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The Sum of Two Souls

Chapter Text

I dream in darkness...

REY

*

I dream in darkness...

It’s always the same and yet always different. We clash. Light and Dark warring for control in each other’s minds. We know, intimately, the fears that drive each of us. How can we be so alike? He’s a murderer. A monster. An emotionally stunted man-child throwing tantrums that shake the galaxy.

His stormy thoughts swirl around me. So much anger and fear. So much pain.


i am sorry-sorry-so sorry-what have i done-so bright-bright star-help me grandfather

I can hardly make sense of his tumbling thoughts. I want to understand, but my heart is raw. I tell myself over and over that I see nothing of myself in him. And over and over, in my dreams, he tries to convince me otherwise. He pursues me. Relentless. Obsessive.

“You need a teacher!” He can’t believe I will ever accept this, no matter how many times he shouts it. It’s absurd. “I can show you the ways of the Force.”

The ways of evil? Of murder? Oh yes, he can teach me all about those.

“I know you feel it. The darkness. It calls to you, as it does to me.” In the dreams, we say so much more than we did that night. “Give in and join me.”


don’t leave-don’t leave-all wrong-drowning-can’t come back

“What you do is wrong,” I say.

“And where did you learn right from wrong, little scavenger?” His striking features pull into a sneer, his typical reaction to being denied. “Did someone in your desert hovel actually teach you?”

“Oy!” I shout. Condescending ass. The only thing I see he’s learned from the Dark Side is how to pretend he’s better than everyone else. Including his own family. “Don’t think you know me!”

“There’s so much you don’t know,” he counters.

His focused thoughts belie the chaos beneath the surface.


i know-i know-i feel it still-the light wants me

He’s broken, and I can’t fix him. I can’t even forgive him. I swing the Skywalker lightsaber, drowning out the pathetic ramblings.

Kill him. That voice isn’t ours, but I remember it well. Deep and murky, like the heart of this dark planet. Echoing through me, tempting me. Shadows edge my vision. I’ve wandered into the Dark, and I hear its whispers in my mind. So easy, I think. So quick. But his voice creeps into my head again.


remember me-can’t forget-it is you

Looking at him there, wounded, shocked, babbling—If I strike him down… And oh, for too many moments I want to end Kylo Ren as much as I want my next breath. And for too many moments, he wants it, too. Our minds merge, even as the icy world beneath us tears us apart.


yes yes yes-make it stop-pain is power-remember

I can make the jump to him.

A peculiar shame presses on my shoulders, keeping my feet on solid ground. I know killing him is wrong, but how dare he? He stole into my mind, he knows how I felt toward Han and Finn both. He deserves no better fate than theirs.

The chasm separating us widens, and I squeeze my eyes against the memory of Han’s body falling into the planet.

No. I won’t do it.


come back to me

Is that my voice or his?

“We’ll meet again, Kylo Ren.” I whisper the words, knowing he can hear me in the dream space. I draw a steadying breath, letting the demanding rage settle.

Revenge is not always justice.

“And we will finish what we’ve started.”


*


I wake in a cold sweat, my body trembling. Kylo Ren’s parting words are ringing in my mind as I open my eyes. It’s still dark and I stare into the black. There’s nothing inherently evil about the night. And what is dark without the light? They follow each other in an endless cycle, bleeding into each other as they meet. So why must the Light Side and Dark Side be at war? Aren’t they like day and night, two pieces of a greater whole?

“Foolish questions,” I mutter.

I drag myself from my cot with a yawn, gathering my hygiene supplies. Before leaving my stone hut, I grab up my bit of chalk and mark the day on the wall. It’s a terrible habit, but one I can’t seem to let go of. I wonder what parallels my subconscious is drawing between life on Jakku and Ahch-To.

“Stars, it’s too early for philosophy.”

Outside, the sun is a fiery, blinding ball as it crests the horizon. Its warmth eases the chill of the cistern water. It hasn’t rained much in the last week, and my water supply is low, but there’s enough to wash away the dregs of sleep. Somewhat refreshed, I stretch my body, warming up my muscles.

My arms ache as though the battle with Ren just happened. It’s been five months, and it still strangles me with fear and pain. And excitement. No one tells you about the exhilaration of combat. The rush of adrenaline pushing you to superhuman levels.

The unexpected rage that subdues every other emotion.

Hush now, fear, it says, there’s no room for you. Guilt? There’ll be time for you later.

I’m grateful for Master Luke, as much as I can be. His training gives me focus. Clarity. But the peace he wants me to master is out of my reach. I’m a hypocrite for even coming here, begging a legend to teach me his ways, when I fear I am already too far off the path.

I settle into my morning meditation, and then transition into the only part of my day that gives me true joy. Master Luke is waiting for me at our improvised training ground. The wind whips his shaggy hair. His piercing blue eyes narrow, his weathered face almost eclipsing them as he frowns.

“Good morning, Rey,” he says.

“Good morning, Master.”

“You look tired.”

“I am tired.”

His frown deepens.

“Let’s start small today. The three rocks, please.” He points to three ‘small’ boulders of the grayish white stone that makes up all of the buildings on the island. Each one likely weighs as much as me, if not more. “Lift them and spin them into an orbit around you.”

The Force pulses through me, a second heartbeat echoing the one in my chest. I lift the trio of rocks with little effort, spinning them in a circle.

“Draw the orbit in tighter to yourself,” Master Luke instructs.

I do as he bids, but I pull too hard. It’s more of a yank than a coax, and I yelp as one rock smashes my elbow, knocking me into another. I’m batted about before the boulders move out from me, and I hit my knees with nothing to keep me up.

“Ow.” I glare at the offending stones. I’m lucky I didn’t break anything.

“You’re distracted again,” he says.

“Forgive me, Master,” I say. I rub the throbbing ache that runs from bicep to wrist. The skin on the back and outside of my elbow is puffed and red, already purpling. I’m going to have another spectacular bruise.

“This is beyond tired, Rey.” With a casual wave of his hand, the rocks move to a safe distance and settle to the ground. “Didn’t you sleep well last night?”

“As well as usual.”

“More dreams about Starkiller Base?”

It’s a polite way of asking if I still dream of his nephew.

“Every night,” I say, my own conversational dodge.

I’ve admitted as much. It’s hard to keep secrets of such magnitude from a Jedi anyway. Besides what I don’t tell him, the Force seems prone to helping him puzzle out with visions. The Force clearly has no concept of privacy.

Master Luke rarely takes my words at face value. Unless it’s something along the lines of ‘I need to use the ‘fresher.’ Not that we have one on this crumbling wreck of a world, but the gist remains the same. At any rate, I know he will stew over what I’ve said.

“I see. It isn’t uncommon,” he says, “for traumas to stay with us long after we like to think we should be done with them.”

“I didn’t go through anything compared to Han and Finn. The people on Takodana. Kriff, the entire Hosnian system!”

“Don’t dismiss your experiences out of hand, Rey,” he says. “My nephew hunted, kidnapped, and tortured you. He searched your mind against your will, triggering your latent Force abilities. You witnessed Han’s death, Finn’s wounding. You battled Ben, barely escaping Starkiller with your life. And then you came straight here to begin training. I don’t disagree that it was the right thing to do, but now I think we should take a break.”

“A break?” I gulp down a breath. “For the day?”

“Maybe longer,” he says. “I need to meditate in the temple this morning.”

I nod and mumble a reply. I offer to go fix something, but he insists I need rest. I know I do, I just—I don’t want to dream. I settle for walking.

I am lost without my training. It’s the only thing keeping me from falling apart. If I train, I have a fighting chance against Kylo Ren when he comes for me. And he’s coming. Every morning I wake, he feels closer. Stronger.

Standing at the island’s pinnacle, I think I must be able to see half the world stretched out below me. So much blue… Sometimes the sky and sea seem to merge into one. I’ve explored every accessible inch of this island and its stone mounds. Which isn’t much. What Master Luke calls a ‘temple’ is as easily called ‘the cluster of stone mounds.’ To be fair, there are some walls, too.

But aside from the Jedi and the chatter of the sea, this world is otherwise silent. Whatever mystical guidance Master Luke finds here doesn’t speak to me.

Is it because he stole away the lights who should guide me now?

Han is dead, Leia is—dimmed, from what I heard in whispers on D’Qar. Though kind to me, she’s more of a ghost than the force of nature everyone seems to expect. While her family lived, she held onto the hope of redemption. I add that loss to his crimes. With one ignition of his lightsaber, Kylo Ren pierced so many hearts.

Chewie understands her pain better than anyone. He couldn’t leave Ahch-To fast enough to return to her. They’re family in their way. Something I seem destined to never have.

Finn came through the best of us, I think. He’s alive. Scarred, traumatized, but safe as he can be on D’Qar. Finn was never meant for a life of war, but he’s determined. I know the Force whispers to him. It’s quieter than what I experience, more subtle. And he has Poe supporting him. Loving him, though neither publicly acknowledges that part yet. My smile is bittersweet. Do they know how lucky they are to find a connection like that in the midst of a war?

I miss my connections, Finn and BB-8 especially. Now I am on a nowhere planet with a Master Jedi recluse. There’s a raging storm in my head pulling me in every direction. I want to strike off across the dunes, find a wreck to scavenge. But there are no dunes. No wrecks. This entire island is smaller than the wreck of the Ravager. There is no place to go. No place to lose myself and just forget.

Not forever. Just for a little while. A little time to forget the most troubling aspect of life after Jakku. After Starkiller Base.

The strongest connection I’ve made is with my only enemy. How can he, child of the only two people in the galaxy to ever treat me as a daughter, be so alone like me? How can he, master of the feared Knights of Ren, doubt his worth just like me?

A questing tendril of darkness curls around me. It rumbles ever so slightly. Kylo Ren doesn’t only surface in my dreams. But unlike those nightly encounters, the day reveals a different side to our connection. His Force reaches out to me from some unknown corner in the galaxy, surrounds me, blurring the line between Light and Dark. Something very like a hand touches my arm gently.

I close my eyes, drawing in the comfort he freely offers. This is the peace I seek, but it fades.


come back to me

Does he know he soothes the pain? Not just in my body, but the ache in my soul? Does he know how much it hurts when he goes?

Shame churns in my belly as I sit, knees tugged up against my chest. The sea winds whip my hair, pluck at my tunic. The emptiness inside me seems big enough to consume me. Unwanted tears spill down my cheeks. My eyes burn.

“I hate you for this,” I whisper to Kylo Ren, wherever he is.

I bury my face in my arms, shutting down as emotions wash over me. Mine. Theirs. His. Even Master Luke’s slip out occasionally. He worries about me, about Kylo, about failing. I seek the serenity of the Jedi way, the harmony of the Light Side. But I am touched by the darkness. I find my peace in the shadows.

And I dwell in a place that accepts only Light.

Chapter Text

I dream in radiance...

KYLO

*

I dream in radiance...

In my dreams, there is something more than Light and Dark. Something wilder, yet steadier. It flows through me as gentle as mist, as soft as I imagine her hands. It races through me as thrilling as a saber duel as we sprint through the forest. Our battle is a dance, at first awkward, gaining in grace as we learn each other. Red and blue plasma collide, and she is haloed by the light. So fierce. So beautiful.

“You need a teacher!” She is raw strength and pain, vital yet vulnerable. “I can show you the ways of the Force.”

I sense her at the edge of my thoughts. We are closer in these moments than I knew possible.


crazy-not evil-i feel it-must fight

I catch the tiniest fleeting thoughts from her. She’s driven to fight the good fight. Is she learning to fight from me? No. Her life demands a certain skill set. I don’t doubt she knows her way around a fight. But this is no ordinary fight.

I know she’s never fought with a lightsaber, yet with each swing, her stance and form evolve. The air around us is charged with energy. She pulls so deeply from the Force, it imbues her with strength, guides her saber. Like anything else with the Force, she learns it as fast as she sees, hears, or senses it. But who could have shown her this?

“I know you feel it. The darkness. It calls to you, as it does to me.” Awed by her, I forget myself. I wonder what stray thoughts she hears from me. “Give in and join me.”

“What you do is wrong,” she says.

Damn her, anyway. I bash my blade against hers. I’m so tired of everyone telling me I’m wrong. I was born wrong. Nothing I do is right.

“And where did you learn right from wrong, little scavenger?” I should be kind. I’ve seen where she comes from. I know her pain as if it were an extension of mine. “Did someone in your desert hovel actually teach you?”

“Oy!” Her outrage almost makes me smile. “Don’t think you know me!”


no no no-can’t give in-warm-home-friend

Friend? The conflict of her microthoughts catches me. Gone almost before they form, but—what can she mean? Who can she mean? The moment is enough for her to take me down. A blinding blue light slices up my face. The rage in her face imprints in my memory. She is steel and strength. Beauty and power. And the Dark caresses her as a lover.

I know she will strike me down, and I want no other death.


kill him-so easy-hurts so much

But the planet itself pulls us apart, sparing me. Or punishing me. I feel her forcibly turn herself back to the Light.


come back to me

The words whisper between us, and I don’t know which of us thinks them. No thought has ever rung so desperately true.

“We’ll meet again, Kylo Ren.” Her whisper reaches across the canyon.

“And we will finish what we’ve started.”

The world collapses around us and this time there is no First Order ship to save me. I fall through the planet. I sink into the sensation as I plunge headfirst into nothing. This is how the smuggler died.

It’s fitting that I should follow.

*

Unexpectedly, it is pain that jolts me awake. I stagger up from my bunk, feet tingling on the cold floor. My stomach takes an extra handful of seconds to recognize I’m not falling. My equilibrium rights itself with a stomach-turning suddenness. The initial burst of agony subsides to an ache, but my heart pounds away in response.

With a flick of my hand, my lightsaber slaps against my palm and I wrap my fingers around the hilt. My stark room is cast in red shadows as I ignite the blade. There is no intruder. No sign that anyone but me has been here. I search my body, finding no injury. I drag my thoughts into focus, narrowing the worst of the pain to my right arm. There is no mark, but stars, it hurts. My awareness expands and I locate the source.

Of course it's her.

I extinguish the blade with a sigh and glance out the window, then at the time. It’s not yet dawn for me, the sky still a deep indigo. From her, I sense the early morning sun, the chill and fog that are yet to burn off. Her current home is only a couple hours ahead of mine in its daily rotation.

Closing my eyes, I track her spark. The ache grows stronger, and I rub my arm in response. The shock of her relief flashes through me. I’m not sure who’s more startled. Then I am alone in my darkness once more.

She is never truly gone, but her Light dims to a pinpoint. A lonely, distant star I can’t seem to hold onto.

“As though I need to,” I mutter. I drag my hands through my hair, over the scar that cleaves my face from my jawbone diagonally up across my forehead. Her parting gift to me. “Scavenger scum nearly took my eye.”

I don’t know her name to curse her properly.

“Kylo Ren.” My mental encounters with the scavenger hover too close to the surface as the early summons echoes in my head. I shutter my awareness from Supreme Leader Snoke’s casually violent invasion. It won’t do for him to notice where my attention lies. “I would see you now.”

“Yes, Supreme Leader.”

My lip curls in a reflexive sneer as Snoke severs the connection. I have been up and on my feet for almost an entire fifteen minutes. How kind of him to allow me so long before summoning me like a dog.

Kind? That word keeps sneaking into my thoughts.

Kriff, that girl is going to get me killed. She muddies the Dark with her damn Light. She may not care for me, but she has room in her heart for everyone else in the wretched galaxy, and from our brief encounters, I know what it is to be secure in her heart. I stuff my resentment down deep. No one needs to know I’m envious of a traitor and a BB unit. I’m too exhausted to be afraid, but I must guard my thoughts. She is too present in my mind for comfort. I dress quickly, locking my mask in place before leaving my quarters.

…hunted by a creature in a mask.

The memory of her words pricks at my defenses. I don’t know why I’m troubled by her opinion of me. I know how she sees me, and I know she’s not entirely wrong.

My steps unwittingly slow, until Hux plows past me. He is all bluster and arrogance as usual. Easy to ignore. His expression sours as though he’s tasted something awful. I don’t need to tell him the feeling is mutual. We shouldn’t be rivals. We’re not even playing the same game. But Snoke doesn’t hesitate to push us at each other. He feeds off the emotions we strike up in one another. Resentment. Envy. Anger and fear.

Thankfully, Hux is trailed by half a dozen First Order officers. I hear terrible words like ‘budgetary committee’ and ‘brand strategies.’ I’m far more content to face Snoke than administrative work. I freeze at the doors to the audience chamber, undone by the thought. What am I doing?

The smuggler’s words taunt me as the heavy stone doors to the audience chamber swing wide. Snoke is just using you for your power. When he gets what he wants…

I mentally snarl at the memory. You were always a smuggler first. And now you’re a dead smuggler. Nothing more. Han Solo knew nothing of the Force. He barely even believed in it.

I am more than another Force user for Snoke to drain or corrupt. I am his apprentice. Chosen.

I remind myself of that even as Snoke’s power drags me into the chamber by the throat. My knees slam against the floor as he drops me, gasping.

“I sensed the girl’s power this morning.”

I search the room with only my eyes. If I wasn’t still half choking, if his voice wasn’t so very real—

“I am here, Apprentice. But where is she?”

The question sends icy shards of fear coursing through me. There can be no doubt which she he refers to.

“Yes, yes. You know who I want.”

But why? She’s different, I know, but—I am strong enough to defeat her. I grip my head as the fear rises. She will not usurp me. I’ve given up everything to be here.

"Do not concern yourself with the whys, Kylo Ren. Tell me where she is hiding, this desert rat."

“I don’t know, Supreme Leader.”

“You dare lie to me?”

It’s the truth. My connection to her isn’t strong enough to pinpoint her physical location. Should I urge him to follow the path, to find her through me? Something buried deep within me protests the idea.

“I swear I don’t know where she is.”

“I can practically smell her on you. You reek of the Light Side.”

He sees too much and as always I am too weak to prevent it.

When he gets what he wants…

Stop it. I berate my memories. This is my time. This is my training.

“Yes,” Snoke murmurs. “Your training. We mustn’t neglect that. We must examine your failures, my apprentice. In detail. Only then can I know if you’re worth salvaging.”

I am knocked onto my back, my hands and legs pinned to the stone. The first spikes of his power drill into me, psychically nailing me to the floor. I bite back a scream, letting the pain flow through. Channeled properly, pain is power. I can handle this.

“Tell me who she is.”

“I—don’t—know.” Each word is a victory over the pain.

“She’s too strong to be some sand-loving nobody. She is untested and untrained, yet she escapes you. Bests you.” Raw power claws through my mind. “You must know more than you are telling me.”

A flicker of distress stretches out from her, searching. Snoke's power flares in response. I want to tell her to go. I want to just let him have her. I can't do either. I'm so stupid. I never win. I never save anyone.

“Your lack of faith in yourself is disturbing," Snoke murmurs. "Tell me again how this scavenger girl bested you, my apprentice.”

The Force twists and lifts me from the floor. My body contorts in impossible ways, sinew and bone giving out. Fire tears through my veins, scorching me from the inside out. Kriff, so much pain. Staggering pain. I’m stumbling. Falling.

No, she stumbles. She falls.

Another wave of agony surges through me. Snoke pushes through my body, and I am stretched to breaking.


hold on-not alone-hurts hurts hurts-friend

Friend. The word latches around my heart. Grounds me when I should explode. Can’t hold on, my mind whispers.

And then she screams, the full force of Snoke's attack burning straight through me and into her.

Snoke’s laughter floods my head.

“There you are, girl.” His raspy croon echoes through the stone chamber. “I knew he was hiding you. You must be something special indeed, to break my apprentice. Even his own family couldn’t call him back to the Light. But you—show me what you’re made of girl.”

He rips into me, pulling the screams from me at last. I struggle to hold onto consciousness as her voice roars through me. I expect her terror, and it overflows my soul. But she’s so much more than fear. Incandescent light, edged in glowing black weaves into me. Her will saturates my very atoms. What Snoke rends, she repairs.


will not let go-stay

Snoke chuckles anew, and his voice–

“All this time,” he says. Greed laces his voice. “How did they hide you for so long? You will be mine, girl. I will tear Kylo Ren’s mind apart, memory by memory, link by link, until I find you.”

My cry builds in volume as he plucks a moment—a rare moment with all of my family, on a tropical beach—and—I frown. When was this? Where? It’s familiar, I—hm. Strange. I don’t remember that—something.

“What did you do?” My voice is almost gone, but she hears me.

She is rage. She is defiance. And she screams.

For me.

“Get out of his head!”

Her power wraps around me like armor, dulling the pain. I am protected. Isolated. Cut off from Snoke, my mind clears, and everything I’ve done hits me without the filter of his dark influence.

What have I done?

My hold on this moment, this life, snaps.


i’ve got you-don’t let go

I drift in darkness. I dream in radiance. I am surrounded by a sky full of stars, but I do not fear the Light. I find a strange comfort in that which I’ve denied for half my life.


safe-we’re safe-whole-come back to me

There is nowhere in the galaxy safe for me now. The depth of my failure is laid bare, Snoke’s manic laughter carrying through the shield surrounding me. The protection shudders as Snoke’s power tests it. If I come back to my body, he will tear me apart. And when he does, he loses my connection to her.

“Stay safe, Bright Star,” I think.

Decision made. With the last of my strength—strength she gave me—I eject her from my mind.

For I dwell in a place that will snuff her Light.

Chapter Text

Interlude I

LUKE

*

“Leia.”

In the somber ruins of the first Jedi temple, I call out through the Force. Not to Ben Kenobi or Yoda, not to my father, but to my sister. The only one who understands what’s happening now. A flicker of acknowledgment reaches out to me.

Then I sit back and wait. My ‘meditation.’ The Jedi in hiding can't openly call the leader of the Resistance, even if she is his sister. So I wait for the general to get free and call me.

Since my arrival on Ahch-To almost fifteen years ago, I’ve made this call only once, on the day Rey arrived. From the minute she hit the atmosphere, the residual power of ancient Jedi called out. I never heard so much—chatter—from the old enclave until she came. Each day, the power grows.

The Force is at work, changing the game. Raising the stakes.

It’s an hour or more before the dusty subspace transceiver chirps. I answer quickly.

“Leia.”

“Sorry it took so long,” she says. “I think we’ve located the Finalizer, and potentially Snoke’s hideout.”

“We’re running out of time, sister.”

“I know.” Her voice sounds so distant and weak. These last twenty years have been the hardest on her. We’ve all had our demons to battle, but she’s been stuck in the public eye throughout. “I’m pushing as hard as I can, Luke. The Starkiller battle wasn’t an easy victory. We’ve got more recovering wounded than our bacta tanks can handle. I can barely put a squadron in the air.”

“I’m talking about more than the war.”

“I—I know.” She sighs. “I've seen her. She's—more than I expected. I know we agreed to make it look like you'd gone into hiding, but you could have told me you had a subspace transceiver when you left. My pilot would never have even done a flyby of Jakku.”

“The Force would have found another way to get her to me.” As I speak, there’s an odd rumble in the Force, something happening right now. I push my awareness out to Rey, but she’s silent. I block out the strange fluctuation of power as best I can to focus on Leia. “How long do you expect our secrets to hold?”

“They’re already cracking,” she says. “It started the moment they met. Hold out a bit longer, brother. We can still save them.”

“Snoke will come and we are far from ready.”

“She can bring Ben back, Luke.”

“I don’t know that anyone can bring that boy back,” I say. “And after everything he’s done—Will he even want to come back?”

“Ben's even more volatile now. I sense him almost daily. I know that has to mean something.” She stretches through the Force, enveloping me in the closest we can get to a hug. “This was always the plan.”

“Murdering Han was the plan?”

“Of course not. But we all knew the risks.” Her grief nearly drowns out her thoughts.

A steady anger burns inside me, and I push away from the sense of her, though I can’t say I’m surprised that galactic plans come before family. I love her, but she frustrates me. Princess, politician, general. Her entire life prepared her to serve the people. All of the people. The grand scheme, the big picture, they come first. She knows how to sacrifice for the greater good. Tarkin destroyed all of Alderaan before her eyes, and that didn’t break her, why should losing Han?

I wonder if she will have any family left when she decides she’s done.

“Just give Rey a chance,” she says.

“She can’t concentrate long enough to spin a few rocks through the air.”

“Then help her. You were a good teacher once, Luke,” she says. “I know you can be again.”

“And if this breaks them both? If we lose them both?” I never wanted this, though long ago I agreed. For the greater good. And now that Rey is here, and I’ve seen the woman she’s become— “We made one monster to hide another monster. What if we fail?”

The silence builds, until I wonder if she’s gone.

“If we fail, the galaxy falls to Snoke. And I doubt we’ll get a chance to second guess ourselves.”

Chapter Text

There is a space only he can fill…

REY

*

Stars, there’s so much pain. What is happening? There’s a deep purring sound I’m almost sure I know, but I can’t remember how. I follow the fading sound in halting, staggering measures—like a drunk walking on jagged glass and hot coals. Everything burns and stabs, my sense of balance tilting. I’m worn to the bone and barely hanging on, but I see it now. The source of the sound traces to a dimming glow. It’s barely distinguishable from the black surrounding me, but it’s there. I wrap myself around the dark spark. The pain is too much. I just want to let go, but there’s something—

“I’m here.” I don’t know if the spark can hear me, so I push my waning energy into it. A blue-white glow limns the dark energy.

Another jab of pain lances through me. I huddle tighter. Protecting.

“I’ve got you,” my mind whispers. “Don’t let go.”

I pull the Light around me and my spark, funneling the energy to stem the pain. Distantly I feel as though my bones realign—were they broken? Did I—did I crash my speeder? Did Unkar—No, no—that’s wrong. I’m not on Jakku. I left that sandpit.

There’s a pushback from the spark. I carefully unfold, not wanting to lose that midnight glow. It’s—important to me.

“Safe. We’re safe,” I say.

It’s—no his energy is stronger now, and now we’re so entangled in each other that I don’t know where he ends and I begin. I remember who this is. This is wrong, and yet—

A rasping laugh shakes my focus.

“Stay safe, Bright Star,” I hear.

I know this voice. His voice. Kylo. Yes, that's his name. And stars, I need to hear him again. He ejects me from his mind with one mental heave. But Snoke still has a hold on us, and I don’t make it far before he reaches into me, electricity surging along the tether between Kylo and me. Like a droid shorting out, my mind judders and goes black. Completely silent. Empty.

The dark spark is gone.

“Kylo?”

I don’t expect an answer, but I want one. More than I want my next breath. Ahch-To comes back into focus. I curl my body into a ball, not caring about the rocky ground digging into my side. A cold rain rushes in from the sea, and I should go inside. I know I should. But I’m too tired to move. Too empty inside to care. So I turn my focus inward again, and I search for a familiar spark.

What is even wrong with me? I shut my eyes against the stinging flow of tears. I don’t care about Kylo Ren. I don’t even like him. So why do I feel this space inside me only he can fill?

I have lost him. I have lost him and…I want him back? My breath hitches at the thought. I don’t understand my connection to the man, but stars, I know this emptiness all too well. It’s defined my life and I damn well don’t want it anymore. Something dark and terrifyingly primal growls inside me, and I know. I will search the galaxy. I will tear it apart, if that’s what it takes.

“I will find you, Kylo,” I whisper. “And I will have answers.”

*

“Rey! Come back to me, child.”

A voice calls to me. Frantic. Scared. Heavy hands grip my shoulders hard, stopping short of shaking of me. Light suffuses my dark soul with the touch, numbs the unimaginable. I blink my eyes against the sun, now blazing overhead.

“There you are. I thought I’d lost you in here.” He taps my temple with gentle fingers. Bright blue eyes and shaggy graying hair block out most of the sun. The edges crown his head like a halo. “Are you all right?”

A quick reach for Kylo turns up nothing. Just the yawning chasm in my soul. Terror strangles me as I expand my awareness and there’s nothing. Nothing at all.

The Force is gone?

Then I hear it, distant and slow. The thump of my second heartbeat. It gains in tempo and the world stutters to life as I find the rhythm. Master Luke’s serene presence dominates my senses, but I catch the Force signatures of the sea birds and the bustling life beneath the water’s surface.

But still no Kylo.

I exhale a shaking breath. I shake my head. Definitely not all right.

“You’re soaked. Come on. Let’s get you inside.” Master Luke helps me to stand. He walks me into my hut and presses me to sit on the cot. He wraps my hands around a mug of steaming caf.

