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Maelstrom

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I gave everything I have to you.

 

It has split you to the bone.

 

He could still hear Snoke’s mocking laughter ringing in his ears as he had stumbled from the Supreme Leader’s chamber; the physical pain of elbow joints and the base of his spine hitting the ground paling in comparison to the agony of hurt, fear, frustration and, yes, grief. Even now, though, he had the bruises.

 

Ben had tried to shut it out since that fateful night on the bridge at Starkiller. It was easy when he had General Hux by his side, both as a co-strategist and as a punchbag, but in those long, lonely hours between shifts, when the approximation of day and night turned over into the sleeping hours, it was harder to ignore. That was why he chose not to sleep until it became an absolute physical necessity. No-one had commented on the deepening shadows under his eyes (although, to be fair, not many people tended to see him without the mask on. That would change now, he supposed, that he’d shattered it in the lift). Not that there was anyone who would dare to comment, even if they had noticed. There were no mirrors in his chamber, so it wasn’t as if he was concerned with his own appearance. Just as well, he figured, given what Rey had done to him in the snow.

 

Entering his chambers and motioning to the door to close behind him, he sagged down onto his bunk, secure in the knowledge that he was, at last, alone. Except for the faintest whisper of Snoke, of course, but that had been there so many years now, he couldn’t remember when it had just been himself in his own head.

 

I’m being torn apart.

 

Come home.

 

Home. Where was that, anyway? Not where his mother was; and now, not even here. If Snoke was losing faith in him, then the First Order might soon follow. And then what? Exile? Death?

 

‘Please…’ no louder than a whisper, but his plea seemed to echo off the walls of his quarters. In silence his guilt and grief screamed the loudest. Tears burned in his eyes, but by sheer force of will he stopped them from falling. If he closed his eyes, if he let his guard down for a second, all he could see was his father’s stricken face in front of him, mouth frozen in shock, but eyes so full of sadness and love. Love for the son he once knew, who he still felt was hiding behind the eyes of the man who drove the light saber through his heart.

 

‘Please…leave me.’ The words were choked now, as he felt the familiar pain rising. ‘I can’t…’

 

I want this pain to end.

 

Why did you…why did you kill your father?

 

It had momentarily blindsided him, when Rey had choked on the question. He knew without a doubt that she’d loved his father. It had been more than just hero worship; she’d connected with Han Solo more in the short time she’d known him than he, Han’s own son had, throughout his entire adult life. And that brought with it its own specific brand of pain.

 

Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.

 

Oh, if only he could! But even now, Han’s eyes swam before him, a combination of grief and love shining out of his face as the light saber, his son’s light saber, drove through the heart that Ben had tried so hard in life to reach. And beyond that, Rey’s grief stricken expression, her screams as Han’s life ebbed away at the end of an unstable force.

 

‘No…’ he whispered as hot tears forced themselves from his tired eyes. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t give in. He mustn’t. Han Solo, the very man he’d killed to let the past die, would have had no time for his tears. Why should he waste them for his father now?

 

You have too much of your father’s heart in you, young Solo.

 

Snoke’s mocking words echoed in his mind, expanding to fill his brain until the rasping whisper seemed a shout. Sometimes the Supreme Leader’s voice was nothing but an echo in the recesses of his brain; other times, like now, it seemed to take over, to consume him. He raised shaking palms to his head, clutching his skull to try to smother the voice inside, but still he could hear Snoke’s taunts, feel the utter disdain emanating in waves.

 

‘Stop…’ he whispered brokenly. ‘Please…I can’t…I can’t do this…’ Unbidden, the tears were hot and wet, drenching his cheeks and clogging his throat. Tired, almost hysterical from lack of sleep, he ached for peace, for release. Curled up tightly, knees drawn to his chest, he struggled to stay whole.

 

‘Ben?’

 

And all of a sudden, mercifully, it did stop. Snoke’s voice was silenced.

 

‘Rey?’ He pawed at his eyes, dashing away the tears, ashamed, angry. He sat bolt upright hurriedly, trying to create the illusion of control.

 

‘Are you…are you all right?’

 

She was standing in the middle of the floor, to all intents and purposes looking as though she actually was there, as if he could reach out and touch her. The memory of their fingertips connecting over the camp fire slipped into his mind. How desperately he’d wanted to hold onto her that night, until Luke had broken through.

 

Unable to form coherent speech in the face of such gentleness, he merely looked at her, his uncooperative mouth incapable of response.

 

‘I felt….’ Nervously, she tried to justify her concern for him. ‘It felt as though…’ she shook her head. ‘I’m sorry.’

 

He struggled to read the expression in her eyes. Anger flared in his chest at the thought that she might pity him. Is that why she was here? Out of a sort of condescension? But, looking deeper, forcing himself to connect, he realised it wasn’t that. Worry, certainly, but empathy, perhaps. The alignment of two lost souls desperately reaching out for something, someone to share this burden. Someone to understand.

 

But how could she ever understand? How could anyone? He was a monster. A murderer. A being fit to be condemned, to be destroyed. The rabid cur on a leash that Snoke so sneeringly dismissed.

 

‘Don’t be sorry,’ he whispered, finally. ‘Please, Rey. Don’t ever be sorry.’ He brought himself, with effort, aware of the bruises and the scars, to an agonising stand by his bunk. ‘None of this is your fault.’

 

She was shimmering at the edges, a sure sign that the Force connection was fading. ‘You’re not alone,’ she said, repeating the words back to him that he’d offered to her in the hut on Ahch-To.

 

Dropping his head, unable to face the sight of her fading from his consciousness, Ben felt the connection drop. ‘Yes I am,’ he said softly. And then the malevolent whisper started again, trying in some terrible, twisted way, to prove otherwise.