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we must be killers (children of the wild ones)

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The Book of Dawn and Dusk

 

i.

 

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold—

 

She raises both arms in the air, her fingertips pointed to the wolf moon as she stands atop a flight of weathered steps leading to the ruins of XoXaan's ancient temple. Mistaking her gesture for an act of surrender, the stormtroopers advance, blasters raised, safeties off— only to freeze in moments, their feet lifted a few centimeters above the barren ground as if their bodies have been yanked upwards by invisible chains.

 

XoXaan is smiling over her shoulder, beautiful and imperious, Marchioness of the Black Legions, long dead yet eternal in this form of a stone colossus draped in Old Republic robes. Rip from the wraithloom? croons a voice that only the Force-touched can hear, in a language that Rey should not know. Sunder the lifeweave? Unseen, ice-cold fingers trail down her bare neck. Hold firm in gravefast?

 

Rey is exhausted, injured, cut off from her allies. The ghosts of Korriban howl in her ear. She stretches her fingers, hooks them into claws. The bodies below her twitch like puppets dangling from strings.

 

Kotswinot itsu, XoXaan whispers.

 

Rey brings her arms down in an abrupt slashing motion. Fifty stormtroopers bow in the moonlight, their spines cracking through skin and armor, their blood leaving them in a fine mist to water the earth.

 

"Ja'ak," Rey croaks into the sudden, thunderous silence. I am free.

 

*

 

He finds her after the battle, when enormous swathes of the Valley of the Dark Lords have been reduced to fragments and ash. Closing the distance between them in long, swift strides, he spares nary a glance for the mangled corpses that litter his path, the pools of blood that he disturbs. There is something almost reptilian about the tilt of her head when she turns to face him in the shadow of the Marchioness.

 

"It's over," Kylo Ren says. "We won." Technically, they won months ago, Snoke trapped in a Wall of Light with a Darkshear blade buried in his chest. Now they're just mopping up the remnants of the First Order, blowing through the last stands of increasingly desperate generals.

 

"Victory?" Rey asks, her lips moving strangely against the word. She's not speaking in Basic, Kylo realizes. Asha, she is saying asha. "Ashajontu—"

 

"Rey." His tone is curt and his tread cautious as he ascends the stone steps. "I warned you that the ancient Sith still have power here. You knew what you were getting yourself into before we made planetfall. I had every faith that you would be strong enough to overcome them, but it seems that I was wrong."

 

There it is— the tawny glare that he knows so well. "You speak of misplaced faith?" she hisses. "You smug, arrogant, overbearing pri— ahhh..." A tremor wracks her slim frame as she is jolted from the Dark Side's grasp by the familiar burst of irritation and bitterness that only he can coax from her. The next time she opens her mouth, it's to cuss him out in a stream of Teedospeak.

 

Kylo fails abysmally at hiding his relief, but he does manage to tack on a coolly professional, tight-lipped smile at the end of her verbal barrage. "Welcome back. Shall we go?"

 

Rey looks as if she would love nothing more than to push him down the stairs; instead, she settles for shouldering past him, muttering under her breath all the while. He trails after her, noting that she gives the fallen stormtroopers a wide berth. Five years of war, the latter half of that time with him at her side, and she is still disconcerted by the act of killing. He still considers it a weakness on her part.

 

Moonlight snakes a glistening silver trail through the desert valley. Long after they leave XoXaan's temple too far behind for her influence to reach, other Sith lords continue to seduce from each tomb that Rey and Kylo walk past. Refuse neither brother nor ghost, admonishes Marka Ragnos. Death does not diminish, hums Ajunta Pall. Dzworokka yun, says Bane.

 

Rey's having a hard time of it. She's gone pale, her Force signature seesawing precariously as she struggles to anchor herself in what is real and good and true. "Easy now," Kylo murmurs despite his better judgement. This compassion will be the end of them both.

 

She darts an accusing glance at him, her features cast in shadow but her eyes star-strewn. "You're awfully composed," she grumbles.

 

"I've had worse voices in my head," Kylo replies.

 

"I'll take that as a compliment," she snipes even though they both know he was talking about someone else.

 

He plays along. There is refuge even here, in their little games. "I meant it as such. Don't worry."

 

ii.

 

The Tribunal is faceless, a collection of silhouettes behind transparisteel panels. According to Leia Organa, this arrangement ensures no direct contact that could prove compromising and grants the illusion of anonymity to put witnesses at ease. However, it has the opposite effect on Rey. She tries not to fidget in her seat, tries to school her expression into the serenity that is second nature to Luke Skywalker, but this metal room is too much like the interrogation chamber on Starkiller Base. Sweat drenches her palms.

 

"You were present when Kylo Ren surrendered to Resistance forces on Myrkr almost three years ago?" Rey's heart drops into her stomach at the man's suspicious tone, his Hosnian accent. "You saw this with your own eyes?"

 

"Yes," she manages through the dry lump in her throat.

 

"Please tell us in your own words what happened," invites a different voice, this one with a damp gurgle unique to the Mon Calamari.

 

Rey takes a deep breath, willing herself to calm down. She is here to bear witness. She is here to keep her end of the bargain. "I was leading a mission to salvage Zann Consortium tech from the abandoned base outside of Hyllyard. General Organa and Master Skywalker wanted to see if we could use their old Force inhibitors in combat against the Knights of Ren."

 

Another silhouette speaks up— a woman this time, with the stern air of a hardened veteran who has fought many battles. "For the Tribunal's edification, witness refers to the ysalamiri cages that Tyber Zann's organization built for their Mobile Defense Units during the First Galactic Civil War. These cages projected a containment field that nullified an individual's ability to access the Force."

 

Rey nods. "When we arrived at the base, Be— Kylo Ren," she hastily corrects herself, "was already there waiting for us."

 

"How did he know where to find you?" demands a Coruscanti accent.

 

"He sliced our frequency." That's the cover story she and Kylo agreed on; the truth is that he had glimpsed it in the bond, a flash of star charts and hyperspace coordinates when she foolishly let her mental shields slip. "My men and I prepared to engage but he dropped his lightsaber and gave himself up."

 

"Could you describe for us Ren's state of mind at the time?" the female veteran directs. "Was he acting coerced in any way?"

 

"His mask was off and he was shaking," Rey answers. "He looked like he hadn't slept in days. I was the first to approach. He stared at me and whispered, 'Solah.'"

 

"Meaning?" asks the man from the Hosnian system.

 

It's the Mon Calamari who speaks up. "It is Old Republic praxis. The Jedi used to say it as a form of surrender whilst sparring. Solah. It means, 'I yield.'"

 

*

 

The bond is a secret, although Rey would not be surprised in the least if Luke and Leia harbor their suspicions. It started out as a horrible, sinister inconvenience, parasitic almost in the way she and Kylo Ren fed off and bled into each other. And then, as time passed, it had become— hers, like the spiky spinebarrel and the pilot doll and the battered flight helmet. Little things that she could allow herself to hold on to because no one would have traded for them, anyway.

