw his hands up.
“Whoa, okay then. Damn.”
Heziah turned, but glared at Finn over his shoulder every few steps.
“The Masters were generous. They brought me from a life of servitude to this place, to become strong like them.”
The hairs on Finn’s arm stood on end. He wondered, very briefly, if he could overpower the small boy... even wounded, and unarmed.
At once, Heziah whirled on him again- baring pointed teeth. Had they been filed down?
“Don’t try it!” Heziah shouted, “Esse’j might be angry if I slaughter you here, but he wouldn’t risk our Mistress’s wrath by killing me in her absence.”
Finn lifted a hand in a soothing gesture.
"Alright, yeah. That's cool. I believe you."
The boy narrowed his eyes... then turned to lead them on.
“Go first, but be quiet and leave the guard to me,” Kylo Ren said, hand resting lightly on the saber hilt. He deactivated it, and clipped it to his belt.
“Yes, Supreme Leader, ” Na’atarii whispered- the hatred still in her voice, but smoldering.
She pressed the door panel, and the medbay opened.
Jannah glanced up in confusion.
The Dark Side of the Force entered Kylo like a thunder bolt. Under the manic power was the sweetness like hard spice he’d been depriving himself of. It was overwhelming, to the point that he sighed in sheer pleasure as goose flesh rippled over his skin.
Kylo threw Jannah then, ten feet into the opposite wall. Her shout of alarm was cut short as her head hit plaster, and she collapsed to the floor- her energy bow clattering off the wall.
Kylo glanced up and down the hall. No one stirred.
“Take me to the ship you came in on.”
“Yes, Supreme Leader.”
They made their way outside; pausing only once to wait for a Resistance alley in Corellia pilot's gear to pass. Slipping through the bonfires and the sleeping forms, Kylo took in the Millennium Falcon from a distance. He felt the flicker of Na’atarii's attention on his face- scouring him for any weakness... Exactly like he was doing to her. There was nothing for her to sense. His resolve was perfect, and his mind emotionless and clearer than it had ever been in their previous time together. The pair boarded, and Kylo sealed the ramp behind him.
"This was your father's ship," Na’atarii probed.
"Ben Solo's father's ship," he corrected- hissed , "They're both dead now." He added an edge of warning, " Like Palpatine ."
She glanced to the ground as they made their way to the cockpit.
"Sit." He gestured to the pilot's seat and she obeyed. He folded his arms.
"There was a boy, with the Jedi Rey. Her new apprentice. I have sensed the Force in him; foreseen his capture on Coruscant."
When Na'atarii spoke, there was the first hint of actual reverence under the waves of hatred pouring off the girl.
"You have foreseen correctly, Supreme Leader.”
"Take me to him,” Kylo commanded.
"Yes, Supreme Leader."
She turned to the control console, and keyed in a course to the galactic center.
To the planet Byss.
"The Emperors Palace?"
Her voice was cool as she began the warm-up sequence Kylo was genuinely surprised she knew.
"The Dark Side of the Force is strong there, still. Several of us thought it wise to learn and train under such a powerful influence. I arranged for the Jedi apprentice’s capture, and had him sent there to see if he could be turned."
"I assume you keep a few Black Sun squadrons there, just in case?"
"A few dozen, yes.” Pride colored her feelings… “Enough to keep the locals compliant."
"That's an excellent place to take him,” Kylo soothed, “I would have done the same."
She seemed a little confused at that, but actually started to smile.
“One more thing,” Kylo added, as the engines flared to life... almost as if it were an afterthought.
“I heard the Resistance discussing a terrorist attack on Coruscant; some of their allies had representatives killed. Your doing?”
The young Queen smiled.
“Our doing, yes. I couldn’t risk having my cover blown, so we launched an attack on them once everyone was in one spot and made it look like a coincidence that I was there. My ship was the only one to escape the attack or course; by accident.”
Her smile turned to a grin. There was something she was avoiding still though... Kylo could sense it, but it didn't quite take form, and he was out of time. He could also sense her waiting for his approval, and allowed himself a moment to savor her earnest, and the raw, delicious power coursing through every fiber of him...
Then Ben sighed, long and deep, severed his connection to the Dark Side, and straightened up. The rest of the facade dropped away as he flipped the overhead switch for the Falcon's interior comm.
"Is that enough for you, Rey?
"Plenty for me," her voice called back. There was a scraping of heavy metal as the smuggler compartment grate was pulled back. Then there were footfalls in the hallway, and Rey's voice came from behind. "Is that enough for you, Poe?"
"Too much, almost,” Dameron added from beside her, “I think I'm gonna be sick. Chewie?"
The Wookie gave a rumble of vague approval, Ben recognized as being somewhat disgruntled, too.
Na’atarii's eyes went wide, and she shot upright.
"But- No," she stammered, "I would have felt her!"
Ben leaned over, and flicked the girl lightly between the eyes.
"You felt whatever I wanted you to feel, Sova,” he whispered, “You should have learned to clear your mind better, and be mindful of your surroundings."
The teen just stared up at him, horrified.
"Your Royal Highness, Queen Na'atarii Livena of Naboo," Poe Dameron said, stepping forward with a pair of restrainers already in hand, "You are hereby under-"
Na’atarii jerked, and yanked at her lightsaber where it still rested on Ben's belt. Ben’s hand shot up in the same instant, and he had her gripped bodily by the Force before the saber could so much as become unclipped.
Poe Dameron stared on in uncertainty at the two Force users who were now, in effect, just holding rigid hands out at one another, at point blank range, in the cramped cockpit. He glanced to Rey, who nodded, before continuing; "Uh... under the arrest of the Council of the Resistance…"
Poe went on with the same speech he'd give Ben the week before, and Ben maintained his grip on the girl almost lazily.
Well done, Rey whispered in Ben's mind, while outwardly glaring down the supposed Queen of Naboo. Are you okay?
I’ll be alright.
Na’atarii's eyes bulged then, and her lips pulled back in a feral snarl.
"I hate you," she managed to scream, interrupting Poe again.
Poe wrapped it up, and proceeded to clap restraints on the girl, taking her by the arm.
Rey took a step forward, and got a grip her other arm. Ben was close enough to hear her whisper, an inch from Na’atarii’s ear.
"If your men have hurt my friends, you’ll pay for it ."
Ben cocked a brow at her rage, and waited for Rey and Poe to lead the girl forward.
Na’atarii didn't respond, and Ben searched her feelings... Apparently her rage had settled enough for her to focus on her own senses again, and she turned with a jerk to gape, open mouthed, at Ben.
“I can’t believe it,” she breathed, "You've been seduced by the Light.”
Ben shrugged a little, and she went ballistic in response. He froze her in a Force grip again- waited for her to calm.
“You were supposed to be the strongest of us!” she spat.
"Sorry to disappoint,” Ben replied, and pushed her forward a few steps with the Force. “Walk."
Rose rushed to Finn as soon as the door closed, and he grabbed her up in his arms. She was all but blue with chill now. A spike of fear ran through his chest, and he squeezed her-willing some of his heat into her.
"What'd they want?" she asked through chattering teeth.
Finn didn't bother keeping the resentment out of his voice. “To toy with me, I think. Where’d that food come from?” He motioned to the stone tray on the ground. Exactly, painstakingly half of it remained; some kind of bread, a few chucks of meat, and half of an apple, chewed off with precision.
“Protocol droid came while you were away," Rose murmured. She slipped her hands and arms under his jacket without bothering to get permission. "I asked her for a blanket too… We’ll see how that goes...”
Finn nodded. But then he began to ponder...
“I don’t think we’ll need to wait that long," he said, after a few moments of deliberation.
“We’re getting out of here," he whispered, waddling them towards the food tray- hissing every time the motion put weight on his bad leg... It had begun to throb with his heartbeats, he noticed. Finn crouched, gritting his teeth, and Rose helped to lower him to the floor. “Here’s the plan."
Mere minutes after Na’atarii’s ill-fated confession, she was bound to the same medbay wall she had found Ben on. They let her keep her hands lower, of course, with two yards of chain for mobility, and a medbay bed under her instead of a stool. Ben had needed to look helpless, but there was no reason to be more cruel than necessary. Besides, Ben reflected to himself when the task was complete, It looks bad enough to any bystanders, even like this.
"You can't let her get loose," Ben tried to emphasize to Dameron from across the room- not wanting to break the lethal eye-contact she was sending his way. "I’m sure she's already trying to figure out how to get close enough to snap the Ysalamirs’ necks."
Dameron blanched a little, and glanced over Ben's shoulder, as if to confirm they were talking about the same teenager...
"No, he's right," Rey interrupted, stepping a little closer.
"You reading my mind, too?" Poe asked with a laugh that did not altogether hide his discomfort at the prospect.
Rey scoffed, and broke into a grin.
"As if I'd want to!” she said with a laugh, “Who knows what disgusting thoughts you get up to in there."
Dameron shot Rey a crooked half-smile. Ben thought about mentioning that none of them could “read minds,” in here, but let it slide. It wasn’t Dameron’s fault he couldn’t understand the discomfort that came with being separated from the Force... From Rey. I want you, he growled to the empty space where he usually felt her presence in his mind.
He needed to focus.
"Point being," Ben cut back in instead, and pointed to the teen, "If she gets out of those cuffs you're all going to die; so don't do like you did with me, and leave her unattended! Keep guards in this room with her. Multiple, if you can spare them."
Poe went a little more pale around the gills again- then froze. Bristled.
"Wait a second, Your Excellency ,” he said, a little snide, and set a hand on Ben’s shoulder, “Why are you talking like you're leaving, buddy?"
Ben didn’t respond -wasn't even sure he'd heard the question- but scowled furiously down a the hand on him instead; then turned what he was aware was a venomous gaze slowly up onto Dameron.
Poe yanked his hand back.
"I need him to get to Finn and Rose," Rey jumped in, "He's been to Byss before; he knows where the Emperor's palace was, and how to get in..."
Dameron's face went dark, then pained. Looking down, he pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed long and hard... then slowly began to nod.
"Yeah,” he grumbled with a sigh, “Yeah, okay. I'll go wake… the other three Council members, I guess."
Rey turned to watch Poe leave, and then asked Ben, “How did you manage it, getting him to agree to that crazy plan of yours?”
She felt Ben step in closer behind her, and it was a very good thing none of them could use the Force right now, or Na'atarii would certainly be sensing all sorts of feelings Rey was having for Ben.
Now that's a disturbing thought.
Ben chuckled; a deep, warm sound she'd only heard a few times... Wanted to hear more.
“All I told him," Ben answered, "Was that a crazy Sith was here, and he needed to chain me up in the medbay so she could try to come kill me; he leapt at the opportunity."
Rey snorted. She turned then and took in the lines on Ben’s forehead, and the tightness of his jaw that didn’t match the mirth of his tone.
I’ll never take being able to sense your feelings for granted again.
"I'm sure he imagined if you were wrong, the worst case scenario was that he’d have hide out in the Falcon for a couple hours with me and Chewbacca. As it was, we only went in there after the guards told us Na'atarii left her room. He'd do just about anything for Finn," she said with a sigh, "And Rose too, of course.”
Ben nodded, but that darkness was still brewing there, behind his eyes...
“Are you sure you’re alright?" she whispered, with a glance at their captive. Having to allow the Dark Side to slip inside of him like that- and then to come back to the Light on command… Rey was certain it must have taken some toll on him.
Ben shrugged. “I’ll be fine. Just tired.”
Rey looked him over dubiously, but now her thoughts were turning back to the girl on the wall.
She sighed. "Can you give us a minute?"
Ben frowned, but consented.
"Sure, yeah,” he stepped to the door and raised his voice. “I'll be just outside." There was a warning in his tone, but not for Rey.
The door opened, and closed, and the two girls were alone.
Rey drew a shaky breath, and turned to Na'atarii.
"So," she whispered, and strode over to the girl, "Those three handmaidens- the one on Sar's ship when it went down?"
Na'atarii flashed her a grin. "I didn't lie; they did shield me with their bodies… They just hadn't intended too."
Rey felt her gut churn.
"Does that bother you, Jedi?" Na'atarii asked, pulling her knees up to her chin, and smiling over the top of them, "Are they even more lost lives you'll blame yourself for, in your desperate attempt to be everyone's savior?"
Rey began to shake, and she forced a few breaths before responding.
"And the attack on the dignitaries?" she asked, quieter now.
"Just an attack. Obviously Black Sun thrives the longer the Republic is crippled." Na'atarii rolled her shoulders and stretched her head lazily from side to side, "But when I realized the Resistance would send you to fetch its survivors; well that was just too good of an opportunity to pass up."
The girl snorted in amusement, and broke into a grin.
"And the Bothan Governor taunting you over and over again- that was hilarious! My god, I've never had so much trouble hiding my feelings from someone in my life, as I did watching her toy with you!" Na'atarii laughed openly, then, and added, "I had to try and throw her off the scent whenever possible, but she was spot on about my plans; it was just dumb luck she ended up insisting to be on the same ship I was on. She hates Rodians, you see; threw a whole fit when the Ambassador to Rodia showed up, the specieist- so they moved her over and she got to live. Say what you will about her; she's smarter than the rest of you combined!" The girl broke into a proper cackling fit, then; pointing a finger at Rey and having to gasp for the breath to say, "And you all just kept ignoring her! Even when she told you how exposed you all were on Corescant! She was right, but you couldn't see it, because of your pride!"
Na'atarii slumped against the wall, and had to hold herself against her shaking laughter.
Rey was aware in some part of her brain that there was a tear streaking down her face. She gritted her teeth- hissed through them.
"You are a foul little beast."
Na'atarii beamed under the insult.
"Yes. And you are a self-rightous fool."
“Hey,” Jannah called, bubbly as ever and trying to peer over Ben’s shoulder before the medbay door closed, “Did it work?”
He took a deep breath. “Yeah. I think so. You okay? That impact looked very… convincing .”
Jannah laughed. “My ears are ringing a little, but I’ve had worse. Good job though! I think we make a pretty good team.”
She raised a hand then, and it took Ben a moment to remember what the protocol for a high-five was.
She laughed at his fumbling, late attempt, then settled her hands on her hips. “So what comes next?”
Ben shrugged. “Go to Byss, I think.”
She nodded. “I’ll get packed.”
“Oh,” he said, surprised she was interested, “Yeah?”
She glanced around. “Yeah. I’m not doing anything important here anyway. And besides; Finn and Rose have been good to me. Let's go get them!”
Ben smiled a little. “Well alright then.”
