“So you have chosen to witness my triumph.”
Will was still sat on the throne, resting with his limbs lax and head tilted back against the slab of stone. Waves of energy like reddish light coursed through him, weaving the bond between his body and Palpatine’s spirit. The holocron channelled its power to feed the connection, its bright filigree walls turning dim and burned out as the ritual progressed. Once it was complete, it wouldn’t be anything more than a lump of ashes.
Will’s bionic eyes stared unseeing into the ceiling, the apertures whirring at random. The frantic, unpredictable sound was perhaps the last what was left of the clone.
“The last of the Skywalkers...”
Kylo Ren walked slowly towards the dais before he stopped. There appeared to be an invisible barrier preventing him to come any closer. He lifted his hand, palm facing outward. Flexed his fingers, gripping on thin air. A flicker of flames appeared out of nowhere and dispersed again like the ionised air Zay used to see around the edges of her X-wing cockpit during atmospheric flight.
A force-field, or maybe a literal Force field, the air itself going up in flames from the friction where Kylo Ren pushed his own energy against it.
“... and the daughter of traitorous, rebel scum.”
Zay slunk into the room behind him and kept to the wall. Getting caught in a magical cross-fire was the last thing she wanted. She almost tripped over something lying on the floor in the corner… Ren’s almost empty backpack. He’d dropped it here earlier. A few of the thermal detonators lay strewn across the floor, forgotten.
Her blaster wouldn’t be of much use against a lightsaber-wielding Force-user. She had seen enough archive footage to know that they could deflect any shot. But a detonator… that was a different handful.
“Let him go,” Ren was saying. “You cannot escape this planet.”
Will rose from the seat and stepped down from the dais, prowling towards Ren like a big cat playing with its prey. The barrier between them dropped with just a tilt of his head.
“For the last battle, I have left instructions. My followers were to use the spark of vital life force trapped in Jakku’s core to release all the power from the Sith artifacts I have left behind.”
The thing inhabiting the clone’s body laughed.
“You may destroy the planet but the energy released will make me more powerful than you can possibly imagine. I will escape through space and time… while you will be left behind and perish.”
He still held the Skywalker lightsaber, now red like a dying star and with a new, jarring note to its sound, hissing with an occasional crackle. The Kyber crystal inside was still fighting the change. Will held it loosely, pointed down and to the side - almost as if welcoming an attack, daring Ren to try.
“He was your protégé, wasn’t he. You feel responsible for him.” Bright blue eyes roamed on their own, unfocused. They still held a reminder of innocence, so at odds with the cruel, mocking smile. “Even now, you are hesitant to fight me, for fear of hurting him.”
Zay took another few steps around the room. Will - or whatever was left of him - didn’t seem to pay her any attention. Carefully, she crept closer, keeping in the shadows of the massive marble spikes of the throne. She was almost behind it now, Will’s back turned to her. She caught Ren’s eye and mouthed, keep him talking.
And then she pressed the trigger of the thermal detonator. She caught the frantic shake of Ren’s head but it was already too late - the detonator rolled across the floor to stop at Will’s feet. The countdown cut through the rhythmic booming rumble of the ritual in an ever-accelerating series of beeps-
It levitated off the floor straight into Will’s hand. He regarded it with disdain as the beeping turned into one steady sound and then… it imploded on itself.
Zay could hardly believe her eyes. The detonator went off - for about a millisecond. And then all that hot plasma and blast energy just turned inwards and consumed each other in a single poof of black smoke.
And then Will’s fist, still loosely wrapped around the empty space where the detonator had been just a moment ago, closed. The air was squeezed out of Zay’s throat, stars burst along the edges of her vision, and then the world went black.
Zay didn’t know how much later it was when she came to. Perhaps just a few seconds. The chamber was still pulsing with light. Outside, the noise of the turbines changed, rising higher as the strain on them increased, with a deafening echo from the almost emptied borehole. Beneath her cheek pressed against the cold ground, she felt a tiny, passing tremor. It could be one of the machines faltering. But it could also be the first quake, threatening to rip apart the whole planet. Shakily, she got to her feet.