 

The doors to his cell part with a hiss as she steps through after the War Crimes Tribunal has adjourned for the day. Two things happen at the same time: his midnight-dark eyes sweep to her from the narrow bed where he is currently sprawled with one long leg hanging off the edge, and the Force withdraws from her in a sudden, breathtaking rush, repelled by the nullifying bubble that a lone ysalamir casts from its cage in one corner of the room.

 

Rey takes the nearest chair— the only chair, actually— conscious of how Kylo's intense gaze remains transfixed on her face. She doesn't think she'll ever get used to the way he looks at her, this strange, dizzying blend of hunger and fascination. "The Tribunal will issue a verdict soon," she tells him. "Perhaps even in a couple of days."

 

He shrugs. It's an awkward, stilted gesture because he's still lying down but the movement draws her attention to the bicep exposed by his short-sleeved black shirt. She wonders, not for the first time, how all that muscle would feel beneath her fingertips, if his skin is as warm and smooth as she imagines it to be. "Some of the judges are quite loyal to your mother. That may help," she continues. "Of course, there are those who believe that the Republic's failure to eradicate the Imperial old guard after the Civil War was what led to the rise of the First Order—"

 

"And they don't want it to happen again," Kylo tonelessly interrupts. "Remind me to send those bureaucrats my congratulations on the uncharacteristic display of common sense. Would a card suffice?"

 

"Ben," Rey warns.

 

"No? Then perhaps a simple yet artistic floral arrangement—"

 

"You asked us for this!" Her fists bunch into the fabric covering her knees. "Amnesty for the remainder of the war and testimony on your behalf afterwards— those were your conditions for joining the Resistance. And now you're acting like you don't even care."

 

His gaze lifts from her to the ceiling, and there it stays. "No one would have believed me had I offered my services with no strings attached. You certainly wasted an inordinate amount of time questioning my motives."

 

She looks away, too, seething. The ysalamir stirs in its cage, claws sunk deep into the nutrient frame that mimics the properties of the olbio trees on the furry, lizard-like creature's homeworld. "Do you want to be pardoned or not?" she asks Kylo Ren tersely. "Are General Organa, Master Luke, and I just wasting our time?"

 

He doesn't answer. Eventually, she gets up and leaves the cell.

 

*

 

"What is Darkshear?" asks the judge from Coruscant.

 

"A technique by which the user forges a spear from Dark Side energy to be hurled at foes," says Kylo Ren.

 

"And Wall of Light?" prods the female veteran. Because of the two ysalamiri cages in the room, Kylo cannot use the Force to determine the silhouettes' identities, but he can put names to voices and he recognizes Commander Juno Eclipse. One of his mother's allies.

 

"A manifestation of Light Side energy that severs the target from their connection to the Force." The glow-panels in this chamber are at an unbearably high setting; he fights the urge to shut his eyes against their white heat.

 

"You and Rey were the only ones in the fortress where Snoke was found dead," gurgles the Mon Calamari. "According to your separate statements, you used Darkshear to pierce his heart while she restrained him within the Wall of Light. Please confirm this."

 

"That is correct," Kylo says.

 

Choices, choices.

 

*

 

In the end, judgement stays its hand.

 

"There must always be balance," Luke solemnly tells Kylo and Rey. They're in Leia's office, the General watching them over steepled fingers as she sits at her desk. There are no ysalamiri cages present; it's a glaring breach of the protocol for dealing with a Force-sensitive prisoner such as Kylo Ren but Luke won't go anywhere near the things. "The First Order's activities during the war tipped the scales precariously towards the Dark Side. We have been receiving reports from all over the galaxy that various Sithspawn have emerged from their hiding places and are now wreaking havoc."

 

There has been an awakening, Snoke whispers from the depths of Kylo's memory. Have you felt it?

 

He clenches his fist. Rey had been giving Luke her undivided attention but now she turns to him with a slight frown. Without an ysalamir to repel the Force, the bond flows between them, broadcasting their thoughts to each other, wrapping them together in sinuous coils.

 

"After much deliberation, the Tribunal has agreed to let you go free on the condition that you hunt down these Sithspawn and destroy them," Leia says to Kylo. "This is a way to work off your sentence and prove that your allegiance lies with the Republic— or, at the very least, that you are no longer interested in destabilizing it. However, you will need someone to assist you in this endeavor."

 

Kylo snorts. "More like to keep me in check— to make sure that I don't run off or use the Sithspawn for my own nefarious purposes. I appreciate the sentiment, Mother, but parole is not synonymous with freedom."

 

"Call it whatever you want," Leia crisply retorts, proving once again that he did not inherit a smart mouth from just Han Solo. "Your parole officer, then, will be Rey."

 

iii.

 

They need a base of operations, somewhere they can strategize, rest between hunts, and store any Dark artifacts they might come across that prove indestructible or too valuable to destroy.

 

Luke suggests Aldalome.

 

It is a planet in the Outer Rim, more Borderlands than Republic, a sparsely populated outpost world boasting an abandoned Jedi Temple nearly as old as the one on Ahch-To. It is an anomaly in that night and day exist only in chronometers set to Galactic Standard; there is a certain gas in its Type I atmosphere that permits the sun's heat but not its light. The moon is a distant dream as well but there are always stars, glimmering faintly from beyond the purple-black cloud cover. Rey does a poor job of hiding her amazement as the Millennium Falcon makes planetfall.

 

Most of Aldalome's lifeforms have evolved to create their own light; dark oceans glow with outlines of enormous silver-blue jellyfish and patches of ghostly pink algae, and insect wings glint like shards of emerald and gold and diamond and opal over the grassy plains. No longer able to help herself, she presses her nose to the viewport when the swift rushing world below the freighter blurs into dense forests, into such trees as she has never seen before— tall, stately pines wreathed in stardust, gnarled old strangler figs whose luminescent aerial roots sway in the breeze, linden trees with leaves like colored glass.

 

Her enchantment is somewhat dimmed by the strained, dour presence in the copilot seat who keeps sneaking odd glances her way. The bond is alive between them, trilling with all the wonder that only a girl raised by the desert can feel for a soft planet cloaked in perpetual twilight. She resents being bared before him like this.

 

"I'm not in your head," Kylo says quietly, tone tense and caught somewhere between defensiveness and melancholia as the ship glides on amidst the oars of night. "It's written all over your face. I see it in your eyes."

 

*

 

The Jedi Temple is perched on top of a cliff facing the sea. Carved from the mica-flecked black stone ubiquitous on this planet, its spires spread like a crown of thorns over air and water. The interior is less remarkable, just narrow hallways and dust and small, bare rooms. In the light of several glow-lamps that follow them through the corridors, wafting on the currents of the Force, Kylo suddenly ducks his head to the side. Walking a step behind, Rey's hand flies to her saber hilt on finely-honed battle instincts, ready to lash out at whatever enemy lurks in the shadows, but then she's watching his wide shoulders spasm as his neck snaps forward in an almighty sneeze.

 

She relaxes, lips twitching. When he turns to look at her, a shock of black hair has fallen into his watery eyes and the tip of his overly generous nose is red. He blinks, baleful and vulnerable and young, and for a moment she almost misses the mask. That had been... safer.