“Drink,” he orders.

“Thank you.” My voice is a shock. There’s barely any sound to it. I touch where the ache in my throat lies. I sip the caf, the warmth a balm on my throat.

“You’ve screamed your voice raw,” he says. A barely perceptible shudder moves through his body. “I left the temple and heard you. I’ve—never heard pain like that. What happened?”

“Snoke,” I whisper.

Master Luke’s face pales.

“He found you? How?”

“Through Kylo.” Just saying his name triggers tears. There is an emptiness. A hole in my mind and heart. The place he occupied is just—a vaccuum. Sucking away at my sense and reason. “Snoke—I think he killed Kylo.”

“You connect with Ben beyond dreams, then?” He doesn’t accuse, doesn’t even seem particularly surprised, but my cheeks burn nonetheless.

It strikes me then how he always calls him Ben, never Kylo. Despite everything.

“Never anything so intense,” I say. “How can he feel so necessary, Master? He’s been there for months, just this awareness in my mind. But now—I feel I’ve lost something vital.”

“I can make an educated guess,” he says. “You’ve experienced each other’s pain before?”

“Yes. Just little things. Like my arm.” The new bruise I remember is now deep blue and purple, yellowing at the very edges.

“And this time something happened to cause you both extreme pain?”

“Snoke—tortured him. He wanted to know about me.” My stomach turns as the memory rushes back and I hurriedly set my mug down. “He broke Kylo’s body. Bones, joints, organs. Everything. With the effort it takes me to lift a rock.”

The Jedi shudders.

“And kriff, when he realized I was there.” It’s my turn to shake. I fight to tug the blanket from my bed. Luke settles it around my shoulders. “He challenged me. He kept physically tearing into Kylo with the Force. I didn’t think. I just acted, trying to fix what he broke. Snoke asked, ‘how did they hide you for so long?’ Like I was some incredible find.”

Luke turns his face down from me, mouth pressed against his steepled fingers.

“Can you tell me the rest?” he asks.

“I need to,” I say. “He reached into Kylo’s mind and stole a memory. Dangled it in front of us and shredded it until—until Kylo didn’t recognize it anymore.” The sense of that precious moment slipping away from him comes rushing back. “Oh stars, I’m going to be sick.”

A bucket is thrust under my face, almost bashing me. I grip the sides as the contents of my stomach, of which there are preciously little, heave free of my body. When I stop gagging, Master Luke hands me a cup of cool water, setting the bucket outside.

“I didn’t even know power like that existed.”

“He broke you as well, Rey,” he says.

“What?” An icy fear rakes brittle fingers up my spine.

“I ran to you as soon as I heard you.” His throat works as he swallows. “I had no questions about why you were screaming, only how you’d been so heinously injured.”

“I think—I think I healed us,” I say, vividly recalling the sensation of my body repairing. “Or me, at least. But Kylo was dying. I felt him slipping away. And then he pushed me out.”

“Set your mind at ease. I’m fairly certain he’s still alive, Rey.”

“How can you be sure? I can’t—All I’ve wanted for months was for him to go away, and now I can’t handle a handful of hours without him? I just don’t understand.”

“This connection you share with Ben. It isn’t your fault. And it isn’t necessarily of anyone’s intentional making. But it does significantly change your life.” Master Luke purses his lips together in thought. “I’ve only learned about them in ancient Jedi teachings, but I believe what you’ve formed with Ben is called a Force Bond.” He settles himself on the floor by the fire. “It connects two Force users. They can communicate across the galaxy as easily as we’re speaking now. They share power, thoughts, emotions, even their personalities are known to blend. But it’s been decades since a Bond was recorded, and much of the Jedi lore is gone. I wish I could tell you more.”

My stomach settling, I swap the water for my cup of caf.

“Can the bond be broken?”

“By death, yes. That’s the only sure way I know to break one. And that’s also why I believe he’s still alive.”

“Then why can’t I sense him anymore?”

“I don’t know,” Master Luke says. He pauses to sip his own cup of caf. “Do you know your eyes are golden right now?”

“What?” I nearly drop my mug, hissing as the hot caf spills on my hand.

“Mm. Slightly glowing, too.” He studies me. “If you weren’t so—you—right now, I’d be more concerned.”

“Because?”

“You did heal yourself,” he says. “When I found you, your entire body glowed. A brilliant blue-white edged in a glowing darkness. The yellow in your eyes now, it’s caused by intense exposure to the Dark Side.”

“No.” I deny the idea outright. “I have denied the Dark Side before. I wouldn’t use it to kill him. I certainly wouldn’t use it to save him. I know he’s your family. You have history with him. You know aspects of him I can’t even imagine.” Every word is a fresh scrape inside my throat. “But to me, he’s nothing but a monster.”

“Are you certain of that?” Master Luke’s intense gaze studies me. “Search your feelings, Rey. The interrogation that fully awakened you to the Force—you reached into each other’s minds. You likely know more about him than just about anyone.”

“Yes, but, I didn’t want to do it. I had to.” I cross my arms. “I want nothing to do with him.”

My denial is weak. It’s colored by my last sight of Han—holding death at bay to steal one last moment to touch his son’s face. It’s altered by the words Leia whispered as we embraced before I left D’Qar—Please—if you can—bring him home to me. After everything, how could they have any hope left?

“I just—I couldn’t let him find you.”

“You could have,” he says. He offers me a sad smile. “I didn’t come all this way to hide from my nephew.”

“Why, then?”

“To learn. To grieve.” He settles on the ground beside me. “To atone.”

“Atone?”

“I may be a Jedi, but I am by no means sin-free, Rey. At some point, most of us live long enough to regret something.”

“And what do you regret?”

“More than I’m ready to admit. But I was ambitious,” he says. “I wanted to resurrect the Jedi Order, and I wanted to do it yesterday. Most of my students thrived. But Ben saw being sent to me as a punishment. He wanted to stay with his parents.”

Ben. I test the name, searching the hole in my psyche, tucking Master Luke’s words—and the precious thread of love woven into them—into the emptiness. The words threading so many of our moments echo unbidden in my mind. Come back to me.

“Why did Leia send him, then?”

“He needed training, no matter what. The nature of his parents’ relationship strained Ben’s loyalties. He loved them both fiercely, but—” A heavy sigh fills the silence as he thinks. “At their best, my sister and Han were unstoppable. At their worst, the galaxy was barely big enough to contain their fights. It was enough to make a young boy lose sight of their love for him.”

“Were they—violent?” I can barely force the question out, it seems so wrong.

“Stars, no.” He shakes his head emphatically. “But to Ben, they were a never ending war. Constant explosions and uneasy truces. Ceasefires and negotiations. Emotional landmines. All of it fodder for galactic gossip. Friends were a luxury normal kids could have, and Ben was well aware that between his exceptional Force sensitivity and his bloodline he was anything but normal.”

“Han and Leia—having met them both,” I say. “It’s difficult to imagine them together.”

“A princess with a knack for leadership and war. A smuggler with a track record of criminal mischief. They weren’t the most obvious love story, but they made it work in their own way. They just—”

“What?” I let out the breath I’d been holding. “They just, what?”

“They just didn’t let Ben in on ‘their own way.’ They spent so much time trying to insulate him from gossip, shield him from political intrigue, protect him—he was a tempting target to anyone trying to destabilize Leia.”

“They didn’t let him grow and learn,” I say. “I’ve been on my own since I was five or so. I thought I would’ve given anything to have a family like he had. Maybe Jakku wasn’t so bad after all.”

Luke shoots me a strange look.

“Sorry,” I say. “I don’t mean to insult you.” I frown. “Exactly.”

His chuckle catches us both by surprise.

“Ben didn’t want to choose a side. No one asked him to, but a child doesn’t see the nuances. A teenager sees even less, I know that one from personal experience. Ben just wanted his family whole, not the constant drama and disaster.”

Something about his words…

“He didn’t want to commit to the Light Side?”

Luke’s weary nod is answer enough to fill in the next step in Ben Solo’s fall.

“Leaving him open to Snoke’s influence.”

“You’re very astute, Rey,” he says.

“But knowing his family’s history, how could he choose the Dark Side?” How could he take up the mantle of Darth Vader’s madness? That which had virtually orphaned his mother and uncle and plunged the galaxy into decades of terror? How could he take part in the destruction of an entire star system of lives? “As lost to the Dark as Vader was, even he turned back to the Light in the end.”

“Ben didn’t know about Vader. Not until it was too late. The truth of our parentage became public knowledge unexpectedly. Instead of being able to tell Ben once he’d completed his training, Leia was forced to do damage control. Politically, her influence suffered tremendously. Militarily, her motivations became instantly suspect. She shoved everyone away in her efforts to keep the Republic from crumbling.”

“And all the while he was here.” Alone.

“Not alone,” he says to my unspoken thought, “but he didn’t want my help or guidance.”

“You were part of the lie.”

“Yes.” The weight of his guilt is almost tangible in the air. “And by the time Ben learned the truth, he’d had Snoke whispering in his mind for over a year. It took very little to push him into a rage.”

One boy, an apprentice, turned against him… Han’s voice drifts through my memory.

“And he slaughtered your students?”

“No,” Luke says.

There’s an expectation when he looks at me then and I wonder if what he says next will shatter me like the truth about Darth Vader shattered Ben Solo.

Chapter Text

There is a void only she could create…

KYLO

*

I jolt awake on a cold floor, surprised to be alive. Flickers of pain, screaming, fighting, and over it all, Snoke’s endless laughter twist through me—what the hell happened? I was summoned before first light, I went to the Supreme Leader, and—he wanted the girl. He tore into me to find her through our link.

Did she actually stop him from killing me? The idea is absurd. Yet here I am. Not lying on the stone of Snoke’s chambers, but the sleek black paneling of the First Order base built around the Sith ruin. The sun is setting outside, more than enough light to recognize my room. It takes every reserve of energy I possess to drag myself to my bed. I kick off my boots and heave myself onto the thin mattress, absurdly grateful for the meager cushion under my aching body.

The aches carry inward, defining a lack of something, but I can’t keep my eyes open, sinking willingly into sleep.

I hope to see her there. My Bright Star… I curse my weak mind for such thoughts.

“Ben… Come back to me.”

I wake once more, her voice fresh in my mind, calling me by a dead name. No, you can’t be here. You have to go. But she isn’t here. Even my usual awareness of her is quiet. I blink at the low morning light filtering from the other side of the base. My sleep was dreamless, with no sign of the scavenger until the end. I don’t know whether to curse her or thank her, but damn it, I need to know her name to do either.

I don’t remember coming back here. No doubt Hux took great pleasure in seeing me carted through the base in disgrace. I dismiss this petty victory for the general and focus instead on the reason I’m in one mostly whole piece and still sane.

“Bright Star?” I feel silly calling her that, it seems disturbingly intimate. Affectionate, even. And I don’t think invading each other’s minds counts as either. But I suppose it’s more agreeable than ‘scavenger scum.’ “Are you there?”

The words whisper in my mind. They echo in my head.

And only my head.

Terror stabs into me. The Force is so quiet. The usual sensation of the ebb and flow of the natural power is absent. Has Snoke cut my connection to the Force? I’ve heard the horror stories of Force sensitives driven mad by the loss. A cold sweat creeps along my spine as I thrust my hand out toward a book on my dresser. It doesn’t respond, and a primal shout of denial rips from my chest. I push harder, demanding compliance. There. There you are. The Force begins to rumble through me, so quiet at first, building slowly. A vibration quakes through the book, the pages fluttering as it flies into my hand.

I’m sweating with the effort, my hand trembling. There is still a hollow inside me, but the Force is flowing once more.

“Oh, kriff.” I drop the book on the floor and flop onto my back, the relief so intense.

Until I recognize the emptiness for what it is. Only she could leave a void like this. The scavenger is gone, the link between us carved out of my very mind. I identify the space she occupied inside me by her absence. There’s a chilling nothingness where her vibrant essence had been.

The loss is unexpectedly keen, worse than a bowcaster bolt in my side. Worse than the smuggler’s acceptance of his death at my hands, but not of my turn to the Dark. I curl myself into a ball on the bed.

It’s full dark before I climb out of my bed and head for the refresher. I strip out of my torn and bloodied topcoat, undertunic, shirt, and trousers. The ruined clothes take up most of the refresher floor. Naked, I see the immediate signs of Snoke’s abuse. I’m covered in dried blood. Strangely, there are no obvious wounds. Instead, there are new scars in dozens of places. New, but not fresh. Stunned, I rub my hand down my ribs. There’s barely a twinge of pain, despite the memories of bones and joints snapping like twigs underfoot, the numbing loss of blood. I know that just happened, but my body tells a story of old wounds, long healed.

Healed.

I suck in a quick breath and remember. Her Light enveloping me… blending into my Dark.

She healed me.

The last Jedi healers perished, among the hundreds wiped out by Order 66. I don’t believe Luke could teach her to heal like this, who knows how many light years away. I could search the ancient lore for a lifetime and maybe never find her like. Once more, my untrained desert opponent surpasses all expectation and possibility.

For me.

Friend.

How does that word keep tumbling about in her thoughts? She can’t be as desperate for companionship as to find me an ideal candidate. Every time we’ve occupied the same space, her driving quest has been to get away. Even when we dream.

I clean myself up. As I towel off, a glimpse in the mirror freezes me solid.

My face.

I lift my hand to the scar. When I last saw it, the angry red mark split across my face, carving into my shoulder. Now, it is a ghost of its former self, barely marring my face at all.

“Stars.” My stunned whisper gives voice to an unexpected rush of fear. “How powerful are you?”

You will be mine, girl. I will tear Kylo Ren’s mind apart, memory by memory, link by link, until I find you.

Snoke’s words drift back to me. I pull the Dark around me, for once welcoming the edges of Light I have never escaped. The Supreme Leader wants the girl and he will pull me apart, piece by piece, to make it happen.

The door to my quarters opens without so much as a buzz of warning. I hastily sling my towel around my hips as the detestable ginger general stalks in with two stormtroopers. The trio doesn’t seem to notice me at all. What is this?

“Good morning, Hux,” I say. “Forgotten how buzzing the door works? And here I thought you were such a stickler for protocol.”

Hux gapes at me a full five seconds. I give up on him finding words.

“What are you doing here?”

The question snaps the general back to form. He gestures to the troopers and the medical gurney they’ve wheeled in. There is a heavy black bag open on the bed top.

“It should be perfectly obvious we’re here to collect your corpse.” A huff of irritation escapes his thin lips. “You should be a bloated carcass on the floor after what Snoke did to you.”

A bright flash of fear passes through his pale green eyes. He orders the troopers to maintain their positions and crosses to the ‘fresher.

“What happened to your face?” he asks. “From across the room, I couldn’t even see the scar.”

I touch the scar with self-conscious fingers. I don’t get a chance to think up a lie before he speaks again.

“How are you even alive?” he whispers. I realize with a start Hux is genuinely scared. But is he afraid of Snoke’s power or my survival? Both have me pretty spooked at the moment. “I must report to the Supreme Leader.”

He all but flees the room, ordering the troopers to guard me. It’s my turn to gape.

“What the kriff is going on?”

I do not expect my answer to begin with a blaster bolt to the head. But the trooper on the right shoots the other without a second thought. My eyebrows rise.

“Are you planning to shoot me as well?”

“Negative, sir,” she says sharply. “The attempt would be suicidal.”

“Indeed.” Homicidal, but practical. “Do you mind if I dress?”

“Of course not.”

I don’t appreciate an audience while I dress, but I’m damned if I turn into a fainting miss over my nudity. Trooper lodging affords no privacy, anyway. She’s used to people wandering around in all states of undress. So I drop the towel and head for my wardrobe, hoping I’m not blushing from head to toe.

I opt for more practical clothing than my full Knight of Ren regalia, choosing simple black trousers and a loose white shirt. I comb my wet hair back with my fingers and strap a belt around my waist for my lightsaber. I stuff my feet and trouser legs into my boots.

“Now,” I say. “Do you care to explain the casual murder of a fellow trooper?”

“Sir,” she says. “If I may approach?”

“By all means,” I say. “You realize you’ll be reconditioned for this?”

“Won’t be my first time, sir,” she responds. Her rank is sergeant, her designation RA-5205, making her part of a planetary based riot and crowd control unit. Did Hux expect my corpse to put up such a fight? “Sir—what the Supreme Leader did to you—”

“I was there,” I say, not inclined to hear a no doubt thorough catalog of my injuries.

“The Supreme Leader ordered us to collect your body.” She keeps her voice pitched low, as though someone could be listening.

“Hux said as much.”

“This evening. And you are clearly not dead.” She utters a low, frustrated oath when I don’t respond. “Three days after you were dumped you in here.”

“Three days?” Impossible. I cautiously open my senses. The oppressive weight of Snoke’s presence is gone. I stretch my awareness out across the base. He’s here. There is no mistaking that much.

“We came for your body. Do you not understand what I’m saying?”

My eyes widen at her blunt speech. I sense Snoke, but he doesn’t react. It’s like he doesn’t know I’m here.

“Snoke doesn’t know I’m alive.”

“Precisely.”

“Why are you telling me this? Your kind hate me.”

“My—oh for the love of shore leave. I’m human just like you, Ren.” There is an unprecedented familiarity in her tone. She addresses me as someone she is comfortable enough with to dispatch with formality. She tears off her helmet and I am rooted in place by the sight. “You are reckless to a fault, your methods are sloppy, and your tantrums are things of legend—”

“You,” I whisper.

“I don’t like you, Ren. But like is not necessary to work together. We have all proven that over the last decade. We have worked together to bring order to the galaxy.”

I’m processing her words, but through a haze. Stars, her face.

“What Snoke did to you—” She clears her throat, her voice tight and raspy when she continues. “It was a thing of nightmares. I know a killing rage. I’ve seen yours often enough. You are brutal, but efficient. This was—”

“Torture.”

“He enjoyed breaking you apart. The excitement in his voice when we came to collect you—”

“Who are you?” She rears back slightly, blinking wide set hazel eyes. Freckles are scattered across her pale face. Her dark hair is cut short, but it’s easy enough to imagine windblown strands and three buns. I fling her against the closest surface before she can think to run. She cries out as she slams against the window. “Who the kriff are you to address me so casually?”

Confusion contorts her features.

“What did I just do?” she whispers.

“Who are you, trooper?”

“RA-5205, sir.” Her breath is coming in quick gasps as I close the distance between us. I lift her until we are eye to eye. “Sir, I—I don’t know what came over me.”

“You look like—”

Her gloved hand slaps over my mouth. Like her words, the gesture screams a certain degree of knowing.

“Don’t even think it,” she pleads.

She can’t know what I mean to say, yet she could be the scavenger in another twenty or thirty years. I draw back from the trooper, releasing her slowly. Her armor squeaks against the glass as she slides down.

“You’re sterilized,” I say. “It’s part of the program.”

Her pupils dilate, swallowing the warm green and gold of her irises.

“But the scavenger girl. She could be—”

“Please,” she whispers. “Don’t say it. It isn’t possible.”

Your daughter.

“I saw her,” she says, so softly I almost don’t hear her. “In the holo reports. When she was captured. I don’t know why she looks so much like me. Do you—know me?”

I snort, even though I’m wondering the same. I don’t waste my time on troopers. But I study her face, looking for anything to trigger a response. Other than her resemblance to the girl, there’s nothing.

“No, I’m sorry.”

She sighs, gives a curt nod. Not the answer she wanted, I understand.

“I have to get off this planet.” I wish now that I had followed the link to the girl, found out what remote rock she’s hiding out on with Luke. “I have to find the girl before Snoke does.”

RA-5205 nods her agreement.

“Will you go to the Resistance?”

“I—” The direct question stuns me. “I can’t.”

“Who else can stop him?”

“Stop Snoke? You’re serious.” It’s a treasonous thought, one that can get her executed instead of reconditioned.

“A man who relishes in the pain he causes will bring no peace to the galaxy.” She shakes her head. “We need help to stop him from destroying us all.”

RA-5205 is right. I need help to understand this. Hell, I need help getting out of this base. Hux is on his way to Snoke in usual tattle-tale fashion, and I am about to be a dead man walking.

“I’m going to need help getting out of here, Sergeant,” I say.

“I’ll get you out of here,” she says, toeing the armor of her dead comrade with a shining boot. The death of the other trooper takes on intent.

“Your plan all along?”

She nods once. “I ask you a favor though.”

“What do you need?”

“Take my memories of this,” she says.

“It will hurt.”

“I’ll accept that to buy you—and the girl—time.”

Chapter Text

All the words unspoken…

REY

*

He’s keeping secrets. The knowledge pounds into me with each day of relentless training. There is a fervor to Master Luke’s teachings now, but it’s all he doesn’t say that’s driving me mad. He tells me Kylo didn’t kill the Jedi students, but doesn’t say anything more.

Each day, I scratch my mark on the wall. I try not to panic as a month passes. A month of emptiness. A month without answers. The only thing keeping me from flying apart is Luke’s continued insistence that Kylo is alive because I am.

The days only keep coming.

If I thought Master Luke was going to explain the universe—or at least how Ben Solo became Kylo Ren, galactic poster boy for bad behavior—I quickly realize that is not going to happen. He’s more concerned with how many rocks I can lift, my saber forms, and a thousand other Jedi things. I know we’re on the outskirts of a war, and I know I’ll eventually be in the thick of it once more, but I hate this sense that I’m not getting the whole story.

My mind is split in two. The piece that knows Kylo Ren as the temperamental murderer of his own father, and the absolutely mental piece that insists I care about the man. That I miss his presence. I should be happy to be rid of the steelpecker.

Unless…

I mentally review Master Luke’s careful non-answers, and I’m certain I’m missing something. Some vital piece of information that will make sense of all this.

And if I can’t get it from Luke, I need to reconnect with the source.

I push myself to collapse in training, I go through every holocron of lore, I plead with the Force to give him back to me. And then I push myself more for wanting that.

A holocron on the saberstaff combat form, known as Niman, is an unexpected gift from Luke. We spend at least two hours each day with my staff and the holos. He battles me with a practice saber. There are seven combat forms in all, and I’m not terrible at them, but Niman is by far my best. The forms hone my focus, my body a true extension of my mind. Thought flows into action, the Force moving fluidly from one to the other.

“I want you to do a search of the island,” Luke says.

It’s been six weeks now. We’re sitting on a wall, sharing our evening rations and watching the sun set.

“Anything in particular I’m looking for?”

“Kyber crystals.”

“The stones that power lightsabers?” Is this his idea of a distraction? It sounds like busy work, some cooked up rubbish to occupy my time. Another way to avoid telling me anything.

“Not power, exactly,” he says. “They focus the energy to form the blade.”

“Why would I find one here?”

“This is a former Jedi temple,” he says. “One remarkably preserved for the amount of time it spent abandoned. I wager a lightsaber or two was built here in its time.”

“You really think I could find something here?” I kick my feet against the wall, scoping out the surroundings. “Crystals are more of a cave thing, aren’t they?”

“And I’d send you to the Crystal Caves on Ilum if I could, but the First Order monitors the area.” He sighs. “It’s a long shot, but the Force seems to like you.”

“So I might find a kyber because the Force wants me to?” I eye him sharply, skeptical.

He favors me with a sidelong smile, his bright blue eyes almost eclipsed by the generous amount of laugh lines edging them. His life must have been much happier at some point. He doesn’t smile often with me.

“Wouldn’t be the first time something happened because of the Force.”

Well, that’s—cryptic.

“If you say so.” I give him several moments of silence, but he just gives it right back. I sigh. “All right. I’ll give it a shot.”

“Take the next week to look.” He pushes off the wall, landing on his feet with a slight grunt. “I’m going to be in the temple.”

“The next week?” I jump down and hustle after him.

“Yes, Rey, a week.” He smiles again, but it doesn’t reach his eyes this time. “You’ll be fine. You have plenty of rations. And you have a quest.”

“What is this? What’s going on?” This is some garbage task. He doesn’t want me around. My head spins to imagine myself alone. Alone. Not alone. Don't leave me alone. “You can’t be serious.”

“Calm yourself, child.” Luke turns to face me, gripping my shoulders. His hands are heavy and warm. Steady. “I’m not leaving you.”

“There’s so much you aren’t telling me,” I say softly, part plea, part accusation.

“I know,” he sighs. “I know.” He sets me away from him, hands falling to his sides. “Will you trust that the answers you seek—some aren’t mine to give, and some I don’t yet have to give you?”

My brow furrows. “I don’t understand.”

He inhales deeply.

“Something happened to you when you tried to protect Ben.”

“I never said I tried to protect him.” And I won’t say it now. It just happened.

“You didn’t have to,” he says. “Remember you said you thought Ben was dead?”

“Of course.”

“Well, I thought you were.” He crosses his arms over his chest. “Between one breath and the next, your Force signature disappeared. So utterly and completely that I expected to find you’d fallen from a cliff. Or we’d been invaded. But instead, you laid almost where I’d left you. Only—your body was broken and bleeding.”

“Like Kylo’s.”

“The power needed to hurt you like that—over such a distance...” Luke shakes his head. “Have you counted any new scars?”

“No.” It’s hard to catch my breath. “I don’t really pay attention to that sort of thing. My whole life is bumps and bruises and scars.”

“Right.” He seems disturbed by that. “I still can’t sense you in the Force.”

“Now?”

He nods.

“How is that possible?”

“That’s part of what I intend to find out.” He nods toward the temple. “You’ve seen a portion of the archives, but there are much older sections you’ve yet to explore. Barring any success with the knowledge here, I’m not above reaching out to Leia for help.”

“What can the general do?”

“There are other nodes of Jedi lore in the galaxy.”

“And what is it you think you’re looking for?”

“A way to break through the cloak you’ve wrapped yourself and Ben in.”

“A cloak?” The rush of excitement is wholly unsettling. My inner Kylo fan cheers. “You think that’s why I can’t sense Kylo?”

“Perhaps.” He shrugs. “I see you standing in front of me right now, but the Force flows undisturbed through the space you occupy. It’s like you aren’t there. I didn’t realize how accustomed I’d grown to reading people and situations through the Force until I couldn’t.”

“And you don’t like it.”

“You’re damn right I don’t.” His irritation almost makes me smile. “It’s not just an inconvenience, Rey. It’s dangerous. I can’t sense where you’re struggling. I can’t tell if I’m overwhelming you, or not challenging you enough. You will push yourself until you fail, and that could be catastrophic.”

He’s making sense, of course, but I don’t have to like it.

“Why don’t I help you search?”

“Do you read Sith?” he asks. “Or Mando’a?”

I blink.

“I’ll take that as a ‘no.’”

I agree to his plan, grateful for the Force cloak hiding my feelings. My expression probably says plenty without knowing the irrational panic bubbling within me. You’ll be fine, I tell myself. You’ve spent far more than a week alone.

But not in over half a year.

Master Luke putters around for a few hours before heading into the temple. I retreat to my hut, anxiety spiking. I need to calm down.

I settle before the fireplace, sitting cross-legged. I measure my breathing. In and out. Slow and steady. I open my awareness to the island. I’m learning to recognize Force signatures, at least Master Luke’s. As promised, he is deep within the temple. The island is quieter, most of the birds nesting away for the night. I push out from the island, picking up the sea life. Farther out, my senses are dampened as I reach into space. Drawing my awareness inward, my focus wobbles. My sense of self is dimmed, almost as invisible to me as it is to Luke. And the tether that should connect me to him is gone.

His emotions, in constant flux, were an ever present ripple through me. The deep rumble of his Force twined with the beat of mine. His pain, which happened far too often, was my pain. Anger, sharpened by loss, stabs at me.

As much as we can’t be a part of each other’s life, it damn well hurts to be cut off.

But maybe if I focus on that absence… If Luke is right, and I did this to us, maybe I can undo it.

Please, Master Luke, don’t be wrong about this.

To an outsider, it wouldn’t be obvious. Kriff, it isn’t obvious to me at first. Then I spot it. In the space he occupied, there’s an unnatural lack of energy. If we are still connected, perhaps I can follow this lack all the way to Kylo.

My head is pounding before I find it—a slender thread with exactly the quality I’m searching for. I pull this thread with my mind. Once, twice, there. The slightest resistance. I follow the thread, backtracking over and over, until the sense of it becomes familiar. Then I race along it, emerging around a familiar dark spark. I ease around the energy of Kylo Ren, tendrils of my power blending into the edges of his.

