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They brought him in in chains before the assembly for his trial and sentencing.

His hair was slightly disheveled, his eyes were downcast, his hands cuffed. There was something powerful and terrible and proud about his figure even in his obvious misery. Despite his surface roughness, he looked still strong enough to fight. But he didn’t, and made no motions of hostility towards the guards who led him in firmly by the arms.

Rumor was that he’d turned himself in, shown up quietly outside the resistance base, ready to pay for his crimes. Rumor was that it was his betrayal of Hux which had been the final straw on the back of a crumbling first order, suffering for months under an unstable rule and endless power struggle.

A murmur of gossip and curiosity swept through the hall as he took his place before the judge.

Both the lineage, crimes, and appearance of General Organa and Han Solo’s son all combined to create the kind of person whom gossiping tongues could never contentedly ignore. Everyone in the Resistance knew and loved his parents, and so most hated him for the murder of his father and the pain he had caused their beloved general before her death. He was also the Face of the first order, if not the sole reason for the resistance’s suffering and pain, an important enough one that even just looking at him was a painful reminder of the heavy losses incurred in the galactic fight. And frankly, he was too broad-shouldered to ignore, too young, too curious, too human. His height and stature, the strength of his profile, his dark hair falling over his forehead- commanded their attention while the contrasts of these with his sensitive mouth, the pools of light in his eyes, and his haunting, curious youth held it steadfast. They could not look away.

And to think that he had turned himself in! That he stood in chains before the judge to receive his sentence willingly. Well, the crowd did not know exactly what to think. But though a united consensus was lacking, loud opinions were certainly not. Many hated, some pitied, a few questioned, most debated. Everyone had something to say.

But not at the moment.

Opinions died away once the Judge called the room to order and the proceedings began.

Ben Solo stood for his trial, listening in silence as his crimes were read aloud in solemn tones.

His posture was still and taut- he was pulled as tight as the string on a bow- but the expression on his face was unreadable.

After the crimes were read, discussion, long and wearying discussion, began about a suitable punishment. Mitigating circumstances were discussed- Snoke’s influence, how powerful it was, at what age it began, the fact that his return was voluntary and that by turning himself in Kylo Ren had effectively ended the war against the resistance- but all returned to the same point.

Was any of it enough to keep him from death?

The discussion dragged out and through it all Ben Solo stood and listened and was silent.

At length the council stopped their discussion and the Judge asked if the defendant had anything to add or plea or beg for.

He did not. He said nothing. There was nothing to say, he knew. He had nothing to offer as a means of excuse; he had no pleas, no bargaining chips, nothing but the weight of his own despair to offer.

And that was why he was here.

He had not come back out of hope; he had not come back even out of contrition.

He came back because he had to.

After Rey had shut him out and he felt his father’s chains fade in his gloved hand, his soul began a rapid and swift descent into a darkness he couldn’t comprehend or express. Without her to turn to, without even Snoke, as wretched as that was, with no one to love or serve or talk to, with no one to whom he could extend a hand (and even though he didn’t know it and couldn’t say it that was what he wanted in the depths of his soul- to extend a hand. If there was anything he wanted more, it was simply that someone would take it), all the weight of his crimes seemed to catch up to him.

Brutalized and torn by the whips of the darkness of his own crimes, numbness had set in. Right on the point of hardening into nihilism, into furious, mindless madness, he learned through the force of his mother’s death, and into the madness poured a grief which seized him by the throat and with fiery hands lifted him out of the sinking sandpit of despair.

He didn’t know it then (he barely knew it now) but the grief saved him. It manifested itself first in a violent rage- one of his many explosions of temper and utter loss of self-control, the result of which was always destruction, of whatever was nearest him and another piece of his soul- but this time it had no end.

There was no one to blame; she had died of natural causes. Old age and heartache that finally caught up to her. There was no point on which he could focus the grief and then rush towards it to destroy it in a blaze of purple violence. There was no one to fight because it could not be undone. It was simply there, bottomless, endless, cold and burning hot at the same time. And he didn’t know what to do with it. He did not know what to do with it.

Eventually it spent itself out in him. Furies of passion cannot last forever. There is only so long that the human body and heart can sustain them. And though Ben Solo’s capacity for passion and emotion was deep and wide and long, though the colors of love and hate burned fiercely in him, neither were infinite. He fully expected that the heights of grief would lower him once more into the pit of madness and, eyes half closed, he almost welcomed it.