 

"I have allergies," he says stiffly.

 

"Well, then," she quips, "you're in for a grand old time."

 

She's not wrong. After a cursory examination of the first two levels— they don't need more room when it's just the two of them— the next several hours are spent attempting to render the place livable, stirring up great clouds of dust that he makes a valiant effort to appear unaffected by. Along with bedding and rations and tech, they've lugged in crates of cleaning implements from the Falcon' s hold but it soon turns out that neither of them are particularly adept at the domestic arts.

 

"You lived on your own nearly all your life," Kylo sneers, waving a broom at her. "I would have thought that you'd know how to take care of yourself by now."

 

"Unfortunately, Your Princeliness, 'taking care of myself' meant scrounging for parts and beating the crap out of people," Rey snaps. "Not— housekeeping!" She scrubs furiously at a grimy windowpane, frowning when this only serves to spread the dirt around. "Should've looked for the generator first and powered it up so we'd have more light."

 

"So go look for it," he says in such a waspish tone that she discards the rag and storms out of the room with a brusque, "Fine, I will!"

 

It takes fifteen minutes to stumble upon the ancient generator in the basement, an hour and a half to clear it of accumulated dust and cobwebs and replace frayed wires, rusty screws, and long-dead power cells with new ones from the various toolkits she brought along with her. While fairly confident that she's made the necessary patches, she still holds her breath when she flips the switch, exhaling in relief only once the machine roars to life.

 

Rey closes her eyes, maps out the Temple in her mind. She waits until everything is as detailed as possible— the stone staircases, the mineral-veined walls, the morose Darksider haphazardly pushing a broom about— and then she touches the Force. All along the first and second levels, buttons are pressed as if by invisible fingers, activating the glow-panels on the ceilings and flooding the halls with radiant white light.

 

*

 

When she drifts back upstairs Kylo's finished fixing up his room and has moved on to the one she designated as hers. She leans against the doorway, arms crossed. "You made my bed."

 

The tips of his ears redden, visible now that he's tied his hair back to keep it out of his face as he works. The effect is strangely endearing. "I did my best," he grunts. "You are, of course, free to remake it should it fail to meet your specifications."

 

"Because my bolt-hole on Jakku was such a palace," she deadpans. "You're not sneezing anymore."

 

He shrugs, all of his concentration abruptly narrowing down to the mop that he's dragging across the tiles. "There was a nasal spray in one of the medkits. I think perhaps my mother remembered..." He trails off, glaring at the mop as if he wants to fight it, and Rey knows. Knows that he is bewildered by such a small kindness, does not feel as if he is deserving of Leia Organa and her capacity to forgive. While there is a part of her that agrees with this assessment, she also remembers the war and the countless Resistance lives he has saved and how he ultimately helped her kill Snoke. He exists to her in this curious half-state between redemption and memory, not quite an enemy nor a friend.

 

"I'm going to wash up before dinner," she announces. "You should, too."

 

"About that." His ears are redder than ever— practically on fire. "Only one of the refresher units on this level is still functional. I checked."

 

"I'll be quick." And then, because he's studiously avoiding eye contact, she skims the bond and realizes that wasn't what he'd meant at all. The overseers in Niima Outpost ran a communal washroom for scavengers and transients to the tune of ten credits or one-half portion; it had already been a rare luxury for Rey to strip to the bare essentials and clean herself with a dozen others of mixed species and sex. Even after her stint on D'Qar, where shower stalls in the barracks were separated by metal dividers, modesty remains a foreign concept for the most part. Only someone who grew up in the hubs of civilization would find sharing a 'fresher embarrassing.

 

"It's not like we'll be using it at the same time," she points out— although, Maker help her, blood is rushing to her cheeks in weird, hot flushes as it occurs to her that even Kylo Ren would need to take his clothes off every once in a while. She hurries over to one of the travel bags strewn on the floor, unzips it with shaking fingers and retrieves fresh robes and underwear and several hygiene products including a bar of soap that Jessika Pava gave her as a going-away present, saying it would make her smell like millaflowers. "Sweet enough to tame a rancor," the pilot had confided as she shoved the soap into Rey's bag, darting an enigmatic glance at Kylo, who'd been waiting impatiently by the Falcon' s ramp.

 

For some reason, recalling that exchange now makes Rey blush even harder. Her arms laden with garments and toiletries, she leaves the room in what isn't a run, not exactly, but comes pretty damn close.

 

*

 

She uses the bond to perfunctorily inform him that she's finished showering and is headed downstairs to prepare dinner. Kylo grabs what he needs for his ablutions and steps into the 'fresher, where the mirror is fogged up and the air thick with leftover steam and perfume. It takes him a while to identify the fragrance— a mix of roses and sugar and vanilla that conjures images of the ethereal pink fields of Naboo. In this context, it's an enticingly feminine scent that has something inside him prick up its ears and pay attention.

 

He casts his mental shields, not wanting to risk Rey tuning in to his discomfiture, to the slight tug of yearning low in his abdomen, but it turns out that he need not have worried. The feeling vanishes as soon as he activates the shower and realizes that she's used up all the hot water.

 

Kriff.

 

His teeth are chattering by the time he exits the 'fresher, the ends of his hair still damp after the drying system failed halfway through. Down the stairs he goes, his footsteps echoing loud and lonely through the vast Temple. He storms into the mess hall, opening his mouth to give her a piece of his mind, but she lifts her head at his approach, two untouched containers of space rations carefully spread out on the long table before her, and she looks so much younger than her twenty-four years that he's brought up short by a flare of very real panic. What were his uncle and his mother thinking, shipping them off to this remote region of the galaxy where they have to fend for themselves? He barely knows which end of a broom to hold, how can he keep this girl alive—

 

He sits across from her and occupies himself with studying the food in order to keep his misgivings at bay. It's standard survival fare— protein bars and carbohydrate rolls and nutrient sticks. A far cry from appetizing but the manual labor of the past several hours has left him too famished to care. He and Rey dig in with relish, not bothering to speak for several long minutes.

 

"The drying system in the 'fresher broke down," he says once the edge has been taken off his hunger.

 

Annoyance flashes in her hazel eyes. "What did you do?" she demands, mouth full.

 

"Nothing." He has to suppress the urge to reprimand her for talking while she chews. "Perhaps the heat induction coils are too old."

 

She nods thoughtfully. "I'll see about replacing them tomorrow but the spare coils I brought might not be compatible with such an outdated system. We could just gut it, install a new booth altogether? But that might mean we'll have to reconfigure the pipes, too, and that'll take ages. I already had to improvise some makeshift adaptors to get the generator working..."

 

And she talks and talks, sketching out her plans for their Temple as they eat. He can barely get a word in but he doesn't mind overly much— not when she's gesturing animatedly, her dulcet tones filling the hall. It's somewhat peaceful. He listens to her, nodding along and muttering assent in all the right places, thinking that maybe, just maybe, he can get used to this.

 

The Book of Life and Service

 

i.

