Rey screamed as the red-clad guard grabbed her arm, pulling her into a hold as his electrified blade slowly drew closer and closer to her face. She couldn't bring the lightsaber around to stop him, unless...
On instinct, she let go of the sword. Her hands free, she easily dropped, slipping out of the hold and catching the handle again before it hit the floor. Turning, she swiped at the guard's knees and then his throat. He staggered backward, then fell off the platform.
Whirling, Rey looked for the next enemy, but instead saw that Ben was caught in a similar dilemma, a guard's staff pressed against his throat. He had lost his lightsaber somehow.
"Ben!" she shouted, and tossed him her own, the blade deactivating as it flew.
He caught it and powered up the blade for just a moment. It was enough - it had gone right through the guard's faceplate. The body dropped away behind him, but his gaze never left her eyes. They were the only two left standing.
Adrenaline coursed through Rey's veins, even as she realized the fight was over. Somehow, they had won. Behind her, the sound of a distant explosion caught her attention. She turned and saw another Resistance transport implode in a burst of green turbolaser. "The fleet..." The fight wasn't over yet.
She turned to Ben. "Order them to stop firing, there's still time to save the fleet!"
But Ben wasn't looking at her anymore. He stood staring, transfixed, at the lower half of Snoke's body that remained on the throne. He took a step towards it, and then a second.
"Ben?" she asked quietly.
"It's time to let old things die," he said slowly and turned to face her. "Snoke. Skywalker. The Sith, the Jedi. The rebels - let it all die. Rey," he held out a hand. "I want you to join me."
She shook her head, unable to believe what she was hearing.
"We can rule together, bring a new order to the galaxy!" His voice grew more insistent as he saw her reluctance.
"Don't do this, Ben," she pleaded softly. "Please don't go this way."
"No, no, you're still... holding on!" he shouted, clenching his fist. "Let go!!" He took a step towards her, cautious, as if he was afraid she would run away. "Do you want to know the truth about your parents?" He came closer, studying her face as she trembled before him. "Or have you always known, and you've just hidden it away?"
Rey closed her eyes, more frightened of the softness in his voice than when he had shouted.
"You know the truth," he murmured, and she felt the touch of his mind on hers, gentle and familiar. "Say it."
Tears began to pour down her face, but she couldn't find her voice.
"Say it," he whispered. It was the tenderness in his voice that broke her.
"They were nobody." Her voice trembled as she revealed her deepest fear.
He nodded. "They were filthy junk traders, who sold you off for drinking money."
The disgust in his voice made her breath hitch.
"They're dead, buried in a pauper's grave in the Jakku desert. You have no place in this story," he shook his head. "You come from nothing. You're nothing."
Looking down, she blinked hard, struggling to respond. It was true, it was all true, but it hurt so much. Despair flooded all her senses until she felt nothing else. Why did she think she had a place in all this? What a fool she had been. All she had wanted was to feel like she belonged somewhere, had some meaning to someone.
"But not to me," he murmured.
Rey glanced up. While she hadn't expected him to say it, she wasn't surprised. She already knew.
He lifted a hand, extending it. "Join me."
"Ben..." she scrubbed the tears from her face with the heels of her hands. "I... I want to. But you're asking me to let everyone who's ever cared for me die!"
"They will betray you, they always do!" he spat back.
That made her pause. A moment of stillness, in all the chaos. "Does that mean you'll betray me eventually, too?"
Ben's mouth fell open, and his hand lowered a fraction. "No. I would never betray you, Rey."
"I don't know that," she said, her voice tight. "For all that we've been through, I barely know you. I need this, Ben. Prove to me that I'm more than just a tool to you, that you won't use me the way Snoke used you. Let my friends live."
He glanced between her and the magnifying lens, judging the risk. His hand dropped the rest of the way, clenching into a fist. "We can't show weakness now. The Resistance must be crushed, or we'll never have an end to rebellions."
Rey let out a sound that might have been a laugh if it wasn't so sad. "You can't kill the Resistance with fear, Ben. It's the fuel that powers every rebellion!"
He frowned, considering her more carefully. "How then, would you kill it?"
"With mercy," she said, the words out of her mouth before she could stop them. "If you show them mercy now, the whole galaxy will fall to you, believing you better than Snoke. They'll see you as a savior, and who would rebel against that?"
Even before she was done speaking, he began to jog - almost run - to the communications console. "Belay all orders!" he shouted, and his voice reverberated throughout the enormous flagship.