Jannah nodded, then grew sober- lowered her voice. “I'm glad to hear you’re getting out of here, even just for a while.”
Ben scowled in confusion. “Why’s that?”
Jannah just shook her head, and took another step in. “You don’t belong here, Ben,” she whispered, “You deserve better than waiting around to be judged by a bunch of people trying to recover what they'll never get back." Her eyes were wide. Sincere. She stepped a little closer. "Once we get Rose and Finn, you should go somewhere with a bit more peace, or forgiveness, if you can get it. The Resistance may never fully accept you after what you’ve done, and you should learn to be okay with that.”
Ben pursed his lips- felt his throat tighten.
Then Jannah gave him a quick, tense hug, and pulled away.
“I’m going to pack.”
He was left alone to the truth of her words.
Poe was halfway to the lean-to D'Acy and her wife had been sharing since the collapse, when a young Lieutenant by the name of Kyal raced up to him in the darkness.
"Geez kid!" Poe hissed, clutching his chest and taking his palm off his blaster, "Thought you were like, an animal, for a second there."
Kyal threw him a sharp salute.
"Sorry General. We've just received an urgent message from the command center- I was asked to find you right away!"
Poe bit off a curse.
He started that way, and the boy kept pace.
"Who's it from?"
"The Guavian Death Gang, sir."
“Oh no! Help! Somebody- Please, help!” Finn pounded on the door of their prison with all of his strength. "Hurry! Please!"
Slowly, the door pulled back.
Their guard was a human in his late twenties, wearing the usual Black Sun Uniform- complete with the blue, black, and gold color scheme, and the sun emblem at the center of his chest. He stood a head taller than Finn, and muscled his way into the room, looking pissed, but also a little wary.
“What's are you shouting about?” he barked.
“My friend, please! She's dying!” Finn shouted, pointing to the opposite corner of the room- cloaked in shadow, now that the moon had gone around the building.
The guard tightened his grip on the blaster rifle in his hands, and took another step forward towards nothing-
Rose brought the heavy tray down on the back of his head, in the same instant Finn pushed the door to.
The guard didn’t go all the way down- at least, not until Finn kicked out his left knee. A wave of strength washed over Finn, almost as if in response to crunch of bone and the pain of the guard… Which Finn was shocked to discover he could sense.
It felt good.
Finn’s breath caught as power tingled into to his fingertips. His leg, previously on the edge of unbearable, became a distant twinge.
The guard started to scream, but Rose brought down the tray on his head again, choking off the sound. Then the guard slumped to the ground and Finn kicked him in the head one more time for good measure.
Finn grabbed his blaster, and Leia’s lightsaber out of the guard's belt- handed Rose the blaster, and then they were running out into the hallway.
It was nearly black in the palace corridors at night, and Finn kept the lightsaber deactivated if only to avoid the light drawing unwanted attention as they ran. They made their way down several halls- pausing before each to make sure it was clear.
“Do you know where we’re going?” Rose whispered between panting breaths.
He had gotten a terrible sense of wrongness more than once, now, and was just going off of that- choosing whatever didn't feel dramatically incorrect.
They came to a tall set of stairs, straight downward, and Finn peered over the edge. Two guards stood at the bottom; their backs turned as they peer forward to cavernous opening which must have once been the palace's main entrance.
“I can hit them,” Rose breathed.
Something came over Finn, then, though. He grinned, without truly knowing why.
“No, I got this. Once second.”
He strode silently down the steps -his limp from the leg that was rapidly becoming infected now long gone. Thoughts of the torture they'd endured flickered through his head, on repeat.
He was a three feet from the guards before they heard him.
And then Leia's lightsaber flared to life, and he cut them both down where they stood before either had so much as a chance to lift their blasters.
Two heads heads thudded to the floor.
Rose wasn't far behind him, and -much to his surprise- Finn could sense the apprehension coming off her.
"When did you learn how to do that ?"
"Right now," he muttered, deactivating the blade, "Come on."
He hurried through the massive hall towards the blown- in, gaping entrance. He paused long enough to focus his thoughts and try to sense anyone outside…
Like little flickering flares, in the darkness, he felt them ahead.
Finn let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.
Voices whispered to him then, gently… The same ones he'd heard in the Bayfew docks, when he'd begun to send back blaster bolts out of pure, mindless instinct.
Finn held up a fist, and Rose came to a stop. He gestured for her to wait again, and crept forward, through three hold the size of the Millennium Falcon turned sideways. The intensity of the energy he'd been feeling grew stronger with each step, and Finn welcomed it into him, now.
And then his was among them.
"Hey guys," he breathed, and four blasters started to rise.
Finn was a blur.
His saber went through one blaster, slicing off the hand behind it. He couldn't have said whether he sensed the bolt that came towards his head and consciously moved, or whether his body did it for him; but with a laugh, he lifted a hand, and was thrilled to see the guard he turned towards fly back, and crack his scull on the metal wall. Two more bursts of explosive movement, so fast he could hardly register them, and the last two guards fell. Finn stood, gasping- feeling more alive than he'd ever felt before.
He drank it in a moment longer, then sensed something interesting... Finn glanced down, to find the soldier whose hand he had removed on the ground at his feet. The middle-age man clutched at the wound, eyes bulging as he took in the charred stump.
Finn could taste the soldier's stunned horror.
He lifted the saber almost lazily, then, for a killing blow-
"Finn!" Rose hissed beside him suddenly, "What are you doing?!"
Finn whirled on her, and Rose jolted.
"He'll call for help!" Finn snapped.
Rose searched his face, and for a second, Finn felt her confusion and horror, too. He recoiled from the sensation; clamped his mouth shut, and felt some of the strength go out of his limbs.
"I know," Rose whispered, composing herself, "That's why I've been smashing their comms as we went."
Finn's cheeks flushed in shame; he hadn't even noticed. His mind cleared some, and his leg began to throb again. He gritted his teeth in response, had to pull the weight off that foot.
Rose stooped to yank the fighter's comm off, and crushed it beneath her heel, without looking the man in the eye.
"Let's go," she said, but there was a firmness now that there hadn't been before.
Finn wiped at his brow, and followed her forward.
"Thank you, miss," the man on the ground called after them.
After the landing outside came another massive staircase, straight down. Finn could make out the flickering lights of fires below, but also the steadier, brighter glows of several electric installations. He winced in as he took in the quarter-mile staircase down. The treeline had grown over what must have once been a street, and now came right up the last steps to the palace. They took the stairs two at a time, Finn getting his teeth every time he landed on his bad leg, and fighting like hell to sense if anyone was watching them.
"You alright?" Rose asked when they were almost to the bottom.
"I'm fine," Finn huffed, but he wasn't. In truth, he felt like he might pass out. The power called to him, from behind now- promising relief from the agony of his leg… Fading, with every step. His vision began to swim.
Too many days on the floor, with too little food, and possible sepsis, the part of his brain that had taken first aid training registered.
The were feet from the treeline, now. Finn was contemplating turning around... He felt like he might not even make it another step, let alone to a ship.
That's when he finally sensed them. Finn's stomach dropped out.
"Well done," Vikr called, stepping out from the waiting branches, "I'm impressed."
Three more forms lurked in the shadows over his shoulder, and Finn recalled for the first time how Vikr had told Heziah to give the the guard Leia's lightsaber… Right in front of Finn.
Rose leveled her blaster, but Finn just slowed to a stop, and gently pushed the barrel down.
All of the rage, and hope, and adrenaline had flickered out of him, now.
"Don't bother, " he muttered, and dropped Leia's lightsaber, before the darkness swept over his eyes and the ground rushed up to meet him.
Poe watched Aftab head up the Falcon's ramp, then turned back to address Rey. She was standing awfully close to Ren…
"Thanks for letting us use the Falcon. We're running low on secure places to meet right now."
"Of course," Rey replied, smiling, "We'll stand watch."
Poe clapped her on the shoulder, and shot a quick nod at the scowling Ren who didn't so much as return the gesture.
Poe shrugged and jogged up the ramp, shutting it behind him.
As soon as the Falcon's ramp shut, Ben's thoughts betrayed him. Rey sighed beside him, and obliged his unspoken desire- stepping into his arms.
"Hey," he whispered, burying his face in her hair- took in the scent of ozone, and engine grease and Rey .
"Hello," she breathed, and tucked herself under his chin.
I missed you.
She was so cold in his arms- shivering in response to his observation.
I missed you too.
They stayed there for some time, just feeling each other's thoughts and emotions come and go, as one. At the nearest bonfire a few dozen yards off, a group of Resistance allies had taken to signing in low, drunken tones. The forrest rippled with a gentle breeze, and the sound of insects calling to one another.
Ben felt Rey's thoughts turn towards the girl in medbay, and grow troubled.
"I should have recognized her from your memory," she murmured, "I should have sensed her-"
"Shhh," Ben said, clutching her head to his chest, and kissing her softly on the forehead, "No, Rey. No. You barely saw how I remembered her, four years ago. She's changed." He looked down, and when she tilted her head back to see him, there were tears forming in her eyes. He settled her face in his palm- smeared a thumb over a tear streaking down her cheek. "She convinced an entire planet she was born, and grew up on Naboo. She's a natural liar, who learned from the best."
Rey nodded, and looked down. I'm just tired. Wiped at her eyes. He could feel her tucking her feelings away from him.
"What are we going to do with her?"
Ben looked towards the medbay on instinct. "I don't know. She'll need to stay here, obviously, for now."
Rey nodded, and curled back under his chin. Ben folded his arms around her back, and they rocked slowly to and fro.
Do you think she could be turned to the Light? Rey asked.
Ben pursed his lips.
“Maybe. She’s still very young. I should... talk to her, too. Not that I think it well help much... But she deserves an apology.”
“Mm,” Rey murmured in agreement, and stood on her toes to kiss him once, softly, on the lips.
“Do it when we get back; give her some time to calm down.”
“Yeah,” he whispered, setting his chin back on top of her head. “That’s a good idea.”
Ben became aware after several minutes of her more physical pain- and when he stepped wrong a little while later, and hissed, Rey pulled back in concern; searching his mind a moment until she found the problem. Without a word, she knelt, and settled a hand on his wounded ankle. Ben hadn't even thought about it, things had been so dire... and then so nice.
You sure? he asked, You're so tired already .
Rey had already begun to quiet her thoughts, and with a sigh of resignation, Ben settled his hand on the wound that had begun to heal on her upper arm, and focused his own thoughts.
“I heard the Resistance discussing a terrorist attack on Coruscant; some of their allies had representatives killed. Your doing?"
“Our doing, yes. I couldn’t risk having my cover blown, so we launched an attack on them once everyone was in one spot and made it look like a coincidence that I was there. My ship was the only one to escape the attack or course; by accident.”
Poe turned off the audio recording, and took in Lieutenant Connix, Commander D’Acy and Commander Ackbar's faces. Chewbacca was following suit.
The Mon Calamari swallowed.
“Well,” he murmured, “This is a problem.”
D’Acy composed herself a little more quickly.
“And you’ve arrested her?”
“Yeah, with Ren and Rey’s help.”
“The Queen of Naboo?” she went on.
Poe ran his hand through his hair.
“This will mean war with the Naboo,” Connix added quietly, her young face aged as it pinched tight.
“Probably,” Poe conceded.
“Has anyone noticed her missing?” Aftab asked.
“One of her handmaids. We said we hadn’t seen her, but that was fifteen minutes ago, so I’m sure she’s told the others by now. I have four guards outside the medbay, now, with orders not to permit anyone.”
“We’re going to go get Rose and Finn,” Chewbacca added; getting right to the meat of things.
Poe dipped a finger at him.
“What he said. If you guys can just stave off another Galactic Civil War for a few days, we’re going to try to get the General and Vice Admiral back.”
“Any suggestions on how we do that?” Aftab asked, more than a little indignant.
“Make an official announcement tomorrow,” Poe held up the data pin with the recording on it. “Play this. Tell them the truth. Most of our allies will see reason, I think. Being a Sith isn’t a crime, but wiping out two-dozen dignitaries in a plotted terrorist attack? If the Naboo stand behind their queen, they’ll be up against every system whose representative she killed.”
Aftab nodded, at that. No one spoke, and Poe couldn’t stall any longer. He sighed.
“I just need you guys to hold things down for a couple days, until I can get the rest of the Council back. We’ll figure it out from there. We can be there and back in three days.”
“It’s at least fifty hours each way,” Connix corrected, frowning.
“Not if we take the Rimma Trade route.”
Connix shared a worried look with D’Acy, who was a little more polite in reminding Poe that, “The Rimma Trade Route is still under a heavy blockade at Abregado… they’ll never let a Resistance ship through; let alone the Falcon.”
Poe nodded- braced himself, and said, “They will if the Supreme Leader is on board.”
They all stiffened- not the least of which, Chewbacca. Aftab wasn’t the least amusing of the bunch; his already bulging eyes adding to his incredulous expression.
Connix found her tongue first. “Is that wise? Our allies have seen him; they'll notice his departure, surely.”
Poe shrugged. “I don’t care; he’s been on Byss before. He knows that Palace Na’atarii was talking about. If we got any chance of getting Finn and Rose out, it’s with Ben Solo.”
Nobody said a word.
“Look, I don’t like it either. If it weren’t Finn and Rose…”
D’Acy looked shaken as she asked, quietly, “Do you trust him?”
Poe frowned. He’d heard, of course, about Ren saving her life after she’d been shot...
“No more than I have to. But when it comes to this? I have to.”
D’Acy still looked concerned. Connix, disapproving. Aftab was glaring outright; but the worst by far was Chewbacca, glaring, narrow-eyed and panting through his teeth.
Poe changed the subject before they could dog-pile him.
"I’m afraid I got more news to cover before we head out."
The group bristled as one; excluding Chewbacca who Poe he'd briefed -about this at least- on the way to the ship. He queued up the next audio recording.
"General Dameron," came the heavily accented reply, "It's a pleasure to speak to you."
"Not sure I agree," Poe had replied, "But what can I do for the Guavians?"
"It's a matter of what we might do for each other," Bala-Tik had said, "First, let me extend our apologies for firing on your vessel a few days back; there was some confusion as to whom the pilot in the Millennium Falcon was these days. That command error has been rectified.”
“No harm no foul.”
“Very good. Now, we understand you've been having some run-ins with Black Sun.”
“What’s it to you?”
“We’re not overly fond of them, ourselves, as you might imagine. They’ve been digging into our territories, of late.”
“Yeah, I’d heard something to that effect. What are you proposing?”
