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All the Stars, They Must Burn

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It’s the silence that feels strange to Rey, now. Before, she was used to silence. In the Field of Giants you could spend hours without seeing another living soul before finally returning to Niima Outpost. Jakku was a place for the lost and the dead, where ships and tech went to die. Where people spent decades trying to climb out of the dirt. The unwanted. The Nobodies.

Rey’s fingers catch on the crate that she’s sliding out of the Falcon as that word passes through her mind. Nobody.

Perhaps it made sense that she had grown up on Jakku. Perhaps the planet made a person just as much as a family did. Her hands clench together so hard against the crate’s edges that they tremble and she cuts herself off from the balance, shuts it off, shuts it down, because Rey’s standing in the middle of a small space with a bunch of people and right now it feels like she could shove the Falcon off its landing gears if she let it all out. Even the bolts and hinges around her groan and vibrate. Like Rey's thought was a command that they were more than happy to obey. Her bones feel it. It'd be so easy

“You okay, kid?” Dameron cuts in, suddenly at her left shoulder with his own crate of what few food rations the Resistance managed to bring with them on the escape pods.

That easiness, the feeling in her bones snaps, and all Rey's left with is the cold.

Breathe, comes Master Luke’s echo. It’s hard to let the thing inside her chest go, let it dissipate, but she does. Nods. “Just— slipped.”

Slipped. Two days ago she'd lifted six thousand pounds of rocks on Crait. Today she can barely stay vertical. 

BB8, who rolls to the bottom of the ramp, looks between them with their swiveling visual unit with some exaggerated whirs and beeps something that translates into schedule DESIGNATED\\REY for traction upgrades?

Rey just blinks a few times and says nothing.

Poe, however, just sighs and says, “You know I can’t understand you when you talk that fast.”

BB8 ignores Poe and continues just as fast: DESIGNATED\\REY was not manufactured for this terrain, modifications necessary.

“They are not,” Rey bites. She’s being taken care of by a droid that barely comes up to her knee. “I’m fine.”

Poe shakes his head and frowns down at his bot, and continues carefully toeing his way down the Falcon’s ramp into the hard-packed ice, and as he goes Rey hears, “I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately, BB. Do bots have teenage phases?”

BB8’s visual unit swivels back to stare at Rey even as it rolls away, right on Poe’s ankles. Rey just shakes her head at it, and maybe something in her expression translates into binary, somehow. Stranger things have been known to happen.

 

_________

 

Now they are on Hoth. The old Rebel base, and Rey finally understands the meaning of cold because this place somehow makes Starkiller's snowy forests seem dry and balmy — she grew in the other end of the unlivable spectrum but this ice planet has taught her what death by cold feels like, and the coat and gloves that she was given are too large for even her frame, and aren’t warm enough, and everyone is scrambling, licking their wounds and trying to find what next might be. Like after the Breath of R’iia, the great sandstorm on Jakku that knocked over Imperial-Class Star Destroyers. Everyone is panicking, and it is only the firm hand of Command that is keeping people from flying apart at the bolts.

There’s cargo to be unloaded and wounded to be tended to, ships to be repaired. Especially the Falcon, who, at right this very second, has been promoted to the Resistance’s only Flagship. Chewie’s already working on repairing the Novaldex Static-Type Shield Generators on the port side, which was nearly ripped off during that stint in the crystal caverns on Crait.

Even just working on the generators will take better part of a day, if they can even find the right parts in this base. Chewie lets her help with the Falcon straight through dinner and until dawn, because it's important, because they're dead in the water without a functioning Flagship, because they have nothing better to do right this very second, and because it feels like the Resistance is holding its breath and waiting for the sound of heavy footsteps, their impending doom. But the doom doesn't come. All they can do is sleep. Wait for dawn. Chewbacca lets her work until her fingers start disobeying what her mind tells them and then shoos her into one of the bunks at the front of the Falcon with one of his short, no-nonsense tolerating burrs. She has half a mind to argue, because she’s not tired and the Falcon still won’t fly in this state— but he berates her again and she gives in.

That Wookie is possibly the second-most stubborn thing she’s ever met in the Galaxy.

 

_________

 

The bunks on the Falcon are not comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, even though Rey somehow knows that the ones in the other room are a little bit less-used, but to Rey, who slept for nineteen years on hard Durasteel covered in whatever scraps of cloth she could find in the Field of Giants, it should put her to sleep instantly. She slept on rocks on Ahch-To, in front of Master Luke’s hut. Rocks inside her own hut, when she got one. This is nothing, compared to that.

She climbs into the topmost bunk after peeling off only the outermost layer, the jacket and gloves, and buries herself under the blanket. It’s still cold, and cold is the thing that Rey hates most in the universe, she finds— but she’s slept in worse.

Except she can’t sleep. Rey frowns and spreads herself out, all limbs, like she did on Jakku, filling up as much space as she could. When that doesn't work, she tries curling up on her side. Nothing. She kicks the blanket off. Pulls it back on. Her mind is tired and her body is exhausted, it's been days since she got some proper rest.

She flips over a final time before she admits that the bunk may not be the problem. She lets out a frustrated sound and kicks at the Durasteel ceiling twice, the second time just for good measure, and turns around to lay on her other side against the wall. "Ah, shit," Rey finally spits, along with a half-dozen other words in Huttese and Teedo that she's picked up in two decades. "What the kriff!"

There is no answer of Such Language

Even though she half expects it. She isn't used to the silence. 

It was easy to do when she was upright, cold even sinking into her bones, with her fingers working and her mind blank, trying to wrap her head around a stubborn problem. Easy. But now? Trying to relax everything else, trying to re-find balance, all the while keeping that thing inside her chest locked away where it could never get out again?

And— the silence.

She used to be used to the silence. But now it feels strange. Now it feels as if the right side of her brain has malfunctioned. There’s no answer to a thought that she sends out into the void. There’s no sudden scent of Durasteel and oil and leather in the air. No hiss of the First Order’s mechanical repair and manufacturing droids.

Everything is just… empty.

The Rebel bases and Resistance fleets of course are very different, during her brief stays on each respectively. Bots and mechanics and officers and flyboys and sanitation staff and porgs and vulptexes and people everywhere, she could feel them almost as if on the very edge of her hearing, like thousands of tiny lights on a horizon that just thrum until they bleed together and the individuality, bar a few people, fades out. Some shine brighter. Finn. General Organa. Luke used to shine brightest of all but his light has faded, too. Expanded. Departed in one flare of brilliance.

The hum, Rey realizes. That, that had always been there. She just had no comparison to, well, compare it to. To her it had just been the effect of being alone for so long, that when she was around people, it thrummed. And now it’s gone. There’s nothing. Like she’s suddenly missing a limb.

Rey has— from that moment on the Falcon, looking down to where he was kneeling on the floor of the Resistance’s command center, shut herself off from the bond. It hurts to do it, like she isn’t getting enough oxygen to her lungs, but it’s the only way. It’s the only way to shut him out. Rey’s connection to the bond is locked away behind a mental wall made of thousand-foot Durasteel.

She didn’t understand at first. Now she knows why her Master did it. Why he shut himself off.

There is something inside her that knows that meditation would help. It could quiet her thoughts and calm her mind. Ease her restlessness and re-find her center. She isn't good at meditation, yet, because she learned from Skywalker for a grand total of three days, but she's a fast learner. But Rey does not know how to separate meditation and balance from the Force. And he would be there.

No. Meditation is not an option. It’s not an option until she can figure something else out.

Sleep doesn’t come for hours, but Rey does eventually drift into a dreamless stasis. She gets all of three hours of sleep before a loud noise and a shudder throughout the Falcon— Chewie, probably, wakes her back up again.

 

_________

 

"Where are the rest?" A voice asks, and for a tick Rey doesn't recognize it, except for the fact that it's familiar and feels too close, and she somehow follows them around the corner as they walk, dark cloaks moving in a wind that she can't feel. She can't see them. Can't see anybody, nobody, nothing, but gets impressions, almost, of movement and consciousness and sounds. Afterimages.

"Gone, Sir," another returns. "Sent out by Supre— by Snoke, Sir. Only one has returned."

 "Which one," he asks, and Rey can feel his panic, his worry— which onewhich one is itis it Rih

"Alor Ren, sir."

The taller figure stops, and Rey stops too, at least ten feet behind them, hidden in the curve of the durasteel. In the waking world, something in Rey knows that she'd never be able to hear this conversation, but she hears it echo anyway. Like it was happening right next to her ear, like her ears are hearing her speak the words. And she feels everything, too. His worry eases as she catches thoughts that aren't hers— Alor's too busy mourning and at least it isn't Ysser. Rey, who cannot feel the cold of Hoth, wonders who these people are, that he dwells on them so much.

Instead of answering her, the Supreme Leader's shadow waves a hand like it was an afterthought, and pushes into his companion's head. Like it was nothing. Like it was the easiest Force trick of them all. "You will tell me when the Knights return. Immediately."

  

_________

 

Half a million miles across the Galaxy, Rey wakes up on the top bunk of the Falcon with a jolt, an automatic response of striking out at absolutely nothing, at air, at durasteel, and remembers why she fought the need for sleep in the first place.

Slams the bond shut again and hopes that he hadn't heard.

 

_________

 

 

Rey doesn’t feel rested. She feels like she spent the entire night mashing her teeth together and tossing and turning. There’s a pressure building up in her shoulders that wasn’t there the night before.

“Rey!”

Finn’s voice all of a sudden from the doorway on her right makes her jump, makes her lose the grip on the vice around the Force until she wrestles it back down into the dirt. Finn winces, almost apologetically. It makes Rey’s skin shiver, but for half a moment she almost thinks she feels a response from the other end. “Finn.”

Finn is just as bundled up as she is, looks like, with only his ears, eyes, and nose popping out from above his jacket, but he’s practically vibrating with energy for so early in the morning. Hoth's single sun on a 30-hour day cycle hasn't even risen yet.

“Hungry?” Finn asks, already pushing food from his arms into hers. “There’s not much, but it’s warm. And better than the ration bars the First Order serves.”

Rey isn’t particularly hungry. She’s not particularly anything right now. Tired. Sluggish. Like she's in the water deep beneath Ahch-To again.

They still don’t have an official mess hall, but more of a cramped storage room near the generator storage that is always warm. The warmth helps the most, honestly, as Rey can open up her jacket a little bit and breathe. She sits with Finn and eats what he shoves her way just because she knows that she’ll be hungry later. Poe spots them probably because every surviving member of the Resistance is in this room and it still isn’t full, so he and BB8 come over with their breakfast while Finn spoons his into his mouth. “Mornin’ Finn. Mornin’, Rey.”

“G’mrg,” Finn says.

“Good morning,” Rey says, after glancing at Finn.

Poe, somehow, looks completely unbothered by the cold. Rey isn’t sure how he does it. Her shoulders are practically up near her ears, her posture is so stiff. Poe asks, “Sleep well?”

“Yeah.”

Rey starts, “Not r—”

An announcement interrupts her over the comm system, blaring, making Rey jump, something about all upper officers and commanders being needed for a mandatory meeting. The alarm starts going to mobilize and signal the changing of the shifts, but Poe makes no move to get up, even though, as far as Rey can remember, he’s a Captain.

There’s a scraping of people moving though, the upper officers and even Leia and her entourage exiting en mass through the sliding doors.

Poe scoots closer to Finn and lowers his voice as he whispers to them. “They already held a meeting this morning. General Organa’s calling in all the favors that she can," he pauses, but then his expression shifts. "But after the Hosnian system…”

He lets his voice trail off and Rey has trouble understanding why. But she looks to Finn, who seems to be thinking much faster than she’s currently able to. “Nobody’s responding to the beacons?”

Even Rey can tell what the expression on Poe’s face means. They have less than 50 personnel. They have three possibly working X-Wings. The Falcon, probably, if she and Chewie can get the repairs working in time. If they need to evacuate, if the First Order has tracked them, they won’t be able to escape again. And no help is coming.

“The Republic is crippled, trying to scramble,” Poe explains. “Trying to reorganize their own chain of commands individually, trying to keep their own economic systems from collapsing into total ruin, while still trying to stop the First Order from gaining ground. They’re wounded right now, but it won’t be long until they regroup, and the First Order has more resources than we do.”

“So,” Finn guesses. “There’s nobody to help us.”

“There’s nobody to help us,” Poe echoes. It looks like it hurts him to say it.

They’ve all lost so much in the past three days. She doesn’t need the Force to know that.

Both of them turn suddenly, to Rey, and she knows what they are thinking. Like she had gone to Luke on Ahch-To, for hope, for help, they are now looking to her.

“Master Luke is— he’s,” she stops, because this is hard, this is much harder than it was with Leia because at least Leia had felt it too. She’d understood. It hadn’t been so much out of grief, but of relief. He’d been at peace. “He passed on.”

Poe’s expression doesn’t change, but Finn’s does. “He’s dead?”

Dead. It sounds so final. It doesn’t encompass what happened, but Rey, with her connection to the Force in a vice—“In the traditional sense, I suppose.”

She’s the last one left. The last Jedi. The last person who has a chance to go up against— against the Dark.

Rey is totally and completely incapable of processing that statement at the moment. She's tired, and for them the world has nearly ended, and the Resistance is bleeding out, badly. Something nudges against Rey’s shin and she looks down beneath the table to find that BB8 has somehow rolled underneath it, whirring quiet questions in binary that Rey doesn’t really have the energy to answer right now. Instead she adjusts BB8’s antenna like she might have scratched one of the porgs on Ahch-To.

Finn’s voice sounds very small and from very far away. “Are you okay, Rey?”

She looks back up. Nobody’s ever asked her that, Rey realizes. Nobody’s ever cared enough. Nobody even existed that did, not her parents, or Luke, not in the way that she wanted. Not before—“I will be,” she tells them. “In time.”

 

_________

 

They have sixteen wounded, at least, and two must have died during the night. Rey can’t even feel it. But Finn doesn’t stop at the entrance to the MedBay. He greets everybody in the room like he’s known them for years and not days while Rey follows, lost, stepping only in the wake that Finn makes as he weaves, and finally stops at the bed closest to the far wall.

“Oh, my god,” the girl on the bed says when Rey comes around the tattered privacy curtain that separates one bed from the next, and Rey doesn’t need the Force to feel the absolute brightness shine from her— Rose. The girl that Finn was looking after on the Falcon. “You’re Rey.”

Rey has never heard her name sound like that, before, and she kind-of flinches. It’s strange that someone can feel so bright even when Rey’s shut herself off from it, and for a moment, she’s kinda stunned.

It takes her a second to stick out her hand. Hand touching is… not something she particularly wants to think about. “Hello.”

The smile that appears on Rose’s face can only be described as awestruck, starstruck, and embarrassingly probably what Rey had first looked at the Millennium Falcon like. At least, Rey really hopes it wasn’t.

“Hi! Hi, yes, hello,” Rose says again shaking her hand for what Rey can only describe as too much handshake. “I’m Rose Tico. You’re Rey. The Jedi. The one that helped destroy Starkiller. It’s so nice to meet you. I’m Rose. That’s Finn. Oh, of course you knew that. Sorry.”

Rey glances to Finn, who’s now sitting upright in the empty bed right next to Rose’s. He gives Rey a noncommittal shrug that speaks volumes.

“It’s…nice to meet you, Rose,” Rey manages. Even against Rey’s judgement she feels something lifting in that place just behind her left lung, standing here in the Resistance’s MedBay and having her hand shook so hard it might just fall off. Something that lifts, and makes Rey want to smile, even though everything is horrible and there's so little hope in the world and so much fear instead.

“Oh, my god.” Rose continues. Rey sees a map of the scars on Rose’s skin and does not think about other scars. Rose just continues to shake Rey’s hand, and even she seems to realize it. “I’m shaking your hand too long!”

“A little bit,” adds Finn. “It’s all right. It’s not every day you get to meet big heroes like me and Rey.”

Rose drops Rey’s hand, probably out of embarrassment. But Rey shoots Finn a look and tries to salvage this mess. Apparently, Finn isn’t going to. “I’m glad you’re recovering so fast. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Finn nearly groans as Rose’s entire expression just lights up like Rey has given her the best gift she’s ever been given, even hooked up to a miniaturized bacta tank with wires going into her sides.

“Oh, my god. Really?”

Rey nods. “Really.”

It'd been one of the few things that Finn talked about, on the way to Hoth. Rey had let Chewie take the controls and had gone back to the cargo bay. She and Finn had just sat in the quiet and breathed, for a moment. Tried to ignore the fact that they had just barely escaped with their lives. Tried to ignore the fact that they'd all been betrayed in one form or another.

But now, Rey hears all about their adventures on Canto Bight, and smiles at all the appropriate times, frowns at all the appropriate times for that, too.

“You shoulda seen it, Rey,” Finn smiles, even as he gets jabbed by a passing med droid. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” And then, he turns his head and glances at Rose and his expression completely changes, from admiration to scorn. “Awful people. Terrible. Hated the whole thing. I’m glad we tore the damn place apart.”

“I’m sure,” Rose says, and Rey catches the way that she narrows her eyes at him.

And maybe Rey’s never realized how much she relied on the Force to sense people’s intent, before, because now she feels like she’s stomping through this conversation blind with something horrible twisting in her gut.

It’s only when she really starts to worry is when they continue with their story. And it happens when she learns that they were on the Supremacy almost exactly at the same time that she was.

That starts it. The thought. The memory of it all, on the Supremacy. The vice flutters just enough for her to glimpse him standing just over Finn’s shoulder, not even looking at her, not even paying attention. But she knows those shoulders. She knows that stance. Rey knows that black leather armor and those dark eyes that go on forever and ever and she knows. She stops breathing.

For a long moment nothing happens. Like they’re both frozen— and if she can see him that means he can sense that she’s there and she cannot let that happen, she cannot let him in, she’ll never get him out again if she does, she cannot let him see anything or hear anything that’s happening on Hoth. He's taken too much. She offered him a way out, she offered to help him reach it, and he denied her. Be— the boy she knew, he's gone. Her vision was wrong. She was wrong.

He’s Supreme Leader now. He wants them all dead.

He turns. She can see some of that profile of his.

Rey doesn’t think, doesn’t pause, she crushes her hands into fists as hard as she can, tears her throat with a scream, and slams the walls up as hard and thick as she can.

She catches barely a glimpse before bacta bags in the Med Bay and wires and different metal tools go flying, too, shattering to pieces, and then it’s all flooding out again, everything, she can feel all the lights on the edge of her hearing and it burns. She can feel the force in everything, around everything, life and death and dark and light and how much it had been hurting to shut it all away.

He’s gone, vanishes, like a broken holo and then Rey sags against the railing of the bed and Finn and Rose and everybody in the MedBay are up and out of their beds if they can. Rey’s breathing hard— too hard, she knows, harder than she should be. It shouldn’t have taken that long. “Whoah,” Rose says. “You okay there?”

Finn’s hands are on her shoulder and underneath, propping her up better than she could herself. She’s— winded. She shouldn’t be this winded. “Sorry.”

Chapter Text

For the first few days he revels in it. Let's the anger stew, because anger is better than his other options. How dare— how dare she? Some nobody scavenger, reject him? He struck his Master down, made a choice, left his path. Offered her the galaxy, to rule with him, to rule beside him, to stay with him, and she turns him down? She abandons him?

He tries to keep that anger. Keeps it in the center of himself, where the closed wall on her end of the bond should be. Good, Kylo thinks. Good. Let her go with the Resistance.

Let her go with the Resistance. Let her fight with them. Let her die with them. He has enough responsibility trying to drag his Generals to heel.

But the days pass. Five, then six.

He keeps the anger going, lets it burn because at least that fire keeps him going. Fire's better than the other things. Better than the silence. Kylo's not used to the silence. Snoke, yes, the lack of the ever-scratching presence at the back of his mind was disconcerting, for an hour. Two, maybe, until Luke Skywalker walked out of the Resistance Base on Crait.

It isn't Snoke's absence that digs into him. Distracts him. Makes him think that he keeps missing something in his peripheral vision during his strategic meetings with Upper Command. There's no flashes. No emotion. No hard sea-salt gale-force winds, no torrential rain against his skin. No soft brush of her consciousness against his, even unintentionally. No moments between sleeping and waking where he can't quite tell what he's hearing. And while he resists it at first, shoves it away, shoves it down, something manages to take root deep in his chest. Something thorny and alive and it burrows into him and causes him pain— not even the kind of pain he could take and turn and feed him more power. It twists in him, this worry. Tears him asunder.

He paces, incensed, longs to take his Command Shuttle and point it in whichever direction he had lost her in. But he can't. For one thing, the Resistance has managed to disappear into the ether. How they managed to do that, how they've managed to stay hidden for so long, he doesn't know. Has his suspicions, but no clear leads. Not even their Intel departments have heard any whispers of a broken and bleeding Rebellion hiding out on a Trader's Moon.

And second: he's Supreme Leader, for all that means. How many ways had he imagined being named Snoke's heir? A hundred? A thousand? All filled with praise, never Kylo imagining pushing his 'saber through the girl's chest in excruciating detail as he turned his Uncle's 'saber towards his master, with that same thought. Being the Heir is all Kylo's ever wanted.

Except he can’t remember the last time he hasn’t felt the bond constantly at the back of his head. Even before, even before they had met, there had been something there, something other than Snoke.

Now there’s nothing. There’s just the silence.

“Rey,” he cuts out, and his voice catches.

 

_________

 

They’ve been on Hoth for a grand total of ten days when Leia pulls Rey out of a perimeter review and into the storage closet that has somehow been designated as Leia’s office. It’s dusty and full of old processing units that haven’t worked since long before Rey was even born and yet somehow Leia makes it feel like it’s some regal senator’s office that Rey has never seen herself but somehow knows. Like she’s catalogued details from someone else’s memories.

Rey’s posture must speak for itself because Leia immediately softens. Loses the military general feeling that seems to fill up a whole room no matter who’s standing in it. She opens a holoscreen on her desk almost as an afterthought, and messages begin scaling from left to right, backwards, from Rey’s view. “How are you, Rey?” Leia asks. “That was your second ten-hour perimeter shift, if I remember correctly.”

Rey knows, without the Force, that people have been noticing that she takes double shifts. That this is somehow an inquiry into that, but she can’t muster up the energy to play the game.

If only people were like machine parts, she might understand them better.

“Tired of being this cold, if I’m being perfectly honest,” Rey manages. “I don’t mind the double shifts. We’re short on people as it is and there’s only so many times I can try and patch that inertial damper with spare parts I can find from decommissioned security droids.”

An impressive bit of mechnical ingenuity, actually, in Rey’s opinion. Then again, everything else compared to patching up the Falcon is like child’s play.

“Rey,” Leia says. It’s the tone of voice that Rey’s never heard before, but somehow she knows Leia uses when she’s trying to whittle the truth out of a ten-year-old.

She doesn’t want to know how she knows that.

Rey clears her throat. “I’m fine. I can handle it.”

But Leia scoffs. “It’s incredible. Sometimes you open your mouth and Luke comes out. Almost like he’s teasing me.”

Rey can even hear him, somehow, Incredible. Every word that you just said was wrong.

Rey groans, begins to pace, runs a hand against her forehead, scratching at an old scar she got when she was six and hadn’t yet learned that the Steelpeckers on Jakku were just as deadly as everything else on Jakku. She has all of this energy and at the same time has no energy for anything at all and it is splitting her in half.

He… flickers, sometimes. She’ll catch a glimpse of him when her mind is focused on her task so much she doesn’t remember that she’s supposed to be cut off from the bond completely. She’ll pass a doorway in the hall and see his silhouette in it. It only lasts for a moment before she rips the connection apart. Then he’s gone.

But as far as she knows, he hasn’t detected anything yet. It’s slowly sapping all of her strength to do it, but. All things come with a price to pay. “I’m fine.”

This is apparently not the answer that Leia is looking for. She closes the holoscreen on her desk and turns back to Rey with that look. That look that says I cannot believe what you just did, even though Rey has never been reprimanded by General Organa before.

“I think you look tired,” Leia says. “I think you look like you haven’t slept in two weeks, and this is even compared to an entire base that hasn’t slept well since the Supremacy. I think you look like the life is fading out of you.”

Rey crosses her arms across her chest and shoves the thing inside her chest down for a moment before she answers. “I shut him out.”

And Leia, for all that she is General and current Commander of the Resistance just— stops. “You what?”

Rey doesn’t know why she has an instinct to look around, to check, but she does and only barely manages to resist that instinct. It isn’t like speaking his name will summon him, even though it feels like that’s exactly how this whole thing works. Replaying a memory of him, or letting her thoughts circle around him.

No, now, it’s when her control slips. When her energy runs out.

“Isn’t this way for the best?” Rey finally asks. “I don’t— I don’t know how this works. I don’t know how much information he can take from me.”

Both he and Snoke broke into people’s minds to get the information they were searching for. Snoke is dead, yes. But he isn’t.

She does not say it. She will not say his name.

Leia seems unconcerned. She’s quiet, considering, for a few long moments, but when she finally speaks it feels like there is calm radiating through Rey’s bones. “My brother and I— well. We were separated by long distances for many years. But I could always get a general sense of him, you know, his signature. Sometimes a blip of his state of mind, his wellbeing. But never his exact location. A Force bond may be a level deeper than that, but I cannot imagine him being able to pick up enough information to lead directly to us.”

Rey scuffs her boot along the ground. “We are on a snowy planet in an old Rebel base.”

“Of which the Rebellion had dozens, in its prime,” Leia shoots back, with that crooked, knowing smile of hers that shifts something in Rey’s center that makes her want to smile, just a bit. “And Hoth is a big planet. I fought in the Senate for two years to keep the exact details and locations of the old Rebel Bases from becoming public record. Too many Senators were bought by First Order bribes.”

Rey shifts her weight from one foot and the other and rips herself away from Leia’s knowing gaze. Now Rey understands where Be— where he gets it from. That ability to see into a person, ignoring all the shields they’ve thrown up over the years.

They both grow quiet and the uneasiness settles in that Rey can’t name. Rey cannot continue on like this— this is fact, this isn’t in question, and Rey herself can feel that this is a limited stalling tactic.

But what else can she do? She can’t leave Hoth, in hopes of leading the First Order away from the Rebellion.

They don’t have a spare ship, for one. Two— Rey may be the one thing stopping the First Order from firing on the whole planet.

"I," Rey starts. "I have to shut him out. He's too broken. Volatile. I thought that I could—" Save him, she doesn't say. Except she doesn't think it was ever about saving him, not really, not until the very end. 

"I held out for many years," Leia admits. "I thought I was doing the best thing for him, even though my instinct was to keep him close, keep him where I could see him, where I could protect him. But I never took my brother up on his offer to teach me the ways of the Jedi, the ways of the force," she says, and Rey sees decades of hard choices and giving to others and never taking for herself behind it, somehow. "I thought I could help the Republic far better from the Senate than I could from the Order. What few gifts I do have are those that have simply been acquired over decades of experience. But when Be—" and Leia must see something in Rey's expression because even she catches on his name. "When he manifested, I knew that sending him to Luke was the best thing for him."

There is no answering response from the bond, Rey knows. It almost feels like there is a ghost of a touch, indignation or anger on his behalf. But there is nothing. 

Luke thought he was doing what was best, Leia thought she was doing what was best. He thought he was doing what was best. The galaxy seems full up on people who make bad choices because they think that choice is the right one.

“Shut him out or pull him in,” Leia finally says, after clearing her throat. “You will achieve nothing by turning it inside where it can only hurt you.”

I thought I made the right choice, Rey wants to confess. She wants to tell Leia all about the bond, all about the quiet moments that shifted things, that changed her perspective like a missing machine part or bolt showing back up again. I’m afraid I messed everything up. I’m afraid people died for my wrong choice.

She wants to tell Leia about what Master Luke had said: You dove straight for the Dark. You didn’t even hesitate.

On Jakku there was no Light or Dark. They didn’t have time for things like that. There was food and water. Shelter. The difference between making it through the Breath of R’iia and starving to death under twenty feet of sand. Jakku didn't breed kindness. Didn't breed much of anything, really, just takes and takes and takes until there's nothing left to take. Bodies rot and become bones and bones collapse and become dust which is just another kind of sand. The cycle continues. Jakku only leaves space for a black and white world. And yet— there is something kind in Rey, too. Something that's somehow managed to survive.

She wants to tell Leia I miss the answer on the other side of the void something terrible.

Doesn't want to put that out into the universe: why would she? It's not like it made a difference, this weak thing in her chest. Hadn't made a difference. Doesn't matter at all.

“I’m—” Rey starts, and then swallows it back down and shoves it into the deepest part of her that she can find. She’s had enough of the angry tears. “I’m fine.”

“Rey,” Leia says, coming around the trunk that functions as Leia’s desk and taking Rey’s left hand in her own weathered one. Rey’s hands are weathered from overwork and a lifestyle that comes with being abandoned on Jakku, while Leia’s are weathered by sixty years of heartache and hardship and loss of a different kind. “You aren’t alone.”

Neither are you.

She’s wrong. Rey’s breath catches in her throat and she nods, somehow, like she thinks Leia’s right and that her words have brought her comfort. Leia pats her on the hand twice before returning to some General’s responsibility and steps back out into the hallway, leaving Rey alone in the dark room.

Rey stares at her own hand for a moment. Does not remember reaching out to another. Does not remember the feeling of skin against her fingertips.

Rey’s never felt more alone in her entire life. She’s surrounded by people that genuinely care about her well-being, her safety, her happiness, as much as people can care about happiness when there is a very real possibility that they could be dead by tomorrow.

But now she knows what it’s like to have someone you trust— fail that trust.

And all Rey’s left with is a shattered dream of a family that didn’t mean to leave her behind on Jakku, on the brink of starvation, and the fissure in her chest grows a little bit wider.

 

_________

 

The truth is, Rey hasn’t slept in days. Hasn’t really ever needed sleep, she’s used to working and scrubbing and pulling old parts out of salvaged Destroyers until her body gives out, but there’s so much to do, not just as the last somewhat-Jedi but as one of the few people left in the Resistance capable of actually fixing the speeders and generators and water recyclers that they need to survive. The added bonus is that she simply doesn’t have to think.

So she throws herself into it.

After her meeting with Leia, she returns to the hangar. She strips and rewires cables and rebalances the Acceleration Compensators until her palms are red and she’s so bone-tired that she falls into her bunk on the Falcon and doesn’t dream. Wakes up before the dawn cycle to do it all over again.

Wires and solders and creates. Swears up a storm that R2 would even scoff at when some random machine part falls over on her or breaks when it’s supposed to bend, shouts triumphantly in the loud way she does when she finally cons the pieces into sliding into where they’re supposed to fit. “Ha!”

And perhaps the actual truth is, if she works hard enough, for long enough, she doesn’t have to face what happened on the Supremacy.

She bends the side of a broken sheet of hull back into shape with her will, reaching out her hand. Tries to, really, because the thing just shakes in place, not moving forward or backward but just sticks, until Rey gives up and beats the thing into submission with her arms, uses her legs as leverage and pushes with her back until she’s yelling out of frustration and tired and bleeding slightly from where the sharp edge has bitten into her palm.

She works on a subspace radio for so long that everybody else has left the hangar for food or rest and it’s just Rey and the X-Wings under her fingers, or the switched-off droids in their charging stations and Rey has a moment to take in the quiet. Looks around, at all they have. She'd only briefly been to the Base on Yavin 4, but there had been whole fields of X-Wings there. Whole bunkers, whole teams, teams to fix the X-Wings and Intel divisions and Spy divisions and Infantry and Med divisions. Now there's, well. Rusted thirty-year-old X-Wings and protocol droids and Rey.

It's no wonder they're dying like womp rats. 

Rey slips off her jacket, the outer-most of all her layers, because, somehow, she's sweating even in this cold. 

Her whole chest is on fire from it, and her lungs feel like they've got sand in them.

And she’s just— Tired?

It sneaks up on her suddenly, this fatigue.

It feels like the easiest thing in the whole galaxy to just sit, for a minute. Lay back against the hull of the X-Wing and let her spine settle like mush. The cold keeps her muscles tight but even that fades away after a while.

If she could just rest her eyes for a tick, then she’d get back to work. She’ll get this X-Wing up and running again, maybe even get started on the next one if she could salvage some spare parts from one of the wrecks outside of the bay doors if they haven’t been picked apart already. She'll do it. She can, she'll fix the Incom N2I-4 Power Converter on the Falcon, too—

 

_________

 

“Rey,” he cuts out, and his voice catches.

She can’t see him, or anything, except the remains of the Supremacy out the viewports, little more than glittering debris now.

“It’s time to let the old things die,” he says.

“Don’t do this,” she begs him. She never thought she’d beg, but she begs now. “Ben, don’t do this. Please don’t go this way.”

 

_________

 

He is busy wresting control of the First Order from grubby Upper Command fingers. Puppets, who Snoke thought served a purpose. The First Order had many contingencies: many protocols in place for the unpredictable. This is an Order that was reborn from the corpse of the Empire. To expect anything less would have been foolish.

But, of all their protocols: Snoke’s death was not one of them. His former Master had intended to live on indefinitely. Had intended for his every plan to work flawlessly. Had intended for Kylo Ren to continue the path that Vader had forged. Hadn’t sensed that something had altered that path, for good or bad. Had thought that he could beat a beaten dog for as long as he liked and the beaten dog would never turn on him. You think you can turn him. Pathetic child. I cannot be betrayed; I cannot be beaten.

You underestimate Ben Solo. You underestimate me.

It’s late in the cycle, even for him. He returns to the rooms that have been temporarily made his as the First Order scrambles to regroup and removes his cloak, his gloves, his armor. Doesn’t even take in where he drops them. The stars of Mid-Rim cast long shadows over the furniture.

His mind is blank, for once. The kind of blankness that comes from exhaustion.

It’s so blank that Kylo nearly walks right past the pile of rags resting up against the viewport of his rooms. Stops. Thinks. Remembers the details of his temporary quarters and quickly runs through everything he knows should be here. His viewport is a wall of transparasteel with slanted edges, the transparasteel goes from durasteel floor to durasteel ceiling. Almost. He only stops at the last second, stands up taller as he realizes that it wasn’t a pair of rags, but her. He’s afraid to turn, for a moment, afraid that the movement itself will make her vanish— it’s been weeks since the Supremacy, weeks since he’s heard anything, weeks since he’s felt anything from her end of the bond. And he’s even angry at himself for it, for the urge to turn. Don’t, Kylo Ren thinks. You abandoned me. Don’t. Don’t do it. You stupid, stupid boy—

He swallows. Turns anyway. Tries not to let the thing burn into his chest.

Rey is— Rey is snoring. That’s the only way that he knows that he hasn’t somehow slipped into another dream, another cruel tempt from the Dark. Not only is she snoring, he’s fairly sure she’s also drooling, sprawled out like a child does, all limbs, one leg pointed in a funny angle while the rest of her is uncomfortably tucked against the transparasteel. This is no temptation that he refuses to acknowledge that he's had, no future when they touched hands of an Empress to rule with him, next to him, an equal. This is entirely too real to be a vision.

And she’d filthy, too, covered in what looks like soot and dirt, and sweat, and bruises of all sorts, but there’s something else, too, like she’s being eaten.

And the bond— the bond, the bond is open once more, he hadn't even realized and Kylo, for half a minute, can feel all of it: the pain, the bone-deep wear and tear, the cold, most of all the cold, she’s freezing even though it doesn’t permeate her sleep.

“Rey,” he cuts out, and his voice catches. Why is he so soft, why is he so soft, why does the thorny thing that has its roots around the hole in his chest lessen, why does it go away, “You—”

 

_________

 

“—You aren't really here.”

His voice pulls her out of the dream that she can’t quite remember, but it doesn’t pull her out of the dream completely. She’s warm, for once, kriff, she's been so cold—once she becomes aware of her own body again, her own limbs. Rolled over and spread out on her stomach with her head pillowed on her arms. She may have drooled, a bit, because it feels like a part of her sleeve is damp and her mouth is sticky and her throat is dry. But there's nobody around to notice.

“Mm?” Is all Rey manages.

There’s no sound, for a moment, for a moment that lasts so long that Rey starts to think that she imagined it, and is ready to go right back to sleep, but then there’s the sound of rustling cloth and soft footsteps.

Then there’s a warmth against her side. She turns her head slightly, seeking out the noise, the warmth, the puff of breath that disturbs the oil on her forehead. “Rey?”

There's a touch, against her temple. She doesn't know how she knows, can't force her eyes to open but she somehow knows that she's managed to smear oil against her forehead again. And Rey, without thinking, turns into the touch.

She inhales deeply, deeper than she has in days and feels it take root in her chest. She feels better. Maybe not completely back to the way things were, but better. The thing inside her chest doesn't feel so stretched. Still not willing to wake up just yet, but better.

“Rey?” he asks again, and he seems to sigh. Shifts, somehow, and the heat moves too, which Rey is decidedly, absolutely against. Rey tries to follow it. She’s always cold on Hoth. No matter what she does. At this point she’d be willing to climb into a bundle along with half the base just to get warm for one night.

She feels his arm as he tucks it in-between them, not touching, except innocuous, innocent places against her back and shoulder, but Rey has never been one to waste resources, never been one that could afford to do so, so she drags his arm around her middle like one would a blanket. He exhales, like he’s surprised, like all the air in his lungs has just left him, and Rey dives right back into the dream. Except he's stiff at her side, stiff as a board, and the bond starts to vibrate with thoughts that aren't her's—are you real? I can't tell and don't be so pathetic and this is weakness, shut it, shut the bond—

“You’re cold,” the voice says, and Rey finds she agrees. He feels like a furnace against her side.

“I’m always cold, here,” she tells him, before shuffling further against him. He’s gigantic, and while she’s normal-sized for a humanoid he easily dwarfs even her. He can share his body heat for those that apparently don’t generate their own on awful cold hell-planets.

He huffs. His nose rubs against her temple. Probably without meaning to, but it's such a gesture, such a tiny, tiny thing, that the thing in Rey's chest begins to hum with it.

“Where are you?” He asks. “I’ll come find you, Rey.”

It takes a tick. It takes such a long tick, the cold has made Rey slow. But that does it. Shifts it. Breaks the balance. Rey tenses and and wakes and for a horrible moment she remembers. Rips herself fully from the dream and understands what is happening.

You come from nothing. You’re nothing.

Rey opens her eyes and lifts her head.

They are on the X-Wing's hull in the hangar on Hoth. Rey’s curled up between the X-Wing's wing and Pilot's cab, slightly angled, and Kylo Ren—no, Supreme Leader Ren, is on his knees in front of her.

His eyes are dark, and wide, and his lips are open like he isn’t sure which way this is going to go, but it’s a lot like the last time they spoke, with her on the Falcon and him kneeling on the floor. Universes and galaxies spread between them and yet they are inches apart.

Rey inhales.

She’s scrambling up before he can stop her and sliding off the X-Wing’s hull, awake in the worst possible sense and twisting, tearing at her hands for control, breathe, patience and balance and light and dark and life and death and anguish and serenity and trying to shove it all back in place so she can throw him outGet out— she tries. Out. Out, out, get out!

“No, Rey,” he pleads. He holds out his hands like she’s some scared bantha that’s going to bolt at any second.

Out,” she tries, but it doesn’t work, she can’t bring the walls down fast enough. “Out. Get out.”

Kylo rears back, in his room, she doesn't know how she sees that, she shouldn't see that, and on the X-Wing he slides down like it’s nothing, like she didn’t just tumble off that same wing and follows after her, desperation etching his features and shining through something dark. She’s breathing too fast, she has to slow down, why isn’t it working, why isn’t this working—

“Rey,” he starts.

“I said,” Rey yells. “OUT.”

He's getting closer, always coming into her space, always with that intent look in his eye like he sees every thought she's ever had and she can't let him, if he reaches out with his hand again and makes contact with her skin he'll be grounded, she'll never get him out, she'll never manage to do it, no—

The X-Wing shakes like she’s ripping it apart but she isn’t, and something must be happening on Ren’s end, too, because he looks around like things are exploding and Rey digs her nails against her skin so hard she breaks into the dermis.

“Rey,” Ren begs, as he begins to flicker in and out.

Out, she breathes, angry, turning it into herself and making it hurt, until it's like a physical pain in her chest that she could dig her fingers into her ribcage and feel, and rip out. Get out. You made your choice. I made mine. We have to live with it now.

Rey shakes and shakes and slams her eyes shut and shoves at the bond as hard as she can and then it’s— gone. The air’s even still, too still, until Rey opens her eyes and realizes that every piece of debris, every tiny bolt and nut is floating an inch and a half off of whatever they had been sitting on before, and Kylo Ren is gone. Rey’s alone. The bond is quiet.

Rey screams. There’s no Force behind it, but that doesn’t stop it from hurting any less.

Chapter Text

They’ve put up perimeter sensors in six miles in every direction, as well as Cronau radiation detectors running at all hours inside the base in case the First Order somehow tracks them to Hoth and pops into atmo coming out of lightspeed, but Leia does not think any amount of precaution too much. A month after the destruction of the Supremacy and one more outer rim system fallen to the First Order’s regime and they still haven’t see any signs. No whispers. No help. But no more casualties, either.

Poe calls it lucky. Leia calls it suspect.

Not that Rey disagrees with her. But as she ducks her head against the whip of cold and squints out through her fogged-up scanner-goggles— these ones not torn out of an old Stormtrooper helmet, at least— to the white wasteland, she does wonder why she volunteered to be the one to perform the maintenance on the older models.

It’s cold. It’s cold inside the Base, yes, but Rey doesn’t think she’s ever felt this cold. Not on Ahch-To. Not on Snoke’s ship. Not on Starkiller.

There is perhaps three inches of her skin exposed to Hoth’s climate, but her muscles are seizing from those three inches alone.

“Just a tick,” Rose tells her, though Rey wouldn’t be able to hear her even if she weren’t two feet away.

The sensor is just a vague vertical shape with antenna sticking out of the top from all the snowfall in the last three weeks— Hoth is buried under fresh snow. Which is just as much of a hindrance as it is a help: they’re hidden from the surface probe droids that the First Order may have sent to scour the Outer Rim, but they’ll freeze to death if the generators go. There’s too many people left in the Resistance to keep on the Falcon for more than a day or two— and as many favors as Leia and the rest of upper command have called in, Rey knows that their fuel and ration resources are dwindling faster than they are resupplying.

This is the fifth and last sensor that Rey and Rose have to check today, the other teams of two have already finished and headed back. Rose’s pack is down on the ground, by their feet, and the miniaturized TempConverts are melting the snow almost as fast as it is falling, but not quite.

“Ah, kriff,” comes Rose’s voice through the short-range comms. In her hands is a snapped antenna. “That’s no good.”

Without thinking, Rey is pulling out a bit of plastiod tape from their repair kits and binding the two ends of the antenna back together. The wind may just rip it apart once they leave, making them hike all the way out here tomorrow or the next day or the day after that, but for right now Rey is just concerned about where the sun is on the horizon.

They can’t even see the sun, just the white fog that somehow manages to keep out all the light from Hoth’s nearest star, but the comm on her wrist tells her that they have a little more than three hours of daylight left. Barely enough time to get back to Echo Base without a speeder.

“Thanks,” Rose says.

Rose has icicles forming in her eyebrows, and a white halo in her hair where her hood has protected her from most of the elements but not all of them. Rey’s sure she looks the same. But they can’t stop. This is the last one. And then they can go home.

“Hey,” comes Poe’s voice over the mid-range comm channel. “How’s that last sensor going? You guys cold yet?”

“Oh, switch off, Poe,” both Rose and Rey grunt, at the same time.

Poe’s voice comes over the line one more time, in his usual sarcastic snip. “This is Captain Dameron, switching off. Apparently. Not like we haven’t all suffered out in this miserable wasteland of an ice-planet.” And then, still on the comm, but like he had turned away from his headset. “No, BB, they were being facetious. Don’t beep at me in that tone of voice.”

Poe’s voice fades out and then there’s only the sound of the two of them over the comms, breathing hard and shivering from the steadily dropping temperature.

Rose lets out a particularly colorful phrase that Rey hasn’t even heard the smugglers on Niima utter.

“Got it?”

“No,” Rey huffs from the other side. “The power cell’s doubling back on itself, not sending the signal out. Just give me… a second.”

It’s hard to strip and rewire thirty-year-old wires with heavy-duty gloves on, but Rey manages. She’s always had to do this kind of work, ever since she was little. It’s why children were so valued as scavengers in Niima. Most adults couldn’t do the fine work, they’d just rip power cells out of their containers. Children could usually get the power cells out whole.

“Rey,” Rose starts. “Could you—”

Rey’s already prying the paneling apart with her free hand just so Rose can get her monofusion welder further inside.

“Thanks,” Rose grunts.

As her gloved fingers scratch against the sensor’s paneling, trying to keep her grip while Rose works her stuff while Rey herself stuffs the wiring back into its own panel, the sound of the wind rustling the fabric of her hood fades off. Rey doesn’t notice it, not for a while— she’s too busy concentrating on how much the inch of exposed skin against her cheek burns. The goggles protect much, but there’s a few spots that are still numb. How even the sweat slipping from her underarms down her sides is freezing.

But then it starts. She first felt something like it in Maz’ cantina on Takodana.

Rey’s grip loosens, a little, and she stands up a little straighter. Breathes, for a  second, inhales and exhales and can hear all of that echoing over and over again, a hundred times, like in the cave on Ahch-To. Then the rushing begins, like a wave.

Rey goes cold, whips around, because this is how it starts, that’s one of the signs, that he’s come, that they’ve begun to share again—

But it fades and goes quiet, until she can’t hear anything but a faint, nearly undetectable ring from somewhere beyond where they are.

There’s no smell of leather, or Durasteel, or the slight sting of atmosphere. There’s no echo. Rey checks the bond. No. It’s still silent. She checks her connection to the Force, too, and finds that it’s been dormant so long she hardly notices how much it hurts to keep it that way.

She turns in the other direction and finds nothing. Nothing. No blip of a black cloak against the white horizon. No feeling like there’s something disappearing just out of the corner of her eye. There’s nothing. He hasn’t come.

He haunts her every minute while she sleeps, yes. Always from behind him, where he doesn’t notice. She’s learned the line of his shoulders too well.

