Kylo Ren was depressed. He'd been depressed most of his life, really; but for years now at least he'd had his apprenticeship to Snoke to give his existence some meaning. He had his idolization of his grandfather and the desire to follow in his footsteps to spur him on. He had his rivalry with Hux to entertain himself with, on the occasions when he could get away with fucking with him.
But the last few months... Something had changed. He had already begun to question things as he got older and matured, wondering if it was all worth it. If anything he was doing would ever leave him feeling fulfilled rather than empty and lonely. But this was different from that, even. The last few months he found himself having a hard time feeling anything. Nothing he did felt worthwhile. There was, at least, a lull in the war with the Resistance at the moment. They were finishing their work on the superweapon that was Starkiller Base, and while they finished the preparations, they had stopped outright attacking and were only monitoring them and sabotaging any schemes they could sniff out. He idly wondered if they had been lulled into a false sense of security by now. It really didn't matter. Once they could kick their legs out from under them by destroying Hosnian Prime, they'd be finished anyway. And what then?
That didn't seem to matter either. Not anymore. The only thing that mattered at this point was keeping all this from Snoke until it passed. Surely it would, once the war was won. Right?
He sighed, looking down at the small rectangular music player in his hand. It had been taken off the girl they had captured that morning, and he planned to get into it later and find whatever secrets she had been smuggling inside. She had successfully infiltrated one of their off-base supply depots a few weeks back; looking for any information useful to the Resistance, no doubt. Though she had managed to escape, they had ferreted her out; tracking her to a slaveowner who ran a brothel. She had been posing as a kitchen wench, hiding out until she either got a new assignment or felt safe enough to make her way back to the Resistance. Well, she wasn't going anywhere now. He had sent a small squad to fetch her back to the base once they'd found her. Her "owner" had seemed loathe to part with her, but ultimately he handed her over without a fight upon being reminded that he was harboring a spy. It was a wise decision. Generally, you didn't want to attract the First Order's attention, and if you did, the sooner they forgot about you the better. The girl was currently strapped into one of his interrogation chairs awaiting his arrival. He tossed the player into a drawer near his personal computer terminal in his quarters, grabbed his mask and put it on, and walked out the door. At least this would relieve the soul-crushing boredom he was dealing with for a while.
He found her already wide-eyed and panicked, which he thought was odd. This woman was apparently known to the First Order, and he had been told that she would be difficult to break; which is why he had gone to her himself instead of sending his interrogators in. It took bravery to infiltrate the enemy's ranks, and where he expected defiance he was instead seeing fear. Strange. And somewhat disappointing. He didn't want this to be over quickly.
She didn't say anything. She stared at him in horror, frozen in fear for several seconds, and then she squeezed her eyes shut and refused to look at him. Her breathing was rapid; approaching hyperventilation, and tears began to stream down her face. He decided to take a different approach to start off. If she was this panicked already, he would barely need to expend any energy at all getting her to babble out whatever he wanted. And dammit, he wanted this to last. So he removed his mask.
She opened her eyes when she heard the hiss of the mask coming open, and they locked with his. If she was surprised at all to see a handsome young man instead of a disfigured monster, it was lost in her panic. He leaned over her and gently moved a stray lock of hair out of her face, speaking in low, soft tones.
"Hey, hey... You don't need to be afraid. No one needs to get hurt."
She whimpered, but calmed a bit.
"How about we play a game? Everybody likes games, right?" He stood and paced around her, hands clasped behind his back. "Here are the rules. I'm going to ask you questions..." Her breathing picked up as she saw where this was going. "... and you're going to answer with the truth. See? It's easy. All you have to do to win is tell me the truth. Now..." He stopped pacing and stood staring at her. "What's your name?"
Kylo already knew her name, of course. But would she tell him the truth? Probably not. He arched an eyebrow at her, waiting for her to give him a reason to demonstrate why winning the game was vastly preferable to losing.
"Lady Hyalitha of Enhasa Barryd."
He narrowed his eyes and started toward her. "You've just lost the game." She began to struggle in the restraints, her voice rising in fear. "Wait, what?! Oh, gods above, you think I'm a human. I'm not! I'm not who you're looking for!" His anger rising, Kylo force-choked her, only releasing her as she was about to lose consciousness. "I'm going to ask you again. I can take whatever I want from you, but I'm giving you one last chance to tell me, and maybe you'll make it out of this alive." That was a lie, of course, but it was a useful carrot to dangle. "What is your name?"
She was trying to twist her wrists in the restraints; trying to turn her hands over. "Look at my palms! Look at my palms! I'm not a human!" Kylo stopped, intrigued. This was certainly an interesting approach she was taking. He released her hands from the restraints, smugly wondering how she expected to attack him with them when her ankles were still firmly held in the chair. But she didn't attack. She held them up.
He focused on her palms. Something was wrong. There were... Calluses? No, pads. She had slightly raised pads on her fingertips and palms. Not something you'd find on the typical human. Suddenly he was fed up with the whole thing. He grabbed her hair and yanked her head back, stabbing toward her mind with the Force. No more games. He'd find out exactly who she was.
And as soon as he penetrated her mind- SLAM! She shut him out. For the brief moment he was in there, he could feel her shock and outrage; and he heard in his mind, right before she slammed the door in his face, a fierce roar, not unlike the sound a large predatory animal would make.
He stepped back and stared her down, incredulous. The look of outrage on her face shocked him further. "What the hell, dude?!" He continued to stare, his face hardening. Fuck him, she was telling the truth. No human could do what she had just done, even a skilled Force-sensitive one. Not the way she did it, anyway. This wasn't something she had learned. It was inborn, a natural ability. She wasn't human. They had brought him the wrong fucking girl.
Seeing his expression, she quickly became fearful again. "Look, I'm sorry. It's kind of a reflex, you know? You didn't exactly warn me, and-" He leapt forward and grabbed her by the hair again, snarling into her ear.
"I'm warning you now."
She swallowed hard. "Okay, fine! I'll let you in. It'll prove I'm not who you think I am." Kylo already knew she wasn't who he wanted, but she came from the same damn brothel, so maybe there might be something useful in there somewhere. Besides, at this point, he was curious. Very curious. He reached into her mind once again, and though he could already feel her trepidation, her walls dropped.
He went for her most recent memories first. He saw her alone with a middle-aged woman, her hand on the woman's brow. He moved on, and saw her knowledge of the interior of the brothel. It looked like she had been kept separate from the others in her own room. He searched her for memories or knowledge of any form of contact with the Resistance. Nothing. Fuck. Okay, fine, so what was she? He delved further back into her memories, to five or so years ago.
He saw a beautiful, lush planet where the cities were made of living plant life. He saw large four-legged winged creatures inhabiting those cities. Dimar, they were apparently called, and she was one of them. A changeling. Of course she was a changeling. He saw fires ravaging the countryside, and he felt a stab of sadness... her sadness. He delved deeper, and saw images of two of these creatures succumbing to smoke inhalation and falling from the sky into the flames. They were her parents, and the only family she had. He felt her pushing him away from those memories, and he relented. Now there was a large space within one of the plant-cities, the barryds; this barryd called Enhasa. It was an academy of healing arts, and countless memories of classes, classmates, professors, and exams flashed rapidly through his mind. He saw her "human" form floating naked in a tank surrounded by dimar. Other tanks held other human bodies in various stages of development, which puzzled him. Though some early memories of her schooling had her learning to heal minor physical injuries and ailments, her focus soon shifted to mental and emotional healing, with a specialization in helping people move past trauma. Graduation. Employment. Healing after healing after healing. Soothing, it was called. Those who healed physical injuries and ailments were called Healers, but she was a Soother, and she had helped countless people of varying species reclaim their lives after suffering terribly. They were very well-regarded in their society, and set apart with the title of Lord or Lady, though it was merely an honorific and nothing more. He saw her being sold in her human form by slave traders after being taken during an expedition to another planet within the Outer Rim, where she had been sent to heal. To help people. That was why she had a human body to change into. To enable her to better help them.
He had seen enough. It was all reminding him of how awful of a person he was, and he couldn't take it. The apathy was preferable to that. He withdrew from her mind and stood staring at her, his expression unreadable. Then he turned on his heel and left the interrogation chamber.
The name of Hyalitha's home barryd is a Chrono Trigger reference. Enhasa is one of the cities in the Kingdom of Zeal.
Chapter 2: Decisions
Kylo leaned against the door of the chamber after it closed. He should be angry. Furious, even. This would piss Snoke off in the worst way, and he'd likely be sidelined and confined to quarters for a while. It was one of Snoke's favorite things to do to him, because he knew how much it hurt and humiliated Kylo to be rejected and cut off from his master's presence. He didn't expect this to be any different from the other times he had disappointed the Supreme Leader. Even if it wasn't his fault that the people he sent after the spy were incompetent fools. And where was she now? He was willing to bet she wasn't still hiding out in that brothel. Now they'd have to waste time tracking her down again, and he'd have to go after her himself... If Snoke even let him. He sighed. Hux was going to love this. Fortunately, Hux was off on business for at least the next four or five days, and without him around to run squealing to the Supreme Leader, he'd at least have time to try to fix things.
The anger that should have come never arrived, and instead he was greeted with resignation and a desire to simply stop existing. He didn't want to do this anymore. Any of it. He beat his head back against the door, allowing the pain to ground him again, and then dragged his feet down to a conference room near the bridge. He hadn't even bothered to bring his helmet; it was still in the room with... whatever she was. People were going to stop fearing him if they saw him walking the halls like this; helmetless and apathetic. No matter how he tried, somehow he couldn't make even that concern him anymore. Reaching the room, he sank into a chair at the head of the table, trying to muster up the will to summon and deal with the idiots who had bungled this mission. His thoughts instead turned to the healer in his interrogation chamber. What would he do with her? Run her through with his lightsaber like he often did to prisoners he was finished with? No, he didn't want that. He very fervently didn't want that. Interesting. But why?
He thought of the verdant planet with its beautiful flying inhabitants. The way their technology blended seamlessly with their environment. How happy and peaceful they looked. He thought of her, wondering what could possibly be stopping her from simply changing back to her dimar form and escaping. He thought of the way she soothed people's trauma away, and wondered how many people she'd healed that were traumatized by the very war he was fighting. Even as a slave, she helped people. Her owners charged the people she helped a lot of money for her services, but she kept her head up and continued to serve those who needed her talents. She knew who she was and what she was supposed to be doing, and Kylo envied her. What's more... He respected her. Oh, how he wished he could have that sense of purpose. So what now?
He couldn't kill her, that much he knew. He couldn't set her loose on the planet; she obviously couldn't transform for whatever reason and she'd die from exposure if the patrols or wild animals didn't kill her first. He knew she'd be found out quickly if he tried to pass her off as a staff member or soldier. So what, then? The only option, it seemed, was to take her back to his quarters until he figured something out. Snoke would be furious if he found him keeping a woman in his apartment, of course. He was forbidden from forming attachments, forbidden from indulging in sexual activity that might lead to attachments, forbidden, forbidden, forbidden. No wonder his life had lost all meaning.
That settled it, then. His resentment toward his master had been building for quite some time, although the crushing weight of apathy kept it well in check. But now, he could relieve his boredom for a while and give Snoke the middle finger at the same time. First things first, though. He got ahold of Phasma.
"Yes, Lord Ren?"
"Tell those idiots who brought me the spy this morning to get in here."
"Of course. I'll send them immediately."
He leaned back in the chair, boots on the table and lightsaber in hand, and waited.
Chapter 3: Kylo's Quarters
With the stormtrooper squad dealt with, Kylo wasted no time in returning to the chamber where he had left the changeling. Punching in the code, he strode in; closing the door behind him and clearly startling the hell out of her. Her ankles were still locked in the restraints, so she was still in the chair. He quickly released her.
She was already starting to panic again, apparently assuming that she was about to be taken off and executed, or worse. He took her wrist and hauled her to her feet, steadying her as she got her stiff legs working again. "Relax, you're safe." He picked up a set of wrist restraints, holding them out for her to put her hands in. She looked at them, then back up at him, confused.
"Appearances," he suggested, almost apologetically. "I'm taking you to safety and I don't want to attract attention."