Will was talking.
“...unless you take his place. He is dead either way.” He drew himself up, arms outstretched, inviting. “If you strike me down, he may at least rest in peace.”
Oh no. Zay understood what Palpatine was offering. The hatred, guilt and pain at killing Will would open Ren’s soul to be possessed by the same evil that had overtaken the clone.
She saw Ren raise his lightsaber, pain and anguish welling up in his eyes… and then his eyes slipped past Will to lock with hers once more, flipped the hold on the lightsaber to point the blade in reverse, and tossed it to her.
She stood too far to be able to stab Will in the back, but it didn’t matter. She was close enough to swing herself up on the marble spikes of the throne and drive the bright blue blade of the lightsaber straight through the holocron.
The explosion knocked her to the ground. The blinding light burned residual white spots into her retina that floated in her vision when she blinked. Besides the spots, the room was filled with darkness. Zay couldn’t hear anything. Her ears were buzzing with static. Something tickled her on the sides of her neck. She rubbed at it and her fingers came away bloody. The blast must have ruptured her eardrums.
Disoriented, she tried to crawl out of the debris of the throne. A sharp pain shot through her arm and she whimpered. She became aware of something heavy - probably a piece of debris from the broken throne - trapping her right arm under its weight. She pushed at it and tried to twist her body - to no avail. She might as well have been poking the very rock of Jakku’s crust.
Her head pounded and everything hurt. Did they succeed? Did they interrupt the ritual in time? If yes, where did the spirit go-
Those burning questions were answered rather abruptly when lightning flashed through the room, arcing in continuous, splitting, relentless bursts. Will was still somehow standing, even though stooping and leaning heavily to one side, and the lightning was spitting from his fingertips and into Ren’s writhing body.
Muffled with the fog of static, she could still hear Palpatine’s laughter.
“Did you think I would let him go? He’s mine. The ritual would have merely extinguished his spirit from this body. Now he is trapped. I still have control over him, he is no match against me!”
Ren’s hands scrambled for purchase across the floor, clawing at the stone with bloodied nails. Zay could only watch as his body convulsed in agony. And yet he wasn’t trying to get away, or fight back - no - it seemed as if he was trying to reach for something.
In the sharp and sickly electric light, Zay saw something move out of the corner of her eye. Ren’s empty backpack, forgotten by the wall. As she watched, she realised it wasn’t completely empty. It shifted again, an outline of something round and solid pushing against the fabric. Another detonator? They were useless, Palpatine already proved he could extinguish them with just a thought-
What finally levitated out of the bag wasn’t a detonator. It looked like two half-ring shapes connected together at one end, gleaming dully like a plated metal. It looked almost like… a single opened handcuff. Only much bigger.
It flew across the room slowly, shakily, as Ren’s body was tortured and his control was slipping. Above him, Palpatine was still laughing.
“You shall wish you stayed dead the first time I killed you, last Skywalker!”
Another burst wracked Ren’s body, his limbs contorting, his spine arching off the floor. And then, in the last effort, he lifted his hand - and snapped his fingers together.
The metallic ring closed around the clone’s neck, the lock clicking shut.
All of the sudden, the lightning stopped, and the room plunged into darkness. In the abrupt silence, Zay heard the thud of Will’s body collapsing against the floor.
And then her white-noise-filled ears picked up the distant boom of rock cracking deep beneath them.
“I really wanted to tell him I wasn’t the last Skywalker,” Ren groaned as he moved away the piece of marble trapping Zay’s arm.
“The fewer speeches the better,” she huffed back at him and then cursed in several languages in quick succession. She got to her feet on her own but her forearm was sticking out at an odd angle. At least she could still run. The walkway could collapse any moment now. Kylo was hobbling behind her.
Then she realised the reason Kylo was slower. It was because he had hauled Will’s unconscious body across his shoulders, and was carrying him out.