 

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, surely some revelation is at hand—

 

For three days they have been tracking the Silan deeper and deeper into the humid tropical jungles of An'yettu. The beast burrows, allowing it to penetrate Rodia's bubble dome cities and gorge itself on hapless inhabitants within. Kylo and Rey have been following the trail of pockmarked earth but that's gone cold, and tapping into the Force is useless when they are on an island, when they have never encountered a Silan before and there are so many creatures of equally gigantic size floating around in the Wesessa Sea.

 

"We have to lure it out," Kylo decides. He's squinting at her, brown eyes flecked with gold by honey-heavy mid-afternoon light and a touch of sunburn on his nose and cheeks.

 

Rey scuffs the tip of her boot on a patch of dried mud. "How do you propose we do that?"

 

"It's Sithspawn. It will answer to the call of its lords." He says this as if it were a test, a challenge.

 

She recoils. Jakku made her strong but it also made her something of an expert in denial. "You do it." Even as the words spill from her lips, she is shocked by her own cowardice and by how much she is willing to demand from him if only it would keep her safe from harsh truths. But it's not like he's given her any reason to act otherwise— ever since he defected to the Resistance, he's pretty much done whatever she wanted, sometimes putting up a fight at first but always acquiescing in the end. Is it penance or habit? She doesn't know anymore.

 

He nods, sad and rueful and accepting. She almost changes her mind but it's too late for that, they're stepping away from each other in one synchronized movement and he's closing his eyes. The air takes on a palpable chill, fallen leaves rising up on strange currents, and only the Force-touched can see what curls around him like ink-smoke, like shadow-water, electric-sharp at the edges, how black my heart, roasting fiercely? The dark melody beckons to her, too, but she holds on to herself, brandishes her will like a spear, shuts off the bond the moment the chaos starts to seep in from his mind to hers. This is how they've always done it, the silent agreement that they fell into during the war. One of them has to be the anchor.

 

When Kylo opens his eyes, they're a sinister amber hue. Rey remembers the first time she saw his left eye like that— his mask had cracked in battle, he'd stared at her against a backdrop of fire, one side of his face bare, the corpse of Nyax Ren sprawled at his feet. Her heart had raced, not from fear but from exhilaration, or perhaps some profane mix of both. Yes, this, without limits, by blood and breath—

 

"Ben," she'd gasped in the fortress where Snoke breathed his last, "Ben, what's happening to me?"

 

The ground starts to rumble, faint vibrations increasing in magnitude until treetops shake and birds take wing. Rey braces herself as the Silan erupts from the earth a few meters away in a quivering mass of violet tentacles that are each one long enough to wrap around the Falcon, all three of its mouths open in a grating, high-pitched scream.

 

"Stars, that's ugly," she breathes, prompting Kylo to shoot her a quelling glance before focusing on the target.

 

"Eyah seh maat, shu kor huaan," he intones in a rich, dark croon that trails down her spine.

 

Recognizing the language of its ancient masters, the beast slouches in obeisance, exhaling huge gusts of breath the odor of rancid meat. Rey ignites her saberstaff and starts hacking at the tentacles, loping off several at a time with each whirling stroke of twin sapphire blades, making her way further inwards to where the creature's heartbeat throbs visibly beneath the central maw. The Silan wails in agony but does not try to fight back, does not even try to shrink away because Kylo is murmuring to it in that same soothing, hypnotic tone. Devourer, shadow-born, blackest ember, walk always in the presence of your lords. It's not until Rey has thrust one end of her saberstaff into the Silan's heart that its latent survival instinct kicks in and it lunges at her with snapping jaws. She evades expertly and then stabs upwards to pierce through the roof of the fanged mouth. Kylo observes the proceedings with a slight, warped smile on his face, seeming to relish in the creature's bewildered death-throes. The Sith have always thrived on betrayal, after all.

 

*

 

After nudging the Silan's limp, dismembered form with her boot to confirm its demise, Rey turns to Kylo, her adrenaline rush spiking at the predatory look on his face. It's not much different from the usual expression he fixes on her but golden eyes and twisted smile give it a lethal edge.

 

"Ben?" she ventures, testing the waters.

 

Even though he doesn't say anything, his demeanor shifts to accommodate a hint of lazy amusement. Which is just as dangerous.

 

Lifting her chin, she closes the distance between them slowly, slowly, ready to flee should he pounce. The truth is, she never remembers much of how he would bring her back from the brink— always a jumble of images, a dream happening to someone else— but he's told her in that offhand way of his that all he has to do is goad her into the Light. With him, it's different; he responds to gentleness, the one thing that the Dark Side could never give.

 

He's within arm's reach now. She lifts a hand to his face, traces the long scar she gave him with the pad of her thumb until her fingers come to rest at the side of his jaw. Quick as lightning he catches her wrist in a viselike grip, bending down so that their foreheads almost touch. "What are you doing, pateesa, hmm?"

 

Her traitorous heart skips a beat. He's only ever called her that when he was attempting to get a rise out of her, he's never said it like this, in a tone that isn't sarcastic but instead silky with promise, his gloved fingers hot on her skin.

 

She has to be strong; the Dark Side is the easy way out and there would be nothing easier in this moment than to lose herself to those lips and to that siren song unfurling in the air. "I'm trying to heal your sunburn, you oaf," she loftily replies.

 

It's clear he wasn't expecting that answer from the way the pressure on her wrist slackens. She seizes the opportunity to stroke her fingers over his nose and cheeks, healing energy smoothing away the afflicted patches and leaving pale, unmarred skin in their place. But she can't help herself, either— her touch lingers, in a decidedly not clinical fashion, at the corner of his mouth.

 

By the time she's done, Kylo's eyes have assumed their normal hue and the darkness has slunk back to wherever he keeps it, retracting its sensuous claws. He doesn't move, though, electing instead to stare at her as if he's never seen her before. Their faces are still so close to each other that one of them's bound to go cross-eyed soon, and how's that for a pretty picture?

 

"Yes? What is it?" she demands.

 

"Your freckles have come out," he mutters. "I haven't seen them in a while."

 

"You can tell my freckles you've missed them some other time," she snorts, "when we're not standing knee-deep in monster guts."

 

ii.

 

Kylo is restless in the days following the hunt on Rodia. The transition from Aldalome's eternal dusk to that sunlit tropical world and then back again has thrown off his circadian rhythm; at night he prowls the Temple halls, feeling as dull and witless as a stormtrooper awaiting the next command. He and Rey are under strict orders to stay put until they receive a new mission from Coruscant, and he wonders if his mother's mercy is worth this hollow stasis.

 

He's avoiding Rey, too. Unlike her, he is used to Dark Side trances and can retain his memory of the person he becomes and the things he does and, therefore, what happened on the An'yettu Islands preys on his mind, tainting his interactions with her with a certain frustrated awkwardness. He shuts off his end of the bond and keeps irregular mealtimes and manages to go whole days at a stretch without seeing her, although he does hear her puttering about and pacing up and down the corridors, just as stir-crazy as he is.