Though she clearly didn't believe him, she seemed to resign herself to her fate, and she allowed him to secure her hands. After donning his helmet, he opened the door and marched her out; taking the shortest route to the elevator that would take them to the level of the base that he resided on. There were other apartments up there, but none of the closest were occupied. No one wanted to be neighbors with Kylo Ren.
As soon as they reached his door, he punched in the code and pushed her inside, swiftly removing the restraints, followed by his helmet. He flipped a switch and the lights came on. His apartment was sparse, with a small barely-used kitchenette and table to the right of the door. Straight ahead was a living room of sorts, though all he had was a few bookshelves and an end table adjacent to an uncomfortable-looking black leather couch that for some reason had an extra arm right in the middle, so you couldn't even lay on it. A door on the right side of the living room led to his personal training room and gym, and past that was the small room where he kept Vader's mask. The biggest and most obvious feature out here was the window behind the couch. It was almost the entire length of the wall, and was obscured by massive drapes hanging from an array near the ceiling that opened and closed them with the push of a button (though Kylo couldn't remember the last time he had opened them.)
When he turned back to her, though, she was staring off to the left, into the open door of his bedroom. His double bed, neatly made up with a dark grey comforter, was plainly visible through the door. She slowly turned her eyes back toward his, and backed away from him, looking terrified.
Kylo was confused. He looked from her to his room and then back again. Then it dawned on him what she was afraid of. Oh, shit, no. No, no, no. He quickly strode over to the bedroom door and smacked the button that shut it.
Suddenly he felt awkward and uncomfortable, and wondered what he was thinking bringing her here. He hadn't had a friend since childhood, hadn't had a girlfriend since he was a teenager, and nowadays he had no one at all. His social skills were practically non-existent, and he had no idea how to interact with her if he wasn't threatening her, berating her, or physically harming her. None of which he had any desire to do. He refused to meet her gaze, stammering. "That's... That's not why I brought you here. Not for that."
"Promise?" She was staring at him wide-eyed, having backed herself clear up against the wall.
"I... Yes. I promise. Look... I'm a lot of things, but at least I can say a rapist isn't one of them."
She seemed to relax a bit, and stepped forward. "Why, then?" Kylo stared at the floor, wracking his brain for an answer. He ultimately said fuck it and decided to just go with the truth. "I don't know. Boredom I guess. Curiosity, maybe."
She regarded him for a moment, and then looked around his apartment. "So I'm your prisoner, then?" She shrugged before he could answer. "Well, whatever. Better than dying or being tortured. So what now?"
He didn't know the answer to that either. Cripes, he was in over his head. "Uh... Food? Are you hungry?" She nodded, her reply soft and sad.
"And dirty, and exhausted."
She wasn't kidding. She was covered in dirt, likely from being dragged by his soldiers, and her eyes had dark circles around them. He glanced toward his bedroom. "There's a refresher through there. You can shower if you want. I'll find you some clothes that..." He sighed, scratching the back of his neck. "... probably won't fit very well. And a towel." He saw the concern in her face at this suggestion, and quickly added, "The door locks. You'll be left in peace. There'll be food when you come out."
He went into his room, pulling open a drawer that contained old shirts and lounge pants that he often wore as pajamas. He tossed her one of each, and then grabbed her a towel from another drawer. With that, he left her alone in the bedroom as quickly as possible. What was wrong with him? He had gone from terrifying and intimidating to insecure and timid in the time it took to shut the damn apartment door behind them. Was he really so pathetic that talking to a girl was going to get the best of him? Fuck no. He shook it off and went to order them some dinner.
He had quite recovered by time she came out of his room wearing his clothes. Their food had just arrived, and he found himself hoping the selections he'd made from tonight's menu were things she actually liked. What the fuck, Kylo, she's alive because of you. She'll eat what you damn well give her and like it. He tried not to stare as she crossed the empty area between his bedroom door and the kitchen. He did have to admit that she was attractive. Her hair was a light golden brown and her eyes were a lovely shade of blue. She was slim, and though his clothes hung off her like trash bags he could tell from her previous attire (not to mention the brief flash of her body in the tank) that she had curves in the right places. She wore no makeup and could probably use a tan, but he was never much a fan of those things anyway. It doesn't matter anyhow, because nothing's going to happen.
He didn't need to convince himself of that, because he wasn't lying to himself. The thought of having sex at this point in his life mostly just made him deeply uncomfortable. His libido was healthy and his parts all worked, but it had been driven into him so effectively that such activity was forbidden that he didn't even like to entertain any fantasies. On the occasions that he gave in and got himself off, he always felt disgusting and weak afterward, because he had failed to control himself. Snoke had even berated him for it in front of Hux once, which was one of the most humiliating things to ever happen to him.
They ate in awkward silence until he noticed her hands and remembered their unusual features. "So... Those pads on your fingers. What do those do?"
She regarded him a moment, perhaps wondering if he was still trying to ferret information out of her, but then reached her hand across the table and held it out for inspection. Slowly, almost reverently, he took it; running his own fingers over the soft raised areas, peering at them as she explained their function. "They're organs that transmit the electrical impulses I use to get inside people's heads." He immediately snatched his hand back and eyed her warily. She snorted. "Relax, I'd never do it without your consent. That would be unethical." There was an edge to her voice, and she was clearly referring to his earlier invasion of her own mind.
He dropped his gaze to his plate, suddenly feeling... Well, the fact that he felt anything at all was startling, but he actually felt sort of.. guilty? Seriously? Guilt instead of defensiveness and anger?
What the fuck.
Should he apologize? Would it even sound remotely sincere coming from someone like him? She obviously must view him as some sort of monster. Why wouldn't she? He was a monster. He had already physically assaulted her while interrogating her. No wonder she thought he had brought her here to rape her.
Suddenly, he felt a poke on his own hand, and he looked up at her, startled. "Hey..." she started, looking at him with what appeared to be genuine concern.
What the fuck?
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have needled you about it. What's done is done. It's okay."
WHAT THE FUCK.
He could only stare back, he was so bewildered. She broke the tension by yawning widely, her full belly and lack of sleep starting to get the better of her. He took the opportunity to change the subject. "You're tired. You should sleep. Go curl up in my bed, I've got work to do for a while. I promise I won't touch you." She was apparently too exhausted to argue and clearly couldn't sleep on his stupid couch anyway, and she soon disappeared behind the bedroom door. As he cleared the dishes, he marveled at what had just happened. She had spoken to him kindly, as if he were a human being rather than a monster. No one ever spoke to him kindly. No one really ever spoke to him at all. Not unless they had to. Maybe bringing her here wasn't such a bad idea after all. Maybe he could finally have a friend. Thoughts of what would happen to them both should she be found there sprang forth, but he swatted them away. He needed this. The tiny bit of kindness she had showed him... it was like a drug. It was as if he'd suddenly found a warm fire to sit by after freezing to death for years. He wanted more. Finally, Kylo Ren had something in front of him that he wanted.
He sat down at his computer to go over some reports, but found that he couldn't stop thinking about her. He soon gave up. Fuck it, it was late and he was tired too. He wished he could sleep on the couch; but, again, its insipid design made that impossible. He quietly crept into his room, finding that she was already dead to the world; as far to one side of the bed as she could get. Good. That made things far easier. He quickly changed into pajamas, opting to sleep with a shirt on so as not to frighten her if she woke up before he did. At first he couldn't sleep, too paranoid about accidently shifting and waking her. But he was tired, and soon he drifted off.
Chapter 4: Conversation
Get ready for some awkward shit on Kylo's part. Poor bastard.
Regardless of how tired he was when he went to bed, Kylo slept restlessly and woke early. They had gone to sleep facing away from each other, but during the night each had rolled over and upon opening his eyes he found himself staring right at her. She was still fast asleep, her breathing deep and even and her eyes shut tight. He gingerly lifted the covers and slid out of bed, heading to the refresher to shower and get ready for the day. He didn't need to put any extra effort in to look good. Kylo Ren always looked well put-together. His wardrobe was mostly black, sure, but he chose his clothing carefully and made sure everything fit him perfectly. He somehow managed to keep his hair looking amazing at all times, even after it had been stuffed in his helmet all day. No one dared call him vain to his face, but, well... It was true. He absolutely was. His morning routine was so ingrained at this point that it managed to persist even through his rut. Maybe once he finished it he could finally get some work done.
He hopped into the shower, his mind already on the girl in his bed. He was almost still in denial that this was even happening. But it was. He had a fucking girl in his bed, who he had woken up next to. Sure, he had only slept with her in the most literal sense, but at least he could claim he'd slept with someone.
Somehow, that thought didn't make him feel any better about himself.
Two hours later, his guest was still asleep and Kylo was getting cranky. He had eaten breakfast at his terminal, and by now he had finished all but the last bit of what he needed to do. He'd also spoken to Phasma about how it was going with the efforts to track the spy down again. There wasn't much to report since it hadn't even been a day, but he wanted to make it sound like he was actually still invested in finding her. He leaned back in his chair, rubbing the back of his neck and wondering when she would finally wake up and join him.
It was noon before she finally emerged, bleary-eyed and disheveled. He had busied himself with reviewing the information about his TIE Silencer. It was a prototype, and he was working with the manufacturer; testing it and keeping detailed flight reports so that they could further refine it. His flight controls were already personalized just for him. The starfighter was an absolute beast, and was one of the few things he hadn't completely lost interest in recently. He was secretly hoping that she would think it was cool. He hated himself for wanting to impress her, but he couldn't deny it. Not even 24 hours and you've already got a crush. You're pathetic. He tried to act nonchalant when he heard his bedroom door open, despite the spike of anxiety that hit him.
Kylo didn't hear her approach, but he knew she was creeping up behind him. When he turned around in his chair, she stopped and avoided his gaze. He was going to get up, but she looked frightened, so he opted to remain in his chair where he assumed he looked less threatening. "Feel better?"
She nodded. "Yeah, thanks. I'm still groggy, but it'll wear off." Kylo frowned. Despite her seemingly relaxed demeanor last night, she seemed like she was feeling unsure around him again. Maybe it would just take time. He wished like hell he knew how to act like a normal person. Not scaring her or offending her seemed like an impossible task with his current social skills. Maybe she was hungry.
"Do you need to eat? It's about time for lunch."
"I usually take a while to get hungry after I wake up. What's that you're looking at?"
She was looking past him at the image of his Silencer on the screen. "This? That's my personal starfighter," he said with a note of pride in his voice, immediately bringing up a hologram of the ship so she could see it more clearly. "It's a customized prototype." He couldn't resist adding, after a second, "Our best pilots are the ones who test the early models. This one is called a TIE Silencer, and it's easily the best ship I've ever flown." He studied her face for a reaction. She certainly looked impressed.
"I'm not gonna lie, that thing looks pretty awesome." He moved aside a bit to allow her a closer look at the screen, his heart pounding in his chest. Keep it together, you idiot. For shit's sake, you're worse than a teenager.
He batted the intrusive thought out of his mind, and, bolstered by her positive response, decided to keep it going. "I have something else to show you."
He stood and breezed past her, opening the door to his training room and retrieving his lightsaber. Surely this would blow her mind. Why wouldn't it? It was a goddamn laser sword, and he had built it. He suddenly realized on his way back out the door that it might actually scare her, but it was too late. She'd already seen it in his hand and had cocked an eyebrow, obviously curious.
"Uh, okay, don't freak out, " he offered lamely. She merely blinked in response, but when he held the saber out horizontal to the ground and ignited it her eyes got huge and she took a step back. Kylo held perfectly still, realizing he might have overplayed his hand a bit.
"It's okay... It's not dangerous unless I swing it at you." Wait. Fuck. "... which I have absolutely no intention of doing." He would have facepalmed if he weren't so intent on holding still so as not to frighten her any further.
But, to his surprise, she only blinked one more time and then started to approach. He extinguished the blade and held it out to her, the tips of his ears reddening as he saw how badly his hand was shaking. There wasn't any chance she wouldn't notice. She said nothing, though, and reached out to take it from him, only pausing long enough to ask "How do I not turn it on?"