But Rey is not sleeping now.

Rey pushes her goggles up so that the rest on her forehead and the cold is so biting that she has to slam her eyes shut against it. When she opens them again and listens, the thing still lingers, the hyperawareness of her ears, like they’re being watched, like her skin knows. On the wind she swears she hears the beginnings and ends of phrases but never the middle as she whips her head around: these are your first and an angry you’re still hanging on— let go! and what hubris, to say that the Force belongs to the— and a soft voice, begging don’t do this, please, please don’t go this way

Older things, too, in languages Rey’s never heard and can’t understand. Words from people she never met and people that have been dead long before Rey had even come into this story— you were the chosen one! And you’re breaking my heart

The bond is silent. Rey knows this. Her connection to the Force is cold, has been for some time, cold, as cold as she is, and shrunken and brittle. Brittle like a ship that hasn’t been flown or maintained in two decades. And yet

It feels like something is waking up. Like she’s stumbling upon something old, something that’s been sleeping.

The tree on Ahch-To had felt like this, too. A voice with no voice, calling out. Like there was a direction she was being pulled in, only the signal was getting mixed up. Doubling back on itself, not sending the signal out.

The paneling of the sensor falls out of Rey’s grip as she steps away, sinks her feet into the untread snow until she’s further up the snow bank. Up higher, she can see more of the empty distance. She’d follow the sound, the voices, if there was any direction that they were coming from. But there isn’t. It’s like they’re circling with the wind as it changes direction every moment. Assaulting her from all sides.

There’s nothing, out here. Nothing on Hoth, period, unless you count what remains of the Resistance and what few local flora and fauna have evolved to survive the inhospitable climate.

No ancient tree on a mystically significant island where only the lost end up.

And then Rey does feel something, something against the back of her neck and turns around, in the vague direction of Echo Base.

Freezes, alarmed, because she shouldn’t know where the base is. She shouldn’t know anything, not in this cold hell. “Rose.”

Rose’s name is lost to the echo. Rey can feel it as it passes out of her mouth but there is a disconnect, a muffling. Her breath creates a puff of smoke from the cold that just lifts up and dissipates.

It feels like she could hear the tiniest sound from a mile away.

“Rose,” Rey repeats, stubbornly, relying on their short-range comms to carry her voice. “We should get back to Echo Base.”

“Just a sec,” Rose’s voice fades in, and then out again, and then in. “It’s almost done—”

Rose never finishes her thought. The ground itself seems to wake up, under thirty-five feet of compacted snow and starts to shake, and the wind starts up so hard it feels like Rey’s being slammed against the hull of the Falcon at half lightspeed.

_________

 

Leia Organa has been listening to C3PO blather on about statistics for the Resistance’s complete and total annihilation for probably twenty seven minutes when she feels it: a shift in the Force, like the whole Base has suddenly tilted just enough sideways to feel off, like everything resting on the edge of the ancient command holo will start tipping over if she doesn’t grab at it.

Leia’s never been the greatest at interpreting the finer workings of the Force. But it wouldn’t take a Jedi Master to interpret this one.

“Lieutenant Connix,” Leia asks. “Anything on the perimeter?”

Connix, the young woman who stood besides Poe for his well-meaning but certainly badly-timed mutiny, quickly scans the radar. “Nothing, General.”

Leia nods. She knows she doesn’t actually hear him, but there is a part of her that swears she can hear Han scoff at the edge of her hearing— I have a bad feeling about this.

_________

 

For a moment, Rey’s six again. Smashed up inside the cockpit of an old TIE fighter during the Breath of R’iia. Twenty-five feet of sand had crashed against the TIE fighter and sent it tumbling over and over and over again and had blocked out the sun for almost ten hours. Rey had, in the span of maybe fifteen clicks that the storm had lasted: broken her right wrist and several fingers on the same hand, cracked a rib, and bloodied her nose.

She’d also scratched her broken hands bloody trying to claw her way up to a steady supply of oxygen, in the hours that followed.

This is a lot like that.

“Rose,” Rey grunts. She pulls herself back up the snow bank and lays on her back, for a second, regains her breath and her ability to actually stand upright. “Rose?”

It’s a slow process, standing back up, but it doesn’t feel like anything’s broken, or bleeding. Her staff, simply by way of the strap that’s slung around her chest, somehow survived. Her bag is nowhere to be seen.

She stops. There’s… nothing. She can’t see anything, visibility must be down to ten, fifteen feet? No sign of Rose, either, which starts Rey panicking, looking around. But there’s no sign, there’s no disturbed snow in what little area is visible. There’s also… no wind, Rey realizes. There was wind, before, she had felt it every time it changed direction and nipped at her skin. Now— there’s nothing. Not even the new snow is disturbed.

The sensor is still there, completely unconcerned by the storm as Rey slides back down the snowbank to it. “Rose?”

Rey half expects to spot the top of Rose’s head sticking out of the snow like she sunk five feet straight down, but there’s nothing.

“Hello?” Rey calls. No answer, but for some static over the comms. “Anybody? Rey to Echo Base, come in.”

There’s nothing. Wind. The sound of wind, at least, if there’s no actual wind. Static. Before they could hear the steady blip of Rebel/Resistance communications mostly going out from Hoth. The other two teams that went out this morning. Supply runs. Perimeter checks. Poe and Finn and Leia and R2 checking in on them throughout their schedule.

Now there’s silence.

“Hello?” Rey tries again, finicking the channels, because sometimes these old mid-range communicators go on the fritz. “Come in.”

Rey frowns. Fumbles in her pocket for the tracker that pings their location back to Base. The horizon is entirely white, entirely featureless in every direction—dropping rapidly like it’s some thick blanket that’s covering the whole horizon. If she picks the wrong way she’ll freeze to death over night. Almost-Jedi or no. And that brief moment where she knew where the Base was, it’s gone. She can’t sense anything.

And Rose. Rey can’t leave Rose out here. Even if Rose isn’t responding on her comm.

Rey could— no.

Even pressed up against a hundred-foot wall of white fog from every side, Rey can’t risk opening up the vice. He’d know. He’d feel it.

It’s not an option. Kylo cannot feel her end of the bond.

Rey’s had the knowledge ripped out of her mind one too many times.

Maybe the wind just knocked me a ways off, Rey thinks, or maybe she speaks, she doesn’t quite know— it wouldn’t surprise her if she was talking into the comm and she just couldn’t hear it.

Everything’s quiet. It’s so quiet.

She pulls the tracker out, in any case, fishes it out of the deep pockets of her jacket and finds that the lights on it are still blinking periodically, pinging her location back to the Base every sixty ticks. Well. At the very least, Rey knows, they’ll find her body in the morning. Maybe she could split the tracker open, rewire some of the components and get it to start pinging Rose’s tracker, instead. She could probably do it. They’re both constantly sending signals back to Base, after all.

If Poe would just answer Rey’s damned call, she could have him send her Rose’s last known coordinates, but no—

—I’m being torn apart. I want to be free—

“What?” Rey asks. Looks around. There’s still nothing. “Hello?”

The white has nothing to say for itself. The whispering fades just as quickly as it comes, even though Rey knows that voice.

She tries to listen more carefully, tries to catch the words at the edge of her hearing.

But there’s nothing. Hoth has nothing to say. Nothing to offer. Like Jakku, Hoth just takes and takes and takes and gives nothing in return.

Rey slips her staff from around her middle and grips it tight. Shoves the tracker back into her pocket while she does it. Raises her staff to striking position. At what, she doesn’t know. There’s no enemy except for everything, and nothing. But at the same time she’s painfully aware that it’s a staff. It’s a piece of metal she ripped off the Ravager when she was ten years old.

It’s no ‘saber.

Kylo— he could strike her down without even trying. Or his Knights of Ren.

The fog retracts, suddenly, like it was re-wound backwards. Rey sees an obvious path that she’s meant to take, up ahead, through the newly revealed rocks and the debris of old TIE fighters and bits and pieces of crashed X-Wings that has remained frozen in time for thirty years. She stares at it, with her staff clutched in one hand and does not move an inch. Everything clicks into place. And Rey, Rey does the thing that she should have done at the beginning of all this.

She turns around and stomps in the other direction.

She doesn’t know which direction, she just picks, and walks. And walks. And walks some more. She could be heading away from the Base, technically, but she’s too full of spite to die to Hoth. Jakku did not starve her for twenty years so that she could die here.

Except she passes another sensor for a second time and stops, turns around, stomps over to it, too, brushes the snow off the side and sees that it’s the last sensor, the one she and Rose were prying open to fix before they headed in for the night.

She’s been walking in circles. “Ah, kriff.”

Rey exhales. Adjusts her grip on her staff. Looks up at the sky, which is a void of gray, just like everything else.

“No,” Rey says, and she heads off in another direction.

Before she’s taken more than three steps, something collides with the back of her hood, and Rey stops. She stops with the indignity of it, because she knows, she knows, her connection to the Force is slammed shut but she still knows that there’s a rock about the size of her fist that just came catapulting out of the white abyss. Laying on the ground about six feet behind her.

For a moment, she doesn’t turn to look. She isn’t playing this game.

But Rey is also Rey, of the Wastelands. Rey of Jakku. The Rey that faced down the Supreme Leader and looked him in the eye and said you underestimate me.

So she does look: and there it is. The rock. Rocks. Of course.

No,” Rey commands, as much as anybody can command the frozen hellscape that is Hoth and the wind and the ice and the cold. And the rock. “I’m not playing your game.”

From the white fog, this time, as clear as an alarm ringing out: You have no place in this story.

Rey’s never wanted a place in this story. She just wanted to do the right thing: deliver BB8 back to the Resistance and then get back to Jakku. Her place, her presence, her role along side the likes of Leia Organa, the Hutt-Slayer, and Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker, is nothing short of a mistake, an erratic blip on the Force’s radar. She is nothing.

You’re nothing.

“Shut up,” Rey cuts, grinding her teeth together from spite. “I never needed you,” she tells it. Picks a spot in the fog and hisses at it like it’s a person that’s wronged her. “I was fine on my own, isn’t that the whole point? I never needed what you showed me. I never needed anybody.”

She’d failed. She’d failed to bring Skywalker back to the Resistance, she’d failed to find her place in this whole grand scheme of things, she’d failed to find her family, her parents, she’d failed to turn Be—

“If you think,” Rey tells it, whatever it is, “For one second, that I’m going to—”

She never gets the chance to finish. Nothing grabs at her ankle like a vice and flips her completely horizontal, making her land hard against her left side, making all the air leave her lungs all at once and that hurt, damn you, before pulling her deeper into the white like she’s tied to the wrong end of a speeding PodRacer.

There’s nothing to catch on and nothing to hold onto except her staff, which she digs into the ground in an effort to stop it as she’s thrown this way and that, hits against an outcropping of rocks before the nothing grabs at her again, drags her in a different direction.

“Get off,” Rey yells. Kicks at it, as much as somebody can kick at nothing. Grabs at a piece of barely-revealed metal hull. When that doesn’t seem to work Rey throws her hand out and puts everything she has behind it. Everything she’s ever been, ever had, ever lost. “Get off!”

The vice rips open and so does everything, everything, light and dark and life and death and peace and violence and it hurts more this time and sends Rey flying up, upward, into the air, just like with Snoke, just like on Starkiller, but everything stops. The wind stops. The snowfall stops. Like the earth itself is holding its breath. Rey stops, too, like her body is perfectly suspended and surrounded by the Nothing.

She remembers Takodana, and the forest, and Kylo Ren holding her so tight in his Force Hold that she couldn’t move a single cell in her body.

So Rey does what Rey does best: she screams out a rage that tears her throat in two, the Force behind it, and everything— the Fog, the halted snow, the wind, blows back, retreats a hundred feet.

The moment that the thing, whatever it is, releases Rey, she falls back to solid ground and immediately crumples, like her knees were made of the sinking sands on Jakku that all the ‘droids drowned in.

It seems like it takes years for Rey to climb back up to her feet.

The thing is still there, Rey realizes, bent in half and trying to catch her breath and ease the stitch in her side. The cold still burns her lungs and that scream certainly didn’t help, either.

But she turns around, almost like she can hear it prowling, angry, circling— she can sense significantly more with her connection to the Force torn open like it is. Rey tries to clamp it shut again but yelps, bends over. It hurts. She’ll have to force it to close again. In a minute. When she isn’t so tired.

Don’t be afraid— “Shut up.”

And she feels a laugh, from somewhere behind her. A laugh like it’s amused, in the background. She knows this presence, somehow, she felt it with Luke’s Lightsaber. And it’s laughing at her. Rey turns to look, to see, that wasn’t him, Kylo, it was somebody else.

And then she sees what she’s been dragged here to see.

“Oh,” Rey says, looking up at the hulking structure like it had personally abandoned her on Jakku for a miserable life of starvation and loneliness. “Of course.”

The ancient AT-AT, for it truly is ancient, is in much worse condition than the home that Rey knew for almost two decades. It’s so large that the parts farthest from her are shrouded in a thick layer of the fog, but Rey can see that there’s a significant hole blown through the head. And there isn’t just one AT-AT, either, Rey realizes. There’s dozens, revealed in the fog like trees in a forest. The ones that are farther away seem to bleed into the landscape. The one that’s closest makes Rey feel like she’s nothing, like she’s hardly a blip in the grand scheme of things. Like an AT-AT is nothing compared to a Star Destroyer, like a Star Destroyer is nothing compared to the Supremacy— like the Supremacy was nothing compared to the Death Star and even the Death Star was nothing compared to Starkiller.

There’s something humorous about being in this Field of Giants, halfway across the galaxy, feeling like nothing. Rey can’t quite find the humor, but she’s sure it’s there. Somewhere.

The instinct to run away is almost too much for even Rey to resist: the sight of the AT-AT evokes so much of what she was, of the past she was trying to forget, that she can’t fathom ever setting foot inside ever again. Rey of the Wastelands would have died on Jakku.

No, worse, she would have become Griat, the old woman in Niima, and would have died waiting for a family that had never told her to wait in the first place.

But there is another part, a larger part, of Rey that knows every inch of the inside of an AT-AT, and longs to run her hands along the jagged metal framework and the ladder rungs, to feel the ten thousand marks she had scratched into the hull to count time passing.

It is a small distinction. A small difference. Doing what she’s doing because she wants or doing what she’s doing because the Force has thrown a fit like a bloody three-year-old.

But Rey makes her own choice and climbs up the rocks to the entry hatch in the rear leg.

The cold and the snow stops about six inches in. It should be jarring, the difference between inside and out, and to Rey, it feels so much smaller than it had just six months ago. Or perhaps she’s grown, she can’t tell. She’s certainly put on muscle since leaving Jakku. Filled out her clothes a little bit better, so they don’t hang so dangerously anymore. Her ribs don’t poke through. 

The rungs of the ladder are above her head almost, so she just steps carefully over the serrated metal panels. There’s no sound, no whispers, no Force dragging her further down the leg and towards the body.

The leg eventually widens, making it so Rey doesn’t have to bend over completely in half. She lived in that AT-AT on Jakku from the time she couldn’t reach the ceiling here with her arms stretched all the way out and standing on her tip toes.

The latch looks like it’s still in pretty good working condition, despite the damage. Definitely not her AT-AT, then, as her’s had this part completely melted by plasma cannon.

Rey isn’t sure what to expect: if the room on the other side of this hatch will be exactly as she left it on Jakku. If her helmet will be where she left it. The doll, and the plants that she never managed to get to grow. The marks on the wall. She hesitates with her hand on the latch and isn’t sure if she wants it to. Would it hurt, more? If it was? Would it be too much of a reminder of the truth that Be— Kylo had gifted her with? That she had understood, down in that cave, on Ahch-To?

You’re nothing. You come from nothing

Or perhaps having it be completely unchanged would hurt more. Like she was never there. Like that AT-AT on Jakku will eventually get covered by sands from the Breath of R’iia had nobody will ever remember that Rey lived there for two decades.

Dead in a a pauper’s grave on Jakku.

She snaps her teeth at it, the memory of his words playing and replaying in the Force. And just to spite it she flips the latch open and pushes through the door like it doesn’t weigh almost twice as much as she does.

And maybe, just maybe, it takes her far too long to realize that she’s just climbed into the Millennium Falcon.

It’s the Falcon, all right, but also different, somehow. Half the grime’s been wiped away, at least, and instead of a run down YT-1300 Light Corellian Freighter that saw better days when it was built a hundred years ago. There’s things in the bunks as Rey walks past them, holopics screwed into the wall, blankets and clothing and trinkets on the hologram board. Treasures. Clothes strewed chaotically around the benches and chairs and in the Engineering station. Jackets and blaster belts and socks.

It’s the Falcon, but better. More loved. More lived in. This Falcon never got stolen by Unkar Plutt, who stole it from the Irving boys, who stole it from Ducain.

This Falcon never helped Finn and Rey escape from the Storm Troopers. Escape Kylo Ren.

There aren’t ghosts in this ship. Not like there is on Rey’s Falcon.

Something clicks, behind Rey, and she freezes. She can feel them, in the Force, someone new, but she doesn’t need the Force to understand that there’s a blaster pointed at the back of her head.

Hey,” a voice barks out, as Rey starts to raise her hands in surrender, and swallows hard. Reaches out, in the Force, to see if she could steal the blaster from them before they got a shot off. “So, I take it that you’re the laser-brain that tracked mud all over my ship?”

Her hands freeze in mid-air. She knows that voice. She’d know it anywhere.

Rey feels like her whole brain is breaking. She turns, slow, hands still up and tries to keep her heart from beating so loudly in her ears and all she can hear is runRun, Rey, run and do not stop— never stop—

“Now,” Ben Solo says. “Get the kriff off my ship.”

Rey doesn’t think, she grabs at her hip for her saber, for her staff, for anything— before she remembers that Luke’s lightsaber got torn in two on the Supremacy and now sits back on a workbench inside Echo Base as a paperweight. She backs up as far as she can and reaches out, in the Force, and rips the blaster from his hands because if Kylo Ren has come and her bond is open and she can’t feel him which must mean that he’s here

“Who,” Rey chokes out and hits against the dejarik board with her hip and nearly topples the whole thing as she backs away. “How— how—”

The bond, the bond, Rey panics, except the bond is…gone? The bond is gone, like it never was, her connection to the Force is quiet but open and healthy like it was before Starkiller, only now it’s awake and aware and there’s nothing on the other side, no wound in the Force, no quiet anger or volatile hatred and no thing tied to a space just underneath her left breast that constantly feels like it’s tugging in his— Supreme Leader’s— Kylo—

There is no bond.

“Whoah, whoah, hit the breaks on the speeder,” Ben says, throwing his hands up, away from his blaster belt, and Rey can only blink, rapidly, because it’s like Ben— Ben— is speaking but it’s Han coming out. “Easy, kid. Okay? Easy.”

She can only stare at him with the blaster out. She can’t, she can’t, she can’t get her brain to work because she knows that face, she knows those dark eyes only it’s completely different, she can’t feel that burning that she associates with Kylo.

She can’t feel anything from him really, other than what she feels from the hundreds of thousands of other people around them. Just a singular light on the edge of her senses.

He’s big— ginormous, he’d practically have to bend in half to fit through half the doorways in the Falcon, and still broad, all shoulders and waist and somehow the black outfit has made him look deceptively small.

And it hurts? She hasn’t seen him, really seen him, since the Supremacy, unless you count the few precious moments where she’s shoving him out and slamming the bond shut again.

“Go away,” Rey tells him, soft. Begs. She’ll beg if she has to. “Please. Whoever— whatever you are. Leave me alone.”

“Whoah. Okay. See,” Ben says pushing the blaster she’s pointing at him to the left just enough so that it wouldn’t be a direct it, and breathes, breathes hard, looks down at her like he’s seeing her for the first time. “I think we got off on the wrong foot and since you are standing in my ship I think there’s been some sort of misunderstanding— uh,” and he seems to stop himself and grasp for something that Rey doesn’t know. “I don’t actually think I ever got your name.”

Rey heart stutters. He’s so— he’s so— expressive? He’s got these smile lines on his face and light in his eyes that calls to something that feels horribly like mirth and mischief and he haunts Rey’s space between sleeping and waking, yes, but she’s never seen him like this. He looks like— Han, Rey can’t finish thinking, because that wound has festered, too, but it’s true.

He’s even dressed like Han.

“Oh-kay,” Ben smiles, like there’s a joke that Rey can’t devote enough of her brain to translate. “Guess I’m first. I’m Ben.”

He holds his hand out and Rey almost chokes on it: she can see Leia in him, too, mixed with Han’s charisma and his smile. Ever the Senator’s son. Ever a Prince of a planet that got blown up before Rey was even born.

She stares at that hand for a long couple ‘ticks. The last— the last time she’d touched that hand hadn’t exactly gone the way she’d planned. Probably best to just not risk it again.

He huffs. “I think this is the part where you tell me your name.”

“Oh,” Rey realizes. She lowers the blaster, a bit, doesn’t let go of it completely but maybe realizes how this must look. “I’m— Rey.”

“Rey,” Ben repeats, and Rey doesn’t think she ever heard Kylo call her by her name. Maybe, in the bond, once or a hundred times, but never like this. “And who are you, Rey?”

“Nobody,” Rey answers, automatically. Like it isn’t the rot inside her chest.

They were nobody, says Rey’s own voice, from the Supremacy.

And—They were filthy junk traders. Sold you off for drinking money. They’re dead in a pauper’s grave in the Jakku desert.

Even his voice, even the memory of his voice, standing in front of this apparition that Rey still can’t quite believe isn’t a trick, is enough to bring that damnable wetness back to the corners of her eyes. Rey has been given many gifts and many curses but the angry tears will always be the worst of them.

Ben leans his weight against the dejarik board, which makes Rey realize that they’ve switched places, that they’ve been circling around one another like they are held in place by a gravitational force, neither coming closer or getting farther away. And there’s a swagger in how he does it too, so much like Han that Rey can’t look away from it.

He seems to consider her answer, rolls it around in his head. Rey gets such a strong image of Kylo Ren staring down at her as she was on her knees in front of him, about to be executed, that she nearly takes a step back. Almost.

But Ben asks, “Where are you from?”

“Nowhere.”

“Nobody’s from nowhere,” Ben says, like she might bolt at the first given opportunity. Leans his body forward so Rey can see the necklace around his neck as it dangles down the front of his shirt. Rips her eyes away from that, too. “Where are you from?”

Rey already knows the answer to give. Jakku. “Jakku.”

Ben’s expression doesn’t change, not for a very long moment before he valiantly tries to save face with a gesture of his hand. It comes up to rub at the back of his neck. “Okay. Yeah, that’s, that’s pretty much nowhere.”

You have no place in this story.

This is a cruel joke. It has to be, though Rey can’t for the life of her figure out why, why the Force would drag her bodily across Hoth to show her this lie.

And yet she can’t help it. “Where,” Rey starts. Swallows. Starts again. “Where are you from?”

“Everywhere,” Ben answers. Smiles again. “Corellia. Kinda. Hosnian Prime. Half a dozen other planets and Senatorial Floors. I’d been to more Senate meetings by the time I was six than most Senators in their entire political careers.”

A Ben that never woke to the Force. He doesn’t shine so brightly, blinding her. He doesn’t call to her, either, not like Be— Kylo. “I’ve never been to Corellia,” Rey tells him. “I’ve never been a lot of places. Mostly Jakku.”

“Mm,” Ben nods. “We’re gonna have to fix that. Once we fix the Hyperdrive. We’re getting some electrical overload. The coolant’s leaking, too—”

If we don’t fix this Hyperdrive there’s gonna be pieces of us in three different systems— “Did you bypass the compressor?”

Ben stops. Blinks a couple times. Twitches his fingers against his arm and looks at Rey, really looks. And then winces. Actually winces. “Ah, kriff. My father hired you, didn’t he? You’re the new Second Mate?”

You have kind eyes, Rey thinks. It’s the first thought that pops into her brain, but she can’t stop herself from thinking it. Eyes that crinkle at the edges because of his smile and a dimple that somehow she knows he hates. And his big nose. His smile is the feature that shines brightest, though. And his eyes. His kind eyes.

“Right,” Ben nods, pushes himself off the dejarik board, closer to her, so close, there are inches between them now even though neither one of them shows any intent to step apart, and holds his hand out again to shake hers. “Nice to meet you, Rey from Nowhere.”

His mouth slants in his crooked smile. Something inside Rey stirs; it’s a familiar smile, somehow, splayed across a face surrounded by the same dark hair and those same dark eyes. Yet it’s entirely different and it makes a bit difficult to breathe, like her the skin across her forehead and chin is burning like she was out climbing up Star Destroyers without her wrap or goggles on.

Ben steps closer, just a bit, and Rey can’t help but mirror that, searching, trying to find that hiding darkness behind those eyes. She’s sure she’ll find it— that pain.

But she never does.

This isn’t fair, she thinks, even as her feet move of their own accord towards him. This isn’t fair, she thinks, even as she comes to a hesitant stop in front of him, looks straight up at him, he’s so tall. Her arm reaches up, and he stares her down like she’s not reaching towards his face, like he’s more than happy to be there— Rey herself isn’t sure what she means to do, grab at his chin, push him over and run away because this is obviously a trap, or yank him to her and rest her forehead against his chest, tuck herself beneath his chin. This version that she can have. That would stay.

Rey, Rey hears, at the edge of her hearing. She remembers, suddenly, that she should be much colder. That she’s on Hoth, not parked inside the Falcon on some in-between planet moon, if the noise outside is any clue.

She drops her hand. Ben hardly notices.

“We got off on the wrong foot. Sorry about the— y’know, blaster bit. It isn’t every day you get snuck up on by a pretty girl.”

Rey doesn’t even think about that— pretty, but she takes his still outstretched hand and jumps.

Rey reels, like lightning has passed down his arm and up hers and she sees. She sees— everything, everything, all of it, Rey getting picked up at sixteen on a trader’s moon by Han Solo because she was good at fixing things, and Ben being awkward around her for months before they actually started talking more than their standard monosyllabic responses. She sees it all. She sees the laughter. She sees the light.

She sees more— visions that would have pulled her just as quickly to the Dark as anything the cave on Ahch-To had shown her. She sees the two of them. Happy. Happy and orbiting around one another and colliding, again, in ways that don’t destroy First Order fleets and consist mostly of early quiet mornings in their bunk and sleepy murmurs against her ear.

She sees the one thing she and Ben can never have.

“Whoah,” Ben says, staring down at their hands like he’s felt it too. “What the kriff was that?”

“Ben!” Someone calls from down the ramp, and Ben tenses, twists his body around, and it’s with horror Rey realizes who that voice belongs to, no, Han

“I,” Rey starts. Doesn’t want to finish. Does it anyway. “I have to go.”

She rips her hand out of his, this isn’t fair, as Ben turns back, fingers still hovering above her arm, not touching but she can feel it, like her skin would recognize his hands from a thousand others. “What?”

No, his thoughts call out, loud like he’s said them. Stay, stay, please.

This isn’t fair. It isn’t fair. “Goodbye,” Rey says, as she makes for the Bulkhead door. Chokes on it. Damn it. She doesn’t want to go, either. “Goodbye, Ben.”

A thousand-thousand voices call out in the Force. All belonging to one person. Rey!

Outside the AT-AT, the storm rages around the eye, and Rey is the eye, the wind howls more than it did and there is a cacophony of noise and words and wordsyou’re nothing, but not to me— and the Rey’s down on her knees with her knuckles pounding at the ground while the AT-ATs and the X-Wings begin to move, to stand, to roll down the snow banks in a circle, in a circle, around the eye like she’s swinging them all around on strings, always in balance and the Force in-between, and Rey can’t tell if she’s doing it or of the Force is throwing another tantrum.

Why would you show me this— Rey begs. Screams, because it hurts, this truth, this lie. Why would you show me what I can never have?

Chapter Text

The bond is awake. Kylo jolts back into the waking world in the Supreme Leader’s chambers on the Trespasser, the First Order’s current flagship, looks around, and sees nothing. Sees nothing, but feels it, in his chest, like something physical tying him to that— to thatto her. Except the bond does not feel like it did, all that time ago. Like it was a thing brought to life by the Force itself, like neither he nor the scavenger had created it, formed it, or ever seen anything of this magnitude before. Like it was meant to happen.

Now it feels like it is bleeding.

He rolls to the side of his bed and stands, bare feet on Durasteel. Ignores the compressed bandage around his middle from the bowcaster bolt that still hasn’t healed. Brings his hand to the place in his chest where the bond beats as he does it, as he feels his way across the floor.

Kylo can feel each and every beat of his heart, like it’s an inch under his skin, it’s practically moving like he could sink his nails in and peel it out.

He cannot sense her direction, but looks out the viewport windows anyway. Only the faint stars of the Mid Rim answer him. But beyond that, it’s there. He stumbles over his own feet and looks further out, leans on the console’s edge a bit. Hears something at the edge of his hearing that he can’t quite name.

Knows what it is. But can’t name it.

Stop, a small part of himself says. Don’t answer. Don’t look.

The scavenger has shut him out. The bond has been silent for months— months, aside from a few moments where her willpower has run out and he has enough time to catch the look on her face before she slams him back out again. Screams at him— Kylo remembers vividly how she looked the last time, laying on the floor of different Supreme Leader’s quarters on a planet instead of a flagship, scrambling back, scratching at her hands.

No, Rey—

Out, she had ordered—Out. Get out.

She rejected his offer. He’d offered her everything, everything he had, he does that so often. Devotes himself completely, throws himself into the Dark, for what? Lightning that burns through him, makes his limbs seize up.

Take that ridiculous thing off.

The scavenger abandoned him. Why should he answer the moment the bond opens from the other side?

You know why a voice answers, a voice Kylo doesn’t know. Hasn’t known. Ignores.

But he also knows that this is no gentle calling. This is no brush of Rey’s consciousness against his.

He knows what it feels like to have the bond open and healthy and whole as they fought the Praetorian Guard. This is anything but.

Why— he hears in anguish, clearer, a death cry, like she were in the room here with him, and hears the scream echo around him like it’s traveling a hundred million miles to reach him. It’s her. It’s Rey. An unimaginable cold wind blasts at him, rips his breath right out of his lungs, it’s so cold. Nearly pushes him over as if he were nothing, nearly flattens him. Why would you show me what I can never have

The fixtures of his rooms start to shake, like the very frame of the Tresspasser itself is quaking and Kylo feels it. This rage. Anguish, outrage, hate, and something unnamable. Hears another scream that is not Rey’s, but echoes too similar to it— where is Padmè? Is she safe

Out of the corner of his eye, Kylo thinks he catches the sight of a white, ice wasteland.

But when he turns, despite the rumbling beneath his feet and the sheer force of the Force, it’s gone. Cold, empty, dark durasteel is the same as it’s always been.

“Rey,” Kylo tries. The screams come again, from a million miles, rolling over him, shaking the whole room, only this time Kylo feels something grab at the thing behind his lungs and pulls him down. It hurts. It hurts. Killing Han Solo had felt like this. The thing, the twisting worry that’s been grabbing at him for months seems to grow as he drops to his knees, scratching at the durasteel and breathing deep, as he knows, as he was taught by two different Masters, breathe, pain is power, pain is strength. He catches flashes, flickers, of her against a skyline of white, screaming, crying out as things, huge hulking metal husks start to move around her before it hits him in the chest again, like a ‘saber, like Han Solo must have felt. Kylo gasps, “Stop. Stop. Please.”

There is no answer. Kylo can barely hear himself whisper into the bond. Barely hear anything over the howling of the wind and the cacophony of old voices. Voices he hasn’t heard since he was a boy.

This pain gives him no strength. Or power. It just makes him push his forehead into the durasteel and clutch at his chest because it’s bleeding and he screams a scream that has no sound.

 

_________

 

“Remind me,” Finn grunts. “These guys were actual bad-guys, right?”

Poe shrugs. Pushes a crate of rations further down the stolen transport’s ramp. He looks like both a Resistance Captain and a Smuggler. Somehow. “Uugteen weapon dealers from Akari. Kanjiklub. Huttese goons. Tattooine slave-breeders. Maybe they aren’t completely, irreversably, irredeemably horrible. But horrible enough that they didn’t need these fuel cells.”

Finn considers it for a moment. And then, “That’s fair.”

The Resistance is bleeding so badly that even a stolen transport is a reason for people to come out of the woodwork of Hoth and smile and welcome them. They help Chewbacca with the supplies and Poe and Finn and Black Squadron hand out what they can afford to break open and not immediately stow away for just in case. Just in case the world ends. Just in case the First Order shows up. Just in case Hoth throws a blizzard at them that buries them under seventy-five feet of snow and they starve to death before it thaws.

But Finn’s had enough of the blurred gray. There are two sides. The First Order, and the people that the First Order will hurt.

“Compliments of Kanjiklub,” Poe says, raising a toast of stale ration bar. And then, winces. “Poor bastards.”

Finn keeps walking, stacks the crate on top of a crate-pile and goes back for another. Looks around, because Rey usually haunts this hangar at this cycle. And then remembers that she and Rose are both out doing maintenance on the perimeter sensors. Finn visibly gags on their behalves: he’d had an easier time trying to bandage Chewbacca after their first run in with Kanjiklub. With a lot less cursing, too.

FRIEND\\POE! BB8 beep-shrieks. Rolls under people to get to Poe.

“It’s my BOT!” Poe equally shrieks, tossing the stale rations away, like they didn’t just raid a Death Gang to get them. Finn catches it just by virtue of being directly in its path. “Who’s my bot, who’s my good little bot?”

Finn has seen a lot of things. More than FN-2187 could have ever dreamed, but particularly when it comes to this BB-series astromech droid. So he knows. He knows how ridiculous it is that a Resistance Captain kneels down and scrubs at BB8’s hull like BB8 is a tiny, adorable porg or vulptex.

Finn looks at BB8 and says, “Your influence frightens me.”

BB8 sticks its lighter out at him, and honestly? Much like the first time, Finn can’t tell if it’s a thumbs up or something much, much worse.

“Eh. At least it frightens somebody,” Poe bites. He does not stop scrubbing at BB8’s sides, or adjusting its antennae, or dragging around its visual unit until it whirs back into place.

Poe only stops when one of the other Captains calls to give their reports to Command, and even then, he’s reluctant.

BB8 beeps unceremoniously after Poe as he disappears through the blast door, and then gives a high-pitched squeal that’s too fast for Finn to understand, his binary is still child-speak, at best, five year old ‘Trooper cadets could probably understand more than Finn can after three days instead of two months.

But Poe pops his head back around the corner, alarmed, and asks, “She did what now?”

 

_________

 

The Dark doesn’t look like a monster from your worst nightmare, Luke’s crotchety voice warns. That’d be too easy, wouldn’t it?

Rey stands by his side, on a desert planet. Not Jakku. She knows the sands on Jakku, and they are much coarser than this. Jakku didn’t have two stars on the horizon, either, one bright yellow and the other a deeper orange. Discolored by the atmosphere, maybe. There’s nothing here but old moisture vaporators and round huts and sand—I hate sand. It’s rough, coarse, irritating, it gets everywhere—

This Luke is younger. Not young. But younger. His hair is neater and his robes are less torn. He doesn’t have shadows under his eyes or a slump to his shoulders. He’s real. Solid.

You know this, Luke says. You’ve known what the Dark tastes like.

“Sixty portions,” Rey answers. Remembers. Unkar Plutt. “Sixty portions when you’re three days away from starving.”

She does not feel a whap against her fingers, like at the summit of the mountain on Ahch-To. She doesn’t yelp, either, though her fingers remember the sting. She waves her hand like she did then, shakes it out, and tries to ignore that same expression on her Master’s face. Like he has greater expectations of her, that he knows that she can do better, that he knows Rey is not giving a truthful answer.

Luke turns back to the two suns, at peace, the old bastard. He’s as helpful now as he was in life, Rey knows, but she turns anyway and knows that this will have to end soon. She has more to do.

Time passes quickly as they watch. The two suns on the horizon start swimming through the sky, disappearing underneath the edge of the world, the sky darkens and the stars move, and the suns pop back up again behind them. Over and over again, until Rey loses count. A hundred years would feel like seconds. This doesn’t seem to phase Luke. Doesn’t phase Rey, either.

In a voice with no voice, Luke says, the Dark looks like everything you’ve ever wanted but weren’t brave enough to take.

 

_________

 

Finn’s spent a lot of time in MedBays the last few months. His spine has healed, thanks to Resistance bacta, and the patchy, slightly darker skin doesn’t bother him because ninety-seven percent of the time, he can’t see it. But he still remembers waking up in a Medical Orb on the Resistance flagship. Remembers the fight in the forest on Starkiller. Remembers the hiss and shriek of an unfamiliar ‘saber in his hands. Trying not to chop his own arm off because Kylo Ren hit like a goddamn TazeTrooper on their best day. Can practically smell the bacta. He spent a lot of time in MedBays before, too, back when his name was a string of randomly generated numbers and letters that still somehow meant him.

But now he and Poe push their way through the normal beds in the MedBay and into the section specifically designed for those that have sustained heavy damage from the cold outside Echo Base, only to be immediately pushed against a wall of heat— too much heat. Poe even makes a choking noise of disgust as he strips of his jacket and gloves. Finn doesn’t bother.

It’s Rey. On one of the beds. Tied up to three different cylinders of clear liquid that Finn is fairly sure is off-brand bacta.

“Ah, kriff,” Poe says.

It’s not unusual for somebody to need a day in the stasis pods. They’re ancient, even Finn knows this, but effective for preventing and sometimes even reversing the effects of frostbite.

They only have one working machine on Echo Base and three weeks ago Rose admitted not even she could get the second one working.

“There’s only so many times we can patch old wiring before we have to get new parts,” she’d told him back then, one night when getting warm made every other complaint fall away in the Mess. “And honestly I don’t think the planet that these things were manufactured on even exists anymore.”

Now, it’s not the fact that Rey’s in the Pod. That’s not what makes Finn and Poe stop at the foot of the bed and wonder at the cost of resisting.

It’s the way that Rey looks.

“Hell,” Poe says, stealing the words right out of Finn’s mouth. “She looks worse than you did, buddy.”

Finn has seen— well, he’s seen the worst of the First Order. He’s seen fourteen-year-olds worked to death and back more times than he can count. He’s seen squadrons punished for the crimes of one soldier. He’s seen whole squadrons disappear into the ether forever because a Captain made a bad call. Nobody mourns ‘Troopers. Crosses them off an asset list, sure. Checks a box on a HoloPad. Files a report. But a hundred ‘Troopers, ten thousand, a hundred thousand? They can steal more. They can order more. They can make more.

Finn’s seen what happens to Troopers that show a little too much humanity. A little too much resistance to the First Order doctrine. But this, this is not that.

Rose is here, too, sitting at Rey’s bedside and looking just as patched-up.

“I called through the comms,” Poe insists as BB8 rolls into the room and gets twisted up on Poe’s jacket. “You guys were fine—”

“It’s okay!” Rose insists. Tries to get up, but these old MedBay chairs are weirdly shaped. Like eggs, almost. “It’s okay, Dameron! Captain! Captain Dameron, uh, sir?” Rose winces and Dameron just stares and Finn knows that stare, too. “We just got caught out in the storm, but we both had our trackers on. I hit the panic button on mine and the General sent out a speeder to get us.”

Finn and Rey had sat together on the Falcon, two months ago, after the Supremacy. He thinks back on it now. Wonders if it had been there then, if he had missed it.

Rey looks like she is being eaten. Like it, whatever it is, whatever it was, is sucking the life right out of her from the gaunt hollows on her collarbone to the tired lines under her eyes, blinking up at them, like she slept on her neck badly, to the bruises against her ribs, just underneath the band wrapped around her bare chest, to the way that she lists to the left, and she hasn’t been sleeping— Finn knows that, they all know that, the whole base knows that, she’s banging on durasteel for cycles on end, taking double shifts, fixing perimeter sensors even though they could probably get one of the ‘droids to do it— to the way that there’s no light in her eyes anymore, no brightness, and the fire there is the kind that burns everybody. The way she moves, too, like every step is excruciating.

And even now Rey looks like she’s about ready to hit something. She’s already pulling her torso upright to rip the off-brand bacta from the wires circulating through her system and pushing the heating cylinders in the Medical Orb away from where they were pointed at her skin.

“Like I told Rose, I’m fine,” Rey insists, like she told Finn, on Jakku: stop taking my hand! And then, a little more firmly, “I’m fine.”

She’s not fine. Finn’s seen fine. This isn’t it. She’s been saying that since they got to Hoth. Since before, maybe. Definitely. She’s probably been saying that since the moment she could talk.

And Finn? Finn’s had enough of fine. He’s had enough of the whole goddamn word.

And maybe, maybe Rey uses one of her Force things, because she looks directly at him like she could hear his thoughts, his disbelief. No sooner does Finn think that’s not true and you know it that Rey jerks her head up and stares him down.

“It is true,” she starts, but Rey’s body whole betrays her, apparently, because she winces and grabs at her side. Inhales. Winces at that, too. And then, “It threw a tantrum and decided to whip me over the head with an AT-AT.”

Before Finn can even try to translate that, because all he gets is a vivid image of Rey actually getting whapped across the forehead with a full-sized AT-AT, Rey moves to get up again. He’s seen Rey scale walls on the Finalizer like it was nothing. Now she can’t even swing her legs to the edge.

And then Rey stumbles before Rose can make a mad grab at her arm, out of the bed and over the side, ironically just like Finn did when he’d first woken up in one of these things, hissing and spitting and grabbing at her side. Poe and Finn both lurch forward, like they might catch her.

But Rey leans on the bed and slides down like her limbs hurt and her legs have turned to muck.

Looks like she’s mad. At herself, if Finn had to guess.

“Did he—” Poe starts, huffing, pointing at a direction even though none of them’s got any frackin’ clue where the First Order might be in this very second. “Did he do this?”

There are two he’s in Echo Base. Names that aren’t spoken, maybe out of respect for General Organa. Maybe out of respect for everybody else, because one was a Hero and one is the reason why there are so many empty bunks and X-Wings on Hoth. So many ghost squadrons.

But Finn knows that Poe doesn’t mean Han Solo.

“I can handle him,” Rey says. Finn can’t tell who she’s trying to convince more. Him and Poe and Rose and BB8? Or herself.

“You’ve been saying that for months, Rey,” Finn tells her, finished with it, with all of it, with the whole goddamn First Order, and maybe it echoes louder than he thinks he intended. He steps around Poe and crouches down so that he’s on her level, puts his hands out to steady himself, maybe, or catch her again if she tilts sideways. “How much longer you gonna keep hopin’ that it starts to be true?”

She pulls away from him and slams her eyes shut. Finn readjusts so he isn’t pinning her in the corner or against the bed.

“I have to protect us,” Rey says, gesturing to them. Then, repeats, “I can handle him.”

“No,” Poe snaps. Harsh. Finn looks back at the sound of Poe’s voice, something darker, something unspoken that he doesn’t recognize. “You can’t.

Poe and Rey share something that Finn can’t name. Maybe it’s a truth, or maybe it’s some Jedi thing that he’ll never understand, but he sees the way that their expressions gradually change, the way that the hurt seems to get drawn out further and further and further. Rey’s eyes get wet, which he knows she hates.

Finn feels like an outsider in this conversation. He went up against Kylo Ren, yeah. Nearly lost his spine for it, sure. The Knights of Ren were infamous amongst the Squadrons: the Officers and Command were one thing. The Knights of Ren were another. And he heard the stories on the Finalizer, of ’Troopers and Resistance thugs— Rebel Scum— that came back from Reconditioning. Or never came back at all. But he never had Kylo Ren tear into his skull.

But he looks up at Poe, again. Poe Dameron, the best of them. Who looks like he’s had something ripped out of him that he can never get back.

Without thinking, Finn hunkers down and turns and aligns his body so that he’s stuck against Rey’s and slips his good arm over her shoulders, like he used to do with some of the younger kids in his squadron. Like he did with Rey on the Falcon after Crait.

Poe blinks out of it, whatever it was, first. Runs a hand over his forehead and through his hair. Inhales.

“He ripped into my head too, remember,” Poe finishes. “Feels like he drags his nails over your brain and digs in when he finds a weak spot. Roots around and scrambles you up and slams the door on his way out.”

It sounds like Reconditioning, Finn reasons. The worse kind of Reconditioning, though he never got close enough to really find out.

“It hurts,” Rey admits, forehead pressed into an open palm, mouth hidden behind the other like she can keep the secret in. “I feel like I’m bleeding. I’ve kept it shut for so long, but not anymore.”

They’ve never talked about what it is. Okay, maybe they don’t need to talk about it, Finn might be an ex-‘Trooper but he knows what the Jedi were. And maybe it’s all fake, maybe it’s just the stories that his Squadron used to whisper about in their bunks a long time after their Captains started snoring, maybe all those stories never happened and Luke Skywalker was just a myth. The Legend, not the man. The man was obviously real. But you can’t exactly move two thousand pounds of rocks with your mind and not be a Jedi.

“I kept it shut,” she tells them. Closes her eyes tight like it hurts to let this out. “I kept it shut for so long. As long as I could, because I couldn’t let him find us. I couldn’t let him take anything more. I locked it away and now it’s ripped open and bleeding— but, also better? It feels better. I can breathe again. It hurts to touch,” Rey says and her eyes go distant, or maybe in, Finn can’t tell. “I can’t shut it again. It’s… stronger. And I don’t know what that means.”

“It?” Finn asks. “What ‘it’?”

“I don’t know,” Rey admits. “I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m nobody.”

“You’re not—” Finn starts. He lost for words, for a tick. Wracks his brain for something, anything, some hidden bit of knowledge given to him by Han Solo other than women always find out but draws a complete blank. Frowns, and thinks, but can’t— he’s been given this talk half a dozen times, but hasn’t ever needed to be the one giving it. It’s still a strange concept. “Look, I— I’ve spent my life being a nobody. No, really. I was a number. All four-hundred-eight-six-thousand of us. I think I have a pretty solid grasp on what being no one is.”

Rey turns towards him, still hiding, a bit. But her hands fall away and he can see her better. Just a bit.

“You have a family,” Rose says, speaking up for the first time since Rey ripped out the bacta. Both he and Rey turn to her, standing at the end of Rey’s bed, now. “You’ve got us. Nobody’s nobody. Everybody’s somebody to somebody.”