My heart jumps. He’s worried. About so many things. I pick up impressions of Snoke. Some lady stormtrooper. His mother. And me.

“Kylo?”

Lightning jolts through the bond, followed swiftly by profound, giddy relief.


bright star-bright star-so bright

A warmth blossoms in my belly. Bright Star. A fizzy little memory of the name springs up. Stay safe, Bright Star.

“Can you hear me, Kylo?”

“Scavenger?”

Stars, it worked. I'm not happy to hear him call me scavenger, but we’ve never properly met. Kidnapping and mental torture do not count as introductions.

“How are you doing this? Can you hear me? Are you really here? Are you hurt?”

His deep voice is in my head. Quite literally. We've never been able to speak like this consciously. After the silence of the last month, the relief is enough to make me crazy.

“You may be crazy, but not because of me.”

“Everything that happens to me seems to be because of you,” I retort. Unfortunately, he likes that. A lazy tendril of pleasure funnels through the link between us. “That wasn’t a compliment, you rat.”

His amusement rumbles through the link, and I wonder what his laugh sounds like in person, how it feels moving through his chest.

The mental laugh ends abruptly. Oh, kriff. Did he pick up my thoughts?

“I choose to believe otherwise. Besides, I lay the blame at your feet. You are the one who went all Jedi savior.”

“You’re delusional.” Mortified, I fall back on insults. “I’m not a Jedi, I’m barely a trainee.”

“I missed you, too,” he says.


truly-madly-thank the stars-hold you

Hold you? I gulp down air. There’s no air. I can’t breathe. He didn’t mean—he can’t. Hold me?

“I—haven’t missed you,” I insist.

“You’re a terrible liar.”

“Yes, I am.” And that’s as close to an admission as I’m ready to make.

“You’ve been gone so long,” he says, “I’d started to believe—to worry—”

“Me, too.”

A hard tremor racks his energy, shaking through into me. A barrage of half formed thoughts and images fly between us. His power grips me tight.


safe-alive-bright star

“Kylo?” His stark fear races through me. The beat of my Force picks up in time with my heart. “You’re upset.”

“I’m fine,” he says. “Are you hurt?”

“You keep asking me that.”

“You keep not answering.”

“I’m truly fine.” Despite my worries, it’s the truth.

“I felt your pain—before. Snoke hurt you?”

“As much as he did you.”

“Considering I was left for dead for three days, that’s not very reassuring.”


move-keep going-can’t find me

“I’m healed,” I say.

“As am I.” An odd sensation passes through the link, like a hand touching my cheek. “You’re practicing with Skywalker? Did he teach you how to communicate like this?”

Unlike Luke, he’s always so adamant in the emotional distance he maintains from his family.

“No. But he says we’re Force Bonded? From when—”

There’s a long pause. The euphoria of connection fades in the face of exactly how the connection came to exist.

“I’m familiar with the concept,” Kylo says quickly. Maybe he senses the shift in my emotions. “You need a better teacher. Who better to help you work out this Force Bond than me?”

“Your uncle is a fine teacher and you’ve killed or maimed everyone else I know.” Always, we come back to this. My frustration and anger get the better of me. “Get out of my head.”

“You came to mine, scavenger, remember?” His power's hold on me finally loosens. “I trust you’re satisfied I’m alive. Time to treat me as an enemy again.”


don’t go-stay-need you

I don’t resort to disconnecting out of spite. I am a better person than that. And there are those unspoken thoughts. Besides I still need to know—

“Are you safe?” I ask with a heavy mental sigh.

“Thanks to you.”

“Am I putting you in danger now?”

“No, Bright Star. I’m fine.”

I order myself not to smile, but I fail utterly. One more piece that does not fit into the profile of Kylo Ren, but just maybe fits Ben Solo.

“My name is Rey,” I offer.

“Rey?” Surprise shivers through the bond. “Like R-A-?”

“R-E-Y,” I say. His odd reaction tweaks my curiosity.

“Hm.” I expect more on the matter, but he follows with, “Where are you?”

“I can’t tell you that, Kylo.”

“Damn it, Rey,” he says. There's a thrill at hearing my name in his deep voice. “I need to see you. Please. Whatever this is between us—it saved my life. But Snoke is coming for both of us.”

“You aren’t with Snoke?”

“Left for dead, remember?” He doesn’t give me any more than that, but maybe that’s enough.

“I’ll think about it,” I say. “I need to get some rest. Stay safe.”

Something very like a growl rumbles through the link.

“Don’t—don’t shut me out, okay? You don’t have to talk to me, just let me know you’re still here.”

I catch my breath.

“Like it was before?”

“I’ll expect you in my dreams tonight, Bright Star.”

A very unwholesome heat flares to life at his words. With more reluctance than I care to admit, I pull back into myself. My Force signature is still almost imperceptible as I return my awareness to my little hut. I know the path to Kylo now, so he’s not completely gone. And if I’m honest with myself, I don’t want him to be. It shouldn’t feel so right to be connected to him, but it’s as natural as breathing. As electric as the Force. As comforting as—no. I can't think this way.

He’s an enemy.

He wallows in the Dark.

I gently pluck the line between us anyway, sighing when he tugs back. The coming week doesn’t seem so lonely anymore.

Chapter Text

All the secrets revealed…

KYLO

*

“Are you hurt?” I shove the question through the Force, focusing on her. My Bright Star in the Dark. Alive. She’s kriffing alive. I can barely think past that. All these weeks of silence, I had almost stopped hoping—and I haven’t hoped for anything in more years than I can remember.


we’re talking-how-must be crazy

I catch her stray thought, questioning her sanity, and smile. She’s not the only one wondering what the hell is going on here. “You may be crazy, but not because of me.”

“Everything that happens to me seems to be because of you.”

Just as everything that happens to me is because of her. Starkiller base, Snoke trying to kill me, RA-5205 helping me escape—all evidence of her impact on my life. We’re linked, embedded in one another, and this connection is changing everything. About time she admits it. I know she feels how her words please me.

“That wasn’t a compliment, you rat.” Her voice is strong, almost full enough to be in the same room with me.


dark spark-alive-we’re alive

Dark spark? Is that how she sees me? Hmph. That’s almost—sweet. I think. The word makes my lip curl.

“I choose to believe otherwise. Besides, I lay the blame at your feet. You are the one who went all Jedi savior.”

“You’re delusional.” Her outrage is adorable, but I’m smart enough not to say as much. Adorable? What is she turning me into? “I’m not a Jedi, I’m barely a trainee.”

“I missed you, too,” I say, putting the last nail in my own coffin.

“I—haven’t missed you,” she says.

But underneath her words, her microthoughts are a glimpse at all she would hide from me. And what stories they tell me…


my friend-missed you-don’t go

“You’re a terrible liar,” I say gently.

“Yes, I am.” The three words are practically a declaration.

“You’ve been gone so long.” The vise grip of fear I’ve lived with for six weeks squeezes anew. “I’d started to believe—to worry—”

“Me, too.” Her soft admission is both balm and torment. “I suppose I haven’t stopped worrying.”

My shuttle shudders as my power escapes my control. I can sense the tether between us now. I can follow it back to her. I can lurk in her mind. The need to grab her close is torture. Not just with the Force. I need to see her with my eyes, touch her with my hands.

But I don’t know where she is.

Of course she detects the surge in my power and emotions. Our conversation is an emotional swing from civil, to almost affectionate, to angry, and back again. I try and fail to maintain my calm throughout. Though—I don’t fail as wildly as usual. My shuttle is still in one piece, so that’s something. Maybe aside from provoking me to be nice, she’s a good influence.

She tells me about the link between us. Skywalker calls it a Force Bond. That these past weeks, he assured her I was alive—because she was alive.

Our very life forces are tied together? And I’m not with her, not protecting her. My heart slams against my chest. She could die in training, and I’d just keel over on my morning caf? Or Snoke could catch up to me and—

The Force rumbles through me like thunder.

I’ve heard of Force Bonds, but not enough to know what we’re dealing with. Her anger is at once exhilarating and damning as she recalls how the bond likely occurred. To hell with the past, anyway. I’ve done what I had to do. Including entering her mind.

She’s too naïve and idealistic to understand. Somehow a decade and a half of abandonment didn’t kill her spirit. Her faith in the good in people. She will never appreciate that darkness is part of the natural order. There is no balance without it.

If balance is all you seek, why have you tried so hard to forsake the Light? an inner voice asks.

I ignore the pointed observation of my conscience.

She keeps talking to me, not letting her emotions get the better of her. This advanced level of communicating and sharing mind-to-mind is something I’ve only heard of in stories. I can sense people through the Force, recognize them, pick up on their emotions. But even if I tear into a mind, as I did with—I lose track of my thoughts as she suddenly offers me her name.

R-E-Y. Rey.

Not quite like RA-5205, but I picture the stormtrooper’s familiar hazel eyes in my mind. I clamp down on the thought, not wanting Rey to catch it. No reason to give her false hope, and I know she burns for the family she can’t quite remember. She would definitely hope.

“Where are you?”

“I can’t tell you that, Kylo.” She’s terse. Back to her usual charming self with me.

She has to know I ask because of this bizarre connection. We share so much more than thoughts, and I can’t help seeing the potential. The shared pain is uncomfortable, our twined fates even more so, but I can only imagine how this bond could aid in combat, negotiations, everything. Two people functioning as halves of a greater whole.

If we can find our way to the same side.

“Damn it, Rey.” There’s power in a name. Power in finally knowing her name. It suits her. Bold, strong, yet unassuming. Much like her. “I need to see you. Please. Whatever this is between us—it saved my life. But Snoke is coming for both of us.”

She doesn’t shoot me down, exactly.

“I’ll think about it,” she says. “I need to get some rest. Stay safe.”

My control skews sideways again. The desire to train her, not just as a teacher but as a partner, grows inside me with every brush of her mind against mine. She’s so bright, and that should act counter to my darkness, but instead we seem to blend. To compliment instead of clash.

“Don’t—don’t shut me out, okay?” Is that me pleading? “You don’t have to talk to me, just let me know you’re still here.”

There’s a hitch in her energy. Is she mad? Happy? I can’t lose her when she’s only just found her way back to me.

“Like it was before?”

Chasing each other through the woods in the fury of battle? I hope not, but I’ll take it if that’s all I can get.

“I’ll expect you in my dreams tonight, Bright Star.”

I don’t mean to imply intimacy, but that’s how it flares through her mind, burning hot. As she retreats, I half expect to find myself on fire. I’m sweating in the wake of her entirely inappropriate—but not unwelcome—interpretation of my words.

Her presence fades to a distant rhythm in my mind.

I’m happy she’s back, which washes over me with a discordant sadness. I haven’t been happy about anything in a long time.

But I’m angry, too, though that’s harder to remember when she’s bubbling through my brain. The girl single-handedly ended my ambitions. Thanks to her, I’m running from the First Order, hiding from the Resistance—there’s nowhere for me. I shake my head to clear it, uncertain which side of me is going to win.

I don’t even know myself right now.

I stretch out on my bunk, knowing she’s settling down for the night.

“Well, I know which urge wins tonight,” I mutter. I toss my arm across my eyes. “You’re a fool Kylo Ren. She’s just a girl. Gifted, yes. Powerful, hell yes. But she’s nothing to you.”

Nothing to me.

There’s a slight pull on the bond, and my heart jumps into my throat. My cheeks ache as I tweak the line back. I touch my face. I’m—smiling.

Nothing to me?

Stars, I’m a terrible liar.

*

I’m half asleep, my mind replaying the day over and over. I start to drift, only to wake in a panic, reaching for her energy. Each time, she’s there, a whispering heartbeat on the edge of my perception. Our conversation wasn’t a hallucination or fluke. I sense her now more than ever.


dark spark

Her small subconscious voice floats around me. I listen, tracking her tiniest thoughts—the only things that consistently escape her control. She’s a light shining on me in the darkness, growing brighter as she draws closer.


always find you

An ache too old to define loosens at her pledge. Did the princess and the smuggler ever try to find me? I remember the smuggler’s face. As he saw me for the first time as a man. As he died on my lightsaber. I had expected to cut him down and feel nothing but the righteous fury of the Dark. To finally smother the Light inside me.

Instead, the Light blazes brighter than ever. And it draws me to her. I stretch out along the bond, reaching for her. I want to hate her. She’s changing me. Ruining everything I sought to become.


perfect inside-don’t hate

Tears sting my eyes. She’s hearing me just as I’m hearing her. A longing for her conscious voice to match this inner one clutches at me. The harsh bark of my laughter invades from the waking world. No one finds me perfect. I always do the wrong thing. I’m never strong enough.


strong-beautiful-friend

“Come back to me, Bright Star,” I whisper.


always

Another sucker punch thought and then she’s here.

“Kylo.” My name, in her voice. I squelch down the traitorous desire to hear my dead name fall from her lips again. “Need you.”

Her sleepy whisper guts me. There is no rationale strong enough to make me leave her now.

“I’m right here, sweetheart.”

Any thought that this dream might follow our old pattern vanishes as she surges against me. She’s a tidal wave, rushing over me and tumbling me ass over teacup.

“Rey?” I gasp.

Phantom lips ghost over mine, a shock to my starved senses. No one touches me like this. No one touches me at all, except to carve into my hide, to break and beat and—

“I’m sorry—” she begins, and I know she’s caught up in the mix of distress and desire racing through me. “I’m here. Hold onto me.”

“Stay,” I demand. I latch onto her like gravity, reeling her tight against me. She wraps around me in response, and sheer pleasure drags me under.

Her zeal ebbs at last, her body’s need for sleep overpowering her mind. The spirit caresses and kisses slowly fade away, but she stays with me. I imagine her spooned with me in this bunk, her body warm in the shelter of mine, her head pillowed on my arm.

Sleep claims us both.

We dream together, but I wake alone.

*

I shower and dress for another day in hyperspace. Rey’s energy is buzzing like an angry fly in my peripheral senses. Whatever dragged her away from me, she doesn’t seem too happy about it. I brew a mug of caf in the shuttle’s galley. Munching on a protein bar, I sling myself into the pilot’s seat and reach out.

“Everything okay out there?”

The zing of her energy freezes.

“Get out of my head,” she hisses.

“Good morning to you, too,” I say. “Wake up on the wrong side of the galaxy?”

“I can’t deal with you right now.”

A conflict of emotions slaps me upside the brain. Confusion. Anger. Something soft and delicate I don’t know a name for. And overriding all of those, fear. She’s damn near drowning in it.

She effectively slams a mental door between us. Anger spikes through me, edged in hurt. What the kriff? She came to me last night. Twice. Was she only kind because she needed kindness herself? Did she only touch me because she needed to be touched? And now she’s clear headed enough to—what? Decide she sullied herself? She can’t truly be afraid of me now? I literally can’t hurt her without hurting myself.

I drain my caf and throw the mug across the shuttle. The lightweight metal chinks against the wall, making a less-than-satisfying impression before it drops to the floor.

Fine. She wants to be difficult? Then I can be obstinate. She doesn’t want to talk, she doesn’t have to. She doesn’t want to tell me where she is? Well, that doesn’t mean I won’t find her anyway. And pride be damned… I know exactly where to start my search.

I check my travel calculations and drop out of hyperspace. I didn’t have a destination in mind when I started this journey, so much as a strong desire to stay the hell off the First Order’s radar. I’ve spent the last six weeks jumping around the galaxy, only stopping long enough to refuel and resupply.

But now, I know where I need to go now. I pull up the astrogation charts, mapping the hyperspace lanes.

Just two days away. Perfect.

The door she closed between us cautiously cracks open.

“Kylo?”

“Go away, Bright Star.”

A flash of surprise ripples through her at the nickname. That it’s even partly affectionate is my problem, but she doesn’t need to know that. Not yet.

“Is that how you see me?”

“You’re quite blinding, yes,” I say dryly. “Now be a good girl, and close that door up.”

‘Good girl’ is enough to rile her. She’s so easy to poke. But she’s also smart and stubborn. She stops herself from following through, hesitating.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“None of your business.”

“I’ve upset you.”

“Also not your business.”

“Kylo—” There’s a note in her voice. Concern?

When did I last feel the like? The warmth she creates threatens the fear I’ve always needed to survive. And it weakens my need to keep my current path from her.

“Don’t be nice, scavenger,” I warn. Her energy recoils at the edge in my voice. “It’s a dead end for us, we both know it. Hell, you figured it out before I even woke up, right?”

“That isn’t why I was rude.”

Of course it’s why. I’m too tainted and damaged. She’s been in my head for months but she doesn’t see we’re stronger together. Even if she doesn’t agree or understand, surely she’s felt why I had to—No. I can barely stomach all I’ve done. How can I expect her to just accept me? Of course she's afraid of me. The longer I’m away from Snoke, the longer I’m near her, the less I understand this monster I’ve become.

But the clearer I see him.

“Kylo.”

That’s not my name, a sullen fury within me answers. Damn it all, what has she done to me?

“Get out of my head.”

It’s sadly the thing we seem to say to one another the most. I slam my own door in her metaphysical face. Instantly, I can breathe. Sanity returns as the emotional feedback loop is cut off. I consider what I know of Force Bonds. The bonded don’t just share thoughts and emotions, their very personalities blend together. Is that why I’m so drawn to the Light? Is it just her bleeding over into me? She’s always been easy to irritate, so I can’t blame myself for her anger management issues.

She’s stewing now. Pissed off at me. I can work with that. The less attention she pays to me, the less likely she’ll figure out what I’m up to. I’m getting nowhere at a distance. If I’m going to convince her to work with me, at least to understand why Snoke seems to know her, how RA-5205 is almost certainly related to her in some way—I need to find her. Whatever we are to each other, whatever we are destined for—the connection between us is so much stronger now.

Together, we might just be unstoppable.

Face to face, I will make certain she doesn’t turn me away.

Chapter Text

Interlude II

LEIA

*

“Intercepted communications from the First Order are lighter than usual.” Major Taslin Brance addresses the small group gathered in the command center of Resistance headquarters. “Wherever General Hux and Kylo Ren have retreated to is still being kept under wraps.”

Just as is the true identity of Kylo Ren, thankfully. As much as I want to nail Supreme Leader Snoke and his Hosnian system-destroying fanatics to the wall, I also want to recover my son. I have to believe there’s still time to pull off this insane plan. It’s already cost us all so much.

I fiddle with the ring on my right hand, an old gift from Han. I never asked how he acquired the stunning piece. I likely would have given him hell for the answer. Whatever its origin, it remains a tangible reminder of the softer moments between us.

Not unlike the moments that made Ben.

“The intel on the Finalizer didn't pan out, but we’ve identified several bases, thanks to the commotion caused by Starkiller’s destruction.” Captain Cypress takes over the report, drawing me from my melancholy thoughts. “None seem likely headquarters targets, but we’re getting intelligence groups on the ground to scout them out.”

The prod of my brother’s Force interrupts the second strategy session in as many months. Someone’s feeling chatty of late. I acknowledge his call with my own nudge. He presses back, the equivalent of setting off a red alert in my mind. Stars, I’m never going to get this attack on the First Order off the ground, between troops still laid up in Medical and, it seems, an all-new Jedi drama to manage.

“A moment, please,” I say to the assembled officers. Cypress and Brance offer silent questions with their expressions. Luke repeats his summons a third time, hard enough to have stars dancing in my vision, and I swear under my breath. This had damn well better be important. “I must handle a Jedi—situation.”

There’s a barrage of questions and exclamations, but I wave them off.

“I’ll explain later,” I say. “Apparently the whole damn galaxy is on fire. Or at least my brother’s corner of it.”

I exit the command center and head for my office. Locking the door behind me, I pass through the main office into a second door leading to my personal quarters. My head is ringing by the time I fire up the subspace transceiver on my dresser.

“Leia.” Luke answers with his typical greeting, though there’s an added note of urgency in his voice.

“Luke, this is important, right? My entire command staff knows we’re in communication now because you couldn’t wait an hour.”

“There was an attack.”

Four words shut down my concerns.

“Where? Who?”

“Snoke attacked Ben,” he says, his brusque words gouging into my soul.

No, no, no. Ben, be safe. Be alive. I twist my ring.

“He’s okay, Leia,” Luke soothes. Then he hesitates. “At least, I—I’m pretty sure he’s okay.”

“You’re pretty sure? What does that mean?” I reach out blindly through the Force. Ben rarely lets me in, but I can always sense him. The emptiness I find screams through me. “Luke, where is he? He’s gone from the Force. Where is he, damn you?

“I know it’s scary,” he says. “The same thing happened with Rey. It’s like she’s invisible.”

“Invisible?”

“When Snoke attacked, Ben and Rey were connected through the Force. They’ve apparently been doing that a lot since Starkiller.”

There's a long pause from both of us. He's waiting for my reaction. I'm waiting for the galaxy to laugh at me. Silly Leia, you can't stop the wheels of destiny.

“How long since the attack?”

“It happened during our last call.”

“And you waited until now to tell me? Luke, that was weeks ago.” Livid at being left in the dark so long, I damn near end the call. But that won’t get me answers. I swallow my anger like the peacekeeper my parents raised. I know when to fight. I know even more when to listen. “Talk to me.”

“I’m sorry, Leia. Truly. Rey essentially winked out of existence. I panicked when I found her.” He makes an animal sound of pure pain. “Leia, what he did to them…”

“Tell me everything,” I say, steeling myself.

Snoke’s atrocities against the galaxy—against my family—are on borrowed time.

Chapter Text

Every path brings us closer...

REY

*

Waking in Kylo Ren’s arms, even in my mind, shakes me to my foundation. Not because I slept in the illusory hold of a man I should hate, but rather because I slept so peacefully. Warm and safe, all night long. The morning sun is well into the sky, teasing through the lone window of my shelter, before I rise.

Knowing he greets the morning with a smile I can hear in my mind, sets my teeth on edge. This isn’t right. It can’t be. It’s as wrong as my eyes turning yellow. I know he feels my unrest, but he takes his time approaching me, which just further agitates me.

And I let him have it.

Note to self: Never tell Kylo Ren I can’t deal with him right now.

Get out of my head.

It’s the last thing he says to me.

Unwilling to plead for him to be reasonable—and unwilling to be reasonable myself—I suffer his silence and trek across this forsaken island from sunrise to sunset. I am beyond restless, but digging through the remnants of the ancient Jedi at least keeps me occupied. For two days, I lose myself in the push and pull of the Force, wandering wherever it leads me. And two days later, I have nothing to show for my time, except an aching body and weary mind.

And two days later, Kylo is still not speaking to me. Though he’s always there at the edges, he remains closed off. Because I was rude. And I was, but not for the reasons that flew threw his head before he shut me out. I’m not afraid of him… I’m afraid of me.

I am supposed to be searching for peace and serenity. Yet I am continually drawn to his furious passion and reckless strength. What does that say about me? Who am I to crawl against him in the night, and hold to his darkness?

Have I made the biggest mistake of my life coming to Luke? Pretending to ideals I have no prayer of upholding? I want to learn, and I know the Light is an integral piece of me, but—

Can I walk away from the Dark? His Dark?

Do I want to?

Having traversed the surface of the island, I sit on the wall where Luke and I last shared supper. The sun is on its downward slide into the sea, but I have a few hours of light left. I imagine sitting here with Kylo and wonder why dark must mean bad. The Dark and the Light are clearly different, but without intention. It takes will to shape them. The Force doesn’t move the rocks. I use the Force to move them, and then I choose what to do with them.

I close my eyes and open myself to the flow of energy. The Light is crisp and cool, and brings me clarity and peace of mind. The Dark is warm and embracing, filling me with motivation and drive. Looking through my own life, I can name a dozen instances where I needed either or both to see me through. And for any problem to solve, there are multiple ways to approach it.

So if Ben Solo always felt the pull from the Dark, and everyone said he was wrong… How twisted does a child become trying to force himself into a mold he simply isn’t built for?

I sigh and let the anger building inside of me flow. I don’t hold it back, but I don’t wallow in it. It moves through me in a heated current, and there is unmistakable power to it, but it’s one that could fester and rot if trapped. Allowed to answer the Dark, the Light responds readily. The opposing Forces harmonize with each other and I feel giddy and almost weightless as they balance each other.

I open my eyes, yelping as I realize I am weightless. Or at least hovering. My meditative state shatters and I tumble to the ground in a graceless heap. A laughing, graceless heap.

A questioning shadow hovers around me.

“Oh, go bother your grandfather.” I find that funnier than I should, especially as he goes into rage mode. His steady anger and the realization that he can hear me in the physical world sobers me right up. “At least you know who your grandfather was,” I add softly.

He drifts away in silence.

“Good, bad, or indifferent, Kylo,” I say, “at least you come from somewhere and someone.”

The Force is still dancing around me and for the first time in days—maybe for the first time since Kylo and I battled on Starkiller—it points me in a definite direction.

“What, I get a reward for pissing him off now?”

Muttering to myself, I take my day’s journey into a mid-size building. The center of the rounded room is a hollowed out circle. Above, a matching circular hole in the roof provides ample light still. The opening is domed in durasteel, but the glass that must have filled it at some point is long gone. Approaching the hole in the floor, I see a step down as tall as my knee. Beneath is a ledge wide enough to sit on. Past the ledge, the hollow dips down farther. Scraps of broken old tile and pale green glass are scattered at the bottom.

“What is this place?”

My soft question goes unanswered. I wipe at the sweat beading above my lips and on my forehead. It’s quite warm in here, and humid. I’ve grown accustomed to the damp air on Ahch-To. Luke says the water surrounding us saturates the air as well, but if I want to know true climate misery, to visit a world called Dagobah someday.

The heat in here is far more intense than the norm, though. The Force urges me toward one of a number of arched alcoves in the surrounding walls. This one is opposite the entrance and as I peer into the recess, I spot a staircase leading down.

Underground.

“Where crystals grow,” I whisper. The Force whirls around me, practically excited. “Okay, okay. But I need—hang on.”

I race back to my hut and grab my flashlight and salvage satchel. The air out here is chilly compared to the round room, and I shiver as I hustle back. I click on my light and head down the narrow stone stairs. The steps are damp with the condensation and I slip, landing hard on my butt.

“Ow, damn it,” I mutter.

Kylo’s presence roars into my head.

“What happened?”

“Oh, now you care?”

“Rey.” His warning tone drags my name out.

“I slipped, okay? I’m fine.”

“The sharp pain in my ass suggests otherwise.”

I giggle, against my better judgment. His heavy sigh rattles through my head.

“You’re all right?”

“I promise,” I say.

“Do me a favor, and stay that way.”

It should sound like a purely selfish request, but there’s an undercurrent of worry and not for himself.

“Of course I worry about you,” he says. “You’re roaming around in my head, scavenger. I know you’re picking up as much from me as I am you.”

“Stop calling me scavenger.” I rise carefully, planting my feet on the slippery steps.

“I don’t think you’re ready for anything else I want to call you.”

“I can’t handle any more insults today, please.”

“Who said they would be insults?” His voice is a smooth rumble.

My cheeks flame for reasons wholly unrelated to the heat. The atmospheric heat, at least.

“Kylo—”

“I’ll see you tonight, Bright Star. Try to stay in one piece?”

He fades into the background before I can stop him, and I’m not about to follow him. The Force is whipping about me like a storm now, and I want to know where it’s leading me. It’s an intensified sensation, but with a familiar feel. Like rappelling through the skeleton of a star destroyer, I can almost feel that next great find around the corner.

The landing curls 180 degrees and drops down into another staircase. The deeper down I go, the warmer it gets. It’s almost stifling by the end of the third flight of stairs. The stairs keep going, but this is as far as I go. The ancient Jedi didn’t build here, except… I spy pipes off to the left and realize the surface room is a bathing house.

“Going to make use of that,” I promise myself. If it doesn’t work, I’ll just figure out how to fix it.

To the right, there’s a natural opening in the rock wall. I shine my light inside, startled by dozens of glinting reflections bouncing the light back to me. I switch the beam off, curious.

“Oh.”

It’s the only word to filter through my stunned thoughts. Whatever’s ahead of me positively glows in the dark. I might think I was in space or at least staring at the night sky, if I wasn’t firmly underground and sweating my arse off.

The Force moves through the fissure, propelling me a dozen steps deeper. The stone corridor widens into a slight cave.

“Wow.”

I grin until my cheeks ache, turning in place. I reach out to touch a glowing shard, pausing before contact.