Kylo pointed to the small activation button. "Don't push that." He watched as she examined the weapon, handling it as if it were made of glass. After a moment, she gave it back. "Are you good with it?"
He wasn't sure at that point whether he should go the arrogant route and take her into his training room to show off, or deny that he could use the thing at all in case she found it distasteful. He decided to simply be honest, but vague.
"I've trained with it for years. Built it myself, actually." He made no offer to show her anything further, and her eyes left the weapon in his hand and met his. "Cool."
Kylo quickly retreated back into his training room to put his saber away, feeling almost faint. He had survived talking to a girl. Not only that, but he had managed to impress her. He took a few deep breaths before walking back out to the living room, where he found her staring at the light coming from under the drapes.
"What's it like outside? Are there trees?" Kylo quickly strode over to hit the button that opened the drapes. "There are, off in the distance. And lots of snow." Did she like snow? Did she even know what snow was? He hadn't seen any in her memories.
She walked to the couch and dropped onto it, facing the window and taking it all in. "When does summer come?" He frowned. "This... Isn't really a summer kind of planet." Her face fell, and she dropped her chin onto the back of the couch. "Oh."
Well, shit. There was nothing to be done about the climate. Unsure of what to do, he went and sat next to her. He didn't know what to say, either, and quickly started to feel awkward. She seemed to recover, however, and looked over her shoulder toward the kitchen. "I guess I'd better eat." He was all too happy to move on. "I'll order us some lunch. Let's go pull up the menu."
Before long they were seated at the table eating. Both had chosen one of the various soups on offer, which came with a hunk of bread and a few bites of cheese. "Well, at least the food's good. By the way... You never actually told me your name." Shit, she was right. How stupid could he be? "Uh... It's Kylo. Kylo Ren. I'm sorry, I don't remember what you said yours was. "
"Hyalitha. Well, Lady Hyalitha, technically; but you certainly don't have to use the title. Litha will do."
They soon settled into comfortable conversation, remaining at the table long after finishing lunch. He asked her about her work, her home, and her species. Both planet and species were called Dimar. Not all of them were changelings, but many were, and those who showed any sort of talent for the healing arts were quickly recruited. What was hard for him to wrap his mind around was how they did it. Being masters at genetic engineering, they grew specially designed human bodies in tanks using the DNA of individual dimar, who could then shapeshift into them. He felt like there must be more to it than that, but she wasn't a scientist, and she didn't know much more than what little she remembered from her classes at the Academy. When he asked why they used human bodies, she had simply responded that humans were everywhere these days, even on Dimar itself. It made it easy for them to hide when doing business on other planets, and it made it easy for their healers to set up clinics. Most people who had seen a Soother had no idea what they really were.
Before her kidnapping, she had worked in the public sector, spending the first few years on Dimar and then, once she had some experience, accepting assignments to a rotation of clinics on planets in the Outer Rim. Her parents had indeed perished fighting the fires that burned out of control on the mainland during the dry season. She wanted to return, even with no one to go home to, but Dimar was somewhere deep in the Unknown Regions, and she had no idea how to get back without a knowledgeable pilot. Though they maintained contacts with a few trusted groups around the Galaxy, her kind preferred to avoid conflict and therefore went to great lengths to keep their planet's location a secret. It had worked for them so far, but unfortunately it left her without a way to get home.
Kylo was stunned that these creatures had managed to escape notice for so long. And now the First Order had one in its clutches. If he were to turn her in, he might be completely redeemed in his master's eyes. The temptation passed as quickly as it came. Fuck the First Order and fuck Snoke. He had spent too much of his life with nothing, and now he had something of his own. He wasn't giving her up, not for anything. They could all go fuck themselves.
"Why can't you shapeshift anymore?"
She sighed. "The slavers have been kidnapping our healers off Outer Rim planets for years, because our talents are rare and we make them a lot of money. They know what we are, and they've invented a chip that somehow stops us from changing. They put it in our backs between our shoulder blades. That way we'd have to have help to cut it out, and they keep us isolated from the other slaves." She paused, staring at the table. "I haven't been a dimar since I was taken three years back. I'm stuck like this for as long as that blasted chip is in me."
She had started to ask him about his own background, but he quickly shut it down and directed the conversation elsewhere. The less she knew about his past, the better. He did tell her a bit about his apprenticeship to the Supreme Leader of the First Order and let on that he was unhappy in his role, but he didn't go into detail other than to vent a little about how he had spent years without comforts that most people take for granted, like music. Shit, music! He had completely forgotten. He stood suddenly and went to pull open the drawer that he had left her music player in.
"I completely forgot I had this. It was given to me when they brought you in." He held it out, and she gasped. "I thought this was gone for good!" It was immensely satisfying to see how happy she was to have it back. She told him about how she had spent her time in the Outer Rim gathering whatever music she heard that she liked and keeping it stored on her device. Since severe stress negatively impacted a healer's abilities to the point of almost complete ineffectiveness, her owner had allowed her to keep it when he bought her in an effort to help her adjust to her new reality. Unfortunately, after about eight months, its memory had somehow become corrupted. She knew this might happen and had uploaded the files needed to restore it along with a backup of her music library to a server on the Holonet, but as a slave she had no Holonet access.
"I haven't actually heard any of my music in ages, but I couldn't bring myself to get rid of the player."
"I have Holonet access. Do you remember your login for the server?"
She stared at him, momentarily speechless.
Kylo soon had her set up at his terminal. He watched for a moment as she furiously typed away, but realized the restoration would likely take a while since she had to overwrite the corrupted memory. He figured now was as good a time as any to spend some time in his training room, so he left her to her task.
He flowed through his usual routine, his lightsaber humming as it sliced through the air. He wondered if Litha would like to learn any combat skills since she didn't seem afraid of the saber or his ability to weild it. She didn't seem as if she were particularly prone to violence, but she didn't need to be just to have fun with it. He had a few sparring swords lying around. He could teach her. Before long he extinguished his saber and sat down on the floor to meditate, having barely broken a sweat.
He had barely closed his eyes when he heard it through the door, and his stomach flip-flopped in his belly. Music. She had already gotten it working and was playing it through the computer terminal. He stood and put his ear to the door, but couldn't hear it clearly, so he went ahead and hit the button to open it.
And I've been a fool and I've been blind
I can never leave the past behind
I can see no way, I can see no way
I'm always dragging that horse around
All of these questions, such a mournful sound
Tonight I'm gonna bury that horse in the ground
I like to keep my issues drawn
It's always darkest before the dawn
Kylo stood utterly transfixed, listening to Litha singing along to the lyrics. She had installed herself on the couch, again turned around to look out the window, and he wasn't sure if he'd ever seen someone look so happy. Man, that girl could sing. He vaguely remembered seeing memories of voice lessons in her head, so she must have been trained as part of her schooling. He kept listening.
And I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart
'cause I like to keep my issues drawn
It's always darkest before the dawn
He had missed the 'darkest before the dawn' part the first time, but this time it jumped out at him. It was something his mother always used to say. He squeezed his eyes shut, willing the memory away.
And it's hard to dance with the devil on your back
Given half the chance, would I take any of it back
It's a fine romance, but it's left me so undone
But it's always darkest before the dawn
Ugh. He had been elated to hear music again and especially to hear Litha singing, but this shit was starting to bum him out. It reminded him too much of his situation. And too much of his mother. He walked out into the living room, and she stopped singing and turned down the music's volume. He sat down next to her, almost feeling like he was intruding, but she beamed at him. "Do you like this one?"
He didn't have the heart to tell her it had kind of made him sad, so he just nodded. "What else do you have?"
"Hmm..." She started one called 'Dance Apocalyptic' , but he wrinkled his nose once it got going. "This one's a bit much." She snickered, as if she were expecting that response. "Okay then. This one is one of my favorites..."
They sat there for hours listening to her music. She didn't sing anymore with him sitting there next to her, which disappointed him, but the thought of asking her to sing for him was mortifying. Later that night during dinner, however, he couldn't help but comment on her talent.
"Ehh, it's really not a talent," she laughed. "Our human forms are genetically engineered, remember. Part of the therapy we do involves singing to people to comfort them. We're made to be able to sing. Even regular dimar often get their vocal cords modified if they don't inherit a good singing voice from their parents."
"Your society sounds complex."
"It is, and it isn't. It's hard to describe. Dimar society is something you have to immerse yourself in to truly understand."
Kylo wished he could immerse himself in it. What a change that would be, to escape to a planet so remote it wasn't even on most star maps and live in peace. She seemed to sense that he was lost in thought, and they fell into a comfortable silence as they ate. Thinking back to his brutal treatment of her during the interrogation, Kylo eventually lost interest in his food and began to simply chase it around his plate with his fork. He glanced up at Litha across the table, where she was gazing at him with mild concern. He dropped his eyes and stared back down at his plate. "I'm sorry about yesterday. For scaring you and pulling your hair I mean."
"I mean, you choked me too, but who's keeping track?"
He winced, and slowly looked back up. She stared him down for a moment, then relented.
"It's okay. The person who wears that helmet isn't really you."
He got up to clear the plates from the table, suddenly feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable. Litha opted to let it go. She tried to help him clean up, but he shooed her away; and so she went to take a shower before bed. He was already curled up under the covers along the edge of his side of the bed when she came out with nothing but a towel around her. She quickly noticed that he was there in the room, and though she no longer feared him, she took note of how uncomfortable he seemed with her lack of clothing and went right back into the refresher to dress.
Hopping into bed beside him, she stretched her legs out under the covers, wincing as her joints popped. "Will you have to leave tomorrow?"
"Depends on whether or not I get news of that spy being found. If they find her, I have to go get her myself. Maybe then I can avoid the massive bitch-slap I'm going to get from my master."
"It wasn't your fault they brought me instead of her. What happened to them, by the way?"
"They paid the ultimate price for their stupidity. They had not only a clear description of her but photos as well. And they still chose you from the lineup."
"...They're dead? You killed them?"
He turned to look at her, puzzled.
"Of course. The Supreme Leader would have had my head if I hadn't. Aren't you glad they were punished? I mean, they're the entire reason you're stuck here to begin with."
She looked like she was on the verge of tears. "I'm never going to be happy to hear that someone got hurt on my account. Getting killed is even worse. And being here is still better than isolation and slavery. I hope at least that you didn't make them suffer. They just made a mistake. Just one mistake."
He felt awful, but at least he could honestly say that they had died instantly. Great, now she probably hates you, you piece of shit.
"I didn't mean to make you feel like it's your fault they're dead. I'm sorry."
"Your master is a monster." She sounded angry, whereas Kylo just sounded resigned and miserable.
"...so am I. He chose me for a reason."
She shook her head, staring hard at the ceiling. "No. If he's anything like the vast majority of sociopathic abusive sacks of shit out there, he chose you because you were an easy mark and had something he wanted to exploit. Here, let me guess: He found you young and insecure, told you you were special, which was exactly what you wanted to hear at the time, and then convinced you that you needed him to reach your potential. That about right?"
He remained silent. It was spot on, but he didn't want to admit it. He wished this conversation had never happened.
She huffed softly, venom creeping into her voice. "Thought so. These degenerates all pull their tactics from the same playbook, I swear. I've counseled so many victims of people like your master. They're pond scum, the whole rotten lot of them."
That's it. No more talking. "We should get some sleep. Goodnight." It came out a lot sharper than he meant it to.
She merely grunted in response.
Song in this chapter is Shake it Out by Florence and the Machine, with a mention of Dance Apocalyptic by Janelle Monae.
Chapter 6: The Third Day
Neither of them slept well that night, and when Litha awoke, she found that Kylo was already out of bed even though it was only just after dawn. She was still a bit raw about his killing the soldiers that brought her here, but after their conversation last night she had new insight into who Kylo Ren was. Figuring people out was her job, after all, and Kylo wasn't particularly difficult to figure out. She didn't even need to see into his mind, he wore his feelings on his sleeve and seemed at a loss to control them. Despite the intimidating front he tried to put up he was frightened, confused, and seemed to be utterly miserable. Not to mention awkward. She had quickly realized he had no intention of harming her and almost started to rib him about how bad he was at trying to impress a girl during the lightsaber showcasing yesterday; but he seemed like he was too fragile to handle it, so she had kept her mouth shut. Naturally, she wanted to help. She could see the good in him a mile away, and she wanted to help him dig it out and let it shine.