Rey nods and Rose smiles. Rey exhales and the mood lifts, somehow.

“You know that, right?” Finn repeats. “You don’t have to do this all alone, you know.”

“He’s right, Rey,” Poe adds. “You got all the family in the world, right here. We kick each other in our sleep and take too long in the one working ‘fresher we’ve got and bicker over the best shifts and do nothing but bitch at one another in the Mess every morning. Shit, I could be back on Yavin 4 right now.”

Okay, it sounds horrible, the way that Poe says it. Doesn’t stop it from being true, but, well. Here they are. A messy, hollowed-out remnant of what was once the hope in the Galaxy. “Yeah.” Rey admits. “Family.”

 

_________

 

It doesn’t feel like it sometimes, but they are in a war. Licking their wounds, sure, and Hoth is more secluded than most. Nobody forgets Vice Admiral Holdo’s Last Maneuver. Nobody forgets what it cost. Nobody forgets what it felt like to stare down the miniaturized DeathStar canon, knowing that they were trapped on Crait, that there was no one coming, knowing that they were going to die. But until now, getting enough supplies and power for the Resistance has always been the first priority. Rey isn’t included in a lot of the details, as nobody seems to know what rank she should carry in the Resistance— nobody is sure what rank anybody should be carrying, since they have the infrastructure but no bodies to fill the blank spaces anymore— but people talk. Lines of clearances get blurred. Captains talk to maintenance staff and maintenance staff talk to X-Wing pilots and X-Wing pilots talk to bots who talk to other bots who talk to Rose, who talks to Rey. With the very possible reality that they will all be dead by next week, people talk.

There is nobody left that can help them. It’s been two months since Starkiller and the Republic is still in ruins.

Poe and Finn and what little remains of the squadrons have been pilfering fuel cells and power generators and ration packs from First Order-allied trading moons for almost a month now when the whole base seems to remember that they are fighting a War.

A rebellion on Allyuen Spaceport, not far from Hoth. Comes through the comms using Leia’s personal codes.

The details are pretty thin, but Leia explains the gist of it: there’s a faction on Allyuen resisting what remains of the regime— the First Order doesn’t have much of a foothold in this sector, not yet at least.

The problem is, if they catch any Rebel activity in this sector, there will be. And Hoth is the last haven they have.

C3PO helpfully provides, “The chances of the Resistance evacuating to another planet with our current staff and supplies is nearly 3,405,291 to one.”

The whole of Command is silent. Silent as they can be with fifty people shoved into what used to be a storage sector, silent as they can be with half a dozen alarms blaring, at Rey’s count. One by one they turn to Dameron. One by one they turn to Leia, because Leia is the brightest thing in this room. As was her brother.

Only Luke has nothing to say for himself. No whisper against Rey’s consciousness. No whap against her fingers.

They can’t handle another loss. Rey’s connection to the Force, bleeding, but healing, doesn’t need to tell her that, she can feel it in the room. They don’t have—stars— people, astromechs, X-Wings that actually work, they barely have enough not to die on Hoth.

And another failure will mean that there’s nobody left to resist.

Another failure will mean that Holdo threw herself into the Supremacy at half-lightspeed for nothing. Another failure will mean that there is nobody left between the Supreme Leader and the rest of the Galaxy.

But Poe stands at full attention. Looks around the room, at each of them, Finn and Rose and Black Squadron and Lieutenant Connix and even Rey. Rey, who is supposed to be more, who was supposed to be hope, who was supposed to—what did you expect? Luke’s voice comes. That I’d take my laser sword and face down the whole First Order?

Rey shushes him with a hiss through her teeth. As much as anybody could shush the leftover impression of a dead Jedi Master.

Poe turns to the General. “Permission to light some fires?”

And Leia, Leia nods, like the fate of the whole galaxy doesn’t depend on it. “Permission granted.”

 

_________

 

They take no heavy losses. Except an X-Wing. One of the ones in better shape, if Rey’s being perfectly honest. But nobody dies. The pilot ejects before the crash in low-atmo. They can’t lose any more of Black Squadron, otherwise the entire flying formation would be full of remembrances and honorary places. And they smuggle three hundred rebels to a nearby trading moon before the First Order even has time to send a response team.

It’s— it’s a victory, as unfamiliar as that feels. They will not always win as easy as this one, and the mood of Echo Base reflects that. Rey can feel the lights at the edge of her consciousness.

Her… family. Her broken, pieced together little family of Captains and X-Wing Pilots and mechanics and astromechs. The porgs and the vulptex. Happy, but also mourning, a little bit. Relieved, but afraid. One tiny victory doesn’t make up for thousands of remembrance spots in the Squadrons.

This is not the same Resistance that blew up Starkiller. These are the leftovers. The bitter ones. The stubborn ones. The spiteful ones. All the good ones died.

But no deaths. No deaths. And now they have allies, maybe. Rey only monitored the op to Allyuen, she was far more valuable as a deterrent at this very second than anything else, which does nothing but make her grind her teeth. But the people from Allyuen, the ones that are resting in those same empty bunks, she feels them too. Feels their anger. Their…fire.

Maybe the Galaxy has something to hope for, after all.

It does mean that Rey’s back to beating X-Wing hulls into submission until the earliest clicks in the day cycle, hours past even when the nightbirds have gone to bed.

It’s therapeutic, almost. Though, honestly, now for very different reasons.

“You’re cold,” his voice says. “You’re always cold.”

Oh, come on, Rey thinks. At who, she doesn’t know. Maybe the voices out in the white. Maybe the one that had laughed when she’d tried to out-stubborn the Force.

Rey hasn’t showered in the ‘fresher in three days. Nobody has, not since the call came through from the Allyuen Spaceport. She’s covered in sweat and grime with her coat tied roughly around her waist and with the underarms of her ratty shirt soaked through with sweat, and whatever she thought about Jakku, at least it was warm and dry and the sweat didn’t clot against her skin and in the underside of, well, everything. And not that Rey notices such things, but her hair is in the same tangled knot against her scalp that it was two days ago. Her forehead is moist with it. With beating these X-Wings back into shape.

She stiffens mid-swing. Stands back up, as much as her tired muscles can. This isn’t the best moment—I’d rather not do this now.

Yeah, Rey hears. Like the Force is rubbing red salt from Crait in her wound. Me too.

She’s quiet for a long while. Thinks about resisting. About shutting him out as she’s done half a hundred times. But the bond is still raw, and her connection to the Force wild, somehow, after whatever that thing was, out in the White. And when Rey looks at her connection, she finds it thrumming with strength. Teeming. Broken and bleeding and alive, always alive.

More than it was two months ago. More than it was on Ahch-To.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Rey says. In a normal conversation it probably wouldn’t have carried more than three feet but in the bond it feels like she could whisper the smallest thing and he’d hear it like she was standing right next to him. 

You shouldn’t be here, she says. She’s said it before. It’s all she says. And there’s no anger behind it. It’s just a fact. A recognition that the bond is open. That he is here.

She doesn’t turn to see. Instead she just rolls her head back and looks up at the ceiling of the hangar and all the loose wires, rolls her shoulders back and just feels. Breathe.

Except when she does, she can’t ignore the way that her limbs feel like they have little strings still tied to them, from that thing out in the White. She will not play the game. She won’t.

“You were hurt,” Kylo says. “I felt it.”

And the bond, wild with use again, echoes with those words. Within it Rey hears a hundred others— you shut me out and I felt your pain, it felt like I was dying and I saw it and I would have set the stars on fire if anything happened to you and anger, too, he’s angry that he’s been weak enough to come here the moment that the Force tore open the bond. He’s angry that she’s shut him out until now, but filled with relief, too. He’s angry that she called and he answered, as well as other thoughts that Rey doesn’t particularly want to name. Doesn’t have to, because she has thought most of these thoughts before herself.

So instead she bangs the hydrospanner in her hand against a piece of durasteel. It echoes in the empty hangar.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Rey repeats. Bends back down and connects the wire from the X-Wing’s power cells to the IFF Transponder.

She could shove him out, Rey thinks. Maybe.

Then again, her connection to the Force still feels raw. When she’d tried, last time, out in the White, it’d felt like she was cutting into her own skin. She’d told Finn and Poe and Rose It threw a tantrum and decided to whip me over the head with an AT-AT.

Maybe, just maybe, getting into a fist fight with the Balance, the thing between all things, wasn’t one of the best choices a Scavenger from Jakku could ever make.

“It’s bleeding,” Kylo says. “I felt you calling out. You were scared. And angry. I heard you, Rey.”

“Don’t call me that,” Rey snaps.

Kylo makes no noise but the bond shudders, almost. Rey can’t really describe it, but it distracts her from the Transponder. Makes her stop and look up, over the X-Wing’s hull. What should I call you— broken thoughts, going in and out, he might not even know that he’s broadcasting so loudly. I felt you bleed like it was my own wound, I heard you break

“Stop it,” Rey tells him.

“I can’t,” he says. “You know I can’t. Look at me, Rey.”

She doesn’t want to look. That thing, out in the fog, the White, whatever it was: even if it was a lie, that version of Ben Solo, it’s changed something. Before Rey was hurt, disappointed, angry. Lost. She’d gambled and lost and failed and her Master was gone and Kylo turned away and abandoned her. Her. The Nobody. The Resistance was bleeding out. That last tiny flicker of Hope was her. And she couldn’t bring hope to anybody. She was so tired, all the time. And then to find something, somewhere, within, that fight back against the nothing, against the balance, resist as long as she physically could keep going only to lose that fight, too, and to be shown this— truth? Lie? Rey still doesn’t know. She doesn’t.

But what she saw, it’s changed something in her gut. She’s touched his face and seen his eyes and his smile, and seen the mischief and the cruelty of what could have been. How much has been taken.

And the truth of this version, too: look how far she’d gone. After three days. Three days. Only to fail. Failure seems to be the lesson that the Force likes teaching most.

“I don’t want to do this now,” Rey tries instead. He’d understood that once. Maybe he’ll understand it again.

He doesn’t.

“Where are you?” Kylo asks.

Rey laughs. It’s a tired laugh. Harsh. “We aren’t going to play this game, are we?”

Rey’s tired of feeling tired. She’s tired of having to slam the bond shut every waking moment, she’s tired of being angry— yet anger seems to be all that’s keeping her upright, keeping her standing. Kriff, she’s angry, all the time. And she’s kept the bond shut so long that Rey has forgotten what not hurting feels like.

Now, Rey wants a fight.

“I’m not playing,” Kylo says, sounding like he’s shifted a couple feet to the left, behind her.  “It’s never been a game. Not to me.”

She doesn’t feel anything flood through the bond, not like a surprise attack would, though, honestly, could they really even hurt each other through the bond, they could barely touch fingertips—

She pivots, striking first, hydrospanner swinging, like she’ll fling it at his forehead— and—

And this hurts, too.

Kylo swallows. His dark eyes could drown much stronger people than Rey. He stares, for a moment, looks as if he’s searching her expression in the way that he does. Han’s way. Like he’s looking for something he’s hoping to find. The hydrospanner goes limp in Rey’s fingers, and her arms go limp, too.

He’s silent, for a long time. Stares up at her. She stares down.

Leia’s son looks through her. Opens his mouth, just for a moment, and Rey can feel the way that his eyes take everything in. Finally, he nods his head. An acknowledgement. His voice is rough, like he hasn’t spoken so softly in a while. “Jedi.”

Rey answers. “Supreme Leader.”

He doesn’t flinch. Not the way that Rey almost expected. Almost hoped, though if she’s learned any lesson the hard way, it’s that hope can be a powerful thing. To build, and to destroy.

This is not Ben Solo, heir to Han Solo, and every inch his mother’s son. This isn’t the Ben Solo she’d seen out in the White, the one with a blaster belt on his hip. This isn’t the one that’d stolen her breath from her lungs and made her linger. Made her wish. Want.

And Rey doesn’t know how she knows it, she’s never been near anything of the old Empire, unless you count the old Star Destroyers in the Field of Giants— but she knows. This is Emperor Ren.

Gone is the mask, and the robes that he wore in every nightmare. Gone is the plain black cloak that she occasionally caught glimpses of him wearing, the cloak that he wore in the Rebel Command Center on Crait, kneeling on the floor while she stood at the top of the ramp of the Falcon, their last bond vision. Instead, Kylo wears robes with a high-backed collar and long sleeves and the emblem of the First Order in silver against the cuffs. His scar— her scar, is more prominent than ever. If she didn’t know better, she’d think he’d started scratching at it. Making it worse.

There was a tiny, tiny part of Rey that had hoped that Kylo would have been paralyzed with doubt. By regret. She can’t hide that from herself, now. A tiny part of her had hoped that Kylo would realize his mistake, and come back. Like maybe the future she’d seen in that cave on Ahch-To wasn’t completely lost to them.

But Rey sees it now. This is a Supreme Leader that hasn’t spent the last two months idle. It's time to let old things die. Snoke, Skywalker. The Sith, the Jedi, the Rebels... Let it all die.

Meanwhile she’s just been beating X-Wings back into shape and trying to out-stubborn the manifested Force.

She’s four feet above his head, easily, because she’s standing on an X-Wing’s hull. Briefly wonders what she must look like, to him, if she’s floating almost ten feet in the air.

But still. She should feel like a giant. Instead she feels minuscule.

And then Rey realizes that this is different: before, she would have just seen him. Kylo. Imposed over the hangar inside Echo Base like he didn’t belong, but now, the floor beneath his feet is undeniably durasteel, and she catches an impression of console, behind him and to his right. It’s blending into the background of Hoth not-quite seamlessly, but close enough to fool her eyes for a tick.

And Kylo realizes the same, Rey feels. He’s staring at the X-Wing like he can see it.

“No wonder you’re always cold,” he says, and Rey tries as hard as she can to keep Leia’s words in a vice, close to her chest: Hoth is a big planet.

He can maybe see the X-Wing, she figures. Old T-65A2 models like this one are everywhere, and lots of planets are covered in snow, just like Leia said. And maybe, just maybe, this Supreme Leader won’t suspect that the Resistance would pick such an obvious choice for a hideout.

“It’s not so bad,” Rey says. Watches him. Looks into him. Waits for the inevitable. “I’ve had worse.”

And there is a part of Rey that hopes that Kylo Ren wouldn’t fire on a whole planet if he knew she was on it.

A larger part that knows that Supreme Leader Ren would.

I’ll destroy you, Kylo’s voice says. I’ll destroy her.

No, Luke says. You won’t.

Rey isn’t sure which end of the bond that’s coming from, but she knows Luke’s voice. And, after a moment, from the way his jaw is working, knows that Kylo can hear him, too. The Rebellion is reborn today. The War is just beginning.

Kylo grows angry. She can feel it in the bond. “Join me,” the Supreme Leader asks. And then, like he’s benevolent, like he’s being kind, “Ignore them. He’s dead. He can’t come back for you. Join me, and I’ll let the rest of your Resistance live.”

You mean the murders, traitors, and thieves you call friends— he’d said. So long ago. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve no idea.

The bond shifts, then, turns from dormant and whole, if not healthy. Like a TIE Fighter slowly tilting to the side, like the gravitational pull is increasing in angle until things start sliding sideways. Like Starkiller sucking the life out of a nearby sun until all the light was gone except for the deepest, darkest reds. So does the hate. So does the anger. So does the Dark.

And so does Rey. “You touch them,” she heaves. “And I’ll kill you.”

She doesn’t have a ‘saber, she doesn’t even have her staff, but the threat remains true all the same. She’ll rip him apart with her bare hands if she needs to, and drag him back herself.

The first match between the two of them is swift and lasts less than three seconds. Her on the X-Wing, him on the floor of whatever durasteel hall he’s standing in, testing the waters, the Force, all of a sudden throwing every single thing that’s ever hurt into their power. And Rey? Rey outstrips him by miles.

His eyes widen. “So much anger,” he says when it’s done, when the world settles back down, soft, soft like yes, when she’d called him a monster. Yes I am. “So much hatred, you don’t know what to do with yourself, you’re so angry. It feels like it’s the only thing keeping you upright. The only thing that’s keeping you standing, keeping you warm at night and wakes you up the next morning,” he tells her, like he isn’t reading from everything that Rey ignores inside herself. Like he’s far away. I see it. I see the island.

And of all the things that Rey doesn’t need to be told, doesn’t need to have explained, it’s how angry she is. “Shut up.”

Kylo levels her a look. Like their first shared vision. “These aren’t the feelings of a Jedi.”

I hate you— she can’t help it. It bleeds out, along with an angry, miserable howl. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. “I gave you a chance!” Rey yells. “I gave you every chance, I said I would help you. I told you that I saw you!”

She did. Not quite the vision in the Falcon, touching the hand of Ben Solo. But she saw it as bright as day. Kylo Ren. Redeemed.

That future is gone now.

For once, it is Rey that is uncontrolled. Kylo withdraws from the bond, enough to stay but enough to shut himself off from the direct line into Rey’s consciousness. He’s removed. Clinical. And Rey can’t stand it.

“And you betrayed me. Left me to die on the Supremacy.”

Rey fumes, punch-mad. She leaps at him from the X-Wing and grabs his hand and yanks it towards her own skull and spits, “Right.”

She shoves the memories at him, shoves them down the bond, rips it back open and pulls Kylo back in, until their minds are so close that she can no longer tell where he starts and she ends, shoves with everything she’s ever had and every wound she’s ever gotten. Every bruise from bent durasteel, every punch from Plutt’s goons. Kylo resists at first, tries to snatch his hand away, but Rey grabs on with all her strength and makes him take it from her. Starts to see that resistance crumble underneath all she shows him. And she shows him everything. Kylo cries out, like he did on Starkiller, like he did on the Supremacy, but Rey does not let one cell inside him move an inch.

Guess I’m first. I’m Ben.

She smashes their foreheads together, too, for good measure, gets her nails into the back of his neck and digs in so he can feel it, to hammer it in as far as she can, to make him hurt like it hurt her, to understand the Truth. The Lie. She holds his hand in place against her skull so that he takes and takes and takes like he’s Jakku and she’s water.

We got off on the wrong foot. Sorry about the— y’know, blaster bit. It isn’t every day you get snuck up on by a pretty girl

This isn’t fair— Rey hears herself think, as loud as if she had spoken it herself, and Kylo’s eyes are wide, meeting her gaze, like he’s seeing it all replay, like a holo, like he’s watching it happen. Like it’s a horrible thing that he can’t rip himself away from, that he can’t quite believe. This isn’t fair, this isn’t fair—

“No,” Kylo says, searching Rey’s face, she can tell, she can hear him. He’s looking for the lie but Rey’s burning up from the truth of it. “You’re lying.”

“I’m not,” Rey hisses. “You know I can take whatever I want.”

The images pass so fast that it’s difficult to pick out one from the next, but they catch glimpses. The same glimpses that Rey caught, that Ben Solo felt on the Falcon, glimpses of a happy life. Maybe a simple one. Quiet mornings and laughter and warmth and Rey drooling as she slept and Ben’s too long limbs trying to fit themselves into a bunk made for somebody a foot shorter than he was.

“You think I’ll fall for some, for some—” Kylo starts, and stops, swallows and the connection fizzles until Rey pushes harder. “You abandoned m— I won’t, I won’t—”

Through Kylo’s eyes, in his mind, the boy in the Falcon holds Rey in his arms and stares at him— stares at him— like Kylo isn’t seeing a stranger wear his face, his expressions, his body. Too tall and legs too long and shoulders too wide and wearing one of Han Solo’s old vests and blaster belt with his ears too big and nose too crooked and the Rey, tiny, dirty Rey with oil smudged on her forehead in the Falcon doesn’t seem to recognize him, either, except to fear him.

Kylo isn’t sure what amplifies the hurt more: the fear, or the lack of recognition.

He’s become the monster in this lie, it isn’t true, it isn’t true, and yet he steps forward like he did on that bridge on Starkiller and Ben Solo and Rey scramble backwards, in a different scene, almost falling off the edge and Rey’s crying, putting herself between him—Kylo, and Ben Solo, with his big ears and his crooked nose, like she’s willing to die to give him enough time to get out, but Ben won’t let go, he won’t let go—

—You have kind eyes.

“I offered you everything— everything!” Ben yells. His voice breaks. “I offered you the galaxy, and you turned me down! You didn’t want me!”

I love you, you idiot.

Yeah, Ben Solo says, smiling, big and goofy and like it’s the best secret he’s ever been told. Yeah, I know.

The X-Wing that Rey, in this world, has been valiantly beating into submission for the last six hours fizzles, suddenly, and cracks right in half, crooked down the middle, just like Luke Skywalker’s ’saber. The force from it rips Kylo’s hand out of her own, and her fingers snag at the nape of his neck before she’s dragged back by the ankles, just like out in the White on Hoth. Five feet, ten feet, until they both slide to a stop and feel the whip of a wind that doesn’t exist inside this hangar.

Everything stills. Everything goes silent. The Supreme Leader and the Scavenger That Almost Made Him Turn.

Rey’s breathing just as hard as Kylo is, because that— that was new. She hadn’t seen that, out in the White, she hadn’t made it that far before Han’s voice had sent her running back out into the storm, she hadn’t seen the look on Ben’s face, hadn’t heard her voice— her own voice

“You,” Kylo says. Younger. Quiet. “You loved me.”

She— Rey panics, anger gone, because this wasn’t supposed to be what happened, she was just supposed to make him hurt, make him feel a tenth of what she’s felt the last two months. “In that life,” Rey says, and at the same time she knows that this is the Truth. “Maybe.”

And yet she’s seen it, she’s seen it, and there’s never been a fate more true than this. In that life, Rey from Nowhere loved Ben Solo.

“Why?” Kylo begs, and maybe he doesn’t mean to share this with her, out-loud. The bond would make him do it, anyway, but his face is wet and Rey can’t look away. This is like the Supremacy all over again and Rey cannot survive that a second time. “I withstood years— years, of pain, and torment. The Dark made me strong. It took a frightened child and turned him into a man. And then three days and this thing inside my chest feels like you could beckon from a million lightyears away and it would answer.”

Rey doesn’t know if it’s the bond, or if it’s Kylo, or the desperate longing that’s flooding the bond, or the disbelief, or the fact that Kylo knows that it was the truth, but Rey’s own face feels wet.

Tears were too precious on Jakku to shed for anybody. Let alone— this.

“If you had asked me to run away, to forget it all, I would have gone, Kylo,” she tells him, trying not to let the wetness make her voice wobble. “You were right. My need for a family was my weakness.”

He isn’t— Rey can tell— hear— that he doesn’t expect this answer, this Truth, because Kylo Ren, Supreme Leader Ren just stands there.

“I don’t care that you have the First Order,” she says. “I don’t care that you have the Knights of Ren. I don’t care that you’ll carve out an Empire, I don’t care that you’ll build it off the backs of a hundred million scavengers, a hundred million nobodies,” and she hates, she hates that her eyes are so damn blurry and her voice breaks, goes rough and low— “I would have gone with you if you had nothing, Ben Solo.”

His whole expression changes, like it did in that elevator on the Supremacy. Like she’s… unlocked something, somehow, suddenly his dark eyes seem darker, like she’d drown, and Kylo’s looking at her like she’s the one source of life in the void and he can’t rip himself away.

So Rey does. She realizes the Truth. She steps back, away, back towards the X-Wing that’s still smoking. Something new takes root. Something stronger than everything else: something that seems to spread from the very deepest part of her lungs to her fingers and toes and up her spine. A path forward. The Force has given her something she wants.

For Leia. But most of all, for herself.

“Go,” Rey tells him. Soft. “Go.”

Kylo’s expression doesn’t change but Rey can feel his will in her own heart. He doesn’t want to leave. He wants to stay. Come with me. “Rey.”

“Go,” Rey tells him. “I can’t close the bond. You won’t turn from your path and I won’t turn from mine. We’ve seen that. It’s the truth. I can’t have you, Kylo, but I don’t have to see you, either.”

Waiting for him to turn from the Dark and back to the Light was a stupid, foolish hope. But it doesn’t matter. She’s a scavenger. She’s always been good at ripping old things apart. Ben Solo. If names had power, Rey realizes, she’s just found a spell.

Chapter Text

Three months after the Supremacy, the First Order sends a squadron of six hundred Stormtroopers to Coyerti. The ‘Troopers expect little resistance. They’ve advanced too far into the Middle-Rim, and while there have been small-scale uprisings and rebellions those have all been individual factions on Outer-Rim moons. There’s no organization in these revolts, and they get snuffed out in a matter of days. The Hosnian System is stardust expanding slowly through space and none of the Mid-Rim planets have managed to pull themselves together yet. And Coyerti is almost nothing. Strategic in it’s placement along the Koda Spur. But it’s a mining planet with a few settlements with more than a thousand residents each, and ripe for a peaceful surrender.

The ‘Troopers aren’t tense, or alert, but mostly filled with long bouts of boredom. The purple landscape of Coyerti passes by without a single marker on the landscape, as most of the cities and towns are in caverns twenty feet below the surface.

They keep in formation, more out of habit than anything else. Light Infantry Utility Vehicles and small all-terrain speeders and ‘Troopers.

Overprepared, some of them think. Not out-loud. ‘Troopers don’t think thoughts out-loud.

What is Command expecting, others think.

But again. ‘Troopers don’t voice doubts out-loud. That’s been bred out of them.

So nobody says anything, voices any complaint, simply marches forward until somebody will eventually tell them to stop. They never do, until one of the Light Infantry Utility Vehicles goes flying, like it was a ragdoll, like it was nothing, crashes in far off in an unseen location and then their left flank disappears in a cloud of purple Coyerti dust. A ‘Trooper screams, a blaster fires and the bolt shoots low through their ranks, and then the Squadron looks up in time to see YR-5112 go flying out into the purple cloud, only ten feet in the air as her blaster hurtles in the complete opposite direction.

“Don’t struggle,” someone says, and the ‘Troopers only have a second to realize that it’s a girl speaking, holding them all still, like not a single cell in their bodies can move. “Easy.” And then, quieter, to a person standing next to her. “You didn’t have to come, Finn.”

Only a few of these ‘Troopers have been unfortunate enough to be stationed around them. The Knights of Ren. Only a few of them know what this possibly means, and they can’t open their mouths to scream. To warn the others. They just get pushed down by some thing like everybody else, until their noses are pressed into the dirt.

“Oh, Stars, shut up,” says another, a man. None of them can turn to see him. “Like I was going to let you come on your own.”

And one of them, one of the ‘Troopers that is somehow resisting this hold, whatever it is, lifts his head out of the Coyerti dirt and asks, “Who are you?”

The girl— small, mouse-ish, with oil on her cheek and purple dust on her forehead and a metal staff in her hands, appears above them.

She grins at the ‘Trooper, and seconds before she forces her hand against the brow of his white helmet and pushes, knocks him completely unconscious, she says, “Me? I’m nobody.”

 

_________

 

You love me?

In that life— a voice answers. Maybe.

Except her eyes don’t say maybe, it looks like the memory hurts her as much as she was hurting him, and she so wants to hurt him. Through the bond Kylo can feel it: she wants to sink her hooks deep down into his bones. He can practically taste it. These aren’t the feelings of a Jedi.

She looks just as lost as Kylo feels.

 

_________

 

The Trespasser has no throne, not like the Supremacy did, or Starkiller, or on Korriban. But there is still a dark, empty hall in which the Knights of Ren received guidance from Snoke or Snoke’s Holo. This guidance was usually in the form of being thrown to the ground, being bled, being gripped and being pulled. Molded, Snoke had called it. Reforged.

After— after, when Rey had pushed all those things into his head, all the lies, the— his self, Ben Solo, only not him, he’d been here.

He can’t remember if he’d purposely come, or if he’d been doing something before the bond had called and he’d answered. Stupid, a voice comes, stupid, weak foolish boy.

This hall has no answers for the Supreme Leader. It should, after all he’s done. After all he’s given to the Dark. He has to keep moving, keep moving forward, he has to create something real and worthy and lasting. Kylo Ren will finally finish what Vader started. He refuses to let all this be for nothing. He’d cried out as much as he could because his mind couldn’t take it, couldn’t take what could have been and what if, couldn’t grapple with the fact that his life might have been that had he not made his choices.

But after, right after—

I love you, you idiot.

He’d stumbled. Tilted to the left. It isn’t the bond that burns but the memory.

It builds and it builds and it builds inside him until Kylo howls an incoherent scream, something that feels like it comes directly from that place in his chest. Like it’s been nailed there and slowly leaks her. “No,” Kylo grits out. “It’s— it’s a lie. It’s all a lie.”

It’s one last desperate ditch to recenter himself in his goals. But Rey is not here to refute the lie. At the same time he knows that it was the Truth.

I can’t have you, but I don’t have to see you, either.

He pulls himself up to his full height. Pulls himself back together. She’s rejected him. Again. He’d begged. Again. Offered her the galaxy, only to be met with refusal. With disappointment. With pain. She’d reacted with violence. Like she always does. She always does, always hits first.

So he learns from the Scavenger. He closes the bond. Puts it in a vice. Clamps down on it and refuses to let her slip through.

Kylo’s destroying it himself so she can’t and it’s the worst kind of control he can think of, but it’s the only form he knows.

And it feels… strange. Different, from when Rey had closed the bond. He’d still been able to feel the bond, feel his half of it only to be met with silence from the other end. He could still shout down it. Try and strike against the wall that she’d put up. Now he can’t feel anything but his own wall. Nothing beyond.

That was weeks ago. Kylo’s in the hall again, in it’s emptiness. The bond is silent and his walls are up. Weeks. It feels like the longest period of time that he’s ever counted, and he’s counted years.

It feels like he’s bleeding.

And, somewhere, somewhere that he doesn’t want to acknowledge—knows he can’t keep it up forever.

But the time he's spent with the bond shut tight has not made it easier for him to grasp. He’s drained his reserves, that’s all. Food is worthless to him, except when it gets so bad he starts to get lightheaded. He can’t sleep through the night because he sees the flashes of his other self. The one that got to wipe the oil from her forehead with his own hands. The one that sleeps in one of the bunks on the Falcon and has restless nights thinking about the fact that she is sleeping on the other side of the durasteel, less than six inches away, and his father’s out smuggling, they’re the only ones aboard the ship and it would be so, so easy to sneak out into the hall and into her room, if she’d let him. Kylo’s other self wrestles with that fact, wrestles with it, turns in his bunk over and over. Talks himself in and out of it so many times, he’s lost count. 

He still can't grasp it. He still can't make it fit within himself, this Truth. 

As if it’s trying to hurt him, to really nail him right in his heart, the Force supplies the memory like he’d called it up. His other self pulls Rey into his lap as a blast rocks the hull of the Falcon.

Let go, Ben.

Sorry, sweetheart— his other self answers. I haven’t got time for anything else.

Supreme Leader Ren flings whatever his hands can reach, without the Force, useless relics and data pads across the room, and isn’t at all calmed by how they break. He’s breathing hard— too hard, and it’s bubbling up in him, trying to claw out of his throat.

He shifts, paces, wild with it. A tiny, breaking thing escapes him. “Stop,” he commands.

He’s so alone. He’s so alone. There’s nothing in his mind, nothing that he isn’t imagining himself. No presence. No brush of consciousness, even though he knows he’d feel her if he were brave enough to open the bond again. Kylo almost wishes he hadn’t killed Snoke. He killed his father. He’d tried to kill his mother. He killed his master. And now, Rey— she’s not shutting the bond, but he is. He’s keeping it in a vice.

There’s nothing else for him to fling, in here, nothing else for him to break, unless he wants to pull out his ‘saber and start scoring it into the durasteel. At the same time, he doesn’t want to touch his ‘saber.

Doesn’t want to remember her pulling it from his hip from twenty feet away.

“Why,” Kylo begs. Begs the air, the emptiness, the place that Snoke used to occupy. Falls to his knees, like maybe that would make a difference, maybe that will get him an answer he wants to hear. “Why would you show me this— this lie?”

Why would you offer me something I want but can’t have, he doesn’t say. He didn’t even know he could want something like this. He never knew how desperately he just wanted someone that was there. That wouldn’t abandon him. That was made to counter him.

The Force doesn’t answer him. Hasn’t ever answered him, even when he begged. That’d all been Snoke, hadn’t it? Every whisper, every nudge that Kylo had thought was his Grandfather, was Vader— it was all a lie.

He can’t tell anymore. Knows that it would rip him to shreds if he could.

He hears it. Distant. Echoing. Looks up into the darkness, hoping for something else, something more, some sort of guidance to make it stop. But Kylo gets no guidance. He just gets a memory, as loud as if she were standing two feet in front of him: I gave you a chance! I gave you every chance, I said I would help you!

He scoffs into the empty room, desperate, desperate to keep what little dignity he has. He’s already on his knees. What more does the Force want?

Her words had been meaningless. Lies. Telling him he wasn’t alone, convincing him that they’d had something, that the Force itself had been pulling them together. She’d abandoned him at the first opportunity, hadn’t she— and she had the gall to be angry.

He’s never been so afraid.

This isn’t fair, this isn’t fair— and Kylo can’t tell whose voice that is, Rey’s or his own, it’s meshing together, an octave too high for him but two octaves too low for her. He grabs at the hair attached to the base of his skull and pulls, just a bit, just to ground him, just to fight against it. It continues until he just hears his own voice— this isn’t fair, this isn’t fair!

Now he understands. Now he understands why every time he’d glimpsed Rey after she’d shut the bond, she’d looked worse. She’d looked more tired, more worn out, like she was being eaten.

Perhaps it is the Force. It’s eating him alive.

I would have gone with you if you had nothing, Ben Solo.

At this voice, Kylo howls an inarticulate bellow of rage and pain, every scar he’s ever gotten and every good thing he’s ever thrown away. She doesn’t want him as he is, as Kylo. She wants—

Ben.

But there is nothing to scream at. There’s nothing. No master to fight against. No Skywalker to curse at and stab his ‘saber through and no Rey. No Rey. And he’s done it to himself.

Oh, kid, comes a voice that Kylo doesn’t remember. Hasn’t heard. You’ve got it much worse than I did.

“Shut up,” he spits at it, and hears it again, the laughter. This time, it does sound like Rey.

 

_________

 

Six days after the raid on Coyerti, back on Hoth, and the Resistance has grown three times what it was. Not that this was saying much: three times a hundred is still nothing, nothing, against the First Order. The First Order has hundreds of thousands at their beck and call.

They might have too many people, now, if Rey’s being perfectly honest— and a hardened desire to try doesn’t bridge the gap of actual military experience. They have people to fill their empty infrastructure, sure, and maybe Rey and Rose won’t be the only mechanics in the Resistance. But they’re still lacking experienced pilots.

And what’s worse is the people that do come are the ones that have lost the most, that hurt the most, the ones that have looked up at the Order and thought—You have taken everything else.

Rey tries not to pry, she really does, but so many of them burning so brightly sometimes it feels like they are shouting their wills, their thoughts at her. Leia bears it all as she always has, Rey somehow knows, and points people in the right direction. Keeps them from burning themselves up from all the fire.

Rey fixes X-Wings. Some things don’t change. “So,” Poe ventures, his voice a little tinny from where she is, as he hands her a hydrospanner. “I’d say I’m not here to pry but I’m absolutely here to pry— when are you going to build another flashy saber sword?”

Rey pulls her head back out of the X-Wing’s guts to look down at him.

As an answer, he gives her, “I grew up on Yavin 4. Not far from the Temple. I kinda… know how this whole thing… works. Just by proxy of location.”

In truth— the thought of holding another ‘saber isn’t one she’s thought.

Or, maybe she’s carefully packed it away, or maybe she’s just shoved it down like everything else. Luke’s ‘saber had felt strange, but right, in her hands. His ‘saber had, too. Felt like her hands had spent twenty years waiting to hold it.

And Luke has been teaching her, in that space between sleeping and waking, when she looks up to the two suns of Tattooine to find him standing next to her. Telling her the things he should have told her when he was still in this world. Giving her the education she always should have had, had the Temple not burned.

But, Rey also knows, has enough understanding of herself and who she is and what she is, now, to know that anything that she tried to bend to her will, any clump of kyber, would turn out just as broken and hissing and angry as his did.

“My staff has worked for ten years,” she tells Poe, instead. “It’ll keep working for ten more.”

“Oh, yeah,” Poe agrees. “I’ve seen your handiwork with that thing. Coyerti was… something.”

Now Rey does stop. Coyerti wasn’t officially authorized by the Resistance, and therefore, Poe had been carefully kept out of it. Not because they didn’t trust him, Poe has one too many marks on his record after the Supremacy. The Resistance couldn’t afford to go out and stop every coup, every invasion. Especially against a Squadron with six times their numbers. The Resistance would need to be ten, no, a hundred times bigger than it is.

But she— Rey, she could. And, kriff, Finn wasn’t supposed to be involved in that, either. But he’d come all the same.

Some things don’t change. And then, they do.

The hangar doors are closed always, except for the brief twenty seconds where they open for returning ships. That door is twenty feet of solid, re-enforced durasteel.

But now, something knocks. Three knocks. Clear as a bell.

Rey looks to Poe, who’s staring at the door with the same sort of expression. The same understanding. Nobody knocks on Hoth. There’s nothing alive enough out there to knock. The hangar quiets, because the knocks echo in the cold, and all the clinking of hydrospanners and whir of repair droids stops. Even the announcements over the comm systems seem to quiet, though they go right on announcing. Doors to the other parts of the base hiss open, and Command comes out, until it seems like all three hundred people in the Resistance are all in one tiny room.

And then the thing knocks.

“Everybody,” Poe says in a whisper that still somehow carries. “Deploy scenario E.”

“Wait,” Leia says, and it’s then that Rey feels it, too. Something— something else. Something like the laughter out in the White. Something that says this was always supposed to happen.

“Open the bay door,” Rey says, climbing down from the X-Wing and onto the ground, weaving her way to the door like she’s being pulled.

“What?” Finn asks, appearing next to Poe. “Are you joking?”

Rey waves her hand with a careless push of the Force and the door mechanism slides open, the inner door slides left and right, spearing down the middle, while the outer layer of door slides up. The White pours in like it’s a physical thing coming in with the snow, and Rey has honestly been on Hoth for so long that the cold no longer feels cold.

But the White dissipates, reveals something that Rey somehow knew she’d see.

A Stormtrooper.

It changes, then, everything but Rey changes, everybody tenses and yells, blasters are pulled, but the ‘Trooper, who is covered in dirt, purple Coyerti dirt, staggers in. They look like they’ve been through a garbage disposal.

With a hiss, the Stormtrooper removes their helmet, slowly, like the Resistance as a whole is a scared bantha. Ready to shoot, ready to kill, ready to die if one Stormtrooper means another repeat of Crait. But Rey sees what she knows. The ‘Trooper is unremarkable: physically, she’s got a ruddy pockmarked face and scars that sing brawler, and she’s unremarkable in the Force, too, so Rey drops the rest of her guard and motions for the last of the stragglers with blasters to stand down. This ‘Trooper is neither good, nor bad. She doesn’t shine or glow. She exists.

“My name’s—” the girl says. Catches on it, almost, and Finn starts, at Rey’s side. She looks like she gathers herself, stands up taller, even though she’s the only ‘Trooper in a sea of Rebel Scum. “I’m JA-1366. I’m looking for FN-2187.”

This is the thing about fires: they spread.

 

_________

 

“She can’t stay,” one of upper Command says, days after— a guy who’s name Finn can’t remember, because they’ve spoken a grand total of two times. Pelagian? Parasha? Paransha.

JA-1366, who’s so far been going by Jaye, sits in a old storage room that they’ve commandeered for prison holding. She’s been fed and cleaned, as far as Finn can tell. She’s from a different squadron than he was— not difficult, considering the sizes of most squadrons and how many ‘Troopers work for the First Order.

“They killed Nines,” she’d told him. “Because of what happened on Coyerti. Because we lived.”

‘Troopers, as rigid as the system was, have always hated the number thing. It’s hard to sleep and eat and live with a hundred other people and always have to remember SR-1123 when SR-1124 was three bunks down and just threw a wet towel at your face. Combined with the fact that they all share the first two letters based on their Squadron so everybody in the Squadron has the same number and the largest of the Squadrons have one thousand ‘Troopers in them—no, inside official occupation most squadrons are full of Slips and Zeroes and Nines and Ironsides.

Finn hadn’t ever minded, really, never had a name until Poe gave him Finn.

“They offed ‘em,” Jaye had said. “Started picking us off one by one until the whole Squadron was decommissioned.”

Decommissioned, Finn had nearly spat. Clenched his hands instead, right, he’d nearly forgotten. Stormtroopers didn’t die. Stormtroopers were decommissioned.

“She stays,” the Finn in the present says. And then better, more, more forcefully. “She stays.”

Command all turns to Poe, because he’s highest rank without Leia present. Poe just stands there for a minute and Finn gets nervous, because Poe might be Poe but this is another ex-‘Trooper they’re talking about and they have enough mouths to feed as it is. And public perception of ‘Troopers hasn’t changed, not enough, not nearly enough, especially as more sectors seem to fall or topple every day and if nothing else, ‘Troopers are the public face of the First Order—But Poe, with his arms crossed, just shrugs. “What the kriff are you all looking at me for? Finn says she stays, so she stays.”

 

_________

 

 

Jaye is not the first Stormtrooper to abandon the First Order. She is the first one to survive doing so, apart from Finn.

She is not the last.

 

_________

 

“You lost a whole squadron,” Kylo begins, very carefully, enunciating every word, resisting the urge to strangle Hux right where he stands. “To ‘no one’.

Hux must be having a very hard time, if Kylo had the capacity to care about someone like Armitage Hux. Having to grovel at all hours, respect Kylo’s commands and obey without question— not having anyone to betray him to at the earliest convenience. Hux at least has the good sense to look guilty. Maybe he’ll make a game for his Knights of Ren, when the last of them returns from Dark Space. To see which one can get General Hux to scream.

“Not ‘no one’, Supreme Leader,” Hux says, and Kylo can see the vein in his throat and feel his slithery presence squirm in the Force. “They called themselves…Nobody.”

Kylo’s fist crushes the handle of his chair, hard, the durasteel caving in like clay. He hisses, “Dismissed.”

Hux looks surprised at this, and flinches. “Supreme Leader—”

This time he does choke Hux. Hard. Throws him towards the door, too. “I said dismissed.”

When the door hisses shut Kylo lets out a breath and looks around. But the bond is still shut, his vice in place, though it is boring a hole into his gut to do so. Kylo’s heart won’t stop its cacophony against his ribcage. Hux’s word echoes around the chamber, or perhaps that’s the Force. But he looks, again, just to make sure. But she hasn’t come. He’d be able to feel it, if she had: all that anger. He’d once found that anger mesmerizing. Now it burns him.

Nobody. I’m nobody.

It’s Rey’s voice, that time, unmistakably. He could pick it out in a crowd of a hundred thousand.

But Nobody never appears.

 

_________

 

The First Order catches up to them on the Cerean Reach, between Riflor and Hirsi. And by catches up, Poe means that they, four Black Squadron pilots on a simple resupply run somehow manage to come out of lightspeed right on top of them. A back-field fleet of smaller supply ships and Frigates, at best, but still First Order.

Which means that more will come out of the woodwork of the jump routes like rats. “Ah, shit,” Poe spits. “What the hell kinda luck,” he calls out, flicks the comm line to Base on. “We got First Order on us!”

There’s static on the other end and the tell-tale scream of TIE Fighters, which means they’ve been fucking noticed. Black Squadron splits formation. Kahta and Tocho peel off and roll, over and over again, and double back to pick one off his six. The corpse goes tumbling off into space. Pava stays on Poe’s flank.

“Run,” Leia commands. And Poe is not in the right state of mind to disobey a direct order again, not after all the failure, the loss. But they can’t run back to Hoth. They’re too close. “Poe, damn you. Run. Live another day.”

BB8 makes an unhappy beep as a photon blaster whizzes over the top of Poe’s X-Wing as he rolls to avoid it. “Happy beeps, buddy!”

He’d love to run. Love it. Doesn’t think it’s gonna work out that way.

“This is Black Leader, running,” Dameron says, absolutely not running, and shoots at the TIE Fighters and the Frigate’s Shields uselessly absorb what stray shots do hit against it, but he’s not leading the bombing squads to their deaths against the Dreadnaught, either. Kriff— kriff, he’s going to die, he’s going to die, hell, they’re up against the crumbs of the First Order and he’s still going to die

FRIEND\\POE! Shrieks BB8. Happy beeps!

“Happy beeps,” Poe repeats. “Right, right. You got it, buddy. Pava, Tocho, back off! If we need to jump to hyper you jump wherever the fuck you want to go, we’ll rendezvous later, but do not lead these fucks back to Hoth!”

“We’re with you, Poe!” comes Pava.

Two TIE Fighters swoop in after him and Poe rolls, again, and again, and takes the X-Wing up over the Frigate’s hull so they’re too afraid to shoot at him. Kahta crosses over him and manages to take one out, but she’s too close.

Poe flips his thumb over to Hoth’s channel, just not the one that Leia’s listening to.

“How many X-Wings we got?” Poe demands.

“Uh, fifteen, I think?” He knows that voice— Rose. And then, “Sixteen, maybe, if I can get the right-hand 4l4 Fusial Thrust Engine working on that T-65A2.”

“Uh huh,” Poe says. He’s talking because talking is easier than accepting the fact that he’s probably going to die in the next nineteen seconds. “And are you gonna be mad if I break this one?”

Rose doesn’t hesitate. “No, but Rey’ll skin you and sell your organs for parts.”

I really am gonna to die— Poe thinks, and then he hears a new sound, a different sound, and he rights his X-Wing from his roll to see it, to confirm it, because he knows the sound of those modified C. E. C Subspace Hyperdrives.

Yes,” Poe breathes, that is the best thing he has seen in weeks, stars, he’ll fuckin’ kiss that Wookie if it’s the last thing he ever does, as the Millennium Falcon tears in from behind the biggest Frigate. “YES.”

 

_________

 

Four months after the Supremacy, a month after the Supreme Leader has shut his end of the bond, they are on Coruscant, and Coruscant is burning.