“No.” I narrow my eyes, shake my head. “Not you.”

I close my eyes and open myself to the energies in the cave. Tendrils swirl around me, by and large ignoring me. I let the Force guide me through the cave, approaching one lively thread that seems to stretch out to me.

“Hello, there.”

“Where are you?” Kylo’s curiosity tickles my mind.

I could be annoyed by another intrusion, but I don’t care. Everything around me is just so beautiful, outside and in.

“In a cave. Why?”

“It makes you—” so bright-shine-beautiful “—happy.”

Who is this man whose minutest thoughts speak so highly of me?

I capture the image of the shimmering cave wall in my mind, close my eyes, and push it to Kylo.

“Can you see this?”

“I—I can. Is that what I think it is?” His awed intonation echoes my own sentiment. “Kyber?”

“I think, yeah. I mean… I hope.”

“Can you open your eyes?”

“Well, I’d planned to.” Odd question. “I don’t usually walk around with them closed.”

“Clearly Skywalker hasn’t started your blind training.”

“Oh that.” I huff. “Well… the cave isn’t shooting at me.”

“True. But it is alive.” He’s not quite laughing at me, but it’s a close call. “Just open your eyes. I want to know if I can see through you.”

“I’m not sure how I feel about that.”

“Don’t be a tease, scavenger.” There’s no heat in the much-hated moniker. “I’m not trying to start a fight.”

“All right, fine.”

It’s like he climbs inside me, he’s so close now. And the more we connect, the deeper we dive into each other, the harder it is to remember why I’m not supposed to like him.

“Can you—” I can’t remember my words enough to finish the question, but he understands.

It takes a moment for the soft glow of the walls to focus into the more distinct shards embedded in them. Kylo’s sharp inhalation becomes mine.

“I can. It’s incredible.” It’s like we’re sharing my eyes. I look one way, and feel him urging me to look another. The strain sets a dull ache pounding in my head. “I’ve never seen a kyber cave before.”

“Me, either.” He finds that hilarious. And that grinds my gears. I’m always going to be the desert trash no one wants. I lash out. “I’m sorry I haven’t lived your metropolitan lifestyle. I’ve been stuck in a desert for fifteen years. What’s your excuse? Maybe you should have asked your grandfather’s helmet for directions before now.”

He jerks away from me.


hates me-doesn’t want me-stupid

“Kylo, wait—”

“I—I have to go.”


grandfather-help-where are you

The bond goes abruptly still. He’s still there, just—upset. He always seems to prod me to forget myself. My manners. My kindness.

I forget he’s just as miserable as me.

“Damn you,” I whisper. Then, “I’m sorry.”

Closing my eyes once more, the slender finger of energy catches my attention, and I put aside my Kylo worries for now.

“They aren’t going anywhere, that’s for certain.”

I touch my finger to the wispy tip of power, chuckling as it coils around me. The tiniest pull beckons me closer, and I oblige, opening my eyes as I touch warm stone. The crystal beneath my finger pulses with vitality and power.

“Are you for me?” The strangest urge to cry has me blinking. The sense that this little stone has just been waiting for me all along squeezes my heart and I smile. A starburst of power sparkles through me as I carefully pry the crystal into my palm. I cradle it, gasping as it warms in response. “Well, I guess I’m for you, then.”

Master Luke should be pleased. I close my hand slightly, and the crystal snaps in two.

“Oh, kriff!” I’ve ruined it already?

Maybe not. I can picture these gems nestled in the core of a saberstaff of my own making. A flurry of images scrolls through my head, and I catalog the pieces needed to assemble my double-edged blade. I need two crystals, one for each blade on the staff.

“So you’re an instruction manual, too, eh?” I tuck the crystals into my belt pouch.

Another tug of energy guides me to the opposite side of the cave.

“There’s more?”

I close my eyes and again see the tendril reaching out to me. The stone I touch this time is cool, and I frown. And then I’m shown an entirely different sort of blade, with distinctive crossguard vents.

“For Kylo?” The Force offers a resounding negative to that. I consider the response for a moment, wondering what the Force might be anticipating. Then it hits me. “For Ben.”

I don’t have to ask. Again I see the lightsaber, the once crackling and unstable blades now smooth and steady. I can’t discern the color, but I know it won’t be red. The Force intends this crystal for Ben, not Kylo. The construction of this blade varies considerably, but it should be easy enough.

“And I suppose you want me to make it for him?”

The crystal’s energy bounces, like laughter, drawing a fresh smile from me.

“Okay, fine.” This stone, shorter than mine, stays cool when it lands in my palm. I store it safely in the pouch. “I’ll get it to him. I promise.”

The energy of the room settles into a distant thrum.

“And we’re done here, got it.” Smiling, I turn for the exit.

My flashlight hits the floor, a swath of light illuminating the cave floor. The world fires red at the edges. I double over, muscles cramping so tight my toes curl in my boots. The ragged sawing of my breaths is half air, half scream. My blood boils, my heart a pounding drum in my chest. Pressure builds in my head, beating against my skull.

The cave ignites in blue light. What is it? I don’t understand… but I know this thrashing hum filling my ears.

“Stop, please stop.” There’s a clattering by my side as I drop to my knees, my whimper climbing to a fragmented scream. “STO-O-O-OP!”

My protest shifts to agony, fire scorching my leg. I scrabble across the rocky ground, away from the pain.

The internal rage vanishes in a heartbeat, but the pain remains. Retching sobs grip me. I fall to all fours, heaving.

“REY!” Kylo surges into me, his fear a tangible force smothering me. “Rey?”


fuck-oh-fuck-i did this-what did i do

“Go.” I can barely form the word in my mind.

“What happened?”

I don’t know. But I can’t even say that much. Just his words in my mind are a thousand daggers carving into me. My mind is crying as much as my body.

“Rey.” His voice is reduced to the barest whisper. “I—”

He goes silent.


my bright star-stay bright-hold on

I collapse to my right side, away from the pain and mess.


my fault-my fault-my fault

It takes everything I have to shut him out. I cut him off completely, the still depths of the cave surrounding me in a veil of blessed silence.

Even that hurts.

My tears slip sideways over my face, dripping into my hair. Oblivion sweeps over me, and I welcome it.

Chapter Text

Every mistake drives us apart...

KYLO

*

Grandfather’s helmet… Grandfather’s helmet…

I search the shuttle, top to bottom. Every crevice and corner, every nook and niche.

“Not here, not here, not here.” I tear through all the crap I bagged up before fleeing Snoke’s base, the things I’d thought I’d need in my hurry to get the hell out of there. “Not fucking here.”

How could I have left it behind? It’s a relic of my family’s true history, my most important possession, my connection to my purpose. The litany hammers me.

“Grandfather!” My shout blasts my ears. “Why don’t you ever answer me? I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I know I’ve failed you…”

Howling, I pound my fists into the bulkhead, over and over. Each slam of bone against metal is echoed by a shove from the Force. Everything not bolted down is flying or falling.

Go talk to your grandfather… Maybe you should have asked your grandfather’s helmet for directions…

Rey’s snarky comments replay over and over, driving me to the edge and shoving me over it. I smash my head against metal. I’m so stupid. Useless. Another bang. Head versus wall. Who’s winning? Blood stings my eyes, so I close them tight and ram forward.

“—please stop.” A voice pierces my rage, but I can’t make sense of the words until it shrieks. “STO-O-O-OP!”

Excruciating pain sets my right leg on fire, dropping me to my knees. My anger dissipates in a breath, but the pain—kriff, the pain. I’m throwing up my breakfast—no, she’s throwing up. My stomach is heaving in empathy. This pain is hers?

“REY!” I throw myself into the bond, trying to reach her. “Rey?”

Please be okay. You have to be okay.

“Go.” The thought is barely audible.

“What happened?”

She doesn’t answer. Even her microthoughts can’t work through the pain. The sobs racking her small frame echo through me, my muscles twitching in tandem with her. Everything hurts her now, even my voice.

What have I done?

“Rey.” I lower my mental voice to little more than a whisper. “I—”

I can’t think of anything to say. My head aches and maybe needs stitches, but that’s all. Because she stopped me before I killed myself. Before I killed us.

She drags what little energy she can to her, and shuts me out cold. Her pain leaves me as abruptly, the relief drawing a whimpering gasp from me. The silence in my head is deafening, and I need her back.

“No, Bright Star. Please don’t do this.” What do you expect, fool? You almost killed her, and for what? A burned out husk of metal that hasn’t spoken to you since you were a child? You’re everything she fears you to be. Selfish, reckless, a slave to impulse. Shame burns into my soul, stronger than anything I’ve known before. I press against the bond. I’ll endure any pain for her, take it from her if I can. Anything. I only need to know she’s not dying. “Please, Rey—let me back in.”

The bond is unresponsive, the bright light of her life force guttering. I hurt her terribly, not for a second considering how my actions would affect her. The way the shuttle interior is spinning, I at least gave myself a concussion. Her screams, though—stars, what did I do to her?

I dig through the disaster I made to find a towel to clean my head. I cover the broken skin with a bacta bandage and drag myself into my bunk and close my eyes. She won’t let me in—or she can’t, but she doesn’t have to. I surround her energy with mine, feeding the dying embers of her with everything I am. She’s too weak to take it all in, so I pull the bleed over back into me and keep the energy looping. It’s exhausting, and I wish I could heal her as she did us during Snoke’s attacks, but my connection to the Light is far too weak for healing. I can only keep her depleted energy from burning out completely.

My sleep cycle comes back around before I notice an appreciable change. It’s hesitant at first, but she begins drawing energy on her own from her environment.

“I’m here, Rey,” I promise. “Come back to me.”


always

My eyes fly open and I suck in a huge breath. The rhythms of her mind settle into a more natural sleep pattern. She’s resting peacefully, and I join her. The exhaustion I’ve kept at bay for hours won’t be denied.

 

*

 

“Kylo.”

The gentle whisper wakes me with a start. I sit upright so fast it makes me dizzy.

“Rey?”

“I—just want you to know I’m okay.” Her pain is a dim shadow of what it was yesterday. “Thank you for—staying with me.”

“It was my fault. I’m so sorry.” The admission tumbles out of me. “I didn’t think—I didn’t mean to—”

“You? But what—what did you do?”

friend hurt-why-can’t trust

Her deepest thoughts cut to the core of my soul.

“What you said about—”

“Vader?” She sighs. “I’m sorry I—what I said was thoughtless.”

“I left his helmet behind,” I finally say.

“Oh.”

“I—freaked out.”

“Is that what we’re calling it?”

My dead laugh draws a shiver from her energy.

“I almost killed us.”

“What stopped you?”

“The pain—it wasn’t just my pain. Did something more happen to you?”

“You could say that.” Blue light flashes through her mind. “I drew my lightsaber. To defend myself, I guess. Or to attack. I don’t know. This insane fury overwhelmed me and I wanted to tear the world apart. Carve it into pieces.”

“Did you destroy the cave?” What she describes sounds like any of my countless rages.

“No. The pain in my head was too much. I fell.”

A question is on the tip of my thoughts when she draws me into her eyes. The sun is shining. She sits on a wall, left leg dangling over the edge, right leg stretched in front of her. A bandage covers her from the ankle up, disappearing beneath the padded cuff of her pants leg.

“Rey?” The agony of the saber burning into her leg as she loses her grip on it is fresh in her memories, and sinks into mine with claws. The fiery pain shuts off almost immediately, and I realize that part isn’t a memory. It’s real, it’s raw, and she is shielding me from it. “You don’t have anything for the pain?”

“I count myself lucky to have bandages and antiseptic.”

“Do you at least have bacta?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“We—we could try healing it,” I suggest.

“I can’t.” She makes a sound, like a hiccup or choked off sob. “Not now.”

dark-too dark-find the light

Another image. Dark hair loose around her face. She’s lost weight, nearly gaunt in the reflection. But her eyes—stars, her eyes. Brilliant red, the Dark Side a living tempest in their glow.

“Where are you?” What have I done, what have I done? “Please let me come to.”

“Maybe later. After I—I’ll talk to you soon.”

She cuts me out, and she should. I don't deserve her kindness. All I do is take from her, hurt her. I dragged her into my self-loathing fit and now she’s too rooted in the Dark Side to heal. I corrupted her Light. She can come back from it, I know, but—Time is an enemy with any wound, and she's weighted down by my toxic influence.

Where the kriff is Skywalker in all of this? He hasn’t called home for medical supplies? Or a ride to a world with things like people and hospitals?

Much of the flesh is cauterized by the plasma blade, but there’s likely some bleeding. And the cautery didn't seal a wound, it created a wound, killing perfectly healthy flesh. She’s lucky the blade didn’t burn straight through her leg.

I stagger to my feet—dizzier than I’d like—but I can’t stay down. Enough is enough.

I need to get to her. Until I have her with me, until I see her with more than my mind, I can’t let this fear for her go.

I stumble across the wrecked interior of the shuttle and sink into the pilot’s seat to check the logs.

The shuttle dropped out of hyperspace high over D’Qar, I don’t even know how long ago. My brain is too fuzzy from the concussion to count hours and days. I’m well out of ground radar range, the shuttle orbiting outside of the planet’s gravitational pull. I take a few spins around the planet. Air traffic is almost nonexistent.

So I keep looping the planet, flying casual like the smuggler taught me. I stifle the inevitable twinge of guilt over Han Solo’s death.

It’s a reasonable bet no one has spotted me, or I’d have been boarded or towed to a larger ship by now. Still, I’m grateful I’m not flying First Order colors.

I turn on the transceiver I paid my weight in credits to obtain. A Resistance radio, salvaged from a recent skirmish with the First Order. I find only three active channels, all low-level operations comms. Maintenance, grounds, and surveillance. Nothing and no one important mentioned.

I consider which channel is most likely to get me to Leia Organa with the least amount of hassle.

Worst thing that happens? The princess sends the Resistance’s best pilot and his traitor buddy to shoot me down. Which is no good for Rey. I can’t help her from here, though.

“I just need to know where she is,” I whisper. “I can do this.”

Reaching out to my family after so long—my hand shakes as I key the comm.

“May as well maximize my chances of getting through.” I broadcast across the three channels. “This is Ky—” No, no, no. Don’t say that name. “This is Ben Solo, calling for Pri—for General Organa.”

I barely get the entire request out. My nerves are a Force choke clenching around my throat, cutting off my air. My voice is as unsteady as the rest of me.

“Repeat, this is Ben Solo—”

“Did he say Solo?” A female voice echoes from the comm speakers.

Another voice, this one an older sounding man, barks, “Get off this channel, moof-milker. This ain’t a public frequency.”

“And which part of “calling for General Organa” sounds like—”

“Hang on, that’s the general’s son!”

A crisp new voice cuts into the explosion of chatter.

“This Major Brance of D’Qar base. Transmission acknowledged, Solo. Please engage encryption protocols and switch to channel four-one.”

I follow Brance’s instructions. He gives me almost a full minute before hailing me.

“Solo?”

“I’m here.”

“Copy that. Please hold for the general.”

The general makes me wait. One hour passes, then three. Brance pops on every half hour or so for the first couple hours, then I’m handed off to a Lieutenant Rakshesh. If possible, this officer has even less personality than the first. I’m functioning on a dwindling caf supply and rising panic.

It’s night on the base. I frown and key the transmitter.

“Is the general sleeping?”

“No, sir.” The lieutenant is laughing, I’m almost sure of it. “Just the standard, middle of the night, emergency meeting.”

He talks to me like a regular person. The man clearly has no idea who I am. Who Ben Solo became. I’m not sure whether to be impressed or terrified by the level of damage control the princess—I suppose I should get used to calling her the general—has done. She’s kept my defection to the dark side quiet somehow. Lessons learned from the fallout after the galaxy found out her father was none other than Darth Vader.

But where the hell does everyone think I’ve been for seventeen years? Boarding school?

Rakshesh doesn’t ask, and I’m pathetically grateful. I don’t want to talk about my life with anyone down on D’Qar. It won’t end well.

I pass the time between radio check-ins reaching out to Rey. She is sleeping on and off. Her energy is agitated, but I can’t pinpoint why. A jolt of fear slams into me, then she’s storming into my head.

“Who is he?” she says. “Do you know him? I keep seeing—”

A humanoid in an odd sort of helmet or hat appears in my mind. There is the barest glimpse of a face, teeth clenched. I can’t place him. He’s someone I’ve seen once or twice, maybe. Someone I knew in passing in the First Order?

“Who is this?” she asks. “Do you know this creature?”

Creature. A creature in a mask.

“Did you have a vision?” I demand.

“A dream,” she says. “Kylo, who is he? I saw him before, on Takodana. When I first held the lightsaber.”

The Force is trying to tell her something, but— “I recognize him, I think. But I’m not sure why you keep seeing him.”

“You don’t remember him?” She retreats slightly, her thoughts an indistinct whirlwind. “But you—”

She goes dark on me again, but not before one last image sears into me. It’s rainy, muddy. Rey is on her knees, the stranger standing over her. A sort of club or half-staff is arcing down on her. Through her perspective, I see my lightsaber, driving into the back of her attacker, emerging through his chest.

You don’t recognize him? But you— Killed him. Her unfinished thought completes itself seamlessly.

She thinks this is a moment from my past. I wonder if it’s my future.

She doesn’t realize I would kill to protect her. Without hesitation or remorse. The Dark Side responds to my vehement oath.

“Theeerrrreee.” The drawn out word rattles through me, the voice deep and pleased. “Still alive, after all. Hux did not exaggerate your miraculous recovery. I did not give you enough credit, apprentice.”

Snoke has found me.

“It is time to come home, Kylo Ren. Your training must necessarily take a new course, given the developments in your powers.”

Oh, fuck no.

I misjudged your bond with my—the scavenger. She strengthens you.”

One word captures my attention. My? My, what? What did he stop himself from saying? He knows the girl somehow? My memory calls up RA-5205’s face, those familiar hazel eyes. My stomach lurches. Snoke can’t be Rey’s father. That’s just—kriff, the idea makes me want to vomit. This life can't be that cruel to her?

I try to stifle my frantic thoughts, but I know it’s too late. Snoke has already seen—

“I know you hear me, boy,” Snoke says, his voice not the manic insanity of our last encounter, but the dark lull that’s always won me over. “You should be dead.”

Maybe I’d be better off. Then I couldn’t hurt anyone at all. I could vent the shuttle’s atmosphere, end it all in seconds. Set a course for some lifeless planet and let the ground catch me.

I shake free of my downward spiraling thoughts, the influence of Snoke’s voice loosening its hold.

Did I never notice before how his words move through me like a drug, dulling my responses, suppressing my instinctive desire to defy him? It’s so clear now.

“Kylo Ren.”

My name is a demand, but the customary compulsion to answer is missing.

“Get out of my head.” Directed at Snoke, the words are fierce. Liberating.

He doesn’t refuse. He doesn’t respond at all. And I realize—He can’t hear me. He can’t read my thoughts or emotions. I’m just a spark in the dark that he recognizes. He shoves his power at me, fresh pain lancing through me, but I can handle pain. After so many years at Snoke’s side, pain is an old, intimate friend. One I’ve been trained again and again to fuel me instead of weaken me.

It’s Rey—my impossible girl—whose weakened energy reaches through the Force. The cloak settles back in place around us. Snoke’s raging response is cut off midstream.

Silence once more.

“Rey?”

No verbal response, but she’s there.

“Hold on, sweetheart,” I plead.

She’s buying us time, but I have no doubt Snoke will double down on his efforts to find us.

I open the comm channel. My earlier fear is replaced with determination. I’m done waiting for the pr—the general.

“Lieutenant Rakshesh?”

“Sorry for the continued wait, Solo,” he answers.

I gather the Force around me, tracking the officer’s Force signature. I direct the power into his dim light.

“You will erase all communication logs with me and when General Organa asks, you will tell her you never spoke to me.”

He repeats my orders back in a steady monotone. I could order him to turn off the radar, too, but I don’t want to get the man court-martialed. Besides, the smuggler taught me a thing or two about dodging unwanted radar attention.

“Time to take this fight to the ground.”

Chapter Text

Assemble the Players

SNOKE

*

Gone.

Just like before, they vanish between one breath and the next. Before, I believed Kylo Ren dead, his life force extinguished. This time, I know—they both live on, despite their absence in the Force.

The boy is changed. His mind is different. Slippery. Strong. And the girl—her power is much weaker, no doubt thanks to some foolish tantrum of the boy’s. But the Dark Side has risen in her, nearly enough to eclipse her Light. I must find her before his recklessness kills them both. The boy disturbs her natural balance. She is the strongest, the purest—

A cleared throat draws me from my thoughts.

Seven men and women, indistinguishable in their blacks, faces hidden behind masks chosen to intimidate and provoke fear. The best of my Jedi turncoats, souls wretched with hate. They are an impressive sight.

With the boy’s defection, they have welcomed someone new into their ranks.

“Kylo Ren has betrayed you, Knights,” I say, my grave tone chosen to invoke their desires for revenge. “He has betrayed us all. Who do you choose to lead you now?”

My Knights of Ren assemble in a vee before my projection, with the newest knight at the tip. I skim his mind, the man’s identity unexpected.

“Majar Ren,” I say. “You have returned to claim the Knights. This is an excellent turn of events.”

Though older, Majar Ren knows this group of warriors better than anyone in the galaxy, even the boy. They will follow him into a star if he commands it.

“What are your orders, Supreme Leader?”

“Gather the hidden,” I say. With the Force, I feed them the information they need. Locations, names, faces. “Bring them to me with all haste.”

The Knights nod as one and turn to go.

“Majar Ren, a moment.” The lead knight stays as bidden. “I have a different task for you.”

I send the order for General Armitage Hux to join us.

He wastes no time in arriving, his entire person orderly to the point of obsessive. His motivations are so easy to discern. A disappointment to his father, pitifully simple to lure into genocidal madness. He will do anything to erase the idea that he is a mere shadow of the man who sired him.

That makes him controllable. Malleable.

“How did Kylo Ren leave this base, Hux?”

The slender general is a reed in the wind, shaking to his roots. This failure falls on him and I want him to writhe, burning from the inside out with his shame. His pale skin turns a mottled red. To his credit, he stands his ground, his voice firm when he finally speaks.

“He coerced a stormtrooper with the Force, Supreme Leader. Ordered her to kill another trooper and sneak him onto a ship.”

“Intriguing. Why make the trooper kill? Kylo Ren has never been over troubled by morals. Why not simply kill the troopers himself?”

“I—don’t know, sir. The trooper’s memory of the events is gone.”

“The trooper’s designation?”

“RA-5205, Supreme Leader.”

“A riot trooper?”

“I did not take anyone on duty. The troopers who accompanied me to Kylo Ren’s quarters were off-duty volunteers, sir.”

With that drop of knowledge, it’s as though a puzzle piece is slotted into place. She volunteered. Did she remember—recognize—?

“And security footage?”

Hux swallows hard.

“Also gone.”

“I see.” The boy covered his tracks well. I consider what he will do. Try to find the girl, I’m certain. “Who do we have inside D’Qar, General?”

“A radar technician, MT-1119, and an intelligence officer, Lieutenant Kalla Lassiter.”

“The Resistance knows where Skywalker is by now. The scavenger will be with him, and Kylo Ren will be after her.” I have allowed my mission to eliminate Skywalker to fall by the wayside, but no longer. “The spies’ first priority is to get that location.”

“Yes, Supreme Leader.”

“I want your troops wreaking havoc. Raze cities if you must. Draw the Resistance into engaging. Make them defend the galaxy they care so much for.” Misdirection is key. “Stretch the Resistance forces so thin, when they snap, all know their failure.”

Hux’s fanatic eagerness burns in his eyes.

“As you command, Supreme Leader.”

“Majar Ren, once the Jedi’s hiding spot is known, you will go to him. Finish off the Jedi once and for all and bring the girl to me.”

“The girl?”

“You will understand when you see her,” I promise. “Hux. Have RA-5205 brought to me. I wish to see what this trooper truly remembers.”

Chapter Text

Betrayal’s cutting edge…

REY

*

Snoke’s return to Kylo’s mind stirs me from the stupor of pain. Adrenaline drives me to alert status, and I can protect us. But I need my defenses to stay constant.

For now, that means staying awake.

I work my way through the day, collecting the components to build my saberstaff. Without Luke around to stop me, I deconstruct the Skywalker lightsaber and rebuild it. Once, twice, a dozen times, until I understand the architecture and purpose of each piece. The modifications to turn this concept into a staff are simple enough to someone who understands the flow of power, switches, and circuits.

Beneath the outer casing, the kyber crystal is only a small part of the entire weapon. At the base there is a power assembly to conduct the energy and insulate the hilt. The controls outside the hilt tap directly into this section. Above the power assembly, the crystal is housed in a separate chamber. The power comes up through the crystal to the top, where an emitter creates the blade itself.

It’s elegant, precise, and rather simple in design. I consider the legends of Jedi roaming and protecting the galaxy. Repairing your primary weapon on the fly must have been a necessity at times, so the easily assembled and modified construction makes sense.

Building the staff is more of a challenge than I’d like. I’m exhausted just getting this far. Gathering the necessary pieces has required more exploring and scavenging, and physically I’m a mess. My right leg is throbbing, flames embedded in ice beneath the bandages. I sit in the middle of the practice yard, shivering in the midday sun and struggling to focus, to work while the light is strong. I slap a stim patch on my arm, a much needed boost.

My hands are far from steady. I alternate between sweating and chills. And sometimes I just—drift. I forget where I am and what I’m doing. My eyes lose focus and the world shifts into a multicolored blur.

How many days has it been?

Luke is never coming back. How many days? Hell, maybe he’s left the planet. Can I blame him? I’m no one. A scavenger more suited to picking titanium and durasteel bones.

“Can’t even put a lightsaber together.”

How many days? I awkwardly climb to my feet, hop-walking to my hut. Each thud against the ground sends a shockwave of fire through me, but I keep going. The days are there, all the days—

The hash marks on the walls. There they are. I count each grouping of five. Luke said he’d be gone a week, but there are so many days here. I shake my head, almost knocking the planet off its axis, or maybe that’s just me. I’m all messed up. Turned about.

I close my eyes and reach for the centering calm of the Light. The energy responds, flowing around me. Tears prick beneath my eyelids, and I remember the Dark dousing me in night, cutting me off from this bright peace. Or had I been blind all on my own? I think I must have been, as there is no hesitation from the Light. There is no Dark wall to breach. Both stream through me. Both aid me, strengthen me.

The pain in my leg recedes, enough for me to breathe easier. To think clearly. Luke’s Force signature is a steady beacon deep within the temple. He hasn’t abandoned me. Kylo is a similarly reassuring presence in my mind.

“Okay,” I breathe. “You’re okay, Rey.”

Kylo doesn’t speak, but there’s a wordless surge of energy in the background of my senses as he no doubt senses my distress. His concern over my injury is as genuine as any I’ve known. It’s so unfamiliar, and unlike Finn’s friendship, Kylo’s energy is threaded with thornier, far stronger emotions. Fear. Regret. Helplessness.

Desire. For comfort. For physical—connections.

I should mind, but I can’t. I reach for him as often as he for me. The closer we become, the more certain I am that his history is more than it seems. The unqualified love his family continues to hold for him—

“What aren’t any of you telling me?” I mutter. “Skywalkers, Solos, and secrets.”

I’m so used to having no one. So used to being lonely. I have no idea how not to be. Since the moment my path crossed Finn’s, I’ve been running, fighting, training. There’s been no time to process the impact of people who don’t leave. People who come back. Who want to know where I am and how I am.

I hobble back to my work area, my steps not easy, but not as pained. I survey the jumble of parts, laying out the pieces for my staff in proper order. Head clearer now, I remember what to do, the lessons from Luke and half a dozen datacrons coming back to me.

I reach once more for the Light, assembling the hilt in my mind. My hands have ingrained the construction into my memory. Each half of the staff is its own lightsaber. The power assemblies in the base, followed by the crystal chambers, and then the emitters. I listen as they come together, taking extra care with the crystals that chose me. Then I hold out my hands, palms up. The twin hilts settle perpendicular to my hands. My grip closes around each, lining them up. With a twist of my hands, the hilts lock together.

Gasping, I open my eyes. I’m grinning, so wide, I must look crazy. But I don’t care.

I’ve made a kriffing saberstaff.