There was also the fact that he was ridiculously, stupidly attractive. She hated to admit it, but he was. Everything about him seemed to be inherently sexy; from his massive, well-muscled frame to the way his hair fell about his face. She had noticed the way the sun brought out the different shades of brown in his eyes yesterday when they sat on his couch listening to music, and the intensity of his very presence was captivating. Hell, even his voice was sexy.
She flung the covers off and got out of bed, shaking herself of such thoughts. Clearly it had been far too long since she'd gotten laid; it seemed nearly every other man she saw was attractive at this point. Kylo, though... Very few human men she'd ever met even held a candle to him. She sighed in frustration and walked toward the bedroom door. There were more important things to worry about right now. The poor man was enough of a mess already, he didn't need a sexual entanglement complicating things further. Besides, there was absolutely no way she'd be able to avoid catching feelings. She was already in danger of developing them without even touching him, and knew that he was at risk of the same. Loneliness makes you vulnerable to such things regardless of how badly you expect it all to end. The door opened, and she walked out into the open space next to the kitchen. Where was he?
Frowning, she went to sit on the couch by the window to wait for him to make an appearance. After a while she began to get cold; and she pulled her legs up and huddled there, shivering. The sun was only barely over the trees, and wasn't strong enough yet to warm her. Just when she was about to give up waiting and go get back under the covers, the door to his training room opened and he stepped into the morning light that crept across the floor. His brow furrowed as he looked at her.
She nodded. "I don't tolerate cold particularly well in my human form."
He blinked, almost as if at a loss for what to do, then turned and strode across the apartment into the bedroom. He emerged with a blanket, which he dropped into her lap before sitting down next to her on the couch. She gratefully wrapped herself up in it all the way up to her nose, and sat looking at him over the folds of the blanket. Kylo wanted to laugh and tell her she looked ridiculous, but nothing came out, not even a smile. He didn't feel comfortable enough to try to engage in any banter with her, especially after last night. Banter was what friends did, and he wasn't friend material. Not for someone like her.
"Didn't you sleep last night?"
Her question caught him off guard, and he blinked again before answering. "... Kind of." He didn't want to talk about what had transpired, and he hoped she wouldn't press him. He was beginning to become aware that that wasn't how she approached these situations, though.
"I'm sorry if I upset you. It was just distressing to hear that..." She trailed off, and started over. "I know your way of handling these things is what you've been taught, and that it's how you're expected to handle things. I'm not angry with you. But I think I might start to hate your master."
He stared at the floor, completely at a loss as to how to even respond. He simply didn't know how to handle a calm, rational conversation about what had transpired.
She sighed. "I'm sorry, I don't really know how to fix this. I feel like I've made everything awkward now."
Her candor gave him a bit of confidence. She was making herself quite vulnerable by admitting she was at a loss, and it made it feel like the playing field was a bit more level. "You're not anywhere near as awkward as I am."
Litha again had to bite her tongue to stop herself from ribbing him. She didn't want to make things worse, and putting him on the defensive would do exactly that. She opted to reassure him instead. "There's nothing wrong with your awkwardness. It's sort of endearing, really. And, I mean, this can't be easy for you if what you've told me about being so isolated is true."
"It isn't. I don't know what I was thinking bringing you here."
"Probably something along the lines of 'Hey, finally something to break up the monotony, and she isn't horrible to me, yay!'"
He snorted, which was about as close as he ever got to laughing. "You know, you're creepily good at reading people. Except for the 'yay' part."
Their comfort with one another restored, they started to discuss her work again. He was caught off guard when, after talking for a while, she offered her services to him.
"Not to be overly forward, but I think I could help you quite a bit, actually. You seem to have a lot of anxiety. I mean, most of it is probably due to your quite frankly terrible circumstances, but I could still help you learn to cope."
He balked at the suggestion, finding the very idea overwhelming and terrifying. He needed to shut this down, and quickly. "Yeah, no. I actually have some stuff I need to attend to, so I'll be out for a while. I'll be back for dinner." Without waiting for a response, he stood and went to the refresher to shower and get ready for the day.
Litha sighed and folded the blanket up, abandoning it on the couch in favor of the bed. She might as well go back to sleep if Kylo was going to be out. She wasn't overly worried about his response to her suggestion, of course. She'd have been shocked if he had agreed right off the bat. She was already asleep when Kylo came out of the refresher, and he walked around the bed and crouched down in front of her. It took all of his willpower not to reach up and brush the hair out of her face. Instead, he gently laid his hand on her shoulder, which startled her awake, causing her to sit bolt upright in bed.
He fell backwards onto his ass. "Shit, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to scare you."
She whimpered and curled up into a ball facing him, covering her head with her arms. It seemed she was disoriented in addition to being frightened.
He righted himself and leaned his elbows on the bed, resting his head on top of his arms as he peered at her. "Were you having a bad dream?"
She didn't answer. Seemingly already falling back to sleep, she simply half mumbled, half whimpered something unintelligible. Kylo wanted to comfort her somehow, but didn't dare touch her again. He wondered what could have happened to her to warrant such a response. Suddenly she squirmed a bit closer to him and stretched out her arm enough for it to make contact with his. He bristled at the uninvited contact at first, but she was clearly seeking comfort, and his desire to make her stop looking so pitiful and scared won out. He laid his hand on her head as gently as he could. She flinched a bit, but after a few seconds her face smoothed out and her breathing became even and steady again.
Kylo left the room wondering what the fuck had just happened. He had only meant to wake her enough to let her know where she could find food in his apartment since ordering it herself while he was elsewhere on base was out of the question. He opted to simply pull open the door to the cabinet where he kept a few non-perishables and hope she got the idea. Then he retrieved his lightsaber and mask, donned his cloak, and left feeling highly unsettled, as if something bad were about to happen.
Chapter 7: Soothing
Turns out, his instincts were correct. After a few hours of tending to business, he was informed out of the blue that fucking Hux was back early. The smug prick had already been briefed about the spy situation, and before he knew it he was being summoned before the Supreme Leader, who contacted them via hologram from the First Order's flagship, the Supremacy. He was utterly terrified; not just for himself, but for Litha as well. He had to keep Snoke from sensing that something was up. Their very lives depended on it.
Apart from the dread of being found out, the meeting went about as well as he expected it to. Snoke had berated him, called him weak and stupid and probably a bunch of other things that Kylo had simply tuned out, and, as expected, confined him to quarters for a week. Hux had, ironically, been his saving grace. True to form, he had taken every opportunity to rat Kylo out on every little mistake he had made over the past several weeks. The one thing that could still piss him off was being humiliated, and being humiliated by Hux... well. Kylo had latched onto that anger, amplifying it into a rage that consumed and obscured everything in his mind that he wanted to keep secret. It was such an effective distraction that Snoke hadn't been able to snatch a single glimpse at any of his feelings or memories pertaining to Hyalitha. He had simply sneered at Kylo with the sort of contempt that even six months ago would have reduced him to a mess of self-loathing and dismissed him without another word. Crisis averted.
Unfortunately, that sort of rage never just evaporated into thin air. Not for Kylo Ren, not even now. As he stormed back into his apartment, he threw his helmet onto the floor, sending it skidding away under the kitchen table and causing Litha to jump up off the couch, where she had retreated to after waking up hungry and raiding the cabinet he had left open for her. He refused to look at her, knowing she was going to try to talk to him, to calm him, to try to tell him things would be okay. He didn't want that. He didn't want any of it. He wanted to be alone, but he couldn't be alone because he was confined to quarters and she was in his quarters, confined just the same. It wasn't her fault, and he knew it wasn't her fault, but just knowing she was there made him even angrier. Maybe if he locked himself in his training room she'd be smart enough to-
"Kylo? What happened?" God fucking dammit. He rounded on her, losing control in a way he instantly regretted.
"What the fuck do you care?"
She said nothing in return. He could only imagine the look that must be on her face. Here she was, the closest thing he'd had to a friend in years, and he was throwing one of his tantrums and yelling at her. When he finally mustered up the courage to look at her, he found that she had sat back down. The blanket he had given her earlier lay forgotten on the floor. He hated himself even more than he usually did, standing there looking at her small form huddled on the couch. All he had done the whole time he'd known her was terrorize her. God, I am such a piece of shit. Why am I like this?
Heaving a sigh, he made his way over to her, picking the blanket up off the floor and sitting down next to her. He wanted to wrap her up in it and tell her how sorry he was, that he didn't mean it, that he only got so angry in the first place to protect her from Snoke. Of course, that sounded completely ridiculous. She had no idea he'd even been called before Snoke, so he dropped the blanket back on the floor and put his head in his hands. Then he heard her sniffle, and his heart sank. Kylo, you absolute piece of shit.
He was terrified of making things even worse, but he had to say something.
"I'm sorry... That was... Unfair. And unkind. You've been so good to me despite everything I've done to you, and..." he trailed off, unable to come up with anything else.
"I just want to help," came her soft reply. Of course she does. Because she's your polar opposite. You fuck things up, and she fixes them. But she can't fix you, can she?
He sighed. "You'd be wasting your time. You can't help me. No one can help me."
She wiped her eyes. "Yes I can."
"I shouldn't keep you here any longer."
"I've helped plenty of folks who had bigger issues than you."
"I should find a way to get you off this rock and far away from this entire mess."
"Literally my job, dude."
"You deserve better than this."
She huffed, growing irritated. She was still sleep-deprived and already hungry again, and she'd had just about enough of his goddamn drama. "Are you always this melodramatic when things go the slightest bit wrong?"
He turned and stared at her, unable to remember the last time anyone besides Snoke had talked to him that way. Even Hux, for all his snide commentary and passive aggression, would never say something so bold right to his face. It was... actually sort of refreshing.
"I don't deserve your help."
That was apparently the wrong thing to say. She was up in a flash, looming over him, forcing him to lean back into the couch as she launched into a tirade that would have made his mother proud.
"Alright, dumbass," Well that got old fast.
"You're apparently pretty fucking clueless as to how this works, so I'm gonna help you out! I'm gonna clue you in! Because here's the thing: You don't get to fucking decide whether you deserve something that I'm freely offering. That's my choice. That's my decision. You don't get to take that agency away from me. You can take it or leave it, but you don't get to decide if you deserve it. And here's another thing: You are not that different from other people I've counseled. You think you're sooooo beyond hope, that your problems are the worst anyone has ever experienced. Well guess what? I've met people like you. I've helped people like you heal. I have been at this for years, I know how to recognize people who are hopeless. You're not. Don't you dare insult me by trying to tell me what I can and can't do. You don't know shit, so snap out of it and let me do my damn job. I've got fuck-all else to do around here anyway but sit around and apparently wait for you to blow in here like a hurricane and start yelling at me."
He had slumped into a proper sulk by time she was finished; arms crossed tightly over his chest and gaze fixed firmly off to the side.
"You look like a moody teenager who's just been told to take out the trash."
He threw his hands up, exasperated. "Okay, fine! Help away! What's the first step? Where does an enlightened professional such as yourself even start with someone like me?"
She ignored his mocking tone, considering herself to have won this round. "We start small. We start with here and now. When was the last time you ate anything?"
He snorted. "Really? Eat some dinner? That's your grand suggestion?"
She leaned forward, raising her voice. "It's the first of several. Stop being shitty."
So much for her being terrified. He huffed, falling right back into sulking. "My stomach's in knots. I can't eat when I've got this much going on."
She held her hands up and wiggled her fingers at him. "I can fix that too. Just because I can't perform major surgery doesn't mean I can't soothe an upset stomach."
He glared up at her. "I know I'm going to regret this. Fine, what do I have to do?"
"You just have to sit still while I touch my fingertips to your temples, and let me in when you feel me come knocking. Before we start, though, I've gotta give you the spiel."
"What, that wasn't it before?"