Rey has never been in a city like Coruscant before, but enough of the ex-‘Troopers and Resistance techs that she has started to claim as her’s like to talk about it. Talk about how it was the jewel of the Republic, once, and now it’s a durasteel graveyard. The bottom levels collapsed a long time ago and now the upper levels have started to follow. And really, Rey’s never seen buildings this tall. The only thing she had to compare it to was the overturned Ravager, laying on its side, but even that seems dwarfed by this city-planet. She thinks she could stand at the base of one of them and look straight up, and wouldn’t be able to see the very top.

Leia wants to get a feel for the political climate, to see what moves they can put into play: and for right now it looks like Coruscant is the temporary home of what’s left of the New Republic. Which isn’t much. There’s more suffering here than Jakku.

They didn’t even bring an X-Wing, they’d brought one of the stolen supply freighters and had used fake registration to get past the security droids at the hangar. They’re wearing nondescript refugee clothing and blend in with the other six hundred thousand refugees on currently on Coruscant.

But they’re here for simple intelligence gathering. That’s all.

Only they weren’t expecting a First Order Star Destroyer to park itself in Atmo just above the surface, or infantry ‘Troopers to be escorting individuals through the streets. Their carefully laid plan, complete with support crew, just got smashed into the dirt.

They hide in an alley, the four of them— plus a very badly disguised BB8, on the ground level.

Poe frowns. “No way they should be here. This is the heart of the Inner Rim. How did Intel not catch a whiff of this?”

In the Force, Rey hears Leia—Too many Senators were bought by First Order bribes.

“Don’t let the armor fool you,” Finn says. “That’s a MHA ‘Trooper. Megablaster Heavy Assault squad. They’re trained for sieges and heavy return fire. I see some Riot Control, too.”

Poe looks hard, down the street. For now at least the ‘Troopers don’t seem to be doing anything, just standing in pairs on street corners and next to shops. But they can see eighteen of them just from where they hide.

She can feel him wavering, burning, but Poe reels that in. They’ve all learned hard lessons. “We’re aborting. I’m no Jedi but even I can tell that something doesn’t feel right.”

Finn and Rose both nod in agreement. Rey’s still unsure, she doesn’t feel anything off, in the Force, though it could just be the overwhelming number of people within her range. She isn’t used to a hum of this magnitude. And why the panic? They won’t be spotted in a population this size. Poe’s face is the only one that’s known to the First Order.

And he’d— he’d never make a move against a planet that she was standing on.

“We have to go,” Poe realizes. “Oh, we have to go now.”

“What,” Rey asks. “What do you mean?”

But then she feels it, wave after wave after wave of terror: beneath them, in the old levels, and above them, and around them, as refugees star to panic and blaster fire starts going off and Rey finally understands what’s happening. The ‘Troopers in the street pull their blasters and start pulling people out of shops, away from stalls, scanning their bio-imprints with their scanners and shoving them away, but some they drag, the kids, some they pull

“Oh, kriff,” Finn says. He must realize what this means the same second she does.

“Rey,” Poe says. “We aren’t gonna be any use to these people dead—”

“Mercy,” a girl begs, who looks to be physically putting herself between the ‘Troopers and her younger siblings, siblings that, to Rey, look to be no older than seven. “Please, mercy. We haven’t done anything, we aren’t resisting, please—”

The Force crackles. Rey hears it as time slows.

A difficult choice you have to make, warns a voice that is familiar, but strange, too: a man, with a coruscanti accent not too different from Rey’s. Save a hundred people today, or ten thousand tomorrow.

It isn’t a difficult choice. It isn’t difficult at all.

“Finn,” Poe tries. “Rey, don’t—”

Finn’s moving just like Rey is, time resuming its normal pace, though they start moving in slightly different directions. Rey smashes her staff against a ‘Trooper’s helmet and his partner, knocking them both sideways and sends their blasters flying with her free hand, and in her next move pushes the all-terrain vehicle into another pair twenty feet further up the street. Finn disarms another pair and uses the Megablaster to start firing on the all terrain vehicles in the center of the formation.

“Go,” Finn yells at the girl, and her siblings. “Go, run!”

Rey picks up a pair of ‘Troopers on the right, angry, angry and confused because there could be another good ‘Trooper in this mess, like Jaye, like any of the handful of others that have found their way to the Resistance. Angry because she doesn't have enough time to pick them out of the mess, out of all the 'Troopers, because there's too many moving parts, too many blasters pointed at them, too much, too much

“Stand down,” the Captain of the ‘Trooper Squadron orders. “This is not a matter for civilian interference.”

“No fuckin’ way,” Finn spits at him. Screams. “You will never take another child!”

Poe shoots the Captain in the chest with his blaster before the Captain can give another order.

Chaos ensues.

The remaining ‘Troopers in the squadron focus their fire on the few people left resisting, most of them refugees who don’t even have blasters. They 'Troopers make a strategic move and hide behind one of their all terrain vehicles that must be at least twenty feet tall.

Rey picks one up.

She moves her hand right and shoves, sends it into its twin.

‘Troopers start scrambling, screaming and civilians too, and one’s Power Converter must crash into the other’s Pulse Generator because then there’s an explosion, a sudden wall of searing heat that nearly shoves them off their feet and they’re at least thirty feet away, an explosion that sends something flying in Rey’s direction that she doesn’t catch in time, that hits right above her left eyebrow, hurts, breaks her concentration and they both fall before she catches them at the last millisecond with the last tiny bit of her strength. She nearly grunts something, half a scream, because these things make the rocks on Crait look like bits of dust particles.

Run,” she yells at the ‘Troopers, who are scrambling over corpses in the street. “Run back to your master,” And she spits it, master, because Kylo Ren is Supreme Leader and that is so close to Emperor that Rey can’t stand it. This— this is what Kylo Ren had picked, over her. This. The truth out in the White has never been so rotten.

She lets the remnants of the ships settle back down once she sees that nobody would be crushed beneath them— nobody that isn’t already dead, anyway.

But then Rose is pulling at Rey’s sleeve, and she’s winded, she might have overdone it, maybe, and Rose is yanking her backwards, along with kids, so many, and their families, further down the levels into the Durasteel graveyard while the First Order’s alarms start blaring. Half the skyline is blocked out by their Star Destroyer.

And Rey sees him, in the chaos.

The first time, since their fight in the hangar on Hoth. The first time in weeks, by now. She’s let him go, let him keep his weakness and his Empire because now she wants to rip it from him, and rip him apart too.

So she’s let him hide. Until now.

And maybe it’s different, this time. Maybe it’s the same. Maybe they’re stuck in some gravitational pull, not moving farther away but not getting closer, either. Just like her and Ben Solo, out in the White.

Maybe it’s the wetness pouring down the left side of Rey’s face and threatening to drip into her eye. It’s already at the edge of her lip. Maybe it’s the way that they both stand still in all the movement. Maybe it’s the way that Rey smiles.

But Kylo just takes her in. Caught unaware, like he’s in the middle of something, he doesn’t even have his Supreme Leader robes on. He takes her in and backs away, she can feel him. He’s already gathering himself, shoving at the bond. You— the Force hums. You’re afraid.

And Rey smiles. Smiles and knows she could rip him to shreds piece by piece like Steelpeckers to the Ravager.

 

_________

 

“Explain this,” General Organa’s voice is as flat and cold, for once, but this time there is an undercurrent of danger underneath it as she stares, unblinking at her subordinates inside of her storage-facility-turned-General’s-Office. “Don’t bullshit me with details. Explain this to me in fifteen words or less.”

It’s kinda an odd sight— Poe, Leia’s heir to the Resistance in all but actual name, and Finn, a Stormtrooper-turned Resistance Lieutenant, and Rose Tico, who— for all that Leia understands, was a mechanic until three months ago. All three of them are covered in soot. Finn’s wearing the shoulder pad of standard ‘Trooper Captain and Rose is still holding a stolen ‘Trooper megablaster. All three of them look a little toasted.

And Rey, to say nothing of the last Jedi, has a very long cut just over her left eyebrow, and what is undeniably a bloody ‘Trooper helmet in her hands.

“Well,” Poe starts, and Leia’s eyes snap to him and he wilts, at that. “You see—” he tries. Looks to Finn and Rose, who avoid him. Rey just shrugs. “—I don’t think I’m gonna be able to do that in fifteen words or less.”

“They were doing another culling, General,” Finn offers instead. “They used to do one every year from outer-rim trading moons. Take a couple kids from each village and people think it’s just slavers. Train them and teach them the doctrine and in fifteen years you’ll have a Squadron without the expense of ordering clones.”

And stars help her, Leia feels a shiver in the Force, like a reckoning thirty-years-coming. Like her past self has reached into the future and whapped her now-self on the back of her head.

“They usually only do outer-rim trading moons, actually. Mining planets, farming planets,” Finn adds, as an afterthought, like he can’t wrap his head around it. “I’m not actually sure why they tried to hit Coruscant.”

It isn’t hard for Leia to guess: it was quite clear. If we can hit you in your beloved Inner-Rim, we can hit you anywhere.

But maybe she doesn’t need to tell these four that, before they have a counter-plan. That shiver in the Force comes back. She knows exactly what Luke would have done in this situation. What she would have done, thirty years ago.

Bail Organa hadn’t quite managed to keep all the Skywalker out of her system.

Leia sighs, deflates a little, and nods towards the door. “Okay. Go rest, at least. And shower.”

BB8 beeps a little curiously at Leia, and only then does she notice what appears to be sooty boot-prints on the ‘droid’s side.

“You too,” she tells it.

Finn and Poe and Rose all haul themselves off of her chest-box chairs and get moving, like they’re marching in line to their deaths.

But they aren’t out of her sight before she asks them, “Next time? Don’t interrupt the massively-scaled operation without informing me first.”

Rey is the last one out. She leaves the ‘Trooper helmet on Leia’s desk and they share something. Pain, maybe. Loss. The kind of loss that only people like them can share, maybe. Leia recognizes something of herself in Rey’s expression, and then Rey nods and gathers her staff and is out of Leia’s storage-facility-turned-General’s-Office.

“She would have given Han a run for his money, in his prime,” Leia tells Luke, but doesn’t turn to his presence. She watches the empty doorway but somehow knows that her brother sits on a trunk by the one interior window that Leia’s office has, overlooking the hangar. “And you. If you had given her the time of day.”

There is no amnesty between them. Things are clearer, now, that she knows the truth of the Temple. But she also knows how much Luke resisted taking up the mantle of teacher, again.

“I should have,” Luke agrees. “It would have been better. Anybody could see that. It’s one of a long list of mistakes that I made.”

Leia lets herself process that. “Your list isn’t as long as mine.”

 

_________

 

He wakes in the Falcon again. It takes him a minute to turn over, to get used to the smell. Oil and atmosphere and blaster fire and some sort of spice that he always associated with Han Solo. He breathes, deeply. Blinks at the low light.

This bunk is far too small, too, which is a problem he never had to deal with, seeing as the last time this self was ever here, he was all of thirteen. Picking the top bunk had made him so happy. But now is nose nearly touches the ceiling. Something settles in his chest, something he hasn’t felt, hasn’t known, hasn’t missed

Safe, maybe.

Ben lets his fingers trail along the textured durasteel next to his head. Knows that Rey’s on the other side.

 

_________

 

Stealing from Uugteen weapon dealers and Kanjiklub and the Hutts and Tattooine slave-breeders is well and good— and they do plenty of that, at least at the beginning it was all they could do with their mid-range transports and constant shortage of food and fuel. But now, now they’ve got some bigger ships. More of them. They can pick out bigger targets if they’re careful enough. The Resistance makes a lot of enemies in a few short months but makes a lot of friends, too, friends that have been raided and pillaged by the Hutts and Kanjiklub and Death Gangs for decades.

First they just steal fences, and suppliers, because if Leia Organa can do anything, Rey finds that she could have out-talked Unkar Plutt out of his last pack of rations before he realized what was happening.

And news of Han Solo’s death has spread throughout every Cantina in the Galaxy. Not many would do business with him, and not many outside the Resistance, outside the family mourn the fact that he’s dead— but the First Order killed one of theirs. It changes the rules.

The Resistance manages to steal two Durasteel Conglomerates, too, so the First Order has to look elsewhere for the metal to rebuild half their fleet.

It isn’t much. But starving them out buys a little time. And maybe the Conglomerates that they don’t buy run into some supply problems with their mines. That’s Rose’s doing.

“Their operating system is ancient,” she had told them all, as they were standing next to the power supply with a direct line into their communications, in the rain on Bespin. “And badly built.”

“That’s… good, right?” Finn had asked. “For us?”

Rose just smiles up at him like he hangs the sun every morning and Rey shutters herself away from how bright she shines. How bright they both are.

They steal Senators next, too, though that is again more Leia’s handiwork than anything else. She doesn’t steal the actual Senators. She plays the First Order’s game, but better than they can. She steals their Senatorial Seats.

And now, well.

They’ve stolen so much they hardly know what to do with it all.

“I can’t believe that worked,” Finn’s voice comes over the comm. “That can’t have worked. Did that work?” And he sounds kinda panicked, voice high. “I can’t tell, Rey!”

Stealing directly from the First Order? That’s better.

“It worked,” Rey breathes. And then corrects herself, because it was her plan. “Of course it worked!”

There’s a somewhat mad, harsh laugh over the comm lines and Rey thinks that it’s Jaye— she wouldn’t be surprised if it were Jaye, the last time she saw Jaye she was hanging off a First Order Light Infantry Vehicle with a belt of push-grenades.

No,” Finn’s voice comes. “You’ve done quite enough today, I think. Who taught you how to do that? That wasn’t Squadron-certified.”

Another voice, another ex’Trooper that’s found their way into the Resistance comes over the line. This one deeper, one Rey hasn’t met yet. She’s been too busy stealing First Order Command Shuttles, apparently. Setting fires. “JA isn’t exactly known for their well-behaved Riot ‘Troopers.”

There’s a long pause. And then from Finn, a small, “That’s fair.”

Rey laughs. She switches the comm channel and updates Echo Base about her location and status and tells them when they can expect her. And then Rey puts the Shuttle in auto-pilot, plots a course for Hoth and gets to work on the trackers that the First Order embeds on all of their shuttles, small artillery vehicles, and ships.

Once that’s done and the trackers are smashed by way of a handy blaster, Rey breathes a little easier. They’re safe. Everybody. All of them are en route to their destinations.

And then she has to— deal with it. Deal with the ghosts. The Falcon has ghosts, too, ghosts of memories and people and— him. She walks back to the common space and unwinds the braces at her wrists and tries to pretend her head isn’t filled with memories that aren’t hers, like she doesn’t know where the bacta patches are, like she doesn’t know how to operate the shower, actual shower, not sonic. There’s four extra sets of black robes behind the panel to her left, too, which she might just rip apart.

Maybe. For bandages. Also, because she thinks it might make her feel a bit better.

But Rey shakes her head. She unclips her staff and her pack from her hip and pulls it over her good shoulder. Takes off her bloodied outer layer— not her blood.

Examines her shoulder. Not bad, considering, and runs into the ‘fresher, grabs a rag, and goes to work.

Which, is, of course, the exact moment when Rey feels everything slow, quiet, like she’s hearing two atmospheres at once. She looks up from the cloth at her shoulder. And then she can taste him. He’s all anger, angrier than she’s felt him in a long time, so much heat burning all of a sudden, even though he’s been trying so hard to stay away. So hard to shut her out.

“You stole my command shuttle,” his voice comes, from right next to her, on the left, she wasn’t expecting him to be that close, and Rey has enough time to think shit, and then— “Of all things you’ve taken, you take—”

Rey does not see it, not really, but she hears a crash and an electronic zap just over her left shoulder, something like a ‘droid scream. She sees… impressions, just like last time, of a durasteel room and blinking lights behind him.

Her hands freeze. She freezes, really, and just looks at him.

He’s, he’s frozen, and his eyes go wide, and he stops like he’s been caught in a trap.

She expected anger. The same anger from the hangar, or from the forest on Takodana, the hut on Ahch-to, the fear from Coruscant, or at least the burning that’s been tearing them both up for months now, since the Supremacy. She'd had different expectations from herself, too. She expected this moment to feel good, if he was stupid enough to rise to it. A moment she could use to make him hurt the way she does, all the time, where she could rip into him and tear his heart out, his lungs, make him regret it— regret his choice, regret abandoning her for the power—

But all she can see is how fast his eyes dip down, to her sternum. How splotches of red appear high on his cheek as he stares. How he inhales. How hard he’s breathing.

There's very little anger involved.

There isn’t anything remotely sexual about her situation. Not a bit, Rey knows. She’s standing in the Supreme Leader’s maybe-stolen Command Ship after a good op, a great op, with stitches on her shoulder from a week-old blaster bolt and carefully running a cloth damp with water around the wound. It’d just made sense to remove her shirt and breast band, and make good use of the six hours of Hyperspace she has until she gets to Hoth. Not like there’s anybody else on this shuttle to see her. She doesn't even have time to think, her limbs don't move, her arms don't have the instinct to cross over her chest and preserve some of her modesty. Modesty's unfamiliar, unnecessary, when skin is just skin. Drops from the cloth travel down her side before Rey starts again.

She’s a scavenger. Wasting water is the only kind of sacrilege she knows.

Ben— and it is Ben, somehow, something younger in his expression, rips his focused gaze away from her chest and whips a complete 180 around, black cloak and all and she can feel it, through the bond. She’s missed it, almost, how it answers— fuck. Idiot

Rey clears her throat and with nothing else to do, other than trace the line of his shoulders, goes back to her stitches. They itch from her skin cells bonding back together without bacta. “Let me guess. You’d rather not do this now?”

And from the other side of the common area he’s rigid, completely stuff, and quiet, like he said it under his breath, “That would be my preference.”

But the bond— strung tight, at the moment— please, please. Broken, high-pitched. Anxious. Embarrassed.

Rey huffs, through her nose, but goes back to it. She doesn’t hide away from him, even though he’s turned away. He can see into her memories and she his: there isn’t much that they don’t possess knowledge of, by now.

And maybe because she expects to feel something different, that same embarrassment, maybe, but she doesn’t. It never comes. Rey has spent her life on a junkyard planet where they didn’t even have sonic showers. Bathing was perfunctory. Necessary but only to a point of Unkar Plutt’s generosity. Which meant never. And when it did happen, there was a crowd.

Nudity is… well, nudity. Skin is just skin. Skin stinks, it rots, it heals. It sags and it breaks and it stretches. It grows.

Not that Rey spent much time in those crowded baths— for years, she'd been too skittish, too overwhelmed, dwarfed by the hum that was the thing inside her, sleeping: but it was the crowd that bothered her most. The thrum. People were like machines that she couldn't quite grasp, and keeping up with a crowd was both too complex and too simple. But no, simple, mindless, perfunctory things, these Rey could do without thinking. 

And Resistance bases aren’t much different. Not from greed, but from availability. They still have the one sonic. When she’s on Hoth, when there isn’t somebody else using it, when she doesn’t have to wake up before everyone else or stay awake until everyone else has gone to bed, there’s no hesitation, no embarrassment. People slip in and out and are too cold to care, too tired to care, too scared to care.

Kriff, she’d had enough time to dunk her head into a well on Dantooine right before she’d been shot with a blaster by a lucky bounty hunter, and had jumped at the opportunity. That's just how it is.

Then why, Rey wonders. Why does she want him to—

Her breasts are not— Rey is muscle. Mostly. She’s wiry, and solid, the kind of scrawny solidity that comes from two decades of starvation and hard work, and finally six months of regular meals with the Resistance.

She is not curvy, like Rose. She’s not tall and slender, like Pava. She’s… histories. A map of scars and calluses and rough patches instead of skin. 

There is nothing appealing about her, not in the way that old men usually find girls appealing.

Stop, she tells that part of her brain. She looks at Kylo, sharply, wonders if she’d shouted that down the bond, too, like he does with every thought. But his shoulders are still up around his ears and the bridge of his nose is practically glowing red, so she doesn’t think so.

“Would you,” Kylo starts again, clears his throat, keeping his face turned away, his whole body. “Would you put something on?”

And from the bond, a tightly wound image, a fantasy that Rey is pretty sure doesn’t come from her, and embarrassment, so much unending embarrassment— and something more? A glimpse of the Falcon, only from a view she’s never seen. There's something animalistic about it, something Rey's never felt, never seen, him, sweaty and wanting and pacing, in his room, trying to keep it in, trying to keep quiet, trying to keep the images out

But Kylo, here, now, does nothing. In the bond, they hear, do you have something? A cloak, to cover up with?

Rey looks at her shirt, and the breast band. The shirt is filthy. She doesn’t want to put that back on a healing wound. The breast band is salvageable, maybe.

But, because she feels like she’s burning, because a little bit of the anger comes back, “When I’m finished.”

His irritation blindsides her, overwhelms, but two people can play this game.

“You stole,” he presses. “My personal ship.”

“I’ve stolen a lot of things,” Rey allows. And just to show him that she hasn’t lost an ounce of her will she scratches against her own neck with the cloth and shoves it towards him. Watches the muscles in his back spasm. Watches him squirm.

And the bond, the bond is a closed circuit, a feedback loop. She scratches and Kylo feels and processes and sends it back to her, doubling it, which sends it back down the bond again. There's an element of something else to it, too, a shiver, a scratching, a curling of toes and that's foreign, something that Rey can't identify. Something... possessive. There's anger in it, too. Anger at a weakness. Kylo, cutting himself off and holding back. 

But, her wound is as clean as she could make it. Has been for at least three minutes. Rey finds herself running the cloth over the skin at her shoulder, calming it. Stalling. Killing time. But eventually she chances a look at Supreme Leader Ren and realizes how stupid— how ridiculous, how foolish— stupid, stupid girl.

The bacta is exactly where her not-memories said they would be, and she takes one of the smaller patches and presses it into her shoulder with a little more force than necessary, until it vacuum-seals. Then she goes back to the console-table and starts the process of wrapping her breast band back around her chest. Difficult to do, with one good shoulder, but Rey manages. Secures the clasps in place and throws the used bacta wrappings into the disposal in the console at her hip.

The shirt she abandons. She’ll steal one of his, but after the bond has severed itself again.

“You can turn around, now,” Rey tells him. His sensibilities can be protected from the half-naked scavenger girl.

His face is almost completely red when he does. It’s creeping up to his ears, too, from what little of them she can see, and down his neck, too. It only gets worse the longer that Rey watches. He keeps his eyes resolutely at her forehead, stiff.

“You stole,” he repeats. Swallows, the way that he does. “My ship.”

“Yes,” Rey agrees. “I did. It’ll make a nice flagship for General Organa, don’t you think? She’ll need one, to lead the Republic Fleet.”

His anger flares, but also flickers, as he steps forward, gets closer, like he wasn’t expecting her to come right out and admit it. But he also seems to be unusually aware of where she is, where she aligns herself, like he’s afraid to let their skin touch, though he’s dressed from the neck down to his gloves. And this is their next battle, not on some far-off magma planet but in his stolen Command Shuttle and Rey in her breast band and leggings, bare-chested. The bond flares to life as they fall back into it like five months haven't passed since the Supremacy.

“I’ll—” Find you, the bond completes. I’ll find you, I’ll bring you back

“Right,” Rey scoffs at him. Ignores the bond.

Jedi shouldn't let their anger lead, but Rey never said she'd be a good Jedi, so it does anyway. And this is the thing about Jakku: Jakku does not let kindness grow. Kindness gets starved out like everything else.

So the un-kind thoughts get thought like everything else, too.

Supreme Leader Ren, Rey thinks. Takes in his red face and dilated pupils and her scar and the way that he's swallowing like he hasn't tasted water in days. Rendered useless by a scavenger girl’s bare, callused chest.

“I am not,” Kylo snaps. “I don’t want you. I don’t know where you get your delusions, Scavenger.”

In another life, that would have hurt. In another life. Not this one. In this one they’ve done much worse than fling a few unthought words at one another. In this one they’ve made each other bleed.

Instead she stands up, to her full height, steps closer to him because even if he’s trembling, Rey’s stood up to much more. She watches him. Really takes him in. The details— the freckles, the mole, the scar— her scar

Kylo swallows. Tracks her eye. Rey moves closer, and tells him, “I never said that you did.”

Ren’s expression changes more times than Rey can count. She sees the regret, the remorse. Sees him grab at the back of his neck. Sees the way he keeps his eyes towards the ceiling. Or the bacta patch at her shoulder, any place really, other than her face.

He’s been caught and he knows it, the bond knows it. Rey knows he doesn’t try to, but his thoughts shout as loud as they can. They range everywhere from innocent, quiet moments, the things she saw out in the White, with Ben Solo, to— less, innocent things. Things that haunt him at night— things that would haunt Rey, too, if she could get past it all, if she could leave the baggage behind. If they could step into that other place, in the White on Hoth.

That’s always the part that hurts. What they could have been.

But now, here, they are enemies. He threw open the bond for the first time in weeks for a reason: because she’s stealing things that belong to him. And she’s going to keep stealing them. She’ll take, and take, and take, until Kylo Ren has nothing left, like she’s Jakku and he’s water.

She's managed to get a hook under his skin. Managed to rip something up, managed to rip enough scrapped parts away to find the un-pilfered and un-scavenged parts.

Rey could dig into him now. She could. But—

“I,” Ren starts. “That was— that was unkind of me.”

I’m sorry, he doesn’t say. Instead, through the bond— every time I open my mouth and why, why do you do this to me and please don’t leave, please, don’t leave me, I’ve been drowning and loudest of all shut up, just shut up, you stupid, stupid boy

Maybe— maybe she’s had enough of violence, for today. This once. She’ll rip into him again tomorrow.

Kind. Rey supposes she can afford to be kind.

“Isn’t as easy as it looks, is it?” Rey asks him. It’s quiet. Quiet, because she speaks the truth. “This?”

He raises his eyes towards her, again, and his eyes look like she could drown in them. She steps into his space, non-threatening, and lifts a hand to examine the circles under his eyes. His scar. Her scar. The way that it bisects his cheek in a tiny line, much tinier than it used to be. It crawls down the underside of his chin and towards his throat. Three inches lower and she could have taken his head. The bruises against his temples, she knows them all. The Force had ripped into her, too, when she’d tried to clamp it shut. Eaten at her a little from the inside. She lets her palm rest against his cheek— the cheek that she had carved Luke's 'saber into, and the motion calls to something, somewhere, though Rey can't find it. Kylo closes his eyes at the touch and Rey gifts it to him. Gifts him the moment.

But just as fast as the moment comes, it's gone.

Rey finds herself repeating words that had once been said to her. “You won’t achieve anything by turning it in. Doesn’t seem to work that way, hard as I tried. And, a friendly bit of advice, take it as you will: you’ve only got so long before the Force throws a fit.”

Chapter Text

He’s stuck in an elevator without his mask, trying to keep his exterior calm while his interior is burning. After, Kylo replays it in his mind, over and over, forehead pressed against the textured durasteel and tries to relive the exact actions he had taken, filled with horror. He’d— he’d stared too long. He knows it.

Kylo couldn’t have helped it, the timing: he’d ripped open the bond in a rage and yanked on the thing just behind his left lung and shoved his way through, he just hadn’t expected her to be in such a state.

Now the bond is cold, and silent, not so much from him clamping it shut again but from the endness of it, the finality. They had said what needed to be said and now the visit is over.

So why?

It isn’t as if awkward moments with the bond haven’t happened before. They have moments where it takes them just a bit too long to figure out which end they’re in, moments of privacy and embarrassment, in their beds or in the ‘fresher. They never last: at the beginning because Rey would throw him bodily out of her end and now because he shuts her out.

It isn’t as if Kylo doesn’t have memories that aren’t his. Which is somehow worse— what memories has she taken from him?

And at the beginning it had been violent, especially that first time where Rey’d pulled out a blaster and shot at him and his first instinct had been to seize control of her mind, demand that she lead him to Skywalker. Screaming at each other to get out, get out, though Rey had done most of the screaming. Now they’ve both spent time with the bond in a vice, closed to anything and everything, ripping it open when they need to shout down the bond before slamming it shut again, and maybe this is their payment—

And his eyes had jumped from her forehead, to her eyes, and straight down to her— his eyes had lingered too long. Fuck. Idiot—“Shut up,” he tries, tries to stop the voices, but it doesn’t work, just shut up, you stupid, stupid boy

It also doesn’t help that Kylo, somewhere, has always found something drawing him in. Whether it’s the bond, or something in the girl’s eyes, on Starkiller, when she’d shoved his power back at him and pushed her way into his head. It doesn’t help.

It doesn’t help that six months of not starving have made her lithe.

It doesn’t help that his dreams lately have been soft. Soft and— kind, and—

Kylo’s right hand finds its way to his cheek. Digs in. Presses his forehead further against the durasteel.

And as much as Kylo might try to shove his other self away, he does not have his father’s false calm and his talent for enthralling other people. Jedi Padawan Ben Solo was a scholar. At the academy, when his nose wasn’t buried in ancient texts, he had been meditating. That mighty Skywalker blood had to be lived-up to. It was a shadow so long he'd thought he'd never see the sunlight. So he'd trained, and he'd worked harder, harder than anyone, and he was better, he was stronger. He’s never, never had to—

He’s never been exposed to anything but a medical ‘droid. Until Rey.

And now every memory, every vision, every visit will echo of this moment. He has a hard enough time fighting the dreams, dreams from his other self, dreams from Ben Solo, like some strange mirror-life where he wasn’t a Jedi-Killer and she wasn’t a Jedi, and now he’s going to have to keep that part of the bond closed, too—

Your delicate sensibilities can be protected from the half-naked scavenger girl, comes Rey’s voice.

“Shut up,” he bites, and tries to ignore the way that he sounds like an embarrassed fifteen-year-old who can’t fight his blush.

He’s Supreme Leader, here. He’s the most powerful man in the Galaxy, Master of the Knights of Ren, Heir to the Empire, Jedi-Killer, and he will bring Order, and finish what his Grandfather started.

That does it. Like he’s called it, from the Force, Rey’s parting gift—  you’ve only got so long before the Force throws a fit.

He hadn’t felt something travel down his spine when she’d said it, too busy feeling his face burn at the contact, under the skin, at the thoughts bouncing around in his head and fighting to keep still, trying to keep every single thought from launching itself down the bond, trying to keep his body in check because if she can feel his thoughts she can probably feel everything else. But Kylo feels it now. Feels the shift, feels it like a living thing is standing directly behind him. He feels a warm breeze along the back of his neck that carries a strange smell with it, something flowery, earthy. The smell is foreign to the Tresspasser, or anywhere that he’s visited. And, all the same, Kylo knows that this isn’t a vision, either, something from the bond. It’s different. And at the same time, familiar.

He breathes, for a second, inhales and exhales and can hear all of that echoing over and over again, a hundred times, like in her memories. Then the rushing begins, like a wave. Kylo doesn’t want to look.

He’s not even recovered from the last vision. He can’t take another, not so fast. Go away, he tells it. If you think I’m going to play your stupid game

The light changes. He’s standing in his own personal elevator on the Tresspasser, under the harsh white light, bright lights and durasteel and blinking mechanical consoles. Yet over his shoulder he sees a soft dusk-light, pink and purple and orange.

It catches his eye. Stops his thoughts. He stares down at his left arm, at the dark cloth there, at the way that the light plays against the fabric. Can’t resist the pull, anymore.

Turns to look. He was always going to turn to look.

Something hard in the pit of his stomach drops like a stone through dark water. Something that tastes an awful lot like fear.

The durasteel disappears after maybe three feet, right before his eyes. Blends seamlessly into brown stone that opens out into a veranda, and past that a lake that has no edges, just goes on until it fades into White. And in the center of the veranda, staring out into that same soft sunset, is a man that has his back to Kylo. He’s in a loose meditative stance, even Kylo still has that same muscle memory. It’s peaceful. Kylo’s never felt anything more peaceful, it’s— beautiful. Sad, too. But a different kind of sad, a foreign kind of sad. The sadness of time passing. The Trespasser the farthest thing from his head. The breeze moves around him and catches at him, too.

Sights and sounds and everything else seems to slow as he steps out.

So why is Rey’s voice inside his head, again? You’ve only got so long before the Force throws a fit—

“I’ve never been one for following rules,” the man says. Kylo jumps a bit, his spine lights up and his hands go to his hip for a ‘saber that hasn’t been there for weeks, at least. A foolish part of him had thought that this vision only went one way. “I was always the first to admit that. To question, to stop and ask if this way or that way was the most direct way to handle something.”

The man doesn’t turn around and Kylo can’t quite believe that this apparition in front of him is real, because this is just like Crait with Skywalker, except more. Because Skywalker had blended in to the salt, and the smoke, and it had only been after Kylo drove his ‘saber through his Uncle’s chest and it had passed through him did he realize he’d been tricked.

Because the two ends bleed together, just like a vision through the bond.

Because he knows for a fact that he’s still on the Tresspasser. He can see the elevator, still, the durasteel, in his peripherals.

But the feedback. For all intents and purposes, his skin feels the breeze, much warmer than the temperature aboard his ship, and his feet feel like he’s standing on stone, in some great house that he halfway remembers, from when he was young. His ears hear the breeze against the trees, against the paned windows, moving the dust and the dirt and the minuscule debris against the stone.

“You’re not as tall as I expected,” the man says as he turns, before he turns, and Kylo sees a face that is both new and frustratingly familiar. He’s tall, taller than Kylo is, with a solemn face and a scar on his cheek. Like looking in a distorted mirror. “Oh.” He pauses, takes Kylo in. There’s a flash of pain that Kylo knows all too well, but it vanishes before he can blink. The man laughs. “You are your father’s son.”

There is something in Kylo that hates that, has always hated that: you have too much of your father’s heart, young Solo— but another, smaller part that clings to it. Han Solo’s been dead for months. There are no more Solos left.

And then, “You know me.”

Kylo doesn’t move. “I don’t.”

The apparition steps closer and Kylo’s frozen like he’s held in a Force-Hold, except he isn’t, because the Force doesn’t exist here, he can’t feel anything but the breeze on his cheek.

He’s prey in a trap.

“Oh, kid,” the man says, oddly, and his teeth tug at corner of his mouth like he’s reciting a memory. And there’s a glee to it. A Dark. “You’ve got it much worse than I did.”

And suddenly Kylo does know who this is. He’s heard that voice a thousand times but never had a name to put to it.

He’s heard it in the wind, in his dreams, when the lightning was coursing through his limbs, when he stabbed his ‘saber through the Praetorian Guards, when he had to picture violently and relentlessly killing the girl as he turned Skywalker’s lightsaber towards his master without giving away his true intent. It has always been there. Always.

He whispers it. Pledges. Prays. “Grandfather.”

Something changes, in Vader. Everything changes. The whole space shifts, grows, zeroes in around them. Kylo has so much, he has so much, so many questions that need answering, a thirst for guidance. He’d expected the helmet, and the black cloak, and the breathing apparatus from the few Imperial holovids that survived, he expected the sheer terror that Darth Vader commanded, but the man in front of him looks younger than Kylo, and more, at the same time. He’s been waiting his whole life for this, Snoke’s every promise was nothing, compared to this, and suddenly the voice that had been Vader makes Kylo’s heart burn. How had he ever fallen for it? It wasn’t even an imitation. It was a mockery.

He has so many questions. As freeing as being his own master has been, as much as Kylo’s had time to realize that Snoke had only brought him pain, that he was drowning in it— he’s always had a Master.

Somebody in the back of his head telling him if his decisions were the correct ones. Always had one more task to complete, one more challenge to face, one more parent to disappoint, one more heart to break.

He almost can’t force anything out of his mouth fast enough, he can’t pick a thought and follow it. He just stumbles, like he always has, like he always will—

And Rey. The bond doesn’t exist here, Kylo can’t feel it but even still he can feel her like a second heartbeat in his ribcage, feel her anger and nearly hears it: Where have you been?

Like he’s heard her, “Around,” Anakin says, looking for something in Kylo’s eyes. Looks over his shoulder like he sees something there, but Kylo can’t look, doesn’t want to look, doesn’t want to blink in case this vision would vanish. “I’ve been trying to reach you for years, but there was always something else barring me. Barring everybody. And at a certain point, you stopped being able to hear me.”

How many times, Kylo thinks. How many times did I beg you for guidance?

How many times had Snoke promised that he was fulfilling a long-ago laid-down destiny? Some unfulfilled path, some untold story, some mighty conclusion of an Empire thrown off its trajectory by four children in a hundred-year-old YT Correllian Freighter. How many times had Ben Solo heard a voice at the back of his mind and bought the lie?

How many years has he been stumbling off the path?

“I called for you,” Kylo manages at last. His eyes are wet, which he hates. He has no mask here to hide behind, now. His voice breaks. “I asked for your guidance. I’ve followed in your footsteps, Grandfather.”

It’s said with pride, the last sliver he’s got. But at the same time, it feels empty.

It’s not normal, Leia— comes Han’s voice, from a lifetime and fifteen years ago. No normal kid should be having dreams like this, have you heard him screaming?

And, later, half the Galaxy away and fifteen years and innocent lives and pain and death and being torn apart— take off that mask. You don’t need it.

It echoes, in the Force-that’s-nowhere.

And Kylo still can’t rip his eyes away from his Grandfather, the only family he has left to him now. So why? Why does the Force replay this for him, now? Ben Solo’s father is long dead. Dust, expanding across space where Starkiller had once been. Kylo Ren will never see him again. Never hear him. His innermost wish is being answered and all he can hear his the sound of his own voice: What do you think you’ll see if I do?

The face of my son.

“But it’s, it’s not working.” Kylo says, his voice breaking more, just like it had when he’d begged Han Solo for help. “I’ve paid every price. I’ve lost—” Everything, he doesn’t say, but it echoes anyway. His father, his mother, his uncle, his belonging—“Please. I just need your guidance. I will not fail again.”

Something changes, then, and without warning or shift in the Force, Anakin Force-pulls Kylo across the space with a single gesture of his hand faster than Kylo can even blink. Lifts his feet clear off the ground.

“No, Ben,” Anakin says, and Kylo stops, breaks, crashes, right into his grip, and Anakin grabs Kylo by the scruff of his neck and holds him there, forcing him to meet his Grandfather’s eyes. This Anakin Skywalker does not have the yellow tinge at the corners of his eyes, but there is still something in them that burns. A burning there that Kylo associates with her. Kylo can’t help it. All he can see is the girl. You touch them, she’d said, standing on that X-Wing. And I’ll kill you. “You will. You will fail again. You’ll always fail. Don’t you see that?”

His hands grab at Anakin’s, trying to loosen Anakin’s hold and looks for the shadow, the seam that means that this is another vision, another lie. One of the Scavenger’s tricks, one more thing that she’s stolen from him— Isn’t as easy as it looks, is it?

“I had my innermost desires, until I wanted the power. You wanted the power, until you had the girl.”

“No,” Kylo says, chokes, because his body is beginning to panic, because no oxygen is going to his lungs. “You’re lying.”

“I died with Padmé,” Anakin burns into him, and Kylo isn’t used to having someone be taller than he is. Snoke made him feel tiny, minuscule, from his throne but this is somehow different, somehow worse. “You make no mistake about that, boy. This is the truth about the Dark Side. The thing that kept marching forward on his Master’s order was a husk and a lie.”

 

_________

 

Spies and politics have been tightly woven together since the two suns of Tattooine burst into a fiery existence. Spying is the literal backbone of most Inner-Core politics. Everybody’s got spies. Spies have spies. Information trades at a higher exchange rate than credits. Even the Rebellion’s Spy Network is the reason that the Resistance stands here today, and the whole Galaxy didn’t get mowed down by Tarkin and his original DeathStar. This is the game, and the game is deadly.

Poe’s never been great at either, but he’s learning. Ultimately, he’s a pilot at his core, as were Shara Bey and Kes Dameron. He’s good at shooting things. And flying. And learning very hard lessons.

They are on Hoth, after the Coruscant Incident, as Command is now calling it, and most everybody is off-world on assignment— that’s what they do, actually, and the fact that General Organa can hand out assignments again is nothing short of an actual fuckin’ miracle— but there’s Poe and Rose and the communications squad and a dozen other leftover guys on leave and the bots and the porgs and BB8.

And Finn’s off-world too, on a mission with Leia. Super hush-hush, not even Command was notified. Poe knows that Command wasn’t notified because he wasn’t notified. Poe’s somehow still right-hand man, in the chaos.

And maybe this is where things went awry.

“Well,” Rose says, kneeling down so she’s eye-level with BB’s victim. “Here’s the thing. You’re a spy for the First Order. That’s bad! That’s totally bad! The Resistance would completely be within their rights to have you executed. This is a war, after all. Spies are often the first casualties. But we’re not gonna do that.”

“We’re… not,” says the spy, cautiously, like they can’t quite believe what Rose is selling. Poe feels bad for the poor bastard.

It’s luck, really. Poe knows this. It’s luck that he and Rose just somehow managed to know all the faces of the ten people left on Hoth and had stayed up an extra three clicks in the night cycle to finish the last Siep-Irol Sensor Antenna upgrades on the Supreme Leader’s old Command Shuttle.

Poe’s garbage with mechs but he helps, anyway. Rey only lets him hand her things when she’s belly-deep into X-Wings.

So it’s luck. It’s luck that he and Rose and BB8 look over at the sound of something falling off one of the workbenches in the unusually quiet base and notice a maintenance tech that they’ve never seen before and realize that the owner of that uniform is on Dantooine. There’s a little over four hundred of them now, almost half of what they had to begin with, less than a twentieth of what they had before the Republic Fleet had been destroyed. There’s no way that they should have noticed, they have more new faces than old, at this point. They don’t even really have the instinct to start moving, at that point, no hey, you, stop! They just stand there, him and Rose.

And then, all a sudden, BB8 shrieks and barrels after the poor bastard’s kneecaps and takes one of their attachments out and zaps the ever-loving fuck out of them.

Which is how they got here.

He thinks. Poe’s not actually sure. It all happened kinda fast.

“Nope!” Rose says.

She actually boops them with a finger to their forehead. Poe is scared. And impressed.

“After all, you’re just doing your job. And doing it well, from what we understand!” And she turns to BB, who beeps something in disbelief that Poe’d rather not translate. “No, no, you’re going to keep doing your job,” and Rose pauses, fixes the collar of the coat around the spy’s neck. “Only this time you’re going to tell the First Order exactly what we want you to tell them.”

 

_________

 

“As you can see,” the Mandalorian Ambassador says. “Production on the Crusader-Class Battleships is coming along exactly as planned. The J-70I Stabilizers of the Subspace Hyperdrives and the Stasis-Type Shield Generators should be completed within the next eight weeks.”

Leia Organa’s meeting with Mandalore is the best-kept secret on the Ring of Kaferne, which means, of course, that every last person here knows about it. It’s public spectacle, at best, and food for starving spy networks, at worst. But Leia has been playing a part for sixty years. She knows how to play the game. She puts on her best gray coat that flows past her ankles and sticks Finn, arguably the face of the Reborn Resistance, in the best uniform from the Republic Fleet that she has, lets herself be seen talking to the representatives of House Viant. She’s been playing this game longer that half of these representatives have been alive.

“Four,” Leia corrects, as she stands at the edge of the causeway and inspects: this section of the future Star Commander is so tall that she could look straight up and straight down and still not be able to see all of it. But the hull is sleek and silver, with the kind of shine that only new durasteel can have.

Star Ships always make her feel small. Like the DeathStar had made Alderaan look small.

“Four?” The Ambassador asks.

Leia turns away from the hull, where ‘droids are soldering the metal pieces together, assembling the Star Ship piece by tiny piece. Finn shoots her a disparaging look, like he’s suffering from their company. Leia returns it but plays it off like she’s turning back to see the Mandalorian splendor.

Bail Organa had often said that it was the fastest way to people’s centers, the eyes. “Four. Four more weeks. That was the original agreement, and we’ll stick to it.”

So she looks at them. The people accompanying her each in turn. One of the representatives, a girl that can’t be a day over twenty-three, crosses her arms. Leia’s eyes catch on the emblem on her shoulder. Interesting.

Leia’s expecting the sputtering and the immediate resistance, but Mandalore is in a precarious place in this conflict: they were adamantly anti-conflict— perhaps even worse, pacifistic, in the days of the Clone Wars, pro-Imperial after the tragic end of House Kryze, but ultimately prospered under Palpatine while countless other worlds diminished into poverty. Only in recent years have they climbed back up into the Republic’s good graces.

House Kryze is dead, all of the other Houses that thrived during the time of the Empire have withered out or fled to Outer-Rim planets. Others have risen to fill their empty spaces in the Council of Keldabe.

And Prima and Secundat Viant, the heads of their House, are sharp, and their minds reflect such.

Thankfully, Prima and Secundat are not here: they understandably did not want to risk being seen talking to the Leader of the Resistance, or risk the journey to Kaferne when assassins are cheaper than Star Ships.

Mandalore has stayed out of this conflict on the political-level. A decision which is quickly losing them precious time. By choosing to back neither side they’ve alienated both and made allies of neither.

Leia knows this. House Viant knows this. The First Order knows this.

“General,” the first representative begins— and he didn’t even give a name when they were first introduced, only said that he was an agent acting in House Viant’s best interests. “The amount of man-hours alone necessary to meet that deadline—”

“Ambassador,” Leia says, with a tone of a mother who’s heard one too many excuses. It worked on Han, it worked on Ben, it will work on every single other person in the Galaxy. “Let’s not pretend, you and I, that your Star-Forges haven’t been burning every day for the past eight months. Let’s also not pretend that House Viant doesn’t have interests immediately linked to the First Order, or that the First Order hasn’t sent their own envoys to discuss terms.”

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Supreme Leader had those envoys on their way to Treat with Mandalore and the other half-dozen neutral worlds right this very second: as much as she has tried lately to keep a degree of separation between them, Kylo Ren is— somewhere, still her son.

They are in an Inter-Galactic War. To have an Inter-Galactic War, you need Star Ships. The First Order lost half their Fleet, thanks to Holdo. But so did the Resistance.

The winner of this war is going to be the one that can start the most fires. And the first one to rebuild their fleet.

“With respect, General,” the girl speaks up, and Leia recognizes her at last: Darra of House Viant, tenth-born and eighth heir to House Viant’s council seat. Leia hasn’t seen her since that political bloodbath in Theed, more than ten years ago. “Mandalore is resisting the First Order’s advances like every other world in the quadrant.”