The lore says the Force chooses the color of a Jedi’s blade. Luke says it often reflects the user’s own path. Blue, green, yellow, purple, even white. But not red. Red is the Sith’s mark on the kyber crystal, bending the Force to its master’s will.

“Moment of truth,” I say to the new weapon.

My palms are sweating, itching. I shudder. I see Kylo’s face, the jagged, bloody path cleaving his face. The furrow carved into Finn’s back. The red blade rammed through Han Solo’s chest. The fresh wound on my own leg.

There’s a wheezing whine in the air. It takes too long for me to recognize the aching sounds as mine.

“The blade is not your enemy, Rey. Fear is.”

The gentle voice in my head is one I’ve heard only once before, deep beneath Maz Kanata’s palace, a lightsaber calling to me. These are your first steps, he said. Maybe it wasn’t the blade. Maybe it was this unknown voice.

“Trust the Force, youngling,” he says. “It will always guide you.”

Spurred by the calm confidence in his voice, I press the central blade lock, an activation stud igniting both blades as one. The humming whoosh of power shoots out in two equal beams.

“Oh.” The involuntary whisper escapes me as I stare at what I’ve made. “This is unexpected.”

Silver-white plasma blades, haloed in deep black. Shadows swirl through the white, like tendrils of smoke, giving the plasma an aura of restless life.

I’ve never heard of anything like this.

A quick release separates the staff into two blades. Slowly, I work my way through basic forms, consciously adjusting my technique to work with the twin blades. I lock the hilts together once more and shift into Niman.

Joy. Exhilaration. Adrenaline. My entire being is overflowing and I laugh. I lift a rock and send it flying out to sea. This is why I’m here. This is what I’m meant for.

I extinguish the blades and whoop, letting my excitement echo across the practice yard.

“Bright Star?” Kylo’s curiosity is tinged with—wonder? Awe? “You’re okay?”

“Not okay, maybe. But better. Definitely better.”

fuck-oh fuck-thank you

His stark relief startles me. I mean, I know he cares for me on some level, but—

“What are you doing?”

“Living,” I say. It’s the only word that fits the moment. This is what I thought I would find when my family came for me. I’ve had glimpses, in my fledgling friendships, in my training with Luke. But now, with my lightsaber, everything is—
more.

“Show me,” he says.

“You are so damn pushy. They’re my eyes, Kylo, and this is my moment.”

“Show me anyway.” I can hear the smile in his thoughts, and again I want so badly to know how that expression changes his face. “Share your moment with me.”

My breath catches in my throat. Maybe it’s the way he says it, but I can’t deny him. I draw him in, and he settles, a slight weight behind my eyes. I lower my gaze to the long hilt resting in my hands.

“What—what is that?” he asks.

In answer, I ignite the blades.

“Stars, Rey,” he whispers. “It’s incredible. Beautiful.”

like you-bright star-special girl

He laughs. Truly laughs. And it’s like being hugged by his voice. My eyes move from tip to tip of the staff.

“It’s so perfectly you.”

He tries to inspect the hilt.

“I’ll do the looking if you don’t mind.”

“Maybe I do.”

“Then go away.”

“You invited me in, sweetheart.”

“Only because you demanded so nicely. Now stop calling me that.”

There’s a rattling wind in my mind. Kylo sighing.

“Is there anything I can call you without inspiring your—wrath?”

“Oh, I dunno. Rey, maybe?” My sarcasm is thick, but without bite.

“I like that one, too,” he says with a chuckle.

He’s just so—nice.

“Why don’t you yell at me anymore?”

“You aren’t yelling at me, either.”

“Don’t you think it’s weird?”

The following silence seems endless.

“Kylo?”

“Yeah,” he finally says. “I guess.”

But underneath that, I hear—


not weird-perfect

 

*

Kylo isn’t very talkative now. The man frustrates me. He’s so damn delicate sometimes. It seems I don’t get to question or feel anything without hurting him somehow. Anger gives me a rush of energy to deplete. I practice with my staff until I’m ready to drop.

Admittedly, in my current shape, that doesn’t take more than ten minutes.

I power down the staff and drop to the ground, sweating and panting. Pain is creeping in at the edges. I need to change the bandaging on my leg. Sweat, dirt, and blood have made the thing a mess. And we’re running low on medical supplies.

Yeah, there’s no way Luke doesn’t ask how I sawed my own leg open.

I clean up my tools and leftover supplies, storing the extra bits and pieces for his saber against my internal judgment. I settle my pack across my body.

A sonic boom cracks the relative silence of sea birds and distant waves, and I think Luke already knows. He’s already called for a supply run. I scan the skies for the approaching ship. My heart drops hard into my stomach as I spot the distinctive rising wings of an Upsilon-class command shuttle. They retract to roughly half their full length before meeting above the passenger and crew compartments.

“Kylo?” I reach out to him, excitement and dread racing through me in equal measure. He doesn’t answer me, so I shove the image of the approaching shuttle through the bond. “How did you—?”

He crashes into my mind.

“Run. Right now. Don’t look back. That is not me, Rey.”

“Oh, kriff,” I breathe, scrambling to my feet, lightsaber in hand. “Shit, oh shit. Luke? Luke! LUUUKKKKEEEEE!

I scream the last with both voice and mind. A dozen minds—some I recognize, some I don’t—push back in response. There’s Kylo, Leia, Luke, and—is that—Finn? There are still more minds. One aboard the shuttle, dark and curious. And now Snoke laughs deep in my mind.

“Get out of my head, you bastard!”

Luke’s Force signature is moving now, racing through the temple toward me.

“Rey!”

I stumble at the shout in my head.

“I’m going, I’m going.” Kylo’s panic is dragging me under. “As fast as I can.”

The ground beneath trembles as the shuttle touches down.

“Not fast enough, little one,” Snoke croons. “Kylo Ren comes for you.”

I try to block him, shut out his venom.

“He’s done well, tracking you down.”

I whirl on my good leg, bracing myself as the shuttle ramp lowers. It can’t be him. But my breath backs up in my lungs as I see that heavy, confident step. As the hated mask comes into view.

“That. Is. Not. ME!”

My shields are for shit, so many voices shouting in my head, but Kylo’s desperate jolts through me like an electric shock. I jerk my gaze to the man coming down the ramp, flanked by a trio of stormtroopers. The distinctive chrome armor—I recognize that one.

“Phasma,” Kylo says. “Rey, get the fuck out of there!”

“And go where?” I scream. “I’m in the middle of a fucking ocean!”

The dark knight catapults through the air to land almost on top of me. I stagger back with a shriek. My reflexes barely fire up the staff in time to block his downward cleave. The impact sends shockwaves down my body. I draw the Force up through me and propel it out toward him, sending him flying backward far enough for me to get my footing.

“Well done, girl,” he says, and kriff all, it’s his voice. Something is off, I know it is, but he’s on me again before I figure it out. When our blades collide, he rams his way into my mind. “I’m not going to let you go this time. And I promise, I will not be gentle.”

I see myself in the restraining chair on Starkiller, naked and bound, and—

“No,” I whisper. “Please, no.”

“Reeeyyyyy!” Kylo’s voice beats against my head.

It’s too much. Too many voices. I can’t fight this.

“Kill Skywalker,” the man wearing Kylo's mask and voice orders. Phasma leads the troopers toward the temple. “Now,” he says to me, “don’t be afraid. I feel it, too. I know you want this.”

The echo of Kylo’s words fuck with my mind. I smash my temple with the heel of my hand.

“You know I can take whatever I want. And I will,” he vows. “From you. I will take it again and again.”

The restraining chair. Hanging from a hook, legs spread wide. Bent over a table.

I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. This is all wrong. Kylo is screaming in my head, threatening my resilience.

“No-no-no-no-no!”

Get away. Get away. I blindly draw from all the minds linked in mine, aiming at this Ren-not-Ren’s hand, imagining a piercing lance. He cries out as his hand snaps backward, breaking his grip on his lightsaber. His other hand lashes out, battering my abdomen twice before I can swing.

Another thrust of the Force launches Ren-not-Ren back through the air. Heavy hands wrap around my arms and haul me to my feet.

“Stop, Rey!” Luke shouts. “Kriff, you’re draining everyone. Shut it down.”

“Draining?” I face Luke’s crystal blue eyes. He’s barely keeping his feet. I’m dimly aware of the exhaustion in my head, not just mine, but everyone. Even Snoke groans. “Kriff. I’m sorry. So sorry.”

I search for the cloak and slam it down in place around me. The world inside me goes silent. Even Kylo is gone. I freak for half a second, but—I stare toward the motionless Ren-not-Ren.

Luke heaves a breath of relief. He claps my shoulder. He follows my gaze.

“Rey. You know that isn’t Ben.”

“Mhm.” There. That’s the big difference. It’s so silly. “He’s too short.”

The costuming is perfect, but this man is closer to my height. In the heat of combat, it registered, but I couldn’t put it into words.

Still… Even if this man isn’t Kylo, he knew too much of what happened between us on Starkiller. Did Kylo help plan this? Did he know they were coming for me? Did he–did he want me in that chair?

My stomach turns.

“You—are kind of scary, kid,” Luke says. “I’ve only heard stories about things like you just did.” He slips a finger under my chin, and I lift my face to his again. “You okay?”

“No. I need to leave here,” I say. There are tears and nightmares and more tears behind my eyes. “Please?”

“Yeah, we’re going.” He puts his fingers to his lips. A shrill whistle rings out. “Wedge! Need a hand here.”

“Wedge?”

“An old friend,” he says. “I’d like to say I’m strong enough to carry you to his ship, but I’m hardly strong enough to get me there right now.”

A slender man just an inch or so shorter than Luke approaches. His hair is nearly white, but his brows are nearly black. The striking contrast adds character to his serious face.

Together, he and Luke help me to a ship I recognize as an old Republic attack shuttle.

“I didn’t know any of these were still around,” I say.

“It’s faded into memory. Just like the rest of us antiques,” Luke says.

“What about the troopers?” Wedge asks with a quick glance over his shoulder, his gentle tenor voice a surprise.

“Out cold for the moment,” Luke says, “but I’d rather get the hell out of here sooner than later.”

“Agreed.” Wedge winces, rubbing his shoulder as he helps me settle onto a bench likely once occupied by a clone trooper. “You kids sure know how to throw one hell of a party.”

Chapter Text

Devotion’s dying heart…

KYLO

*

My mind is exploding in sound and color.

I remember a party on a balcony somewhere—maybe Naboo—sitting on Chewbacca’s shoulders as revelers cheered and fireworks boomed and hissed all around us. Towering above anyone in the crowd, I thought I was so high up I could touch the sparkling colors lighting up the night.

Running headlong through the forests surrounding D’Qar base, the cacophony in my head reminds me of that night. So many voices, jarring images, explosions of power. Everything swirls together into a funnel, dragged from each of us into her.

“Stop, Rey!” I see Skywalker’s face, more aged and weathered than I remember it.


what-what is this-what am i-sorry-bad-dark

She closes her eyes.

I don’t know what finally takes me to my knees. The depth of Rey’s power consuming mine? The known and unknown voices gathered around her? Or is it the abrupt loss of connection?

The ties binding us all together snap as she breaks the connection. My head reels in the sudden silence.

I don’t remember falling, but the damp ground soaks into my clothes, rousing me to the world around me. My lightsaber is heavy in my right hand. I stare as the red blade crackles and spits, its tip buried in the ground next to me. The cross vent is dangerously close to my knee. Leaves laden in rain struggle to smolder.

I don’t know when I drew my blade, but I was immersed in the threat to Rey. In the attacks she struggled to fend off. In the images that bastard pretending to be me thrust into her mind. My stomach gives a vicious lurch. It was all too close to what actually happened between us. I know she doubts how anyone could know those moments so intimately and not be me. Or at least connected to me.

I disengage the blade, return the hilt to the clip at my waist.

An ache deep inside my brain presses outward until my hair hurts. Every cell of my body is quaking, and my stomach is on the edge of a revolt, like I drank an entire bottle of Corellian whiskey.

A glance at the chronometer on my wrist shows me it’s the middle of the night again. Kriff, how long have I been drifting in this Force hangover?

A line of sweat traces my spine. This bond between us—

This is how she ended up with a live saber in her hand when I was mad. And how that blade carved into her leg while she was too caught up in my raging.

This is how I lost half a day and did almost the exact same things.

My only proof of life is the echo of pain she can’t quite hide from me.

My energy wanes, like a child’s wind-up toy running down. Kriff, she can’t take from me again, not so soon. It’s too much. Too damned dangerous. Doesn’t she realize we could kill each other without trying, or—or—

My thoughts stutter as her Light catches my attention. It’s a guttering flame, an intermittent spark.

She isn’t taking energy from me. She’s dying. Right fucking now.

“No,” I gasp. “No!”

I race for the Resistance base, the fraying thread of her pain and energy propelling me to reckless speeds. I’m close enough to sense the thin population clustered ahead of me, giving me the advantage. Avoiding everyone steals precious time I don’t have, so I mind trick or Force sleep where I have to and keep my pace.

The fear is choking me, and I wrestle with the need to just throw everyone out of my way.

I find Leia Organa’s energy and use it to guide me through the military warren. I pass through the hangar, the Millenium Falcon out of place among the X-wings clustered around it. There’s a concentration of life forms aboard the Falcon, including a Force sensitive, but not the general. A bright peal of laughter is quickly shushed.

The general has to know I’m here by now. Subtlety belongs to another man, not me. Never me.

But I move deeper into the base without challenge.

“We need to talk about security around here, general.”

My Bright Star can’t be without protection, that’s a given, but there’s a surprising concern tied to the general herself and a certain furry friend of the smuggler. Damn it, I know this is all her doing. The longer and deeper we connect, the harder it is to find the man I know as Kylo Ren in my mind. She’s changing me.

The energy leads me to a door. It doesn’t open in response to my presence.

“Shit,” I mutter. “Of course I have to knock.”

Rey. You have to find Rey.

The urgent thought drives me forward. I rap my knuckles hard against the durasteel before I can give my nerves time to talk me out of this stupidity. There’s no answer. I frown and knock again, louder this time. My fourth knock is backed by the Force, and the entire door rattles.

“The next one blows the damn thing in,” I call, beyond caring who finds me now. “Answer the damn door, General.”

She does, her deep brown eyes sleepy and bewildered. I suck in a rough breath. She barely comes up to my chest.

“Have you always been this short?”

“Excuse me?” She draws herself up, but she’s still small. “Who the hell do you think you—”

Her eyes pop wide, her mouth hanging open on her unfinished question.

“Ben?”

The dead name stings like a slap to the face. She gives me no time to formulate a pithy response or dismissal. She grabs my wrist and yanks me into a tidy office. The door closes behind us and she locks it. I am facing a large desk with a personal commlink and computer. A paper book lies open between them. I can’t remember the last time I saw one.

“You took a pretty big chance coming here alone. Is the First Order right behind you?”

“No,” I say.”

“Bullshit.” She spits the word at me. “Turn around.”

She bodily pushes me to face her and I don’t resist.

“You’ve already killed your father. Did you come to finish off the family?”

No.” Shaking my head, I fight the desire to just leave. I can’t stand to be here, in front of this woman.

“You were in Rey’s head,” she says. “I felt you there. Were you part of this sick plan to hurt her? Is this some petty revenge plot? Time to pluck the wings off a desert butterfly? Stars damn you, Ben Solo, she’s already been through so much.”

“You think I don’t know that?” I bend down to shout in her face. The unguided Force pouring out of me shoves her back a step. I pound the side of my head. “She’s been in here for months! She’s part of me. A part I need, damn you.”

“Oh, stars.” Her harsh manner breaks into something much warmer. “Easy. Be easy.”

Her soothing voice lets me dial back the storm inside me.

“Look at you. You’re so tall. Taller than your father, I think.”

“I—um—yes. I think.” She’s right, and I’d been shocked by that change. The smuggler had always seemed larger than life. But the change in the general’s attitude surprises me more. As does the fact she doesn’t wince as she mentions the smuggler. She must know.

“And this scar, Rey did this? She said as much.” Her fingers skim the edge of my face and half of my life fades. I see not a woman I resent for holding me back, or hate for shipping me off to Skywalker. I see the fierce and loving Leia Organa. I see my mother. “It looks years old, not months.”

I can’t make any words come out. Everything is stoppered in my chest, trapped by the breath I can’t seem to take. One touch, one unexpected welcome, and I’m on the edge of tears. The separation between Kylo Ren and Ben Solo yawns ever wider. I don’t know me.

Something hard and desperate claws inside me. It wants out, wants to rage and destroy. I clench my hands into fists at my sides.

“Breathe, son. And don’t look at me like that.” She crosses her arms over her chest. “Yes, I know who you are and what you’ve done. Some of it better than you do, I’d wager.”

Who is this petite whirlwind of a woman? She carries the pain of loss around her eyes, but her mouth still finds a smile for me. She can’t love me. She can’t want me here.

“Trust your instincts, Kylo Ren.” Snoke rumbles on the edges of my mind. Distant thunder from an oncoming storm. “There is no place for you in the Light.”

His voice acts counter to expectation. Instead of his words sending me into a spiral, they strengthen me. I refuse to acknowledge his poison. I rein in my wild emotions and solidify my defenses.

“What’s happening here?” I ask. “Why aren’t you yelling at me?”

“Oh, Ben.” She steps closer with a sigh and takes my hands. “Do you know the worst part of sensing the potential future?”

I can’t make a sound, so I shake my head hard.

“Never knowing if the path you’re choosing can change it.” She cups my cheek. “I tried so hard to save you. And in the end, the only way to do that ended up being letting you fall.”

There’s a weight to her words. How did the childhood I remember—lonely, isolated, sheltered, and then tossed away to a man I barely knew—how had she meant any of that to protect me? To—save me?

And to just let me fall to the Dark?

“General,” I begin, my voice a dry rasp. The anger inside me wants to explode. Wants to burn this forsaken place to the ground and never look back.

“Mother,” she says.

“No.” I take a step back from the tiny woman, away from her touch. Does she hear my thoughts? Can she possibly know how much I want to give her this? How much I want to fall into her forgiveness and forget? “No, I can’t.”

You can’t forgive me. I don’t deserve it.

“You are so right, Kylo Ren.” Snoke takes immediate advantage of my distress. ”Your compassion and sentiment make you every bit as weak as Darth Vader. Weaker, even. You are a pathetic shadow of the man who conquered half a galaxy.”

It takes everything in me to stay calm, to cut him off once more. You have to get to Rey. That’s right. Rey needs me. I need Rey. I can’t fall apart.

The general studies me for endless seconds. I wonder if she hears any of the turmoil in my head. Then she nods.

“General it is, then,” she says. “I’m more than a little surprised to see you. How did you get to me? How did you get by—everyone?”

Her lips purse, and I think of the laughter I heard from the Falcon. I can almost pity them. They’re in for an epic lecture when she finishes with me.

“We’re going to talk about your security,” I say. “In depth. I never should have gotten this far with so little challenge.”

“Ben.” She sighs, and it’s almost a laugh. “Are you concerned for my safety?”

“Yes.” No hesitation. My feet are scrabbling at the edge of a psychological cliff. “I mean—I—”

“It’s okay,” she says. “Let’s start with why you’re here.”

“I have to know where she is,” I say. “The scavenger.”

“Is this a game?” Her eyebrows rise. “You can’t call anyone by name? I know you know her name.”

“And I know you were there.” I jam my finger to my temple. “You saw it, just like I did. Someone attacked her. Someone dressed like me, who sounded like me, and wanted her to believe that I—that I could—”

She pales.

“Even you believed,” I finish, voice weak with hurt I didn’t know I could still feel. The ache of a son wanting only the faith of his mother.

“She’s alive.”

“I don’t know if you believe that or if you just need to believe it.”

“I believe it. Besides, you’re alive.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get the great Skywalker theory. Force bonds and conjoined life forces or whatever.” I’m so fucking sick of this argument. “But you know the only way that gets proven or disproven? We fucking die, General. One or both of us.”

“I know my brother’s theory, too,” she huffs. “But I’m more on your side of this argument. I wanted proof. I’ve spoken to her, Ben. She’s not well, but she is alive.”

The crushing vise of fear loosens its hold on me, ever so slightly.

“You’re sure?”

“I am.” She watches me with a questioning tilt of her head. “Tell me something.”

I manage a single nod of agreement.

“Why do you care about her?”

“I don’t know.” It’s a miserable admission. “I mean, I do know.”

“Tell me.”

“I admire her. Her strength and tenacity. Her devotion to people she’s only just met.” It’s easier than I expected to put my feelings for Rey into words. “Her faith in a family that never earned it. Her willingness to help just because she knows so well what it is to be helpless. To have no one to rely on but yourself.”

“Do you think she’s beautiful?”

“I—I suppose.” I frown. “I’ve never really thought about it. I’m so close to her on so many levels, it’s hard to be bothered by the surface.”

I can’t say I don’t wonder what our bond will be like when we are face to face. I can’t deny that I’ve dreamed of touching her. Holding her. And more. None of which I’m prepared to admit to the woman who birthed me.

“I suppose if she looked like that vile Unkar Plutt creature—” I’ve seen her blubbery caretaker often enough in her mind. “I've never seen her not snarling or raging at me. I really only know her mind. She’s clever. Resilient. Determined. Protective of the people she cares for.”

Protective of me. How many times has she shielded me from Snoke? She’s healed me. She’s comforted me. She’s—accepted me.

“You’re in love.” There’s a tumble of awe and joy in the general’s tone.

“Don’t be absurd.” My denial is reflexive. Stars, she can’t be right. The leverage that would give Snoke is— No. I can’t be in love. “We’re connected through the Force, that’s all.”

I am a terrible liar.

“Uh-huh,” she says, a cocky smile brightening her face. I think she must have learned that smile from the smuggler.

I start to protest, but a rush of pain steals my breath.

“Rey?” I whisper. Another stab and I clutch my abdomen, reliving the fake-me driving his fist into her stomach. “Bright Star.”

The general’s mouth drops open.

“She isn’t okay,” I say. “Please, understand. I only feel a shred of what she feels right now. She’s blocking most of it, and it’s taking all my control not to break.”

I throw myself on any shred of mercy she might harbor for me.

“I need to know where she is.” I lower my voice and barely whisper, “Mother. Please help me.”

Chapter Text

Interlude III

LEIA

*

“I need to know where she is,” Ben says, then softer, “Mother. Please, help me.”

Mother.

It turns out one word can break a heart. Mine's been pieced back together so many times, I should be numb. But I don't see the First Order's trained killer in his dark eyes, I see my son. My beautiful boy, grown into a man with still too much compassion and love in his soul to cope. I want to tell him. Just once, I want to send him in a direction that makes him happy.

I’m so much worse than a failure as a mother. I set him on this path with my eyes open.

“Ben—”

“Don’t placate me, General.” He growls and the walls shake in response. I’m definitely not Mother once he’s pissed. “Don’t you dare. Just tell me where she is.”

“I’m right here, Kylo.” The firm, feminine voice shocks us both.

It finally registers that the door to my office is open once more, with young Rey and my idiot brother lurking in the entry.

“You really need better security around here, Leia,” says Luke.

I scowl at him, and his bearded hermit getup, but get no further before Ben moves.

“Rey.” Ben no more than breathes her name before he erases the space between them.

Luke’s hand flies up to stop me from intervening. My mouth drops open as my son sinks to his knees at Rey’s feet. His reverent gaze never leaves her. They don’t touch, but the whole of D’Qar could implode and they wouldn’t notice. They practically create their own gravity with the combined power radiating off of them.

Luke shoots me a wry smile.

Tears well up in my eyes, but there’s no time to savor the three beloved souls standing before me. I promise I will make time, war or no war.

Satisfied no one is going to commit murder in the next ten minutes, I leave the trio of Jedi types.

“No death and destruction while I’m gone,” I call over my shoulder. I’m actually more concerned Ben and Rey are going to fall into some sort of torrid romance, the way they’re looking at each other. I point sharply at Luke. “You’re chaperone, brother.”

His bright blue eyes roll upward as his shoulders slump.

“You could always shave while I’m gone,” I say.

Exiting my office, I head to the hangar to get a better idea of how three exceptionally well known individuals made it all the way to me without raising an alarm. Or at least a greeting. I don’t doubt that Ben and Rey landed their ships off-base to minimize detection, but the only way to me is through the main hangar.

The first clue is what I don’t find.

I cross to the nearest intercom and buzz the watch commander.

“Rakshesh, here.”

“Good evening, Lieutenant,” I say. “Or, I suppose it’s technically morning now.”

“General Organa, sir.” The Cathar lets loose a quick burst of growling Catharese before clearing his throat. “How may I assist, sir?”

“Who’s on hangar watch tonight?”

“Ah, that would be Dameron and Pava, sir.”

And that explains everything. I roll my eyes.

“Lieutenant, please place another note in the scheduling log that Dameron and Pava are not to be on watch together, by order of me. Unless of course, someone wants a permanent assignment to ‘fresher duty.”

“Aye, sir.” Thall Rakshesh’s voice squeaks when he’s nervous, but he recovers. “May I help with anything else, General, sir?”

“Mm, yes. Have everyone on the watch please explain to me how not one, but two, ships landed without anyone noticing. I’ll expect the report on my desk by dawn.” I disconnect the intercom and head for the Falcon’s open ramp. “Let’s see what you idiots are up to this time.”

Thank the stars I’ve reached the age of don’t-give-a-damn, otherwise my face would be flaming. I’ve seen a lot in my years, but—this is straight out of a holo porn. With better acting. Seems my top two pilots have found themselves a new playmate.

I could interrupt them and probably scar them for life, and the idea holds some appeal. But with a slight sigh, I back out of sight to let them finish. The damage is done, and there will be time for punishment.

After.

I settle myself on the ramp, half listening to the orgy-in-progress. It doesn’t take long for them to finish. Once the moans and giggles and sighs change over to light conversation and the rustle of clothing, I holler.

“I trust you’re finished with your stormtrooper sandwich in there?”

The explosion of swearing and hustling behind me brings a smile to my face. It’s only another thirty seconds before the sweaty and satiated trio stands before me in a more or less presentable fashion.

Dameron, Finn, and Pava look worried. And they should. It’s only by the grace of the Force the intruders in my office are of a friendly nature.

“General Organa, sir,” Dameron begins.

“Zip it, Poe,” I say. I climb to my feet with all the grace of a woman in her sixth decade of a hard life, swatting away the hands offering to help me. “I’m old, not dead or disabled. And I’m not even that old.”

I swipe the dust from my backside and draw myself up straight.

“Now.” All three jolt like I shoved a poker up their—oh, never mind. They’re used to that part. “I have a joke for you.”

Confusion flutters across their features.

“Ready?” I don’t wait for a yes. “Here we go. A Jedi Master, a Padawan, and my long lost son walk into my office.” I hold up my hand for silence. “Just wait. This one’s got a helluva punch line, kids.

Chapter Text

He is my balance...

REY

*

Wedge stays with his ship when we land on D’Qar. Master Luke mutters to himself as we make our slow way to the base, encountering a bare minimum of life. How bad have things gotten since I left for Ahch-To? Bad enough that I direct us to the general’s office with no opposition. He fiddles with the lock on the door, outright mocking the thing as he bypasses it with ease.

I focus on standing. I don’t think he realizes how bad off I am, and I want to hold on long enough to get myself to Medical under my own power. I battle my pride and insecurities in equal amounts. I’m not used to asking for help. I’m even less used to help being available. And underlying those, there’s the fear I’m too far gone for help. That if I admit my injuries—I be left behind.

I’m dead weight walking.

My leg is a living flame barely subdued by Force meditations. My head still pounds from Kylo’s abuse to his own skull and my insides have been rearranged by Ren-not-Ren’s furious punches. Bruising spreads from a few inches above and just left of my navel, all the way to my side, wrapping around to lick at my back. Every breath and step is a victory of focus and determination.

The door opens and I forget all about focus. And breathing.

“Don’t placate me, General.” Kylo—so vital and close my heart stutters—growls at the general. A low tremor rattles the walls. “Don’t you dare. Just tell me where she is.”

The desire to cave flashes through Leia’s dark eyes. I open my mouth and save her the trouble.

“I’m right here, Kylo.”

Mother and son face us with twin expressions of shock. They didn’t know we were coming, and I know that’s probably my fault. I have my senses locked down far tighter than this base. I didn’t want Kylo to worry. I figured he was still far away, not invading enemy territory, facing his mother and all the guilt and fear and self-loathing embedded in his identity.