“What are you doing?” She very nearly pushed them both off the walkway. “Toss him in! We’re not saving bloody Palpatine!”
Kylo paused to toss something into the depths - the Skywalker lightsaber.
“Palpatine possessed him through the Force,” he explained. “As long as Will is cut off from the Force, Palpatine can’t control him.”
Zay groaned in disbelief but arguing would only ensure the Observatory would collapse on their heads, so she ran ahead.
They stumbled out of that cursed place into the white-hot sun and the shimmering air of Jakku desert. All around them, the sand was vibrating and shifting, the dunes collapsing on themselves. Across the horizon, the sand dust darkened the sky, lifted by rapidly encroaching storms.
“Now tell me you have a plan,” Kylo panted. Will might have been reedy and malnourished but he was still a grown man of nearly the same height as him, and his deadweight was kriffing heavy.
“The advanced TIEs in the landing dome,” Zay shouted. Her arm was out of commission but a seasoned Resistance pilot like her could fly those tin cans with one hand literally tied behind her back. The fighters had two seats, for the pilot and for the gunner. With Will, it would be a tight fit.
They made it into the landing dome and into the TIE with seconds to spare. Kylo prayed to the Force that they would clear the atmosphere before the planet would explode.
He should have known that after today, the Force was utterly done with him.
The wave hit them and tossed the TIE into an uncontrolled spin, banging Kylo’s head against the side of the cockpit. As the lumps of dirt and rocks pummeled the fragile casing of their lifeboat, his last thought was comforting.
Somewhere out there, Hux was going to be alright.
Not very far from there, Hux was very nearly having apoplexy.
D-D finally let him go from his crushing grasp when the ship was far enough from the planet that its destruction wouldn’t harm it.
Which meant that Hux got to see it.
It was somehow worse than watching the death of the Starkiller base.
He’d thought he had lost everything that day. It didn’t seem possible that one day, he would lose even more.
He knew what Ren would say. It’s alright, Hux. You’ll grieve. You’ll regroup. You’ll come back stronger. You always do.
But could he grieve? Was he given even one bloody moment to grieve? No, because that kriffing Mirialan girl was on him like a harpy, insisting over and over:
D-D provided the voice of reason because all Hux wanted was to scream. “The chances of surviving a planetary explosion-”
“They’re alive! I can feel it!”
Great. What did the Resistance pilot say? That Mirialans had a natural affinity to the Force? Hux was so done with that wizardry.
“Hux, I know you can feel it too.” Steaming pile of nerfshit. “Listen to your heart, what does it say?”
Hux stopped fighting against the scream but all that came out was just high-pitched, maniacal laughter.
“My heart-” he hiccuped, “-my heart is a set of turbine pumps controlled by a chip, it doesn’t say shit-”
Something blinked inside his brain. Like a light coming on. A chip.
“A control chip,” he muttered. And then he dived for the flight computer.
This ship had got them out of trouble by locking on Ren’s tracker several times. The frequency was still stored in the flight logs. The custom-made chip also had what Hux once described as ‘a little obedience function’ - it sat on Ren’s jugular vein, impossible to remove, and was connected to his central nervous system.
Hux turned his cabin upside down until he found the control bracelet, and then he nearly smashed the button calling for feedback.
The tiny pinprick of light flared up on the screen. A rundown of vitals started to scroll down. Body temperature. Blood oxygen saturation. Heart rate.
“My heart doesn’t,” he grinned. “But his talks loud and clear.”
Kylo came back, very slowly, to the somewhat blurry sight of a gently lit ceiling and durasteel walls of a ship’s cabin. He knew those lights. He knew the feeling of the soft mattress under his back. They’ve survived.
He turned his head. His vision was still blurred but he would know Hux’s face anywhere. His hair was loose, red starting to show around the roots, and his eyes were stern, lined with black rings of exhaustion.
But his lips were still perfect. Pink, slightly bitten, and pursed in that furious sneer that Kylo knew so well. Hux wouldn’t be Hux without it. Kylo wondered if he would get a kiss now...