“As was Coruscant,” Leia says. “As was Endor, as was Alderaan.” And then she turns away from them, like she’s perfectly willing to walk away from this deal. “Mandalore is welcome to come into the fold when the First Order readies another Starkiller.”

If the First Order does anything well, it’s stealing from other Empires. And Sheev Palpatine, if nothing else, was very good at building the same World-Killer over and over and over again.

Even to his own demise.

“General,” the Ambassador pleads, and Leia pauses, knows that she has them. Mandalore can’t afford to lose a potential ally against the First Order. Not now, not when the Order’s fleet is knocking over quadrants one after another. Not after Coruscant. “Mandalore is, of course, always a friend to the Republic— what little of it still survives,” and Leia, of all things, does not need a reminder of the rot-filled corpse that the Republic has become. “But we cannot complete this order in the timeframe given. We do not have the manpower. We do not have the funds. We do not have the durasteel.”

And Finn bites back, “Awful convenient when half the ships we killed in the Order’s fleet were made from your Star Forges.”

Finn speaks the truth, and this is precisely why Leia brought him: she’s been playing the game too long. Leia needs heat, to start fires.

“Ambassador,” she asks, instead, ignoring whatever reply that the representatives can come up with. Steps closer to him. Takes his hand. “I’m not asking for a miracle. I’ve had enough of those the past few months. What I’m asking for is a little faith.”

Leia doesn’t push, doesn’t want to push too hard. But she plants it. If she’d had more training in the Jedi path she might be able to do more, and frankly, she’s found she has more sway in a war council with words than with Jedi tricks. But she plants it. Lets it take root— making an investment in the Resistance is the smart play for Mandalore, the First Order is too volatile, too unknown, running out of funds— aren’t they all, she doesn’t include— look what happened to the last Empire that tried to conquer the systems, look how many planets died before they fell and then she retreats, drops the physical contact, too afraid to get swept up in the feeling of it. Whatever his final, noble act, whatever redemption he managed to get after twenty years of Dark, her father was still the most murderous man the Galaxy has ever known.

“Of course,” the Ambassador insists, suddenly much more vibrant and motorized, bleeding sincerity. “Of course, General Organa. We’ll relay the updated status of your order back to Mandalore immediately. House Viant never falls short. Haat, Ijaa, Haa'it.”

He grasps Leia’s forearm in the way that Mandalorians do, and Leia grips it back. “Haat, Ijaa, Haa’it.”

Truth, Honor, Vision. Behind the Ambassador’s back, Leia exchanges a very quick look with Finn, at her side.

And Darra, who has, by reputation, always been the political oddity of House Viant, watches knowingly. Like she knows exactly what Leia just did, and says, “Always a pleasure, General.”

How do we build a Rebellion from this? Rey had asked.

The same way Leia’s always done it.

 

_________

 

They must get Mandalore. Hux is adamant. And if Hux is thinking it, the rest of Upper Command is thinking it, too. But Upper Command doesn’t know that Kylo Ren was Ben Solo in his last life and spent more time on the Senate floor by the time he was six than most Senators in their entire political careers. He understands the role Mandalore plays in the grand game.

“Organa has approached them already,” Hux recites, like he it’s some ace in his sleeve, some final bit of proof that Kylo Ren is an incompetent Supreme Leader. Like Kylo didn’t read that exact same intel briefing. He doesn’t rise to it. “Supreme Leader, we must send envoys.”

Kylo’s already sent envoys. He sent them three days ago.

“Supreme Leader,” comes a disembodied voice over the comms aboard the Trespasser, somewhere between Colla IV and Taanab on the Perlimian Trade Route. “The last of the Knights of Ren have returned.”

“Leave,” Kylo tells Hux, short.

“Ren—”

Kylo barely begins to lift his hand before Hux is bowing and scuttling out of Kylo’s quarters.

 

_________

 

The Knights of Ren feel like Hyenax, in the Force. Always have: barely contained, hungry, restless. Snoke had starved them like Hyenax, too, until little chips of themselves fell away. They feed off one another in a way that Kylo, Heir, Heir to Darth Vader, has always been kept separate from. Snoke had crept his way into Kylo’s mind with kind words, at first, you are far stronger than they give you credit for and you don’t deserve this.

The Knights, he snared with fear.

Kylo feels that now, more than ever, now that Snoke has been dead for half a year.

Knights of Ren do not do things in halves, not even in practice. Two are already mid-fight, angry red ‘sabers slashing at one another and screaming like ‘sabers scream. This is no practice match, they don’t pull a move, ever, ever, they’ve had that scratched into their brains. Pain is strength, pain is the best teacher a student could have, and the Knights of Ren have unlocked levels of pain that would make lesser Jedi beg for an end.

One Knight uses part of the designed arena to launch himself upwards, instead, and Kylo sees his fight with the Scavenger on Takodana so clear he nearly chokes on it. Don’t be afraid, the past says. I feel it too.

Three figures watch the fight on the edge of the arena with varying levels of interest. One is bored. One is invested, but thinks that the fight could be bloodier, could be faster, could be better. One thinks nothing at all.

His presence on the rising platform catches the last Knight’s attention. Shifts. A mask turns in his direction and considers him. Kylo’s familiar with the void behind this mask. The others burn. This one’s ice.

This Knight’s acknowledgement shifts the feeling in the room, too, and the other Knights pause their bloodletting mid swing and turn their masked faces towards him. Each Knight is different, wears different armor, a different mask, and uses a unique weapon. Each Knight has killed different targets and served the previous Supreme Leader in the way that he demanded of them. Yet, when Kylo sees them all together in the same room, after months, years—

This is the first time Kylo has come before them without his mask. Shielding his thoughts in the Force was a skill he learned quickly. Out of necessity. But he never learned to hide his face.

Helpfully, his mother’s voice from a memory two decades ago: You have far too much Solo in you for politics. I can see your every thought across that handsome face.

They kneel, one by one, as he approaches them in the center of the arena.

There are two— Rih and Vadat, of course, it’s always them, that resist it the longest, he feels it in the Force, the way that they snap at him like snakes, but they do come to heel. Snoke would have forced them to the ground without hesitation, as he did to Kylo so often. Would have bent their bones the wrong way for nothing short of absolute subservience and loyalty. Snoke would have made them carve patterns into their bones just to prove that they would obey his every command.

But Kylo does none of that. Doesn’t rise.

He’s spent six months fighting a war through a bond with a Scavenger half a million miles across the Galaxy. These irritating little blips of defiance are nothing, compared to that.

“Master,” his Knights acknowledge.

Master.

It’s ironic, how badly that fits. He’d thought that title would have felt better, would have sat better on his shoulders, but now Anakin Skywalker’s words bounce around his head like a ricochet— the thing that kept marching forward on his Master’s order was a husk and a lie.

Master. Supreme Leader. Emperor. 

I was born a slave, Anakin tells him. I was born a slave and I lived as a slave and I was a Jedi with a Master and was still a slaveI barely even died free. And his Grandfather scoffs, unimpressed. Master

Shut up, Kylo tries, closes his eyes briefly to get it to stop. It's been a torment. Kylo would have once begged on his knees to have Anakin Skywalker at his beck and call, and maybe this is some kind of trick— because he never expected that his Grandfather would feel like a strange version of her. That same fire, the same fierce hot and cold, black and white, the same burning. But he does. He does, and Kylo doesn't know what to do with it.

And of all things, he does not need this now. Not in front of his Knights. Not when he cut Snoke in half with his family's heirloom of a 'saber.

Not when the Knights can feel his every hesitation. Snoke had honed them to snap at weakness, even their own. He'd dug into his own wounds on Takodana because pain becomes strength. And, even as the Master of the Knights of Ren, even as Supreme Leader, he can still be eaten.

Before, he’d been Ren. Hissed out through apparatus in their masks, and beneath it all an inner molten layer of hate. Some, like Vadat, believed in Snoke’s doctrine: that this was their place, that they were always meant to be here. He tolerated Kylo because Snoke had said that he was the greatest of them, because Vadat had never managed to beat him in the arena, or in their trials. Others— whose names are no longer spoken, for they are dead, have been for years, who did not survive Snoke’s rigorous training— had hated him. Kylo. Hated him for the path they’d been dragged down.

But they are dead now. Dead, and Kylo Ren is Supreme Leader.

“Take off your masks,” Kylo tells them. Swallows and feels ridiculous in his black robes, hides that too, by lifting his chin. He’d always felt better in his armor, with his cowl, with his mask. Emperor’s clothing doesn’t fit him right, no matter what the ‘droids do. All he can hear is Snoke’s last echo, in his head: you’re just a stupid, stupid boy in a mask. Snoke had only ever towered above them in this empty hall when his holo was thirty feet tall. Somewhere along the lines they had started to believe that. Kylo re-straightens his spine and remembers that these Knights will kill him as quick as they will bow to him. Snoke’s demise has proved that. “They are tools that served their purpose. Discard them.”

For a moment, his Knights do not move from where they kneel on the dark durasteel. It would be a fool’s play to disobey him in this. Unless it’s a show of defiance, that they won’t obey a single command, Kylo realizes, fighting down the urge to panic, to let his panic bleed through into the Force.

How stupid, he hadn’t even brought his ‘saber, and not even he will survive a mutiny against five—

There’s a hiss of helmet unlatching. Another, after the first, on his left.

He takes them in as they each do as he commands and something else takes root, something far too close to the worry that winds its roots around his heart, for the Scavenger.

Horror, maybe, the horror of realizing you had made the wrong choice, the drop of a misstep where you feel like you’re falling: except he keeps falling, at every turn.

He’s known these people, in one life and the next, for fifteen years. Rih, who’s nearly taller than he is, and Vadat who, a lifetime ago, went sprawling face-first into the river near the Praxeum because Ben Solo had shifted his stance too fast. Ysser, the youngest, who had been nothing more than a kid when Skywalker burned the temple on Yavin IV: Ysser, who is the best killer out of all of them, who’s had no regrets about his path. Alor, who served Snoke with utter, utter devotion, who was devastated by his death.

When he gets to the last Knight, they’ve already removed their helmet. Waiting for him. Staring directly up at him. Hirran. Hirran, who hasn’t spoken in years, who’s got criss-crossed scars across her mouth like bad synthskin. It’s Hirran that makes him realize the off-ness that he’s felt, the hunger, the drain that’s carved itself into their expressions. The emptiness.

It’s a terrible empty, a cavern that longs to be filled but always empties back out again. There’a wrongness about their signatures in the Force, too, only apparent now that they’re together again. A yellow stain in the corners of their eyes.

Kylo hasn’t seen their faces in years. At first it was Snoke’s order, to hide their faces. Now he knows exactly why.

His Grandfather’s voice echoes again, too, from a different place this time: this is the truth about the Dark Side.

You’re like Jakku  Rey’s voice comes, from a memory, but Kylo clamps it down anyway, shuts the bond. He cannot let her in here, not in front of his Knights. She’s already stolen everything else. You take and you take and you take and you give nothing back.

Kylo wonders, looking down at them all, if the Dark has taken as much from him as it has from his Knights.

 

_________

 

“This is dumb,” shouts Rose.

Finn ducks as a blaster bolt ricochets off the durasteel but screams anyway. “We’ve done dumber!”

They haven’t done dumber. They’ve done a lot of dumb things, yes, but blowing up one of the more active Slave-Breeder’s compounds on Tattooine? Probably the dumbest. By far.

Jaye’s off Force knows where, the last time Finn saw her she’d vaulted over a half-wall of concrete and can only vaguely guess where she is just by the far-off screams and vibrations of explosions beneath his ass, pressed firmly into the dirt so he doesn’t get shot. Sevens is gone, too, but that’s kinda how Sevens works, Finn knows, so he isn’t particularly worried about Sevens. No, at this particular second, Finn’s worried about Finn. Rose, at least, has cover that isn’t a foot and a half tall. He doesn’t even have the high ground and the Slaver’s security droids are skittering out of the compound like Neimoidian blight beetles.

There’s a bang and Finn ducks, kriff, that was so close, that was right over his head, and a Slaver body suddenly tumbles over Finn’s pathetic cover and lands in the dust. An old Bowcaster slides in-between Finn’s legs.

“You’re welcome,” comes Sevens, over the comms.

Finn stares at the Bowcaster for a moment and has an idea. It’s a stupid idea. Possibly the stupidest idea that he’s ever had, which includes shooting past Starkiller’s shields at Lightspeed with Han Solo.

“Ah, kriff,” he says. “Stupid’s kinda worked today.”

 

_________

 

Later, days later, in another sector, in a puddle of bunks on the floor on a stolen Freighter, they still somehow manage to sleep in a pile of intertwined limbs and gigantic snores and smells that aren’t pleasant and a blurred landscape of personal boundaries and elbows shoved into places they shouldn’t be, but at least it’s warm. It should drive her mad, with everything she can sense, the hyper-awareness of every thought and feeling and dream around her, every fear, but it doesn’t. If Rey’s being truthful, this is the best sleep she’s ever had. Finn does nothing but generate heat and Rose is small and soft and Poe is a whirlwind of tossing and turning, much to the dismay of everyone else, but Rey almost always sleeps through the night cycle now.

And it’s more than the fact that she’s healthier, too, that she isn’t fighting a manifested Force. More than the fact that she let the Force eat at her for two months, using herself to clamp the vice shut. More than the fact that she’s beginning to keep a regular sleeping schedule and isn’t working herself to the point of total exhaustion just to keep him at bay. 

It’s more than that. There’s a peace to it. A safety. As ironic as it feels to feel safe when they could all be dead before they wake up tomorrow. It’s still the safest Rey’s ever felt in her minuscule two decades.

She is safe. She is warm, between Poe and Rose, and she is home.

But Rey’s dreams begin to change.

 

_________

 

Ben,” comes Rey’s voice before Ben can even turn around, kriff, something goes shooting down his spine. “Put a shirt on before you take somebody’s eye out.”

In another life he might be a bit conscious of the fact that he’s currently without a shirt, scrambling over the booth next to the dejarik board, maybe unnecessarily, panicking, because his father will never let him live this down, he’s supposed to be holding up the Solo name, their reputation, when Han Solo isn’t personally seeing to it that said reputation is in absolute tatters.

Kriff, I’m late,” Ben tells her, grabbing his father’s old MasterNav from the shelf and his spare blaster, the one that’s small enough to fit inside his left boot, and his blaster belt, and his shirt. “I’m supposed to be on Vassek in four hours for a hand-off with the Irving Boys.”

He probably doesn’t need to tell her this. His father’s Second Mate is a much better First Mate than the actual First Mate.

And from the look on Rey’s face, when does actually pause to secure his blaster-belt low around his hips, she absolutely knows that he was supposed to leave for Vassek almost three hours ago.

It probably also doesn’t help that she is completely unfazed by him. Ben Solo’s about as vain as the average Solo, but he’s aware that he does actually have some muscle under the too-tall veneer. It would— maybe, be nice if Rey could actually notice, for all that he stays up at night thinking about how many freckles are on her nose. Ah, Kriff. Now he is thinking about how long he spends thinking about how many freckles are on her nose. When did he get so pathetic?

Ben grins. Grinning’s the best mask a man could have. He bends over and tucks the spare blaster into his boot. “What’sa matter? Afraid I was gonna leave without giving you a goodbye kiss?”

“I’d sooner kiss Chewbacca.”

Ben stands back up again. Ponders. Then, “Y’know, I could probably arrange that.”

Rey does what Rey does: she picks up a wet cloth from the workbench and smears engine oil all along his tricep and bicep, towards his sternum.

And Ben Solo does what Ben Solo does: he screams. “Kriff, that’s cold!”

Any other day he would immediately extract some revenge for this behavior, there’s nothing Ben loves more than tormenting his father’s Second Mate, but any other day he wouldn’t be significantly late, and any other day the cold wet on his skin wouldn’t remind him just what parts Rey had run her hands along. Instead they both seem to realize the implication, of how close they’re both standing, of how Ben Solo is still not wearing a shirt. He doesn’t breathe for at least eighteen ticks, and tries to keep his face from going red but damn him, he can feel it like solarburn.

“Ben,” Rey says, finally, like she’s chastising him, and kriff, he gets enough of that from his mother. He doesn’t need that now. Especially not when his skin feels so hot.

“What?”

“You’re late.”

“Oh,” he says. Grabs the cleanest corner of Rey’s cloth and wipes the worst of the smear away. Grabs a shirt from over the seat and starts pulling it over his head. He doubts the Irving Boys will notice one more stain when his white shirt has three already. “Right.”

He’s halfway to the A-Wing outside, the one that they use when they have to be in two places at once or when the Falcon’s getting some maintenance by Rey— and really, these days, when doesn’t the Falcon need maintenance? Ben isn’t going to be the one to tell Han, but they’ll soon reach the point where the Millennium Falcon is more patchwork repair than ship— before his feet slide to a stop.

Ben stops. Thinks. Does what he should have done years ago, probably.

He hops back up onto the ramp of the Falcon and ducks through the bulkhead door and finds Rey exactly where he left her, already shoulder-deep in the Falcon’s interior paneling. She doesn’t notice him, at first. And then, she does.

He crosses the space between them before he loses his courage and practically lifts Rey off her feet, he forgets how short she is all the time—

Ben licks his lips and stops, just millimeters away from her mouth one hand around her neck and the other gripping her thigh, because, fuck, this is not how he imagined this morning going, he’s been awake for a grand total of twelve ticks. He squeezes his eyes shut as he resists the urge. Stops, because he should stop, because a voice that sounds irritatingly like his father is ricocheting around his head.

He shouldn’t— he shouldn’t, of all the damn stupid things he could be doing right now this is what’s gonna get him shot the most.

But he wants to. He’s wanted to for years, he wants to know what Rey tastes like, wants to know what it’d feel like to have her fall asleep in his arms when she doesn’t fall asleep standing up and just so happens to be leaning into him. Fall asleep in his arms in their bunk— not his bunk, obviously, it’s barely big enough for him, he’s going to have to figure out a bigger bunk, maybe even a bunk that isn’t on his father’s ship, because that would just be his worst nightmare, wouldn’t it, kriff, his father walking in as Ben’s wrapping his hands around Rey’s middle, pulling her upwards so she can sit in his lap—

And, oh, kriff, if he could not go down that line of thought at this very second, that’d be great.

He wants to know what her tongue would feel like, sliding against his, it’s warm and wet, right? Just like he thinks it is, it probably tastes just like Rey does, salty like her skin—

“Ben,” Rey breathes, and kriff, it sounds so broken and wanting and breathless in a way that Ben’s never heard before. Pulls him back out again and makes him realize that she’s waiting for him to kiss her.

“Oh,” Ben hisses, maybe prays. Even he isn’t sure at this point. Opens his eyes. “Fuck it.”

 

_________

 

In his other life and more than a million miles across the Galaxy, Kylo Ren digs his nails into the sheets of his bed hard enough to tear the fabric, and snatches his mind back out of the Force’s reach.

 

_________

 

“Fuck me,” Poe says, across the Galaxy, near Corsin on the Hydian way, where the Resistance is launching their fleet. Nobody gasps at his Basic swear, not even C3PO. “That’s a S-type 1260 Nubian Star Commander.”

They don’t, they don’t even make those, anymore? Naboo hasn’t had a standing military since he was, what, four? But he knows that sleek design and yellow paint as much as anybody that was around during the last days of the Empire’s reign.

There’s one just out the view port of their Flagship — the Amidala, newly christened. Where Leia managed to pull three Mandalorian Star Ships out of, Poe frankly doesn’t want to know. It does seem like something that she would do, but if it means that Poe doesn't have to shake ice out of his jacket every morning, he can roll with it. Kriff, the Resistance doesn’t even have enough people to crew her and her support ships. People are pulling triple and quadruple duty just to get her spaceworthy.

Leia is on the bridge, commanding, and Black Squadron is trying to get the Squadrons ready for launch, because the proximity alarm bells are blaring and the First Order was rumored to have a significant presence in the Korda System, it wasn’t a ginormous leap to think that they might be bearing down on them—

But then another ship flings itself out of lightspeed, right in front of Poe’s eyes and everybody flinches, because this is like going up against the Supremacy all over again— only that definitely isn’t First Order: it’s a support ship, and then another cruiser, and another, and another, and another, until there are fifteen in total, all flying the Queen’s colors.

And Leia, Leia Solo of House Organa, Princess of a long-dead planet and Senator of a long-dead Republic, greatest military strategist in a hundred years and General of a Resistance that’s setting the Galaxy on fire says—“Oh, finally.”

 

_________

 

In the heart of sectors that have surrendered to First Order occupation, the Generals come to heel when their Leader calls. It’s a ridiculous show of power and privilege for the non-sensitive members of the First Order and an act of such self-importance that the Knights of Ren look down on the assembly, the rows and rows and rows of officers and StormTroopers and light artillery vehicles and smaller transport ships from the highest balcony of the fortress they’ve conquered.

They five. They five, who were seven. Who had been thirteen.

They don’t share a bond. But they do have a collective, a togetherness, that comes from what they have done. Like odd neural pathways forged by pain, and death. They’ve bled together for so long that the individual lines have blended. Some are louder in this collective, more dominant. Vadat and Rih are in constant wrestle for control. Some are quieter.

Others leave almost no presence other than the coldness, the void.

Which is, maybe, the problem. When Supreme Leader had lived their memories had been agonizingly clear. They could remember every scream, every drop of terror, every ounce of pain. Relived it over and over again until it was all they could dream, when they were allowed to dream. And now that he has been dead for so long, the veneer is rotting and beginning to flake. Memories do not match up with memories. There is something else beginning to show, underneath. When they had been individual and spread across the Galaxy it hadn’t burned so hot, but now they are together again and it is undeniable: the edges of their thoughts that they have been pushing down, shoving away, embers are catching.

Now they feel it roiling, ricocheting around in their minds, this doubt, it knocks everything loose. It bleeds.

Even Ysser, who is the worst of them, the best killer of them, feels like he is convulsing in the Force. To disobey is death, to doubt is death, and the Knights of Ren have grown very good at living. Until now.

Now there is a feeling taking root somewhere, with thorns, around the space where their hearts should be, somewhere dark inside them. The Knights can feel nothing from their Master. He’s cut himself off from the Force, from something they cannot sense.

It makes them feel something close to doubt. Close to fear.

“Hirran,” Rih rumbles, cracks, and even Rih is listing sideways, and for a horrible moment it sounds like another name, a different name, a name that has been forbidden for a decade. “You must do something. Fix this.”

In another lifetime, Hirran might have scoffed and laughed a little too loudly, at how ridiculous such a sentence was— do what? What would possibly make you think that Ben Solo would listen to me?

But in this lifetime, Hirran says nothing. In this lifetime, Hirran always says nothing.

Just stares down unblinking over the dais where the new Supreme Leader waits, a lone figure in black against a horizon of nothing else, under a sea of Star Destroyers and Dreadnought-class ships waiting above in mid-atmo. Waits for his Generals to come grovel their way into his good graces.

 

_________

 

The Millennium Falcon breaks out of Lightspeed onto a green planet that looks pretty similar to Takodana. Rey’s never been to Yavin IV, but she has the not-memories. She recognizes it.

Chewbacca burrs at her from the pilot’s seat: You don’t have to be here.

Rey’s already climbing out of her seat, bag attached to her hip, and grabs her staff from where she keeps it against the console. “Yeah, I do.”

When they enter low-atmo the ramp of the Falcon opens and reveals a little slip of the planet below once Chewie begins the landing sequence. Rey starts to descend before the landing gears even bump against the dirt, but she pauses at the last second. Straightens up.

There’s something here. Not just in the ruined temple in the distance but around them, too, like it’s in the air. Like Ahch-To. Something old, ancient, even by ancient standards. Like this planet has been the home of Jedi for millennia and will continue to be a home to Jedi for thousands of years after Rey’s bones collapse into splinters, into dust. She stops on the last edge of the Falcon’s ramp and casts around, almost like trying to pick sound out of a wall of noise. It feels ridiculous, absolutely, but there’s something sliding down Rey’s spine that tells her that the moment she steps foot planetside, something will change that cannot be un-changed. This is one more door she has to open, like the hatch in the AT-AT in the White on Hoth. She can go forward, or she can turn around and go back. In the Force, more than just the beating heart that is this Temple, there is a thrum. A pulse. A hundred thousand voices just faint enough that she can’t understand them.

But just to show the Force that she is still not playing the game, Rey hops off the Falcon’s ramp and lands in the mud with a squelch.

Nothing happens. The Galaxy does not realign.

The amused echo of a laugh she feels at the edge of her senses can be brushed off as one of the hundreds of echoes in the Temple.

Luke is here, with her. As much as he ever is. His presence seems more and more tangible as she shoulders her staff and climbs the hill, passes the huts that have nothing more than the foundations left.

She can’t tell which hut might have been the one that Ben Solo slept in, that night, with the green ‘saber, and the fear. There’s too much bouncing around that she can’t try and find a strain and follow it.

And most of them aren’t much better than slight piles of rocks and roofing.

She doesn’t— Rey isn’t exactly sure what’s called her here. It’s been a month and some weeks since she stole Kylo’s Command Shuttle. A few weeks, a few more missions, a few more fires started across the Galaxy. But something has been pulling at her, starting to slip into her dreams, something of a burned temple and rubble and the hand of dead things beneath, the kind of echo that she knows only from the White on Hoth. And she learned that lesson a bit too well.

And as reluctant as she is to follow the path the Force is putting before her feet: she is a Scavenger. Curiosity kept her stomach full.

Then she crests the hill, and she sees the Temple.

I almost wish you could have seen it before, comes Luke’s crotchety voice.

“I did,” Rey tells him, pausing. Takes a breath. Lets the sight sink in. She has hundreds of memories that aren’t hers.

The Temple had been beautiful, in an old, forgotten way. As much as a nobody from Jakku can call something beautiful.

They’d been so small. All of them. Only fourteen, including Luke. Children and some grown-ups, too, people that had come to Luke for answers, back before he was a Legend, back before little scavenger girls on Jakku didn’t believe he existed. Rey has seen them in dreams. She sees them mulling about. Standing knee deep in a calm bend of a nearby river, laughing, catching what must pass for fish on Yavin IV.

She does not see him. Rey isn’t sure if that’s the Force withholding something that she wants to see, or if it is the bond’s doing, or if it is her doing. There are holes, in the memories. Like he’s been cut out of them. “You were very happy here.”

Yes, says Luke. At the beginning.

If the Temple once had a front entrance, Rey can’t really spot it. The walls are mostly rubble, now, but the skeleton remains, the upper dome looks like it could crumble if the wind blew a little too hard. But she steps through, anyway.

There isn’t a single living thing within the Temple, that much Rey can tell even from the few moments she’s stood in it. Not even little creatures, or bugs. Almost like there’s a physical barrier that keeps them out. Rey can’t sense it, she can just feel how odd the void feels when she crosses over it. Even the grass outside the Temple hasn’t come in, hasn’t crossed over, there are whole walls that have collapsed, the green should have reclaimed the emptiness in here. But there’s nothing. No weeds. No sprouting trees. No lone patches of stick-grass. Like there’s some invisible miasma that’s killed everything in a radius.

No, no miasma, comes Luke’s voice. But all living things can sense the fear. Sense the Dark that was born here.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense, to Rey: she spent most of her life scaling up the sides of the Ravager and other Star Destroyers from the same fleet: these, too, were things of fear. But they had left no void behind, like the void was alive. Or… the opposite of alive. Un-alive. Not-life. Like not-memories.

“Well, now I’m making my own head hurt,” Rey says, pulling her staff over her torso so she can use both hands to push some rubble out of her path.

There is no answer, from the bond: that tends to happen often, with you.

No, no answer. Not even here. The bond is shut tight. Her end is open. It has to be, here, because there’s just so much of it. And because at the beginning she had been afraid. Now she knows. Now she’s seen. She’s gone up against the Force and found that the dark places beneath the Ahch-Tos of the Galaxy were dreams, compared to what’s behind her. It’s a strange sort of feeling, peering into the dark, and realizing that you are the scariest thing there.

But his end never opens, not anymore, unless the both of them are asleep and even then Kylo is making a great effort to shut his end now, odd how the tables have turned.

She did warn him: she warned him that she would steal everything from him. Finn stole his ‘Troopers, Rose stole his tech, Leia stole his Senators and his alliances and Poe is going to steal his fleet: and Rey will take and take and take until there’s nothing left.

Rey thinks that he would revolt against her being on Yavin IV.

But here, in the Temple, everything, the whole place is a mess. And there’s something here, the thing she’d sensed from the Falcon. It doesn’t seem to have grown stronger, now that she’s standing in what must have been the main hall of the Praxeum. It’s a wide level that looks to be three or four times the size of Echo Base. There’s a whole in the dome above her that she could probably fit the Falcon through. It’s bigger than Maz’ place on Takodana, bigger than anything Rey knows except the Ravager and the other giants. It makes her feel small. That and how even its presence in the Force feels ancient.

She picks her way through it, as best she can. But unlike the Ravager, where the main areas had largely been picked clean by scavenging teams by the time Rey was old enough to walk, where Rey had to climb higher and reach farther than anybody else for her daily veg-meat rations, the Temple is untouched. There are slabs of stone larger than X-Wings directly in her way.

She crawls under some, when she can. Climbs over others, what looks to be part of the dome two hundred feet above.

Odd. A year and six star systems later, and Rey is still crawling through old, dead things.

There is a part of Rey that wants to wash her hands of the wreckage and use the Force to lift it out of the way, lift the stones and the rocks and the metal remains of what might have once been a heating system. A different part— a stronger part, that knows that she’s standing in a graveyard. Even on Jakku, they respected graves.

There is something that tells Rey that if she shifted all these rocks, just like she did on Crait, she’d find the people that hadn’t walked out of this Temple the night it burned.

You won’t find anything underneath the rubble, Rey, Luke says.

“Oh?”

Luke’s presence leaves only momentarily. To Rey, it feels like he turns away, turns his face away, if he were actually physically standing next to her. She stops in her rummaging, her scavenging of bits and pieces, stones broken power connectors, and waits for Luke’s presence to return.

There’s that sadness again, like at the summit of Ahch-To. I stayed here and buried them.

Perhaps unbidden, uninvited, Rey sees a memory from Luke. She understands the pain behind it.

He’d stayed and found every last body. Buried them, she sees, with a traditional Jedi funeral. Watched their ashes rise up into the atmosphere on some hill. Like he’d put Anakin Skywalker on a pyre.

Uhlan! Cries a voice that runs past Rey, suddenly, she even jumps out of the way like there’s a physical thing that will mow her down. The sound travels like it. Come back! You haven’t finished your chores yet!

The apparition barely has a shape to it, yet Rey watches it take form as one child running after a smaller one. Nothing but a shade, an after-image. They run straight through an untouched slab of stone that has to be ten feet tall, and disappear.

They were so young, Luke says. It didn’t feel like it at the time, but you know how crotchety old men are.

Rey takes in the Praxeum. There’s so much here: so much that she should be reeling from it, so much that it should be building up behind her eyes until she can’t see straight. But it doesn’t. It just leaves Rey cold. Like in the cave under Ahch-To. Like she should feel something, but doesn’t.

“You stayed,” Rey says. “You stayed and buried the ones that died. So you’d know which ones had followed Kylo Ren to the Dark Side.”

Rey can see this, too. She sees a cloaked figure collapse next to an R2 unit, watching the temple burn, and feels how it had felt. And then the vision turns, worsens, she sees six small bodies lined up underneath ruined sheets.

A different voice, one she hasn’t ever heard before: We. We five, who were seven. Who had been thirteen.

That cloaked figure, Luke, she knows his presence in the Force, then turns, a different scene, with pyres. She can see it, on his face. The grief. The Dark. It’s like a tide that has come up. She sees how close it came to going a different way. She sees Luke as he stands at the fork in his path. She sees the choice. The echoes.

You want their names? Luke asks, brokenly. His grief still lingers, even though he’s at peace. I can give them to you. I can tell you where they come from, how many times they skinned their knees, how many times they thought they’d managed to sneak out of the Praxeum at night without me knowing. I can tell you which ones learned how to sleep upright during meditation.

Rey has their names: she has both of their names, the ones they were born to and the ones that Snoke branded them with. Alor, and Hirran, and— Rih, she thinks. She’s snatched those names from not-memories.

“Pain,” Rey says. “So much pain. Anger, and sadness, and fear. Like it’s been collecting here. Like every wound and every hurt has eventually turned up here to waste away.”

Ardal, another begs.

Rey pauses, in the next hall, a room that might have been a Mess, from all the tables that have been broken and bent in horrible ways, crushed by falling rocks. Listens harder.

Ardal, please. Don’t do this! What’s wrong? Why do you have your ‘saber out, where’s Uhlan

Rey shuts her eyes against this memory: she knows what it is. She knows what the scream of a ‘saber sounds like. She knows what it sounds like to die that way.

“It’s why you ran, to Ahch-To,” Rey realizes, seeing it, even as she follows the visions of her Master further into the hall, as much as she can through the wreckage. “You didn’t run from the Knights of Ren. You ran from the Dark that was drowning you.”

I was tempted to the Dark before you were even born, Luke tells her. The Dark runs deep in the Skywalker line.

Dark rises, Snoke had said, months ago, on the Supremacy. Rey repeats it. “And Light to meet it.”

And maybe there has always been a part of Rey that has blamed her Master for what happened, for taking the choice away from Ben Solo. Maybe. But here, with a dozen different memories using her brain for spare parts, she thinks that she understands it, a bit better. The fear. The fear that he had made another Vader, that he had doomed a whole generation to war, death, and slavery. The fear of failure.

The knowledge that came with time, with Rey, with the Millennium Falcon, with his father’s Lightsaber years later: that his every fear had come true anyway.

Fear is the path to the dark side, comes an echo from the dome above. A voice Rey doesn’t know, but also knows, somehow. She’s fairly sure she’d heard that voice out in the White. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

Kylo Ren had been afraid of failure, too. She’d pushed back into his mind on Starkiller and felt the way that it was eating at him, tight and coiled, falling, like he’d missed a step.

It is the thought of him that brings the next vision. This one stronger, the pull almost too much, even for Rey.

She turns down a darkened hallway that calls, and pushes and scratches at the rocks that have formed a ruined blockade, mostly with her hands until the call becomes too much, and then she pushes them with the Force, lifts them up and they scrape thunderously against the walls and ceiling and take more things with them until the path is clear.

But there is nothing in this hallway, either, until the Force swells with it. Rey’s skin lights up because something happened, something happened, it’s been ten years but the thoughts that have clung to this place feel like they are seconds old, at best.

How could you— Rey hears, broken and open and she whips around because it sounds like the lightsaber sang to life an inch from her left ear, but there is nothing. Nothing. We trusted you, Master! How could you do this? How could you kill them?

Rey sees it then, a vision, it doesn’t pull at her like the Visions from out in the White, or on Takodana. No, these are… other things. The figures bleed into existence like oil spilling into water, drifting, and Rey sees children, scared, terrified, running for their lives and the red glow from a fire that she can’t see.

The next second, the scene changes. The children still run past Rey, still scream, but there are different children with them, older and with real ‘sabers.

The glow from the fire in the last vision is green this time, and it screams like a ‘saber, and a hooded figure follows them down the hall while they yell at the younger kids to run. There’s a — something, behind them, that Rey can’t quite make out. A cowering figure, maybe, she can hear his sobs, she can feel the way that one of them is trying to hold him up while keeping his stance. And one of them is bleeding badly, too.

But she can’t see the figure’s face. Suddenly needs to see, because she knows who it is. Knows it, but can’t name it.

The vision starts to dissipate before she can shove the shadows back.

Rey runs at the figure and tries to catch the last bit of him with her fingers, a bit of sleeve, but there’s nothing by the time she gets there.

There’s nothing. Wall. Hallway. Stone. The light barely even reaches down here through a hole in the ceiling. She’s got a hand torch in her pack but somehow doubts it would have helped.

And then the visions start again. Like they’ve been looped. The children, running, fire, red, green, the scream of a ‘saber. The figure. She’s standing where the figure is, this time, but it’s like his face has been deleted from the vid. There is nothing but a void in a dark hood.

She knows him. She’d know him anywhere. She can hear the sound of his breaths, the sight of his tears. She knows the shape of his hands.

But there is something keeping her from him.

“It’s like,” Rey tries. Looks around as the images repeat, flicker. “It’s like there’s two memories. The same pacing, the same things, the same thoughts and feelings, but they can’t decide which one should play on top of the other. Like a holovid,” Rey tries, tries to work out what she’s seeing in limited Scavenger vocabulary. But Poe had vids in his room, old ones, on Hoth, and she has memories that don’t belong to her, either, of sitting on Leia Organa’s personal shuttle, on their way to Naboo, and Ben spent the whole time curled up on the couch in her private rooms with a HoloPad in his hands. “The details change.”

It wouldn’t be the first time Rey sees two versions of the same vision. But something about this one feels different from the last. There’s something… else. Something more. A hand being played that she just can’t see.

I don’t know, Rey, says her Master. She feels that it’s true, somehow, his confusion bleeds through. I don’t know which version is the real one. I wasn’t awake for this part. I didn’t wake until after the Temple was already burning.

She sees that part, too, though the vision is outside, in the dark, in the light of the fires, while she is inside with cool stones. Sees seven figures outlined. She had a vision like this, once, in a basement on Takodana. At the very start.

Then they had been cloaked in black and drenched in rain. She doesn’t know if this version was in the past or has yet to come. But the figures are the same.

Rey has to visibly shake herself from the Force’s hold.

 

_________

 

Rey continues to listen to the ghosts and wander for hours, it feels like. At a certain point she climbs down, to the lower levels, so she can’t use the sun for guidance anymore. Every once in a while she’ll step into a new space and new not-memories will trigger. Some are innocent. Harmless. Not-memories that for some reason have decided to latch onto this particular place. Ghosts. Ghosts she never knew. Ghosts that don’t belong to a Scavenger from Nowhere.

Kids, mostly. Teenagers. Older things, too, people that are fainter, like they’ve been gone far longer. She sees these memories down the different hallways as she peers down each one.

Others are not so harmless. Others are just sounds: screams, night-terrors. Rey’s had enough night-terrors now to recognize them. Others beg: make it stop, please, Master, make it stop

It doesn’t help that there’s fear sliding down her spine. Not her fear. Someone else’s. Phantom fear.

Rey has no reason to fear being here, she knows this. But her heart starts to panic all the same.

Don’t linger here too long, Rey, Luke’s voice comes again. He’d left, after all Rey had seen. Find what is calling you, and leave. The past is the past, it helps us only as it moves us forward.

She doesn’t ask about his absence. She doesn’t know if Force Ghosts expend energy coming to this side. Maybe he’d needed to rest. Or maybe being in the Temple again after so long is draining him.

It’s draining her. And she’s only getting these feelings second-hand.

There’s a lot of things Rey doesn’t know, she realizes. Everything she stumbles on is odd, from the clothes that these Jedi wore to the practice ‘sabers. She finds one, when she tips over a slab of rock with her back that still works. A month ago she would have been too reluctant to ignite it.

Now, it buzzes in her hands. Zaps, slightly, when she tries to touch it. She yips.

If that had been an actual ‘saber, says Luke. You would have burned the tips of your fingers off. Off, Rey.

“You would have stopped me,” Rey tells him. “You or the dozen other people rumbling about in here,” and taps on her head with her zapped hand.

The dozen other people say nothing.

She doesn’t know much about Jedi history, for all that she is supposed to be the Last Jedi. She has the texts, yes, but Scavengers on Jakku are taught to read only very specific sequences of numbers and letters. Certain combinations mean better parts, and better parts means that Unkar Plutt could hawk them for more Inner-Rim credits. More Inner-Rim credits meant that Plutt could buy more people to pick apart the Field of Giants.

But Rey’s always survived on instincts. She has questions, so many questions— she’s practically starting a list, but she doesn’t think the books have anything to teach her that she hasn’t already somehow figured out. Even if she can’t read them.

She’s always been good at ripping old things apart. Parts. Machines. Ancient, sacred Jedi texts. The Heir of Darth Vader.

What are you here looking for, Rey?

“I don’t know,” she tells her Master. “I’ll know it when I find it, I suppose.”

Luke huffs, like he had on Ahch-To.

She smiles, a bit, and moves a bent-in bulkhead with her shoulder. Lifts the hand-torch a bit higher, so she can see further down this new hallway. If you’d tell me I’d tell you where you might be able to find it.

“Is that allowed?” Rey asks. “Are you actually allowed to tell me where to find what I’m looking for? I thought everything was about ‘following your own path’ and ‘rejecting our past hubris’ and learning your own version of the lessons.”

Let’s just say, comes Luke’s voice, that I was reminded that the Jedi, of the old way, were not the greatest of teachers. Look how many fell from the path because we weren’t allowed to catch them.

Catch them. It sounds so strange, especially to Rey. No one had ever been around to catch her. If she fell, she fell to her death. If she brought in no parts, she starved. If she died to the breath of R'iia, she died to the breath of R'iia. It's only now that she's learned to ask for help. And maybe, maybe, so many people wouldn't have died if they'd felt like they could ask, too. But instead Rey squeezes her way through the opening in a corner into another, wider hallway, with bulkhead doors. Personal rooms, Rey thinks. Not too different from Hoth, or any of the stolen Freighters that the Resistance has gotten their hands on in the last three months. Simple. Communal 'fresher at the other end of the hallway. In each room: bunks, desks, clothing. HoloPads that are too damaged for even Rey or Rose to fix. She doesn't fully explore each one, just the ones that aren't completely closed off.

Bits and parts. She doesn't need to ask, but she somehow knows that these are parts for 'sabers. 

Some rooms are more destroyed than others. But the pull still pulls, so Rey keeps walking. Almost wishes that the Force would throw another tantrum and haul her in the right direction.

It’s time to let the past die, Kylo Ren had begged her.

“If only you’d been so optimistic in life,” Rey tells Luke. They have no amnesty between the two of them: he died, passed on, departed, and Rey lives, lived on, grows. But there is a warmth between them now that hadn’t been on Ahch-To, that has grown in the space of sleeping and waking, and his lingering presence appears whenever Rey needs him.

Master and something of an Apprentice. An Almost-Apprentice.

If only you’d been so willing to listen to what I had to teach you.

“Unlikely,” Rey says.

Stops. Straightens up and feels something in her spine. Backs up a few feet, peers into the room on her right, the room that she’d just passed and had overlooked. Feels something familiar. And unfamiliar.

Luke seems to realize where she is. Rey.

From Maz Kanata, at the beginning, at the beginning of all this, when Rey had first touched Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber: the belonging you seek. It isn’t behind you, child. It’s ahead.

“Hush,” Rey tells them. She’s spent enough time with voices in her ears, and there is something new she is trying very hard to hear. A calling, maybe. A hum. A… Rey doesn’t have the words to describe it. Like it’s responding to her heartbeat. Like the voice has been calling ever since she was born, and she simply hasn’t been able to hear it. It reaches back, in her memories, and is there. Every day on Jakku. Every day on Takodana. On Starkiller and Ahch-To.

Rey, says Luke’s voice, and it’s louder now.

Rey moves a sheet of thin durasteel from the doorway and pushes in, lifts it with both arms, and once that’s done, moves the overturned bed, too, because it’s getting louder. The song.

"I’m here," she says, and feels something latch on, grasp at her like it’s been drowning. I’m here.

The debris beneath the bed is miniscule. Crushed into the tiniest pieces they can be without crumbling into dust, but Rey hears the call. She moves the left-behind fragments aside: a gray shirt, the papers, the pens, the— calligraphy set—the hard copy books and broken HoloPad. She knows these things. She knows that the book has a damaged spine before she picks it up. Knows what texture of the pen’s handle feels like. Her hand knows just where to go, which box to pick up, which broken power cell to yank. Beneath it all is a tiny crystal no bigger than the last digit of her thumb. It’s so small, she easily could have missed it.

And yet Rey feels like she’d be able to pick it out among millions.

Rey— comes Luke’s voice, panicked. Another, different voice, the one with the Coruscanti accent: Rey, don’t—

“It’s… warm,” Rey says, as she kneels down in the dust and picks it up.

The world narrows down to the tiniest thing, to an inch at the center of the palm of her left hand, focuses around this little crystal for a moment that lasts both a second and an eternity.

It’s small, off-white. Rigid in some places, rough, and smooth in others. Inside there is a color that is not a color, but a staggering of trapped light inside.

She feels a little fondness for a clump of kyber, but she can’t help it. It’s flooding through her.

Home, the crystal seems to sigh, excited, and it’s horrible that the most excited something has ever been to see her is a rock inside a ruined Temple, but it just keeps going, keeps thrumming, home, home, home. The bond opens wide because the Light is so enveloping, both inside and out, and all of a sudden it’s all Rey can do to hold onto herself. Like this little clump of kyber’s been waiting Force-knows how long for her to appear, under the rubble and the bones and the pain. Like it’s been calling as hard as the little crystal can, like it’s been calling until it’s not-voice has gone hoarse.

If Rey understands anything, it is calling and calling and calling and having no one answer.

“It’s almost fluttering.”

Luke’s ‘saber had felt a bit like this. So had his, though honestly Rey had reached out on the Supremacy without a plan, just rage, and it had surprised her when Kylo Ren’s ‘saber had flung itself at her like it had been waiting for her to call. Felt right in her hands.

But this tiny, tiny chunk of kyber that she could have mistaken for broken glass makes them pale by comparison.

Like a heart.

It’s broken, Rey, Luke’s voice comes. There will be a time for kyber, a time to build a new lightsaber. You will know it when it calls for you.

“Broken?” Rey asks her Master, with the offended hiss of someone who has spent their life fixing broken things. She can’t take her eyes off it, the little thing. “A few surface scratches, at best. I’ve seen kyber crystals clear cracked down the middle.”

One. She’s seen one kyber crystal cracked right down the middle.

This isn’t why you’re here, Rey.

“It is,” Rey tells him, because somehow she knows that it’s true. “This is what called me here.”

Luke doesn’t say anything, but by now Rey is used to the coming and going way of the Force. She turns the crystal over in her hand and brings it closer to her eyes, and it glows brightly. Like staring into the sun. The light had seemed dim, at first, dying, but now it drives every shadow from the room. Like she’s holding a small star in her hand.