"Shut it." He smirked triumphantly. She ignored him. "Before I start, I need you to understand what I'm going to do. And I need you to understand that I can only do any of it with your consent. If at any time you become uncomfortable or want me to stop, just say the word and I'll cut the connection immediately, no questions asked. Now, what I'd like to do is go into your mind and soothe the emotions that are causing the physical problems in the first place. Anxiety and stress are often to blame for stomach and appetite issues. I can fix your stomach without dealing with those first, but it probably isn't going to last much longer than it'll take for you to eat. Having a full belly might be the kick in the pants you need to deal with the anxiety on your own, but you know yourself best. It's your call. What's it gonna be?"
He narrowed his eyes at her. "You think I'm too chickenshit to let you into my mind?"
She stared him down, refusing to mince words. "Pretty much, yeah. You're guarded as all hell. You'll be a tough nut to crack, for sure, but I know I can do it. I can tell you want to get better. And ultimately, that's all it really takes."
He'd never admit it, but she indeed had him all figured out. He didn't want to let her into his mind. The idea of willingly letting anyone just go in there and fuck around was horrifying to him after years of Snoke's bullshit. But... She was right about everything else too. He did want to get better. And just like when he had to decide what to do with her in the first place, his choice was either the scary thing or the status quo. And the status quo still sucked. Besides, he felt obligated to toss her at least one small bone on account of how he'd been acting. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
"Do whatever you think is best. I trust you."
Her gaze softened, and she sat down next to him, raising her hands to his face. "I won't pry, I promise. I'll only get at exactly what I need to and no more." He flinched when she made contact with his skin. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end as he felt the faint electrical current coursing through the pads on her fingertips. A gentle warmth flowed between them, and suddenly... There she was. Her consciousness was there, gently bumping against his, waiting to be let in. He hesitated, momentarily unable to bring himself to let his guard down. But the warmth continued to flow over him, and with it he could somehow feel her soothing his fear away. She nudged again, and he relented, allowing her mind to meld with his. He gasped, not out of shock but because he had apparently been holding his breath this entire time.
'Wow, you are a mess, aren't you, little human?' Though it was strange to hear her call him 'little', her words reverberated with warmth, and affection, and amusement, and somehow he knew she wasn't judging him for the million different fears swarming his mind like a plague of insects.
'I warned you.' His own thoughts echoed with sadness and resignation, and immediately he felt her pounce on those feelings and smother them with her warmth. Holy shit. Before he could say anything else she was diving down below, moving from his head to his throat to his belly, and soothing away the pain that had been a constant companion throughout the day. She returned almost as fast as she had moved away. With her came intense, gnawing hunger.
'Oops. I should have made sure there was food waiting for you before I started. Bit of a rookie mistake, sorry.' It was so odd the way he could feel her apology as she said it. Litha's thoughts were all projected against a background of whatever she was feeling. And, at the moment, she felt foolish for her oversight.
'It's okay. I'm not going to die of hunger before we're done... But what now?' He already felt a million times better, even though he was certain she hadn't deliberately set out to calm him other than that first response that had surprised him so.
'You could start by showing me what had you so upset when you came back.'
He brought up the memory of his day suddenly being turned upside down, starting with her frightened response to being touched while she slept.
In response, there was a soft 'Oh,' and he received images of her being suddenly dragged out of bed by armed thugs and pinned to the ground. A sudden, sharp pain in her back. The feral desire to change to her true form and rip these people apart for daring to defile the sanctuary they'd set up. But the change never came, and she was hauled off to her life of slavery.
The memories made him sad, but she nudged him to keep going, having only wanted to show him why she was easily startled awake. This wasn't about her. He moved on to being informed that Hux was back and knew about the bungled spy mission, and then to the meeting itself, with an emphasis on how afraid he was that Snoke would smell a rat. He felt a flash of contempt that was aimed at Hux's peacocking before the Supreme Leader, relishing in the opportunity to humiliate Kylo. A wave of revulsion followed when he showed her Snoke's twisted form. And then, understanding. She understood why he had come back in a rage, and she forgave him.
After this, her consciousness expanded within his and began to poke around, alarming him and causing him to recoil. Immediately, she soothed that alarm away too, allowing him to relax as she explained.
'Hush, now... It's alright. You know how to hide whatever thoughts and memories you don't want me to see. I promised you I wouldn't pry. But you're guarded exceptionally well, and it's hard for me to nail down the emotions I need to calm if I can't use thoughts or memories for context. It's fine, I can do it without you loosening up. You don't have to reveal anything you aren't ready to.'
If the way she had worded that last sentence didn't give away that she knew he was hiding something that he wished he were brave enough to let her see, the feelings behind the words would have. He could sense that she knew, and yet he didn't feel ashamed because at the same time he could feel her telling him without even using words that it was okay. That there was nothing to be ashamed of. That it would all work out in the end. She then flooded his mind with a sense of relief and well-being. Those feelings were so foreign to him at that point in his life that it was outright jarring.
'That'll have to do for now. Whatever else is on your mind is going to start bothering you again before long, though. You can tell me about it whenever you feel ready to. Facing it is the only way to get rid of it for good.'
Fuck it. He was feeling so damn good at that point, what was the worst that could happen if he opened up? She had made him feel better about every little thing along the way, so why stop now? But he didn't know where to start, or how to put any of it into words.
'That's okay too. If it'll be easier for you, I can just go in and start ferreting things out. A lot of people find that to be much less stressful than having to take an active role in confessing what's eating at them.'
Wordlessly, he gave his reluctant approval. She projected another small burst of comfort before diving into the tangled web of fear that lurked in his mind behind the superficial (and artificial, he was realizing, no matter how real they felt) positive emotions that she had filled him with. Those emotions began to fall away as she hauled his issues out, one by one.
'You've been severely depressed. For months. The apathy scared you at first, but eventually even that slipped through your fingers. Thoughts of suicide... Oh, Kylo.' Her words echoed with sadness, but she kept going. 'You feel selfish and guilty for keeping me here like a pet. You're terrified of what will happen if Snoke finds out... Well, that makes two of us. You know we have to escape to stay safe, but don't know how to do it without getting us both caught and killed, and thinking about it is overwhelming. Suddenly having feelings again is also overwhelming and you don't know what to do with any of it. You're overwhelmed by what I'm doing right now. You want to know what it feels like to be held, but you're afraid to ask. Well, now you don't have to. See how easy that was? You... Are very hungry. And so am I. The physical sensation of hunger is starting to overshadow everything. This won't be productive for much longer... Why don't we get ourselves some comfort food and I'll put you to sleep? We can pick up where we left off tomorrow morning. Or afternoon. We're both exhausted too.'
He agreed, eager to escape the intense experience of having his feelings laid bare and dissected. She hadn't quite hit all of them, and he couldn't say he felt any better about any of it, but it was a start.
It took a second for his eyes to refocus after she cut the connection. They stood and went to order their dinner, selecting the heaviest, most unhealthy things on offer. They even ordered dessert, and both of them tore into it the second the serving droid dropped it off. It was an immensely satisfying meal.
She was already in bed by time he had changed out of his clothes into pajamas.
"I feel like I should be giving you a long-winded speech or something to thank you for helping me... But I'm tired and you get it anyway."
She laughed, lifting the covers for him. "I do. Come on, get in here. Looks like I won't have to put you to sleep after all." He sank into the bed and curled up with his back to her. His eyes were already half closed when he suddenly felt her shuffle close and press herself up against him, curling into his back and burying her face between his shoulder blades as he stiffened. She snickered at his sharp intake of breath.
"Wide awake now, are we?"
"What are you doing? What is happening?"
"You wanted to be held. Relax. You're human and you need physical contact. You'll get used to it."
He found that he couldn't get used to it, though. He shifted uncomfortably, pulling away. She switched tactics, letting go of him and instead reaching up to gently run her fingers through his hair. Oh. Oh. That felt amazing. Her fingertips trailed down the back of his head and came to rest on the nape of his neck, and he shivered. Again and again she stroked his hair. And something awakened in that moment within Kylo Ren.
He turned to face her and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close and burying his nose in her hair. Suddenly there were so many things to discover and delight in. Her scent, the softness of her skin, the warmth of her breath on his chest, the way she wiggled against him to get comfortable in the new position. He nuzzled her forehead with his nose, then pressed his lips against it, awash in the most intense feelings of... What the hell was it, even? Was this what love felt like? Fuck, he didn't even care. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered but her. And if Snoke found her here... He'd take her away. He'd hurt her. He'd kill her right in front of him. The very thought of it filled him with rage... And resolve. Snoke was no longer his master. In that moment, Snoke became Kylo Ren's most hated enemy.
He closed his eyes again. He would have to figure out what to do tomorrow, because tonight, sleep was winning the war. Hyalitha squirmed onto her other side, seeming to prefer being the little spoon. It was the last thing he was aware of before slipping soundly into oblivion.
Kylo awoke the next morning to find that Litha was already out of bed. He hauled himself upright and headed into the refresher, feeling slightly disappointed. He had hoped to simply lay in bed with her for a while before starting his day.
His stomach was growling by the time he left his bedroom. Litha had the drapes open and was on the floor sunning herself in a patch of morning light. She looked radiant, and he wondered how he had failed to notice how beautiful she was until now. He wondered if she found him even remotely attractive, and doubted it. Anxiety bubbled to the surface. What was he doing? Snoke had told him time and time again that forming attachments was for the weak, and would only make you weaker. Attachments were distractions that opened you up to all sorts of things that could bite you in the ass. Attachments got you hurt. Attachments could and would be used against you. He shouldn't care if she found him attractive. He shouldn't be held captive by her beauty or charm. He worried what would happen if he became dependent on... What, exactly? The things she had done for him last night? The way he felt falling asleep with her small form pressed against his body? Wasn't it too late already, though? The idea of going back to the way things were before he met her made him feel sick to his stomach. He was already ruined. He started toward his terminal to bring up the breakfast menu, but promptly realized that he had lost his appetite. With a soft sigh, he walked over and joined Litha on the floor.
"How long have you been up?"
She rolled onto her back and stretched, causing her shirt to ride up and expose her belly for a few seconds before she fixed it. Kylo tried not to notice.
"Not that long before I heard you head into the refresher. Half an hour, maybe. I couldn't resist the sun."
"So I see."
She yawned and sat back up. "How are you feeling?"
He shrugged. "I'm okay."
"Do you want to talk about last night?"
"Why, you want to rub it in that you were right and I was wrong?"
"...I mean, yes. Because I was, and you were. But no, I mostly just wanted to make sure you aren't freaking out too badly about what happened in bed."
Kylo felt foolish, thinking that with almost any other adult his age that statement would have been in reference to a sexual encounter, not just a few cuddles. He remained silent, wondering if her ability to read him was really an ability to read him or just her own experience telling her what to expect. He expected her to start pressing him about it, but she didn't.
"Have you heard the story of The Little Prince and the Fox?"
"Not that I can remember. Tell me."
"Well, it's actually a small part of a much bigger story, but it's my favorite part. The Little Prince has left his tiny planet to see what else is out there. At this point in the story, he's lying in the grass on some other planet, and he's sad and lonely. And then a fox appears, just like that. The prince says, "Come and play with me, I am so unhappy." But the fox just shakes his head. "I can't play with you. I'm not tamed," he says. And the prince doesn't know what that means. So the fox explains that it means 'to establish ties'. After all, to the prince, the fox is no different than a hundred thousand other foxes; and to the fox, the prince is no different than a hundred thousand other little boys. And the fox wants to be tamed. So he says to the prince:
"My life is very monotonous. I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat... Please, tame me!" he said.
So he did. He tamed the fox. But the little prince wasn't finished with his journey, and eventually it came time for him to go.
"Ah," said the fox, "I shall cry."
"It is your own fault," said the little prince. "I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you..."
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"But now you are going to cry!" said the little prince.
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"Then it has done you no good at all!"
"It has done me good," said the fox, "because of the color of the wheat fields."
Litha turned to him. "Do you get what the fox is saying there? It was worth it. No matter how much it hurt to lose his friend, the experience brought meaning to a part of the fox's world that was always meaningless before. And I bet if the fox had the choice to exchange that experience for not having to feel the way he felt watching the prince leave, he wouldn't have done it."
Kylo stared at her; completely flabbergasted at how she had, in the span of a few minutes of story-telling, eradicated his doubts and fears. He wasn't sure at this point if she was just a professional or an actual miracle worker, but his money was on the latter. His eyes dropped to her lips.