“A cease-fire, at the very least, until Black Sun is either eliminated, or rendered harmless. The Resistance and the Guavians both have bigger burra fish to fry than one another, at the moment, if you catch my meaning.”
There was an edge in Poe’s voice when he had replied. " Yeah, like invading Malastare?”
Bala-Tik’s tone had grown steely. " I’m sure you meant liberating them from the First Order.”
“Oh of course,” Poe retorted, “Excuse my lack of diplomacy.”
Bala-Tik had gone silent a moment- likely trying to suss out Poe’s sincerity. Poe had taken advantage, and added, “I’ll pass on your message to the Resistance high command, and we’ll let you know.”
The response had been incredibly dry.
“Thank you for your time.”
Poe flicked off his comlink.
Nobody spoke for a moment.
“So that’s interesting.”
“You’re not seriously sugge-” Connix started.
“Well why not,” Aftab interrupted, snapping and waving his flippered-hand indignantly, “We’re already consorting with terrorists; let’s add mass-murdering gangs to our list of confid-”
Poe held up a hand.
“Actually Junior, I had something else in mind for them,” he retorted with a pointed glare at Aftab. “Here was my thought…”
Poe stepped off the ramp, and found Rey and Ren straightening themselves. Neither met his gaze at first...
“What’s going on?” he demanded.
“Hmm?” Rey echoed, and Ren cleared his throat.
“You two look… suspicious,” Poe added.
Rey changed the subject. “What did they say?”
“We leave in an hour.”
"Why did you give up?" Rose asked, with just a hint of edge in her voice.
Finn had been awake again for all of a minute, and was starting to regret it. His leg felt like it was on fire.
"Because I've seen what they can do," he snapped back; ran a hand over his sweaty brow. The world was swimming with his fever now. He moved to the corner with their blanket, and sat.
"You aren't acting like yourself," Rose said, quieter. She followed him over, knelt on the wet floor, and ran a hand over his face. Her fingertips were like ice on his brow, and Finn jerked back, and began to shiver. He groped for their blanket, and pulled it up to his chin. Without asking, Rose reached down and undid the wrap around his thigh. Dark tendrils had begun to spread out from the wound... Finn looked away before he could be sick.
"This is really bad, Finn."
He shrugged. "Yeah."
Rose crawled under the blanket beside him. She felt like an ice pack, and soon Finn's teeth took to chattering violently. Rose put her arm around him, and pulled him up under her chin.
"If you're burning up, you might as well keep me warm," she said with an obvious attempt at lightening the mood. Finn sighed in relief as she began to alternate her hands between cooling his face, and stroking his hair.
"It’s going to be okay," she murmured a few minutes later, "I'm sure Rey will be here any day, now."
Finn was starting to fade out again.
"Of course she will," he muttered, and slipped from consciousness.
In the end, Chewbacca, Rey, Poe, Jannah, and Ben Solo boarded the Millennium Falcon in under an hour.
Rey cocked an eyebrow at the bulging, canvas tool-bag Ben had slung over his shoulder. He just shot her a cheeky grin, and her heart skipped a beat in response. Ben cocked a brow at her, confused.
You’re beautiful , Rey offered, wholeheartedly.
Ben pulled up short at that, and Rey had the satisfaction of sensing his ears grow warm beneath his long black waves. Poe came up the ramp then, and Ben was quick to hide his burning face.
"You can just put your stuff-" Poe cut off as Ben slapped open the door to the sleeping quarters, and walked inside. Poe finished in a mutter, "-Wherever you want, I guess… Because of course you know your way around this ship."
"Probably better than you," Rey said with a grin.
" Definitely better than you ," Chewbacca added with a shrug and a nod. Poe looked crestfallen.
"I can't believe I'm getting blasted over Kylo Ren right now… by my own friends."
Chewie threw back his head to laugh at that, and Jannah joined with a chuckle of her own; coming up with her bags, and muttering something to Ben on her own way into the sleeping quarters. Rey was glad to see she didn’t seem to have the same wariness around him a lot of the Resistance did; he needed someone to treat him normally.
Yeah, Ben conceded through their connection, She’s been… really nice to me.
That’s because you deserve it.
His face burned all the brighter.
Rey headed for the cockpit, and tucked the small bag she hadn't even unpacked yet back between the wall and the pilot's chair, then plopped down in the seat to start plotting their course. Ben walked in a moment later, and Rey glanced up when she sensed the waves of nostalgia and longing, and yes, pain, coming off him. He stopped beside her... his eyes were forlorn as he ran a hand over the hyperdrive forward throttle, remembering. Then he reached up, and touched the twin, gold dice on their chain, ever so gingerly...
His eyes began to well.
Rey reached for his hand.
"Uh uh. Don't even think about it," came Poe's voice, stomping up the hall, "I'm riding co-pilot, pretty boy."
" Pretty boy ?" Ben muttered in confusion, but moved out of Poe’s way, to sit behind Rey.
Poe settled into the co-pilot’s seat.
“Thank you, ” Poe added, and began the start-up sequence. The engines roared to life and Rey felt them through her feet like a heartbeat; checked them for any abnormalities.
" Guess again, " Chewie rumbled, looming over Poe.
Poe sighed, and climbed into the back.
Rey stifled a chortle, and put the final touches on their course as Chewie clapped her only the shoulder and took the co-pilot's chair. Ben’s hand settled on her left shoulder- squeezed it once. Poe was muttering angrily to himself. Jannah came up, and braced her self on the back of Ben's chair.
She wasn’t sure if anyone heard her, as they lifted into the sky, "We’re coming, guys."
The exhaust line from the engine cracked, and Rey cried out, yanking her face away from the stream of tainted, evaporating gas. They’d been under way for all of thirty minutes before a leak had started, and she’d been raised from her bed by Poe to fix it when Chewie’s hands proved too large to reach inside the access panel, and everyone else proved incapable.
She groped around behind her- and found a hydrocupler, and a tube of sealant.
"Do you need help?" Ben asked from over her shoulder, "They didn't ask me to try, for some reason."
"No, I got it," she said, more harshly than she'd meant to. She got the metal alloy covered in the insulating foam, and it started to set… And then the hot gas poured right through it, all at once. Rey swore loudly, shielding her eyes and feeling behind her once again; she got to the valve shut off a second before Ben did.
Rubbing at her burning eyes, Rey snapped.
"I said I had it!"
She shoved passed him, and made for the bathroom to rinse her eyes. When she was confident she wasn't going blind, and she stepped into the hall again, Poe was waiting for her.
"Hey that scouting report came through; sure enough, there's six Black Sun cruisers orbiting Byss. I hope this pla- why are your eyes red?"
"I'm fine," she snapped again. "I've almost got it fixed!"
"Oh good." Poe muttered behind her, as Rey made her way back to the engine room.
Of course, Ben was there waiting for her. She spotted the leak over his shoulder- patched now. That sparked something in her, and Rey felt her teeth clench.
He stepped forward in response to her growing anger, and Rey found that worse, for some reason.
"I just... need a minute!" she barked, and spun on her heel. She could still feel him there, behind her; his stunned surprise and… hurt.
In her shame, Rey cut herself off from the Force, and locked the rooms to the sleeping quarters behind her, and began to cry.
Na'atarii took in the boy before her. He was a few years her elder, but with half the self awareness.
"Your Majesty," he said, puffing his chest up like some primitive animal, trying to make itself look larger for intimidation purposes. "The Council asked me to come treat your wounds. I'm junior resident medic Troyer Mlody."
Oh yes, she could work with this.
Sniffling, Na'atarii allowed her eyes to well.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, doctor," she whispered. The boy's visible unease thickened in response.
"Um," he started, searching his pockets and sounding like he was trying very hard to remember a script, "If it's alright, I'm going to check your vitals real quick."
Na'atarii sniffled, and nodded- wiping a tear away with her bound wrists.
"I think my finger is broken," she said in her most pitiful tone, voice cracking, "He- he kicked my hand. It hurts really badly."
Over the boy's shoulder, one of the guards rolled their eyes. Na'atarii would kill her for that, the first chance she got...
"Okay," Troyer said, kneeling on the medbay bed beside her, and placing a vital reader under her jawbone. "We'll take a look at that in a minute..."
"I can't believe I'm gonna ask this; but what are you moping about?"
Ben sighed. Of course Dameron would come to twist the knife. He felt his face burning, but fortunately he already had it buried against the hologame table and his crossed forearms.
"Aw come on, Your Excellency;" Poe said, taking on a sympathetic tone, "I'm not gonna judge."
Ben sighed again, and looked up long enough to run his hands over his face before conceding.
"Rey cut herself off from the Force," he whispered.
Poe just stared, blank faced. He was holding a half-drank bottle of Outer Rim gin in one hand, and two glasses in the other.
"Am I supposed to know what that means?"
Ben groaned a little, and clarified.
"Rey's mad at me."
Poe said nothing... continued to stare. Then he broke down laughing.
"I don't believe this," he gasped out, " You're upset, because the girl you like is mad at you! You! Mr. Scary Murder Lord, himself!"
Ben stood, equal parts embarrassment, and rage.
"No, no! Sorry," Poe backpedaled, sliding into the booth beside Ben, and pushing him back in place. Ben frowned, but consented, and Poe set down the gin, and handed Ben the glass, pouring him a drink. "By all means; go on. This is fascinating."
Ben picked up the glass, sniffed at it, and set it back down. He'd never like the idea of being out of perfect control of his faculties.
"Where's my drink?" Chewie called from the cockpit.
"Gimme a minute, buddy!" Poe called, and turned back to Ben. "Alright. So what'd you do to make her mad at you?"
Ben had a few moments of tense restraint, then gave in and grew urgent.
"That's the thing!" he glanced at the sleeping quarters' door, and dropped his tone, "I just asked her if she wanted help, and she snapped at me, and walked off!"
Poe frowned, nodded knowingly, and swished his drink around the metal cup.
"And what makes you think she's mad at you?"
"I told you she snapped at me."
Poe cocked an eyebrow. "Had it occurred to you, Supreme Leader, that there are other things Rey might be upset about, and that it's just spilling over on to you?"
"Wh- I mean... Well then why wouldn't she just tell me that?"
"Maybe she didn't realize it, herself. I mean, you certainly didn't either. Do you always just assume everyone around you is upset because of you?"
Ben scowled at the jab. There was some truth, there, perhaps...
"Well, in my defense, she's mad at me a lot of the time…"
"Uh huh," Poe said, leaning in closer, "You got a lot to learn, buddy."
Ben leaned back in response- opened his mouth to answer, but Poe beat him to it.
"First of all, our girl in there has a pretty legendary temper, as I'm sure you've noticed. But she snaps at all sorts of people, not just you. I know you two have your little-" he waggled his fingers in front of Ben's forehead, "-tela-whatever, thing, and that's nice, but don't make the mistake of showing up and thinking you got Rey all figured out. I've been living with her for the last year, and I barely understand her. Finn's the only one who really gets her, and even he has trouble getting her to open up, sometimes. She didn't exactly have the most... social, childhood."
Ben's scowl deepened. He hadn't thought of that...
Poe went on.
"She's used to figuring stuff out on her own, and she's damn good at it."
Ben nodded, almost hopeful, now.
"So what do I do?"
"That's what I'm trying to tell you," Poe whispered emphatically, "Give her some space! She'll talk to you when she's ready. Trust me; Rey's not the kind of girl who'd hold a grudge and make you try to guess what you did wrong. She's better than that. Let her know you're there for her, then back off."
"I'm coming big guy!" Poe said, clapping Ben on the back once, and scooping up both cups and the bottle. Ben watched him go, trying to sort through what just happened.
Poe reached the cockpit, and Chewbacca bellowed indignantly.
"What? No. Of course I didn't let him use your cup," Poe replied, and Chewie ground out something Ben didn't quite catch.
Poe shouted in response. "What do you mean, you can 'smell him on it'? That's disgusting."
The door slid open, and Vikr strode in with his signature smile already plastered on.
"Good morning," he greeted them cheerfully.
Finn had to shut his eyes against the green, early morning light- or risk being sick. Everything hurt. Everything was throbbing. The night had past, but it'd been a nightmare. Now, Finn was quite certain he was close to death, and he was beginning to wish for it.
"It occurs to me you're wounded, Finn," Vikr went on, "And I wouldn't want to give you the impression you're suffering in vain... So." He clapped twice, and a surgical droid entered behind him.
He felt Rose go slack next to him, and it took most of Finn's concentration to realize she was relieved. For his part, Finn's fevered state left the droid looking more than a little menacing, and he shrunk a little deeper into Rose's side, groaning.
Vikr shut the door behind him with a flick of his hand, and turned to address the droid.
"Give him a strong course of antibiotics, and cauterize his wound... no need to bother with anesthesia, though."
Finn felt the room spin.
The droid ground out a low response in binary, and started forward.
Na’atarii had sat with eyes closed in meditation for several hours, now. The two guards in the room with her had given up conversing some time ago.
The medbay door slid open, and so did the girl’s eyes, in response.
“Excuse us,” Captain Sar said, when the guards turned. He dropped them both with a silenced blaster bolt to the chest; one right after the other.
“It took you long enough,” Na’atarii murmured.
Deputy Regent Somman slid in behind the Resistance captain. There was hunger in the Changrian's eyes.
“Forgive us, Mistress Na’atarii,” Captain Sar said, “They hid your location well.”
When Senator Ventrill followed them in, he had his hand around the neck of none other than the young Medic, Troyer. Ventrill’s other hand held a pistol blaster to the boy’s head.
“This one seemed to know, though,” Ventrill snarled in his ear, as Somman shut the medbay door behind them. “Had to drag him out of bed with his little girlfriend, though.”
The boy’s eyes were wide, but filled with some malice, too. Somman produced the key to her restraints from one of the guard’s belt, and had her free a moment later.
“The girl?” Na’atarii asked as the manacles fell away.
“Stunned, for now.”
“You said you’d leave her alone if I told you!” Troyer shouted. Sar turned to pistol-whip the boy in the mouth, and Troyer cried out- spat a mouthful of blood.
“Can it, kid,” Sar hissed.
“We need to be quick, but quiet,” Na’atarii said, looking on coolly. She unfolded her legs, and stood- stretched. The boy had splinted her fractured fore-finger; she took the bandaging off, and cast it to the floor. Wounds were a strength to those who dealt in the Dark Side of the Force.
“Shall we take out the Council first, m’lady?” Ventrill asked, sounding tantalized at the thought.