Everything quiets. Everything fades. Sounds, smells, time, Rey could have been standing here for hours and she doesn’t think she’d notice.

“It was his, y’know,” comes a voice, loud, so loud, a voice that Rey hasn’t heard before. Her spine turns to durasteel because she feels no presence, she straightens up, gets to her feet, and focuses her eyes straight ahead, and the crystal gives a fearful lurch, stops shining, and nobody sneaks up on her like that, nobody, not when she isn’t dead tired, and she also feels nothing in the Force, either, the Force has suddenly retreated. Luke is gone. The bond is gone, too, and every cell in Rey’s body tells her run, Rey, do not stop, never stop— “Found it when he was fifteen. It spoke to him but didn’t speak to him, y’know? Kyber’s kinda funny like that.”

Rey does what Rey does. She flips on it, whatever it is, whatever this presence is, cradles the kyber in her palm against her chest like she has to protect it until her last day and swings the staff right off her back and against the side of something as hard as her arm can swing it.

She follows through: Rey always follows through.

Her staff hits against something solid, freezes, and the vibrations shoot up Rey’s entire right side. The man, and it is a man with a scar on his left cheek caught her staff with his mechanical hand.

All Rey can do is stare.

“Not bad,” the man says, after a tick. “You’ve got decent form, despite your lack of training.”

Rey has a history with people that think they can sneak up on her: Jakku has not taught her to be merciful in this case. So she isn’t.

She screams, like on the Supremacy, burns, rotates her staff so that it slips out of his grip and nearly breaks that hand and brings it back around, right for his knees and knocks him flat on his ass.

Holds her staff to his throat and feels it, the Dark, and the thoughts come unwanted: I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you first.

This is the way of Jakku. This is what Rey was born to.

“Kriff,” the man groans. Rolls over onto his side. Stops, once he’s rubbed the feeling back into his ass. Blinks. Stares. Looks up at her like he’s seeing her for the first time. He takes her in, like he’s inspecting a ship, which should feel ridiculous given the fact that he’s on the ground with her staff to his throat. And then, of all things: laughs. “No wonder. Looks like he’s not as much of an idiot as I thought.”

His laugh makes Rey pause, even though she presses the end of her staff into his throat. It’s a laugh she’s heard, somewhere, and there’s something familiar in his face, in the line of his shoulders.

He clears his throat and groans and makes a move to get up and she practically spits at him. Seethes.

Instead of being intimidated, the man levels a look at Rey that sends a chill down her spine, because his expressions are so familiar and yet Rey can’t place them. She should know him. She does know him, somehow. She knows that look, she’s seen it on Leia, of all people. She doesn’t lift her staff from his throat but he stands, slowly, like he’s fully aware that her instinct is to strike first and not die first.

He clears his throat again and maybe makes an effort to save face. He holds his hands away from his belt, carefully, and Rey knows this, too. From Ben Solo. “Sorry. I wasn’t expecting that to hurt so much. It’s been… a while.”

“Tell me,” Rey spits. “Who you are.”

He stills. Considers her, for a second.

“You’re the Nobody from Jakku,” Anakin Skywalker says. “I’m the Nobody from Tattooine.”

 

_________

 

“He thinks he was meant to follow in my footsteps,” Anakin tells her. “That it will fix it. But that’s the Dark talking. You were made to undo those footsteps.”

This feels like the opposite of out in the White, which had shown her something. Something that was both a Truth and a Lie. An Other. A Maybe. A What Could Have Been. What Might be.

But Rey also knows that undoing scars does not heal them, erasing a break from a bone doesn’t make it heal stronger.

Rey cradles the chuck of kyber against her sternum, even though she knows now. Where it came from.

Chapter Text

The First Order and the Resistance trade blows in three different systems in the Mid-Rim for a month. Skirmishes, at best, Leia knows. The Resistance is throwing dirty punches and going for the First Order’s knees— their trade routes, their suppliers, their credit accounts at Republic and Outer-Rim banks and credit launderers. They haven’t faced them head-on, not yet. Haven’t openly declared. Not after the disaster that was the Supremacy. They can’t risk it. Even with their newfound allies, Leia does not gather more than half their force in one place in fear of an ambush. They hit hard, and fast, at the weak points of the Order’s infrastructure. And then they vanish. But the First Order knows how to play this game, too. And since Coruscant, they’ve been growing bolder. More worlds have turned. More sectors have started harboring Order sympathizers. And just like Naboo and Mandalore, there are worlds joining the fight that had stayed out of the conflict before Starkiller.

The Resistance loses three pilots eight months after the Supremacy. It shouldn’t feel like such a huge blow, they have a hundred pilots now. But they’ve spent so long making the smart plays that Leia feels the grief in the room. From Poe especially.

Poe, who made a bad call for bad reasons. Who’s learned the lesson hardest of them all. Who has grown so much as a commander, as a leader.

Leia only wishes they hadn’t had to face down total annihilation to learn it. “The losses?” Poe asks, “Were the survivors followed?”

“No, Captain,” returns Paransha. “The survivors returned to Hoth with the resupplies. Only three X-Wings were lost, along with their pilots.”

At the beginning of all this, the loss of three pilots would have broken them. Three pilots were practically all they’d had, on Hoth. They’d all been tired— they’re still tired. Too full of grief, and loss. Loss was an easy thing to collapse under. But the Galaxy’s had too much grief. Too much war. It’s been a hundred years since there’s been real peace in the systems. The fact that they’ve made it this far, that they’ve managed to save three sectors from First Order occupation and a dozen trading moons and six mining or harvesting planets and the refugees on Coruscant without any real loss is nothing short of a miracle. But maybe they’ve grown too used to winning. Winning wars isn’t easy, it doesn’t happen easy, and the heroes very rarely ever get to live to see what they’ve won. Sacrifice means dying for a future that you will never see.

But here, now, on the Amidala, Leia’s trying not to overanalyze every move she’s made in the past six months. It’s easy to, easier to look inward for a mistake. But she’s been playing this game a long time. “Thank you, Admiral.”

Paransha nods. “General.”

The old Rebellion was built on Hope. The Resistance is built on the bones of the people that have died to pave the path. These are the leftovers. The bitter ones. The stubborn ones. The spiteful ones. All the good ones died.

But they have to hold on to just a bit of the old way. There are hard faces on the bridge, all around them. They have to move forward. They have to finish what the Republic started.

They cannot let the Hosnian System be the last breath of democracy.

Leia’s just about to pull her spine straight, like it’s made of durasteel, stand like she’s faced down much more daunting tasks than holding herself together when she wants to come flying apart, when she feels it.

Stops. Listens. Listens, as much as someone can listen to something that isn’t there, that’s flinging itself through the hyperspace lanes, something that feels hungry and dark: but she does. She feels it. She feels it on the bridge as Lieutenant Connix reads out another comm transmission from their allies on Takodana and Kaferne and Bespin: location updates. Leia listens intently until something shifts, changes.

Like that shiver that runs up her spine whenever a Rathtar slid just under the surface of a bog. You could sense the movement and feel the danger.

Leia turns, looks out the viewports on the bridge into the void, and sees nothing. They are parked, gathering, only just beginning to pull the pieces into place behind an abandoned mining prison near Kiros, but she senses it, still, somewhere out in that dark.

Leia, warns Luke, and Leia knows that they’re really in for it.

“General,” Poe calls. She looks back at him over the lit console and Poe forces it out of his throat. She can see all the red blips on their radar. Five of them. “It’s the Knights of Ren.”

 

_________

 

 

Kylo convinces Upper Command that Korriban is a necessary asset to preserve, even though it is too far into the Outer Rim to be of any strategic use. It wouldn’t even make for a descent launching site for the Order’s Fleet. It’s too far from any of the sectors that they are barely managing to hold onto.

Snoke had kept it for its historical significance, for its ties to the Skywalker legacy. Kylo keeps it because it isn’t like there’s any other faction trying to claim the Sith worlds. And, a part of him knows, because he cannot reconcile the truth with the lie. Maybe he really is just a stupid, stupid boy in a mask, playing at a game, maybe he was desperate to believe that he was what Snoke crooned into his ear: a promised prince, an heir to the Lord of all Sith Lords. But the lie is falling apart faster than Kylo can hold it together. His memories are… fading, at best, and sometimes he gets this strange inkling that he’s remembering something wrong, because the more he tries to pick apart the details the less detail there seems to be. It flickers.

I’ve been trying to reach you for years, Anakin Skywalker had said. But there was always something else barring me.

But he’s here, anyway. The First Order is in atmo in Moraband’s sky. Some of it, anyway, they’ve left Fleets defending their position in six sectors. None of them landed planetside when he did. Not even the Knights. Kylo doesn’t know where they’ve disappeared to, but that thought is the farthest from his mind as he looks through the dark durasteel specifically made for such hot temperatures and liquid magma. This keep is empty, hasn’t been used since Darth Vader had made it his refuge. Kylo doesn’t think anyone else would be able to survive here, not with the way that the Dark seems to sigh, like it’s resting and regaining strength. But there is no calling, no echoing in his not-memories where the Force is pulling him one way or another. There’s simply an absence. A void.

What Kylo is looking for, exactly, he doesn’t know. An answer, maybe. An answer for why Anakin was so different from what he’d always been told about Vader. Vader had been everything Kylo had craved. Power, strength, an invulnerability that came with being more legend than man. Anakin was— fallible. Hot-tempered, yes, but his weakness was he loved too much, too hot. Younger than Kylo when he died.

I had my innermost desires, echoes Anakin, in the Force. Until I wanted the power. You wanted the power, until you had the girl.

Shut up, Kylo doesn’t say. He can’t even really muster that up, anymore. Oh, he’d raged, he’d raged until his throat bled and fought against the truth the only way he knew how, but Snoke’s truths are rotting too fast for Kylo to grab onto them. Against him, against his Grandfather, they dissolve like dust.

Kylo wishes that he could call Anakin’s words lies. It would hurt less, this drifting. Being unbound. Lost.

But after walking the halls of this relic, he also knows that Anakin is not here. Not here, on Moraband, where his true self had died. Snoke had been wrong: this place held no significance for Anakin Skywalker. This had simply been where the husk had lived, had waited for his master’s call.

Kylo’s tried to find him, tried to call out. But he is— in an other. Not gone. Not here. But also not in the Force.

Kylo is alone with the durasteel. It tastes so bitter in his mouth: this was the legend that he had molded himself into. A boy. Another nobody.

And, ironic, ironic, he feels everything slow, hears the combined sounds of two atmospheres, the smells, everything. Like he’s called. He thinks of one orphan from a desert planet and gets another. He doesn’t need to turn to know she’s here. Kylo could feel her calling across galaxies.

“Jedi,” Kylo swallows.

From Rey, returning it, “Supreme Leader.”

And from Anakin, snide— Emperor.

“I’d rather not do this now,” he tries, but knows already that it won’t work, knows her response before it even comes out of her mouth. They’ve been stuck in this loop too long.

But it doesn’t come. There is no yeah, me too, from her end. It doesn’t come and Kylo stumbles on it. Instead there’s something else, something— sad, hopeful, mourning, like she’s been waiting her whole life and it’s slipping away again.

His heart is suddenly trying to punch through his ribcage, like it could fling itself at her— ridiculous, you stupid, stupid boy— He resists the urge, he resists the pull, he resists the instinct to turn and answer the call.

He doesn’t take his eyes off what’s in front of him, even though the instinct is nearly too strong.

The silence that stretches through the bond gives Kylo time to wonder what she sees: the bond has grown stronger in the last half-year, into so much more than what it was at the very start. Does she see the durasteel? The magma? The steam? Does she see the only thing that Darth Vader had that he called a throne?

Instead he swallows, tries to force his heart back down into his chest, stands tall like the Supreme Leader should. He’s the most powerful man in the Galaxy, right this very second. He shouldn’t— shouldn’t show weakness to anybody, let alone a scavenger from Jak—

What’sa matter? Afraid I was gonna leave without giving you a goodbye kiss?

The not-memory comes unwanted and Kylo winces at it. His voice. His father’s infliction and way of speaking. And yet, not.

Stop, Kylo thinks, one last desperate attempt to shove the what-ifs out.

Where is Padmè? Is she safe—

“I want you to stop projecting the dreams,” Kylo says, instead. The echoes from the Force continue but he will not be beaten by long-faded afterimages. “I’ve made an effort, to do as you ask, to keep my thoughts from yours. I ask you to do the same.”

Even now, he can feel the phantom movements, in his hands. They’re trembling and he— foolish boy— doesn’t even have his gloves to hide that tremble. He tucks his fingers against his chest, instead, and tries to shove it all away. Everything. The dreams. The ghosts. But he remembers. He has memories that don’t belong to this life. These days he wakes from half of his dreams and can’t remember which version he’s in, which persona he’s supposed to be, which one, which one, the one that can laugh and joke and still embarrass his father and steal an offered kiss from the Scavenger girl fixing the Millennium Falcon and the one that is all alone in this world, the one that killed his father, shamed his mother, all but killed his Uncle, and ruined the only good thing to come from all the ache, too. The one that has a Galaxy to rule. The one that’s paid every price but hasn’t moved, hasn’t grown, has nothing to show for it.

“I understand now, the cost of the bond.” He tells her, like he’s giving her a gift, like he’s being generous, like he understands. “I understand why you were so eager to shut me out.”

Why you abandoned me, he doesn’t say. Why he’d spent two months only getting glimpses, barely, before she slammed the bond shut again, or mornings where he woke up to find the Trespasser shaking with her grief.

And there is— there is a hurt, from her end. A recoiling that Kylo can’t grab at fast enough to catch, but it’s enough to make him stop, frown, because he can feel that hurt in his own chest like it’s his own heart that’s bleeding.

She— she—He abandons his pathetic attempt at ignoring her. Turns and looks.

He starts, a bit. There is something different, now. Something Kylo can’t name.

Something in her gaze, in the way that she takes him in, like she’s desperately looking for something. Something dim and dark and terribly sad. It’s an odd, strange reversal of Crait, when he was kneeling in the ash of his humiliation and she’d shut the Falcon’s ramp on him, shutting him off. That’d been the beginning of it. The beginning of the silence, of her walls of durasteel that were a thousand feet thick, no matter how hard Kylo both tried to scratch through them and angry that she had dared to throw them up in the first place. Desperate to get through, but also angry at himself, for his weakness. For his failure to immerse himself fully into the dark.

But now he must be closed-off, to her, and she the one full of agony.

This Rey is dangerous, more dangerous than her anger, than her bite. This is the Rey that had said Ben, soft, so soft, in the elevator on the Trespasser and nearly brought Kylo Ren to his knees.

This is the Rey that he’d killed his master for.

Where are you, Rey’s voice comes, through the bond. He doesn’t think she means to project it, because this is a thing from right next to her heart. I’m here. I’m right here.

Kylo frowns. He can’t bring himself to say anything, to answer her thought, vocally or through the open bond, can’t bring himself to close the distance that is more than just physical. Pathetic— a voice croons, but it’s strangely faint for once. He can’t really make himself do anything but look, look at the way her hair’s so much longer than it had been, at the beginning, and the clothes that she’s changed into that look familiar somehow, too. Too familiar, almost, but he can’t spare a thought for it beyond that. They both have new scars but she wears hers so much better than he does. So he just looks, takes her in like she’s taking him in.

It was the same look she wore on the Tresspasser, when she’d begged him: Please. Please don’t go this way.

She gives in, first. Not in surrender, because that would be unexpected, almost unwanted. But she’s never bent in front of him, no, this is— this is something else, something worse than disappointment, which he’s all too familiar with.

He hates it. He can’t even name it but he hates it, he never wants to see Rey look at him this way again.

“Pull back your fleet,” Rey tells him at last. Swallows. Pulls herself back in and retreats as far out of the bond as Kylo knows she can, while still keeping the connection. She glows red, from the magma that fills these halls. Kylo barely feels the heat. He’s too caught up in it. In her. “Pull back your fleet, agree to a ceasefire, and I’ll shut the bond. I can, now. I couldn’t before. The dreams should stop then.”

Kylo knows— he knows, now, what shutting the bond costs. He’s lasted half the time she did. So he understands her offer. Understands the price that must be paid. Feels the hurt, on her end, at what he is asking.

And perhaps he hadn’t actually expected her to agree, hadn’t expected her to be so willing to do as he asked.

He opens his mouth to speak but chokes on it, chokes on her, at the hurt. Stops himself. Tries to start again but can’t, just looks at something unfamiliar as it stretches between them.

If he could remove himself from this even just an inch, put aside the question of whether or not they could trust each other—every Organa cell in his spine would tell him that this was a good deal: a good deal on all counts, it would mean that he could plan his middle game in peace and with a clear head, without distractions— and he’ll need it, going up against Leia Organa in the game of Inter-Galactic politics. But he can’t. Even off-kilter by the look on Rey’s face, he can’t. To lose an inch would be losing every price he’s paid.

He turns away. It’s easier, that way, if he doesn’t have to see. “I can’t do that.”

Even if he could, even if he wanted to, he can’t—

His Grandfather lingers in his mind too. Finally found the other end of your chains, boy?

“Ben,” Rey says, from behind him. “The next Star Ship the First Order blows to dust could have somebody I love on it.”

He hears her meaning loud and clear, turns back anyway, as if it hasn’t been at the forefront of his thoughts for six months now. She doesn’t say it, but he feels what she means, anyway: all of the people that she considers hers, he finds them, faces of people that he’s seen in her dreams. Poe and Finn and Rose and people he’s never met, too, and Chewbacca, and. And— and—

Leia Organa. Who’s been outplaying him at every turn, who’s pulled Rey aside, he can see the concerned, motherly look on her face and that hurts, fuck, that digs into a place that Kylo didn’t even think existed anymore—

“A weakness,” Kylo tells Rey, trying his best to block it out. “A foolish one.” Swallows. Says, “You’ve simply traded one weakness for another: your parents for the Resistance. It’s still the same.”

Even as he says it he hates that it comes out soft, a plea, and quiet, Rey, I want you to join me— but most of all, ironic, coming from him.

This wasn’t how this conversation had gone, in his head. He’d expected— well. Not this. He’s scrambling, grasping, trying to find something that she’ll catch on, stumble over, something that will bring her down so they are on equal footing. But all he’s getting from her end of the bond is that dim, dark pain that he knows bleeds out from him. He can take her anger, her hate, but the soft way that she’s looking at him, the same way that she looked up at him in the elevator of the Tresspasser— this, he cannot take.

Haunt me, the thoughts come. Kylo can’t tell if they’re his, in this version or any other, but he can’t look away. Don’t be indifferent to me.

But it is Rey’s turn to wonder, apparently, because the line of her spine shifts and she tilts her head at him. “Do you really have no one in your life that you would die for?”

The answer comes surging up his throat faster than Kylo would like to admit, no, faster than Kylo refuses to admit. He does. Somehow. In some cruel joke, from the Force, he can see it as clear as day. Ben Solo is trying to claw his way out of his lungs again.

He asks, “Do you?”

Through the bond, Kylo gets it all. Yes. A thousand of them.

And Rey, somehow, Rey who grew up with nothing, worth nothing, knew nothing, Rey who grew up in a wasteland and knew nothing of kindness, somehow, Kylo sees that she would. She’d die for them, worse, she’d live for them, and somehow, somehow, Kylo desperately digs further in to the bond and looks because his desire to find what he’s looking for is suddenly too strong even for him. She lets him look, or perhaps doesn’t even realize that he’s looking, but, he finds it. He finds every hurt, every scar, every wound, every tear and finds that, underneath it all, Rey is still kind. She likes to hide it, yes. Believes that kindness will make her weak. Believes that kindness is the difference between life and death. Tries to fit the whole galaxy into two boxes.

And maybe, Kylo’d hoped he’d find the same weakness in her that he carries. The same doubt. But Rey isn’t paralyzed like he is. Rey burns, with the Force. Always burns. Burns, everything burns. He drowns in the Force. Drowns. Always drowns.

“I offered you the whole world,” Kylo wonders.

“At the cost of the people I love,” she bites at him. There you are. That dim and dark thing takes on a new shade, of something more. “You could feel my heart, Ben!”

I’m alone, I’m all alone, he hears, but doesn’t answer. Doesn’t need to. No one will ever be glad to see me come home. No one will ever miss me. I have no one to rely on but myself.

Kylo tries his best, he really does, he shoves the thing inside his chest down as deep as he can make it go. So lonely. So afraid to leave.

“And you ask me— you ask me,” Rey demands. “You ask me to leave them all behind, to watch them die, for what? For this? This future you saw for us,” Rey turns on him, stomps towards him, and Kylo almost thinks that she’ll reach into his chest cavity and rip his lungs out, she burns so hot. Like she had in that hangar on Hoth, when she’d leapt at him, pushed her way into his mind and shown him the Truth out in the White. Right. “This.”

And perhaps she can see where they’re standing, though Kylo can’t tell if she knows the significance, if she knows that this was the closest that Darth Vader ever had to a throne.

And Kylo will not stand for it.

“You think I’m happy,” Kylo demands, grabbing at Rey’s wrist as she brings up a fist to do what, he doesn’t know, because it hurts, it hurts. Yells, because it’s bursting out of his chest so badly. “You think I like wavering over the line, back and forth, simply because a Scavenger from Jakku opens up the bond and offers me the first hint of kindness and physical contact I’ve had in fifteen years? You think this is what I wanted to be?”

And maybe the truth comes spilling out a little too easy.

“Then leave!” Rey yells, and there is Force behind it, not like she’s shoving it out but like it’s fissuring at the edges, cracking down the seams, like breaking ice. “Leave the First Order. Iyour mother—”

Leia Organa is not who Kylo wants to think of, he’s in no mood to, she’s outplaying him by miles but there is a smaller part, a stronger part, of him that cannot think of Leia Organa, cannot process the image that Rey is pushing at him, of some not-far-off battle where he would watch a Flagship get destroyed by First Order cannons and wonder if his mother was aboard: would he feel her death, in the Force? Would it bend his spine in half, would it break him? Would he just be stunned, like when Han Solo had died, counting the seconds until Han’s body disappeared from view? Would he wait for the inevitable balance, in his chest, from finally picking a side, finally mooring himself in the Dark, only to realize that it did not come, it would never come, it was a mistake, what have I done

But more than anything he’s angry. He’s angry, feeding off Rey’s anger, too, the energy she’s bleeding out. It’s seeping into his skin from where his fingers are wrapped around her wrists like vices.

“I can’t leave,” Kylo says. “You think I can just leave? You think that Hux would let the Order collapse in my absence? You think that if I died one of my Knights wouldn’t immediately take my place?”

Kylo is expecting several different things: Rey to laugh at him, or not believe him. The Knights of Ren are Hyenax, watching him, unified even in their bickering. If they sense weakness they will consume him and immediately turn on each other to find the new Master.

What he isn’t expecting is the Dark that passes over her face, feels it in her spine, the possessiveness. I’d kill them if they even tried.

Kylo stops, and the fight bleeds out, and he takes everything in. Everything. They are too close now, closer than they’ve ever been, even in the elevator on the Supremacy, closer than they had been on his stolen Command Shuttle. He could practically count the individual sunspots on her nose if he really tried.

And he knows these thoughts so well they probably originate from him. She’s just feeling the contact. A contamination.

“Leave,” Rey tries again. It’s ironic, really, Kylo’s the one that has his hands clenched around her wrists but somehow he feels like the one in a vice. “Come— come with me. You don’t want to be here. You’re desperate for just an inch of solid ground to stand on. You’re so… empty. You have this thing inside your chest that wants to be filled.”

Stay out of my head, he nearly snaps, before he realizes how futile it all is, being here, asking her to shut the bond, asking her to make the dreams stop. The dreams won’t ever stop.

“I can’t,” he repeats.

No— Rey’s thoughts come, and someone else’s too, deeper, some coruscanti shadow that he doesn’t recognize. Don’t do this— “Why?”

“Because I killed my father for nothing,” Kylo snaps. “That’s why. That’s what that means.”

It’s only too late that he realizes what he’s done: Because I killed my father for nothing. His. His father. Not Ben Solo’s father. Not Han Solo.

His.

And Rey seems to notice it, too, because something shifts again, something physically between them. First he thinks it’s just the bond, burning, always burning, but no, there’s an actual change, a calling that he can’t name. Ignores.

“I am not that boy,” Kylo continues, desperate, trying to convince someone, anyone. Himself. “I’m not a smuggler who flies the Millenium Falcon. You can’t save my soul. I’m not that boy. I’m not the one that sleeps in a bunk just on the other side of the wall. I’m not the boy—”

who kissed you

And, oh, there are so many words bouncing around his brain, memories, thoughts, he can’t tell, he’s reached the point where he can’t differentiate anymore. He’s no longer a monster in mask, in these memories. Not like he was at the very beginning, not when Rey shoved them into his mind to hurt him. He is Ben Solo. He’s taken his other life’s place. He is the Ben Solo that had his father’s love and his mother’s pride and the Scavenger from Jakku. Kylo sees these other-memories through Ben Solo’s eyes, and the lie has become so bitter Kylo Ren can barely withstand the weight on his chest.

“You could be,” Rey says, wet, so wet it’s practically a keen. A confession, something that shouldn’t strike him in such a tender spot, and yet it does anyway.

It feels like something slotting into place: the whole reason they’re here, the whole reason the Force has been dragging them around like puppets. It feels like the Truth.

Could be. I would have gone with you if you had nothing, Ben Solo.

His only thought back in that place had been for Snoke’s throne, to end it, end the lie. Stop the pain. Stop the grief. Be what he was supposed to be. Burn it all down. Start something new, and forget all the weight of his guilt.

And yet it hurts him? It digs into him, like he’s having to yank out something inside his ribcage, to say, “I can’t. I’m not that boy, Rey. I’m not that version.”

And in another life Kylo Ren might realize how close they are, how he has the Scavenger in his arms, and it feels real, like she’s real, and maybe this is the first time that they’ve looked at one another since his ill-advised ambush when she hadn’t been wearing a shirt. Or when they were in another life, as other people, where his other self had pressed her up against the Falcon’s paneling and done what he should have done months ago, weeks ago—

In another life Ben Solo might realize how easy it would be to lean in and brush his lips against her cheek.

In this one, Kylo Ren has to resist the urge to give in. To ignore everything else and just rest, just for a second. Press his forehead against hers. To entertain the thought in someplace other than the space between sleeping and waking. Of leaving it all behind. All he’d wanted in the entire Galaxy had been to be named Snoke’s Heir. His shining achievement. Worthy. But everything he’s done since he cut Snoke in half with his family’s heirloom has been a counter-measure. Reactionary. To fill the void.

He feels safe enough to think, that strength you possess— and he lets his eyes take everything in. That strength, that ability to get back up no matter what they do. Let me borrow it. Just for a moment. An hour.

And Rey, like she’s heard him, lets him. She leans in, even though her wrists are still held in his too-large hands and she’s— short, how does he always manage to forget how short she is— and presses her forehead against his chin like he isn’t the Jedi Killer and she isn’t the Last Jedi, the last beam of hope in a Galaxy that he’s trying to burn and rebuild from the ash. And then something shifts, something changes, Kylo’s hands still tighten around her bones but it has a different sort of weight, a different meaning. Gentle, but it's such a gesture, such a tiny, tiny thing, that the thing in Kylo’s chest begins to hum with it. The nerve endings in his hands light up like she’s really here, on Moraband, in the hall of Darth Vader.

And Kylo hates himself just enough that he chases that hum even further. Can’t even begin to imagine what broken thoughts he’s shouting down the open bond, and shifts his chin so that his lips are pressed to her forehead instead, nothing but a press of his dry lips in this chamber full of durasteel and magma. This is no kiss. Not like the one Ben Solo’s had a hundred times.

Yet this version spears him in the chest in a way that the not-memories don’t. In this world— in this version, this is Kylo Ren’s first.

And maybe Kylo Ren has a memory of Han Solo doing this to Leia Organa. Some argument or another, he can’t remember, something unimportant that they had squabbled over in the way that they did. And maybe Kylo Ren had watched his father lean in and do this, just pressed his lips to his mother’s forehead and she’d quieted: calmer, warmer, gentler.

Maybe he shoves that thought down or locks it away, away with the rest of the memories he cannot bear the weight of.

Doesn’t stop him from feeling more like his father’s son than ever.

But the bond sighs, content. They are different things, but the thing inside Kylo’s chest seems to recede, too, the thing that’s had its thorns in his chest for months now doesn’t hurt so much, the empty place that demands to be filled feels full. Somehow their breathing synchronizes until one inhales and the other exhales. Thoughts and feelings float down each end of the bond and it amplifies it ten-fold until Kylo couldn’t care if they stood here for a hundred years like this.

“Ben,” Rey says.

Kylo isn’t Ben. Not anymore. The thing that’s kept walking after Han Solo fell is a husk and a lie. But it’s all he has, now. Ben Solo has his other life, in that space between sleeping and waking.

He isn’t Ben. But just right this second Kylo doesn’t have it in him to correct her. The bond is humming, for once, satisfied, and isn’t trying to rip him in two. His fingers trail down from Rey’s wrists until they’re lingering near her elbows. She lets him, her fingers press against his sternum, heat piercing underneath his Emperor’s robes, past the layers and straight into his skin. In the bond there is a hesitation, a question, a thought that neither of them have really acknowledge. Where is the line they cannot cross? Is this the line? Could they push it further?

Kylo has had a hundred dreams that begin just like this and has to remember that this isn’t the space between sleeping and waking, where he can’t remember which life he’s in.

He opens his eyes again— hadn’t realized that they were closed— and pulls himself back, because that temptation has never been stronger. Even with Rey’s borrowed strength he has one foot in one place and one foot in the other.

She cannot stay. He cannot leave.

However much he might want to.

And then— then the world seems to wake back up. He can hear the things around him again, atmospheric sounds, the burble of running magma and the hiss of electronic fields and systems that have kept this fortress running for sixty years. Rey pulls back and opens her eyes, too, and Kylo feels her withdraw whatever strength she had lent him. That something in her eyes shutters again. Dim and dark and— lost. As much as he doesn’t want to admit it, it hurts him somewhere behind his lung that he has caused this pain.

But there’s— something else? Something more that tries to catch onto him, some root that’s planted itself at his center.

Home, it seems to sing. Home, I’m here, I’m here, where have you been

Kylo frowns, and looks down to where their hands are still wrapped around one another, noticing the difference for the first time, the something, and spies something shining under Rey’s outermost layer, just over her sternum.

“Where did—” He begins, picking at the tiny thing with his thumb and forefinger, pulling it upwards so it comes fully out of Rey’s clothing. He can’t place it, for a second, knows that he should be able to, it practically sings with the Force. There’s… something, there, he knows this calling, he remembers it, doesn’t he? He knows he does. It’s warm, in his hands, and it almost seems to zip up his arm, settles somewhere familiar. It’s tiny, this crystal, probably not even big enough to power a ‘saber. But it’s so familiar. And it’s, hungry, too? Not the bad kind of hunger, his kind, the kind that’s never filled. And then Kylo remembers finding it in the river on Yavin IV in a different life, as a different boy, remembers the way that it had sang for him, remembers the way that it had stopped singing as the nightmares took a stronger hold inside him. Kylo’s voice is lilting, quiet, soft with wonder. He remembers this, but it’s different now, it’s different, it floods something through him, something he hasn’t felt but has been drowning him in the other place, the other version, the way that his heart starts racing every time he catches a glimpse of Rey—He can’t quite believe what he’s seeing. Where have you been, the kyber seems to ask. “Where did you get this?”

Kylo has enough time to feel it, through the bond before Rey panics

All he’s left with is the empty space where Rey had been and the empty space between his fingers too, still there, held perfectly where Ben Solo’s first kyber had been.

 

_________

 

Halfway across the galaxy, in a rebuilt Command Shuttle, Rey stands with her spine crooked, tilting, and presses a palm against the disturbed bit of shirt where the kyber rests. Because it hurts again.

On Yavin, she’d kept it with her, in her pocket. Held it in her palm while she meditated. Tried to pick apart the thing that didn’t feel right, about the Temple, about all of it. The not-memories. Searched. Searched for— what, she still doesn’t know. Answers, maybe. All she’d been given were more questions. More truth-lies and more voices bouncing around inside her skull. And a tiny little kyber crystal that could have called her from a million miles and she still would have found it.

She isn’t sure how he sensed it. But the recognition on his face haunts something Rey hasn’t let out.

The crystal is the heart of the blade, says Anakin, through the Force. The blade is the heart of the Jedi.

A tiny little rock from Yavin IV is the only thing that survives of Ben Solo.

Rey picks at it, too, just like he had. This tiny little crystal. The one that had brought her across star systems and sang home when she drew near. The crystal is the heart of the Jedi. The heart.

She touches the crystal now, and feels it respond. There’s so much coming from it that she can’t pick out individual things but she can feel the echo of the void in Kylo Ren’s chest. A desperation, a need to be filled. To come home. Like maybe Ben Solo, from this world, had picked up the tiny bit of kyber and worried over it, played with it in his palm over a day, a dozen days, a hundred days, a thousand days— maybe he’d sat with it while he took his notes or meditated or ate at the top of the Temple.

Maybe this little piece of kyber had just— picked up all these little pieces of Ben Solo.

“Rey!” Comes Poe’s voice, over the comms.

She jumps, violently shaken out of her thoughts, and scrambles for the button on the console. “Poe?”

“Oh, man!” Poe says, in that nervous sort-of-pained chuckle that he does. Something explodes in the background and people scream. “You better get here! You better fuckin’ get here quick!”

 

_________

 

The Knights of Ren are tearing the Amidala apart.

Kriff, Poe thinks, trying to track them from the bridge, calling out orders when he knows, he knows, that he should be out there in an X-Wing with Black Squadron, at least he’s fast enough to keep up with the black-cowled bastards. The Knights are flying too close to the Amidala’s hull to let their cannons take a shot, and are immediately swarming any of the X-Wings that they launch, five against one, in a formation that Poe almost wouldn’t believe if his people weren’t dying in front of his face. It’s the Supremacy all over again, he thought he’d learned from his mistakes, thought he’d been shoved down into the dirt so far he’d learned his lessons, but he’s having to watch them die and hear the screams over the comm systems just like then, and this is War, yes, but somehow he’d started to believe that they had a real shot at hope

And if that weren’t enough, three mid-sized destroyers show up mid-way through the Knights’ assault.

“Oh, fuck me,” Poe says, as they blink into existence, all of their hundreds of TIE Fighters bleeding out like a hive of angry rot-wings.

Poe would laugh if he wasn’t in the process of trying not to die.

This is not how this was supposed to go: they were just beginning to call their allies, this wasn’t supposed to be the first play.

He’s already called for help. He’s already done it, he’s sent out comms using Leia’s personal codes to the Millennium Falcon, to Rey wherever the hell she’s been, to Finn even though he can’t help them, he’s off on some hush hush mission with Rose and the ‘Troopers, to any of the thirty nearby allied ships. To Naboo and to any of the other half-dozen planets that have been rallying behind them.

“This is the Amidala,” Connix orders into the comm system, sending beacons out faster than the First Order can block them. “Amidala hailing, has anybody responded?”

There’s only static. She looks up at Poe over the console and somehow they both know that the First Order’s jamming their communications.

There is nobody to help them.

“C’mon,” Poe says, looking out at the massacre, trying to beat his mind into working properly— there has to be a way out, there has to be some crazy plan that would get them out of this, right? That’s how it’s always been, There’s always some loophole, some stupidly impossible scheme—

The Amidala could make the jump. They have enough fuel, this time. Aim for a sector with more of their allies. But all of their supports wouldn’t make it, and they don’t have enough time to launch the escape pods. They’d be leaving half of their people to die.

That’s the lesson they learned against the Supremacy.

There can’t be a Resistance if the Resistance all dies.

“Goddamn it,” Poe grits. Makes a decision. “Pull Black Squadron in. I’m not sending them to their deaths for no fuckin’ reason,” and nobody stops him, not even C3PO’s offended little ‘oh!’, and he moves to smack the button to open the anterior hangar doors.

“Hold,” Leia commands, suddenly at his side even though she’d been across the bridge only half a tick ago. She stops his hands with hers. “Just wait. Just wait, Poe.”

Leia looks out into the stars burning in the Mid-Rim, at what, Poe can’t even designate enough brainpower to guess, right now, he’s too busy trying not to panic, trying to play the smart game, outplay the board but the board has the advantage and he’s no Leia Organa. And kriff, it’s hard, it’s hard to wait when the hull of the Amidala trembles periodically from the cannon fire, it’s hard to fight his urge to bite back, it’s hard to resist the urge to jump into the first thing flying and at least die on his feet and not watch the Resistance burn helplessly like he had against the Supremacy.

But Poe doesn’t hear anything. Doesn’t see anything, either, just sees stars burning. Doesn’t see what Leia is so captivated by.

He tries to, stupidly, even though they are in the middle of an Intergalactic battle and they could all quite possibly get blown up in the next seventeen seconds.

“We,” Poe starts, and he’s a little bit hysterical with it and BB8 is not here to tell him that he needs to be thinking of happy beeps, he grasps at Leia’s hand on his arm, “Are not gonna die here—”

“Hold,” Leia commands again.

And then everything goes quiet. Even— even Poe stops at it. At the pause. Straightens up over the console, stops trying to move pieces across the board. The TIE Fighters flying in trip-formation stop firing, the big guns on the Destroyers stop firing, too. The hull of the Amidala stops shaking underneath them. The people that were bracing against the next impact stand back up again to look out the viewports.

He stands up straighter. Listens. There’s nothing but static on the comms, no help, nothing—

And then five life-size figures appear over the holoprojector in the main bridge’s console, glitching into life. It takes a precious tick for Poe to recognize the Knights of Ren. He’s only seen them in intel briefings, unless you count his unfortunate run-in with Kylo Ren. They aren’t wearing their masks, but he’d know those stupid cowls anywhere.

“General Organa,” one breathes. It sounds— kinda low, but that could just be comm interference.

And, ah, kriff, Poe’s had enough of Knights. And their stupid ships, and their stupid masks, and their stupid Lightsabers, even though they apparently aren’t wearing those masks at this exact moment, with the goddamn apparatus. Doesn’t stop Poe from feeling a bit sick, like his gut is swarming around inside him like it had when their Master had ripped into his head. The holos on the Amidala are capable of projecting everything within a ten-foot circumference. Everybody on the bridge knows this, and everybody somehow finds themselves outside that radius.

Everybody, of course, but Leia Organa.

She doesn’t move. She just stares at the five figures. Who stare back.

Leia doesn’t move, except for an evaluating twitch in her hands that Poe only knows because she’s used it on him, occasionally— just stares. Stares and stares and stares and Poe can’t tell if the Knights of Ren can feel it, kriff, it works on Poe and Poe isn’t even her target.

It works on every other person on the bridge, too, not a single one of them is paying more attention to the five Knights that have them trapped in an Intergalactic stand-off. Is there some Jedi thing happening that Poe doesn’t understand? Can Jedi feel the way that Leia can look through a person? Even if there’s ten thousand feet of Mid-Rim sector between them?

“You are commanded to surrender to the First Order,” says another, smaller, voice.  More soft-sounding. “Lower your shields and ground your X-Wings and we will cease fire.”

“And here I was thinking you were coming to present your terms of surrender,” Leia tells them.

Poe’s still desperately trying to finagle the console in a way that’s not visible to the projectors, to get their radar up and working again. Trying to do anything that might be helpful, anything that might work, anything that might get them out of this mess with their Fleet in-tact. If Rose were here she could jam the Order’s signal jammer and they could send out another beacon, but she isn’t, she’s on Hoth.

They’re stinging from too much loss already and the real fight hasn’t even begun—

“We do not offer mercy lightly, General,” a biggest one says. “Take it, or you will never leave your flagship again.”

And Leia, Leia fuckin’ Organa, just steps forward so the holosensors can pick her up loud and clear to transmit back to whichever Flagship this message is coming from, and something burns in her voice in away that Poe’s never heard before, and he’s heard her deal with some shit, he’s heard her deal with Han Solo— “Take your mercy and grovel your way back to your Master. You may tell the Supreme Leader that if he wants to talk, he can comm his mother like a good son.”

Ah, kriff— Poe thinks, shutting his eyes for the inevitable. We are actually going to die here.

Then he hears a new sound, a different sound, over the comms, and he opens his eyes again and recognizes it, floors the shields towards the bow to compensate for the hit that’s no doubt coming and stops, because he knows the sound of those modified C. E. C Subspace Hyperdrives. He looks up, looks up out of the viewports at the streak of light coming out of the hyperlane.

And Poe isn’t sure, he isn’t sure what does it, if it’s the appearance of a maybe-stolen, definitely modified, former-Supreme Leader’s Command Shuttle that does it, or if it’s some Jedi thing that Poe doesn’t understand, but the Knights’ holos look at something in alarm that the projector isn’t picking up and break apart and their ships suddenly veer off formation and scatter as Rey parks dead stop in front of the Amidala.

Like one tiny mid-range ship could protect a Crusader-Class Mandalorian Star Ship.

 

_________

 

“You led the strike against the Resistance Fleet,” Kylo Ren says, before his knights.

Ben, Rey bites at him, in his memory. The next Star Ship the First Order blows to dust could have somebody I love on it.

Without his mask, Vadat looks like he is struggling to keep his expression in check, as well as his presence in the Force. It’s flickering, angry. He’d been expecting praise from Kylo, from his Master. Instead the Knights of Ren had returned to ridicule. “We did as you ordered, Master. But the ship that appeared: it was yours. It even felt like you.”

The other Knights agree, in their own way, and Kylo keeps his spine straight. Other than Vadat’s irritation at being forced to call him Master, they are not omitting a truth.

It is not the reports of the Resistance’s Flagship— apparently called the Amidala, which is, of course, of course his mother would reject her Skywalker heritage but embrace her Amidala bloodline— coming under fire by his own Knights that unnerves Kylo Ren. Not even the knowledge that Rey had used his own ship against his forces, against his Knights, to buy enough time for the Resistance to jump to lightspeed by somehow— replicating his Force signature? He doesn’t even know how she could have done that.

No. That isn’t what unnerves him.

There is a part of him that is, is unnerved, the part that nearly gives in every night, the part that doubts, the part that wants to take the hand that Rey had offered him. But another part of him isn’t. No, he keeps the echoing in his head and bay, the twitch in his fingers, pushes it down where it can’t drown him. Bats away the panic, too, as a narrative unfolds before him.

The thoughts come unwanted, thoughts of a pain blooming in his chest on some day not far off, and then a silence, the worst kind of silence, the silence that would never end because Rey would be dead and gone and he would linger. Trapped inside a bond that only had one end.

No. That isn’t all that unnerves him. Kylo swallows, turns, back towards his Knights.

It’s that he’d given his fleet no such order.

 

_________

 

“Rey,” Leia breathes out. Her urge to hug Luke’s last apprentice is strong. Even if she looks healthier than she has in a long time. She breaks all sorts of protocols anyway and crushes the younger woman to her chest. “You may have just saved the entire Resistance.”

Half of the people on the Amidala are touched-starved and scared, walking heavy from loss, wandering from shock or wounded or confused, with their ears ringing. They were already in a dour mood, this morning. Now that mood is turning to something hungrier.

Still, they have their lives, and their Fleet, thanks to Rey. They’ve certainly walked away without before.

“General,” Rey says, muffled against Leia’s shoulder.

It takes her a moment, but Leia feels Rey return the embrace as the others clear out of the upper bridge. Leia does not have a storage-closed-turned-office on the Amidala. She is the General of the Resistance, and the Resistance is no longer fifty people huddled on a refugee Millennium Falcon. So people give her privacy when she asks for it.

When she releases Rey again, but at the last second keeps her just within arm’s reach and looks, something seems… different. Odd. Not quite what it had been.

A dimness. Something dim and hungry and dark and— familiar?

Leia narrows her eyes and takes it all in, like she could glare some shame into Luke even with the barrier of life and death standing in-between them.

“I take it you found what you were looking for on Yavin IV,” Leia guesses.

Something shutters, almost, in Rey’s expression, something not unlike the way Rey had been at the beginning of all this. She doesn’t speak, but her lips disappear into a thin, uneasy line. It stirs something in Leia. Something deep down, something that she hasn’t felt in a long time. Rey’s opened up so much since Hoth, since Coruscant, since Coyerti, and stopped carrying so much worry in her spine. Leia Organa’s seen one Jedi crumble under the weight of the whole galaxy: she refuses to watch it happen to another.

“Rey,” Leia presses.

“More questions,” Rey answers, with a shrug. It is, somehow, a Han shrug. “Every time I figure something out, I find another problem.”

“And I’m guessing my brother has nothing to say for himself,” Leia says.

It hadn’t been that far of a stretch. Luke’s presence in the Force has been strangely absent these last few weeks. Even now, the absence speaks volumes. 

Rey shakes her head. She pulls her hands out of Leia’s reach, and as she does, her fingers move to fiddle with something she’s wearing under her shirt.

Leia doesn’t immediately recognize what it is, as it sits in Rey’s palm. A tiny thing, a rock, a crystal— kyber? For a moment she’s about to ask if Rey found her first crystal, if that means that Rey will go and start the arduous and time-consuming process of making her own ‘saber. Leia remembers Luke forging his first, after the Empire fell, how it took him nearly an entire month to finish it. And not that Leia would say it, but now’s not the best moment, not with the First Order launching first strikes when not all the pieces are on the board, yet, moves and counter-moves, but—

And then Leia does recognize it. Recognizes where it came from. Recognizes what it feels like. Something shifts the world somehow. She hadn’t even noticed it’d been crooked. “Oh.”

“Yes,” Rey says.

It is a tiny little thing. And yet bright, also.

Leia does not have the finesse Luke learned after thirty years. She survives on instinct, mostly. But she knows that this stone radiates what her son had been, once.

Bright and hungry for knowledge. To learn. To be, to live up to the Skywalker name. Touch-starved for just a little bit of recognition.

Ben.

“I found it,” Rey tells her. She sounds far away and Leia does not look away from the kyber. “Under twenty feet of rubble, at the Temple on Yavin IV. It called me there. At least, I think it did.”