It shakes me to the core to realize how much of Kylo Ren he has cast aside to come here, looking for me.

Then he’s looking at me and I open myself up just enough for our energies to dance together. The power churning between us is intoxicating. It’s the sense of gravity, like a ship entering the atmosphere. If not for her pilots, the planet’s hold would pull her from the sky.

I don’t honestly know if I’m the ship or the planet right now.

And he’s still on the other side of the room.

I forget to breathe as he crosses to me, so tall and broad, dropping to his knees at my feet.

A frisson of primal fear snakes up my spine and I see Ren-not-Ren charging me, instead of Kylo kneeling before me. I squeeze my eyes shut. This close, his thoughts leak through my shields.


not me-never me-let me in

He’s picking up from me, despite my best efforts. I want so much to trust. To lean. To believe he won’t destroy me.

We shouldn’t even want to be on the same planet.

But I can’t help myself. I nod once and open my mind to him, and only him. He flows into me, a gentle tide easing inside, drawing back and coaxing me along with him. I check that we’re shielded from outside intrusion. I don’t want to share this moment, or him, with anyone.

He’s mine, and I’m his.

The possessiveness startles me. I don’t know if it’s truly mine or an echo of his. Or maybe it’s ours, an extension of this growing bond between us.


mine-bright star-see you

My eyes fly open, and oh, stars. I see myself through his eyes, through his soul. His awed gaze is a perfect reflection of mine.

My fears thaw beneath his warm regard.

I didn’t expect this. Just being in his mind has been potent, but this close—the earthy scent of D’Qar clinging to his skin, the heat of his big body rolling into me, his already unruly dark hair curling from the damp air, his soft breathing barely audible—this is so much more. And under it all, the purring rumble of his Force finds a pace to balance the rhythmic beat of mine. We don’t speak, we just stare.

A buzz of words comes from the general, and an answer from Master Luke, but I can’t make sense of them. I am lost in him.

Doors open and close, and then it’s just us in the room.

I breathe in as he breathes out. One cycle, then two, then a loop with no inclination to end. Where I leave off, he begins, and vice versa.

“Rey,” he finally says.

And stars, to hear his voice is so much richer face-to-face than mind-to-mind.

“Have you been here long?” My voice is weak, scratchy from days of disuse. I’ve barely been conscious to talk. Master Luke and Wedge kept each other company on the trip here, and once planet side, conversation was dropped in favor of breathing through the torturous walk to the base.

“Days?” His heavy brow furrows in confusion as he picks up the thought. “I—I just landed. I mean, I lost half a day after the attack, but—”

“That was four days ago,” I say. “Wedge brought us straight here.”

Four days I’ve spent trying to keep my mind and body from falling apart. Four days trapped in pain and memories. I can’t hide the shudder, but I’ve got the pain locked down. Kylo knows something’s off, but I shield him from the worst of the damage. From the endless aching.

“I—I landed here,” he says. “I was already walking through the forest when the attack came. I came to and—you’re saying I knelt in the woods with a live lightsaber in hand for four days?”

My mouth goes dry, the blood rushing from my head. We’re excruciatingly aware of the dangers we face, losing ourselves inside the bond.

“That would explain why you look like you’ve been showering in your clothes.” I manage a wry smile. “I like the new look, though.”

“I would say the same but it’s hard to tell through all the dirt and blood.” He exhales a shaky breath. “You look like hell, Bright Star.”

“I’ve pretty much been through hell.” I shrug one shoulder. “You were there for most of it.”

“You’ve changed your hair.”

His gaze flits over my longer hair, tied in a simple tail, his mind wondering how far down my back it goes.

“I—I stopped worrying about how my past was going to find me,” I say. My hair, my clothes—I’d been so careful to keep my appearance like the tiny girl in my lone memory of coming to Jakku. I understand now. There are people in my life who will find me, who will know me, no matter my appearance. “I found the people I belonged with… someone I belonged to.”

My cheeks run hot and he’s delighted by the mumbled admission, which only makes it worse.

“You are beautiful.”

He says it, not as an affirmation, but as something he’s only just discovered or decided. There’s a fierce pleasure in knowing it doesn’t actually matter to him. He cares for me, end of discussion.

I study his features, noting the changes. He’s leaner but there’s a gentleness to his urgency now. The cut I gave him tears diagonally across his face, but—

“I thought this would be worse,” I say, my gaze traveling the length of it from his hairline until it disappears beneath his loose shirt.

“It was. I could have had it fixed, but—I suppose I wanted you to see what you were capable of.” His voice is soft and low, his meaning anything but.

He wanted me to know the Dark.

“I know what’s inside me,” I say. “I dance with the Light and the Dark.”

“Yes.” His eyes brighten. “It feels right. Natural.”

“We can’t be all or nothing.”

“We need both for balance.”

We’re both breathing harder, our thoughts blurring together until I don’t know if I speak his or my own.

“You healed the scar,” he says. “When you saved me from Snoke.”

“I did? I need to figure out how to do that to my leg.”

His eyes drop to the filthy bandages encasing my leg. I should have changed them on the way here, but—

“I’m sorry.” His voice cracks on the word. “So sorry I ever hurt you. I’m sorry I took him from you.”

I am, too. But the familiar ache of Han’s death doesn’t push me away.

“Why isn’t that enough to keep me from wanting this?”

He flinches as if struck.

“Kylo.”

His gaze reluctantly meets mine.

“I don’t say things to hurt you. I speak my mind. I—there are things that just don’t make sense. You see that, too.”

“Yes,” he admits.

Without a conscious decision, my hand finds its way to his cheek, my thumb grazing the fine reminder. The simple touch is so electric, I expect to see sparks trailing my fingertips. I scrape my fingertips along his jaw. He gasps at the contact, mouth dropping open. A faint stubble of beard changes his face, adding maturity. Then there are his eyes. Those impossible, unfathomable eyes.

“There’s more to us than we understand.” He searched my mind and found my loneliness, my longing for family. I wonder what he’s found in other minds. I wonder what he carries from those moments, what memories of others he couldn’t banish. I wonder how a trained killer met a desert scavenger and stumbled. “I want to know why. I want to know you.

Because unlike the first time we met, this connection between us now brings me something I haven’t felt in months. Maybe not in years. My life doesn’t feel like an out of control speeder, or a rathtar chasing me down for its next meal.

He offers me peace. Balance.

“Bright Star?” he whispers.

“Dark Spark,” I respond, a helpless smile playing at the edges of my lips. “I’ve missed you, Kylo.”

And I have. Every second we’ve cut each other off, every breath we’ve taken in separate pockets of the galaxy.

“Rey? Rey?” A familiar voice breaks through the fog sheltering us. “Rey! Get away from her you sonuva—”

His words cut off midstream. Finn hovers in the air, frozen in his run toward us.

“Let him go,” I say. “Please. He’s my friend. My first friend.”

Kylo rolls his eyes, but Finn comes barreling toward us a second later. I head him off before he decides to try and kill Kylo. He crashes into me, and the pain it took me the entire flight here to rein in reignites in searing lashes up and down my body. Kylo sucks in a startled breath, a helpless sound escaping him on the exhale.

“Rey?” The warmth of him rises along my back as he stands, his hands stretched out on either side of me. Close, but not touching. “You’re hurt.”

Finn’s eyes latch onto him, unchecked hatred burning in their dark depths.

“Just—I need a moment.” Master Luke’s training kicks in. I hold my hands out between them. I have to push the words through my gritted teeth. “Please.”

The obvious pain in my voice breaks Finn’s focus on Kylo. He bats the taller man’s hands away from me and grips my shoulder, then down to my hand. Always grabbing my damn hand. A slight tremor rocks through me. I will myself to stand in place. There’s a wrongness to touching Finn I can’t understand.

I glance to my left. Kylo’s pupils are blown wide, his breaths coming as fast as mine. It doesn’t escape me that I’ve placed him on my weaker side. The declaration of trust is obvious to anyone who understands combat. I stretch my hand out to him, needing the calm his nearness gives me.

“No.” Finn yanks me away from Kylo. He shakes me hard enough to rattle my teeth. “What the kriff are you doing, Rey? You’re friends now? Lovers? What, he says he’s sorry and you forget everything he’s done? To you, me, Poe… to Han? I was in your head, Rey. You dragged me into that shit storm and I saw what this motherkriffer wanted to do to you.”

“That wasn’t me,” Kylo says through his teeth, his anger rising in response to Finn’s.

“Bullshit.” Finn spits the word at Kylo, his hatred a living thing. I can see the darkness boiling within him, eating him alive. “You’re a worthless monster. I’ll kill you if you even think—”

“Finn.” The general’s voice is part sympathy, part command. She and Master Luke reenter the office, flanking him. “You need to let her go.”

The general’s expression softens as she eases me away from Finn. My body relaxes almost instantly. She touches my chin, and there’s something in her expression I’ve never seen—she looks at me like I’m—precious to her.

“The hell I do.”

Finn lunges for me, only to find himself flung backward by the general. Her hand is living steel, her expression as hard. Luke grabs him by the collar and the Force.

“What is wrong with you people?” he shouts, the bones and veins in his neck popping as he strains to pull away. “We’re her friends. He’s the monster who murdered Han Solo!”

“And he’s come from the same hell that stole you from your family, Trooper,” the general snaps. “The same hell that stole children from all across the galaxy.”

“General,” he tries, but Leia cuts him off.

“Get your shit together, soldier,” she growls. “Do you understand why they want children, FN-2187?”

He winces at the use of his First Order designation.

“It isn’t because you won’t remember your family. That part is just a bonus.”

Finn’s face is slack. His fear and shame skitter about the room. I can almost touch them. Smell them. Kylo is nearly pressed to my back, tension vibrating through his frame.

“Something’s wrong,” he whispers.


keep you safe-please trust-stay

I silently agree and take a step back closer to him, the slight brush of his body against mine enough to assure us both.

“It’s because children can be shaped and molded,” Leia continues. “Children can be conditioned to endure and commit horrors most adults can’t imagine. Children will do almost anything to earn love, no matter what warped form it takes.” To me she says, “Children can be abandoned yet never lose hope. Because someone in their past—someone they may not even remember—suggested there’s always hope.”

“She knows you.” The certainty in Kylo's thought burns through me.

She knows who I am. She knows how I wound up on Jakku. She knows who should have come back for me.

Then a much darker thought takes shape in my mind.

Her willingness to accept Kylo—Ben—into her home, her base of military operations against the First Order, against him—she is either a trusting fool, or a woman certain she’s not facing the villain even he believes himself to be.

“General?”

She sighs, nods once, a weight seeming to drag her chin down.

“There are things you both need to know,” she says. “But I’ll see you fed, showered, and checked out by Medical first. Both of you. You look like you’ve barely eaten a meal between you in months.”

She glares toward Master Luke.

“Wedge couldn’t drop off something better than rations for you to feed her?”

“We were training, Leia,” he sighs.

“Fine. Now I’m taking care of them.” She nails Finn in place with a warning glance. “One wrong move and you’re spending the night—or longer—in the brig. Are we clear?”

He’s seething, but this anger is unlike anything I’ve seen in him before. His head bobs once, but it’s not an agreement I trust.

“Kylo.”

“I’m here, Bright Star,” he whispers in my mind.

“This isn’t him.”

“I know.”

“Stay away from him,” I order.

“You’re worried for my safety?” His mental chuckle is echoed in the chuffing exhalation that brushes my neck.

“Always,” I say.

Chapter Text

She is my focus…

KYLO

*

My stomach is growling from an unintentional four-day fast, so I fall in line as we’re led to the mess. It isn’t quite dawn and the large room is mostly empty, something to be thankful for as far as I’m concerned. I have no doubt the traitor is going to gossip far and wide about my identity. The general has to realize this, if the tight leash she’s keeping him on is any indication.

Rey stays close to my side, her uneasiness screaming like a raid siren. Her warning to steer clear of FN-2187 seems unnecessary. I can take care of myself, and we can’t stay here long anyway. Not with Snoke and the Knights of Ren on the hunt for us.

Two pilots greet Rey with warm welcomes. I recognize the male as the pilot I captured on Jakku. He doesn’t know my face, but the mental scars I left—some dark corner of him treats me as a threat. His hand drops to the blaster on his hip. He catches himself, giving me a wide-eyed stare before turning away from me. His gaze lands on Rey and the fear in him eases. He pulls her into a hug, and there it is again—white hot pain shoots through my chest. Her pain.

“C’mon, kid,” Skywalker says. He drags me into the food line. “You need to eat before you drop.”

“But, Rey—”

“Poe and Jess have her.”

“And the traitor,” I say.

“Yeah, well… it’s you he doesn’t like, not her.” He tugs my arm, smiling that disarming Luke Skywalker smile. “Let’s get some grub and talk.”

Kriff, I haven’t been in their lives more than a couple hours, and it’s all touchy-feely-talky-family shit already. I don’t deserve this bizarre welcome home.

“We really need to know what the general—”

“‘Mother’ is the word you’re looking for—”

“No, it isn’t.” Damn the man. FN-2187 is more right about me than these people I’m related to. “I know her biological identity. What I don’t know is how she knows Rey.”

He leans in, a conspiratorial gleam in his bright eyes. He beckons me to bend down and whispers, “I know Rey, too.”

He may as well have dropped a grenade in my gut.

“Ready to talk now?”

Numb, I accept the tray of food and trail him to a table.

“What’s going on, Skywalker?” I finally manage.

“Uncle Luke,” he says.

“Why do you keep doing that?”

“You keep your distance by erasing our roles in your life, Ben. Depersonalizing our connections to you makes it easier to draw on anger and hurt.” He’s matter-of-fact in calling me out. “Leia’s not just a general or princess. I’m not just a Jedi whose training you disagreed with. Han wasn’t just a smuggler who struggled to fit into a more domestic life.”

I search the room, needing Rey, and the calm just being in her orbit brings me. I find her with the traitor and the pilots, seated on the far side from us. A low vibration rattles the trays on our table.

“And she’s not just a scavenger you met on Takodana.”

I whip my head around, facing Skywalker attentively.

“You know who she is? You know where she came from?”

He shakes his head. “Not entirely. But I know who she is to you. Who she’s always been since the moment you met her.”

I consider his words, their potential interpretation and decide on, “When did I meet her?”

“The day she was born.”

“That’s impos—”

A sharp discomfort tears me from denying this revelation. The need to protect overwhelms all others. I lurch to my feet, stumbling toward Rey.

“Ben?” Skywalker’s concern buzzes at the edges of my senses. “What is it?”

“Can’t you feel her?”

She’s scared, so scared, and kriff, the pain. She’s practically screaming in my mind. The traitor has his hands on her again and she just wants them gone, but she doesn’t want to hurt her friend. How does the bastard not realize? He’s Force sensitive, his hard hands on her bare arms. He should be burning from the contact.

Something is wrong, and she’s wrestled it down through sheer willpower for days. Exhaustion shadows her eyes, pinches her mouth tight. Her pain is growing stronger than her ability to control it. It’s about to take me down secondhand. More and more is leaking through, and I know I need to get her to Medical.

“Finn, please,” she whispers, and my mouth forms the words with her. “I need to rest. We’ll talk about this later.”


stop-stop-stop

“He’s done something to your mind, Rey,” the traitor says, his hands curling so hard into her shoulders his ache.


dark spark-friend-trust

“Mother!” I shout through the Force.

The general turns from some deep conversation with another officer near the mess exit. She runs toward Rey as I reach her. With pain-clumsy hands, I shove the traitor back from her. His face twists into a snarl. Agony erupts in my abdomen as he plows his fist into me—once, twice, a third time. I hit my knees, vomiting on his boots. He grabs my hair and drives his knee up, into my cheek. Stars explode in my eyes and I fall to the floor.

There’s shouting, so much shouting, but I can’t respond. Rey is facing me, her small body crumpled on the cold floor. Her bright hazel eyes are clouded and unresponsive. A bruise blooms on her cheek to match mine. Her body twitches, trauma shocks she has no control over. Blood trickles from her open mouth.


pain-so much-can’t breathe

I stretch my fingers out, trying to reach her. I ease my mind into hers, bypassing her weakened shields. Her body is shutting down, too damaged to go on.

“No,” I whisper. “Please, no.”

I give her every last drop of my energy.

“I’m here, Bright Star,” I send to her. “Take me in, Rey. Don’t leave me.”

She blacks out, towing me with her into oblivion.

 

*

 

“Ben, wake up.”

I shift on a thin mattress, wanting the peace of sleep back. The scent of sanitizers and damp fur makes my nose twitch.

“Ben, can you hear me?”

A plaintive growl follows the question, explaining the scent of fur.

[The cub is injured like Little Hope.]

Little Hope. The obvious affection in Chewbacca’s nickname twists into me, a slender knife of emotion. There is no doubt in my mind who has earned this moniker.

“I know, Chewie, I know.” The general’s worry echoes in her Force signature, pounding against my mind. “Son, I know you’re awake.”

[Open your eyes, Benny,] the Wookiee demands. Benny? Kriff, he hasn’t called me that in twenty years. [Little Hope needs you.]

Maybe nothing less than this would have convinced me to face them. I open my eyes, shocked to see the gathering facing me. The general, Skywalker, Chewbacca, the pilots, the BB unit, and— I surge from the bunk with a savage howl, leaping for the traitor’s throat.

I expect to still be weak, but it takes the combined efforts of Luke and Leia to hold me back.

“You fucking idiot,” I shout. “You almost killed her.”

Shame turns his brown face ruddy.

“Ben, it wasn’t Finn.” The general’s words pierce the haze of my anger. I stare her down, silently demanding answers. “Snoke got to him. When Rey linked us all. Of everyone she touched, Finn was the one with no training. And stormtrooper programming breaks down mental defenses. It made him an easy target.”

“Why should I believe this?”

“As soon as I took you down, it was like—coming out of a fog,” the traitor says. “I—I didn’t know what was going on. The last thing I remember is General Organa—um—” His face turns a deeper shade of red, and his gaze slides toward the pilots.

The general rolls her eyes.

“I advised the—ahem—watch team of everyone’s arrival.”

“You were in the Falcon,” I say. The female pilot chokes and turns away. The male barks out a shameless laugh and pats her back. I nod at their reactions. “The mind is extra weak in the post-coitus state. That would be an ideal time to seize control. If that is what happened.”

The threesome shrink into each other, clearly embarrassed to have their private lives dissected, but I couldn’t care less. Call it the price to pay for literally screwing around on the job.

“Where is she?”

“The trauma center,” Leia says. “You’ve both been out for days. She spent three in the bacta tank to help with the worst of it. Between the internal injuries and that stars forsaken burn on her leg, we’re lucky she didn’t die of sepsis.” She worries the ring on her right hand, the only outward sign of her frayed nerves. “She came around a bit before you. The doctors were discussing her condition and recovery and—” She huffs, frustration bright in her dark eyes. “They ‘aren’t at liberty’ to tell me what the hell they said that set her off. And she’s not letting any of us near her.”

“Can you feel her?” Luke asks. “She’s still shutting us out in the Force, but your connection to her is off the charts strong.”

I open my sleep-dulled senses, my Bright Star’s mind a throbbing wound in the Force. Light and Dark energies merge in a marbled tempest surrounding her.

“I’ve got her,” I say.

I follow her signature to the trauma center, Rey’s adopted pack trailing me. By the time I push into the hushed environment, I am ready to tear someone apart.

“Good evening, Master Solo. General Organa.” A droid with more programming than sense approaches me. “How may I be of service, sirs?”

“Where is Rey?”

“The young lady is in the refresher, sir. I’m sure she will be just a few—”

“I’m not waiting a few.” I stalk toward the signs for the refreshers.

“Sir, please—”

“Not waiting,” I call.

A doctor steps into my path.

“Mister Solo,” he begins.

With enough restraint to make Rey proud, I grip the doctor by the shoulders and lift him, gently depositing him behind me. He gapes at me like a fish. I pat one shoulder.

“I’ll take it under advisement, thank you.” I’m almost there, sweetheart. This close, her pain is a living thing, clawing at my self-control.

“The girl is injured—”

I shoot the doctor a disbelieving look. Like I don’t know that? Shaking my head, I press on. A murmur behind me is enough to make me look back once more. Leia Organa speaks softly to the doctor and waves me on. Her authority is enough to stop the man in his tracks.

I push my gratitude through the Force, and I see a slight nod in my direction.

Only one of the ‘freshers is occupied, making finding Rey simple. The door is locked, but it’s no effort to flip the latch with the Force. Sliding the door open releases a cloud of steam and the sound of running water. And crying. Through the fog, I see her shadow balled up in the corner of the shower.

“Rey?” I close the door and lock it, in no mood for a medical busybody to bypass the general and barge in. “I’m here, sweetheart.”

“Go away, please.”

“Not happening,” I say.

“Kylo, please,” she says. “I’m fine. It’s just been a long day. Week. Whatever.”

“Fine?” My composure fractures. “Rey, you have been tearing me apart since before the tr—Finn—attacked me. What happened? It felt like my insides were yanked out, and you’re still blocking a helluva lot.”

“I’m going to live.” Her bitter tone is a verbal slap. “You don’t have to babysit me.”

“I’m not—Rey, I’m worried about you. I fucking care about you. You can live and be fine all day long, but I’m still going to make sure for myself.”

“I didn’t ask you to worry or care.”

“Who gets to choose that sort of thing?” I demand.

“I understand I gave you a scare,” she says. I gasp as the pain dials back to almost nothing. “I apologize for letting so much bleed through.

I hear the effort it’s taking her to shield me in her unsteady voice.

“Rey, please. Let me help you. I need to help you.”

“Why?”

“That’s what people do when they worry. When they care.”

“I’m sure you have better things to do.”

“I don’t,” I say. I drag my hands into my hair, tugging hard. “Not a kriffing thing.”

The silence stretches out, until I think she’s going to give me no quarter.

“Don’t pull your hair so hard,” she grumps. “It hurts.”

I crack open the shower door. She’s fully clothed, huddled under the waterfall from the showerhead.

“Aw, Bright Star.” I crouch down, disregarding the spray of water. I need a shower anyway. “You didn’t even take your boots off.”

“I barely got them back on,” she mutters.

She buries her face against her knees, but her hands are plenty visible. Her burned, scraped, and stitched hands. In my relief to see her, I missed the visible injuries as well. The bastard dressed as me, fucking with her mind and heart, he did this to her. So it’s my mask that flashes behind her eyes if she closes them too long.

“Please tell me you know he wasn’t me,” I whisper.

She manages a jerky nod.

“It was such a jumble.” She lays her cheek on her knee, tipping her face up so I can hear her. So I can see the massive bruise dominating the left side of her face. Fresh anger that has no outlet boils inside me. “Your clothes, your mask. He even sounded like you.”

“But?”

“He fought like he wanted to kill me, but he’d settle for hurting me.”

I work on loosening her boots, trying my best to remove the soaked wool without jostling her. She endures in silence, but little jabs of pain slip through the bond. I reach up under her trousers leg to ease down one stocking, then the other. She hisses as I brush the lower edge of the burn, then wiggles her toes in the water.

“I knew you were mad at me, but I didn’t believe you could—”

“Not even when I thought I hated you.” I stroke her cheek, the line of her jaw. “Let me help you with the clothes.”

“Not yet.” Her breath catches on a sob, her fingers latching onto mine. “Please.”

“Rey,” I say. I ease into her mind, the chaos of pain and fear tearing her up from the inside. “Let me in. Talk to me.”

“I pushed into his mind as we left Ahch-To.” Pure horror reduces her voice to the barest breath of sound. I wonder which of the Knights Snoke sent for her. “So much hate and anger. The things he showed me. He killed you all, but kept me for Snoke. And—and himself.”

A hard shudder wracks her slender body. She’s struggling to shield me, but I catch brief glimpses of the motherkriffer’s strategy to cripple Rey. Killing us to rip away the support structure she’s only just started to trust. Repeated sexual violations that almost have me running for the toilet. He knows too well that being powerless, unable to choose for herself, is one of her deepest fears.

“But I didn’t break. I—I got his name.”

“His name?” My voice is low and calm, but I am anything but calm. She isn’t letting me see it all, but it’s enough. It’s a desecration of her spirit and innocence. I’ll rip the bastard’s spine from his body. “Give it to me.”

“Majar Ren.” She watches for my reaction. Her pupils blow wide, and I know it’s written all over my face.

Fuck.” Her terror becomes mine. Majar is the oldest of us. The first of us, and the hardest. The most committed to Snoke’s regime. Possibly the leader again now that I’m gone. I am so lucky she’s alive. “Come here. Please. Let me hold you.”

I help her to her feet and right into my arms. I wrap her up against me, gentle as I can ever remember being. I run my hand under her dripping hair, cupping the warm nape of her neck. Our minds are so tightly entwined, our thoughts begin to shape each other’s. I funnel my anger away from us, into the Force, letting it go. I surround her, mind, body, and soul, with everything I am and ever will be.

All for her.

“Ben,” she sighs.

I’m not ready to reclaim that name, but the sound of it in her low voice drives me past reason. I need to know how deep this bond between us goes. I touch her chin, and she lifts her hazel gaze. Her eyes are red from tears, but the edges of her mouth curve up. It isn’t a smile, but it’s the promise of one to come. I brush my thumb across her lips, giving her the chance to tell me this isn’t what she wants.

She holds my hand in place, kisses the pad of my thumb. Something like electricity sparks up my arm.

“Bright Star.” My brilliant girl, so bright and strong.

“Please kiss me.”

“I don’t want to scare you.” After everything Majar threatened her with, the last thing I want is to remind her.

“You’re not him,” she whispers.

“I know, but—”

“If you don’t kiss me right now—”

No need to let her finish the threat. I slip my hands on either side of her face. She rises to her toes, meeting me halfway. The bond is wide open when our lips meet, and energy supercharges my body, racing from her to me and back.

“Please don’t leave me,” she whispers against my mouth.

“Never,” I promise.

Chapter Text

Interlude IV

LUKE

*

Standing in the trauma center, I know the moment Ben and Rey come together. The Force ripples out, the power pouring off them vibrating through the base. Leia jumps in response, rubbing her arms.

Finn is huddled together with his pilots and Chewie. The little BB droid is running circles around them, as worried as any of us. Leia comes to my side, close enough to lay her head on my shoulder, a rare show of affection. A rarer request for comfort. I curl my arm around her back, settling her closer.

Seconds of peace stretch into minutes. No one leaves, even when minutes become an hour.

The flow of the Force through the base shifts with a surge of Light Side energy. Leia stands straight, eyes wide on me.

“Whoa,” Finn gasps. “What the heck was that?”

“That didn’t take long,” she says. The entire room rumbles with a resounding challenge from the Dark. The lighting flickers, dousing us in full darkness before the emergency generator kicks in. Leia winces as alarms sound throughout the base. “And that took even less.”

“They probably took off as soon as we left Ahch-To.” I straighten my dirty robes as best I can. “Our girl wasn’t subtle in defending herself.”

Leia gets my meaning and nods.

“You think Snoke will come.”

“He wants them back.”

“Well, that withered old bastard is going to have one helluva fight to get to them.”

Another tremor shakes the base and Leia turns for the refreshers.

“Rey will handle him,” I say. “Give her a chance, remember?”

A lone man charges into the room, giving us a needed distraction. Leia crosses her arms, a smirk wiping away any trace of worry. She stares down the barely dressed Cathar.

“Lieutenant Rakshesh. Please tell me you’re aware there are ships approaching this time? Or is that what woke you?”

“I—I—” His throat bobs nervously. The pupils of his wide green eyes all but vanish as he surveys the large room. He wants to say more, but stops himself with, “Sir, I don’t know what to say.”

Leia’s gaze darts to me and I catch one word from her as her eyes narrow. Infiltrated.

“With me, Lieutenant,” she orders. The Cathar rushes to her side. “You have a name?”

“Possibly two, sir.”

“One of them in Medical?”

If he’s surprised by Leia’s intuition, he doesn’t show it.

“We believe so, sir. In preparing your reports on the—recent arrivals—” He glances to me. “We’ve been reviewing all the logs. All night. Day.” He shakes his head. “I don’t even know what time it is.”

“So you took some light reading to bed?” Leia suggests.

His lightly furred cheeks manage to redden.

“There were no traces of the incoming ships, but I did find an encrypted transmission buried in our radar signal.”

