When Rey saw him outside the Falcon, she was a little surprised, but mostly angry. Was she angry with herself for shipping herself to him just after two days of Force-bonding and a few seconds of touching hands, running off towards a dream, a mirage? Or was she angry with him for failing to be what she had hoped him to be, what she wanted him to be?
Either way, Rey decided it didn't matter anymore. She had done her best to try and bring him to the light, but he was gone, there wasn't any light left in him, so she closed the cargo door on him, and hopefully on their bond.
Sitting on a plastoid crate inside the Falcon, with the two halves of her broken lightsaber in her hands, Rey found herself looking longingly at Finn and his new lady friend. He was so gentle and caring as he covered her with a blanket, and moved a stand of hair out of her bruised face, his brows furrowed with worry. The image sent a pang of something deep inside her heart, she wasn't sure what that something was. It wasn't jealousy, but maybe, it was envy. She wanted what she saw before her eyes. She had never had it. She had so few memories of her parents, and now, she no longer knew if the moments of love and tenderness between her and her family had been real, or just another trick her mind played on her to protect her from the truth. For years and years, she hadn't had any semblance of tenderness from anyone, except a few peppered moments of gentleness between her and Finn. Except the soft touch of long fingers on a rainy night, in a cold hut. She shook her head and set her jaw, damn the longing in her heart for belonging, for love and a family. Damn herself for ever thinking she had found something, anything in Kylo Ren, and damn him for being who he was. Damn him!
It was at that moment that Leia sat next to her and she felt herself stiffening a little. Leia was the Resistance general, but also Ben Solo's mother. In a split second she decided not to tell her about her connection with him, or about what had transpired between them. She made a mental note to ask Chewbacca to keep her secret. Rey didn't want to cause her anymore pain by telling her that Ben was truly gone, she had just lost her brother, after all. And if she were completely honest, the past few days seemed too personal to share, with her, with anyone.
"Snoke is dead," Rey found herself saying before Leia had a chance to open her mouth, "I felt it, in the Force. He's gone. Now Kylo Ren is the new Supreme Leader." Rey's eyes dropped to the broken lightsaber.
Leia bowed her head. "When I thought of our enemies, I saw the face of that monster, Snoke, but now that he's gone, the face of our enemy is also the face of my son." Her voice started to shake, just a little, "I know my son is gone and all that's left of him is Kylo Ren, and I know that the galaxy will only be safe when he and the First Order are gone, but I can not bring myself to do it, to give the order.”
"I failed him," she continued, "his family failed him. He shined so bright from the moment I felt his first heart beat inside my belly. He was a blindingly bright star." Her voice became more broken and hoarse. "He needed us, and we weren't there for him when he needed us, how he needed us, and Snoke, that monster, took advantage of it and twisted him into something dark, broken and terrible.”
Leia lifted her head and her eyes were watered with tears she refused to shed, "And now it's up to me to deliver the final blow. A mother should never be put in that position.”
Rey put a hand on Leia's arm and squeezed gently. Her heart broke for Leia, and still, a small part of it, for the Ben Solo that could have been.
They sat there in silence as the Falcon made its way through the galaxy. All twenty of them, all that was left of the Resistance.
Kylo Ren had spent almost every waking hour since Crait making sure that no general in the First Order had any ideas of revolt or insubordination.
By the end of day two he was confident enough that they were all as loyal to him as they had been to Snoke. All except Hux. Even though he hadn't shown any trace of insubordination since he had Force choked him, he knew Hux had always hated him and he'd have to watch his back around him.
By the time he retired to his room, he had been awake for over two standard day cycles. He changed the access codes to his door and laid on his bed hoping for the release of sleep. As tired as he was, it didn't come. What came were images of Rey.
He almost wished that he had planned everything that happened since she landed on the Supremacy, but he did not. Having to watch Snoke torture her and be unable to do anything about it was the hardest thing he'd ever done. Keeping his feelings about it away from Snoke was a close second.
A shadow of shame crossed his face as he thought of the other hardest thing he had to do. Han, was all he let himself think before he pushed the thoughts and feelings the name brought up, deep down inside himself. He shook his head and, unfortunately, his thoughts came back to Rey.
Rey. There had always been something about her, a familiarity, a little pull she exerted on him, like he were scrap iron and she a magnet.