 

One night, on one of his usual walks, he turns the corner to quiet voices coming from the room where they've set up a communications bay. He doesn't mean to listen in but the door is ajar and, anyway, he assumes that the General is relaying instructions for the next hunt— until he hears Finn ask, "So, when are you coming back to D'Qar?"

 

"I don't know." Rey's tone has that brisk extra layer to it that she adopts to mask her more vulnerable moments. "Seems like Ben and I barely finish up a mission when we get a new one. This is the longest downtime yet."

 

Kylo's about to move away, afford her some privacy, but Finn's next question stops him in his tracks. "He's treating you okay, though? I mean, he's not, um—"

 

Rey laughs. "We're fine. Although—" She hesitates. "I haven't seen him around lately, not really—" And it's the trace of bewilderment Kylo hears that has him rooted to the spot. "It's just— the Temple's such a big place and there's no one else around for miles—"

 

"You could come home. This isn't even your punishment, it's his, and you know that orchard we were planting when you left— it looks great. Those weeds of yours are blooming nicely—"

 

"I have my orders. And they're not weeds, Finn, they're flowers—"

 

"You just think they're funny—"

 

"Who wouldn't? They're called gigglebuds. That's a riot—"

 

After Finn and Rey say their goodbyes, she exits the room with her head bowed and bumps into Kylo. He automatically drops his hands on her shoulders to steady her, the bond flaring to life as it always does with physical contact. He tastes the loneliness that she thought she would never have to face again after finding a new family with the Resistance, and whatever he had been about to say withers on his tongue.

 

"You— you were eavesdropping!" she sputters indignantly. Her words echo down the cavernous halls.

 

He wants to tell her that he's sorry, not just for that but for dragging her along with him into this exile. For everything he has ever done— and doubtless will do in the future— to cause her pain. His hands move from her shoulders to absentmindedly rub her upper arms as he considers his next step and, even then, he worries that he's hurting her.

 

"Let's go for a walk," he finds himself suggesting.

 

She blinks up at him with deepest suspicion. "Where?"

 

*

 

After they throw cloaks over their sleep clothes to ward off the chill, he takes her to the beach below the cliff. From here, the Temple is a black mass against the starry sky, panels of golden light beaming from its windows. The breeze rustles the edges of their cloaks over sparkling dark sand but the tide is calm tonight, lapping softly at their feet. Glowing fins of various colors stir in the shallows, tangled up in whorls of equally luminescent seaweed, and further away in the glassy ebony waters of the horizon Rey can make out the phosphorous blue trails of those eldritch jellyfish, big as houses, that swarm this world's oceans.

 

The truth is, she and Kylo don't talk much; they have the bond to clue them into each other's moods and thoughts. However, Finn's comm has made her too keenly aware of her imposed solitude and the need to keep on hearing another sentient's voice gnaws at the pit of her stomach.

 

So she babbles, hoping to tempt Kylo into conversation. "I've been brushing up on my astrography. Did you know that the civilized planets in this system acknowledge twelve main constellations— they call them the Guardians and each one corresponds to the month of the year in which it is brightest. Right now—" She points to a cluster of stars overhead, more visible than the rest— "that's the Lady, so this is her month—"

 

"Actually," Kylo interrupts in a dry tone, "I believe that is the Ritual. And, in this system, months are known as Seasons. You will find that the Ritual constellation is associated with the Season of Morning Star, which corresponds to the Galactic Standard month we are currently in. The Lady's Season— Heart Fire— isn't until the latter part of the year."

 

She glares at him. He has the grace to look slightly abashed. "My mother's insufferable protocol droid quizzed me relentessly on the astrography of most systems, including these backwater ones in the Outer Rim."

 

"You're too hard on C-3PO. Leia told me you used to chew on him when you were a baby."

 

"I was teething, and it is in a child's nature to gravitate towards shiny objects—" He breaks off, recoiling from the treacherous door to the past that the turn in conversation has kicked open.

 

"Anyway," Rey says hurriedly, patching over the strained silence, "people hereabouts also associate each Guardian constellation with a distinct set of personality traits and skills. If you're born during the month— excuse me, the Season of the Steed, for example, you're impatient, always hurrying from one place to another, and if your Guardian is the Tower, then you have a knack for finding treasure. That's how the superstition goes, at least."

 

"In the days of the Old Republic, the most powerful Force-sensitives from this system were born under the sign of the Apprentice, which in their ancient lore signifies an affinity for magic."

 

"If you had been born here, would that have been your sign?"

 

Kylo pauses for a while, brow furrowing as he runs through the calculations in his head. "No. My birthday corresponds to Last Seed," he says at last. "The Season of the Warrior."

 

"Arrogant and short-tempered," Rey intones with a grin. She tips her face up to the sky, mirth giving way to wistfulness. "Wish I knew my Guardian." She can't remember her birthday; she knows only that she's grown older when the calendar indicates that another year has passed.

 

"As you said, it's all superstition." There is a curtness to Kylo Ren's tone that wasn't there before. He only sounds like that when he's afraid of giving anything away. She feels his gaze on her as she stares at the stars and wonders what he is seeing, wonders what sort of expression wreathes his features. She finds herself hoping that it's gentleness. She wishes for gentleness, and doesn't look at him in case it isn't. "Nothing is written in these stars or any others," he continues. "We forge our own paths."

 

"There was a time," she says, "when you thought it was your destiny to rule. To follow in the footsteps of Darth Vader."

 

"And then you came along and threw a wrench into my plans." He reaches out to tap the lightsaber hilt at her hip, the Skywalker blade that she had modified into a saberstaff. "Whatever fate I built up in my head, it all started crashing down on Starkiller Base. I think— I think it died with my father. Although it took me a while to realize..."

 

He attempts to drop his hand back to his side but some mad impulse prompts her to hold on to it, repositioning it higher up her waist. The warmth of his large palm is separated from her bare skin only by her linen tunic, and she doesn't know why even that thin barrier suddenly seems like too much. When she turns to look at him, the wind is blowing his dark hair across his forehead, into his star-cut eyes.

 

"When you surrendered to us on Myrkr, you didn't really want to be pardoned, did you?" she asks point-blank, at last giving voice to the hints she has caught in the bond, to the suspicions that she has nurtured all this time. "You feel like you got better than what you deserve. Even this, here and now— you think you don't have any right to it."

 

"I don't," he insists hoarsely. "Not to this, or to you, or— why are you even here, Rey?"

 

"Haven't you figured it out yet?" Her fingers are digging into his wrist, his thumb is tracing haphazard circles on the spur of her hip. There is no better time and place to say all of this but here, in the Season of the Ritual, on this shadow-etched coast where the air smells like salt and the ocean flickers with light. "I went somewhere out of my body the day we killed Snoke, the same thing that happened to me on Fondor and on Roche and on Korriban. I'm still not sure what went on exactly but I remember enough to know that what you told the Tribunal— and what you convinced me to tell the Tribunal— was a lie. You weren't the one who cast Darkshear." She lifts her free hand away from their bodies, palm turned upward. Something hisses into existence— a smoky, wavering shape that resembles a viciously curved spear. How does she know how to do this? The Supreme Leader's fortress had been lined with Sith holocrons, they had crooned to her from the walls just as the tombs had in the Valley of the Dark Lords. "It was me, wasn't it?"