“No; their Jedi girl is on her way to Byss; and she has Ben Solo with her. They are very powerful. If they reach the palace before we do, everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve could be lost.”
Na’atarii squatted to grab her lightsaber out of a bag one of the guards had been wearing. She activated it -felt the medic boy flinch as the blade tip appeared an inch from his gut- and turned back to the party of on-lookers.
“Besides; most of their Council is there, now. We have the element of surprise, and numbers. Let’s go, before we’re too late to get our revenge.”
“What about this one, ma’am?” Senator Ventrill asked, and shook Troyer when he tried to wiggle out of his grip.
Na’atarii took a causal step forward. Senator Ventrill barely got his hand out of the way in time to keep his fingers, as she took the boy’s head off.
It thudded to the medbay floor.
She stepped into the hall, and the Force hit her like an avalanche of raw power. Na'atarii sighed in something like ecstasy.
"Which way is their communications center?"
She didn't say anything, but Rey's anguish washed over Ben slowly as she reached for him and the Force. He just sighed in relief, though; savoring their contact. It wasn't with words, but his desire passed through their connection...
Yes, Rey replied, and Ben set down the Jedi texts he'd been reading, and stood.
Jannah, previously sighing in her bow's scope, looked up- watched him make for the sleeping quarters' door.
"Good luck, lover boy," she called after.
He cleared his throat.
Ben slapped the control panel. A hundred memories swept over him, every time he stepped into the room he'd often slept in as a boy. Rey was sitting on the edge of one of the three beds; head in her heads.
Ben moved slowly- unsure what to expect. When Rey looked up, her eyes were red, but dry. She held out a hand, and Ben crossed the room to take it. So small and light… She was like a little bird.
Rey cleared her throat.
"I owe you an apology," she said with a sniff, but with her chin held high.
Carefully, Ben moved to sit beside her. Before he'd even settled, Rey leaned her head onto his shoulder. He reached a hand to the back of her head- turned to press her forehead to his lips.
I just want to know what's wrong.
Rey sniffled, and Ben sensede her gathering her thoughts to present them, though hesitantly.
We don't have to talk about it, he was quick to add, If you don't want to...
Rey traced her fingers down the side of his face, and Ben reached a hand slowly under her knees; scooped her up into his lap, and scooted them back against the wall with her curled up in his lap.
Rey sighed, and nestled up against his chest. They just sat there, for a very long time; Ben rubbing her back idly with his fingertips and soaking in the closeness. The feel of her, in his arms.
Finally, Ben sensed Rey's resolve pooling within her, and her thoughts poured into his mind. Slowly at first, then breaking like a dam.
They were counting on me- all of them. They needed me. They trusted me.
But she wasn't done.
I feel like I can't do anything right, anymore! I should have suspected the queen; she was too nice to me… I let her cozy up to me. I let her take Rose and Finn- I let her take my padawan! My best friend! "
She was crying openly, now. Ben settled his hand on the side of her head, and pulled her into his chest.
"They all thought I would keep them safe," she gasped out, "And I failed. Senator Tor is dead. I keep having nightmares- Finn, and Rose," she choked off, "They're in agony, and I can't find them!"
Ben held her all the tighter as she began to shudder.
"No, Rey… no," he cooed. "You can't blame yourself for this. None of them would be alive right now if it weren't for you."
Her final thought was flat- hopeless:
I don't know how I'm going to forgive myself if they're dead too.
That pulled Ben up short. He could sense her feeling his own uncertainty.
You would have felt that... he tried.
Rey just shook her head.
"I can't even feel a powerful Dark Side user when she's seated right beside."
Ben held her, and said nothing as her waves of guilt, self-loathing and pain came and went. He knew them all too well, and sometimes, they just didn't respond to logic. In time, Rey's tears ran their course, and Ben allowed the thought he'd been holding onto to flow between them.
If you can forgive me, you can forgive yourself.
He turned her face up to look at him; wiped a tear away with his thumb, and whispered, "You're going to fail sometimes, Rey. We all do."
She sputtered under the weight of his words, cried some more, and in time was still again.
Finally, a long while later, she climbed out of his arms and stood.
"Right," she whispered, rubbing at her eyes and straightening her hair, "Time to stop feeling sorry for myself and go apologize to Poe. I lashed out at him, too."
She wiped at her eyes, and Ben watched her, anxiously.
Rey stepped back to where he sat, and pulled him into her breast.
Thank you, she added, and Ben wasn't sure what to respond. She released him, kissed him once, slowly, and turned to leave.
"Uh, before you go," he added, fighting for composure and standing.
Rey turned, and Ben summoned the pouch Maz Kanata had given him from under the pillow of the bed his bag was on. "I'd like to show you something..."
Rey took a step back towards him. Ben brought the leather pouch up between them with a gentle curl of his fingers; levitating it front of Rey's chest.
She looked at him in confusion.
Go ahead, he told her- excitement bubbling over into their collection.
Rey reached up, Ben let go, and the bag landed in her palm with a little bit of weight, and an almost musical, muted clatter. She frowned, shot him a little smile, then undid the the leather thongs…
Ben's heart soared, watching her face go blank, then genuinely amazed.
Slowly… almost reverently, Rey reached inside with the Force, and lifted out the perfect, yellow kyber crystal; suspended it before her eyes.
"Where did you get these?" she breathed, and the other seven the pouch contained rose in the air to join the first. "Ilum," she went on, "I mean, Starkiller Base was destroyed. They've become so rare..."
"Maz," he whispered, every bit as captivated as she was. "I brought parts, too in case… well, in case you wanted to build some lightsabers with me."
Rey tore her gaze away, shot him a grinned that made his heart ache, and nodded.
Rey and Ben sat across from one another, cross-legged in the center of the main hold area. Poe and Chewbacca watched them sifting through the bag of parts while pretending to play Dejarik, and Rey had to fight to ignore the waves of negative emotions coming off them both. Jannah, for her part, was a pleasant reprieve from the other two; laying on her back, and picking at a protein wedge on a shipping container across from them, she was in her usual pleasant, bubbly mood.
“I think I’ll skip the shield generator, again,” Ben muttered absently to Rey, pouring over the ancient texts.
“That reminds me,” Poe said, standing and disappearing into the sleeping quarters.
“Oh really?” Rey asked. She sensed him sensing her apprehension, and looked up to see him studying her face. “Please no,” she added, with a lighthearted tone, but an edge of genuine concern.
Ben looked dejected.
“All those sparks flying about?”
“Why do you think I always wore gloves?”
“Yes, but if we’re going to spar at all… Just, look at my hand,” she held up her right hand for him to inspect.
Ben frowned; took in the crease of her right thumb and forefinger, and the small scar left over from their first duel on Starkiller base. Then she held out her left and showed him a similar one from their duel on Kef Bir. The duels flickered through her mind, and he saw them too...
I’m sorry, he said, face growing pained. He took her outstretched hand, and touched the scar lightly with his lips. There was a wave of revulsion from the male peanut gallery, and Rey and Ben shared a grin, along with each other's amusement.
“Disgusting,” Chewbacca muttered- in as much as a Wookie could mutter anything.
“Just take your turn,” Poe sighed, sitting again. He'd brought back some kind of long barreled, wooden weapon, the likes of which Rey had never seen. It reminded her of a blaster sniper rifle.
“What’s that?” she called up.
“Slug thrower ,” Chewbacca replied, “ I picked it up on Tattooine. Wish I had had it last year…” There was a sudden surge of hostility from the Wookie, towards Ben, who felt it too. He just straightened a little, and went back to work.
“What’s it do?” Rey asked.
“Throws solid projectiles faster than a blaster bolt,” Poe replied, looking down the scope, and making a few adjustments, “Projectiles that go through shield generators, and melt inside of plasma…”
It took Rey a second to piece all that together, then she glanced down at the shield generator in her hand, and felt goose flesh ripple up her arms.
Don’t worry, Ben offered, They’re fairly rare. Mostly it’s just the Tuskan Raiders of Tattoine, and the occasional bounty hunter using them.
"Any word from the base?" Rey called up, to distract herself.
"Nothing yet," Poe said. "But when it comes to you sorcery people, no news is good news…"
“What do you think we’re going to be up against, if we make it past those cruisers, and land?” Jannah called over to Ben- idly checking the edge of a bowie knife she'd produced from thin air.
“Na’atarii said “us” more than once,” Rey offered, then addressed Ben, “Think we’re looking at a group of Sith?”
“No,” Ben said, rifling through the bag again, “They won’t be Sith. Sith are more rare than people realize... Likely, they’ll be a group of Dark Side users, who have an almost fanatical devotion to Palpatine.”
“So, like a cult?” Jannah chimed in.
“Probably," Ben replied, "Let’s hope there’s only one other Force user in their group besides Sova. I know there were a few buzzing around Byss a few years back... none of them particularly strong, though.”
“Because they weren’t Sith like you?” Jannah asked.
Rey felt Ben bristle, but he hid it well to everyone else.
He gave himself a moment's composure before replying.
“Actually, I wasn’t a Sith. At least, I never thought of myself as one. Snoke, uh… He always made it a clear distinction that he wasn’t Sith. Looking back now, I think that was just because he must have known I wouldn’t have trusted him as much if he were.”
Rey glanced over at Chewie and Poe, who looked down quickly in response. Drinking it all in...
She lowered her voice.
“But didn’t you tell me Snoke was Palpatine’s puppet, the whole time?”
Ben stared down the inside of a cycling field energizer.
“Yeah. Which really explains why everything he was teaching me lined up with Sith doctrines- can you pass me that power cell?”
Rey thought she heard Poe murmur something like, ‘kids on lifeday’ behind her. She handed over the part.
"Are you boys understanding a word of this?" Jannah chimed in.
"I'm trying not to," Poe grumbled.
"More than I'd like," Chewie tacked on.
“What about this palace?” Poe called down. "What can we expect?"
Ben didn’t bother looking up from his work.
“Um, it’s big, and metal... Hard to find your way around inside. It got bombed pretty badly at the end of the last war, and it's filled with really, really strong Dark Side energy. I’d be surprised if even you three don’t feel it, in some way or another.”
“Awesome,” Poe quipped.
“I can’t wait,” Chewie added, and Poe dipped a finger his way.
“Pass me that power coupler,” Rey muttered, and took it from Ben.
“So what’s the plan, then, once we're inside?” Poe asked.
Ben snapped a power cell into its divot inside the handle’s chamber.
“Don’t die," he called up, "Once we’re down there, Rey should be able to sense where your people are. She and I can focus on luring out any Force users; you two should go find your friends.”
“And if those Force users come after us, instead?”
Rey and Ben spoke as one.
The room was silent for some time. Rey felt the need to fill the silence.
"How long until the First Order blockade?"
"Two hours," Poe called back, "Give or take. From their, it's another ten to the Guavian outpost," Poe said. He'd finished his tampering with the "Slug Thrower", and was growing increasingly bored, waiting for Chewie to take his turn.
Chewbacca cheats, you know, Ben said through their connection- and the faintest hint of a smile playing at the corner of his eye.
Rey grinned, cocking her head a little.
He re-programmed the hologame table a couple decades back. It took me until I was twelve to figure it out.
Rey laughed, and Ben grinned wide in response.
Poe would lose his mind if he ever found out...
Well that makes me want to tell him, Ben replied with a snort and a wave of mischievous delight.
It took Rey a second to realize Chewie and Poe were staring again: watching what was clearly a silent, private conversation unfold.
She glanced up, still grinning.
"You two are kinda creepy," Poe said, "You know that, right?"
Sova stretched and contorted before Ben’s eyes. By the time she reached adult height, she had become a twisted, jagged thing that was bent wrong and leered out to him with sunken, black eyes.
She spoke, and blood dripped down from filed teeth.
“I am what you made me.”
Sova glanced down to her hand, then, and Ben’s eyes followed... an intact trachea dripped and steamed there.
Only then did Ben notice Rey’s convulsing body at Na’atarii’s feet.
Ben threw up his hands and screamed. Lashed out with the Force as a result.
For once, he didn’t move.
She’d held him fast, and pinned them both to the narrow crew bunk they both shared. Held him so tightly, it hurt.
I saw it too. She whispered, “Don’t be afraid.” I’m here. You’re safe. I’m here now.
When he came back to himself, Ben gripped her tight, and buried his face in her hair.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
You’re okay. I've got you, Ben, and I’m never letting you go.
Blinding pain, and thrashing, and madness of thought.
Blinding pain, and thrashing, and madness.
Pain. Thrashing. Madness.
Finn awoke, knew there was pain again, but could process other things, now. The softness, under his head. His own rapid breathing.
"Hey," Rose's voice voice down, "Hey there... It's alright. You're okay now."
She was crying though. Partially in relief... but also in fear. Finn couldn't just hear it- he could sense it; could feel the space she occupied, cradling his head in her lap. And, like an aura of sensation around her form, her emotions leaving her.
Ben and Rey had retreated to the privacy of the cargo hold.
Seated cross-legged and facing one another, they each stared down at their chosen parts, and the twin, pale yellow Kyber crystals.
Are you sure about this? he asked her. She didn't bother answering; instead drawing his attention the perfect resolution within her.
Rey reached up, stroked his face gently, once, then shifted to get comfortable before shutting her eyes.
Ben sighed slowly, and joined her.
Their minds settled, as one. Each allowed only one thought in; the other, and their identical focus.
Soon, every breath was theirs , and when their hands lifted, it was with one mind.
The pieces before them rose gently off the metal floor; fell into a complicated dance one of them knew, so they both knew. Slowly, pieces slipped silently together. By the time only two objects danced before them, both Jedi were already grinning, as one.
Their minds separated back into their individual beings, and Rey and Ben opened their eyes. Two lightsabers fell into two waiting palms.
“Corellian vessel, state your identification, intentions, and prepare to be boarded!”
Three First Order star destroyers blocked out the sky- pulling in any ship that came out of hyperspace within five hundred kilometers of them, and the hyperlane they guarded.
You ready? Rey asked, shooting Ben a glance to were he sat in the co-pilot’s seat.
Ben shot her a wink, and reached for the commlink system. Behind them, the rest of the Falcon’s crew drew a collective breath.
“This is Supreme Leader Kylo Ren,” Ben hissed into the intercom. “Disable your tractor beams, now!”
Rey had to stifle a laugh at his whole demeanor changing so quickly. Ben glanced over, wide-eyed with concern, and brought a finger slowly to his lips. Jannah bit back a chortle of her own at that, and Poe and Chewie both went wide-eyed.