Her face when he had asked her to join him still haunted him, every single moment he wasn't actively blocking it. He felt torn between the heartbreak of her not joining him and the disappointment and sheer anger he felt towards her when she went for the lightsaber. He had been so sure she would join him, he saw it, he saw her sitting by his side.
Was Snoke telling the truth? Had he bridge their minds in the first place, had he planted there the images he had seen? Had Snoke tricked them, showed each of them what they wanted most?
It would be the most obvious answer, it would make things so much easier. He could dismiss this whole thing as a lie, as another manipulation by Snoke, but as hard as he tried, he could not quiet the voice inside him that said "It was real. It is real! You can feel it in every atom of your being." He wanted to scream and run his lightsaber through the entire ship, just to feel some sort of release, but he couldn't. He was the Supreme Leader now, he could not act like a child.
"So, where to?" Poe asked nobody in particular as the Millennium Falcon made its way through space. "We are hunted by the First Order, we are fresh out of friends and allies…" he trailed off.
"Snoke is dead," Leia said and the entire Millennium Falcon seemed to quiet, "Rey felt it, in the Force," she stood up, leaning on her cane, "Once news of this will spread, it will bring new hope to the galaxy. We will have allies again, that, I guarantee!”
"That's great news," Poe continued, his face showing timid excitement, "but where do we go until then?”
"Go back?" Rey chimed in without thinking, she lifted her head higher and continued. "We go back to Luke's island, Ahch-To, or any other planet in that cluster. It's the safest place in the galaxy, everyone that knows the location of it is on this ship.”
Leia smiled at her then gave Poe a look.
"Luke's planet it is." Poe said.
Poe chose Ashkarah, a planet close enough to Ahch-To that one could see it in the night sky, but much better suited for their needs than the mostly water planet Luke exiled himself to.
They made a short stop at a trading post for supplies, then flew straight to Ashkarah. The trip seemed to take forever, the Falcon was overcrowded. The twenty souls and the many supplies, made the ship feel crammed and stuffy. By the time they reached the planet, the sun was rising on the Ashkarah horizon.
Poe landed in a grass field next to what seemed like the ruins of a great temple. The temple almost glimmered in shades of rusty red as the sun shun on it. A dense forest, with large, thick trees surrounded the temple, leaving just an opening the width of the temple in the front.
While what was left of the Resistance were unpacking and distributing the supplies, Rey ventured out towards the old temples, they seem to call to her.
It looked like nothing Rey had seen before: three pyramids with their tops cut off, the largest in the middle and two smaller ones on each side.
On top of the smaller one, on the left, stood the carved figure of a man and that of a woman on the other side. Even though one could barely recognize the figures of the statues from their condition, she felt she was right in her assumption.
In the middle, on top of the big pyramid, there was an empty space, as if what once stood there had been taken, or destroyed.
There were roots growing out of parts of the foundation, and vines were making their way up the sides of the pyramids, but they seemed to be in decent shape otherwise. Each of the pyramids had a large opening in the middle, but they were all blocked by fallen debris.
"Lifting rocks." Rey spoke under her breath as she moved her right hand in position and lifted the rocks blocking the opening of one of the smaller pyramids. She took her time with it, she didn't want to damage the temple.
The second she put down the last of the rocks, she heard Finn's voice. "Rey, come check this out!”
She turned towards his voice and saw him frantically waving her towards a huge tree.
"This is amazing!" he yelled out as soon as she was within better ear shot. "People used to live inside here, look!”
She stepped inside the tree and found a round staircase going down what seemed to be several flights of stairs, at the bottom of it was a maze of underground chambers, a big central room with 6 smaller chambers spread out to the sides. Further down, a corridor led to another great room followed by another 6 small chambers. In the middle of each of the large chambers stood a large fire pit encircled by a large adobe table. It seemed like the communal dining table. The smaller chambers each had what once must have been an adobe bed and a small table. Most of them were crumbling, but still, it was shelter, it was a place to sleep outside of the cramped Falcon, or the elements.
"I’m gonna go grab Poe, he needs to see this!" Finn said as he made his way up the stairs and towards the Falcon.
They spent most of the daylight setting up camp in the underground. In the first large chamber they set up a makeshift command center, the room was soon filled with all sorts of military paraphernalia. At dusk they all gathered in the second large chamber and had a big meal in front of the fire. They told stories of all the friends and family they lost and clinked glasses in their honor.