 

Slowly, Kylo nods. "Snoke had thrown you to the other side of the room. I was down, too— he was using Force lightning on me. I was dying."

 

"I remember that, I think," she whispers. "I remember not wanting you to die. I remember that I would have done anything."

 

"From where I lay, I saw you touch one of the holocrons that had scattered on the floor during the battle. It opened for you. When you stood up, the spear was forming in your hands. Your eyes were the color of amber. You were the most beautiful, the most dangerous thing I had ever seen." His cheeks flush at this confession, gilded silver in the stardust. "I used what remained of my strength to cast the Wall of Light— to sever Snoke from the Force. And you dealt the killing blow."

 

Rey had not been expecting her tension to evaporate but it does— as if there is relief in confirmation, as if the sword hanging over her head finally dropped and it didn't hurt as much as she had feared. "You should have told me sooner."

 

"I was waiting until you were ready to know the truth." His other hand drifts up to her face, tucks a stray strand of wind-tousled hair behind her ear. Through the bond she can sense how he loathes himself for this simple gesture, how he can't seem to spare her from the indignity of his touch. "And I— I rather felt that you have already suffered too much on my account."

 

"You asked me why I'm here," she says. "I'm here because there's a part of me that's always known. I decided to go with you because the ghosts of the Sith speak to me and I want to understand why. Because I think it's time for me to stop running." She takes a deep breath. "Because I need a teacher."

 

iii.

 

They make planetfall on Mimban in the midst of an energy storm that batters the Falcon' s hull and causes its navicomp to go haywire. They land badly, rough and several leagues away from where they're supposed to rendezvous with the contact who would lead them to the Hssiss.

 

"Think the engine overheated," Rey grumbles, wrinkling her nose at the acrid scent that fills the cockpit.

 

"This ship," Kylo declares firmly, "is a heap of junk."

 

"You're a heap of junk," she retorts, hip-checking him on the way out.

 

They've landed in the middle of a forest shrouded in Mimban's perennial mist. The world is cold and damp, a shifting blur of gray and dark green as trees vanish and reappear amidst the thick, smoke-like condensation.

 

Listen, Kylo tells Rey through the bond.

 

I don't hear anything.

 

Exactly. There should be birds, at least, when the woods are this dense. They've all been scared away.

 

Hands on their saber hilts, they wait. The Hssiss are reptilian Sithspawn that can mask their presence in the Force, and so Kylo and Rey have no idea they've emerged until a scaled green tail covered in spikes slithers through the mist, inches away from where Rey is standing.

 

Ben. Her voice in his head is uncharacteristically distressed. They're already at a disadvantage this early on in the hunt, and even the slightest nick from Hssiss fangs is capable of injecting Dark Side venom into one's veins.

 

Fear is good, he grunts in a clumsy attempt to reassure her. It keeps you on your toes.

 

Something chitters away in the undergrowth.

 

Ready? Kylo asks.

 

Rey's eyes are wider than he's ever seen them before, the brown overrun by green as they reflect the surrounding forest. But she nods, biting her lip in determination, and he falls in love all over again. Ready.

 

They ignite their lightsabers, casting jeweled tones of red and gold on the swirling silver fog. A hundred shapes pounce as if they had only been waiting.

 

*

 

The Hssiss are dragons in miniature. Each one is three meters long, not even a fourth of some of the beasts she has previously hunted, but they compensate for their lack of stature with speed and viciousness. And they swarm.

 

"The ancient Sith speak to you because they know you," Kylo had said on the voyage over. "They recognize what is in your heart, forged during your childhood in the badlands. As beings created by the Sith, the Hssiss will know you, too. Use your darkness against them. Make them hesitate. Make them remember masters long gone."

 

It seems to be working. Once she gets into her rhythm, the creatures slow their attacks, slitted pupils of beady yellow eyes widening in confusion. She cuts down the first few waves easily, the sapphire blades of her saberstaff humming through the air in tandem with the wild shriek of Kylo's jagged scarlet crossguard. One Hssiss leaps for her throat and she stretches out her off-hand and—

 

blinds it, unleashing a wave of Force power that overwhelms its optic nerves. It screams, twisting away in panic at the abrupt loss of sight. Rey slices it neatly in two and, in the same fluid motion, thrusts one end of her saberstaff into the next advancing foe's cranium. Another Hssiss springs at her unguarded right flank but she suspends it in place, siphoning the life energy from it until it is nothing more than a frost-shrouded corpse.

 

I understand, Rey thinks, heart hammering fit to burst and black water spilling onto her tongue, the energy— the freedom— so awful and vivid and the most unearthly, most gorgeous thing she has ever felt. I understand now.

 

It happens during the swarm's final onslaught, when victory is ironically so near at hand. Fangs sink into her inner thigh. She brings her blade down on the beast's spine and it flops to the mud, claws scrabbling frantically and then falling still, but it's too late. Something is pouring into her system, colder than ice and more painful than lightning. And then Kylo is there, scooping her up into his arms before she can hit the ground.

 

*

 

"We've— we've got to stop meeting like this," she quips as he carries her into the Falcon. She has seen his memories of Takodana; she knows that this is how he brought her onboard the black shuttle as well. And it had even been in a forest, too.

 

"Switch off." He's trembling as he deposits her gently onto the cabin floor, his narrow face as white as a sheet. She's seized by the urge to laugh, to tell him to lighten up a little. It occurs to her that she must be going into shock.

 

He rips off his battle-stained gloves and tosses them aside and, despite her fast-fading state, she manages an outraged cry when he hooks his large fingers into the waistband of her leggings. "What do you think you're—"

 

He tugs the garment down, rolling it off her ankles; soon it has joined his discarded gloves. She wants to fight him, she should, but the Hssiss bite is fire and her bones are lead. He nudges her legs apart, kneels between them, and it is somewhat of a comfort that the gaze he turns on the two puncture marks is merely clinical at best even if the clench of his jaw betrays him. "It's superficial—"

 

"I don't know, feels pretty deep to me," she mutters.

 

"— but it is envenomed. I will remove as much as I can, and the rest—" His grip tightens momentarily on the calf of her uninjured leg. "The rest, we will have to let burn through your system. You have had previous exposure to the Dark Side, you should be able to ride it out. If all goes well, you won't be reduced to a gibbering lunatic."

 

She blinks. "Your bedside manner is—"

 

Rey never finishes that sentence. Kylo bends down, draping her leg over his shoulder to keep it elevated, and sets his mouth to the inside of her thigh. It would never have worked for, say, a snakebite, but Hssiss venom is slow to act and spreads rot and influence instead of lethal toxin. The mists of Mimban pour relentlessly into the Falcon, a cold silver tide that tangles in Kylo's hair, evaporates on Rey's skin. Occasionally he lifts his head to spit out blood and venom and she watches those little pools of red and black steam on the floor. Shards of dark energy pierce her veins, sprouting ghostly blooms of electric sensation everywhere they touch until she is consumed by it, by all this wild power heightened by soft lips on her bare flesh and sharp teeth digging in and the slow suck of it, not enough, not enough, dzwol shasotkun—

 

"Lord Ren," she moans, her back arching. It's not her voice. It's the way Rey wishes she could sound like, all sensuality and secret promise and surrender.