But it didn’t. The fire which had made him want to put his head down and charge at something like a tortured bull receded, but the prompting which had begun it didn’t. And it didn’t deposit him down into the hardening madness. It wouldn’t let him. The grief stayed with him and, infuriatingly, kept him afloat.

But what could he do? He couldn’t run madly at something this time. He couldn’t fight, hack at, or destroy something (the only things he had ever been good at) so what could he do?

He was lost, like a little boy would be lost. And in this loss was his salvation. He had nowhere to go, so he went home. What was left of it. He went back to try and see his mother or her grave or her remains. Whatever was left of her because he had waited until it was too late and there was nothing left.

But he hadn’t returned with hope, and certainly not with hope of clemency or pardon. So when asked if he had anything to say for himself, he said nothing. Because there was nothing left to say.

The judges retreated for a brief recess to decide the sentence. When they returned, they read it out to him.

He was to be stripped of his powers and sent into exile on the remote planet of Atollon.

He listened to the sentence impassively, feeling nothing. Some might have said he should be grateful at so merciful a sentence (so merciful in fact that plenty would (and did) call it unjust). But his heart only increased in heaviness.

The hearing concluded and the court was dismissed. He was to be taken back to his cell and once there, arrangements would be made for the stripping of his powers and his transportation to Atollon.

Once returned to his cell, he closed his eyes and sank to his knees and waited in the darkness, a cold numbness spreading in him slowly but surely.

That was when he felt her presence. And he did sense it before he saw her, and then heard her voice before he had time to do anything but feel his heart stir from the numbness to tighten painfully in his chest.

“I would like a moment with him, please.”

Her voice cut through the cell, though it was neither raised nor loud, but firm and low.

Rey.

He hadn’t seen her since that fateful day that she had shut the bond between them, leaving him out in the cold while she flew away. On his father’s ship.

Kylo instinctively felt rather than consciously understood that his lowering spiral began from the moment the door sealed shut. He knew that that marked the beginning of the madness but he did not know why.

When she was with him all he knew was that the ache in his chest hurt less. When she was gone it grew worse. And when she left, the chasm in him split open to a terrifying degree.

In the moments before he saw her again now, he wondered with a dull ache if her face would look different from the last time she saw him, if the hardness of her face had deepened, if her anger or disappointment were more fully etched on her open face.

He bent his head and braced himself for the pain of it. What was a little more of it, he told himself, when so much of him was pain already. But his body was still taut.

She entered and stood silent for a moment before him and, almost unwillingly, bound by the strength of their connection, by the hum of the bond that held them together, he lifted his head to meet her gaze.

Her expression was soft, and with sudden, stabbing clarity he felt rush through him the pain of hope and love.

(Why did they hurt so much more than the numbness of despair? Why did his entire soul spring to life under their touch?)

Her expression was soft, and though tears stood in her eyes, she was smiling.

“Ben,”

She said his name like a breath of relief, like she had been holding it tightly to her chest for so long but was now finally able to let it go.

“Ben, you came back.”

“Rey-“

Before he knew what was happening, Rey fell on her knees, threw her arms around him, and held him tight.

That was all he could focus on at first- the strength of her arms. He struggled to process that they could be holding him so tightly. Of everything he had braced himself for, this was the last thing he had expected and the last thing he knew how to comprehend. His heart flooded with a joy so violent, so piercing, so unbearable that he could barely breathe. He thought he understood the pain of homecoming where hostility and wary curiosity were his only welcome, but he had never expected the pain of returning to a love that had been waiting for him and had in it no reproaches. He began in a panic to distance himself from what was happening, reverting to the numbness that had held him captive for so long, sinking down to the pit he always felt he deserved to be in.

But her arms stayed around him still. If anything, her grip grew stronger.

It was real. It was. This was happening.

Acting only on instinct because he had nothing else, his arms closed around her in response- returning her pressure, her strength, her gentleness with his own- with what was left of them. With everything he had left.

He didn't deserve this. She wouldn't stay. He was leaving forever soon.

But in that moment, none of that mattered.

In the darkness of the cell, Ben and Rey held each other tight.

If given the choice, they would never have let each other go.