“Give me back my kriffing droid!” Hux barked.
Fuck. So much for a kiss. Kylo turned his head a little more and sure enough, there was D-D, contentedly hovering over Hux like the faithful bodyguard he was now.
“Sorry,” Kylo rasped. “Dee-dee, end of override protocol. I would appreciate it if you didn’t zap me.”
The droid’s eyes blinked and he beeped as he ran an internal diagnostics, making sure all his ad-ons were back in place. Then he switched back to the voice module.
“You have spent two weeks in bacta to heal from your injuries, including the nerve damage caused by lightning. I am not going to undo all my hard work,” he said. Beside him, Hux visibly relaxed, the tension leaking out of him at the sound of D-D’s usual voice.
“Your hard work was for nothing,” Hux grumbled. “He’d always been braindead.”
D-D left, presumably to look after his other patients. Hux turned back to Kylo… and swayed a little.
“Hux,” Kylo started, cautiously. “I want you to know I’m sorry-”
“Shut up, Ren,” Hux advised him. He blinked sluggishly. “I haven’t slept in… far too long.”
And with that, he crawled into Kylo’s bed, threw one arm over his torso, hooked one knee across his legs, rested his face against Kylo’s shoulder… and was out like the light.
Alright, Kylo thought fondly. He supposed they could talk later. They had time. In fact, they had all the time in the world.
Kylo got a little fright when he first hobbled out from the cabin, only to run into Will in the common area - with the Force dampening collar gone from his neck.
But the clone only smiled as he pointed to his nape. From under the base of his skull, along his spine and deep between his shoulder blades ran a clean, surgical scar, already healing.
“Hux and D-D found a way to integrate the Force-dampening circuitry into my spine,” he explained. “It was my own idea, by the way. Collar was too dangerous. Someone could remove it and I’d be back to being a monster.”
Kylo didn’t know what to say. A mere sorry didn’t seem to cover it.
The clumsy, slightly childish manner Will used to have was gone now. It seemed that the experience of hosting a centuries old malicious spirit in his mind has finally aged him, his innocent, carefree days definitely in the past. He could be bearing this burden for the rest of his life, all because of Kylo’s blindness to what was going on right under his nose.
“I’m going with Zay to Ajan Kloss,” Will told him. “Perhaps with more Jedi around, we will find a way to purge Palpatine’s presence out of the Force for good.”
And if they wouldn’t… he would have to live out the rest of his days like this. Cut off from the Force, and without his innate Sight. He always used the Force to see without eyes.
“You’re blind now,” Kylo pointed out, unhappy. “Truly.”
Will shrugged. “I still have the eyes Ash made for me. I always liked them better, anyway.”
It took Hux another week before he cooled off enough to start talking to Ren in longer than two-word sentences. And another, before he kissed him.
By the end of the first week, Ren looked ready to die for just one kiss. But by the end of the second, it was clear that one kiss was just the first crack in a dam.
At night, ignoring Ren’s not-so-subtle overtures was becoming increasingly impossible. By the end of the third week, Ren was positively sulking.
But still he wouldn’t crack and push. Perhaps he truly believed he deserved the cold shoulder. Not that he didn’t, he definitely did. But Hux decided to free him from his misery anyway.
“I’m not punishing you, or whatever you’ve concocted in that thick head of yours,” Hux informed him. “If anything, I’m punishing myself. But I have standards.”
He looked around the cabin. After three weeks of constant cohabitation, the smell was only the first item on a long list of issues. And he was done with the idea of quick blow-jobs and dirty hand-jobs. He wanted everything and he didn’t want to compromise.
“Trust me when I say this, that as soon as I get you somewhere with a clean bed and a ‘fresher, I’m going to make you strip, and I’m going to take you apart.”
He said it as a threat but judging from the way Ren’s eyes darkened, he took it as a promise.
Hux decided not to tell him yet that he already researched the unity ceremonies on the planet they were heading to. Galaxy-wide acknowledged or not, he didn’t care. He truly wanted everything.
For now, he would take another kiss.