 

He stills, peeking at her through his long lashes. There's a splinter of gold in his irises that she knows without a doubt is reflected in hers as well. She smirks at him, wicked and inviting, and a shudder racks his broad frame before he closes his eyes and resumes suckling at the wound with renewed vigor. She cries out this time, overheated, caught between pleasure and pain, canting her hips toward him, desperate for his mouth to work its way down to where she needs it, to that pulsating core that's soaking her through.

 

His fingers caress her other thigh. Perhaps he meant it as a soothing gesture but she's too aware of how it feels to be calmed by it. Her body gyrates of its own free will, savoring the rough scrape of his stubble, the warmth of his hands, hungry for more, more, more.

 

It will be over soon. His voice in her head is faint through the haze. I taught you how to do this. I taught you how to endure.

 

"Why should we endure?" she hisses out loud and it is a hiss. The Dark Side is the easy way out but she's never had it easy, she's had to fight so hard for everything all her life, why can't she have just this once? "We can take whatever we want. You taught me that, too. My chains are broken. Ja'ak, ja'ak—"

 

Kylo brusquely pulls away, spits to the side, does not return. Instead, he gazes down at her, still on his knees between her spread legs as he wipes the wetness from his mouth on the back of his hand, and Rey almost screams with frustration at the loss of him. She doesn't, because the fierce longing in his eyes robs her of breath. No one's ever looked at her like this, like she is everything, and her own desire blazes into inferno, unbearable, and it hurts—

 

She reaches for him, tugs him down until he's braced above her, his lean hips between her thighs and he is so hard and aching against her center that she keens, tries to rub up against him to chase the feeling but he snakes a hand between them, pushing down on her hips to keep her still. Her growl of protest turns into a whimper when he rests his forehead against hers, closing his eyes and breathing heavily, his heartbeat a jagged, erratic echo of her own. She feels the darkness start to ebb but somehow the yearning remains as he hauls the both of them into a sitting position, her arms around his neck as she straddles his lap.

 

"Ben," she gasps, carding her fingers through his hair, covering the line of his jaw with rough kisses. "Ben, cyare, please—"

 

He shakes his head, presses his lips to her temple. "Not like this." His voice is hoarse, strained with all that he's holding back and begging her to understand. "I want it to be real. I would die if you were to regret—"

 

And then he won't say anything more but he holds her tighter, brushing dry and gentle kisses to her nose, her cheeks, and the corner of her mouth as she trembles in his arms and fights her way back to the Light.

 

The Book of Rest and Endings

 

i.

 

The darkness drops again; but now I know—

 

In the Season of Evening Star, when the Thief constellation glows brightest in the Aldalome sky, they take the restored T-85 speeder bike that had been a gift from Chewbacca to the nearest settlement, where they purchase supplies from what few stalls are scattered throughout the tiny marketplace. In observance of their usual custom, they split up— Rey searching for spare parts in case the Temple's decrepit generator breaks down again as it tends to do nearly every other week, while Kylo stocks up on food. It's early afternoon according to the chronos and people are milling about, haggling with merchants, nibbling on skewers of roasted meat and mushroom, or simply taking a stroll with their families, their way lit by rows of glow-lamps strung from pole to pole. Kylo finds himself marveling at how sentients can make a home out of anywhere, even on a world where the sun never shines.

 

"Achuta," the grizzled old Twi'lek operating Kylo's preferred food stall greets him in Huttese, which is the most common trade language after Basic.

 

Kylo nods politely and then points to the soft, savory cheese that Rey can't get enough of. "Kava che copah?"

 

The vendor names his price. Kylo raises an eyebrow. "Ees hoppada nopa."

 

Laughing, the vendor agreeably lowers the price, happy to do so because the strange humans living in the isolated Temple up on the cliff always buy in bulk, anyway. Once the rest of the transactions have been completed and Kylo's arms are laden with bags of vegetables and dairy and meat, the Twi'lek remarks, "I much prefer dealing with you, ootmian. Your little wife drives a hard bargain."

 

For some reason, Kylo can't bring himself to assert the necessary correction. "Does she," he mumbles noncommittally, grateful that his hair hides his reddening ears.

 

"She called me sleemo last Sun's Dusk, said I'd end up womp rat food. I told her, hey, we're all just trying to make a living—" The Twi'lek's mouth snaps shut, eyes widening at something over Kylo's shoulder, and then he ducks out of sight behind his booth.

 

Kylo turns around. Rey is marching towards him, holding her own bag of purchases. "Why did you buy from here again?" she demands. "This jerk's a conman."

 

"I got the cheese you like," Kylo says in self-defense.

 

She scrunches her nose at him but appears slightly mollified, her free hand latching on to his sleeve in order to tug him away. He follows, content to be steered wherever she wants to go, and, as they leave the marketplace, she throws one last spiteful look at the seemingly empty stall.

 

He can't help it. He chuckles. "You have to stop terrorizing the merchants, my love."

 

"I'm 'your love' now, am I? You were calling me 'little idiot' a few days ago—"

 

"Who," he snaps, "in their right mind would just drop down into the middle of a pack of Sith hounds?"

 

"Element of surprise?" Rey offers. "Anyway, they were only Sith hounds. We've hunted worse. I still feel like throwing up every time I think about that Chrysalide on Hakassi."

 

They climb onto the speeder bike, Kylo seating himself behind Rey. He cups one hand over her stomach, which, beneath her robes, now bears three jagged lines of silver slashing down to her hip. Sith hound claws are notorious for leaving scars despite one's prowess at Force healing.

 

Rey hesitates. Ever since Mimban, they've both been leaving little touches on each other's bodies— sometimes casual, but most of the time lingering, questioning, until one of them invariably shies away and breaks the spell. Now, though— now she relaxes and leans back against him, her own hand coming to rest over his own.

 

"It's all right," she murmurs. "I'm all right. Really."

 

He buries his face in the slope between her neck and her shoulder, breathing in that millaflower scent that he's half-convinced has been slowly but surely driving him insane this entire year. He's tired of fighting, tired of hopelessly wanting, tired of being afraid that he'll lose her when there are so many things still left up in the air between them. And all he has to do is dip into the melancholy sigh of the bond to know that she feels the same.

 

It's when he starts kissing her neck that she suddenly giggles, pulling away from him. "Not here," she admonishes, glancing at him over her shoulder with her eyes shining in the starlight. It takes him a while to remember that they're on a speeder bike docked at the edge of a populated village.

 

He manages a crooked grin, one that he's certain his face wears awkwardly but she doesn't seem to mind, judging from the way her own smile widens. "Home?" he asks. They've been calling it home for a while now, although he can't remember precisely when it started. It crept up on him like salvation, like forgiveness, like dawn seeping through.