“Sure you are; and I’m the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic," came the indignant response, "Identify yourself, now , or we’ll blow your piece of space tra-” The First Order officer’s voice cut off. Rey glanced to Ben, and saw his eyes closed as his lifted a hand in a sudden jerk. He snapped his eyes back open and prattled off the series of digits he’d already worked out, sounding almost bored. There was silence on the other end of the link... a scuffle, and then the officer’s voice was pained in more ways than one.
“Forgive me, Supreme Leader, ” he choked out, “You’re cleared to pass.”
“Wise of you!” Ben snarled, and spun the co-pilot’s chair to face them all. He smiled expectantly at Rey and their companions. “That should do it, right?”
Finn stared out at the streaking clouds, through the crack in their prison's wall.
He could stand again, certainly, but felt weak now in other ways. Behind him, Rose sighed in her sleep, dead to the world. His upper leg bore a blackened indent, now, where the necrotic flesh had been scorched out; the size and approximate shape of an Almakian apple. His gut turned, thinking about it.
It wasn't the only thing that felt bore out, though. His mental state had become raw... he'd woke up inside the power of what he could only assume was the Force, and now it washed over him in icy, electric waves. Finn felt cold within them, but not unpleasantly so. Awakened by them. Hardened by them.
Where are you, Rey? he tried for the thousandth time- feeling his teeth grit with the effort. Had she given up on them? Assumed they were dead? Finn had always taken it for granted that Poe, Rey, and Chewbacca would move galaxies to protect him and Rose. Wasn’t that what family was supposed to do?
And what do you know about family ? he demanded of himself. Finn knew the answer, deep down. He always had. Nothing at all.
"We're set to reach the Guavian outpost in less than an hour," Rey informed, turning to leave Ben where he meditated in the cargo hold. It was the only room in the Falcon where the roar of the engine was sufficient to drown out all the basic conversation throughout the rest of the ship. The Jedi had tried meditating together, yesterday after their success with the lightsabers, but neither had been able to focus, given the other's proximity... Now, however, as they drew dangerously close to Byss, both of them had thought it prudent to find whatever strength in the Force they could, while they still had the chance.
"Wait," Ben called as she stepped to the door. Rey turned, and Ben crossed the distance between them to take her around the waist with an arm, and pull her gently back into the cargo bay. Just in case…
Rey found his lips with hers, traced them with her tongue.
We don't have much time, she warned...
That only served to fuel him. Ben got one hand behind her head, and with the other, cupped under Rey's thigh.
Sensing his intention, Rey lept a little, and straddled him around the waist with her legs- gripped him tight. She lifted two fingers, and sealed the cargo hold door. They'd sense it if anyone drew near...
Are you sure? he asked.
Yes, she answered, and kissed him all the more fiercely.
Ben carried her effortlessly to the shipping crate he'd been sitting on, and laid her down slowly. Rey released her grip around his neck long enough to unbuttoned the black shirt someone had found for him. She stopped kissing him a moment, and ran a hand down the length of his chest, drinking it all in, and savoring his response to the attention. Then Ben slowly pulled her back in, kissed her long and deep, and moved to pull the crossing layers of cloth down over her shoulder. There was a hesitation in his movements; a tremble in his hand...
Rey pulled back from his mouth long enough to chuckle, and stare into his eyes. She found a trepidation, there... She probed at it, curious, and Ben looked away.
Rey gasped, taken aback.
She reached up, and stroked the side of his face while asking, "Have you never…?"
Ben actually blushed under her palm.
Oh, she thought to him as the full realization dawned, You're nervous!
"Of course I'm nervous," he grumbled, still looking away. I didn't ever really consider… this, as an option. He glanced down at their bodies, entwined. I was a Jedi.
Rey's heart was fit to burst. She took his chin in her hand, and turned his face back to hers- settled their foreheads together and shut her eyes. She kissed him, softly, then.
I haven't either, she offered, and found the place under his jaw with her lips. His surprise washed over her. Even better, was the relief.
Not what you were expecting? she asked, biting him, lightly, and running her fingertips down plains of his back.
Oh! Ben gasped when she bit him again, harder, and then sighed. Uh, no... I didn't think this was your first time.
"Why is that?" she asked in her best salacious whisper.
Ben pulled her in closer by her waist in response, and Rey moaned a little.
Because you're so independent… He offered, And beautiful. I just assumed…
His other hand traced her side, and brought her top down altogether. Rey sighed, as she took in his reaction. Then she slipped a hand under the edge of his pants, and nipped at his neck... Ben's thought cut off altogether, as she slid that hand lower. She gripped a handful of his hair with the other hand, and ran her nose slowly up to his ear.
Rey whispered, "Well, I'm sure we can figure this out, together."
“We’re coming out in sixty seconds, guys,” Poe called over the internal com- sounding more than a little irate, “Rey, where are you?”
"Wait, your hair!" Ben whispered, as she started to step through the cargo hold doorway.
“I’ll pilot this ship, Rey- don’t tempt me!”
"We're coming," Rey shouted up the hallway, frantically trying to re-doing her buns. She whirled back to Ben.
"Am I good?"
Ben shot her a toothy grin, and straightened one of the cloth wraps over her shoulder.
Rey started to turn, and he took her by the wrists suddenly- lifted them above her head and pressed her against the cargo hold wall... kissed her long, and slow, one last time, until she was breathless.
"Okay," he whispered, releasing her. Rey laughed, and they scrambled out of the cargo hold. Rey made for the cockpit.
"Hope I'm not interrupting whatever Jedi stuff you two were up to, with this whole mission thing," Poe quipped angrily, as the ship snapped out of hyperspace.
"Not at all," Rey muttered, but felt the heat rushing to her face as she threw herself into the pilot’s chair. She sobered quickly though, as she took in the space station before them. A reclaimed relic from a bygone era, Rey thought the station might have been Separatist, once… it’d been modified so heavily though, she could hardly tell, now.
A few dozen random, pieced-together and nasty-looking ships drifted to and from the station.
“How do you know about this place, again?” she murmured to Poe, and angled them towards the docking bay.
“You don’t ask me about my running days, I don’t ask you about scavenging,” he murmured, and opened up the communication line to answer the request that had just come in.
The female voice on the other end was gruff, and aged.
“Millenium Falcon. This is Serr Ricx of the Black Wraith Outpost. Whoever you are,” she snarled, “Either you have a death wish coming this deep into Guavian territory; or you’ve accepted the terms of our cease-fire offered by Bala-Tik. Either way- come no closer, or we’ll blast you out of the sky!”
"Yeah, about that," Poe said, shifting the power that normally ran to the hyperdrive, elsewhere, "This is General Dameron of the Resistance; if you could do me a favor and tell Bala-Tik on behalf of the free peoples of Malastare that he can catch a bolt, I'd appreciate it ." Then he flipped off the external comms, turned on the internal comms, and called, “Chewie, Ben, you’re up!”
The Falcon fired on the space station, and Rey threw them into a complex nose-dive as the station returned red ion cannon fire. Rey sensed it when the five or so fighters nearby immediately shifted their attention to the Falcon.
“I hope you’re right about this,” Rey shouted- yanking them out of the path of two fighters that had just jerked out of hyperspace behind them. Beside her, Poe diverted power from the shields back to the hyperdrive.
“If I’m wrong, no harm done.”
“If we don’t die first!”
Rey sensed it the briefest moment before she had to pick between two blast that were going to hit them. The ship shook as she chose the fighter's fire.
Poe pointed off the their starboard side- before they flew into a tight spin that made direction meaningless.
“Look, they got TIEs. I’m not wrong. They’ve been fighting the First Order harder than anyone the last three weeks; If anybody’s started scavenging their tech, it’s these bottom feeders.”
Rey felt it when Ben blasted two of their fighters out of the sky. She pulled them up and over a cruiser, turned, and made a suicide style run for the station.
“They better not have a tractor beam!” she shouted, and punched the engine throttle forward like they were planning to run straight through the station. Two dozen fighters poured from the mouth of the station; everyone of them firing the moment they’d cleared the hanger mouths. Ben and Chewie picked off four, before Rey cut the throttle suddenly, yanked them into a one-hundred and eighty degree pull straight up, then down, and shouted over the engines.
“Yeah! Course set!” Poe called back.
Poe hit shoved the hyperdrive throttle forward, and the sky blurred.
She felt the entire crew drew a collective breath, and let it out hard. There was a light tremor in her legs as Rey stood.
Are you okay?
"Well that could have gone worse," Poe commented, looking over their shield's damages.
Behind them, Jannah stood, and shifted her gear.
"How long do we have?"
Rey checked the read-out again.
"Twenty minutes to Byss."
"Everybody set?" Poe called.
" Ready!" Chewbacca called from his seat in the laser cannon across from Ben. Jannah, seated behind Rey, was in charge of emergency electrical work, in their absence of an astromech droid. Rey could feel her apprehension as she took in the bag of tool.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she murmured, maybe to herself.
Rey’s mind turned Ben’s direction, and he took notice.
Are you ready? he asked.
Finn and Rose flickered through her mind.
More than ready. She felt him grin in response to her eagerness.
Rey shut her eyes; drank in the feel of his mind, and nothing else, for just a moment longer… Then she s ighed, and switched back to being mindful of her surroundings.
They snapped out of hyperspace.
“Welcome to Byss,” Poe announced. Rey didn't need to hear the apprehension in his voice; she could sense it pouring off him.
Two cruisers sat between them and the capital city. Each hulking ship bore the Black Sun Emblem. At once, like insects pouring from their nest, over a dozen fighters peeled off from the orbiting cruisers and came straight for the Falcon.
Rey had them in a spiral before the first bolt left its cannon.
"You better be right!" she shouted to Poe over the engines straining.
"I am!" he growled. Poe flipped switches madly, trying to keep up with her. “Quad cannons at full power,” he called.
"Copy that," Ben called back over the intercomm. The Falcon took its first hit, and Rey had no choice but to break off her plummet towards the planet's atmosphere, and curve back the way they came. Both the quad laser cannons set to firing.
Within seconds, there were twin explosions behind them.
Chewie's bellowing in triumph, and Ben's responding laughter came through over the comm.
Then the Falcon shook as they took a glancing blow from a cruiser.
"One more of those, and the shields are gonna overload!" Poe informed her.
"I know!" Rey yelled over the screech of their engine protesting the contortions she kept demanding. Beside her, Poe slammed back into his chair as the stabilizers and artificial gravity were pushed to their limits. Rey hadn’t even realized she was using the Force to shove herself around the console until that moment. She cut the thruster power, and let the planet’s gravity yank them straight down out of the cannon fire; then took off again before their attackers could adjust their aim.
One of the fighters got a clean shot off. Their shields hit nine-percent at once… And then Rey had to yank them between two on-coming fighters in the same moment.
The bottom of the Falcon collided with the wing of the Old Republic fleet ship.
“Ben!” Rey screamed as she felt the glass of his gunner well shatter. She could see it, clear as day, when he launched himself backwards out of the gunning chair, and into the ladder well. His finger tips barely cleared the emergency sealing doors as they snapped shut in response to the depressurization.
“What happened,” Poe demanded, spinning around.
I’m alright! Ben called.
Rey gasped, and scarcely dodged a stream of red cannon fire, in her distraction.
“We lost the lower gun well,” she told Poe, grunting as she peeled them off to the left, a second before they’d have collided with a cruiser.
They took another hit.
“Shields down!” Poe shouted, but Rey had already felt it.
"I can’t stall them any lo-" Rey cut off as a dozen fighters popped out of hyperspace behind them, and appeared on their radar.
Poe let out a cackle.
The Guavians had arrived. With their looted First Order tech, they had successfully tracked the Falcon through hyperspace… And right onto Black Sun's doorstop.
“I told you it’d work!”
All but two of the Black Sun fighters tore off to engage the newest interlopers. Rey thrust the Falcon into one more manic dive then, headed for the dark side of planet’s surface. Very little of the following firestorm was aimed their direction, and Rey had no difficulty sensing what would come their way, well in advance. One of the cruisers maintained fire on the Falcon, until they were too far into atmo to possibly give off a hit. Chewie picked off the last two fighters following them almost lazily, before coming to join everyone else in the cockpit. Ship after ship exploded in the spectacle they'd orchestrated behind them.
Rey stared down at the dark green forests below; angling them towards what the Falcon’s old coordinates display claimed was the Galactic Capital City. Slowly, Rey began to notice a cold sense of despair creeping up her spine…
I feel it too, Ben said, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"Put us down outside the city," he added, out loud.
Poe shot him an incredulous look, and said, “Aye-aye, Captain,” with a sloppy little salute.
“Um, sorry… Please?”
Chewie and Jannah both chuckled, at that.
They touched down five minutes later.
“Right,” Rey muttered to herself; checking herself over for the last time. She and Ben had borrowed a pair of dark brown cloaks to try and blend in a little better, and she shifted her new saber on the belt beneath it. Then she turned her attention to the rest group, doing more or less the same in the hold at the top of the ramp.
“Everyone clear on the plan?” she asked.
“It’s not exactly complicated,” Poe murmured in response, shouldering his “slug thrower”.
“ Kill people. Find our people. Meet back here, ” Chewie quipped, staring down the length of his crossbow.
"Don't forget 'don't get killed'." Jannah added.
“Good enough,” Rey murmured, and activated the ramp’s lowering switch. Ben stepped up beside her.
They set off into the night.
Rey supposed it was normal for the town to be quiet, given it was the dead of night. Still, it seemed odd; there was still the remnants of a space battle taking place overhead, after all. The majority of the people gathered around the ruins of what once had been elaborate houses were human. Now, they slept around campfires, or shivered inside the broken shells of metal shops who’s roofs had been blown half off... or gathered around barrel fires and glared at the two Jedi picking their way through the desolate streets. Somewhere, a baby was crying.
What happened here?
War , Ben replied. They're used to nothing else. Ben set his hand lightly on her back. After the destruction of the second Death Star thirty some years ago, they Republic bombed this city when it tried to stay loyal to the Empire. These people had only been here a generation, then; most of them were refugees, brought in from around the Galaxy when Emperor Palpatine decided to make this his capital. Many of them were from Alderaan, and had no where else to go after its destruction.
Why not just encourage the natives to settle around the palace?
Most of them were aliens.
It took Rey a moment to figure out why that would have been a problem for the Emperor.
You said you’d been here before, she went on. Why?
Ben’s thought grew troubled.
I came because I heard of the darkness that dwelt here. Many dark users sought out this place- to train, or to try to take in some of that darkness for themselves. I spent a few weeks here, under Snoke’s guidance.