Litha knew what was going to happen before it happened. Unbeknownst to Kylo, she'd had similar fears this morning when she woke up. But she remembered the story of the Little Prince and the Fox; the story that she'd told countless times to encourage someone to take a plunge that they were afraid to take for fear of getting hurt. In that moment, she knew what was going to happen. And she took the plunge, just as he did.
She slid a hand around the back of his neck as their lips met, simultaneously reassuring him and causing him to shudder. Ever the adventurous one, Litha deepened the kiss, opening her mouth to invite his tongue inside. She could hear his heart pounding and feel him shaking as he tentatively put his hands on her waist. It was a bit awkward sitting the way they were on the floor, so Litha leaned backward, pulling him down on top of her as she sprawled out on her back.
This was the point at which Kylo began to panic a bit. Was she hoping to have sex? Would she be horribly disappointed to find that he wasn't anywhere near ready? That he felt even now that he may never be ready? His cock strained against his pants as she ground her hips suggestively against him, but even so... He wasn't ready for sex.
But he was ready for something else. He suddenly pulled away, breaking the kiss and staring down at her as she stared up at him; confusion written on her face.
"We have to leave tonight."
The story Litha tells Kylo is from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. You can read the chapter here:
Chapter 9: The Escape
The next several hours were a whirlwind of making plans and gathering supplies. They ran through several ideas before settling on a course of action. Kylo would go into the shipping and receiving schedules and create a fake supply run using a transport that was docked in one of the smaller, less frequented hangars. Then, dressed as Stormtroopers, they would board the transport and leave for the specified route. These runs were such a common occurrence that it would raise no suspicion; and once they were far enough along the route, they could simply make a jump for a planet to hide out on. The First Order was currently working on a method of tracking ships through hyperspace; but the technology wasn't ready yet and even if it were, there was little reason to go to the trouble and expense of outfitting simple supply transports with trackers. If they could make it to hyperspace, then they could easily disappear. Kylo went to his terminal and brought up the scheduling program for supply runs. "This part isn't hard at all. I schedule these runs all the time, and so do Hux and Phasma depending on what we need. I just have to..." He trailed off, his face suddenly lighting up in a grin that was downright predatory. Litha had never seen him smile, and wasn't entirely sure how she felt about the way he was doing it. She cocked an eyebrow at him as he turned to look at her, biting his lip in an expression of pure fiendish glee.
"I'm gonna do it under Hux's name instead of mine. Oh man, Snoke's gonna skewer him when they figure it out."
Litha watched as he typed. "How do you have his login credentials?"
"... I have my methods."
Remembering how he got information out of her head the day they'd met, she decided that she'd rather not know. Instead, she went to find the clothes she'd had on when she was brought to Starkiller Base. They were the only clothes she had that actually fit, so she set about washing them by hand in the sink and laying them out to dry. Kylo snuck out and made a break for the nearest supply storage room and let himself in. He grabbed two of the biggest, most durable travel bags he saw and stuffed two medkits and several weeks worth of field rations in each. Then he went to hunt down one of the camp kits they had available for soldiers who were being sent on wilderness expeditions. These contained a tent, fire starters, and lightweight bedding material and cooking supplies as well as a few simple tools. Once he had it all safe back in his apartment, over the next two or three hours the two stripped the place of toiletries and whatever other supplies they thought they might need. They continued to work out details as they packed.
"Even if they can't track the ship, what will we do with it after we land? They're bound to send every bounty hunter this side of the galaxy after you. It would be better to destroy it. Better yet, we could just crash it into the ocean."
"And how do you propose we survive the impact?"
"Simple. Open up one of those medkits and get the chip out of my back and we can set the ship on a crash course and bail. I'll transform and fly us to shore."
Kylo looked up from the bag he was stuffing. "...Have you lost your fucking mind?"
"I want to fly again, Kylo. And the odds of survival look a lot more appealing when one of us can hunt for food, fight off wild animals, and carry these heavy-ass bags with no effort. I'd rather get the chip out here while we have a clean environment and extra medical supplies than have to do it out in the wilderness.
He didn't relish the idea of slicing her back open to remove the chip, but he knew she was right, and he saw no other alternative. That, however, could be dealt with later. "We still need to decide where to go. Help me finish this up and then we can look at a star map. I have a few ideas already."
His first suggestion was the Ileenium system, due to how remote it was and the fact that none of the three habitable planets appeared to be occupied by sentients apart from a few mining operations and trading posts. He stared at the hologram, his eyes settling on D'qar. He sensed that there was safety to be found on that planet, and suggested they hide out in the mountains there, but Litha shook her head.
"We can't ditch the ship in the ocean if the planet doesn't have any. This one doesn't. We cannot risk that ship being spotted or found, we need it to disappear. What about the neighboring planet? Look, there are forests, mountains, and plenty of ocean, plus it looks like what inhabitants there are are mostly in a few settlements concentrated over here on this landmass. We can avoid them easily until we need more supplies. Hopefully by then the heat won't be on so much."
"How long are we going to hide out? Are we seriously just going to spend the rest of our lives out in the wilderness living out of a tent?"
"Of course not. I'll fly around and scout things out once everything settles down. The largest settlement is sure to have someone who can get us elsewhere once it's safe enough to book passage. It may be a long time, but we can build a permanent shelter once we find a safe enough spot. Maybe one day, if I keep my ear to the ground long enough, I'll find another dimar who can get us back to my world. We'll be safe and happy there for the rest of our lives."
Kylo nodded, deciding that the nameless nearby planet would have to do, then. They chose a spot out over the ocean that was relatively close to a landmass that contained flat, open plains that further inland turned to partially forested mountain ranges. There were rivers and lakes aplenty throughout the planet's surface, so fresh water wouldn't be a problem to find. Kylo uploaded the coordinates to his datapad so he could plug them into the ship's navigational system once they were far enough away to drop the supply run ruse. He then left Litha to continue packing while he snuck out again to another storage room to get two sets of Stormtrooper armor.
When he got back, Litha grimly pushed one of the medkits into his hands. "Let's get this over with. The chip isn't that far under the skin. You might not even need to stitch me up."
Feeling slightly sick to his stomach, Kylo had her sit on the floor under a lamp and hike her shirt up in the back to reveal the space between her shoulder blades. He handed her a small kitchen towel to bite down on when the time came, and set about trying to locate the chip. He poked and prodded at her back, but ended up having to reach out using the Force to sense what was under her skin. The chip was tiny, but once he locked onto it with his mind it blared like a beacon. Slowly, he opened the small set of sterilized field surgery tools, feeling immensely relieved to find an anesthetic syringe inside.
It didn't take long for him to slice deeply enough into her skin to find the chip, and once he did he used one pair of tweezers to hold the incision open while he carefully plucked it out with another. She had whimpered a bit at the sensation of having someone digging around inside her with tools, but insisted she wasn't feeling any real pain. It turned out he did need to stich her up, however, and once he was finished he bandaged the small wound and pulled her shirt back down.
"Well, there it is. Do you want to smash it?"
Litha flexed her shoulders, finding the numbness in her back unsettling and uncomfortable. She stared down at the thing thar had denied her her true form for the last three years, and shook her head ruefully.
"We were told that the chips are explosive and contain poison, and that if we tried to escape they'd detonate it remotely the second they saw us gone and if we survived the explosion we'd die from the poison. I'm not sure it's safe to smash it."
Kylo doubted very much that the claims of the chip's supposedly deadly functions were true, but he wanted her to feel safe after having to endure having it carved right out of her back. "The garbage chute, then? Might not be quite as satisfying, but..."
"It'll have to do. Give the damn thing here so I can get rid of it for good."
She paused halfway back from the chute, freezing in place. "... It worked. I can change again. I can feel the ability seeping back into me."
"We should test it once just to make sure. Is this room big enough?"
"Yeah, but I don't need to go all the way anyway. It'll ruin my clothes." Her skin suddenly appeared to shimmer, and her form shifted slightly. She returned to normal as quickly as she had started to change, her expression hardening into one of resolve. "Let's get out of here as quickly as possible. I'm sick of being human."
The true gravity of what they were about to attempt suddenly hit him like a lead weight. If they got caught, there would be no explaining his way out of it. He and Litha would die slowly; Snoke would see to that himself. He thought of his grandfather's mask hidden away in the small shrine room, and a lump formed in his throat. He was walking away from it all. The First Order could go fuck itself sideways for all he cared, but feeling like he was turning his back on his own grandfather...
He started toward the door to his training room. "Litha... Come with me. There's something I have to do and I may need you to help me get started."
Puzzled, Litha followed him through the training room, noting the sparring swords lying forgotten in the corner. "Oh! We should take those if we can spare the room. You can teach me to fight. It'll be fun." He wanted to smile at the way she echoed his earlier thoughts about training her, but the weight in his chest was too great. He opened the door to the shrine, and led her inside.
She stopped the second she saw the burned remnants of the mask. Her brow furrowing, she took a few tentative steps forward, stretching out her hand toward it. She immediately pulled it back and pressed it to her chest, shrinking away.
"I don't even have to touch that thing to sense the immense suffering that haunts it. Its owner's suffering, the suffering of countless others... Kylo, what is this?"
"It belonged to my grandfather." Seeing her startled expression, he held up a hand. "I don't want to talk about who he was or what he did. I don't really even know why I brought you in here... I guess because it's important to me and I wanted you to see it. I just came to say goodbye."
She stepped toward him and wrapped her arms around him. "I can tell that this is heart-wrenching for you. We can talk about it later if you want, or not at all. I'm here, I'm always here. But I can give you some time alone with him if you want."
He nodded, appreciating the sentiment behind her referring to his grandfather himself rather than just his mask. He didn't know why that made a difference, but it did. He turned back to the mask as she slipped away and shut the door behind her, bowing his head.
"Grandfather... I'm sorry. I tried to live up to your legend. I wanted it more than anything... Until I stopped wanting anything at all. Now I'm walking away from everything for a girl... I'm every bit as weak as I feared I would become. You must be so disappointed in me."
His head snapped up and his eyes focused on the ghostly form of a young man who he instantly recognized as Anakin Skywalker. His grandfather. As he was when he was whole and healthy. He stumbled backwards, his legs suddenly unable to bear his weight. WHAT THE ABSOLUTE FUCK.
"What? You've been seeking my guidance for years, and now you're getting it. The most important person in the world to me died because I lost my way. Now you've found your own path. Don't stray from it. Let the past die. You have my permission. Walk away."
The apparition turned, fading as it went. Then, briefly, it paused and turned back to Kylo.
"Don't ever let that woman slip through your fingers. This is how you'll honor me. By doing what I was too weak to do."
With that, he was gone. Kylo sat on the floor staring at the wall for a full ten seconds before he stumbled back to his feet and slapped the button that opened the door. Litha was standing with the sparring swords slung over her shoulder. She dropped them the second she saw his shaken expression, starting towards him. "Kylo? You look like you've seen a-"
He brushed past her. "Time to go. Come on, while I still have the courage."
She didn't argue, she simply picked the swords back up and followed him back out into the living room where their giant bags sat packed and ready to go. "Hey, Kylo? How are we going to explain the ridiculous amounts of supplies we're taking with us if anyone sees us?"
Within the hour they had donned the armor and were wheeling a large crate containing their supplies toward the elevator that would take them to the main part of the base. Since by now it was late at night, they passed few other people, and none who saw them seemed to notice anything amiss. Kylo led the way to the hangar where the transport was waiting for them, having been fueled and prepared to depart for the fake run he'd set up by the hangar's crew. They were nowhere in sight, and the pair sighed in relief. It was now or never. Kylo replaced their supplies with their disguises and abandoned the crate near a stack of similar ones while Litha climbed up into the cargo hold hauling one of the heavy bags by the straps. Kylo followed and tossed the other one up through the open door and was promptly rewarded with a thud and an "Ow, you fuck," which he ignored. There wasn't any time for banter. Litha went through the starship's interior to the cockpit and glared at Kylo as he boarded through the side door and hopped into the pilot's seat, but said nothing. The transport soon roared to life; and Kylo flew it the short distance to the hangar door, which opened automatically and revealed the vast outdoor snowscape and night sky.