“That’s unfortunately clever,” I mutter.

“I took it to Major Brance straightaway. With Artoo’s help, we cracked the code. The message didn’t identify anyone by name, of course. But we checked the duty log against appearances of the transmission signal.”

“And the same tech is on duty each time,” Leia says.

“Aye, sir.”

“What’s the connection to Medical?”

“Detailed reports of our casualties and wounded. The most recent transmission went out just a couple hours ago, with extensive reports on the young Jedi, Ky—ah—Mister Solo, and their—Force Bond?” His voice squeaks at the end, his eyes once more on me. “I’ve never heard of such a thing, but I thought you might know what it means.”

“It means find our moles, Lieutenant,” Leia says. “I want them in custody yesterday.”

Her eyes close as the lieutenant races off, a fresh layer of grief weighing on her face.

“Leia.”

“Snoke played his hand so kriffing well, Luke. Kept my son hidden away until he could unleash a fully-formed monster on the galaxy,” she says. “I knew I couldn’t keep Kylo Ren a secret forever. It was just never supposed to take so long to get Ben back.”

Her misery over this cracks through her calm exterior.

“Snoke almost killed them,” she says. “He found a weak link in our defenses without even trying. And now it’s all coming apart.”

“We knew it was going to,” I say. “The Force brought them together. It was always our goal to reunite them.”

“The Force just beat us to it.” There’s a resigned edge to her tone.

“They’re so much stronger now.” I sigh. It's true but, “And also so broken.”

Whatever time we gained with this gambit, it’s almost gone. A decade and a half of squabbles have detonated into all-out war. We’ve already lost so much.

What if, after all this, we lose them as well?

“We’ll tell them everything, just like we planned. They’ll understand,” Leia insists, responding to my anxiety.

“They’ll try.”

“That’s all we can ask for.”

“I just wish there was a way to do this without hurting them further.”

The unpredictable passion of their bond is barely restrained chaos. Their emotions are wild. Consuming. They border on obsession, so protective of each other. Will they sacrifice one last time?

Or will they destroy us all to save each other?

“Do they need each other too much?”

“Maybe. But I believe they’ll do anything, as long as they can do it together.” A sheen of tears is quickly brushed away as she straightens, the general once more. “Even die.”

Chapter Text

The belonging I seek...

REY

*

“If you don’t kiss me right now—”

Kylo’s huge hands frame my face. The Force flows freely between us, energizing the contact. What I feel is enough to overflow my body. What I don’t feel is equally shocking. For the first time in days, maybe weeks, there’s no pain. The tangle of pleasure and sweet relief is enough to push me to my toes to meet his slowly descending face.

Our lips meet softly, the bond wide open.

He’s my first taste of real food, my first flight on the Falcon, my first sight of him stalking me through the woods of Takodana—heady, intoxicating, terrifying. My instincts scream to drink him in even as my senses overload.


home

Is that what this is? This sense of welcome? Of belonging?

“Please don’t leave me.” I don’t mean to say it. It sounds needy. Desperate. Like the little girl who screamed for her family to come back.

But his fervent “never” is an oath before his mouth seals to mine.

The hot water steams up the shower stall, surrounding us in a sheltering cloud that narrows the world down to this tiny space. Kylo draws me closer, holding me tight against his big body. The sheer size of him is overwhelming, but his every touch is careful. Delicate. It’s so much and not enough at the same time.

I’ve never done this with anyone. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve hugged someone with digits to spare. I kissed an unconscious Finn’s forehead, but that hardly counts. I’ve never touched my lips to another’s. Never even wanted to.

“Never?” Kylo jerks back, shock widening his dark eyes. “As in, never ever?”

I blush, my shoulders bobbing awkwardly. Honestly, it hadn't occurred to him?

“No,” he says gently to my thoughts, nodding. “But I suppose it should have.”

He tucks me under his chin, my cheek resting on his broad chest.

“I’m doomed to mess everything up with you.”

“You didn’t mess up anything,” I grumble.

“Your first kiss when you’re barely standing, and you’re half drowned from the shower.” A chuckle rolls through him, the vibrations tickling my face. “I think I could’ve done better by you.”

“Before or after I punched you for not kissing me when I asked you to?”

“Fair enough. Though asked might be stretching the truth,” he teases. “You were very demanding.” He sighs as I snuggle closer. “And I am all too happy to accommodate my lady.”

My lady.

I don’t know how to belong to someone.

“Not to,” he says, “with. And it doesn’t matter.” His shoulders roll up and hold, before dropping on a rough exhalation. “I’m yours, either way.”

“Kylo—”

“I can’t be anything less, Rey,” he says. He tips his head down, sneaks a quick sip from my lips. “A smart man would play it cool. But you’re in my mind, so—not much point to lying.”

I open my mouth to say—something. But his index finger on my lips silences me.

“And I am in yours,” he says. “I know this is new. I know you aren’t ready for more.”

I burrow tight against him.

“You know how I feel,” I say.

“As upside down as me, I’d say.”

“What is this between us?” I ask through the bond. “It makes no sense, and yet… sometimes it’s the only thing that makes any sense.”

His own uncertainty falls heavy around us. He fears the rejection, the return of loneliness, as much as I do. And in the darkest corners of his mind, he doesn’t believe I can forgive him.

Yet he holds me and reassures me.

“I only know I can’t walk away,” he says. “I haven’t been able to since I saw you on Takodana. Hell, before that. An officer aboard the Finalizer just mentioned you and it was like something in my brain exploded. I had to find you.”

Neither of us want to let go. I can’t always stop the need to hug him closer. Tighter.

“We’re together,” he finally murmurs. “We’re safe.”

“But Snoke got to Finn,” I say.

“I know. He’s the weakest of us. The general and Skywalker will try to teach him.” He curls one finger under my chin, tipping my face to his. Anger simmers in his dark eyes. “But you hid the extent of your injuries. Snoke almost killed us with that.”

“When I linked everyone, I used some of their power to push Majar Ren back. Luke was so drained. We left Ahch-To and I just focused on staying alive and getting here. Everything happened so quickly when we found you. But—” And this is the part nagging in the back of my mind. “How did Snoke know where to hit, when not even you did?”

Fear twists his features from the attentive lover to the Kylo Ren I first met. I shiver despite the heat, drawing away from him.

“There’s nowhere safe until we take him down,” I murmur.

Kylo’s innermost thoughts erupt in a frenzy I can’t make sense of—not the words, at least.

“Will you fight him?” Maybe it’s too much to ask. After everything he’s been through with Snoke, and done in his name— “Can you fight him?”

“Finish your shower,” he rasps. “I’ll find dry clothes.”

A non-answer is an answer of sorts, and not the one I want, but the shower door closes behind him before I can object. I scowl at this avoidance.

“It isn’t like the issue is going anywhere,” he mutters. “I just—need to process.”


what am i doing-crazy-snoke will kill

Process. Right. That could take some time. But on a more practical note, I could’ve used his help undressing from these soaked clothes.

“Please don’t tempt me,” he calls as the ‘fresher door opens and closes.

The growing distance between us cues a wave of fresh pain, and he feels it, too. A deep groan rips free of my throat as I double over.

“Shit,” I hear in the bond. “I’m hurrying.”

My muscles are trembling from the effort before I manage to strip off the wet clothes. I have to sit to wash, my legs unsteady. I wring the water out of my hair and twist it in a ball at the nape of my neck. At least a week’s worth of dirt muddies the water. My right leg is a hideous, screaming mess. My belly is still bruised and aching. But I’m alive, so I push through the pain.

The trauma surgeon, Dr. Kallas, and 2-1B, the surgical droid, took care of the internal damage. The incision will barely scar. She says I only lasted as long as I did because of the Force. She cleaned up all the dead and dying flesh on my leg, too, but—only time is going to help there. Unless I can figure out the Force healing thing.

Hideous scars aren’t what sent me running to the ‘fresher, though..

Dr. Kallas offered to run my genetic sequence through some databases to maybe find my family.

Family.

I see tiny Ben Solo brushing his mother’s hair. Han with a ready smile and welcome for a desert nobody. Family. The word settles heavier in my heart than ever. I tuck the pain deep inside, not ready to share with anyone.

“Rey?”

Even him.

“I’m fine.”

“You’re lying.”

“I know.”

The energy between us sizzles and hisses.

“I’m on my way,” he says.

I have one towel wrapped around me, another in my hands rubbing my hair as best I can with the dregs of energy keeping me upright. The door opens again, and his energy is like gentle hands, reaching out to me as he closes the gap between us.

“Hey, sweetheart. You okay? Here, let me help.” He sets a pile of clothing on the counter and takes the towel. Our fingers brush, and I whimper softly as the aches recede to almost nothing. He works through my hair gently, first with the towel, then combing through the tangles with his fingers. “It’s longer than I realized. I need a brush to do this proper.”

“How do you even know what proper is?” It seems a fair question. I mean, I don’t know.

He chuckles softly, and my breath hitches as the low sound caresses my ear. He kisses my hair.

“As everyone is so keen on reminding me, I haven’t always been the scourge of the galaxy,” he says. His hands slip to my shoulders, fingertips trailing down my arms. “Once, I was just a boy with an Alderaanian princess for a mother.”

I gulped. Princess. It’s easy to forget that part. Did that make the man holding me a prince of sorts?

“Not a prince,” he murmurs. “Just the son of a woman with very high maintenance hair.”

Son. It soothes a fragment of my soul to hear him call himself that.

He gifts me with a memory. Leia in a loose dress, sitting on a stool, her long hair falling almost to the floor. A tiny boy with a shock of jet black curls, his tongue caught between his teeth as he carefully brushes his mother’s hair. The general’s slight wince as the brush finds a tangle the boy lacks the dexterity to negotiate. The unexpected deep rumble of Han Solo’s voice as he steps in with an easy smile to show his son how it’s done.

The moment is precious. Something I’ve waited my life for. I clap my hand over my mouth, not quite containing the sob that catches me off guard.

“Shh.” Kylo’s arms come around me. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, sweetheart. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“How could you throw it away?” I whisper, trying so hard to understand and failing utterly. “It’s—it’s more wonderful than I even dreamed.”

“It wasn’t all like that,” he says, his voice tight. “Getting the two of them in the same space was never easy, and often enough they fought instead of loved. The smuggler—my—father. He was the odd man out in the family, with all the Force sensitivity of a brick. When Luke started up the academy on Yavin IV, suddenly everyone seemed to think that was the place for me to be. They couldn’t get me on a ship fast enough.”

His heavy sigh stirs my hair.

“I don’t look at my past often,” he admits.

“Why?” I lean enough to see his face over my shoulder. The past is all I want to see, at times.

“I—don’t know.” He frowns. “It’s like there’s something pushing me to turn away. One way or another, it hurts too much to see everything I left behind. And everything I did to leave it all.” He turns me in his arms, peering into my eyes as he tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. “Nothing hurts with you here.”

“For me, either,” I say.

“But it did hurt when I left you to get clothes.”

“Very much.”

“Then perhaps this is how we start to heal.” His hands curl around my arms again, sliding slowly up to my shoulders, cupping my neck. “As medical methods go, this could quickly become a favorite.”

He kisses me again, a half-formed question in his mind as his tongue teases along my bottom lip. I gasp in response and his tongue slips inside my mouth. He holds me close as I jerk back, breaking the kiss. Shock is jangling my entire system.

“That’s very—” I can’t find the word. I squeeze my eyes shut, a feeble attempt to limit the sensory overload. “It’s so—”

“Intimate?”

“Yes.”

“You’re glowing,” he whispers. I can hear the smile in his voice but it’s gone before I open my eyes. “And that is not a metaphor.”

His fingers stroke along my bare arm, visible sparks dancing in his wake. I look up to him. Eyes like liquid fire fix on mine.

“Your eyes,” I say.

Your eyes.” He squints. “They’re blue.”

The corners of his generous mouth begin to curl, and I am lost. Captured by the sweetness of his face, my fingers find the curve of his lips, tracing the shape of them as they shift into a full grin. I giggle—kriffing giggle in response.

When I can focus on his eyes again, they’re back to their normal deep brown, and he’s watching me with an easy smile.

“What?”

“I’ve wondered,” he says. “About your laugh. Your smile.”

“We kissed before we ever smiled or laughed together.”

“We don’t seem to do much in the proper order.” He kisses my fingertips. “Kidnapping, interrogation, and battle are a strange start to a courtship.”

“I wouldn’t take them back,” I say.

“Why?”

I consider my answer, settling on the certainty building in me.

“We needed them to find each other again.”

“Again?” He licks his lips, swallows hard.

“I—I don’t know why I said that.” I scan my own thoughts. There’s nothing concrete, just a strange sort of rightness to the idea.

“Even if I don’t know how that could be true,” he says. “Maybe it is.”

“What is it?”

“Something Luke said.” He shakes his head.

A fragment of thought draws a gasp from me.

“Since I was born? But—how?”

“I don’t remember. But I think Uncle Luke and my mother know.” He drags a hand through his damp hair, what he’s called them not registering. I clamp down on my reaction as yet another piece of Kylo Ren chips away, revealing the man hidden beneath the layers. “Luke was starting to tell me when everything went south in the mess hall.”

“We should talk with them,” I say.

“Is it wrong that part of me just wants to hide in here?” He leans in, rests his forehead against mine. “I—I don’t think we’re going to like what they have to say.”

“I know we aren’t.” I lay my hand against his cheek.

“I was nine when Snoke first came to my mind,” he says. “Nine years old and falling to the Dark. I don’t remember much of it. Things are pretty hazy those first five years under his tutelage. I wonder what they know that I’ve forgotten.”

Nine? Stars, he was still a baby. He’s been under Snoke’s thumb longer than he was with his own family.

Just talking about the vile creature seems to call forth a shift in the energy around us. He can’t get through, but knows we’re here. A buzzing collection of minds gathers with him.

“Something’s coming for us. Can you feel it?”

“Snoke,” he says.

“Not just him. There’s more. This stirring of power. It woke me in the bacta tank.” I grimace at the memory of waking in a vat of the healing goo, the hairs on my arms trying to stand in the mire.

A clarion call of power sings through the air. It’s so pure and bright, like Master Luke amplified ten times over. The focus and serenity are breathtaking.

Snoke retreats into the void, but not before we reach the same understanding.

Jedi.

It’s beautiful to me. It’s an attack to Kylo.

Dark energy coils around us, suffocating as it closes in tight. Swearing, he slams back against the wall, bodily throwing himself away from me. His lightsaber answers his call, smacking his outstretched palm.


who-no more jedi-get out

“Wait.” I hold one hand up, holding onto my towel with the other. “Throttle down, Dark Spark.”

He frowns slightly at the name, shakes his head. I try to get into his mind, but he’s throwing up walls as fast as I can break them down. Thoughts running on pure emotion leak through the cracks.


get out-get out-get out

“A stirring of power? This is a helluva lot more than a damn stirring.” He paces the limited space from me to the back of the refresher. “Don’t you feel it?”


danger-attack-run

“Of course, I do,” I say. “And I recognize it, too. Or them. This isn’t an attack, Kylo. It’s help.”

“What?” Ingrained training against the Light has his every muscle tensed for combat. Hatred and fear burn through our bond. “What the hell are you talking about? I knew they let me in too easily.”


hate me-have to hate me-no forgiveness

“Ben Solo.” I bark his name out like a general. Maybe even the general. But I have to get through to him. I dig into the Force and slam him back, pinning him hard to the wall.

“Rey, please.” Panic changes his voice. He sounds years younger. “I killed the children. They knew me, trusted me, and I slaughtered them.”


here for me-revenge-can’t hide

“And if they are here for you?” I stare down his wild gaze. He’s drawing on the Dark, hard and fast, an amber glow taking over in his brown eyes.

“They’ll kill me.”

“Is that what Jedi do, Ben?”

He flinches, squirming against my hold.

“Stop calling me that.”

“Then start thinking,” I snap. “Whoever they are, they were with us against Majar Ren. I recognize the Force signatures.”

“No, no, no—”

Did Snoke get into his head? Twist him up like this? He’s too worked up to listen to reason.

“Sleep.” I press the order through the bond. It’s nothing like when he knocked me out, but enough of my compulsion gets through his defenses to stun him. Which is enough for me to break in and take him the rest of the way down. “Sleep.”

His eyes roll up in his head. I lower him gently to the floor with the Force. My hands are shaking. Hell, my everything is shaking.

I slump to the floor beside him, panting.

I catch my breath and realize I’m still dressed in a towel and I’m freezing. I move to the counter to investigate the clothes he brought. The pants are a bit big, but the shirt could hold two of me. Still, the worn green fabric reminds me of leaves in sunlight and smells of Kylo Ren.

“You gave me your own shirt?” Shaking my head, I tug the soft shirt over my head, rolling the long sleeves enough to free my hands. “Ridiculous, sweet man.”

The incoming Force signatures are close enough to count as I slip into his mind. He’s so far under, he almost doesn’t respond.

“What do you want?”

That's more than I thought he would say.

“I’m so going to pay for this when you wake up, aren't I?”

Chapter Text

The forgiveness I crave...

KYLO

*

Silence is the loudest thing filling my head. What the kriff did she do?

I’m a prisoner. Of my body? My mind? I can’t tell. I’ve never been Forced into a state like this, with my mind so active, but dead to any sense of awareness beyond my thoughts. I want to push out, to break free, but I’m so cut off, there’s no concept of space or even direction.

It’s so quiet, I am aware of nothing but myself.

I may as well have been pushed out of existence.

Exiled. Rejected.

By her. I can take this from anyone but her. She’s turned from me. Left me helpless, all but assuring my capture or death. How can she do this to me?

And what have I done to deserve her faith? The mocking voice whispering in my mind is for once my own. Was it when I raped her mind? Murdered the smuggler? Crippled her friend?

I know I’m not worthy, damn it. She’s a fucking gift, and I—I should be dead.

I’m already dead inside.

I know, I know, I know.

Who will notice or even care if I’m dead on the outside, too?

She notices, some sense of self protests. She always notices. How dare any part of me doubt her?

But she put me here. She’ll never forgive me.

And maybe she shouldn’t, but—hasn’t she? Not fully, but I believe she has it in her heart. I taste it in her kiss. It’s ever present in our bond.

Bonds are made to be broken. Just let go. Think of all the pain I’ll be sparing myself… Sparing her.

Spare my Bright Star? Maybe. Maybe—maybe I’m right. This voice says so many of the things I’ve believed. Why does it feel so wrong now? Why does it feel so weak?

She slinks into my mind before I can give in and give up. I gather my thoughts to reason with her.

“What do you want?” that inner voice growls at her instead.

I don’t mean to say that. I don’t even feel like I said it all. But it felt like me. Sounded like me.

In the physical world, she mutters something I can’t make out. Does someone answer her? Fear stabs through me.

See? Already betraying me, the inner me tuts. How eager she is to be rid of me.

But she’s still with me, isn’t she? Can’t my own self see as much?

“We’re all right,” Rey says, her voice gentle. I can’t tell if she’s reassuring me or responding to the war inside me. “I promise. I’m sitting here on this freezing floor to protect you. From nothing, I might add. You are safe.”

I’m silent for a moment, gauging the conviction of her mind’s voice. She shows me the undisturbed ‘fresher through her eyes. The white room is a blinding flare in the darkness.

I close myself off from the over bright world as her gaze shifts down to our lightsabers, resting in her lap.

“I’m not an idiot, Kylo,” she says softly. “Safe has a way of going sideways around us.”

She’s so right about that.

“Oh, so you knocked me out to keep me safe?”

The words are snarky, and sound much like something I would say. But there’s an edge to them, one I no longer have where she’s concerned.

Shut up, shut up, shut up, I think. Please, Rey—Bright Star—this isn’t me, I swear. I don’t know why I’m saying this shit.



hold on-don’t give up

“No, I did that to save the base.” Where is she? I can’t sense anything beyond her voice coming through our bond. “You kind of freaked out.”

“With good reason. And now I’m defenseless.”

She snorts at that.


not while i'm alive

She’s so irritating when she thinks she can save me, the other voice whispers.

But she does save me. She’s been saving me, moment by moment, since we met.

I don’t want to be saved, the inner me snarls. Remember all I’ve done to get here. I destroyed the Jedi, murdered my own father. Helped eradicate an entire star system. The bodies in my wake litter the galaxy.

Yet she’s still with me. Despite everything.


yes-with you-i’m here

Why? Guilt and useless rage tumble around inside me. I’m not a man. Rey had it right all along. I’m nothing but a monster.


this is bigger than us

“Little Bright Star,” I sneer. Or—the other me does. My brain is so broken. No control. Never any control. I just can’t stop the hateful words spilling out. “Always so eager to play the hero. You can’t save me.”

“You don’t need saving. You need a swift kick in the arse,” she says. “Kylo, I need you to fight. This isn’t you.”

Isn’t it? On the scale of horrible things I’ve said and done, this is trivial.

“Who else could I be, hm? Do you think Ben Solo hides in a corner somewhere?”

Where is this coming from? My perception splinters. The me that speaks seems to eye the silent me, daring me to—what? Speak? Claim an identity I gave up twenty years ago? Didn’t I warn the smuggler there was nothing left of his precious boy before I—

“I’d say you’ve wasted your time, scavenger, but in truth—I’ve led you exactly where the Supreme Leader wants you.”

No, I don’t mean that. Do I?

“Bantha shit,” she snaps. Apparently she doesn’t think so. “You’re playing the situation, I’ll give you that. But I’m here to change the rules of the game.”

“Get out,” that part of me says to Rey. “I don’t want you here.”

No, please. She can’t go. She’s part of me and I’m part of her. I need her.

“And I don’t want you here. You don’t belong in him. He’s mine.


come on-know you’re in there

Wait, what is she saying? What doesn’t belong in me? Is she sending intentional messages with her microthoughts?

“I told you, I’m beyond your feeble attempts to save me.”

“He doesn’t need me to save him,” she says.

they will give you back

But I’m right here.

“He needs to wake up and save himself.”


i've got you-hold on

There’s an undeniable clarity and purpose to her microthoughts. Like quick transmission bursts. Secret transmissions the other me isn’t hearing

What? No, she can’t do that. No one can do that.

The panic in that other voice brings an undeniable satisfaction. I don’t know if she can hear me, the true me, but I send one lone thought to her: Tear down the world.

She’s laughing now, the sound carrying through the mental prison I’m locked me in.


i'll tear down the galaxy

Her power thumps hard against me, shaking the world, cracking the walls surrounding me. Her Light bleeds through, a steady pulsing beat.

“I said, GET OUT!” the other me rages.


got you

“You first.” She punctuates her satisfied tone with the Force, Light lancing into me. I feel her attention shift, focus directly on me. “Kylo, fight, damn you!”

Something hisses inside me, shrinking from her brilliance, but not before I see the sinuous energies coiling through me.

What the kriff?

They wrap around me, squeezing tight, stifling my mind. My voice. The rhythm of her Force grows to a relentless pounding.

See how she attacks? She’s a poison, they whisper, drugging you with sweet lies. Blinding you to danger.

Not me. This isn’t me.

She drags you from your purpose. Your destiny.

Not even. She is my purpose. She is my destiny.

The energies pile onto me, drowning me in some deep corner of myself. But Rey follows me down, a spark of hope growing brighter.

She reaches deep into prison to drag me up by the collar. The pressure weighing me down, suppressing the world, eases. My body is mine again. I suck in a huge breath, feeling my chest expand. Nerves prickle all over, dull pins and needles radiating through my limbs.

No no no! The invading energies tangle around mine, strong tentacles dragging me back under. Stay here. Safe here.

I’m losing me. I’m losing her.

“Fine,” she mutters. “Let’s try this another way.”

Tendrils of Light explode in my mind, snaking around the dark energies.

“Give your Supreme Leader a message.” Her voice is hard. Cold. “If you come at one of us, you come at both of us. And this man is mine.

Her fierce protective streak ignites brighter than any sun, in a display that steals my breath. Her unfiltered emotions are a tempest, and I am entranced by the maelstrom. If control of my body were mine, I’d be grinning like a fool.

Power I don’t control lashes out at her. There’s a distant thudding sound. Rey’s scream stabs through the veil shrouding me from the world, her Force reflexively expanding to protect us, casting her Light out in a radiant nova.

Kill her. You must kill her to be free.

Not a chance. I won’t. It’s so clear, basking in her Light.

She digs in with claws of energy, tearing and pulling. My mind feels shredded, but I don’t stop her. Because she is freedom. She is life. She is home. Nowhere in the galaxy have I known more peace than at her side, in her arms.

You must. The voice that sounded so like mine splinters into multiple voices, each threaded with anger and fear. She is everything you’ve fought against. Everything you’ve renounced. Deny the Light, Kylo Ren.

Go kriff yourself. I know exactly where I belong.


that's right-you’re mine

Rey’s keening shriek of fury rakes through me, commanding my loyalty, demanding my trust. The Force rises inside me, joyous, raging, and beyond my control. But more importantly, beyond their control.

I latch onto the power she broadcasts and push everything I am into it. Our power swirls together, until there is no distinguishing hers from mine. Every thought and emotion is laid bare. We are two disparate pieces come together, making an unexpected whole.

Together—together, we revoke the Dark.

When something cold touches my face, I shiver. Fingers brush my hair, hesitant at first. I’ve no idea how much time has passed. I should open my eyes, but I’m tired. So damn tired. I relax into the gentle touch.

I can feel the slight smile curving her lips as she settles beside me. Her cold fingers curl into my limp hand.

“I’m sorry, love. Felt them inside you. Had to do it.” Her mind whispers against mine, a shadow of its usual vibrancy. “Don’t hate me. You’re safe. Won’t let them get you.”


promise

I hear all her words, but cradle a single one close. Love.

 

*

 

My breathing kicks up the moment I’m aware enough to sense the mass presence of the Light Side near me.

The Light is cool, but welcoming. There’s an odd sense of coming home to the dozen or more energies hovering close. Leia and Luke. The trai—the troop—kriff, what do they call him now? Finn. There’s Rey, weaker than I like, but steady. The other Force signatures are—familiar? Not just from the fight against Majar Ren, though. No, I know these energies.

“He’s coming up,” a woman says. “I think I can get him now.”

The Force reaches into me, bringing me out of the sleep, and I groan, clutching my head. There’s a strange growling snarl in response.


mine-mine-mine

“Easy, sweetheart,” I send to her, hoping she can hear me. “I’m okay.”

It takes precious seconds to separate the sudden cacophony of sound bouncing around me into distinct layers. The first I latch onto is the racing beat of Rey’s Force.

“Are you all right?” I ask through the bond.

She doesn’t answer, but maybe the other noises do. A consistent hum becomes a powered lightsaber. A wheezing moan stutters through each breath she takes. Pain? Stress? And underneath it all is a charged crackling sound. I cautiously crack my eyelids. The lighting in the ‘fresher is dim, enough to easily see Rey in a battle stance, shielding me with her body and her saberstaff.

I flop over to my hands and knees, my body a graceless sprawl of barely controlled limbs and misfiring muscles as I climb to my feet.

“It’s okay, Bright Star. I’m here. And I’m sorry,” I whisper to her, though in that moment, I don’t know which of a thousand offenses I’m truly apologizing for. But I do know she pulled the Dark from me.

My saber is hooked on her waistband.

Again, when it comes to combat, her positioning declares me her battle buddy of choice. I slide my blade from her waist. She doesn’t react. I step up to see over her shoulder with ease. This close, the twin blades of her staff are even more exquisite.

They are as restless as her energy, silvery clouds tossed by the wind, haloed by deep night. Her damp hair and the clothes I brought her are stirred by a slight breeze, one only she feels. The source of the crackling sound becomes apparent.

Force lightning.

Or something very like it.

She doesn’t use it to attack, but there’s a distinct barrier separating us from—the crowd of people filling the doorway. My thoughts stumble as my gaze catalogues each face.

“Hey, Little SkyGuy,” I hear from the woman who woke me.

I immediately track the sound of her voice, startled to recognize it. A striking elder Togruta stands just inside the door to my right, her vivid blue eyes swiftly assessing me. There’s no mistaking the distinctive tribal markings painted in ghostly white over her tan skin. Or the sly smile curling her mouth.

She used to call my grandfather SkyGuy, once upon a time, a name she affectionately transferred to me when she came to Yavin IV to help train the next generation of force-users. She often told me I reminded her of Anakin.

She is almost old enough to be my grandmother.