 

"Home," Rey confirms.

 

*

 

She's practically jumping out of her skin by the time they reach the Temple. However, they have to bring the supplies in first and, while filling the shelves in the pantry, they somehow get drawn into an argument over whose turn it is to cook later in the evening. They both find the act bothersome, even if they've improved at it by leaps and bounds— although, frankly, anything would be an improvement over the stew they'd served Poe Dameron and Finn when the two came to visit.

 

The argument is followed by a communique from Leia. It's nothing urgent— just the General checking in on them— but it produces the same effect as a bucket of cold water. After Leia's hologram vanishes, Kylo and Rey are left staring at each other, the bond a cloying mix of frustration and doubt.

 

I've got this, Rey thinks. I can fix this. "Let's go for a walk."

 

Kylo's lips quirk at how she's echoing the suggestion he made all those Seasons ago, the one that had started them on this path. He nods and, because, even the afternoons are chilly now that the year is almost at an end, they retrieve their cloaks before heading outside.

 

*

 

The ocean is rough today, tossed about by a strong, biting wind. Rey moves closer to Kylo for warmth— she tries to be subtle about it at first, but they can never hide anything from each other and soon he's wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her to him. She happily abandons all pretense then, snuggling into his side. He rolls his eyes but doesn't let her go.

 

The minutes pass in roaring waves, in quiet conversation, and finally the stars shine down on her as she lies back on the dark sand, over his cloak which he has so gallantly spread out for her. Her eyes full of silver light, she tugs him down beside her so that she can use his arm as a pillow. His other hand finds hers in the dark.

 

"Your mother mentioned that there are less reports of Sithspawn activity, even from the systems that are designated hotbeds," she says. "Either you and I are doing a really good job or they're going to ground again."

 

"The latter, most likely," he replies. "Snoke's been dead for two years now. The war's aftershocks are receding, and so the beasts are slithering back into their caverns and their oceans. They will rise again with the next cataclysm. It's happened before. Believe me, this is a fight that never ends."

 

"Is Leia considering recalling us, do you think? She did say that we're running out of work to do."

 

He's silent for a while. And then, "Perhaps."

 

"I don't want to leave," Rey whispers. She holds up their clasped hands; dark energy blooms in the minute spaces between their fingers, curling into the air like tendrils of smoke, invisible except to those who are touched by the Force. "What we've been doing— I feel like we're on the verge of something different here, Ben. Something that makes more sense to me than either the Jedi Code or the Qotsisajak." She channels another part of her being and the smoke abates, engulfed by the serene white light that flows between their palms. "We need peace to guide our passions. We need strength to act on our knowledge. We need freedom to fulfill our purpose. I've learned all of that now and I fear it will be lost if I return to Luke. I don't think I can be a Jedi anymore. Not after this." She takes a deep breath and then admits, in a smaller voice, "Not after you."

 

"So don't be a Jedi." He turns to her, extricating his fingers from hers in order to cradle her cheek. "Let's be something else. Something new." He offers her that tentative half-smile, beautiful beneath the stars and against the ocean-light. "Yes?"

 

She closes her eyes. "Yes."

 

He bows his head and his lips find hers, finally, at last, there on the silver-black coast of Aldalome, there on the glistening sand by the dark waters as the Guardian constellations continue their slow celestial dance through the heavens, looking on.

 

*

 

For as long as he lives, Kylo will have no idea how they manage to make it back to the Temple and up the stairs to his room. He's too busy raining kisses on Rey's face to be cognizant of what his feet are doing. It's only muscle memory, really, that ensures they reach his bed in one piece. He doesn't even remember how they divest themselves of their boots and their clothes when they're so preoccupied with tasting each other's mouths, with swallowing each other's sighs and little whispered endearments, pateesa and cyare and sweetheart and darling mingling into a wonderful blur of sound as the bond sings golden hymns all around them.

 

What he does remember, what he will carry with him throughout this life and the life after, is the way Rey's bare figure looks in the eternal twilight, how her skin prickles with goosebumps in the cold breeze blowing in through the window, soon soothed by his questing hands and his eager lips. How she melts into the mattress when he discovers the sweet spot between her ear and her jaw and sucks bruises into the column of her throat and the curve of her neck. How her breasts fit perfectly in his palms, how she is so warm and wet for him when his hands explore further down. He will remember forever the way it feels when he slips inside her for the first time and the unbearably erotic sound that escapes her parted lips, a gasp of both surprise and delight.

 

He couldn't have gone slow if his life depended on it, he's wanted her too much for too long, but she's more than happy to spur him on, her thighs locking around his hips and her nails raking scratches down his back. The dizzying pleasure-pain sparks the darkness inside him and, before he knows it, he's murmuring filth in her ear, describing everything he plans to do to her, all the ways he wants her to be ruined, speaking old Sith words and mad with love, take it all, by blood and by breath, queen, worship, let me, hadzuska koshujontu. She whimpers beneath him, amber shards blazing in and out of existence in her irises, matching him thrust for thrust, saying yes, yes to everything in a language long gone, without limits, need to come, lord, truth, siqsa, higher. And, just when he begins to fear that they will both be devoured, that the black fire will consume them from limb to writhing limb until there is nothing left that can be trusted or recognized or capable of hoping—

 

— she suddenly flips him onto his back, with that strength and agility of hers that never fails to catch him off-guard. She's panting, braced above him, every muscle of that beautiful face working unsteadily through a range of emotions as she struggles for control. She rides him, setting a slower pace this time, her body glossed in stardust and her hands on his chest.

 

Ceaseless night? what remains of him that's still coherent growls into the bond, a jumble of thoughts fretful and half-finished in that ancient, accursed tongue. Glory? The fall of all things?

 

Rey shakes her head. She leans down to press her lips to the crease between his brows. "Even the long night ends. Even here," she breathes. Her voice is warm yet serene. "The sun rises in your eyes."

 

*

 

Five days into Morning Star, when the Ritual constellation has once again taken center stage, they receive instructions for their next hunt. Kylo makes no effort to hide how reluctant he is to leave the Temple now that they're actually sharing a bed, so, like any good partner would, Rey sets about to cheering him up by sitting on his lap as he steers the Falcon over Aldalome's dark waves. Although a capable enough pilot, he nearly ends up tipping them into the water once she starts nibbling at his neck, doing her very best to dot it with bruises the way he always leaves hers.

 

"Rey," he scolds. The stern effect is diminished when he drops a kiss on her upturned cheek.

 

She muffles her laugh into his collarbone but decides to behave for now, knowing that they'll never be able to explain crashing two minutes after takeoff to Luke and Leia. She settles her chin on his shoulder, staring out the viewport where she can glimpse the ocean and its luminescent lifeforms trailing below the ship.

 

"I'm going black now," Kylo announces but, as always, he waits for her confirmation before making the ascent to atmosphere.

 

"Hang on." Rey's still looking at the water, at spirals of jeweled light that weave through glassy darkness in graceful, delicate nets. "Just a little while longer."