Hundreds of decks away, two stormtroopers paused, electroblades lifted to strike down the traitor and the spy before them. In the distance, a shuttle took off, ignoring the command.
The voice of Kylo Ren came blaring through the hangar once more. "By order of the Supreme Leader, all ships are to cease fire and take up position around the planet. There are to be no more enemy casualties without direct orders. All senior officers will report to the Supreme Leader immediately."
Captain Phasma stared down at the two figures lying prone before her.
"Bring them along," General Hux ordered, and set off for the nearest turbolift. Smothering her disappointment, she signaled for the two executioners to follow. They dragged the prisoners up to their feet and marched after the General.
Aboard one of the transports, silence reigned for a long moment. It dragged on, as the occupants waited for the next explosion, or perhaps their own demise. But nothing came. The silence of space was all around them.
"They've stopped firing." Poe was the first to break it.
Beside him, Leia sagged in relief for a moment and then collected herself. "Get us to the base," she ordered. "They're not gone yet. We have to use this opportunity before it closes."
All around, rebels prepared for landing, strapping into their seats as the first rumble of atmosphere shook the ship. No one dared voice the question that they all wondered: Why had the First Order stopped?
Half a galaxy away, Luke sighed in relief, and let himself drift slowly back down to the stone. It seemed his sacrifice would not yet be needed. He would give Rey the chance to be the hero this time.
Rey was panicking. "What do you think you're doing?" she demanded. "If they come here, they'll see..." she gestured helplessly to the severed body of Snoke. "And they'll know that you issued those orders, not the Supreme Leader!"
Unconcerned, Ben stepped over the body of a Praetorian guard and picked up his lightsaber. He clipped it to his hip and turned to look at Rey "The Supreme Leader did issue those orders," he said simply. "And when they see what has happened, they will know it is true."
Rey felt the floor drop out from beneath her as she understood. "You're..."
"Yes," he said in answer to her unspoken question. "And if you want your friends to live, then you will swear absolute allegiance to me. Pledge yourself to me, Rey. All of you. That is my price."
Her hands trembled. Her eyes darted to Luke's lightsaber, still in his hand. She could take it from him and fight him, but then what? Even if she won, how would she escape? The First Order would renew their barrage on the Resistance, and her friends would die anyway.
She knew the path before her led into the Darkness, but this time she could see that the promise was not an empty lie. Swallowing, she strode towards him. When she stood an arm's reach away, she stopped.
"Do you want me to kneel?" she asked bitterly.
"No. Just say it. Your word is enough." He gazed down at her, daring her to defy him. And yet, she barely had to reach out in the Force to feel how terribly vulnerable he was in this moment. He needed her, for this to work.
Taking a deep breath, she searched for the right words. "I swear to you my allegiance," she said slowly. "I pledge to you all of me, and to never betray you."
Ben licked his lips, and then lifted Luke's lightsaber, placing it in her hands. "And I swear the same to you," he whispered. "Whatever is mine is yours, and I will never forsake you."
Rey's head swam. She hadn't expected him to reciprocate. There was something sacred in the moment, in the words they spoke to each other. She found herself leaning towards him, lost in the expression she had never seen on his face before: contentment.
The doors to the turbolift opened. "What in the..."
Rey tore her gaze away to see an officer with slicked-back red hair take a few steps into the room. He stared with incredulity at the carnage around her and Ben. They watched as his gaze fell on Snoke's body.
"What has happened here? Who did this?" the man demanded.
"General Hux," Ben said, smirking. "I'm glad you're the first to arrive. The Supreme Leader is dead."
"I can see that! How the hell did this happen?" he shouted, color flooding his pale skin.
Ben hesitated, and Rey thought at first he was stringing the General along for his own amusement for a moment. But then she realized - he was stalling.
"Snoke died by my blade," Rey answered truthfully.
Hux reached for his blaster, but Ben was faster, throwing out a hand and clenching it. The General's toes left the floor and both his hands went to his throat. His face went from red to purple.
"And so will you if you harm her," Ben hissed. "Now, let's try this again, shall we? The Supreme Leader. Is. Dead." He eased his hand the smallest fraction.
"Long live the Supreme Leader," Hux choked out.
"Very good." Ben released his grip, and Hux fell to the floor coughing.
"And who is she?" he gasped, eyeing Rey as he got back to his feet.
I'm nobody from nowhere, Rey thought.
"She is my Right Hand," Ben said confidently. "Any orders she issues should be considered to have come directly from me."
Rey's head whipped to look at him. Had he just made her all but his equal? A rush of emotions clattered through her: gratitude, confusion, and then dread. She realized what this meant, what her pledge had meant. She was now part of the First Order.