Memories tainted by disdain and discomfort threatened to wash over him, then, but Ben let them flow by without engaging.
Rey pursed her lips.
I'm sorry, she offered. He took her hand, gave it a little squeeze, and they fell into an uneasy silence.
Ever present, ahead of them, was the Darkness; part of Rey wanted to flee in terror, and the other part was being called to... soothed, by it...
Ben shot her a frown.
I'm okay, she promised.
They picked their way through the rubble cluttered streets. The people they saw from a distance were gradually wearing more and more Black Sun symbolism... A few turned to radio as soon as Rey and Ben had passed, but no one moved to stop them.
They'll be expecting us, Ben cautioned.
I don't see any way around that. Do you?
No, he conceded.
Finally, the monolith came into sight.
Towering hundreds of feet above the forest, stood the ruined Emperor’s palace. Once tall, with columns and towers spiraling into the sky, it was clear to Rey even from this far, that the building was a mere shell of its former self; its obviously once symmetrical shape warped, and cracked now.
And, inside, Rey caught the first wisp of Rose and Finn's presence.
Alive. Her knees nearly buckled in relief. There was no need to explain as Ben felt Finn and Rose's presence, through her.
They picked up their pace; into the twisted, and overgrown forest. Only the Force stopped them from tripping over roots and rubble alike. Even when they found what had once been a four-lane road made of hardened, black stone, the trees had grown up right in the middle of it, and every hundred feet or so they came across massive craters blown ten feet into the ground.
They were nearly out of the tree line, when Rey and Ben sensed them, as one. Slowly, under the light of twin moons, the group became visible. With leisurely, patient gaits, the four figures strode down the front steps of the palace. Rey caught her breath when she took in the size of one.
Beside her, Ben shrugged, then rolled his shoulders.
Turning children to the Dark Side is easy. Preferable, even.
Rey's gut churned.
What- what should we do?
There was no way she would be able to kill a kid, even if it was trying to gut-
Ben pressed her to steady her thoughts.
Be calm, he soothed, It might not even come to that.
It better not , she replied, but focused herself, anyway.
The four stopped figures stopped, in unison.
At their head, a bald Umbaran called down with a voice like velvet. "Friends! The Children of Sidious welcome you. I, am Vikr Esse’J."
Ben was waiting anxiously for her response to something...
That's what Palpatine called himself...
A chill ran down Rey's spine. Would it help, or hurt, if these people knew her heritage? She was quick to clear her mind again. As one, she and Ben drew and lit their lightsabers. The night glowed a warm yellow.
"We've come for our people," Rey called up, and might have been surprised by the strength and assurance in her own voice, had she not been so balanced.
"I'm sure we don't know-"
Ben leveled his blade at the Umbaran.
"Don't insult us! We can sense them in there," he motioned to the palace with his blade. "If you've hurt them, there will be retribution."
Rey could sense a combined rise to that particular challenge, from their counterparts: a temptation to strike, in their feelings.
Vikr dropped a hand, palm open, and the other three calmed some.
“I can assure you,” he went on, “No harm has been done. However, I’m afraid we're not inclined to allow two individuals even of your standing to enter our humble home.”
Ben flexed a fist. Rey could taste his anticipation on her tongue.
“Who said anything about letting us?” she shouted back.
“Very well, then,” Vikr replied, sounding almost bored, “If it’s to be trespassing on your part...”
Rey expected them to start forward, or maybe to reign down lightning… but they turned, as one, and started slowly up the stairs.
Then a dozen men poured over the top of the steps, and he forest behind and came to life- lit up with blaster fire.
"I hear lightsabers," Chebacca said in a low whisper.
"Yeah, I see 'em," Poe whispered in the dark, lowering his electrobinoculars. Sure enough, there were Rey and Ben, at the base of the palace steps and having the daylight blasted out of them.
Above them, another the ten guards stepped out of the building's opening, and paused at the top of the staircase- their dark heads just barely visible from the hilltop he, Chewie, Jannah were perched on. The forest below them was crawling with bodies- all headed the Jedi's direction.
"No way we're going to be able to help them in time..."
"They can handle themselves," Chewie assured him.
"You guys got a plan?" Jannah asked.
Chewie was staring down his scope, now.
"Around the back."
Poe nodded. "Let's go with that."
Sorry this is posting late; I went on an adventure this morning.
“Rey said to clear your mind, right? Are you clearing your mind?”
“I’m certainly trying to ,” Finn snapped, and regretted it at once. He opened one eye, to find Rose glaring down at him- her hands on her hips. From his place seated before the door, Finn lifted an open palm to her in apology, and sent one last forlorn glance to the lock he couldn't seem to budge.
“Sorry- I’m, just a little tense, is all."
Rose wasn’t having it.
“I don’t know what’s gotten in to you lately, but I-”
“ Excuse me? ” she shouted.
Finn stood- ran to the decimated wall, and peered down into the darkness a half-mile below.
Rose followed, peering over his shoulder.
Brilliant blaster fire lit up the forest at the front of the building. Lots of it. And at the center- two yellow lights that were dim from here, but unmistakable in their flashing, streaking motions.
Finn couldn't believe he'd missed her; he'd been so focused on the stupid door.
There was no thought, no emotion: just peaceful, fluid motion between them.
Back to back, they danced under a shower of laser fire neither would have endured alone. Trapped from every angle, there was no option but dodge or deflect, and repeat.
Time lost meaning.
There was only their single mind and the way it processed unfathomable amounts of the possible- found the best scenario, reacted, and repeated.
Ben pulled a dozen soldiers off the steps above them at once- threw them into the encroaching horde from his side. Rey braced herself, ripped a tree from the ground with a scream of defiance, and sent it spiraling into anyone stupid enough to step from the safety of the treeline.
Then they pivoted with one thought, and began to make their way up the steps behind them; Rey causally throwing off anyone still coming down the stairs, and Ben deflecting or catching the incessant onslaught behind them.
"We're getting out of here," Fin shouted, feeling his pulse start to rise and striding back towards the door. He wanted to reach out to Rey's mind, but was worried he might distract her...
She needs our help.
Finn scowled, braced himself, and reached out to the power he'd been sensing since they got here. It rippled into him- dulled his pain, and sent adrenaline into his veins.
He didn't bother with the lock, this time- just lashed out at the door itself, with nothing but his own frustration.
He should have been stunned, then, when the energy flew from his hand and slammed the door clean off its hinges- Rose certainly was.
"How did yo-"
Finn grabbed her hand, spun them both out of the way of the two blaster bolts that tore into their prison then, and threw the two guards outside into the same wall the door had just bounced off of.
"Drainage tunnel?" Poe asked.
Chewie shrugged his massive shoulders.
" Yeah, probably ."
The hole in question wasn't guarded, save a rusting, heavy grate that covered all but one corner.
"Thermal detonators?" Jannah asked, producing one in her palm.
" Don't bother ," Chewie replied, moving Poe aside. Then he took the grate in both furry hands, and tore it off with a brief shriek of metal.
The trio peered into the darkness.
"Excuse me, love?"
Poe watched Jannah tap the guard lightly on his shoulder.
When the guard jumped and spun, Chewbacca quietly smashed his head into the metal wall. Poe caught the guard under the arms and lowered him to the ground before he could thud. The three shared a brief moment of self-congratulation, then started down the corridor.
This whole place was like something from a bad spice trip... down to the sense of impending doom. The ceiling were a dozen feet high. Plant matter seemed to pour from every crack and opening, and was covered in slime, making the floor tremendously slick under foot. There was a constant sickly sweet taste of decay in the air. Poe shook himself.
“This place is creepy,” Chewie added, as if reading his mind.
"You said it, buddy."
Fifty men tried to follow Rey and Ben up the stairs; charging as one with what could only be a coordinated front. Welding their blades one-handed, the two devoted three full breaths just to deflecting the maelstrom assault. Ben caught several bolts at once, and inch of their skin, and sent them back. A thought came to them then, through the Force, and resolve took over.
Rey and Ben sighed, as one, and each reached out their free hand to gripped different faults in the stone steps between them and their attackers. They cleared their minds to the single task, and pulled, as one.
The sound was ear-splitting. Stone parting from stone shook the ground under their feet- knocked several men off the stairs before them.
Rock broke free of rock, and as one the Jedi hurled the mass of stone the size of a small space ship down on the attackers below.
Taking no time to absorb the horrific effect, the two turned, took the stairs at inhuman speed, and slipped inside the palace.
Hurrying down the same hallways as last time, Finn and Rose paused only to jump the occasional guard duo. With Finn throwing them causally into walls now, the two blasters they'd both stolen were almost unnecessary.
"Where's Leia's saber?" Rose whispered.
"Don't know," Finn replied, peering around a corner. "Baldy had it last."
They started down the hallway, and were nearly to the end of it when Finn was slammed into the ground by an invisible weight to his chest. He sensed them a moment later, and managed to get off six shots before their group of black-clad captors stepped into view.
"Come along Finn," Esse'j said, throwing both blasters across the room like swatting at a pair of flies, "We're going now."
Rose moved to chase down her blaster.
"May I?" Sarehn asked, running her tongue over her teeth.
Esse'j shrugged his consent, and the Togruta stepped forward. Rose scrambled back in response.
"Wait, no!" Poe shouted- throwing out a hand in sheer defiance.
Sarehn gasped- was buffeted through the air. She twisted like a snake though, and somehow came up on her feet, a dozen paces away.
Esse'j sighed, and stepped forward. Activated his blade.
"We don't have time for this. They're inside, already."
"Leave her alone," Finn snarled. He reached out a hand, but someone in the group pinned it to the ground with the Force. "I'll go with you," he tried, and Esse'j yanked Rose to his feet. "Just don't hurt her!"
The lightsaber slipped inside Rose's chest.
Finn went mad.
Rey and Ben could sense the group they chased after, certainly; but they still needed to pause a moment at every hallway to figure out which turn was correct. The Force gave Rey in particular a certain vague, guiding sensation, but it took effort from her, every time.
"Think the men were just to slow us?" Rey asked at one such turn, beginning to pant.
Been swiped the sweat out of his eyes.
"Likely." He followed her to the left, "They're weaker than we are, even combined, and they probably know it."
Rey nodded, and vaulted over a fallen stone column that was five feet high.
She was mid air when she sensed Rose- fumbled her landing in her shock, but Ben corrected her trajectory and Rey skidded forward and took back her balance.
They didn't need to discuss what they'd sensed, just run faster.
Finn kicked, and thrashed, and spat and screamed- but the invisible grip on his throat never wavered; dragging him along with just enough slack on his windpipe for him to stay conscious from the occasional breath.
"I'll kill you," he bellowed, not for the first time, "I'll gut you for that!"
Vikr didn't turn, but Finn could feel his amusement in response to Finn's threat. Another wave of blind rage overtook him then, and with a vicious snap of his arm Finn lashed out a buffet at the four backs turned to him.
Hess'ia was the only one to stumble, and just barely.
"We'll focus that power, in time," Vikr called back, almost reassuringly.
Finn lashed out again, mindlessly; gripped the walls ahead of them in both his fists, and pulled on the metal until the veins in his neck bulged. Until he saw red. Until he screamed.
Random jagged shards and several larger plates ripped off the shredded hallway- flew towards his captors. They jumped wildly out of the way, and Vikr's grip on Finn slipped then, when he took a chunk of debris the size of dinner plate the head.
Finn redoubled his efforts- envisioning bringing the entire parapet in on them all, himself included. The mass of chaos turned into an indoor tornado, but came to a sudden stop when Vikr whirled within the storm, to grip Finn bodily in the Force.
“That’s enough!” he snarled.
Shrapnel clattered to the floor. The others flung metal off and away from then.
“Can I just kill him already? He’s not worth this trouble!”
Vikr turned on her- stuck a finger in her face.
“Do not presume to tell me what he's worth! The mere fact that he can produce such damage after so little time proves his value! Now let’s go; they’re not far behind us!”
Rey ground to a halt above her friend. Ben had gotten there first.
Behind them, Rey could hear the footfalls of a dozen boots; Black Sun soldiers and mercenaries, finally catching up. And still ahead- Finn, and the Children of Sidious getting further away.
“Go!” Ben called to her, hand already pressed to Rose’s spasming chest, I got her! We’ll catch up!
Rey took off.
Ben draped the limp, but breathing Rose over his shoulder, and drew his lightsaber. He could hear them coming around the last bend, almost upon him.
The men rounded the corner, fired, and began to die. Pulling the girl back from the brink had taken much more energy than he'd thought it would, though; and with the weight of her on his shoulders, Ben had grown too slow- took a bolt to the side, and scarcely avoided Rose taking on through her head.
Ben hissed, and fought for clarity as the fatigue and brain-fog loomed and the final six attackers redoubled their efforts when they saw him stagger back under the bolt.
Then, out of nowhere, blaster bolts reigned down from behind the soldiers; picked them off in the span of two breaths. Most were dead before they hit the floor.
Chewbacca, Jannah, and Poe, stood in their wake.
“Rose?” Poe called, and the three bounded over bodies to reach him.
Ben gasped and nodded before passing the girl over to Chewbacca.
“She’ll be alright. Get her out of here," he hissed through his teeth, and turned, "We’re going after Finn!”
Rey reached the final steps of the palace, and stepped into the gentle, cool rain. Puddles of water were fast pooling on the metal rooftop of the tallest tower the Imperial palace had to offer. Rey was careful to step around a hole she sensed when all the way down through the many stories, to the palace entrance below.
Finn was there, and seemed whole, behind the red blade at his throat.
The same Umbaran from the steps, Vikr something, had a grip in her friend's hair with his other hand.
Rose! was all Finn shouted when he saw her.
Rey took a deep breath- fight for clarity of sense.
Search your feelings- she's alright .
"Not another step," Vikr called, still sounding perfectly calm, to his credit.
“Hello Finn,” Rey greeted, stalling for time to think.
“Oh hey,” Finn called back, casually, "Meet my new friends. They're very charming."
“So this is the master who tried to limit you the the Light Side of the Force? Why don’t you tell her how things have been going under my tutelage?”
Finn scowled, then. Something brewed in him... something dark.
“Rey," he asked evenly, "Did you know that you can use your emotions to access the Force?”
Rey swallowed hard.
“Well, sort of. It’s danger-”
“Then why did you tell me that I was too passionate?” There was an edge in Finn's voice now which Rey found downright terrifying.
She blinked the rain out of her eyes. “What? No- That's not-”
“You see? At least I’m honest with you.”