Rose sat on one side of Finn, while Rey was on the other, Rose was awake and feeling better, but still convalescent. She heard several stories of her sister, and cried tears of pride and sorrow. Leia brightened up the room with fun stories of Luke, and so the night ended on a somewhat hopeful note.
Rey was happy that everyone, besides Chewy, had chosen one of the chambers they found as their home, instead of the Falcon. She imagined the crammed trip might have had something to do with it.
She was happy because, somehow, the Falcon seemed like home to her or, at least, more like home than any other place. So why did she feel an urge to leave it and go inside the temple she opened this morning? She decided to find out.
She grabbed her quarterstaff, a torch light and quietly snuck out of the ship, past the guard and into the small temple. She was a little surprised to be greeted by a brick wall, but quickly saw that on each side of it there were openings, she took the one on the right and entered the temple.
The small room behind the wall wasn't a square as she expected, but rather a triangle. The walls were filled with carvings in languages and symbols she didn’t recognize. In what seemed to be the middle of the room, floating in midair above a pedestal, was a copper ring, about the size of a bracelet. She felt it pull at her, just as the cave on Ahch-To had.
Rey found herself walking towards it, touching it before realizing what she was doing.
She dropped to the floor as soon as her fingers wrapped around the cold metal.
Kylo Ren recognized the dream-memory he was having before it finished materializing. It always played like a holo-movie, or like a play, in front of him, unable to do anything about it. He was nine in the dream, he had just woken up from a terrible nightmare he could not remember, just the feeling of darkness and the terror that lingered in him. He tried to shake it off as he dressed for the day. Today was the day his dad was due back, he had not seen him in over a month and he was terribly excited.
"Where am I ?" He heard a familiar voice behind him.
"No!" he thought as he turned, knowing exactly who he would see. Seeing her face felt like a punch to the gut, it knocked the air out of him.
"Rey." was what escaped his lips, his eyes moving up and down her face.
"Kylo Ren." She snarled, her eyes full of… was it hate, disgust, disappointment? He didn't know, didn't think he wanted to find out either.
His mind was racing with unanswered questions. How could she be here? Was she inside his head, was she in his dream? How could that even be possible? But most of all, he knew he did not want her there, in this dream-memory.
"Where am I ?" Rey asked again, looking straight at Kylo who was close enough to touch. He wasn't wearing his usual black leather murderous outfit. He had on loose, black pants and a wrap-around shirt tied at the waist. She could see his bare chest where the folds met.
Something behind Kylo caught her eye, a young boy, with almost curly, dark hair, who was putting on a white shirt to match his light tan pants. He ran his hands through his shoulder length hair, untangling strands of it.
Rey looked back at Kylo with a puzzled look on her face. “Ben?"
He knew she wasn't calling him Ben, but rather referring to the little boy in front of them. Kylo locked his jaw and nodded once.
Rey turned her head towards the boy just in time to see him run through her like she were a ghost. It sent a chill down her spine.
“Where are we? Is this a dream? Am I in your dream?" Rey asked in rapid fire mode, confusion turning into anger.
Kylo nodded again then continued, slowly, composed. "A dream, a memory. Yes.”
"How?" she asked. "Are you doing this? Is it the Force, connecting us again?”
"I don't know." was all he said. He felt like he was on the defensive, all the hurt and anger he had felt towards her, because of her seemed to have been pushed down deep inside him. Instead, he felt raw and vulnerable.
The scene around them changed, almost like they were being transported at light speed to a different location.
They found themselves on a field of green grass, with the Millennium Falcon in the middle of it. Rey feared, for a second, that they were transported back to their new hiding place, but her fear dissipated as soon as the cargo door opened and a younger Han Solo than she remembered stepped out, his hands stretched out to meet his son. Ben ran through Kylo's ghostly shape this time. He looked shaken by the act.
"Kiddo!" Han exclaimed as Ben ran straight in his arms, almost knocking him over.
They hugged for what seemed like a standard minute, his dad squeezing him tight, then Han pushed him back to take a better look at him, a big smile on his face. "I swear you've grown two inches since I last saw you," he ruffled his hair as he continued, "let's go see your mom, kid.”
"Why are you showing me this?" Rey asked.
"I am not!" His answer came instantly.
The image around them changed again, they were now in a simply, but elegantly furnished living room. Leia was on a conference call with four others, when Ben and Han came in, she lifted a finger as to quiet them, then finished her call.