Her stomach roiled. In trying to save her friends - to save Ben - she had become part of the very monster she had hoped to slay. Her pledge to Ben had been on a personal level. She hadn't considered what it would mean to make such a pledge to the Supreme Leader. She thought she might be sick, but she struggled to keep a straight face, staring down the man before her. She couldn't afford to show weakness to him.
In return, General Hux sized her up with open animosity. Clearly, she was now competition. Behind him, the turbolift doors opened once more, revealing three troopers, one in brilliant chrome armor and the other two with distinctive black marks on the usual white plasteel. The latter two each dragged a figure in ragged officer's robes: a short girl and a familiar man.
"Finn!" Rey shouted before she could stop herself. She jolted to take a step forward but managed to hold back, sensing that this was not the time for hugging.
"Rey, what the hell are you doing here?" he asked. The trooper holding Finn struck him with the butt of his weapon, making her friend double up.
"I take it you and FN-2187 know each other?" Hux said mildly.
"He helped me get off Jakku," Rey told Ben, ignoring the General for the time being.
The new Supreme Leader considered the tableau before him carefully. "Why are these two here?" he asked Hux.
"We found them trying to disable the hyperspace tracker's power relay," Hux explained smugly. "Their execution was delayed by your order."
Rey felt the blood drain from her face. She glanced at Ben, who shook his head almost imperceptibly. Instead, he stepped forward until he was eye to eye with the former stormtrooper.
"I remember you, FN-2187," he said softly. "You failed to follow my order to fire on the villagers on Jakku."
Finn swallowed visibly. "It's Finn now," he said with forced bravado.
"And are you a member of the Resistance now, Finn?" he asked.
The young man glanced at the woman he'd been captured with. She glared back at him with a fierce combination of hope and despair - daring him not to be a coward. "Yeah," Finn replied, turning back to the Supreme Leader. "I'm with the Resistance."
Rey couldn't help but smile. He sounded a lot more confident about it now.
"Very good," Ben said, and turned to walk back to Rey. "You will serve as envoy to whatever is left of them, then. I will have a message for you within a cycle."
The idea of doing the bidding of the First Order once more seemed to put a bad taste in Finn's mouth, judging by his expression. "And what about Rose?"
"Your cooperation will ensure her survival," Ben said smoothly. "If you try to escape, or try to help any of the Resistance escape, she will be executed."
Finn didn't seem to like that very much, but the didn't say anything. "And Rey?"
Ben turned to look at Rey, his eyebrows raised. "What about her?"
"I want her safety guaranteed. And I want her in the same cell as Rose," he demanded.
"The Hand is free to go wherever she likes on my ship and is quite safe," he assured Finn in a light voice, looking back to catch his reaction. "She has the authority to access your companion's cell, but will, of course, be provided with her own quarters."
Finn didn't disappoint. He looked between Rey and the Supreme Leader rapidly. "The Hand?" some flicker of recognition crossed his face, and his eyes widened. "Rey, he doesn't mean...?"
Rey lifted her chin despite the tightness in her chest. "I have pledged myself to the Supreme Leader," she said with as strong a voice she could manage, conscious of her audience, "in order to save the lives of the remaining members of the Resistance."
Her friend scowled. "You sold yourself to him," he spat.
"It's not--" she caught the shift of the chrome trooper's armor as she exchanged a glance with the General. The captain's expression was unreadable behind the helmet, but the one Hux returned was clearly amused. "I'll talk to you about this later," she promised.
Finn made a disgusted sound. Rey felt his disapproval like a blow to her knees. She wondered if he'd even give her a chance to explain, or if he'd already made up his mind. She remembered when he'd said he was leaving at Maz's cantina, how betrayed she had felt. But Finn had only been trying to save his own skin. What she had done must seem a hundred, a thousand times worse.
Before she could think of an explanation that wouldn't make her look bad in front of Ben's subordinates, the turbo lift opened once more, emitting more high-ranking officers.
"Take them to the brig," Ben ordered, and then added as an afterthought, "allow them to share a cell. I must introduce the Hand to the rest of the command."
"Of course, Supreme Leader," Hux replied, saluting with a fist to his chest. He eyed Rey one last time, much the way a sand cat eyes an unwary junker bird, and then turned to leave.
The chrome trooper and her flunkies followed after, dragging Finn and Rose along with them. Finn looked back at her as the turbolift doors began to close, something close to hatred twisting his face.
Rey felt certain she had just lost her only friend.