“Shut up, Baldy.” Finn snapped; fought to free his head, and hissed when the saber burned at his neck.
I'm coming, Ben called to her, but there was a serious pain he was battling, now.
Rey took a deep breath, and found her calm again.
“Let him go," she called, and brought her blade up by her face, "And we will let you leave this place alive."
There was a roar overhead, then. Rey felt her presence first, but still gaped in horror as the Resistance battle ship, the Liberation came into view. It angled to land on the rooftop.
Rey stared on in horror as Na'atarii strode down the ramp of the stolen vessel. Even such a horrific possibility as this, and what it might mean for the Rebels of D'Qar, still didn't knock Rey's breath out quite as hard as seeing Captain Sar, Deputy Regnant Somman, and Senator Ventrill following after the girl. Ben's dream came back to Rey in a flood of dread that turned the Jedi cold at once, all over.
"My friends! You've done well!" Na'atarii purred to the other Dark Side users without turning her gaze from Rey. Raw malice poured off her; made Rey fight to keep from recoiling.
Then the girl lifted a hand out, and Finn began to shake, then choke without Vikr's grasp. His eyes went wide, then bulged. Vikr released him, but kept his lightsaber up, and Finn dropped to his knees; clutching at his throat.
"Throw your blade over the edge," Na'atarri snarled to Rey, "Or I'll crush his windpipe."
Rose awoke pressed up against Chewie’s chest- his ammunition belt biting into her face. She grunted, struggled to look up.
Chewie moaned something she didn't understand quietly down to her. She caught a glimpse of Jannah of all people, slow jogging in front of them.
“Hey,” Poe called, appearing at their side and squeezing Rose's hand.
“What happened?” she groaned. The last thing she recalled was their captors showing up at their room...
“It’s alright. We're getting you out of here,” Poe whispered, then broke off for a second to peer around a corner. When he spun back his eyes were wide and he gestured for a frantic retreat.
“At least, we’re trying to,” Jannah added in an anger mutter.
"This place is swarming!" Poe hissed.
Rose jolted then, and fought to sit upright.
Rey took one last lingering glance at her new lightsaber, and then chucked it, as hard as she could, the thirty feet to the rooftop's nearest edge. It disappeared over the side, and Rey had to fight not to follow it with her mind, all the way down. She let out a tense exhale, and raised her hands slowly, as four red lightsaber blades ignited. Everyone but Sar had one, it seemed. The Torgruta female, and the massive male Klatooinian from the steps both rushed forward at a nod from Na'atarrii.
The Torgruta female grinned, and hit Rey with a blow to the throat she didn't bother trying to block. She waited for the waves of pain to ease a little, before trying to draw a jagged, agonizing breath. The Klatoonian took both of Rey's hands in one of his, yanked them up behind her back until she cried out at the ligaments stretching.
They hurried her away from the door to the rooftop, and Na'atarii herself stepped in to grab Rey by the hair.
"Get your backs to the ship," she ordered over her shoulder to the others. Rey let herself be pulled in, until the girl's blade was a millimeter from her throat. She shot a glance to Finn, now in much the same situation as herself, and fought together to regain their breath.
Are you alright? She called with all the levity she could muster.
I've been better, he shot back.
"Not one wrong move, Master Jedi," Na'attari ground out behind her, "Or your padawan dies, and then you. Solo is on his way... Do you sense him?"
Ben, she warned, and felt his horror wash over her. He didn't slow, though, in his frantic hobble towards the rooftop. He'd be there in mere seconds.
Na'atarii dealt a sudden punch to Rey's kidney then. Something inside ruptured, and Rey stole one massive, gulping breath before tasting blood and dropping to her knees.
Ben turned off his saber, held it out far from his body, and took a weighted, careful step forward. He reached out in a soothing gesture with the other hand.
“Sova,” he breathed to the teenager, thirty paces off.
That was a mistake.
“My name is not Sova !” she shouted, and he froze- nodded, and took a deep breath.
“You’re right. You’re right. I’m sorry.”
She broke into a tense laugh.
“Not yet, you’re not- but you will be in a second.”
"Killing him won't change what happened to you," Rey tried, quietly. There was blood at her mouth, and a pain inside her to rival his own blaster wound. Ben fought for composure, and let himself sink a little deeper into the Force.
Breath, and peace.
“Do think your lover is changed?" Na'atarii was whispering in Rey’s ear, "That you've fully seduced him back to the Light? That he's redeemed?" Ben felt the blisters break out on Rey’s neck then as Na’atarii inched her ligthsaber in closer. Rey let out a cry that cleaved his heart in two, and his focus wobbled- threatened to disintegrate under the weight of his terror.
Na'atarii grinned in response to sensing his feelings.
"You love her, don't you? That's dangerous for a Jedi."
Ben took another measured step forward.
"Don't!" Na'atarii snarled, and Ben froze again. "Not another step or I take her head clean off, and we'll see if you can best seven of us in combat as easily as you slaughter little girls!"
Then she twisted a handful of Rey's hair until Ben wanted to cry out in their shared pain. He didn't dare withdraw from their connection though... couldn't bare the thought of leaving Rey's mind. His uplifted arms were growing heavy, and a haze had begun to creep in around the edges of his vision...
"Tell me what you want," he called.
Na'atarii ignored him, whispering into Rey's ear again, instead.
"We can prove that he’s not a good boy , though... That he's still obsessed with his own suffering..." She took another step back away from Ben, staring him down with eyes that seemed to burn with the unadulterated the hatred contained therein. "He killed a child to save himself from being punished by a master that he chose. No one can come back from something like that! Watch: I'll prove it.”
She lifted a hand then, and Ben was stunned when the young boy in dark robes lifted off the ground behind her. With a shout of fear, the boy was thrown through the air to dangle, suspended, over the edge of the crumbling rooftop. He cried out again, starring down and thrashing in place.
"Mistress," Vikr called in concern.
"Quiet!" Na'atarii hissed over her shoulder, and turned to glare Ben down again. Raw delight and anticipation poured off her now, and a smile spread across her face. “Pick one, Solo! Your lover, the Jedi Master; or this poor, misguided child. The other one dies.”
Ben started forward again on impulse.
“No!” she shrieked, and the fingers on her raised hand tightened. The boy kicked wildly in the air- began to sputter, cough, and then choke.
“Not another move, or they both die!”
Ben ground to a halt against his every instinct. He fought to sense her intentions- but even Na'atarii didn't know what came next. All was hatred, rage, and rabid glee; and all of it was for him.
Ben, Rey tried to sooth.
“This isn’t their fault,” Ben called, voice cracking, and palms raised, “I’m the one you hate... Just- come kill me.”
Na’atarii threw her head back to laugh.
“But this will hurt you so much more.”
The boy thrashed all the more violently in the air- began to turn blue.
Ben's balance vanished entirely; left nothing behind but an icy stab of fear.
“No!” Na'atarii shouted again, and redoubled her efforts. The kid’s eyes bulged. "Choose now!"
Ben! Rey shouted within the confines of his mind, and he shifted his gaze to her face. Her eyes welled, but there was no terror on her face. No pain. Rey nodded, just slightly, and then Ben knew.
He pointed with his free hand.
Many things happened at once, then.
Na'atarii relaxed her grip, and the boy dropped from sight like a stone. In the same instant, Rey found herself holding Ben's saber in her left hand, and activated it. A red blaster bolt flew out of the darkness- straight for Na'atarii's head and giving her no choice but to block... Her blade sent three bolt into the night at the very moment Ben's lightsaber blade took her through her lower abdomen.
The blade at Finn's throat snapped away, and something in him told him to duck. He dropped under Vikr's arm at the same instant his captor tried to block a projectile Finn couldn't see. Whatever it was, it passed right through the plasma blade, and Finn looked up to find Vikr staring on in horror; a dozen tiny wounds burned an inch into his face and chest. Vikr began to scream.
Rose Tico stepped onto the roof, blaster in hand. She swayed just a little with the effort of their ascent, but the fury bubbling up within her was a stark and dominant contrast to her fatigue. She targeted anyone holding a red lightsaber, and went wild.
Poe came up behind her, slugthrower pressed tight into his shoulder, and the sound of his lead rounds leaving their barrel was deafening. Chewie, and Jannah joined in. The night lit up with red on red, and then everything was moving too fast for Rose process.
Ben vaulted the distance to the edge of the rooftop in three quick bounds- dove, and stopped himself from going over head-first with only the fingertips of his left hand. His right stretched out to the darkness below. Ben his teeth, blocked out the chaos behind him, and focused only on the form below. Yanked the boy to a stop.
Rey turned to look up, slowly. She knew what she'd done… Didn't want to see it. Na'atarii still stood- gaping at her with Ben's saber skewering the girl through her abdomen at an angle, entering at her left hip and exiting just below her neck on the right side. She stared down, confused; mouth opening and closing like a fish.
Rey deactivated the blade, and rose to take up the teenager in her arms as she fell.
"I'm sorry," Rey murmured, and felt the young Queen slip away.
Finn was manic, and he was moving. He threw an elbow into Vikr's ribs. There was a crack, and a gasp. The taller, skinnier man was still groping at his own face, and Finn managed to spin and get his hand on Vikr's hilt then- fought it up overhead then tried to wrestle it from the long, corded fingers of its owner.
That seemed to snap Vikr out of his shock. He got a hand on Finn's face- tried to claw out his eyes. Finn snarled, let go with a hand of his own, and yanked on Vikr's wrist. Tore his opponent's grip from his face. The two held each other at arm's length, and fought one-handed to bring the lightsaber blade down on the other.
They came to an impasse of sorts and Vikr grinned; a chilling sight with the holes still smoldering in his face. "You're still wea-"
Finn head-butted him; let go of his wrist long enough to punch Vikr in the throat. The Umbaran choked, grabbed at his crushed windpipe with both hands, and dropped to his knees.
"About time you shut up," Finn growled, and took Vikr's head clean off. It rolled a few feet away.
Finn watched, panting, as Vikr's body slumped to ground. Then turned to find Rey, clutching the Queen, and watching him with tears streaking down her face, and fear in her eyes.
Poe watched in dismayed as the Dark Side users boarded the stolen Liberation. To his credit- half of them were clutching at their faces or abdomens. As near as he could tell, he'd only fatally wounded a Togruta... But the weight of such a feet was not lost on him. Jannah had fallen back when one of her bolts had ricocheted and returned on her. Poe glanced over his shoulder, to find her bandaging a shin. She shot him a tense thumbs up.
Behind them, Chewie lifted his crossbow overhead, and let out a Wookie war cry of victory.
The stolen Hammerhead Corvette rose from the rooftop.
"Can't you grab it?" Finn shouted to Rey over the engine roar, but with entirely too much malice for her liking. She'd sensed Somman, Sar, Ventrill, and the Klatooinian making a frantic retreat; had felt no desire to stop them.
She could sense the desires within Finn, though. Could see what he envisioned: the vessel stalling out under Rey's grip, and its treacherous crew slammed into the ground in a fiery spectacle below.
"Leave them," Rey called to him, and looked back down at the body in her arms. "We've done enough already."
Ben settled a hand on her shoulder then, and crouched. The shame pouring off him as he took in the dead teenager made Rey's gut churn.
He carefully shut Sova's eyes.
Behind them, the boy who's name Rey did not know shivered in the rain. Alive, physically unharmed, but no doubt damaged all the same.
Her thought was directed at both Ben and Finn, then. Let's go home.
Rey and Ben were almost lazy about deflecting the dozen or so blaster bolts. Neither had the stomach for sending the projectiles back on their owners... So they just spun them casually into the walls, and the floor, and ceiling. After healing one another, both Rey and Ben were spent, and not in the mood for dealing with more senseless violence. That didn't stop the guards from gaping in terror though at the two Jedi, mindlessly cutting their way forward.
"Your masters are dead." Ben called ahead, sounding almost bored. "Go!"
The lead fighters hesitated- glanced to each other for support.
Rey sighed, and gripped the support columns of the hall; pulled until they began to shake.
The soldiers turned, and beat a hasty retreat.
Rey checked absently that everyone was still chugging along behind them. Still weak, Rose was getting a piggyback ride from Chewie. Jannah was walking in stride with Finn; neither of them speaking in light of the darkness still brewing within Finn's mind. Even the non Force user seemed to sense it within her friend.
Rey ended with the boy at the rear. "Heziah", as Finn had told her his name was, had taken a little convincing. In the end, it was Rey who crouched down in the rain before him, on the cracked rooftop of the palace.
He'd been wide eyed, and angry as a feral cat, but Rey had seen through it.
It might be easy to turn children to the Dark Side, but it's a superficial, non-permanent state. Children want to joyful, and kind. It's in their nature.
"I'm Rey," she'd whispered to him.
The boy had jut out his chin and narrowed his eyes in defiance.
"You're Jedi scum."
"Yes," she'd said, gently. "I think you'd better come with us anyway, though. It's awfully cold up here."
He'd ignored her after that... until the party began to walk away.
I don't know... Ben had fussed, fighting the urge to look back. Heziah had chosen that very moment to pad after them.
Now, the whole party heard him crying quietly, to their rear- but no one felt the need to address it as they trudged their way through the palace halls.
What are we going to do with him? Ben asked, uncertainty coloring his mind.
I was hoping you knew," Rey replied, listless, You're the one who saved him.
Ben stifled a smile, leaned over to take her head in his palm, and brought her temple to his lips.
Like you gave me any choice.
The sky over the old Capital City had been all but clear. The rebel party had cut their way through the planet's atmosphere, to the light side of the planet before leaving atmosphere to stay out of range on the only remaining Black Sun cruiser, and make the jump to hyperspace. Their shields were severely damaged, but Rey and Chewbacca had managed a haphazard patch that would last them until the nearest Rebel station, just on the edge of the Mid Rim.
The ship engines were churning warmly underfoot. The flickering light of passing systems was almost hypnotic, coming down the hallway from the cockpit. Eyes closed, Ben slumped against the back of the halogame table couch and dozed.
Rey murmured in her sleep, against his right arm, and Ben's heart swelled in response. He fought a sudden, gentle urge to stroke her hair in her sleep.
On Rey's other side was Poe, tapping quietly on a datapad, while Finn snored loudly from where he'd wedged himself between Poe, and Chewbacca. Rose, for her part, was curled up across Poe, Finn, and Chebacca's laps- on the brink of sleep, but fading in and out in a pattern Ben's mind seemed to follow, unconsciously.
Jannah was up in the cockpit- dead to the world.