"Here goes nothing."
Chapter 10: On the Ship
Finally, the smut y'all have been waiting for.
They got away from the planet without incident. Litha watched as the whole of Starkiller Base came into view, her expression darkening with concern.
"Kylo... What is that? That... That thing around the middle? It looks like you've built the base into the whole planet."
"We have. It's been converted into a superweapon. That cannon will be able to drain a star and use the stored energy to eradicate an entire system, once it's operational."
She was silent, and when he looked over at her, she was staring at him completely aghast. "How? How is that even possible? Does anyone know the First Order has this power? Kylo, it has to be stopped. That thing has to be destroyed before they can use it. No one should have that sort of destructive power."
Kylo couldn't meet her gaze any longer. He was ashamed at having ever been part of any of it. He had never cared much for Starkiller Base, to be honest. It was always Hux's baby. But he had his orders, and Kylo Ren always followed his master's orders. Until now, that is.
"Kylo, listen to me. That thing has to have a weakness. Hell, it must have a bunch of them. Nothing that complex could possibly be free of places where things can go horribly wrong. You know that place inside and out. Can it be destroyed?"
He sighed. "Yes, but..."
Her voice rose. "But nothing! That thing is an abomination, a blight upon the galaxy. I want it gone." She began to pace back and forth behind him on the bridge. "We need to get back to Dimar. My kind have committed pretty strongly to staying neutral in all this, but this... This can't be ignored."
"Litha, neither of us knows how to get to Dimar, or that's where we'd be headed. We need to stick with the plan for now. The weapon isn't quite finished yet. We have time. Let's get to safety first."
"What about the Resistance?"
He felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. "No. No, absolutely not. We are not contacting the Resistance under any circumstances."
"Why the hell not?"
Kylo ground his teeth, struggling to keep his anger under control. After a few deep breaths, he felt calm enough to respond. "Let's just say I'm too well known to the Resistance, and leave it at that."
Litha knew from the way he said the last bit that dropping it was the smart thing to do. She crossed her arms and huffed, falling silent. Kylo's irritation faded into guilt, and after a moment stood, reached across to her and touched her hand. "Hey, come on. We got away. We ought to be celebrating, not arguing and sulking." He went and retrieved her music player from their supplies, tossing it to her when he returned with it. "Here, play some music and cheer up. When we're safe, we'll find a way to contact Dimar and I'll tell them everything I know about how to destroy Starkiller Base. I promise."
This seemed to improve her mood, and she had soon chosen a song that was happy and upbeat from the list and was singing along with it while he set the ship to autopilot and went to raid its emergency supplies.
They were easy to find, and he soon had them stowed with their bags. Litha was in the pilot's seat when he returned, swiveled to the side with her feet up on an empty part of the control deck, still belting out the words to the song along to the music.
I fly around the world to spend
My nights with strangers and their lovers
I notice happiness depends
On if we share it with each other
So when this craziness is through
I'll spend my happiness with you
Kylo actually broke out into a big, stupid grin. He leaned against the entrance to the bridge, his heart soaring and excitement surging through him. They had really done it. Everything was going to be different now. He noted that the song she had chosen sounded, to him at least, like a very difficult one to sing; and yet she hit every note.
Give and take, we catch our breaks
We all learn to survive
Oh, but don't look now
I said don't look now
Cause here we are
Living the best days of our lives
These are the best days of our lives
And as we're walking through the fire
Isn't it great to be alive?
He couldn't help but laugh out loud at that point. It was the first time he could ever remember being able to honestly answer that question with a "yes".
Soon it was time to jump to hyperspace. Kylo jumped out of his seat and threw up both hands straight above his head in a gesture of victory, and Litha jumped up and down and cheered. They stood staring at one another for a moment before locking in an embrace.
It didn't take long for things to get physical. Kylo leaned in and Litha met him halfway, eager to pick up where they left off early that morning. Before long, she was in his lap in the pilot's seat, straddling him and wrapping her arms around his neck. His fear rose anew, and again he began to shake. Litha broke the kiss and gazed at him, concern etched into her face. "You're not used to this, are you?" When he failed to respond, she pursed her lips. "No, I suppose you wouldn't be. When's the last time you had a woman?" Still he didn't respond, and now he was avoiding her gaze; and that's when Litha realized-
His face and ears burned. "No. Never. It wasn't allowed before Snoke and it sure as hell wasn't allowed after."
She sat quietly in his lap a moment, digesting this new information. "Well, there's nothing to be done now but take it slow. As slowly as you need to. We can stop now if you'd rather, or just stick to kissing for the time being."
For a moment, Kylo felt immensely conflicted. He was terrified of going further than they already had, but at this point... He wanted to let go. He was ready to be done with the chapters of his life that held nothing but denial and misery. And what better time than now, when they were on a ship carrying them faster than the speed of light away from his past, never to return? Besides, for crying out loud, people had sex all the time. There were probably a billion sentients throughout the galaxy losing their virginity at that very moment. The sooner he got it over with, the sooner it would stop being something that held power over him. He shook his head.
"No, you know what? Fuck it. Everyone who's ever stopped me is behind me now. The only thing in front of me is you... And you somehow always make things turn out better than I ever hoped they would."
Litha laid her hand on his cheek, nuzzling her face against his. He shivered in delight at the intimacy. "Well, if that's how you feel, why don't we just keep going and see what you're up for? We can stop at any point or not at all. If we go into it with no expectations other than to explore and have fun then the pressure is off."
He nodded, drawing in a shaky breath. "That makes sense. So, uh... How does this usually go? Is this how it usually starts?"
"Usually, yeah. Kissing first, then hands usually start to wander. Eventually hands end up under clothes, the clothes come off, more touching happens to the parts that the clothes were covering up... By then you're naked and ready to go, and it's easy to just shift into whatever position you want, and then..."
Kylo was intrigued, but he glanced at their surroundings. "Wouldn't it be easier to go where we could lay down and be comfortable?"
Litha stood and took him by the hand. "You said this transport has cabins, right? Let's go find a bed."
It wasn't long before she was writhing underneath him on one of the small beds in the nearest passenger cabin. Despite his fear, he had very much enjoyed laying on top of her the first time they kissed; and he hoped to recreate the situation that had her grinding against him. She ran her hands up and down his broad back as he broke away and buried his face against her neck; his instinct telling him to do something. That something became obvious when she tilted her head back and exposed her throat to his lips. The sounds she made when he kissed her there did strange things to his head. Never had he felt such intense desire. His hand strayed toward her breast, and she laid her own on top of it; pressing it into the soft mound of flesh and causing him to groan and pull away from her neck to look at her. Her lips were swollen and her eyes were hungry and wild, and she quickly pulled him back down to kiss her again.
Before he knew it, Kylo was feeling bare skin underneath his fingertips and he realized that she had pulled her shirt up to bare her midriff. He trailed kisses down her belly, laughing softly as she squirmed and jumped.
"If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were ticklish."
"Shut up and take my clothes off."
Where he found the courage to obey her command, he would never know. But obey it he did. She sat up as he gently pulled her shirt over her head and tossed it to the side. He quickly moved on to her pants. She lifted her hips and wiggled to assist him in their removal, and soon her clothes were lying in a heap on the floor. The brief glimpse of her body he had seen in her memories did the real thing absolutely no justice. He gazed down at her, noting that she didn't seem shy like he had expected.
She smirked. "We aren't particularly hung up on nudity where I'm from. Especially since you'll always come out naked on the human end of a transformation. Explore all you want. You're well overdue for an anatomy lesson."
Kylo swallowed hard, his eyes roaming over her body. He noted the soft, downy hair that grew over her mound, and gently traced it with his fingers. "Huh. Women too."
She laughed softly. "Yeah, but it's a bit longer than I like. I generally keep it trimmed pretty close to the skin, but my trimmer was left behind when I was brought to the base."
He ran his fingers through her hair against the grain, watching the way it moved, then smoothed it down again. "I have mine. It's in one of the bags."
She seemed relieved. "Thank the gods. It gets itchy once it's past a certain point." Kylo wasn't listening anymore. His fear seemingly forgotten, he was shifting so that he could push her legs apart; quite eager to see what other surprises she had for him. She willingly spread them, bending her knees and planting the soles of her feet flat on the bed.
Kylo had seen porn once or twice as a teenager, but it had been so damn long ago that he barely remembered what anything looked like. He noted a small bump near the top of her folds, and he gently ran a finger over it. She gasped, and he jerked his hand away, his eyes big as dinner plates.
"Did... that hurt, or...?"
Her eyes opened and she lifted her head from the pillow where it had fallen when he touched her. "...Oh, honey. Do it again."
So he did. He watched as she bit her lip, her eyes squeezing shut again. Okay, so that spot feels particularly good when touched. Noted. Curious as to what other sorts of reactions he could get out of her, he moved his finger down a bit, immediately noticing the wetness that had gathered there. The slippery texture of the fluid instantly gave its purpose away, and he probed at the area it seemed to be coming from. Litha immediately moved her hand to his, stopping him.
"Fair warning. It's been ages since I've had any action at all, so you're going to have to be gentle. Start slow, and then I'll tell you what to do." With that, she guided his hand, bidding him to slide his finger inside her. She sighed happily as he did, dropping her head back down onto the pillow.
Kylo was terrified he would hurt her, and her tightness did nothing to alleviate his fear. He moved his finger slightly, feeling her tense in response, and frowned. "Um. We may have a bit of an issue. I don't know how big you think I am, but I can tell you right now it isn't going to fit. I feel like my finger barely fits." She shook her head in response. "It'll fit. I'll relax a bit once we've played around some more. My body will adjust, don't worry. You've got to remember that human women give birth through the same passage."
Without pulling his hand away, he lay down alongside her, allowing his arm to rest across her hip and keeping still for the time being.
"Do dimar not have babies in their human forms?"
"If they're reproducing with a human partner, they do, but for the most part, no. We're actually sterile. All of us are, unless we specifically have our fertility restored. Population growth is controlled pretty strictly on Dimar."
She nodded. "If a couple wants a child, they apply to become parents, and then there's a wait list if you're approved. The idea seems to chap the asses of a lot of other sentients, but unchecked growth is the best way to fuck up a planet. We learned this lesson the hard way long ago, and we won't repeat it. Besides, this way we can boink to our hearts content and not have to worry about pregnancy. I lay unfertilized eggs from time to time in my true form, but in this one I don't even menstruate, thank the gods."
Kylo hadn't even thought of the possibility of pregnancy, but he was glad to find out he didn't need to worry about it. Litha ran her fingers through his hair.
"Wanna know a neat little trick?"
"Is that a serious question?"
"No. Pull out and slide two fingers in, and I'll tell you what to do. Don't worry, I can handle it. Just go slow."
He obeyed, finding that her body did indeed accommodate him fairly easily as long as he took his time. She seemed to actually enjoy it quite a bit right off the bat, as a matter of fact, much to his relief. "Now what?"
She held up her hand and crooked her fingers a bit. "Do this. Push up along the top and feel for- Oh, fuck!" Her breath had caught in her throat and her head slammed back into the pillow the second he heeded her instructions.
A feral grin spread across his face. He did it again, watching as she became lost in a haze of pleasure. Her breathing became shallow and rapid, her brow furrowed, and she turned her head into his shoulder. Every so often she would swear or moan, and he noticed that after a few minutes her hand began to stray between her legs. He wasn't entirely sure what it was about her touching herself while he was pleasuring her, but it drove him absolutely wild.
"Don't stop... Don't you dare fucking stop... Keep doing exactly what you're doing, no matter what happens," she gasped out, and after another few minutes...
Kylo's eyes widened. Her breath seemed to catch in her throat again, and her whole body tensed. She swore, louder this time, and suddenly bit into his shoulder as her tight passage contracted around his fingers over and over again. He saw the hand that wasn't between her legs clench up with a fistful of the bedspread in it, and watched as her toes curled. After ten seconds or so, she relaxed, releasing the bedspread and curling up on her side against him as he withdrew his fingers.
"Holy shit. Was that... Did you just...?"