Leia can’t make herself speak. Can’t do it, can’t force the words out because her throat is suddenly dry. It hurts, the empty thing somewhere behind her left lung, an emptiness that’s been there for so long that Leia’s become accustomed to the way that it aches. There is a part of Leia that wants desperately to hold the tiny bit of kyber in her hands. Cradle it to her chest the way that she’d cradled the boy that had obviously imprinted on it: he had been a fussy child but she’d never known that kind of connection before him, the kind of connection to something that had grown inside her, knew what her heartbeat sounded like from the inside. Even from the earliest days of his existence as a combination of multiplying cells inside her he had felt like a burning star.

Leia’s fingers even move to touch it without her consent and Rey offers it to Leia like she’s more than willing to share it. This tiny, little bright spot that makes the whole room look dim.

But Leia stops herself at the last tick.

No. No, she, she cannot— she’d felt him in the Force, just before the bridge had exploded.

This piece of kyber is a relic. A forgotten piece.

She’d tried to reconcile it, the boy, with the man, the man that had killed Han. She’d looked, she’d dug deep, as deep as their connection would allow. Looked for the boy that’d had nightmares from the time he was an infant. He’d felt the same, in the Force. Dimmer. Darker. With an underlying taste of sadness. Maybe it would have been easier if he’d been a faceless, emotionless monster in a mask, like Vader had been.

But he’d still burned, like Ben. And all she could muster up had been sadness. Grief. For a son that she would never get back.

“And you called to it,” Leia she manages, after what feels like years.

That is such an unnecessary statement, Leia can’t help but think. She could be standing in a room full of a hundred bits of kyber and this one would still feel like it was shouting at Rey. Even Leia can feel the bond between the two. No wonder her brother had failed. It was like two planets from different star systems being caught in the same tether.

“It was,” Rey starts. “It was his.”

Leia can do nothing but rip her eyes from the kyber to Rey’s face and catches the avalanche of emotion there: confusion, hesitation, but underneath it all a hope that burns like ‘saber blades. Rey doesn’t look like she even knows what to do with it, this hope.

And because Leia recognizes that look: somehow, terrifyingly, it is a Luke look.

“Rey,” Leia cautions. “The boy that held this kyber— he doesn’t exist anymore.”

Rey, too, looks enamored with the crystal. Caught up in it. And Leia doesn’t press, doesn’t push, doesn’t cross the unspoken boundary, but there is a grief there too that she’s all too familiar with. It’s an angry, consuming grief. When Rey does look up there’s something else in her eyes. “I can feel him, still.”

“Oh, Rey,” Leia sighs.

Life is a funny thing. She’d had this conversation once, thirty-three years ago. In another lifetime. Maybe not the same, maybe not in the same situation, when Han had been encased in carbonite. It feels odd to be on the other side of it.

Leia does not know if she has the strength to tell Luke’s last apprentice that this piece of kyber is the last remnant of Ben Solo in this world.

And, like she’s heard Leia’s thoughts—“No,” Rey insists. “No.”

“They aren’t separate, Rey,” Leia insists. “My son is not separate from the Supreme Leader. They are the same. One cannot erase the other.”

If only they were, it’d make everything so much easier, everything, Han’s death and the Resistance and every person they’ve lost in the last eight months, the last three years, the last thirty years— but Leia has spent enough time thinking that they could get Ben back. She’d sent Han after him, even, ultimately to his death, that had been her. Kylo Ren’s crimes against the Galaxy and the Republic could not be dismissed as the crimes of another person, could not be brushed away. Kylo Ren and Ben Solo are the same boy. As hard as that is to grasp.

That was the hardest part. The knowledge that piece by piece, their son had been destroyed and replaced with something else. Destroyed himself.

And Leia— Leia was not Luke. Luke was good, he had so much forgiveness in him. Luke, Luke got to see the good of Anakin, before he died.

Leia doesn’t, and maybe that’s where Ben gets it. All she ever got from Anakin was the monster. The planet-killer. The nightmare that little children still whisper about at night, even though he’s been dead for thirty years. And Luke forgave him so easily. It was so easy for him to forgive Vader. To find their father underneath the apparatus.

Leia never did. She refused to speak his name, refused to tell Ben who he had been— that was a mistake. She knows that, now.

If she’d been more open with her son, he wouldn’t have been fooled by the shade that was Snoke.

“I made that same mistake once,” Leia says, after a long period of silence. “I thought that if I just looked hard enough, fought long enough, tried hard enough, it would be enough. If I just begged enough I could undo everything that happened, if I found Luke I could ask him what happened at the Temple, if I cut the First Order off at every pass I could get my son back. As much as I wanted to, as much as I would love to drag my son back to the Light by his ear—”

Leia cuts herself off.

Leia Organa does not cry: she did not cry at the death of her planet, and she did not cry at the death of her father, and she did not cry the death of her husband.

But like Rey, apparently, her tears come easier with anger. Frustration.

“He’s still in there,” Rey tells her, gently, softly, after a moment and takes Leia’s hand. The kyber sits just an inch away from Leia’s fingers and she can feel it stronger than ever, that pull— to what, Leia doesn’t know. To the Light, to the past, to Ben as he was before Snoke. And Leia tries and fails to pretend like Rey’s gesture doesn’t echo strongly with Holdo’s last words, doesn’t echo so strongly of pain and sacrifice. Like Rey, for once, seems solid and sure and true and not like she was at the beginning of all this: like Dameron’s droid could brush past her and she’d topple just from how physically strained she’d been. And maybe, possibly, like Leia has forgotten that she does, actually, need a living touch every once in a while because Luke is dead— lingers, but still dead, and Han is dead and Ben is gone and Chewbacca is off fighting to save them all. “I can save him. It isn’t too late. He’s still there— I can still feel him. He comes so close to the surface sometimes that it feels like I could reach in and pull him out. Nobody’s ever really gone.”

Nobody’s ever really gone, Luke had said, to her. Leia can almost hear the echo.

She doesn’t want to hope. Can’t afford not to, not with a Resistance to lead that’s so far been running on the vapors of angry, grieving people and fires— but between Rey and the kyber held in her palm Leia can’t help but be affected, that bright, burning thing that takes root somewhere deep that Leia can’t name.

The Rebellion was built on hope, yes. But after Han— she must have forgotten that, somehow. Stupider things with stupider odds have happened before.

“I can’t drag him back,” Leia says, narrowing her eyes at her brother’s last apprentice like it might change both their minds. “And neither can you. If— if Ben Solo still exists, somewhere, in this world, he has to come himself. That will, the thing that will breathe life into it, it has to come from him.”

 

_________

 

“Naboo has a Fleet,” Hux seethes, as they are given the latest intel briefing. “Naboo hasn’t had a fleet since the days of Queen Apailana! Who could have convinced them to join the Resistance?”

My mother, Kylo Ren doesn’t say.

 

_________

 

 

Their list of stupidity is steadily growing. They have a Stupid-pool going back on the Millenium Falcon, at this point, because each act of stupidity swiftly and derisively gets out-stupid-ed. And not that the stupid stuff hasn’t been working— they’ve stolen everything from power cells to Senators to rations to Command Shuttles to Stormtroopers to First Order Vehicles, and sewn as much havoc as they can while doing it, but even Jaye is getting to the point where the plans sound crazy, even to her.

And she’s a Riot-Trooper Demolitions Specialist. “I don’t like this, Finn.”

Finn doesn’t particularly like it, either. “When did you say the shift change was?”

“21:45,” Jaye tells him. They’re completely covered in shadow, and Atorra’s moon gives off no light at all. They’d be hidden even if they were still in ‘Trooper gear.

Sevens and Jackpot, possibly the biggest ‘Trooper Finn’s ever seen, are on the other side of the platform. “Could be late?”

‘Troopers aren’t late, though. Especially now, when tensions between the First Order and the Resistance have never been higher, because they’ve been throwing dirty punches for eight months and stealing everything they can get their hands on.

It sends a chill down Finn’s synthskin spine. “Maybe we should call it. I have a bad feeling about this.”

It’s not like they haven’t taken ‘Trooper lives. That’s not it: ‘Troopers get the short end of the bantha fodder stick in both directions. It’s not like Finn refuses to do it, but if things go bad on Atorra with such a small strike team they’ll start going bad other places, too.

“It’s just AM-storage, Finn,” Jaye says. “There’s a hundred other facilities spread across First-Order sectors. Toppling one won’t make that much of a difference.”

“Have you ever tried to outfit four-hundred and ninety-seven thousand ‘Troopers and thirteen thousand officers with regulation-gear and blasters,” comes Sevens, quietly, over the comms. “Trust me. This’ll make more of a difference than you’d expect.”

Jaye was Demolitions, Jackpot was Heavy Weapons, Sevens was Long-Range. The twenty seven other former ‘Troopers that have found their way to the Resistance since Starkiller are pretty much spread far and wide across the board. And Finn was— Well. Finn had been good, but had too much heart for a ‘Trooper. Maybe that’s where it all went wrong.

And maybe that’s why he knows he should call the op. Both Jaye and Sevens are right. There’s a hundred other facilities just like this one, and a hundred other opportunities to cripple the First Order’s supply routes.

Except the shift change does come, right at the moment that Finn signals for Sevens and Jackpot to move towards their evac points.

Jaye throws her hand out just in time and catches him before the platform lights blaze on and blind anything within three hundred feet.

Finn stops breathing for the longest fifteen seconds of his very, very short life.

For the longest moment Finn thinks they’ve been caught, they’ve been caught, and that’s horrifying, because they’ve done some stupid shit but this seems like an even stupider thing to die for. He can’t even imagine what Rose would think if she were here, what she’ll think when she gets the news that he stupidly got his stupid head shot of on some abandoned ammunition storage facility on Atorra.

Poe will probably laugh. And then blow up a Dreadnaught in his grief.

No, BB8 would probably blow up a Dreadnaught, grief frizzing its’ processing unit. Poe would probably just pour out a drink of some booze in his name. And then go find a First Order officer to hit. With an X-Wing.

“D’you see something, Twoes?”

Oh, man, Finn thinks, and closes his eyes just for good measure. We really are going to die.

“I didn’t see anything, RF-1299,” says the one on the left, and Finn snaps his eyes back open, not quite believing. The one on the left is definitely looking straight up at the sky. And not anywhere in their direction, or towards Sevens and Jackpot. “Red, did you see anything?”

Red, who doesn’t have a red thing on him but Finn guesses might have red hair, doesn’t get the signal. He looks around, normally, like a Stormtrooper is trained to scan the landscape around them in a z formation and definitely spots Finn standing pressed up against the durasteel of the facility in full view of the overhead lights, there is literally zero chance that Red can’t see him— until RF-1299 absolutely doesn’t smack Red’s arm very audibly with the butt of his blaster.

“Oh, right,” says Red, in the worst stage whisper that’s ever been whispered. Clears his throat. “Nope, don’t see anything at all, sir.”

 

_________

 

Korriban should steady them. Should recenter them in the Dark, should show them the path. They five, who are all that is left of the Praxeum, of Luke’s Temple. Maskless, they obey their commands wordlessly and without audible complaint. Yet still, still something slips out just as they are about to close in on it, corner it. Disappears. The Ghosts here don’t call to them like they do to their Master, but the deeper connection to the darker side of the balance shouldn’t ring so hollow. They have faced much worse than this.

Still, they carry on, they train, they obey, they fight, they stand, they are summoned, dismissed, summoned again, fight again, train again, and again, and again.

They dream. As much as they can. They only remembered nightmares when Snoke lived.

But sometimes— sometimes, they hear a calling. The pull, the push, the thing that exists in-between. A thing they have not felt in a decade.

And the Force has a long reach.

Ardal, please. Don’t do this! What’s wrong? Why do you have your ‘saber out, where’s Uhlan

Alor, the last of the Knights in this procession, stops. If the others hear the echo, the memory, the rot, they do not let it show either. Until they do, until the memory grows louder and fainter at the same time, like they are hearing it through thick durasteel or down a long hallway not unlike the one they are standing in. One by one they stop walking. Stop. Listen. Turn their heads to hear it better even though they would deny doing so. Their shadows stretch like long, thin trees at sundown.

Different voices. Long-dead voices. Fear. Terror. Almost like two separate afterimages playing at once.

Run, Ardal, run— and a different sort of voice, a scream, the undeniable ignition of ‘sabers, the sounds of explosions.

An echoing, over and over, and over, until it strikes at something that sends a searing pain into the hollows of their ears.

How could you

“That’s not what happened,” one starts as they listen, but he is silenced. No one silences him but the nothing, the balance, life and death and peace and violence: a thing that they have not felt in years. A thing that would bring them to their knees from the brightness of it, had they not stood through much worse.

Hirran turns to look at the nothing, in a direction that the rest of them ignore. Does not speak, never speaks. But frowns, the scars around her mouth stretching. Sees two memories laid over one another. Sees what has been paid. What has been lost. Snoke has been dead long enough that Hirran sees the seam around the edges where corrections had been made.

—Ardal! Get Ben out of here! Take him and run!

 

_________

 

Another battle. This one on the ground, on a mining planet along the Shag Pabol. This one is not Star Ships against Destroyers and X-Wings against TIE Fighters. This one is people. People who get up off of their knees, pressed into the dirt, not because they hate the maskless, faceless white ’Troopers in front of them, but because they love what’s behind them too hot, with everything they possess, with everything they’ve ever had or ever dreamed or ever lost. This one is people picking up whatever’s in reach and burning with the fire that the Resistance has started.

It lasts an hour, maybe. They call for help to all of the nearby channels, but Ylesia is a tiny planet. They know when they send the beacon that they are too far for any help to come in time.

But they die standing anyway.

 

_________

 

The War builds and builds and builds and builds and the both of them can feel through the Force, they know what’s coming, that they can feel the dam begin to leak, the push behind it becoming too much. They stand shoulder to shoulder, yet three feet apart, staring out the view port of the Amidala, with no one but the stars for company. Supreme Leader Ren and the Last Jedi, Rey of Jakku. Rey the Scavenger. Neither of them want to see the dam break, because then it means that they can’t ignore it any longer: they chose their individual paths. Kylo Ren can’t leave. Rey can’t stay. They will bleed. One of them won’t limp away one of these days.

Whatever destiny the Force has shoved at them, made for them, whatever balance— they are failing.

The words between them boil to a breaking point but neither of them speak. They do not speak of the last vision they had, where they had come so close to something that neither of them could name, where both of them walked away with the space just behind their lungs cracking like broken ice.

Kylo has so much that he wants to say, but turns it into himself, refuses to say them one second but almost bursts with them the next.

Rey can’t find the vocabulary to describe the thoughts bouncing around in her brain. Can’t tell him what she learned at the temple, can’t tell him about Anakin.

It wouldn’t matter. Wouldn’t make a difference. They’ve tried.

Eight months have passed and they are still where they were on the Supremacy. One can’t leave. The other can’t stay.

But, for once, they don’t immediately turn to violence. For once. They just accept that they are both here. A silence starts to sit between them like surface-still water with a dangerous undercurrent beneath. It stretches on, and on, and never starts to move. It’s the longest vision they’ve experienced. Hours pass. People come and go, for both of them: Poe and Finn and Rose and BB8 and Lieutenant Connix and Jaye and Sevens and Jackpot and the three dozen other former ‘Troopers that they have now for Rey. Hux and Alor and Rih and Vadat and Upper Command for Kylo, each on their individual ships.

But the vision does not stop. Doesn’t get interrupted like it usually does. They stare out the viewport like it isn’t the void that will drive them mad.

“He loved you, you know,” Kylo offers eventually, out of the silence. His voice is quiet, deep, deeper than she’s ever heard.

Rey doesn’t move, doesn’t let it slip that those words rip her from her own thoughts. Doesn’t let her head move more than a centimeter in his direction even though every nerve in her nervous system is aching with the urge to face him while he speaks.

“That Ben Solo.” Kylo says. “He loved Rey from Nowhere.”

In another world, this would hurt. In another world this would be the saddest, most painful thing that Rey has ever heard, worse than Han Solo can’t save you and you’re nobody and I don’t want you, Scavenger— but in this world Rey doesn’t move. Doesn’t breathe. Keeps it in and keeps it quiet like that isn’t the thing that she’s been waiting for, hoping for, wishing for, even if she didn’t know it. Keeps her eyes on the stars of the Mid-Rim. She doesn’t turn because like Ben Solo, Rey’s too expressive for her own good and she’s sure he’d be able to see how much that one single sentence manages to rip her in half.

Can’t let him feel what that does to her heart. Won’t let him feel the bitter sadness of it, because he himself divides the two in half, himself and Ben Solo— from the other place.

Ben Solo loved Rey from Nowhere.

Rey doesn’t let that leak down the bond, either, because there is a part of her that knows that this conversation won’t do any good. They are on the path, and they have failed. She’d tried, tried to make him hurt, to make him bleed. She’s tried ignoring him, tried to find serenity, tried to fight the actual Manifested Force in the form of Anakin Skywalker. Tried to beg with Ben, to plead with him, she’s got his kyber hanging down the front of her shirt, three inches from her heart where even now it burns and beats and sings home, home, take me home.

Nothing works.

They are in a gravitational pull: never getting closer, and never moving farther apart. And the Galaxy is bleeding out because of it.

And Rey knows, in this version Rey has never loved or been loved. Not until the Resistance. Never been valued. Never been missed. Not until the bond was born, and the thing inside her chest was awake. She is Nobody.

In this world, Rey accepts Kylo’s words for what they are: a gift. Not quite a peace offering, because they can never have peace between them. Not in this world.

In this world, this is the pause. The breath. The inhale before the blind jump. They will clash again, the pull is too strong for anything else. Rey doesn’t feel it in the Force, not like she dreams some things that do and eventually will happen, have happened. But the future that they saw, in the hut on Ahch-To— it’s been dead a long, long time.

But it’s a gift, all the same. Given freely, and without any anger.

“Yes,” Rey says softly. An admission. A gift, for him. And like everything, it feels like an echo from the other version. Yeah, I know. “I know.”

She does not say— Rey from Nowhere loved Ben Solo.

Rey of Jakku loved Ben Solo. Loved him so much it felt like there was a heavy weight on her chest. This Rey’s seen those other memories. She’s dreamt her dreams. The crystal around Rey’s neck warms, suddenly, like she’s been clutching it between her palms and it’s absorbed her body heat.

She stands straight and tall as a Jedi should because that’s who she is, somehow, not a good Jedi but trying to be, anyway, trying to be the thing that the Resistance needs.

Trying to be someone her Master can be proud of, at last. She does not bend. Not even at this.

Kylo offers up nothing more. The bond says plenty, beats, stretches, pulls at their strings like it could physically force them to close the three feet between them even if it was just to stand shoulder to shoulder, like they aren’t three million miles and two sectors apart.

The stars out the viewport of the Amidala continue to burn.

 

_________

 

The dam breaks.

Eight months, three days, seven hours and forty-six minutes after Vice-Admiral Holdo sent the previous Resistance Flagship crashing into the Supremacy at half-lightspeed in fractures of light, the First Order launches its’ first strike against the Resistance in the Perkell sector, along the Salin Corridor.

Kylo has spent not an insignificant amount of time flushing out the Resistance, tracking their supply routes as they so clearly are doing to the First Order. He does know how Leia Organa plays the game, has been paying attention, ever since he was small.

He’s narrowed down sectors and tracked them here— and he can see why.

Aargonar makes a natural stronghold, and its' silvery surface might just be the white that he’s caught in all those visions, at the beginning, and the topmost half of the planet has the climate for the cold. It’s far enough from a hyperlane that they’d be able to see an ambush coming. The Resistance Fleet seems to be turning starboard to face them.

“No sign of the Nubian Fleet, sir,” one attendant informs Hux. “We aren’t getting any signals on the Cronau radiation detectors, either, there doesn’t seem to be much on the planet’s surface.”

“Good,” Hux replies. “Do it.”

In less than sixty clicks, they’ve cut the Resistance off from Aargonar’s surface, from all sides.

Which is exactly what Leia Organa anticipated. Aargonar is in the Perkell sector, and it’s practically deserted, neutral territory not near any of the First Order’s strongholds and far enough away from a hyperlane that getting sandwiched between their Fleets is unlikely, at least without any warning. Chances of civilian casualties are slim at best, even though Intergalactic space battles tend to go bad real quick. The Field of Giants on Jakku is a testament to that.

It’s a good move. Goddammit, it’s a good move. Poe’s almost angry that the Resistance didn’t think of it themselves. “I hate that red-haired pasty looking son of a bit—”

“Master Dameron!” cries C3PO.

“Oh, don’t give me that,” Poe spits, immediately plugging in the co-ordinates as Leia told him too.

“Shields at full,” says one of the senior Engineering Core-men. “Fuel is also at max capacity. We won’t be able to block their big hitters but we should be able to withstand everything else.”

“Should?” CP30 asks. “I’m so sorry, could you clarify your exact statistical probability for me—”

“Incoming!” Poe warns, watching as the ports on the Trespasser begin to open, usually indicating that they are about to be blown to bits.

“Let them,” Leia Organa says. “Start the defensive formations.”

“Eight months,” General Hux sneers, on the Trespasser. “Eight months and this is all the Resistance could muster? Three Star Ships and a handful of supports?”

Kylo Ren, next to him, says nothing. He has Commanded the First Order as best as he is able, designed battle strategies as only the son of Leia Organa could have, but his face reveals nothing. He feels the tension, in the Force, snapping threads one by one as the assault begins, but the bond is shut. There is nothing there, like the bond never existed in the first place. He cannot sense her. Where are you, some foreign version of himself asks, something wrong, something— new. He looks, and he looks, the thorny thing around his lungs tightens with worry as he tries to figure out which Resistance frigate she could be on, if she’s sticking close to the Amidala in hopes that he’ll halt the heavy artillery fire and call off the Dreadnoughts.

Even Supreme Leader Ren doesn’t know if he would.

Don’t you? Comes his Grandfather’s far-off voice, like he’s speaking from a great distance. Would you destroy a planet if you knew she was standing on it?

Kylo Ren ignores him. Tries to.

But something has shifted somewhere in his chest and instead of a will of durasteel because this is the moment, the moment that he fulfills his purpose, the thing he has been bleeding for his whole life, this is it— but instead he feels like he could come flying apart at the slightest hint of her. Stop it, you stupid, stupid boy.

The first volley from the First Order fires and does nothing but spark against the Amidala’s front-facing shields, but both sides are expecting this opening strategy. X-Wings and TIE Fighters and smaller combat ships start pouring out of each side like angry rot-wings out of their hives and trading bows themselves while the bigger ships focus heavy artillery on one another.

Those on the Amidala withstand it as best as they can, bracing against the consoles on the bridge and down in the launch bays and hangars, against the X-Wings that haven’t launched yet because time is what they need to buy, not cheap shots, not First Order support ships or Dreadnoughts, but time.

Those on the First Order grow restless with just basic volleys. They could obliterate what little remains of the Resistance in ten minutes.

“Supreme Leader, we outnumber them almost four to one,” Hux informs Kylo, like he isn’t capable of counting himself. “Focus fire on their Flagship and be done with it.”

Kylo barely bats an eye at the wave of irritation wafting off the General like an unpleasant bodily smell— Armitage Hux has been outplayed by Leia Organa at almost every turn and it is getting to him.

No, that isn’t what makes him peer out of the transparasteel viewports on the Trespasser’s bridge. It’s the— missing— pieces? He knows that Organa must be on the Amidala but he cannot feel her. Can’t feel Rey. Can’t feel—

Where is the Millennium Falcon?

“No. Continue the push. Bring out the Dreadnoughts.”

The First Order has two remaining Dreadnoughts, newer versions than the one that Poe Dameron destroyed, simply because they hadn’t been finished when the Supremacy had tracked down the fleeing Resistance and Snoke had underestimated him.

The Dreadnought moves into formation but no Resistance Bombers launch from their Flagship— the Amidala, Hux believes it’s called—“I see Dameron learned his lesson.”

“Easy, Poe,” General Organa cautions, on the Amidala. “They’re just trying to draw us out. This is the early game.”

Poe Dameron absolutely does not clench his jaw and itch for something to shoot at the Trespasser with.

Dreadnoughts hold a lot of memorandums. A lot of nightmares. A lot of guilt. Piece of shit. “How much longer we gotta keep this up, General?”

Leia Organa does not look nearly as concerned as one might expect, especially considering that those Dreadnoughts are lining up so their ion cannons would make a direct hit on the Amidala— which they are currently standing in. “As long as we can. We’ve done dumber things before.”

Poe feels a strange sort of comeuppance crawling up his spine and wonders if this is what being his commanding officer had felt like. “Any other stupid things we should be doing?”

“Yeah,” answers Lieutenant Connix. “Praying they didn’t have enough time to secretly make another DeathStar.”

In the main hangar of the Amidala, as the durasteel routinely shakes from the shields disbursing incoming ion cannons, the Millennium Falcon is sputtering desperately to life for one more fight.

“I don’t need your tone,” Rose Tico bites. “We wouldn’t be in this situation if you’d just let me strip the Torpex Flight Computer and install a new one that isn’t a hundred years old—”

Chewbacca does nothing but snap at her with one of his short, no-nonsense tolerating burrs.

“I heard you the first time!”

On the Trespasser, the Dreadnoughts are sending status updates every fifteen seconds as to the readiness of their cannons, and every second that passes another Resistance X-Wing winks out of existence— their TIE Fighters are faster and more durable and half the Resistance X-Wings look like they are decades old at best.

Where are you— Kylo thinks, still searching, at this point barely paying attention to the battle happening right in front of him. It’s unlike like her to not be here, he knows that they’ve been avoiding this very moment this whole time, the next Star Ship the First Order blows to dust could have somebody I love on it

Did you run, Kylo wonders. Just a little bit hurt. But glad, too, glad that this will not be the day where one of them dies by the other. He can’t remember who he was trying to fool, maybe himself, he doesn’t want Rey to fall, he doesn’t want the bond to go silent.

But the bond is empty now, like it never was.

You think I’m happy

Then leave! I, your mother—

“Supreme Leader,” one of Upper Command asks, ripping him out of his own thoughts. “Your order, sir.”

Don’t do it, comes Anakin’s far-off voice once again, but this time instead of dismissing it, Kylo stumbles over it, thinks, keeps thinking, tries to out-play Leia Organa, tries to figure out if she’s three steps in front of him, tries to figure out what he’s doing, why he’s here, you stupid, stupid boy, why, why, why

He doesn’t even have the time to give an answer, doesn’t even know which answer he’ll give

“Hold, Poe,” Leia commands, on the Amidala.

“They’ll break through our formation,” Poe informs her, watching the way that their support ships are taking more fire than their shields can handle. Much more and they’ll lose their medical ships which is bad news for everybody involved—

“Let them. We aren’t the ace, Commander Dameron,” Leia tells him. “We’re the bait.”

“Harder,” Hux orders, on the Trespasser. In Kylo’s memories, slow, he’s too slow, he’s too late—More. Fire every gun we have on that man! “Push them back. Cement them between us and our right flank.”

More— echoes the Force as every red flash of ion blast and cannon had fired at Luke Skywalker, over and over again, a hundred times over as he’d watched and it hadn’t been enough, it hadn’t filled the writhing thing inside his chest that still felt hollow, hadn’t made any of his old wounds stop hurting, hadn’t made any of his fears recede, hadn’t stopped his heart from bleeding—

“No, no, no,” Poe’s voice pitches high as the ion cannons on the two Dreadnoughts begin to light up like collapsing stars, whirring and gathering particles the way that they do, as it hits that they really might be about to die. Everything lights up, even outside the viewports as they brace for the big impact, as the engineering core flips all of the Amidala’s shields to her front, so far the Amidala’s taken everything the Trespasser’s thrown at them but those Dreadnoughts are another thing entirely, hopes the Amidala will take the brunt of it, Poe doesn’t think that their support ships could take a blast with that much kick, and they may just be about to die for it, damn it

The blow never comes.

It all goes quiet as the world fades back into place. Slowly. One color after another.

The Amidala’s shields never lit up with the discharge.

As one the bridge opens their eyes and looks past the Trespasser and sees a fleet of three Star Ships and seven cruisers, painted the colors of Yellow and Silver.

“We’re with you, General!” comes the Commander of the Nubian Fleet, and Poe doesn’t have enough time to open up the comms to send a response, to send the updated battle plan, because there’s a flash of light on the other side of Aargonar’s moon too and then a voice comes screeching over the audio systems of the Amidala

 

_________

 

“—AS IS MANDALORE,” yells Darra Viant, into the highly encoded and highly secured Resistance comm line.

Darra, tenth-born of House Viant, eighth-in line, only not anymore, not now that every last one of her siblings have abdicated under mysterious terms. Darra Viant, who grew up listening to stories about her, the Hutt-Slayer, Leia of House Organa, Princess of a Long-Dead Planet, Sister to the Last Jedi, Mother of the Resistance

Not the first. Not the last, either. One of hundreds. One of thousands.

A fire that the Resistance started.

The right-hand flank of the First Order blockade turns to the Mandalorian Fleet, Mandalorian Star Ships flying Viant colors of white and red, like they’ve just noticed that a whole Fleet has materialized out of thin air from the next quadrant over—

Darra grins. “Admiral! Shoot that ugly piece of House Vizsla shit out of the sky! Haat, Ijaa, Haa’it!”

 

_________

 

On the Trespasser, General Hux stares down his nose at the Mandalorian and Nubian Fleets and spits, “Your mother has not been idle, Supreme Leader.”

No, Kylo Ren thinks, too stunned to be angry. No, she hasn’t.

 

_________

 

While the Resistance and the First Order are engaging in the upper atmosphere, Aargonar has turned into a battleground. There is a flat valley surrounded by a mountain range on three sides and it is there that the infantry and Ground ‘Troopers collide. The ‘Troopers set up their formations in endless lines and formations while being pelted by six X-Wings from Black Squadron— Black Squadron who should, by all accounts, be defending the Amidala.

“Suck it, you tin-canned, conniving, nasty goddamned—”

Pava,” sighs Wexley.

“Shush, I am working,” Pava says, executing a rolling move that would make even Poe Dameron nauseous. It doesn’t help that his BB unit is riding in her droid compartment, shrieking little droid-shrieks.

The ‘Troopers deploy their aerial defense strategies and start lining up their All Terrain Tactical Enforcers and firing shots at Pava and Wexley and the rest of the Black Squadron pilots, but the pilots have the advantage of the setting sun reducing visibility.

Just as the Resistance planned.

And for six X-Wings against ten thousand ‘Troops, they manage to keep the Squadrons focused primarily on them, at least for three minutes, scoring Aargonar’s surface with busted All Terrain vehicles and scorch marks where their blasters hit, the ‘Troopers can’t do much more than brace against the ground or against their heavy artillery vehicles and comm for assistance from the Fleets— of which, the First Order fleets up above are too busy getting played at their own game and getting sandwiched between three individual fleets that now equal their numbers, with no method for escape. No one could make it through atmo even if they did hear the beacon.

But ‘Troopers are well trained, their Captains used to this sort of heavy fire, and it isn’t long before they are ordered to start shooting back.

Only their ion blasters go wide: the cannons fire three seconds too late, the AT-TE’s swivel to fire at an X-Wing that rolls behind them.

“What’s the matter with you,” demands Captain WN-4777. “You wouldn’t be able to hit the side of a Star Ship with that thing.”

And WN-2638, who is definitely WN Squadron’s best shot, who’s made a shot off a womprat’s ass at three hundred yards, shrugs his shoulders and gestures to the All Terrain Cannon as another X-Wing goes sailing by. “I’m sorry, sir! I don’t think it was calibrated.”

This is the game: and Pava and Black Squadron are good at keeping the ‘Troopers looking up, hitting where they never expect and zigging when they’re supposed to zag.

And then.

Then they all hear something, over the singe of blaster fire and AT-TE’s stomping footsteps, something else, somehow. The cannon operators and the Heavy Artillery ‘Troopers and the Supports and the Captains they turn, as a unit, and look, blink past the streaks of sunlight in Aargonar’s atmosphere and see that, no, those aren’t trees on the crest of the hill. Those are people. Thousands of them.

Every fire. Every fire, every rebellion, Coyerti and Coruscant, the mining planets and Bespin and Tattooine and Naboo and Mandalore and Jakku and Yavin, all of them, all the fires. They are here. The ‘Troopers look up to the high ground and see lines on the hill that stretch as far as they can see. All the Fires that they’ve fed.

These are the bitter ones. The angry ones. The good ones have been dead for too long. These are the fires that knew they were going to die and decided to burn anyway.

The First Order has two hundred thousand at their command in this fight and the Resistance has a tenth of that and somehow— somehow, still manages to fill them with dread. For all that there is motion and panic and a stunned sort of dawning in the ‘Trooper ranks there is also silence. For every hundred ‘Troopers there are ten that have whispered about running, trying to be one of the lucky few that actually made it, and for every hundred there are one or two that have actually helped the Resistance. The X-Wings will shoot them dead in any case.

But maybe that little act of defiance before death will be enough, they think. Maybe that will be enough to make a singularity out of a crowd of four hundred thousand.

But Upper Command of the First Order are not fools, either.

They had no intention of losing their infantry on a battlefield when there were Star Ships exploding up above their heads. No. They sent an edge. An advantage.

A black transport ship descends from mid-atmo, not unlike a certain stolen Command Shuttle that a Nobody from Jakku stole four months ago. It lands in the middle of two lines: between First Order and Resistance, and three figures descend from the ramp.

It changes everything. It changes how the fear tastes.

The Resistance troops train their own heavy artillery on the Knights of Ren— knowing, just by reputation, that they’ll slit through their lines like, well, a Lightsaber through reinforced Mandalorian durasteel. They know this.

The Knights of Ren know this.

They have an order. A task to complete. Some of them have methodical intentions, just to find the quickest path to obeying. Others want to get as much enjoyment out of their order as physically possible.

“Ysser should be here,” Vadat says. He sounds almost happy, like the day is almost over but they haven’t reached the best moment, yet. “We’ll get the most bloodshed by far.”

Rih says nothing, but adjusts his gloves. They’ve never fought a battle without their masks before. And then, “Ysser will get his own share.”

Hirran Ren says nothing.

Says nothing, but looks at the lines and lines and lines, their heavy artillery vehicles, half-broken blasters in their hands. Their fires.

“That,” Finn says, a hundred feet away in the Resistance ranks. “Does not look great.”

“The little one isn’t here,” Jackpot tells. “We’d all be dead already if the little Knight was here. Maybe we are being blessed. ”

This does not make Finn feel any better about the situation. He still remembers the village on Jakku, when he turned away from the First Order. Remembers the way that it had slid down his spine just like it does now, the way that his hands had shaken like his bones were vibrating like that vibrating blaster bolt Kylo Ren had frozen mid-air. Swallows. Shoves it down.

And that had only been one Knight. Not three.

Breathe, girl,” Sevens says to Jaye, who for once looks like a completely different person. No grin. No laughter. No questionable incendiary devices.

She’s standing with the rest of them shaking down to her boots at the sight of the Knights of Ren. She’s white as a ‘Trooper helmet.

They all are. Finn doesn’t even have enough time to wonder at Jaye’s reaction, like maybe she was one of the unlucky few ‘Troopers that got assigned to a Knight. No, he doesn’t have the time. He keeps his eyes on the First Order formation. The Resistance may be fires and some of them may be ex-‘Troopers but for every hundred ‘Troopers they stop five hundred more children will be stolen to take their place. And that’s if they can make it past the Knights.

But neither side fires, no one moves to step forward. All they do is wait, wait, wait

Waiting for the Knights to move.

And yet the moment they do move to form their strike positions as a singular unit, raise an arm to grab at something in the Force, Finn can’t tell what, an X-Wing comes carving out of the battle above their heads in low-atmo and skids along the silver grass of Aargonar, kicking up a trail of billowing dust in its wake. It passes within inches of Vadat Ren, the front-most Knight. The Knights of Ren do nothing, don’t move, would nudge the X-Wing minutely out of their path if it came too close, or toss it like a doll, depending. No, the X-Wing sails by and scars the earth before it tumbles and tumbles and finally explodes against an outcropping of silver rock and the Knights of Ren do not even budge.

Their black capes swirl in the torrent of wind it creates but other than that, there is no movement on the battlefield, not counting the Intergalactic battle going on a hundred thousand feet above their heads. Exploding ships burn out like shooting stars.

But out of the cloud, directly behind them, comes the Last Jedi.

They don’t sense her. The Resistance troops can see her, squint to try and pick her out, Finn nearly shouts from it but bites it back down before it comes bursting out of his throat, but the Knights don’t, they don’t turn, don’t turn long enough for the dust to begin to clear.

And then Rey opens her connection to the Force, and they do.

Up above, up, a hundred thousand feet above, on the Trespasser, Kylo Ren rips his attention away from the battle, where the Mandalorian and the Nubian Fleets have cut them off from their left and right flank. One by one they are losing their support ships and the Dreadnoughts are taking heavy fire from Nubian Strikers and the Mand’alor Special Guard, and the First Order is doing everything they can to match them shot for shot— but the bond opens, it opens, it floods through him, grabs at him and he looks desperately in the direction that it’s coming from. Rey is not on the Amidala, or on the Falcon, which has yet to appear. He reaches out through the bond and, to his horror, sees three of the Knights of Ren.

And Rey.

It is so easy to slip back into it, get pulled, pulled down to Aargonar’s surface without even blinking, he just turns and all of a sudden he’s there— and Rey, Rey—

This is not the Scavenger, the Girl, the Nobody. This isn’t the Rey he’s seen in half a hundred visions and dreams, the one he knows in two lives. With rags wrapped around her arms and a staff strapped to her back and engine oil smeared across her forehead. This isn’t the one that’d stolen his breath from his lungs and made him act. Decide, after so long, that he was going to betray Snoke. Made him wish. Want.

And Kylo doesn’t know how he knows it— but he does. This is The Last Jedi.

Gone are the rags, and the criss-crossed fabric and sensible, reused vests. Gone are the layers and layers of jackets and coats and gloves that never managed to keep her warm enough. Instead, Rey wears an off-white uniform and pieces of scavenged, metallic armor. Mismatched, yet somehow it feels whole.

She is resplendent: sun-kissed and scarred and more than she was. Has always been this, somehow, but now it burns.

If nothing of him survives this, if nothing else, he wants this feeling to linger in the Force. Like Anakin’s echoes, calling, reaching out. This feeling, like his breath is leaking out of him.

Rey, Kylo tries. Please.

She does not answer. Does not even flinch.

The Knights turn as one, like they are interconnected, to face her. They do feel— strange, in the Force, now that she’s here in front of them and not remembering them from someone else’s thoughts and dreams.

Like they are connected, somehow.

She has seen them in her own nightmares, too, in that Force Vision, the first one, from the first time she touched Skywalker’s ‘Saber. In a torrential downpour. That past is gone now, Rey knows. Something changed it.

Kylo isn’t here, either, Rey knows. He’s— up, above. Far away. She can’t feel him. Can’t devote enough of her attention to try and find him in case the Knights make a move.

So, no. This is not her vision.

And all of them are aware of every pair of eyes on them. The breath, before the plunge. The waiting game to see how this will pan out. Each side ready to fire on the other, Rey can feel them, she can feel Finn, in the Resistance ranks. She can feel the others, too, individual lights at the edge of her net that she’s grown to know so well in the past eight months. They have cannons aimed at the First Order, too, and there are X-Wings and TIE Fighters circling above their heads, waiting for an order that hasn’t come. Above them, too, Rey can feel the hundreds of thousands of people in atmo. Some blinking about before she can even count them.

But here, on Aargonar, Rey does not blink.

One of them— Rih, Rey knows from not-memories. Rey sees him as he is and as he was, before, sixteen and falling face first into the water on Yavin IV. The years haven’t been kind to him. They’ve made him old. Drained.

It has for Vadat, too, but in a different way. Vadat wears the black cloak well.

There is a third Knight, too, but so far hasn’t so much as breathed in Rey’s direction, too busy being a statue in the background. Rih pauses, and tilts his head. “Who are you?”

“Nobody,” Rey says.

I’m Nobody. As if that weren’t the catalyst for all this.

“Nobody,” mocks Vadat. “You do not even have a ‘saber.”

And Rey, Rey doesn’t flinch, doesn’t move to take her staff, the same staff she ripped off the husk of the Ravager when she was ten years old. She just levels a stare at them through the settling smoke and says, “I don’t need one.”

The Knights of Ren have ended whole planets, whole cultures, their lists of sins would weigh down hundreds of murderers and yet this child challenges them like she could easily best them. Vadat and Rih are not the kind that will tolerate this kind of insolence, ever, not even in their own kind— even if there is something familiar about this girl, something strange, something like a tether disappearing into nothing.

And Hirran makes no move for or against, which is as good a permission as they ever get.

Rih and Vadat begin to pace in a predatory circle, opposite of Rey, who does not let them divide her attention.

It’s a dance, in a way, if dances had half a dozen memories using her brain for spare parts, and if partners used angry sticks of solidified light to hack each other to pieces. And she’s perfectly aware that she has a five foot long piece of durasteel slung over her back for protection. Yet it doesn’t shake her, doesn’t feel like the ground beneath her feet is splitting open like it had out in the White on Hoth.

They ignite their ‘Sabers as they always have, like he does, by lashing out.

Rey knows their designs from not-memories, but they aren’t all that different from his. The blades of the ‘sabers themselves aren’t angry and unstable, they are solid and have a near razor-like edge to them. Vadat has a longer reach. The First Order won’t fire if she keeps the Knights between them and the Resistance. The Resistance won’t fire if she stands between them and the First Order. The Knights won’t carve through the Resistance, either, if she can hold them here.

As the Knights circle around and Rey steps between them and the Resistance troops the sunset casts long shadows like tall trees, Rih and Vadat get no closer to her, but put more distance between each other.

And from the Force, a voice—trying to divert your attention.

This voice and Kylo’s not-memories supply more information than she knows what to do with. Vadat is a striker and Rih a sweep: together they make a nearly undefeatable opponent against a single foe. She has watched them train and watched them bleed, watched them succeed in their tasks over and over and over again, she has a hundred memories of them kneeling in obedience to Snoke. They knelt to Kylo Ren, too, but not from obedience.

And up, ten thousand feet above their heads, Kylo Ren is pushing his way into their heads, stop, he commands, does it without thinking, the Jedi is to be brought to me unharmed!

Rih and Vadat do not heed this command. They don’t even respond, no matter how hard he pushes. They could be shutting him out, too eager for bloodshed as they always have been, or something could be stopping the connection, Kylo can’t tell.

Rey, on Aargonar, lets her instinct guide her steps. Maybe— maybe something more than that, but she does not take her eyes off them. She does, however, sweeps her staff out of its’ place against her padded armor and let it roll down into her right hand. Keeps her grip loose. Durasteel will not stop a Lightsaber. But it has never failed her before.

You were made to undo those footsteps.

Vadat has no skill for mind tricks but Rih makes an attempt to push past her mental wall of thousand-foot durasteel as they circle back around again. It falls so short of the bond that he doesn’t even leave a dent.

Kylo’s first push into her mind had felt a thousand times worse, Snoke’s had, too, on the Supremacy. No, Rih’s attempts can’t even compare. It makes him falter.

Falter because there is a child before them who feels off, in the Force, who does not have a ‘saber but is ready to go up against two Knights of Ren, anyway, with a durasteel stick.

Who feels like a burning star in the middle of a dark void.

Rey, Kylo tries again, his hands wrapping around the console on the Trespasser, ignoring the sounds on the bridge behind him and the officers and Hux, but the bond feels like a void, like it’s sucking up everything from here to Aargonar’s surface.

“You are going to die, you know,” Vadat says. “You don’t need the Force to see it.”

Darkness rises. And light to meet it.

“I’m am,” Rey answers. “But I’m here, anyway.”

And then a First Order ion cannon fires, directly at the Resistance Formation. At the Knights of Ren. And, by definition, directly at Rey.

It is an almost-liquid beam of angry red light that seems to stretch and stretch and stretch and stretch from one end of the battlefield to the other before it catches up with itself.

An angry red beam of light that would have blown the exterior hangar doors on Hoth wide open, like it was a ’saber to durasteel.

Two things happen simultaneously, on opposite sides of the battle. First, Kylo Ren, on the bridge of the Trespasser, cannot contain his anguished warning into the bond: his voice breaks from a scream and several of the control panels around him shatter. Secondly, without thinking, without feeling, without hearing Kylo Ren’s warning, Rey stops infinitesimally but doesn’t look, doesn’t turn her head at the sound of the blast, but with everything she has, flings her free hand out behind her in a way that almost hurts.

She feels the anger, the burn. But instead of holding onto it, letting it fester as she always does, it simply passes through. Flows. Goes from the edge of one finger across her chest and out the other side. Like knocking Anakin Skywalker on his ass. It just— goes. Everything brightens. That tight thing in her chest that has been bleeding for months unwinds, and Rey finds herself standing a little taller for it, breathes a little easier. And then she takes. It’s easy, really, to throw her hand out and grab at the ion cannon, like she was grabbing at a drop of water, a gust of wind, a twist of smoke. It resists, as much as a ball of compacted energy can resist, pulls at her, vibrates and sizzles, almost. And, impossibly, she feels the Knights of Ren, feels their surprise. Doesn’t understand why, until she does.

This is his move.

Kylo does not flinch: he just stares, stares, leans over a console towards something that no one else on the bridge of the Trespasser can see. Stares at her, at Rey, because he remembers how long it took him to master it, how hard it is to do. Remembers doing this on Jakku but that was only one blaster bolt, not an ion cannon.

Not even Luke Skywalker would have been able to stop a blast that big—

I’m a scavenger, he hears, from the past. I’ve always been good at ripping old things apart.

Rey looks at the Knights each in turn: standing there still in their formation. Rih, who looks envious, Vadat, who looks almost angrily starstruck yet laced with suspicion. The both of them look like they’re seeing her as an opponent for the first time and not some plaything to whet their appetites before the real bloodshed begins. Hirran, covering the rear: with her Rey gets absolutely nothing. No flicker of emotion. No crack in her exterior.

She challenges all of them with a smile that isn’t her’s. Lets it sink into their bones, this uneasiness that she feels in their signatures.

The ball of energy continues to sizzle, unstruck, almost angry that it has been kept from its target. It zaps and burns and flinches, almost while Rey forces it to stay put suspended six feet in the air. The muscles in her arm strain from the sheer effort.