"Trying to save the galaxy again?" Han more stated than asked as he planted a kiss on her lips then dipped her to the ground. Leia play-slapped his arm as soon as she was vertical again.
Ben giggled, watching his parents.
"Hey kiddo, can you give me and your mom a second?" Han asked. "I'll come find you in your room when we're done.”
Ben nodded and left the room, but didn't go back to his, instead he waited outside, out of their eyesight, but within earshot.
"I have to go back. I…" Han started.
"Don't you dare!" Leia snapped back. "You've been gone for over a month, he misses you. He needs his father!”
"I know he does, and I miss the kid, I do, but it will only be for a few days.”
"That's what you said last time too, and he didn't see you for three weeks." Leia took a deep breath. "Han, he's at an impressionable age, and he's Force sensitive, more so than Luke and I. He needs guidance, love and stability.”
"That's rich coming from you, you leave him on his own all day so you can play politics with the high and mighty of the galaxy," Han spat back.
"I am doing this, for him and for us, the galaxy is still rebuilding, I can not abandon it, I can not abandon his future, Han.”
"Maybe you should worry more about his present." Han retorted.
Ben's chin was trembling and his eyes were wet with tears he refused to shed. He wiped at them nonetheless, then ran for the Millennium Falcon, his parents’ words still ringing in his ear.
As soon as he saw little Ben, Chewbacca picked him up and spun him around a couple of times, then gave him a big hug.
"You're squishing me!" Ben managed to breathe between pressed lips.
Chewey made a noise at him and Ben answered back in Shyriiwook.
Rey knew Shyriiwook, or Wookiee, as most people called it, but she did not speak it, she had never tried to, since most of the Wookiees understood Galactic Basic. She found herself both surprised and impressed with the little boy.
"I missed you too. A lot!" Ben had said in Wookie.
"I brought you something, look under the bunk." Chewey growled.
"A lightsaber!" Ben said with evident excitement on his face.
"It's just a toy, you're not old enough for a real one, but when the time comes I'll help you find your Kyber crystal." Chewbacca explained in his tongue, but Ben didn't seem to be listening, he was too busy fighting invisible enemies inside the Falcon.
"There you are!" Han exclaimed with a half smile on his face. "Your mom is waiting for us to have lunch together. She even cooked," he continued with a grimace.
Rey saw the same grimace reflected on Ben's face.
"Yeah, I know. Your mom is a lot of things, a cook is not one of them. We'll have sandwiches later.”
The world around them stayed the same this time, but it was like they moved ahead in time. It was dusk, the last rays of sunlight were shining down on the Millennium Falcon. Han was kneeling in front of Ben so he could look into his eyes as he spoke.
"Listen, kiddo, I am so sorry I have to leave again so soon, but I promise I'll be back in two days.”
Ben just kept nodding, head down, chin almost touching his chest.
"I know it's hard for you to understand why I have to leave, but I promise I'll make it up to you kiddo.”
"It's okay," Ben muttered in a broken voice, "I understand.”
"That's my boy!" Han said, giving him a long hug.
"See you in two days kiddo." Han waved off as he made his way inside the Falcon.
Ben let go of the tears he was fighting back as soon as the Falcon took off.
There was a fight going on inside Rey. She felt for Ben, and maybe a little for the man he turned out to be, but she remembered how lonely and broken her childhood had been, and how she did not turn into a murderer. She wanted to grab Kylo Ren and tell him that if this was just a ploy to make her feel sorry for him, to make her understand his choices, that it would not work.
She wanted to scream at him that his father not being there for him wasn’t good enough of a reason to kill him.
She wanted to rage that she had tried to bring him back to the light, to forget his past but that he chose the darkness, even after Snoke's death, he chose the darkness. But with one look at Kylo, most of her anger dissipated, he looked so broken.
The world swirled around again before she could say anything.
They were in another room, a room with a large white desk covered with all sorts of electronics. A young Leia was behind the desk, surrounded by two figures Rey did not recognize, and one she did, C3PO. Ben was playing in a corner with his lightsaber.
"Senator Gor-Helk is an incompetent buffoon," Leia spat into the comlink, "we cannot leave this in his hands. We have all worked too hard for this."
"Since you are not here, " a voice responded through the comlink, "he is our best option.”
"He is an idiot, that's what he is." Leia muttered under her breath.
"We could postpone this a little. If you were to join us here. In person." another voice stated.
"I can't", Leia huffed. "I have other obligations here, you know that.”