She is also dead. By my hand.

But Ahsoka Tano—once apprentice to Anakin Skywalker—stands straight and proud as she studies me. Her firm gaze is blatantly curious and wary.

“How’s my Ben?”

Ben. The name doesn’t inspire the usual contempt or pain. I scour her features for any sign of deceit, but see only the face of my teacher. In her voice, I hear only the affection of an old friend.

“Maybe not so little anymore?” I don’t know what to say. Why is she speaking to me?

Her smile is sunshine after a day of rain, but she shouldn’t be here. Unless—

“Am I dead, then?” A reasonable question. I remember striking her down all those years ago, the shock of betrayal in her bright eyes. I see the carnage as though it just happened. I feel Rey’s hand in mine, impossibly small and trusting.

I shake my head slightly. No, that’s not right.

Don’t let go, Bright Star. We’re almost there. I hear the words in my voice, wince as a dull throbbing begins in my head. I wait for the familiar swarm of the Dark to embrace the pain. To murmur how best to put it to use. But the Dark doesn’t whisper or scream. I can sense it, but without the gnawing desire to lose myself in it.

“Are we all dead?”

“Not even a little bit, I’m afraid.” Her hand grips Leia’s shoulder, squeezing tight.

I frown at Ahsoka’s words. At the stark fear and hope warring in my mother’s eyes. But more at the way the pressure whitening Ahsoka’s knuckles does not vary.

Luke’s a few feet away, crouching in front of Rey.

“What’s wrong with her?” he asks me. His eyes move. His mouth. But nothing else.

I can’t see her face, but yes, something is very wrong.

“Is she—holding you? All of you?”

“‘fraid so,” Luke says.

Shadows churn through Rey’s energy, almost killing her Light. I need to turn her attention safely from everyone else. I’ll tell her how kriffing amazing she is, after.

“Rey?” My right hand hovers over her shoulder. I test the bond. She’s not keeping me out, but she’s not about to let any of these people in. “Sweetheart, you did it. You saved us.”

Rey shudders, and Luke shakes his head once before freezing again.

“I don’t know what the hell happened in here, but she’s still fighting. There’s so much darkness in her,” he says.

“I know.” I can feel it in every charged snap of the air around us.

“Ben, don’t,” Leia says, but my hand is already cupping Rey’s shoulder, sliding to the back of her neck.

The jolt stings, but I don’t flinch. If two decades of Snoke prepared me for nothing else, I know how to channel pain. This is more like foreplay.

My thought emerges as a shiver through Rey, and I latch onto a wholly inappropriate way to break her concentration.

I eliminate the remaining distance between us, aligning my body on her left side. Her shoulder fits into the center line of my chest, the direct contact finally drawing a visible reaction. Her head tilts, chin canted toward me. Her profile comes into view, enough for me to see her eyes. The soft hazel color is obscured by a swirling red and blue glow.

The evidence of the war inside her is both breathtaking and terrifying.

As discreetly as possible in front of a dozen people, I find the hem of her shirt—my shirt—and slip my fingers beneath to her bare back. She’s cold, the heat of my hand raising goosebumps on her soft skin. The shield falls with her shuddery exhale.

Ahsoka’s hand relaxes. Luke’s knees creak as he rises with a healthy step backward.

“You should go,” I say to them.

“What?” This from Leia. “Ben, no.”

“We’re shielding you, kid,” Ahsoka says.

“Shield from out there.” I jerk my chin toward the door. “It will be easier to bring her back without you hovering.” Especially the method I’m considering. I hold up a hand for peace. “I know you mean well, but I have a pretty good idea what she’s fighting. She needs to be able to focus on the true enemy here.”

“Don’t lose her,” Luke says. “Please.”

I swear Leia chuckles out something along the lines of, ‘as if.’

If I ever hoped for some sort of proof of trust or faith, it begins with Luke’s single nod. The gesture acts as a signal to the group and they retreat. Not all happily, but without audible protest.

I listen as Luke and Ahsoka coordinate the shielding efforts, the door closing between us. Aside from the saberstaff held defensively, the only outward sign of consciousness from her is the way her fists go white at the knuckles around the staff’s hilt every few seconds.

“Rey?” I call softly. Come back to me. The words form a looping chant in my mind. I don’t push them through the bond, but she hears anyway.


can’t stop them all-can’t see you

“You don’t need to see me, Bright Star.” I slide my hands down her back, rake my fingertips up her ribs. “You can feel me.”

As she did for me, I dive deep into her mind, tracking the source of her energy. She mentally recoils from me even as her body responds to my touch.


no no no-protect you-keep you safe

“I’m safe.” I wrap her charged and trembling body against mine, ignoring the shocks rippling through me. I focus instead on the Dark she’s barely containing. “I’m with you. Just let go.”


what are you doing-must stop them

“Let go, Rey. You’re burning yourself out.” Her breath hitches as I skim the sides of her slight breasts. “Let them go, sweetheart. Come back to me.”


keep you safe

“I know,” I say. I grip her hips and settle her bottom snug against my groin. I’m not hard, but the gesture carries meaning. Her breath hitches, a tiny gasp I want to hear again. And again. My hands clench, but I force myself to stay on point. “You always keep me safe. And I keep you safe, too, right? We’re a team.”


team-dark spark-friend

“That’s right. I know you better than anyone. And you know me. I won’t do this without you, hear me?”


help me

“Remember how you pushed me out of your mind,” I say, lending my energy to her. “Just like that, only harder. Kick them across the galaxy, sweetheart.”

There’s a drastic swell of pressure, building until my ears ache and my vision swims. I stagger back against the wall, dragging her with me and barely keeping us upright.

My head is ringing like a bell.

Her backside shimmies, grinding ever-so-slightly against me. I hiss out a breath, as her instinctive movements demand a response from my body.

“C’mon,” I urge. “Jettison these fuckers. Shut them out like you do Snoke.”


got this

Her affirmation makes me grin.

“I know you do.”

The entire room quakes as the pressurized bubble of energy bursts, expelling the invading minds.

I wrap one arm tight around her waist, my other hand sliding up her spine. I twist her loose hair in my fist and tug. Her head drops back on a gasp as the electric charge around her body subsides. At least, the one caused by Force lightning. “That’s it. Come back to me.”

“Ben?” She only calls me this when her defenses are low. Or to give me a verbal slap. But a growing piece of me revels in the sound of my given name uttered in her husky voice.

“Right here.” I draw one shaking hand along her sweaty cheek. “My beautiful badass.”

The saberstaff powers down and she sags against me. I wrap my arms around her. Her left hand clutches my forearm, her fingers icy. Purplish blue color beneath her fingernails. Kriff, she’s cold.

“What did you do to me?”

“Seduced you into losing?” Her eyes still storm, but the Force glow is fading. “I promise it was no hardship.”

The way she holds tight to me lets me ignore—for a few more moments, at least—the reckoning waiting on the other side of the ‘fresher door.

My past is, quite physically, back to haunt me.

Chapter Text

And the game begins

SNOKE

*

RA-5205 is a disappointment. Dissecting her mind reveals only the precision with which her memories were erased. She lies in puddles of her own vomit and piss. Her sawing breaths, while they last, are a sort of raw music. She is silent now.

And in the deepest, most secure level of my compound, I face my darkest—uncertainties.

Yes. Uncertainties.

Not fears. I am beyond fear. Still…

I rest my chin on my fist, absorbing the knowledge gained over the last several days.

For all the Force reveals, no path is truly certain until it is in the past.

I destroyed an entire star system to hide a single man, yet the scavenger found him. She bested my most skilled apprentice. She defeated Majar Ren, drawing on the energy from any Force user she could touch, including me.

The gathered strength of the Light Side she channels raises more questions and concerns.

An untrained scrap of a girl with power to rival the stars-cursed Skywalker clan. She’s lacked training, unlike the seven assembled to eliminate her and Kylo Ren. And yet, she is the one to take out three of my second generation.

The evidence of that debases itself in front of me. Or dies. Either is a failure.

Where seven stood before me, only four remain alive. Those, sniveling and broken, take to their knees, eyes shifting between me and their fallen. The sight they make tells me the truth. The scavenger is the Force child. The first successful result of countless trials.

Hux enters the chamber, unruffled by the display. He steps precisely around the bodies.

“What news do you bring me, General?”

“We have no records of RA-5205 becoming pregnant. She is—” He spares a glance to his left. Even in death, her resemblance to the scavenger is undeniable. “Was with us since infancy. It should not have been possible.”

I wave this concern aside. I know precisely how that part occurred.

“What else?”

“She—ah, she came to us from Coruscant.”

The boy is testing my patience with useless information. I clench my fist, noting the full-body quake that runs through him.

“And what do we know of her family?”

“She came from a trade family of decent means. Nothing unusual there. Phasma took her research a step deeper and checked genetic records. She is distantly related to a Jedi Master. We can’t be certain of the relationship, as the Jedi did not record much information about his family. But the genetic match is strong.”

“Which Jedi?” At last, a detail that may truly mean something.

For a moment, the general’s shock of red hair is the brightest thing in the room as he drops his gaze to the floor, obscuring his pale face.

“Tell me, Hux,” I say. “Who is this Master Jedi?”

“The one who discovered Anakin Skywalker.”

“Jinn?” I hiss. The very Jedi who taught Yoda and Kenobi to transcend death through the Force? I drag Hux the remaining length of the room by his throat. “Qui-Gon Jinn?”

“Y-yes, sir.” His voice is a breathless rasp. He collapses to his knees when I release him, coughing.

Like any Jedi of the time, Jinn was taken from his family as an infant. And Darth Maul cut the miserable bastard in half. He never sired a child to carry on his bloodline. So the trooper was not a direct descendant of Jinn.

From a sibling, then. A Leia to Qui-Gon’s Luke.

Exactly like my Kylo Ren.

“And RA-5205 presented with Force sensitivity.” Precisely the reason she was chosen for the experiment.

When Hux lifts his head, I give him a moment to realize he stands before me. No hologram. No projection of my voice.

His skin whitens to a bloodless pallor.

That’s right, boy. See your Supreme Leader at last. Give your fear to me.

“Yes, Supreme Leader. Records show Majar Ren severed her connection to the Force, as was standard procedure.”

But the Force is as capricious as it is consistent. Sensitives can follow family lines or show up with no warning. The child’s persistent resistance to the Dark Side, her choice of defender—these annoyances take on a different connotation with the knowledge of her ancestry factored.

The joyous surge of the Force heralding her birth still echoes in my mind and soul.

Standing in negotiations with none other than Leia Organa, marking the change in her well-behaved, attentive and curious son. As the Force cried out, he’d grown openly anxious to answer the call. The babe chose him above all others, perhaps the first time in a life surrounded by powerful people playing galactic power games such a thing happened to him.

I’d spent years whispering in his mind with no results. Then she was born. He’d been so easy to turn from that moment.

Fifteen years now I’ve believed her dead. What else did not happen as I’ve believed?

Kylo Ren, my disciple courted and groomed from his birth, stolen from Skywalker, swore to her death. How did an insecure child possibly keep this from me? He craved praise and belonging above all else, yet he accepted my wrath upon his return from Yavin IV.

I scoured his mind and found no trace of deceit.

Only failure.

Now it reads like sacrifice.

Had the boy given himself to save the girl?

“General Hux. Prepare your troops for an assault. I want the Resistance forces on D’Qar eliminated.”

“Sir.”

“Do not fail me, General. I will make certain you live long enough to regret it.”

Hux is visibly shaking now. He backs slowly away from me.

“Majar Ren.” The Knight emerges from the shadows of the room, startling Hux. I gesture to the surviving children. “You will all accompany them. Bring the girl to me. Everyone else is expendable.”

“And Kylo Ren?” Majar asks.

I should kill him, yet—I consider the power they harness together. The depth of their bond. And what they will do to protect each other.

“Bring me the girl. Leave Kylo Ren alive. He’ll bring whatever remains of the Resistance straight to us and we will finish this.”

Chapter Text

Fight for me...

REY

*

“What did you do to me?” Every frozen nerve ending in my body is sparking back to life, so many I didn’t even know existed. I hold tight to him, straining to keep from throwing myself at him. Or throwing him to the floor. I’m not sure what happens after that though. I kill him or—or—I gulp down air, trying desperately not to think of the possible ors. Because they are much more intriguing than murder.

“Seduced you into losing?” He’s a hazy shadow through the Force and desire still raging through me. “I promise it was no hardship. I just—I needed to bring you back, and I touched you, and you responded, and—”

“Right.” I manage a laugh. Of course. It was just a distraction.

“It was not just anything,” he grumbles. “It was entirely inappropriate. Entirely amazing.”

He swears under his breath.

“I shouldn’t have said that.”

“You should have left me to finish this. I should have—”

“You did, Rey,” he insists. “Everything one person could do against so many. Look at this.”

He brings my hand into my line of sight. He’s steady enough to make the tremors in my hand a stark contrast.

“You almost burned yourself out.”

“Worth it.”

“Trade you for a moment of safety?” A low growl works through his chest. “Not a fucking chance, sweetheart.”

“I get it,” I say. “It was a good tactic.”

“Rey,” he sighs. “Bright Star. Don’t talk about it like it’s something I didn’t want to do. Desperately.”

“You did?”

“Nothing quite says ‘I want to get into your pants’ as tracking you halfway across the galaxy.”

I take five breaths. Time to assess his expression, his tone. He’s teasing me. Mostly. His hand finds my hair, brushes it back from my face, triggering a sort of flashback.

“Your hand—was under my shirt.” My eyes drift closed. The memory of his fingers slides up my back, his hand fisting in my hair, shattering my focus with one firm pull. I let my head drop back again.

Kriff,” Kylo groans. He shifts and then his mouth is on my throat, teeth scraping, biting down slowly where my neck and shoulder meet. “Stop me. Please, stop me.”

“I need—” I don’t even know what my body is asking for, beyond theory.

My ignorance filtering through the bond stops Kylo as surely as any words.

“Not ignorance,” he whispers. “Innocence.”

“I’m hardly innocent,” I scoff.

“About this you are.” He breathes slow and deep, willing his heart to a more sedate pace.

“I stopped fighting, damn you,” I say. “Because—because—”

“You’re okay. We’re okay. We’re safe.”

“No.” I shake my head. “They’re still out there.”

“Out there,” he agrees. “Not in here.”

“I gave up.” And it’s tearing at me, knowing I’m weak.

“No, sweetheart. You’re alive. They would have won.”

His warmth outlines my right side, a delicious sizzle of nerve endings responding to his presence. Fingers brush my hair, hesitant at first. Any residual anger and fear churning through me stutter beneath the gentle assault. Fade into relief. A small sound escapes with my sigh as I relax into him.

“We’ve only just found each other.” His fingertips slide from my temple to the pulse in my throat, his hand easily spanning my neck. “Don’t expect me to let you go without a fight.”

His nose nuzzles a spot just beneath my ear, igniting a rush of hyper-focused awareness of the man holding me.

“I—I need to sit.”

He scoops me up and sinks to the floor with me in his lap.

“Okay, this is—I like this.”

A rumbling purr vibrates through his chest. Maybe he says something, maybe not. I’m more interested in his hot body.

Literally.

He’s so warm, and I am frozen to the core.

I snuggle in tighter against him, my cold hands sneaking under the edge of his shirt. He hisses as I lay them on his bare skin, but only draws back long enough to settle my grip along his sides. Every inhale brings in the scent of his clean skin, something crisp and cool. Walking beneath the canopy of trees on Takodana, in the snows on Starkiller. Dark memories intrinsic to him. And laying beneath those is something warm and hopeful.

When he links his hands around my waist, his upper arms lay over my hands. I groan against his chest, welcoming the extra layer of heat.

Bliss.

“Stars, Rey. How can you just accept it?” His internal sigh finds physical form in me. “How can anyone out there—” He jerks his chin toward the door. “—welcome me? Why don’t you hate me?”

“Maybe I should,” I say. “Maybe I did.

But that doesn’t feel right. I’ve been exasperated, angry, afraid, confused. I’m still most of those on a regular basis around him. Yet even on Starkiller, when I had every right to a killing rage, something held me back. Something more than the Light.

“There’s more to us than we understand, Kylo. I’m sure of it.” I rest my head against his shoulder, the steady thrum of his heart just audible. Closing my eyes, I listen to the synchronicity of our Forces, the rhythm steady and strong.

“Did General Organa come by to check on us?” I ask. My memories of the world outside our minds are fuzzy. Almost dreamlike.

“Or to arrest me.”

“Or to check on us.” I drum my fingers against his ribs, filing the unexpected delight of his shimmying response. Kylo Ren is ticklish. I bury my laugh against his chest. “You do like to think in worst case scenarios, Dark Spark.”

“You’re the one who Force held an entire room of people. What did you think they meant to do?”

“I did? There were so many energies. I couldn’t let them get close enough—” To hurt you. To take you.

“You’re so protective,” he teases, rubbing his cheek over my hair.

“She always has been.”

Kylo’s hold on me clamps tight at the familiar voice. General Organa stands in the doorway, eyes bright with tears.

“I—” Didn’t hear the door open. Didn’t know you were there. Have no idea how to respond.

Words. I need words.

“Always.” Kylo’s raspy voice gives life to the implication I’m tripping over. Over the very idea Kylo planted in my mind moments—hours? days?—ago. “We do know each other.”

“Yes,” the general says. Her expression teeters between hope and dread. Her soft eyes focus on me. “From the moment you were born.”

“General,” I finally grind out, and the single word is glass in my throat.

“We’re going to explain everything,” she says. “At least as much as we know.”

“We?” I ask.

“Me, Luke, and—” A heavy sigh seems to deflate her. “And several people who have waited a very long time to see you both again.”

Kylo snorts at that idea.

“Will you come with me?”

“No.” Kylo’s harsh denial draws a flinch from the general.

“We won’t force you.” She holds up her hands. “I know this is hard to understand. And it isn’t going to get easier, I’m afraid.”

“What do you mean?” he asks.

“Your bond is stronger than ever,” she says. “Stronger than anything we could build to protect you.”

Kylo clutches me close.

“What—what did you build?” I can barely push the words through the vise in my throat.


this won’t break us-whatever it is

“We’ll face it,” I say through the bond.

A shudder rips through his big body, part denial, part fear. I understand exactly. I hold too hard to him, my rough nails digging into his forearm, but he doesn’t object. If anything, the pain centers him. Another reminder of how profoundly fucked up our paths have been to bring us to this point.

Luke eases by Leia.

“You’re remembering,” he says. “Your proximity to one another is destabilizing the memory rubs and blocks. Simply being in each other’s presence—”

“The—what?” I lean harder into Kylo’s embrace. Memory rubs?

“Good,” a Togruta woman says over the general’s shoulder, taking the exact opposite interpretation of Luke’s words from me. But her smile is grim. “And also bad.”

Her significance comes to me through Kylo.


ahsoka tano-aunt snips-alive-still alive

“It’s going to happen faster,” Ahsoka says briskly. She glances between Luke and Leia. “We can let it tear them apart slowly, with no support, or we can guide them. What’s it going to be?”

“It’s not that simple, Ahsoka,” Luke says.

“This entire plan was a shit storm from the word go,” she counters. “But we didn’t have time for anything better. So now? This is as good as it’s going to get.”

“So we, what?” Leia says. “Rip the past open? They’re already hurting.”

“Would you prefer it happen when Snoke’s forces are here? When they’re fighting for their lives? Because that’s what’s coming, and we all know it. You can’t be a mother about this, Leia. Now, of all times, you have to be a leader.” Ahsoka’s fight falls away, her shoulders slumping. “We knew this was always the end, daughter of my heart.”

“But they’ve got fifteen years of hell stored in their minds now, too,” Leia says.

“There’s going to be a lot of fallout,” Luke adds.

Ahsoka eyes us.

“You’ve both grown so much.” Her smile is wide and genuine. “And wandered so very far. I’d begun to doubt this day would ever come.”

She moves past the Skywalker twins, right up to us.

“Let her go.” She tugs Kylo’s arms away enough to draw me into a tight hug. I’m as much surprised by the affection as by Kylo allowing it. She whispers against my ear. “My Rey of Hope. Stay strong.”

She releases me, as a sense of familiarity staggers me.

“I know you,” I croak. “How?”

“You’ll remember.”


aunt snips-dead-all dead-losing it

Kylo’s mind is spiraling, his panic trying to drag me down. I jam my nails into his arm, listen as he sucks in a sharp breath.

“Just try to remember the most important part, okay?” Ahsoka says softly to us. Her slender hands grip our shoulders. “Remember you chose this. You chose to save us.”

Kylo catches me against him.


don't let go-stay with me

“The hard part is still to come, my loves. I’m so sorry for that.” She presses a kiss to Kylo’s forehead. “After the darkness—”

“Ahsoka, wait—”

Luke’s words are lost in a roar of sound as she breathes, “Shines through the light.”

 

*

 

The world is stripped out from under me like it never was, the utilitarian base replaced with more light, color, and sound than I’ve ever seen. My mind reaches for Kylo, faltering when I don’t find him. I stumble into a place I don’t recognize, something more beautiful than I knew existed.

The towering scale of the rooms is absurd, a waste of space, even. Who needs ceilings so high? And the doors—is this a land of giants? The paneled double doors to my left burst open. I scramble back from any potential behemoths, but an adolescent boy tumbles through instead. His messy tumble of dark curls obscures his face, but my heart knows him. Always knows him.

Kylo?


“I’m coming, Bright Star,” he calls. “Almost there, I promise.”


“Ben Solo! Get back here.” The woman’s voice is frustration and affection balled together. “This is a diplomatic summit, young man, not a vacation.”


“But, Mama, don’t you hear her?” The dark haired angel turns back to the beautiful woman trailing him. He tugs on his mother’s gown. “She’s so loud. Louder than the scary man.”


“Louder than—” Shock flickers through the fine features of Leia Organa. A darkness twists her mouth, shadows her eyes. “Who is she, sweetheart?”

bright star

My heart leaps to hear my Kylo—faint, so faint. I’m here. I’m right here, Dark Spark.


“I dunno, but she’s bright. Like the sunshine on Tatooine.” The boy’s sweet mouth spreads in a wide grin. “And she likes me. She keeps calling for me.”

The lights are so bright and I close my eyes, a flickering spark in the darkness catching my attention. I reach out to touch it, to pull it to me.


“This way, this way—hurry!”


The boy runs through the broad halls, his bare feet slapping against the pristine tile. His mother follows behind, hands outstretched to grab him the moment he’s in reach. He evades her, giggling as he races ahead.

Kylo. No. No, this isn’t Kylo Ren. This is—Ben.


“I’m coming, Bright Star!”

I can’t make sense of what I see and hear. Is this our past? But how do his words seem to answer my mind’s call?


He skids to a stop before a nondescript door. Dark eyes alight with excitement, he lays his ear against the door.


“I can feel her,” he says breathlessly. “Thump-thump-thump-thump. Like a heartbeat.”


The boy’s face swims above me, wonder in his eyes.


“A baby girl, Mama. She’s like me.”


The rumbling purr of his power twines with the steady beat of the baby’s.

A beat I can’t help recognize. I’m the baby. Just like Kylo suspected.

The bright world vanishes, traded for a dark, rainy mud hole. I know this place.


“Don’t let go, Bright Star. We’re almost there.”


A sweaty hand holds mine, so tight it hurts. He’s older now, the welcome in his face replaced with fear. And I’m holding back as fast as I can, my tiny legs churning to keep pace. His face—oh stars, his face. The smile is one he saves for me. One he’s learned not to let anyone else see. He scoops me up onto his back.


“Hold tight, Rey.”


“I won’t let go, Ben.”


“That’s my girl.”

Luke’s face, hard with anger and disappointment, swims into focus.


“What is this, Ben? You walked away from the Light five years ago.”

“For Rey,” he says, all teenaged bravado staring down his elder. “I told Mama—I couldn’t leave her to the Dark. I didn’t want to go, Uncle.”


I huddle against his leg. He’s so tall, my head doesn’t yet reach his hip. But his big hand is gentle in the mess of my hair, soothing even as his own fears make his fingers shake.


“And what do you expect me to do?”


“Help me hide her. You don’t know what Snoke has planned for her.”

“She’s already spent five years in your Master’s tender care, Kylo Ren.” He spits out the names like curses. “We’re better severing her connection to the Force. Maybe you both are.”


He’s not like Snoke, but his words are mean. I don’t understand. Then Ben’s fear is choking me and I learn through the flashes of his thoughts. The man wants to break our bond?

His hand reaches out, freezing as I mirror him, screaming. No words at first, but then I’m putting myself between Ben— mine, my Dark Spark, keep you safe —and the angry man. I have to protect him. I must. I will. He is my reason for—

The vision or memory spits me out. I stumble backward, hands catching me before I can fall. I see Ben—Kylo—friend friend friend—dark eyes blank and unseeing. He’s trapped in his own hell. I fight my way to my feet, to him.

“You are my reason,” I push through the bond. The certainty shakes through me. “I chose this life for you. Come back to me. Fight this, Ben. Fight for me.”

His eyes lock on me, awareness of this world flaring in his wild gaze.

“Kylo?” I hold him tight as his body goes rigid. The Dark surges within him. “Stay with me. I’m right here.”

His dark eyes roll up, around. The room is full of faces he recognizes.

His shock flashes through the bond, overlaying younger, but recognizable faces with the present. My jaw drops.

“Oh—oh, kriff,” I whisper.

They’re the trainees. The academy students everyone believes Kylo murdered. And they are armed to the teeth and ready for war.

“You didn’t kill them.”

“I did. I know I did. I can see it. Hear it. I fucking feel it. Every stab and slash.” His voice breaks. He lifts the heel of his hand to his head, pounds bone against bone. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Nothing makes sense. I killed them. Killed them all.”

“They’re here, Ben.” The name Kylo keeps falling farther away in my mind. I look to anyone for help. “We need somewhere.”

It’s Leia who squares her shoulders and takes charge.

“I know a space,” she says.

“Everyone else goes first.”

She gives a steely nod.

“Clear out, people. Jedi types, you’re on perimeter duty. Maintain the shielding.”

Ben doesn’t cooperate at first, so I threaten to leave him here. The whole damn base shakes with his response to that.

“Don’t make me put you out again,” I hiss. “Just keep it together a few more minutes.”

“Fine,” he growls.

The general guides us to an elevator. We ride the lift down four levels. She leads us to a room decorated in dark fabrics and soft lighting.

“My meditation room,” she says. “There are a few simple Force wards in place that will help with shielding you. And—this.”

She points to a shelf covered in neat stacks of leather bound books of some sort.

“What are they?”

“The past fifteen years, give or take,” she says. “From my perspective, but they might help.”

I shiver as she withdraws and the door slides shut between us. Ky—Ben presses along my back, cuddles me closer. Kriff, I’m tired. So damn tired. All we do is fight. Ourselves, each other, everything.

“I’m all—” I press harder into me, a hoarse groan completing my thought.

“Anything you need, I’m right here.”

The husky promise ignites something deep inside me.

“Need you,” I whisper. I whip around in his hold, my hands diving into his hair, tugging him. Not close enough. Never close enough. “Please. Stars, please.”

He lifts me in his arms, the ripple and shift of muscles in his arms and chest drawing an involuntary gasp from me. I lock my legs around his waist as he hefts me up. Our mouths brush once, twice, a tease I can’t resist. I nip his bottom lip, relishing his groan of response. His kiss is nothing less than a demand, a claim, his tongue licking deep.

He breaks the kiss, burying his face against my throat.

“I need you so much.” His broken whisper drives me to lay my lips against his hair. “I can’t—I shouldn’t—”

I fist my hands in his hair. His grip on me tightens as I drag his face up to mine.

“I’ve done for myself longer than I can remember,” I say softly. “I don’t need anyone.”

“I know,” he begins, stopping as I lay my fingers over his lips.

“Anyone but you,” I finish. “This is who we are for each other.”

His eyes widen, pupils dilating.

“Don’t be afraid. I feel it, too.”

A slight smile eases across his face. Oh, yes, he remembers those words.

“You did that on purpose.”

“Did what?” I offer a sly grin. “Reminded you that you spotted our connection before I did?”

“I didn’t understand then,” he says.

“But you knew it wasn’t one-sided.”

“From the second I heard you.” He touches my cheek, thumb skimming the edge of my bottom lip. “You were—are—always will be—the brightest star in my sky, Rey.”