And whatever move she’s made, the First Order does not fire any additional blasts. Neither does the Resistance. It grows into a strange sort of ceasefire. Eyes watching, waiting, unbelieving. Rey feels them all. All hundred thousand of them. The ‘Troopers in their formations and on top of their All Terrain vehicles, down in the ditches as they turn to watch. The Resistance, too, watching. Like they had watched Luke.

Rey looks away from the Knights and finds Kylo Ren standing before her, superimposed over the landscape of Aargonar.

They say nothing, words could not carry enough meaning between the two of them, but the bond says plenty. He is fascinated, not jealous, not angry, but filled with an affectionate, bewildered wonder. It tastes strange on her tongue, what little of her mind is left to contemplate it. But what hasn’t been strange between them, lately? Everything is different now. Creaks under more weight.

And her arm shakes from the effort of holding something meant to go so fast completely still, but she does not waver, does not blink.

“I will bring you home, Ben Solo,” Rey bites out from behind gnashing teeth. Glares up at him, like he’s really standing three feet next to her and not on the Trespasser a hundred miles above their heads. And she looks, to him, unreal, unfathomable, unknowable. Burning. Like a singular star on a dark horizon. “All of you. Or not at all.”

And damn him, Kylo Ren nearly nods his head on the bridge of the Trespasser.

Rey holds it for as long as she can but ultimately lets out a scream that has been pressing in on her chest for months and she flings the ion blast around, like it was water, and sends it hurtling right towards Vih and Vadat and Hirran.

The blast misses. Rey can feel it the moment she releases it from her grip, like a misfired blaster or the rocks she used to throw at Steelpeckers when she was eleven. Just something in the way that it leaves you is enough, feels off enough that she knows it will not go where she wants it to. But the impact against Aargonar’s silver surface is still enough to send the two of them flying twenty feet in either direction. Hirran was too far, braces automatically against it but still doesn’t move, doesn’t react, doesn’t draw their ‘saber to defend their allies. Just blinks, mouth opening just the slightest bit.

No sound comes out. Never comes out.

The Dark tries so hard to catch onto Rey, to cling, she knows it now, she knows why she dove straight to the Dark. And she’s been so full of anger that no wonder it felt like it’s been eating her from the inside now that she’s let it go.

But still— the memory of it is there. The taste. You have that look in your eyes. Like the forest. When you called me a monster.

The forest on Starkiller too, where it felt like every wound she had carved into Kylo’s skin was met with praise, with glory, had felt too good to resist. When she had knocked him flat on his back with a wound rendering his entire right arm useless, how had she forgotten it—

Turns back again, the Dark slipping away like waves.

Kylo Ren doesn’t even acknowledge his Knights. Just looks, like he hasn’t seen her in millennia.

Silence stretches, like something is pressed against their ears. Time is— meaningless. Nothing, the atmospheric pressures double like they are in two places at once and soon it is the only thing that they can hear.

The Jedi Killer and the Last Jedi.

Alone on a battlefield of thousands. And Rey is— breathing hard, maybe harder than she should be, she didn’t have time to think that maybe grabbing an ion cannon with nothing but her sheer force of will might haven been too much for her to handle.

And it echoes, too much, way too much, of Snoke’s throne room on the Supremacy. After— after everything. After Snoke and the Guard were all dead. Of the moment where everything singled down to just the two of them. Where one realized the other wouldn’t bend. There are no tears, now, just adrenaline and wonder.

He loved you, you know— from the Force. That Ben Solo.

Rey doesn’t look away and neither does Kylo, both assume that the Force has fed that to the both of them. The bond is nothing but a string of unfiltered quiet thoughts, too difficult and too far away to pick out individual strings. Kylo’s eyes are so dark Rey could drown in them but there’s something else, too, something fonder, filled with a different kind of longing and his hand reaches up to where his heart is and presses, like he doesn’t even know that he’s doing it, like it’s bothering him—

There is a sound that is so faint to them that it doesn’t even register as something unusual. The net of people on Aargonar shifts, alarmed, but it is so far away that Kylo and Rey don’t even notice.

Until they do.

They hear the sound again, the thunderous thing that hurtles across the distance with a visible boom, and look up— both have forgotten that an intergalactic battle rages on a hundred thousand feet above their heads.

Kylo on the Trespasser looks up, away from the bond and remembers that he’s supposed to be commanding this battle and all he can see are First Order Star Ships dying left and right, they are outnumbered now, out-gunned, out-planned.

Turns his head and is back on Aargonar with Rey, looking up at the sky.

And sees a Star Destroyer so big it blocks out a third of the skyline almost directly above them.

The Star Destroyer is breaking apart in low-atmo, burning up from re-entering the atmosphere and the wounds it has already sustained from the battle burning a thousand miles above their heads. Like a hail storm of durasteel and dead things. The lights of the people onboard are blinking out fast, too fast, dying in entire sectors as they break apart. The explosions on the horizon from the small parts, the clouds that rise up in the sky, the way that this planet, this planet that the Knights of Ren didn’t even stop and ask about, just moved after ordered. This planet will be ruined for a hundred years before life returns.

It will make another Field of Giants. It’ll make another Jakku.

“No,” Rey says.

“No,” echoes Kylo, on the Tresspasser.

No— say a hundred voices, from the Force.

No, no, no thinks Rey, and does the only thing she can possibly think of when she looks out across Aargonar’s surface and sees every light, every living thing, looking up at the shadow that has fallen over them all, too.

She reaches out.

“Fire on that Star Destroyer!” Kylo commands, up on the Trespasser, pointing the bridge officers to the ruined Star Destroyer breaking in half in Aargonar’s upper atmosphere.

“Sir?” asks the nearest technician, slightly panicked.

He turns on her immediately. “I gave you an order! Do it!”

The Trespasser is no Supremacy but it does have its’ own ion cannons, and after milliseconds of confusion they do start their firing sequences, but to Kylo it isn’t enough, it’s not enough, it’s not fast enough and his heart is thundering. Every time he turns his head he is in a different place: Trespasser, Aargonar, next to Rey, Trespasser, Aargonar, watching, watching, watching, powerless to do anything but this— he's too far

You aren’t doing this— is own voice haunts him. The effort would kill you.

“He’s firing on his own ship,” Poe says, on the Amidala, wheels in his head turning for a solid twenty seconds before he realizes that the Star Destroyer is crashing through atmo right above the Resistance infantry formation. “Oh, shit.”

Leia is too busy, she cannot give the command and Poe nearly freezes, nearly does, until the thoughts connect in his brain that Finn and Jaye and Sevens and Rey and Jackpot and Pava and Wexley and everyone that they have been with since the very beginning are down there and if they aren’t dead already they will be, they will be if that Destroyer impacts Aargonar’s surface.

No. Poe Dameron has walked away once to survive, so he could learn the hard lesson. He won’t do it a second time.

He starts plugging in the sequence for the Amidala’s cannons, pushing buttons and levers without thought and pulls them away from the Dreadnoughts that are almost drowning. He pulls up the comms to the other ships too. “Darra!”

The comm line has been damaged so Darra’s voice is faint, “What.”

“Order your fleet to fire on that Star Destroyer!”

It’s obvious which one Poe’s talking about, as any other dying ship is dying drifting through the limitless battlefield as it implodes.

On Aargonar, Rey tries her best, but it is— difficult. Almost like the Force is laughing at her for even trying, every time she tries to grasp at a part, a piece, as it looms closer, as the smaller pieces begin to crash into the silver soil, the pushback from it makes her slide ten feet further back.

Rey pushes and pushes with everything she’s ever had and everything she’ll ever have and every hurt and every loss and every bit of serenity that she’s ever achieved but clearing her mind and reaching out is pointless when she’s just trying to hold it, just a falling piece of the Star Destroyer, not even a 10th of it’s total weight to slow it’s progress to give people enough time to get out of the blast zone. It makes no difference, it’s still looming, gaining velocity and Rey is just one Jedi against a Star Ship ten thousand times bigger than she is. Yet at the same time, there is a burning defiance catching in her chest. A determination. She hasn’t suffered and screamed and frozen her skin off for eight months just to lose the Resistance now.

The Star Destroyer gets hit with an ion canon, a larger version of the one Rey stopped just, what, minutes ago. It breaks apart a large piece of the stern but forces the Star Destroyer further into Aargonar’s sky and Rey nearly buckles underneath the added force of it.

Then another blast, from the direction of the Amidala, and it hits the hull near the rear. Another, and another, breaking it apart, into smaller pieces, but Rey is barely making a dent with the debris, let alone the ship.

Rey, comes that same coruscanti voice from before, the one that always urges caution— not even you could do this, not even the strongest of us could do this, you cannot save them all, let go—

“If I were you, I’d tell Master Kenobi to mind his mouth,” Anakin says, from besides her.

I can’t, I can’t, I can’t Rey starts to think, starts to feel it, because she’s giving everything she has and the Star Destroyer is still growing in size, getting closer, breaking apart and burning up as the wreckage breaks through lower atmo. Can’t even look away to see if Anakin is really here, if he’s solid, or if he is like Luke. Her grasp on serenity is crumbling at best.

“You can, Rey,” Anakin tells her.

She can’t. She’s just one person and four tons of rocks on Crait was one thing and this is another thing entirely and the explosions behind and in front of her aren’t helping either— go she thinks, pushes the thought towards Finn and the Resistance and the First Order ‘Troopers, too, because she can taste their fear so much it’s sliding down her throat.

“Ngn,” Rey grunts, getting pushed back again. Digs her staff into the silver soil to keep herself upright.

Gets angry. Pushes back at the Destroyer harder.

“Don’t go for serenity.” Anakin tells her. Next to her, phasing in and out of her like he has walked these steps before and Rey is just tracing footsteps in the sand. You were made to undo those footsteps. “Don’t go for rage. Go for the thing between all things.”

Life and death and decay, that feeds new life. Warmth. Cold. Peace. Violence.

That is the Force, Luke tells her, and she nearly lets out a frustrated sob that her Master has come, that Luke is here, too.

But it’s more than that. A hundred forces are joining her own signature, her own song, as strange as it sounds. It creates something Rey has never felt, never known— not even out in the White when she had been surrounded by a thousand voices, or on Yavin when the echoes of ten thousand years had left imprints behind. She can hear them. Knows them, somehow, knows all of them in one way or another— voices from out in the White and not-memories. Luke and Anakin and— Mace Windu and Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Depa Billaba and Ki-Adi-Mundi and a hundred others.

Rey opens her eyes. Hadn’t realized they had been closed, that she had been focusing. Suddenly stopping a broken Destroyer seems not impossible, but hard. A feat. But not the hardest thing she’s ever had to do.

She gives and gives and gives and gives and anything the Force asks from her, Rey gives it, until it begins to unhinge something in her somewhere and feels like she’s suddenly out of breath, but the hold is too strong, it’s too strong, it’s too strong

And then one more voice from right next to her joins and everything else gets drowned out.

At first Rey thinks— Ben!

But isn’t Ben. A black gloved hand has echoed Rey’s and raised itself towards the wreckage.

Hirran Ren, who was Ardal Torrent, in another life, who had the loudest laugh and the biggest smile and possessed the singular gift of making others laugh, who doesn’t speak and who had screamed at him as Snoke had his Praetorian Guard sew her mouth shut— is standing there, next to Rey, like she is awake for the first time in a decade.

Staring up at it. The other Knights of Ren have vanished, but Hirran looks as if this is the first time she’s seen the sunset in a thousand days.

And as Rey struggles, Hirran directs all of what they have towards the wreckage.

It is enough. The hundred voices feel amplified. It is the tide that turns it. Turns everything, everything. Not the ruined Star Destroyer, not the fighting Fleets. Not the death on Aargonar or up above their heads. It is the echo in the Force that pulls and pulls. Like a scale has been finally tipped too far one way or the other.

On the Trespasser, Kylo Ren clutches at his side, just next to his ribcage, inches from his lungs because a burn has begun.

On Aargonar, too, it has begun to hurt, pain is shooting up her arm and everything is shaking, the Star Destroyer, the debris, Aargonar itself, slowing the Destroyer, slowing it as the shadow spreads, but it builds and builds and builds until Rey can’t ignore it anymore, her balance isn’t enough to drown it out, even with Hirran and the others and the song—

“No,” Kylo says, pushing in, pushing, because his whole side is burning now, burning, there’s blood on his glove as he limps away from the bridge, vaguely hears Hux demand where he’s going, feels— strange, lightheaded, like the world would begin to spin if he walked too fast. “Rey.”

Rey, comes a voice. Kenobi. Do not let the Force use you for spare parts.

Rey can’t hear him. Kylo, or Kenobi. Can just hear the song. Can’t feel the way that it’s taking and taking and taking, can’t remember that she’s already tired, already spent. Can’t hear the hum of the Modified C.E.C Subspace-Hyperdrives on the Millenium Falcon as it breaks through atmo around the Destroyer’s broken pieces, can’t feel Chewie and Rose and Finn and Jaye and Sevens and Jackpot behind her, no, she has put everything she has ever had or will ever have into this very second— the effort would kill you— says Kylo, in the Force, but it doesn’t matter, she’s caught in it, it’s too late.

She hears her name, far away, but can’t rip her gaze from it. Feels something against her arms and the back of her neck like something has moved the air, like the Falcon landing, and the person calling her name gets closer, calls again, but still Rey cannot tear away from the burning—

“Rey!” Yells Finn, grabbing at her and hauling her away, ripping her out of her concentration, no, she thinks. The Force howls with it, the loss of her. “We have to go!”

“What? No—” Rey shouts, weakly, so— lightheaded— spent, being pulled, looking to Hirran, who has taken Rey’s share of the Destroyer’s remains. It’s only two hundred feet above their heads by now. “NO!”

Even with every song from the Force, the Destroyer starts descending again, in pieces, harder to catch hold of. The impact will still destroy everything in five miles, all they’ve managed to do is delay it long enough for their people to evacuate— but Hirran

Go, Jedi, Rey hears, and it’s not Luke, she’s never heard Hirran’s voice before but she somehow knows it through someone else’s memory. All she can see in that last second is the last shift of black cloak before the heat of the impending impact threatens to wipe out everything else— Get on the ship.

 

_________

 

They feel Hirran Ren die. The Knights do, in their TIE Fighters, or in the bloodbaths in the hangars of the fleet and planetside on Aargonar. Feel her turn towards the impact, reach out a hand, in the Force, and stares into the blast like it’s the sun and she’s desperate to be blinded and smiles and then—nothing.

Hirran Ren, who was Ardal, in another life, dies.

When one of the seven had died before, the ones that had never been strong enough, the Knights had reveled in it: their culling only made the remaining Knights stronger.

But now— now a bunch of children from another life on Yavin IV cry out in agony.

 

_________

 

It hurts. It has hurt like this before, when a sudden grief and pain woke Kylo in his quarters, when Rey was out in the White, like she was bleeding and dying and her rage had shook the durasteel and the transparasteel of his viewport. Never this bad. Never. But now, Kylo Ren, Supreme Leader and Jedi Killer and lost boy stumbles, falls, because suddenly all he can feel is the pain lancing up his side and he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe

He does not know how he gets from the bridge of the Trespasser to his empty hall, only knows that he nearly collapses right into the entry way, his entire left side is burning, burning, but pain is impaling him in that space behind his lungs too because the bond is bleeding and he hardly notices the tether around his lungs his strung so tight.

He’s not breathing normally and it’s bubbling out of him, no, no, not Rey. Anyone but Rey. He can’t feel her, he can’t feel her

“Rey,” Kylo says, and he can’t hear his own voice, like there’s something heavy pressing on his ears and not letting any sound through. “Rey.”

And this time it’s him that’s making the durasteel shake, the transparasteel windows and the consoles and the Tresspasser itself, the alarms start blaring though he can hardly hear them, he’s too busy pushing every bit of oxygen out of his lungs and writhing, pounding, smashing his fists against his own ribcage. The pain is a torment but the absence of it will be worse, it will always be worse, he tries to catch ahold of it because he’ll never feel her again, he’ll never share a dream with his other version, he’ll never—

I want to die, Kylo thinks, death would be kinder

Everything he’s ever had and everything he ever will, ever hurt, every ounce of pain, every nightmare, every dream, it comes out, spilling, bleeding, until he has fistfuls of his own hair and scratches against his skin, near the thing that has tied him to her.

Cannot hear the soft echo, can’t hear it, he’s drowning, he’s drowning— I want to die, I want to die, I want to die.

Where is Padmé— is she safe?

“I’m here, Ben,” the voice says, loud, too loud, like the pressure on his ears has affected everything but this and Kylo opens his eyes again to find someone fisting their fingers into his shirt, bunching it, gripping it where his heart is. He lifts his head up from the durasteel, throat raw, and looks through blurry eyes to find Rey curled around his head, like a halo, like a lopsided crown.

“You aren’t here,” he starts. He has been tricked like this before. “You aren’t here.”

You’re gone, he thinks. I’ve lost you.

He can’t— he can’t, he can’t breathe, he can’t believe that she might alive, that she might here, that this pain inside his chest isn’t because she’s died and he’s feeling the phantom death. Only her death could hurt him this much.

“You haven’t lost me,” Rey says, breathless, but there’s something wrong with it, too, like it’s the last thing she’ll ever say. “I overdid it.”

At that same moment the world seems to realign, the noise stops ringing in his ears and the room seems to tilt as he pushes himself onto his stomach so he can really see her, reaches out with a hand to pull her closer to him— feels the offness, feels how wrong it feels, feels how spent she is, how faint her signature is in the Force, how much it took from her, how much she gave that she didn’t have to give. You stubborn, selfless thing

Crawling on his forearms and stomach like a pathetic creature is the most natural thing he’s ever done, ignores the lancing pain in his side and the blood that he’s no doubt smearing onto the floor of Snoke’s old hall and when he gets to her, Rey’s almost limp with it, pressed against the durasteel and struggling to stay awake, he can feel it through the bond.

No— his hands skim all over her, every inch he can reach. She’s weak. She’s too weak.

This isn’t you, from the Force. The effort would kill you.

“No,” Kylo hisses at it. Like one person could hiss at the manifested Force.

He never mastered healing. Never— never had the goodness for it, and that skill is long lost to him, but he read the ancient Jedi scrolls and that knowledge must be stored in his mind somewhere. He puts his hands on either side of Rey’s face and brings her closer to him, her hands weakly grab at his and she looks away, briefly, like someone else is there on her end that Kylo can’t see. And before he can stop himself he’s pressing his lips against her temple partly because he still can’t believe she isn’t a trick.

Rey from Nowhere loved him— he hears Rey's soft, faint, thought through the bond, and stops, because even in the bond she is weak, feels the way that she doesn’t have the strength to voice it. Rey from Nowhere loved Ben Solo.

He closes his eyes, because it hurts, everything seems so far away and it hurts, it’s the most painful thing he’s ever heard. His lips move down from her temple to her cheek, dust and debris and sweat stained and salty against his lips, to her chin.

“Ben,” she sighs.

He pulls her hand up from where it lies limp against her thigh and presses it just left of his sternum, to the space behind his lungs where the bond is tethered, strung tight and about to snap and weak at the same time.

“Take it,” Kylo tells her against her lips. “Take it.”

Anything I have is yours, goes down the bond. Whatever I have left, whatever bit of it, of life.

“No,” Rey says, and it’s so weak, it’s so faint. Where is Anakin, where is he— “No, Ben.”

“I cannot lose you,” Kylo swallows, hysterical with it. “Do you understand me, Rey?

She tries, shakily, to pull her hand away, but there is so little of her left in the Force that it’s nothing more than a slight pressure against his skin. “I’m nobody.”

“No, no, no, no,” Kylo stresses. “You are everything.”

The Empire, the Force, the First Order, the Knights, his ‘saber, everything, everything, every dream he’s ever had since he was a boy sitting on his mother’s knee, is nothing— nothing, nothing, it’s embers, ashes, it’s nothing compared to the thing inside his chest, to the few memories he possesses of Rey’s touch— on Ahch-To, on his Command Shuttle, to the hundreds of memories his other self has. Nudging her shoulder, entangling his legs between her own, pressing a kiss on her brow, her lips.

Where is Padmé? Is she safe? Is she alright

“Take it,” Kylo begs. “Take it. Take everything I have. It’s yours.”

 

_________

 

They haven’t even made planetfall before Poe’s sprinting at them, Finn and Rose and BB8 and Rey, too, and Pava and two dozen others that have been in this since they were watching Holdo’s last streak of light hurl itself at the Supremacy. They come down the Falcon’s ramp with Chewbacca and BB8 in tow. All of them look rather worse for wear, but they’re alive.

“Ah, shit,” Poe yells, grabbing at Finn’s collar and yanking him to his chest. Rose, too. “Goddamn it. Goddamn it.”

FRIEND|| FINN! Comes BB8’s shriek, and Poe feels a solid orb collide into the back of his knees and it nearly sends them sprawling, but he doesn’t care, he doesn’t care

They’d jumped into lightspeed with the Amidala and the Queen’s Fleet and the Mandalorian Guard and just picked a direction, any direction, and hadn’t really paid attention to the small details, but there are people missing. Fuck. People are missing, but they can’t focus on that, they can only focus on the fact that they’re alive, that they got out, that the majority of their fleet survived. That the Star Destroyer hadn’t completely crushed the Resistance in one fell swoop. They’ll light remembrances tonight, at the edge of the calm water, but for right now they’re just alive, bleeding but alive, when they could just as easily not be, that Star Destroyer could have taken out everything in the vicinity—

And Rey, Rey is tucked into the center of it all, weak, but here, digging her fingers into three different jackets and Poe pretends like he doesn’t see her far off look, or the wet tracks carving their way through the soot on her cheek.

“I’m here, kid,” Poe tries. “We’re all here. We did it.”

 

_________

 

There is a moment neither of them remember: the first moment. Nearly thirteen years behind them.

A moment where Ben Solo, in the Praxeum on Yavin IV, nose in his traditional Jedi texts had nearly stumbled down a stairwell because he hadn’t been paying attention and he hears it. He isn’t sure what he hears, only that it feels off— different, from anything else he’s come across. It echoes, almost, like waves. Like he’s hearing two different atmospheres in the stone hallway of the Temple.

One side of his face feels cool, covered in the shade. The other feels like sandpaper is being dragged across his skin. And it’s hot, too, unbearably so, his ears are blistering with it.

Half a million miles across the Galaxy, a tiny little Scavenger girl on Jakku kicks out the escape hatch of a TIE Fighter after the Breath of R’iia had sent it tumbling through a hundred-foot wall of sandstorm. She cradles one broken hand badly against her chest and flops face-forward into the sand, makes a dust cloud in the Field of Giants.

She’s too tired to move, and too tired to breathe.

Gets up anyway. The sun will go down, soon, even she knows it, and the Steelpeckers aren’t that picky about what they eat.

 

_________

 

Later— later, an indescribable amount of later, Kylo can’t tell how many days have passed. His side has healed, somehow, even he isn’t sure how, but the echoes of the wound are enough to make him limp when there is no one else in the hall.

A year ago Snoke’s voice would be scoring itself into the deepest recesses of his mind, pushing him down onto the Durasteel and snapping his bones, making him beg for forgiveness at such a failure.

Colossal might be the word to use for it: a colossal failure.

But Snoke is dead and the failure is his.

Instead Kylo unfolds himself further into Vader’s throne and tries to ignore it. Everything. The writhing in his chest. The pain of his Knights, too. It is consuming, their grief. It’s broken something that was already broken. The Knights have known physical torment for so long that they've forgotten what loss feels like.

Ironically, Kylo wishes he could speak to his mother. She’s a much better military strategist than he is, obviously. He never saw, never dreamed that she’d manage to get Naboo and Mandalore fighting the same battle, never imagined that all of the little sparks she spread out across the Mid-Rim and Outer-Rim would have caught into actual fires. What a fool he’d been, thinking he could out-strategize Leia Organa. He’d played the game only to watch his pieces topple before he could even counter her move. The First Order barely escaped with their fleet in-tact, and only because Upper Command ordered a strategic retreat. They still lost two Mid-Rim sectors.

And yet even that seems far away from him: it’s hard to bring himself to care about it, to consider his actions, consider what should be done next. He has a First Order to rebuild. Upper Command will not be happy and he will have to force them back into obedience.

And Hux. Hux— will have to be dealt with. His disobedience had nearly—

Even that thought fades away before he can finish it. Fades away like it was nothing, was never anything at all, never mattered and he never cared because—

The memory of holding Rey on the Trespasser and pushing his life into her's has changed something in his center and has bleached everything else out. Even now his left hand is digging into his sternum like he could pluck out his heart because it is filling him with more than he can bear.

His blood is singing

What have I done.

He should be consumed by his failure, by this complete upheaval. By the knowledge that he refuses to admit out-loud, because that battle was everything his life had been leading up to, everything he was meant to be, why he killed Han Solo but his thoughts don’t linger on it, Snoke’s afterimage doesn’t berate him, for once. No, none of that.

The greatest teacher, failure is.

He isn’t the only one like this. The Knights have all taken separate quarters. Their screams echo down the halls of the fortress on Moraband. Some are angry. Some ring an indescribable kind of grief.

Even Kylo cannot deny it. It’s another crack, another chipped-away piece. Another moment where he stumbles unexpectedly, thinking that there was one more step to be made. Alor can barely keep himself upright and his Force signature reeks of it. Of loss. It’s a bitter loss, and Kylo tries, he tries, to remember the children they had been. Can’t come up with anything. Those memories are lost to him, apart from fragments.

—Hey, Skywalker. You gonna read your book all day or you gonna come join us?

A crack.

Somewhere inside him he agrees with Alor. Even death would be a kind relief.

I want to die— echoes in Kylo’s head. Death would be kinder, please

His fingers dig into his sternum harder. That space behind his lungs doesn’t seem to care.

There is a part of him that wishes he could lock this away, this thing, forbid it from being mentioned like Snoke forbade the use of their names, like Ben, like the names of the two, the two that never made it through Snoke’s training. Their names are locked so far deep that even Kylo doesn’t know how to retrieve them. He would have said that Kylo failed because he had too much of his father’s heart. Snoke would have proclaimed that Hirran had failed simply by issue of her being dead. He would have brushed her away for serving her purpose like he had with the other two that Kylo can’t remember, who were too weak to survive the initial training.

Think again, comes a coruscanti voice that Kylo doesn’t know.

—Ardal! Get Ben out of here! Take him and run!

That foreign voice returns and causes a sharp, intense pain that shoots from one side of his head to the other, and Kylo can’t help his flinch and the sudden tension in every inch of his spine.

He holds his position for a long moment, holds the pain, holds the air inside his lungs and grips the sides of Vader’s throne under his fingers and doesn’t breathe, before releasing it slowly through his teeth.

Kylo puts a hand over his eyes and rubs at his temples. His dreams these last few days have been odd, disjointed. And inch by inch he seems to be remembering things that have been lost to him.

Before he’d had— different memories. His own, isolated hut, the ignition of Luke’s green ‘Saber, the look of rage in his Uncle’s eyes. The destruction. Fragments. Nightmares. But he has no memory of the Temple except for watching it burn as the First Order ships flew the Seven to safety. And the memories after were— blurred, at best. He was kept from the Knights, at first. Kept separate. Snoke had said it was for their benefit, to receive additional training. Six had gone in and four had come out and Kylo had never thought to ask about it.

Now he lifts his hand and looks out at the landscape and up, upwards, to where he can faintly sense the bleeding that is the Knights and feels lost. The truth isn’t completely there but Kylo can see the lie, where it begins and ends. At some point he’s stopped trusting his own recollection of things.

Why hadn’t he asked after them? What hubris had inflated his head so much he hadn’t cared when two of them died?

What had Snoke done to them?

You were made for so much more than greatness— the Force provides. Snoke. From years ago, at the very beginning. You were made to continue his great work, his pride, his empire

“Enough,” Kylo commands. Snoke has been dead for eight months. It is enough. Enough.

Laughter.

Kylo looks up. There is no one in the hall save him, not even droids or guards. Vader’s throne overlooks nothing but magma and igneous rock. But it echoes around the durasteel as Kylo straightens and he braces himself for another vision with his grandfather— of course it would be Anakin, here, in his fortress built on the place where half of his body melted.

Kylo descends the dais and continues to look: but no seams appear where two landscapes blur into one.

But he hears it again, behind him. Turns around, towards the dias, but sees nothing. It echoes from different direction and Kylo follows each one.

It’s then that he recognizes the laughter.

“No,” he tells the figure. “Absolutely not. You are not allowed to be here.”

Han Solo is younger, not young, but the age he probably looked when Ben Solo had been four, or five. Young enough that even Kylo Ren can’t deny it anymore: he’s the spitting image of his father. Kylo’s every expression has been copied and changed just a little bit: he has his father’s ears. And his crooked nose.

And Han Solo has the audacity to turn to him, him, Kylo Ren— the broken and beaten Supreme Leader of the First Order, Jedi Killer, and points to himself as if to ask, who, me?

Why’d you do it? Comes Rey’s voice. Months ago. How could you do it? Why did you hate your father?

I didn’t hate my father.

It takes all Kylo has not to collapse because of his side, still not healed, and the thing pumping viciously in his chest against Kylo’s will and the fact that he’s clearly begun to hallucinate. His father had been as Force-sensitive as a porg in life, there’s no way— there’s no way that he’s managed to imprint himself enough to be Kylo’s ghost. Kylo has enough ghosts, between Anakin and Rey and the dozen other dead children in his head.

“Go away,” Kylo orders, as if Han Solo has ever listened to anything his son as ever told him.

“I just got here,” Han says, immediately, without missing a beat, and Kylo cannot help but hear his other self, from his other life. I think we got off on the wrong foot. I’m Ben.

“I put my ‘saber through your chest cavity,” Kylo snaps, and it’s possibly the most horrible thing he’s ever said, and he’s said some terrible things— I don’t want you, Scavenger. “What more could I possibly do to convince you to leave?”

But in true Han Solo fashion, it seems to slide right off this not-ghost. “Well, excuse me, your Highness. Man, you got so much Organa in you, you don’t know what to do with yourself, d’ya?”

Instead of answering, Kylo turns limps away from the apparition with only a little bit of difficulty, the phantom pain in his side feeling like something in his abdomen is pulling against every movement and hopes that distance will make him disappear.

It doesn’t.

Hadn’t ever worked with Rey. Or Anakin. Kylo isn’t sure why he thought it’d work with Han Solo.

“Nice place,” Han says instead, now from up on Vader’s throne. “It’s very… Emperor-y. You got the whole ‘Vader’ thing going on. Did I ever tell you I hated that bastard?”

It had been the exact opposite, actually. Kylo has memories— not a lot of them, not many of them survived Snoke’s training— but he remembers the worst ones. When they’d talked about him in hushed voices behind a closed door like he wasn’t human, like he was some stain on their lineage. They’d been afraid of a four year old. Ben Solo hadn’t even found out that he was the grandson of Darth Vader until the other students at the Praxeum on Yavin IV had told him so.

“No,” Kylo says, turning back to look at him and twists it to make it hurt. “You never told me much of anything at all.”

“Well, would you have listened, if we had?”

There is a part of Kylo Ren that knows that Ben Solo had grown past the limits of his father by the time he was eight. Grown past it, hadn’t taken up the interests that his father had. Had more of his mother’s way about him, that was what was always said. And Han had tried to find common ground. But after the nightmares… that common ground got farther and farther away.

Kylo isn’t sure why this knowledge has returned to him. It feels like opening up an old box, covered in two decades’ worth of dust.

“Why are you here?” Kylo asks, defeated. “Why you, of all people, why are you here? To tell me how to miraculously fix my disasters?”

At this point, he would have rather had a visit from Luke.

Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Anybody that wasn’t Han Solo.

“Oh, what,” Han asks, hands shoving into his pockets and Kylo has to look away because that is yet another thing that his other self does. “C’mon, Ben. You lose one battle and suddenly everything’s gone to shit?”

One battle?” Kylo asks. How— how dare— “I’ve lost everything. I don’t have anything left. What would you know of loss?”

It’s such an awful, awful thing to say, every single time he opens his stupid mouth the worst things come out of it: he isn’t even particularly trying to be cruel this time. This is how it has always been with Han. Even when he was young.

Regret fills him. He’s been so full of regret it could drown oceans at this point.

And then something— changes, Kylo looks back and feels a chill in a room that has no right to be cold, there’s magma running through the durasteel and the stone— but he can’t look away from his father, his father who suddenly looks older and worse and not— not darker, but scrappier, more determined. Gone is the jokester, the hero that Ben Solo used to idolize.

“I know enough of loss to make even you fall to your knees, Ben,” Han says, and his expression is so void of all emotion that Kylo cannot deny him this.

Han Solo was loud and brash and boisterous but never quiet and never with that much pain on his face, except for when Kylo Ren was seconds away from killing him.

And then, Han’s voice, low, from far off, echoing around the empty hall: Hey. It’s you and me, kid. Whole damn galaxy against us but we’ll make it through okay. I’m not always gonna be the best dad—c’mon, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here. I can barely take care of myself. But I’ll always keep us pointed in the right direction… even if we zig and zag a little to get there—

Han frowns, and the chill is gone, looks around like he hears it too. And if Kylo knows his father, he knows that Han Solo ‘still isn’t used to this whole Force thing’. So much so that he can practically hear his father say it.

“I told you that when you were just a little thing,” Han says quietly. “Couldn’t have been more than three. It was before you started having the nightmares.”

Look at him, Leiano four year old should be screaming in his sleep like that!

Kylo tilts as the Force presses that memory into him. Han Solo just stares.

When he had been fifteen and frightened and beginning to hear the Dark whisper at him in the back of his head he had been— ashamed, that his parents were frightened of him. And then— Luke, and the Temple—

Ardal! Take Ben and Run!

No. It hadn’t even gone the way that he remembers it, had it? Hirran— she had remembered, hadn’t she.

Nothing from before remains. Everything’s been— taken, changed, made into lies. And the truth had come out, with Rey. The temptation wasn’t just temptation, anymore. His desire to follow in Vader’s footsteps is a hollow, worthless thing. A husk and a lie.

Leave, comes Rey’s voice. Comecome with me. You don’t want to be here. You’re desperate for just an inch of solid ground to stand on. You’re so… empty. You have this thing inside your chest that wants to be filled.

And of course, because Han is here to torment Kylo, it’s almost like the Force supplies his train of thought. Where his thoughts always stray. Where the tether around his lungs leads to, because Han Solo looks at Kylo like he knows every secret he possesses.

“She’s something, huh?” Han asks. “Y’know, I even offered her the job of Second Mate on the Falcon—”

Kylo stops. Stops everything. Stops breathing, stops thinking, just zeroes in on his father’s face like the next words out of his mouth would be the most important thing he’s ever heard.

What’sa matter? Afraid I was gonna leave without giving you a goodbye kiss?

I’d sooner kiss Chewbacca.

“—She turned me down, unfortunately. Said something about needing to get back to Jakku, what a junkyard—”

Kylo stops hearing what his father says, the echo from his other self is so strong. He’s fought against it, fought to keep them separate outside that place between sleeping and waking where he can pretend that it’s still a dream, that he hasn’t woken up as his other self in the Falcon and been tempted to climb out of the bed and go out into the hallway and into Rey’s room, if she’d let him. But the knowledge that that other life may have started to leak into this one, that they aren’t some— some separate fates’ strings that had been severed a long time ago is nearly enough to tilt the gravitational force keeping him attached to the durasteel floor.

Enough that he has the sudden urge to sit, because the room has started spinning slightly and his heart is angry at him.

“Stop,” Kylo says, wobbly, shaky, something’s come loose. “Stop. I don’t know why you’re here, I don’t know why you’ve come. Your son is gone, Han Solo. I’m not him.”

Your son is gone— the Force supplies, and Kylo flinches. He was weak, like his father, so I destroyed him.

And —I am not that boy. I’m not a smuggler who flies the Millenium Falcon. You can’t save my soul. I’m not that boy. I’m not the one that sleeps in a bunk just on the other side of the wall. I’m not the boy—

“I don’t know how to break this to you, kid,” Han Solo says, suddenly close, close enough that he could reach out and grab his shirt and Kylo feels like he’s six again, staring up at his legend of a father. “Falling in love with somebody like that Rey was the most Solo thing you could’a done.”

There is a part of Kylo Ren that would love— love to sputter, like he’s shocked or offended, like the thought has never occurred to him. But no. This version of himself felt the blast during the battle, saw the fires, felt Hirran die, thought it had been Rey. Felt her curled around him like he was the last thing in the cosmos she was ever going to hold and had told her to take it, take it, take whatever I have left—and suddenly had realized a simple, simple truth. His chest had contracted, like it rebelled, like it would refuse to beat in a world where Rey’s heart didn’t.

Instead Kylo just stares, locks his gaze on his father’s face and nearly begs him: please. Please, don’t make me say it. It comes out weak, out of his mouth, “I hardly know her.”

“Right.” His father says. It is a final right. A right of a parent that absolutely does not believe the lies their child is spouting.

But the beating thing in his chest is making Kylo ache with it, closing his throat so he can’t swallow and thrumming, coursing through him. It’s consuming him whole. He misses the answer from the other side of the void something terrible. The battle on Aargonar had broken something loose inside him, something he hadn’t even felt that he was keeping caged until it was bursting out of him.

And whatever path he’d put himself on, it feels like his bones aren’t obeying what his mind tells them to do.

“I’m not that boy,” Kylo repeats— and again, it’s so close to a plea that it sounds pathetic even to him. He hates the way that his voice is breaking. A last, desperate, ditch effort. “That boy died. That boy died when I put my ‘saber through your chest.”

Han isn’t phased. Just looks, with that damn Solo look. “Did he?”

Somewhere deep inside Kylo there is a child screaming, scratching at his walls, wailing. He can barely remember that boy. But he hears him. Papa.

It hurts— it hurts more than Rey had, out in the White. More than it had on the Supremacy but somehow also worse. Kylo’s fingers even come up to his chest like they had, on the Trespasser, he could dig his fingernails underneath the dermis of his skin and dig it out, dig out the hurt, like some foreign object that’s slowly sliding deeper and deeper inside him and pressing in on his lungs. It doesn’t help that this is the first time that he and Han have been this close since Starkiller, where Han had looked at him with nothing but— he can’t even name it. The memory has become so tainted now, by his choice, that he can’t remember what happened before. But now, now Han, this strange, younger Han, looks at Kylo like he was the brightest star the galaxy had ever made, and he’s desperate to get one last look.

“Tell your mother—” Han begins, reaching up with one of his hands to rub at the back of his neck in a move that Kylo has done himself so many times that he almost gets gutted from it. “Oh. She knows,” he sighs. “Tell her I’m sorry I couldn’t do what she asked.”

Tell her yourself, comes bubbling up from his throat almost before he can stop it and then— and then—

Remembers that Han Solo can’t tell Leia Organa himself.

That scratching is getting louder, and more painful, inside him, like the boy is clawing his way through Kylo’s stomach layer by internal layer until he starts hitting vital organs. No, Kylo hears, from far away, and he can’t even tell if it’s his voice anymore, don’t leave.

If you see our son, answers his mother’s voice. Bring him home.

“Well,” Han Solo says. Moves to touch Kylo but seems to rethink it at the last second. “See you around, kid.”

See you around, kid, Luke had said. Luke Skywalker’s last words. Han Solo’s had been yesanything.

And then he had fallen. Kylo Ren had watched his father fall into the mists in Starkiller’s core and had counted the seconds before the body disappeared. He’d hoped that this act of rending would have centered him in the Dark. Been told for years that this would be his final test, to prove to his Master that he was ready to assume the title of Heir.

Instead it had fractured what little pieces of self he had left.

Kylo doesn’t look, doesn’t turn. Kylo’s stuck, frozen, attached to this square foot of durasteel like his skin has sprouted roots and dug down deep into the rock of Moraband. Han Solo’s footsteps recede— ridiculous, how could an afterimage with no body mass have footsteps— and each sound feels like it’s knocking directly on Kylo’s self, who he is, who he’s been, what he’s done, what he’s lost, and it gets louder and louder and louder like a timer ticking down and he’s panicking and feels it coming up through his throat, fighting to get out of him and he breaks and he breaks and he breaks

“No,” comes bubbling out of him, gasping, hysterical, from somewhere deep that he doesn’t remember. “No, wait—”

Papa, don’t go, why d’you always have to go, why do you always leave— Kylo can’t stop it anymore, he turns away from Vader’s throne and he limps after the afterimage of his father as fast as he can and throws himself at Han’s chest, expecting to fall right through him, wouldn’t that just be exactly what he deserves. The guilt’s already erupting out of him as he collides with something solid. And the moment he does, breathes in and realizes that Han Solo has managed to achieve some sort of solidity from beyond, that he’s here, that this isn’t some lie, the moment that Han Solo wraps his arms around his son’s middle, tight, tighter than anything he’s ever tried to hold onto in Kylo’s memory— everything in Kylo breaks.

Reveals the fractured center of Ben underneath.

“Papa,” Ben Solo chokes into his father’s shirt, wet and awful, a sob, like liquid’s filling up his lungs. “Papa.”

 

_________

 

This was never going to go the way you thought.

 

_________

 

Weeks later and somewhere half a million miles across the galaxy, weeks after the Resistance won the first fight against the First Order on Aargonar, the crystal down the front of Rey’s shirt hums. Warm, bright. Happy. It’s that and maybe the cheer, down below, where there are fires burning and people are singing and laughing and it’s feeding directly into the Force, which feeds into her. It’s… bubbling. Rey can’t help but bubble with it. She’s balanced on the hull of the Falcon. The Supreme Leader’s reclaimed Command Shuttle is across the valley on the other side of the fires. She laughs because she can feel Finn and Rose and Poe and Pava and Jackpot and Chewbacca and Jaye and all of the others, beneath the stars in the Mid Rim.

The bond is quiet, calm, has been since the battle and she does worry about it, sometimes, since Kylo Ren had told her take it, take all of it, take whatever you want— but the Force is quiet, too, and everyone is safe, and everyone is happy— as happy as they can be with the very real possibility that they will all be dead by tomorrow. She does— miss— the answer in the bond. Her memory of that moment isn’t great, but she remembers the way that he had whispered words against her lips and it does stupid things like make her walk into solid bits of scrap durasteel.

But, other than that, a this very second? They have food to fill their stomachs, and they aren’t on the frozen hell-planet that is Hoth, and nobody is shooting at them and trying to kill them.

It’s the first peace they’ve had in months. And, she’d quickly learned, give two thousand people a little reason to celebrate, and they will find a way.

And then there is him, behind her. His sudden presence doesn’t surprise her. She freezes, though.

His thoughts are calmer, now, than they have been. Different, somehow. They don’t jump out at her through the bond like he has no control over them.

But he’s silent. Nothing to say for himself. They have grown, somehow, him and her.

And Rey gives in and turns and looks— really, she was always going to look— and has to double take.

He must catch her staring because that telling red springs up on his cheeks. She can’t tell. She can’t tell which one she’s looking at, if Kylo Ren is really here, or if this is another Truth, from the White. Gone are his Emperor’s Robes, his high-necked collar, his gloves. Instead he’s in trousers and a belt and a shirt that maybe just has the misfortune to be a dark color in the low level of light. Maybe it’s just the position of the sun, almost set. The stars are already out.

Maybe it’s a dark blue, instead. Or purple. Somehow she has a memory that tells her that he’d look good in purple.

And he’s— shy? In the bond. Like he knows exactly what she’s thinking. He sits down next to her, a safe distance away. Close enough that she could reach out and grab him if she wanted. He folds his arms over his knees. And there’s something different, too. Something Rey can’t name.

The kyber around her neck burns so hot it feels like durasteel that’s been left out in the sun too long, but Rey makes no move to readjust where it sits between her breasts, slightly lower than her sternum.

If he notices the kyber again, Rey doesn’t know. His eyes do travel from the tip of her nose to her hands and back, worried, almost, and Rey can feel his concern through the bond. As if to answer his question she nudges her thoughts at him. She’s fine, after Aargonar. Not a single wound remains of her foolish decision to take on a crumbling Star Destroyer. She nicked a finger on her right hand on the Falcon earlier in the day but that’s just par for normal at this point, the Millenium Falcon is more stubborn repair than ship.

I cannot lose you— his voice comes. Do you understand me, Rey?

“You aren’t going to join them?” He asks, clearing his throat, like he hadn't meant to project that and trying to hastily cover it up. Rey is kind about it, pretends that she hadn't heard, but also realizes that the bond has grown so much since Takodana that he can very likely see their surroundings: the Falcon, the fires, the ships, the stars. She wonders if he can feel all the presences at the edge of her net.

But as an answer to Ben’s question, there’s an alarmed yell and a crash of something breaking. More laughter. Rey rolls her head like her neck has suddenly lost all ability to keep it upright and looks at him and hopes that it will convey: that’s why.

He makes a sound that would be a snort on anybody else.

“You don’t make a very good Jedi,” he says, and it is not said as Kylo Ren, Master of the Knights of Ren, Jedi-Killer, and Supreme Leader of the First Order. Doesn’t hurt like it would if it was, Rey realizes, turning to look at him.

It’s said as a boy, who had spent a decade of his life with his nose in the sacred Jedi texts, trying to be a good Jedi.

“I never said I was going to be a good Jedi,” Rey corrects.

She speaks without thinking, without pause, and Ben starts, stops, and does something Rey doesn’t expect. He laughs.

It’s— a wonderful sound? It’s from somewhere strange, like it had happened against his will. It sounds like something that would have come out of Ben Solo, the other self, from out in the White on Hoth. Deep and rough and curiously divine. She tilts her head with it, because it feels like a half-remembered dream. She swallows a little nervously from it, his laugh. It’s such a rare, bright thing. She stares at him, takes him all in and feels a ridiculous heat on her face that doesn’t come from the fires below or the warmth of Corellia’s atmosphere, and her heart picks up too, how stupid, she’s seen a hundred things more intimate than sitting next to one another on top the Millenium Falcon in her not-memories from the other version.

“Shut up, Ben,” Rey says, and she rips her gaze away, afraid that she’s let it linger too long. Gestures up at the dark and tries to keep this thing from shouting itself down the bond. “Watch the stars burn.”