"We can send a hyperdrive ship, you'll be here and back in a day. It's either that or Gor-Helk.”
Leia put her fingertips to her temples and rubbed. "Give me a few minutes, I'll get back to you." She hung up the comlink.
"Ben, honey," she said in her sweetest voice, "Can you come over here for a minute?”
Ben lifted his gaze towards her, then ran over to her desk.
"Can I have the room for a few minutes?" She asked her team. They left without a word, even C3PO.
Leia put a hand on each side of Ben's face and kissed his forehead. "Look at you, my baby is growing into a little man.”
He smiled in her hands.
"Ben, I need to ask you something, and it's perfectly okay if you say no. I want you to understand that it's okay to say no. Okay?”
"I know this is the worst time, with your father gone again, but I have to ask you something, and I want you to know that I would not consider asking this if it weren't important.”
Ben lost the smile on his face.
"Would it be okay with you if I left for just a little bit, a day at most?”
Ben's face dropped again but he tried his mightiest to keep any expression off of it.
"You will be here with Nanny Vergha and C3PO." Leia said, looking him in the eyes, inquisitively.
Ben swallowed. "It's okay mommy. I'll be okay.”
"You are such a brave little boy, my little starshine.” Leia picked him up in her arms and hugged him. With Ben in her arms, she opened the comlink again and said, "Send the ship.”
They were back in his small room where the dream had started, Ben was quietly sobbing in his bed. His lightsaber laid abandoned on his desk.
Rey and Kylo both felt it before it materialized in front of them, a dark smoke that seemed to swirl around Ben.
"They do not love you," the smoke hissed and Rey felt like she jumped out of her skin.
"They do not care about you, not like I care about you, my youngling. If your father cared, he would not have left you. He would not have abandoned you at every chance."
Ben's sobbing grew louder.
"And your mother, she cares more about politics than her own son. They do not deserve you, my youngling, come to me and I will treasure you. Come to me….”
Rey heard a soft but determined "No!" escape Ben's mouth before his little body started shaking uncontrollably, and with it, his bed, his desk and soon enough, everything in the room. The lightsaber fell off the small desk and shattered.
Without thinking, Rey closed the few steps between her and Ben, and wrapped her arms around him. To her surprise, her arms didn't go through him. In that moment, they were both solid. She lifted the young boy's head and placed it on her shoulder.
"It's okay Ben, I'm here, I'm here, you're not alone." She said and Ben wrapped his arms around her neck and clung to her like she were a life line, still sobbing away his pain. Rey had to swallow around the lump in her throat.
"You have to be strong now Ben, don't listen to that thing, your mom and dad love you. They love you, they will always love you!" She said, then kept saying how much he is loved and wanted, as she moved her hand gently up and down his back, as she lulled him.
The room slowly began to quiet, the shaking of it had stopped with Ben's shaking. All that was heard were the soft sobs coming from Ben.
Rey petted his head and whispered in his ear "They will always love you, no matter what, they will! I want you to know that even in your darkest hour there will always be light, you just have to look for it, and if you can't find it around you, look for it inside you. You shine so bright, Ben.”
Kylo couldn't hear what Rey was whispering to his former self, but he was starting to remember it, from that night long ago. He remembered how much he needed someone that night, how good it felt to be held by someone… by her.
His dream had usually stopped with Snoke's smokey presence, but now he remembered it clearly as if a fog that lingered over that night had finally lifted, and he saw Rey through his nine year-old eyes. She had seemed like a mythical angel, illuminating the darkness, and her words from back then and right now were still echoing in his mind.
His head was spinning, chin trembling and he was having a hard time fighting back tears.
How any of it was possible, he did not know, but it did not matter in this moment.
Rey continued lulling Ben for a few more minutes, until he fell asleep, exhausted from the crying and the uncontrolled use of the Force.
Rey lowered him back down on his pillow, gently, and covered him with a blanket. She caressed his pale face with two fingers. He was soft, and so young and pure and kind, and nothing like the man he would turn out to be. Rey's heart broke into a million little pieces for the little boy in front of her.
She got up and turned around. With tear filled eyes she saw the stark difference between the beautiful, bright child she had comforted and the dark, terrible man in front of her.
"I just want you to know," she said pointing at the tears on her red and puffy face, "that this is for Ben the child, not for Kylo the monster.”
He swallowed hard and muttered “Noted."