Time slipped by with little meaning. All was peace, and Ben thought before unconsciousness could take him again, that perhaps the was the most content he'd ever been.
The next time he surfaced, it was to the sound of Chewbacca muttering quietly, to himself.
When the Wookie stood, Ben cracked one eye in response; watched him cross the tiny room to where Rose and Rey had set up a tiny bed, on a couple of cargo crates. No one had thought it wise to stick the boy anywhere out of sight...
Chewbacca crouched before the pile of blankets, and cocked his head at the boy glaring out- cooed gently to him in his low, quiet warble, and offered him a hand.
Memories flooded Ben.
Sunlight. A grassy hilltop under his bare feet. Laughter, and running- chasing after the brown fur in front of him. The thrill of victory when Ben finally caught him. Being tossed in the air so high he felt like he was flying.
Countless hours in the sunshine, playing with toy blasters and practicing Shyriiwook until his voice went hoarse. Chewie's bellowing laughter at his attempts.
Chewie's gentle eyes, peering into the cleft of the rock Ben was hiding in after "running away"... protesting father leaving yet again. Chewie offering him a hand, pulling him out, and carrying him home while Ben cried into his shoulder. The look of relief on Leia's face when they'd arrived.
Ben didn't realize he was crying until the sound of him sniffing made Chewbacca look up in suspicion. He narrowed his eyes in Ben's direction, glared a moment, and Ben wanted nothing more than to hide away from his uncle's hostile gaze. He wiped at his face in shame, and the Wookie sighed... softening some, and looked away. Ben could feel the same regret that tore endlessly at his insides stirring within Chewbacca, too.
Then the Wookie turned back to the boy in the blankets who'd finally taken his big, furry hand and was clutching it tightly to his chest, like a stuffed toy.
"You're safe now, little one," Chewbacca murmured to Heziah, and settled down on the ground beside the crate.
Ben cried silently for some time, after that.
Two days later
Ben pressed his palm into the wet, churned earth.
I'm sorry. You didn't deserve this.
The headstone read:
Ben bowed his head, let the gentle drizzle roll through his hair and down his face, and was still for a long time.
He felt her coming, done with her meeting with the Council, apparently. Ben didn't stir, but let her approach and sit with him in her own, quiet reverence. She'd known the young medic too... that didn't stop her pity from spilling over for him, though.
"He didn't want anything from me," Ben whispered, "Not even to know if I was safe to be around… He was just kind."
I'm sorry, Ben.
How many others?
Rey stiffened. Knew he'd blame himself.
The two guards in her room, and five more in the comms center. That's why we couldn't reach them for the last few days; Na'atarii and her crew killed everyone inside, and destroyed all the communications equipment before stealing the Liberation. Thankfully, D'Acy pulled everyone back and let her leave as soon as they realized what was happening.
Ben ground his teeth until they hurt.
He sighed, straightened, and stood. Took Rey in his arms.
"I'm so sorry," he whispered in her hair.
In time, Ben realized she'd begun to shiver, and brought her up under his cloak.
Let's head back.
The sparks from the fire flickered up between the Millennium Falcon's front mandibles before disappearing into the night sky. The usual clearings the rebels used for landing were full with their visiting allies, so Rey had settled them in on a barren hilltop nearby.
Now, the hill served the dual purpose of offering the couple some much needed privacy. The trip back to D'Qar had been pleasant enough, if not a little somber, but the Falcon had little to offer in the way of secluded nooks; a problem only made worse by having Finn so close at hand. He'd been acting strange, Rey mused, since she and Ben had explained to him how he'd been dabbling in the Dark Side of the Force. Very quiet. Perhaps he was being a little hard on himself. As soon as they'd pulled away from Byss Finn had withdrawn himself from the Force entirely, and his overall demeanor had shifted markedly. Now, he was camped out somewhere far below, with Poe and Rose; slipping into an uneasy sleep between them.
"How are the Naboo taking the news that their queen is dead?" Ben called, from his place on the sleeping mats and blankets; watching her disrobe. The other blankets which they'd hung off the bottom of the Falcon for some privacy fluttered in the wind. Rey was terribly aware of his eyes on her as she finished hanging her damp clothes beside his, near the fire to dry. She smiled a little to herself while she worked.
It's not my fault I have eyes, he added, and she felt his grin.
"The Naboo don't have much of a choice but to believe us, for now. It seems there was always some rumors that Na'atarii wasn't actually born on Naboo, and as popular as she was with the people, they're hardly in position to declare war in the Resistance after we just overthrew their last overlords," she turned to face him, and began to take down her hair, "At least, that seems to be the Council's opinion on the matter, for now."
She fumbled in frustration with her ties; they always stuck when her hair got wet. For a single moment, Rey longed for the sand dunes and searing heat of Jakku...
"Let me help," Ben offered softly, sitting up. She moved towards the fire and crouched before him. She could sense him taking in the goosebumps on her shoulders, and then he scooped her up; pulled her onto his lap and under the blankets with him before slowly taking her hair down.
Rey sighed as he ran his fingers over her scalp in the places her hair had been tied.
"What about Black Sun?" he murmured quietly in her ear, and new goosebumps arose on her neck. Not from the cold...
"They've gone rather quiet," Rey said, dreamily.
"I'm sure that might have something to do with us taking out half their leadership," Ben replied, and slid his fingertips slowly down the length of her back. He found her neck, and kissed it ever so lightly. Rey sighed again in contentment, and leaned back against his chest.
No doubt we'll have to deal with them some other day, Rey went on within his thoughts. Ben wrapped an arm around her torso then, and leaned down to kiss her lips, gently; offering up his mind to her in the process. Rey turned around to straddle him; ran her finger tips through his hair and let their feelings and senses ebb and flow in sync with one another. They gasped as one.
Some other day, but not now... Now there is only this... Only us.
Three months later
Ben straightened his black leather jacket -a gift, from Poe of all people- and glanced to the heavy wood doors of the new Council Chamber.
He knew what to expect, of course; these things were hard to keep properly secret, what with Finn on the Council, and Rey and Ben is near constant mental contact these days. They had to make it count…
The anxiety, and heartache ran through them both. The doors opened just then, and Finn beckoned them both forward.
The council had a proper bar, now; and Ben felt his pulse spike as he looked over the members. Poe wasn't happy. Chewbacca was perfectly neutral. D'Acy looked grave.
Rey released her grip on his hand, and been shuffled forward.
It's okay, she soothed- but he could sense her apprehension too.
Once again, he came to a stop before the Council of the Resistance. Ben swallowed hard, and folded his hands before him, and waited for justice to be dealt.
"Supreme Leader Kylo Ren," D'Acy called. "You stand before this Council, accused of terrorism, the murder of Lor San Tekka, and a myriad of war crimes against the sentient peoples of Galaxy."
Ben nodded deftly. There'd never been any point in denying it.
D'Acy took a deep breath- steeled herself.
"After much deliberation, this Council has decided we are unfit to pass judgment on you, at this time. Too many of us owe you our lives, and it would be a gross disservice to your victims for us to be governing body that decides your fate. Because of this, the Council has no choice but to recuse ourselves."
The tension went out of Rey some, but Not Ben.
"You are formally released from our custody until such a time as a suitable government or panel of your peers can be found… However," D'Acy braced herself again, and leaned forward, "You are henceforth declared an enemy of the Resistance, and this Council. We order you to leave, at once, as your presence at this base undermines both the safety, and integrity of this organization's efforts- as well as the mental well-being of our people. We ask that you be gone in the next twenty-four hours, and not return."
Ben sighed, and nodded. Rey's temper flared some, but she'd done her threatening and arguing days ago. For now, she was overruled.
"I understand," he called up, and looked from face to face, "Thank you all for your deliberation, and your graciousness on my behalf."
He ducked in a quick half-bow, and retreated. Rey openly slipped her arm around him. Everyone knew now, anyway. They'd made some effort, at first, but the Resistance base was just too small. In the end, besides a few dozen sidelong stares, and a couple unforgettable conversations, the Rebels had seemed to take most of it in stride.
Well that was fairly painless, Rey tried.
I suppose. It's better than I deserve.
They stepped into the bustling, noonday shipyard. Ben felt it when Rey sensed his heartache. Even with the last few weeks to prepare, Ben didn't really want to leave.
Rey clutched him a little tighter.
Ben had been sharing Rey's cliffside loft with her for sometime, now. As they steered that direction, individuals alternated between apathy and outright hostility; apparently the news was spreading.
There was one major expectation, though.
Jannah ground her military grade march to halt before them- hands on her hips to match the anger rolling off her… masking something else.
"They're making you leave?" she snapped.
"Yeah," Ben replied.
Jannah pointed to Rey.
"You going with him?"
"For now," she murmured, "There's a place we've been seeing up; somewhere he won't be harassed… Finn and Heziah are going too. Ben's going to continue their training for a while so I can focus on relations with the Republic."
Jannah pinched the bridge of her nose. When she looked up, she glanced back and forth between the two of them, and started to tear up.
With a choked-off cry, she stepped in and hugged them both.
"I'm sorry," Ben muttered.
She pulled back- wiped desperately at her eyes.
"It's fine. I'm fine," she broke into a strangled laugh, "I'm happy for you! You're gonna be so much happier once you get out of here."
Ben looked over the D'Qar base, from his place at the ramp of the Falcon, atop the hill. The sun was starting go down on the ridge behind him; casting the bustling camps and construction sites, and star craft in warm, orange light.
His throat tightened.
Heziah, always the independent, strode up the hillside towards him; bag over his shoulder.
"You got everything?" Ben asked in his best attempt at congeniality.
Heziah pushed past him, and Ben sighed. Was the boy more sociable since their arrival? A little. Did he still blame Ben, personally, for the destruction of his former life? Pointedly.
Give him some more time, Rey soothed, coming up after Heziah. She paused to stand on tip toes, and peck Ben on the lips. "He'll come around... You did."
"That's easy for you to say," Ben grumbled, "He likes you."
Thank goodness, or he'd be a terror.
Ben grunted, pulled her in for a deep hug, and kissed her hair. She kissed him once more, then started up the ramp.
Finn appeared at the treeline. It was an odd combination- the jacket over the top of his padawan robes, but Finn had insisted. Since his aggressive run-in with using the Dark Side, Finn had fought tooth and claw to be a paragon of Jedi conduct and propriety… Which now included his joining Ben and Heziah on their exodus.
The heartache coming off him was staggering, though.
He passed, and Ben clapped him firmly on the shoulder.
At the base of the hill, Ben could just make out Poe, holding Rose tight as they looked on. Their sorrow matched Finn's, and Ben swallowed hard in response.
He gave himself one last moment to take the base in, and say goodbye to a life that could never be... Then Ben turned away.
He was halfway up the ramp when the call reached him.
Ben froze- turned slowly to see Chewbacca cresting the hill. The the Wookie strode forward with eyes narrowed, and Ben was pulling back in concern when his uncle wrapped him in rib-shattering hug, and held him tight.
One Year Later
Ben turned as Heziah ran up the steep stone steps of Ahch-To, to the flat stone above which Ben mediated- enjoying one of the island’s rare sunny days. Ben sighed one last time, and slowly lowered himself- felt the grain of the warm stone under his palm. He knew what the boy was going to say -he’d felt it too- but Ben just smiled.
The boy boy pointed off to the horizon, and beamed a very rare smile indeed.
“Master Rey is here!”
He’s grown so much, Rey’s voice came, and Ben smiled all the deeper.
He has- in more than just the physical, Ben replied, “Yes she is. Go get the others, please.”
The boy was off.
Come here to me, my love.
The ramp came down, and Rey strode off, followed by R2D2, Jannah, and Chewbacca.
Ben stepped forward, and took her up in his arms. They sat for some time, foreheads pressed together.
They seldom went a day without feeling each other’s presence, but this -the touch- was still what Ben lived for.
A giant hand yanked him away, after a few moments more.
“Hey Uncle Chewie,” Ben choked out as the Wookie crushed him to his chest.
“Don’t kill him before I’ve gotten a hug,” Jannah called, and Chewie past him over. “How you doing, Dark Lord?”
“Hey Jannah,” he stepped back from her embrace, and smiled, “I’m good,” he turned, and motioned to the group of five over his shoulder. Rey currently had Finn and Heziah held close. “We’re all really good.”
Rey ran her fingertips slowly over Ben’s rippling abs- loving the way they still rose and fell with his panting. He stared up at the ceiling of their hut, grinning like an idiot and gasped when her touch strayed a little lower.
“You’re going to be the death of me,” he rumbled under her, and Rey lifted her face from his chest. Found his mouth with hers, and drank deep for some time, as her own heat and pleasure began to wane. The sweat between them grew cold, and Ben pulled the woolen blanket up over her shoulders before she could shiver. Rey nestled deeper into his warmth.
I love you.
The thought was both of theirs. She found her place under his chin again.
Don’t leave. Never leave again...
It wasn’t possible, with the state of Galactic affairs. Rey would come back, though- whenever possible. She always came back. The request wasn’t intended to be a serious, though, and neither was Rey’s response.
“Alright. I’ll stay right here, forever,” she murmured, I’m never leaving you.
He stroked her hair and began to imagine it.
Everyday like this, until we’re old and sage Jedi Masters…
Until the padawans make fun of how hunched we are... Until they call us wise.
Rey sighed, perfectly content.
Until our Masters tell us it's time...
Until we join the Force, as one.
Always as one... Until the very end.
A word from the author
If you had told me eights weeks ago that I would write my fastest novel, and upload it every day to AO3, I doubt I would have believed you. This has been an incredible experience, and I've been absolutely floored, countless times, by the stunning amount of warmth and encouragement from this community.
I want to say thank you, briefly, to my two best friends- without whom I never would have written this story.
Mandichan: thank you for being inconsolable that night we got out of TROS. If you hadn't insisted an ending where Ben survived was possible, I wouldn't have become obsessed with the idea of figuring out how.
Moo: thank you for suggesting this site, helping me edit, and being a constant source of support. I know I've been a terror to live with these past two months, and your patience, and willingness to indulge me makes you nothing shy of a saint.
You both have spent countless hours now listening to me go rabid over Star Wars, and your steadfast resolve to not shove a literal sock down my throat is appreciated, and far better than I deserve. I love you both dearly.
Finally, to the people who commented on my chapters here; thank you so much. Truly, I would have stopped weeks ago, if not for you. I’ve read every single comment, and enjoyed your guesses and commentary much more than I can express.
Thank you all, and may the Force be with you, always.