Her voice was shaky, and she sounded exhausted. "Mmmhmm." Her recovery was swift, however, and soon she was kissing him again; more fervently this time. Kylo was all too happy to oblige. Between what he had just witnessed, the sounds she was making, and the smell that hung in the air, he was beginning to lose himself as well. He sat up, shrugged out of his shirt, and tossed it against the wall; gasping as she ran her hand over the front of his pants. Soon those had come off as well, and her fingers closed around his shaft. It was almost too much already. Things were suddenly happening so fast. The fear crept back in, and he pulled away, gently taking hold of her wrist to stop her from stroking him the way she had started to.
She saw the look in his eyes and immediately understood. She let go of his cock and brought her hand up to his face. He felt the tell-tale electrical tingle; and dropped his walls to let her into his mind, closing his eyes and leaning his face into her warm hand. Her intense desire slammed into him like a tidal wave, drowning out his fear and allowing his own desire to take the stage again. She didn't even have to project any emotion at him. Her warmth and affection for him, laid bare in front of him and freely offered up, bolstered his confidence and rekindled his passion. His own desire and love mingled with hers; and he moved on top of her, settling between her legs. Again it was almost too much; but this time it was emotion rather than physical sensation that was short-circuiting his brain. He felt her withdraw from his mind, and as he leaned down over her, she reached between them to guide him as he entered her.
Oh, holy fuck.
The sensation was absolutely incredible, indescribably so. She was so very warm around him; and, he noted with gratitude, she was again stretching to accommodate his thick member as it slid in all the way to the hilt. Only once did she wince in discomfort, and all it took was a slight shift of her hips before the pain faded from her eyes. And then they were off.
His thrusts were shallow and tentative at first, but her response encouraged him, and soon he found his rhythm. Her nails dug into his shoulders as he picked up the pace a bit, and she moaned his name out loud.
Oh, how he loved her in that moment. And he knew, just from the way she gazed up at him, he knew... It was mutual. Someone in this great wide galaxy loved him right back. They had fallen hard for one another.
Before long, he felt himself hurtling headlong toward the edge, and soon he was mirroring her earlier actions as he came hard inside her. The physical pleasure was intense, but the sheer primality of pinning her small body to the bed underneath him as he emptied himself inside her might have made his climax the most intensely satisfying thing he had ever experienced.
When he opened his eyes and met hers, he was surprised to find her biting her lip and grinning. She was positively giddy, and she giggled as he pulled out and collapsed alongside her. Her legs shook, and she squirmed pleasurably against the sheets, clearly riding an endorphin high all the way into the sunset. He had been afraid of how he would feel afterward, but he found himself grinning back at her, shaking his head and laughing as she writhed.
"You look ridiculous."
She swatted at him absently. "Shaddap. It's your fault."
"You started all this."
She smirked at him triumphantly. "And you just finished it. Was it everything you ever dreamed of?"
"I've spent years trying not to dream of it at all. Now I'm afraid it'll be all I can think about. You've ruined me."
"I'm gonna ruin you again soon enough."
Laughing, he leaned over and kissed her. Now that he had been lying prone several moments post-orgasm, he found himself growing sleepy. He fumbled for the edge of the bedspread, wanting to get under it so he could stop moving. Litha slid to the edge of the bed, grimacing as she stood. The insides of her thighs were wet and sticky, and he snorted at the accusatory look she shot him as she waddled uncomfortably off to the refresher. He barely registered her coming back to bed, and soon they both slipped into a blissful post-coital slumber.
Song in this chapter is Best Days by Eric Hutchinson. Seemed like a good choice for a situation that warranted such happiness.
Chapter 11: The Flight
The flight to the Ileenium system took about four days. They were happy ones, spent eating the ship's food stores, listening to music, and fucking each other's brains out. At one point, Kylo tossed Litha one of the sparring swords and took the other up himself. They went to the empty cargo hold, where he began to teach her basic combat techniques. She was terrible, of course, but she tried, and he knew they had plenty of time on their hands from now on. She'd get better. For now, the best part about it was how seeing him in action seemed to turn her on. Occasionally after disarming her he would tackle her to the ground and take her right there on the floor.
When their arrival at the planet was impending, Kylo set the ship's course to crash into the ocean and they got their bags and readied them near the transport's loading door. Jumping would be incredibly awkward with the bags. There was no way Kylo would be able to hang onto them midair, and no way Litha could hang onto him and them both. They ended up having to crouch on the floor by the door with Kylo in front, Litha behind him with her arms around his torso, and the bags to the side with the straps between her teeth. Hopefully they'd all stay that way through the jump, transformation, and subsequent flight to land, because Kylo really didn't feel like dying or losing their supplies. After a few deep breaths, he threw the door open using the Force and out they went.
Things happened so fast once they were free-falling together, and yet time somehow seemed to slow. The wind stung his eyes as he felt her body sort of ripple against his back. Her arms grew broad and heavy against his chest, and one of them quickly shifted underneath him to support his legs. He couldn't hear her clothes tearing above the roar of the wind, but he felt the fabric under his hands loosen and fall away. What used to be human skin was now an animal's hide covered with soft fur, and this is what Kylo was marveling at when he felt the sudden lurch as her wings snapped open and his breath was driven right out of him. A triumphant bugle tore from her throat. They would not be dying today.
Kylo wanted so badly to see her, but the wind was still too harsh without anything to protect his eyes, and he only managed a brief glimpse of a long neck with their bag dangling from the end before he gave up. Pressed against her chest as he was, he could feel her powerful muscles rippling with every beat of her wings.
He startled. He had forgotten that she had told him that a dimar's horns enabled telepathic communication. Her voice in his head was loud and carried feelings of intense excitement and exhilaration. His hands were nowhere near her... Paws? Were they paws now? But he could still hear and feel her just as if she had her own human hands against his skin.
'How far are we from land? As magical as all this is, I have a feeling it's gonna get uncomfortable for us both before long.'
'Hopefully not too far. Because you're probably right. And I can already tell I'm pathetically out of shape. I can conserve energy by soaring, though, and I'll keep my eyes peeled for land. Settle in.'
It was three hours before she spotted the dark smudge on the horizon that signaled that they were close. Well, close-ish. There were cliffs along the sea, and she banked toward them. It took another half an hour to reach the shore. Kylo found himself scrabbling to hold onto her as she back-winged and swung her hind legs down, stretching them toward the rapidly approaching ground.
'Brace for impact! This'll be a bit rough.'
THUD! The wind was knocked out of him for a second time that day as she hit the ground, hopping twice before coming to a halt. Her arms ached terribly from holding his weight against her body, and she wasted no time in dropping him safely on the ground. He fell onto his ass and quickly crab-walked several feet backward as she dropped to all fours.
Holy shit. She was huge. At least nine or ten feet tall at the withers. She had immediately dropped her tired wings to the ground on either side, but even half-folded he could tell that they were massive. Her fur was a dusty, tawny brown with darker stripes along her neck and sides and mottling along her wings. Her neck arched toward an almost goat-like head, graced with two white horns that curved backward from ridges above her eyes. Each paw (yes, they were paws, it turned out) had six digits that ended in sharp retractable claws. Her front paws essentially had two thumbs each, one on each side. Her footpaws were similar, having two long digits either side of the heel that could be used for grasping. Her kind must be incredible climbers, and he'd hate to have to try and wrench something from her grasp. Her tail, long and graceful, was tipped with a spadelike plate and carried an extension of her wing membrane, which stretched all the way back to her hindquarters from her shoulder and then flared out, almost like a bird's tailfeathers.
As different as this form was from the one he had met her in, there were still little things that gave her away. The mane that ran from between her horns all the way to the spade on her tail was the same light brown as her human hair; and her eyes, though larger and shaped differently, were the same vibrant shade of blue. And though he certainly couldn't say he found this version of her sexually attractive in any way, she was still stunningly, staggeringly beautiful. She gazed at him, perking her ears in his direction. Her face was remarkably expressive, and she carried a lot of her previous mannerisms over from her human form.
"You can climb onto my back now if you want."
He got to his feet, brushing dirt off his rear.
"You can talk too?"
She nodded. "Mmmhmm. I'm used to communicating verbally with humans. Most of those outside of Dimar don't have telepathic abilities. Not too many Dimar bother to learn, of course, since most of us never leave the planet. We communicate with sound often, but we don't generally speak the way other species do. We just don't have to."
He approached her, and she lowered her shoulder and stuck her arm out for him to use to climb onto her back. There was a thick pad of dense fur between her shoulders that seemed like a perfect seat. As he swung his leg over and settled there, running his fingers through the soft fur, she explained its purpose.
"That's actually a pouch for carrying babies in. It's got some muscle to it so we can hang onto them while moving around."
"There isn't much to hold onto up here."
"I know, but I can't carry you in my arms anymore. They're too tired and sore. We should head inland and find some cover. Once we make it to the hills, we can stop to rest."
"I can use the Force to steady myself somewhat I guess. Takeoff ought to be interesting."
She craned her neck around to look at him. "I won't let you fall, little human." Well, that's decidedly less weird now at least. With that, she grabbed the straps of their travel bags firmly in her teeth and crouched down, preparing to leap into the air.
Taking off wasn't any more enjoyable than landing, but flying on her back was certainly preferable to dangling underneath. She had circled back over the water in order to take advantage of the updraft coming off the cliffs, and before long she had gained enough height to take them far inland without having to waste a lot of energy flapping to stay aloft. It was close to dusk by time the flat, open plains started to become hilly and covered with trees. Litha veered toward where the forest started to become thick and landed between two hills, dropping the bags to the ground and dipping her shoulder to allow him to slide off. Kylo took some rope out of one of the bags and used it to secure them both to her back.
It was tough getting through the fringes of the woods, where the trees were smaller and closer together. By time night had completely fallen, however, they had thinned out and towered above them both. Litha soon found one that had fallen most of the way over with its roots partially exposed, and she began to dig out the space underneath the leaning trunk. The dirt was a bit softer once she had churned it up a bit, and she soon had a large enough space cleared to serve as a shelter.
Kylo waited for her to arrange herself within the bed she'd made and then clambered into the fold of her left wing. It wasn't exactly comfortable, but it was warm and dry, and he was too tired to have a go at setting the tent up. Once he got settled, he thumped her side, grinning.
'We made it, sweet girl. We're free.'
Her smug satisfaction radiated across their bond. 'I know. We'll be so well hidden by time they figure it out that they'll never find us. Good. Fuck 'em.'
He laughed into her warm fur, nuzzling his face into the membrane and taking in her scent. It was different from her human scent, but somehow still recognizable as hers. 'How sore do you think we'll be tomorrow?'
They fell silent then, each lost in their own tired thoughts, and before long both were fast asleep.
Chapter 12: Roughin' It
I'm not entirely satisfied with how this chapter starts off, so I may or may not tweak it. We shall see.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Their first day in the wilderness dawned silent grey with a drizzle that soon turned to warm, steady rain. It was just as well, because neither of them wanted to move. Kylo's ribs ached and his torso was splotched with purple and yellow bruises, and both Litha's forelegs and her massive wing muscles were weak and screamed with pain. There was nothing to do but rest, eat, and drink; and so that's just what they did, remaining sheltered under the fallen tree with Kylo staying dry under Litha's wing. Litha didn't seem to mind the rain one bit, her tongue darting out every so often to lick rainwater from her muzzle.
The next morning, Kylo woke first. He extracted himself from her wing and tumbled out onto the forest floor. Birds were singing everywhere and the light was filtering in through the trees, lighting up the mist that hung in the air. Litha was soon awake, stretching herself like a cat and shaking the loam from her damp fur and wings. She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes in bliss, and then set about licking her fur back into some semblance of order. Her mane soon got the better of her.
"It's never been this long, and with it being wet it's just plastered to my fur. I don't even want to know what it must look like."
Kylo retrieved a knife from their supplies. "Here, I can trim it. How short do you want it?" She ran her claws through it until she determined a length that suited her, and then she lay on the ground while he set about his work. It took an hour or so to go from head to tailtip and it wasn't exactly a salon-quality job, but she was happy with the results. Again she rose and took a deep breath. Both of them were still sore, but able to function. Litha nosed Kylo and turned to go back the way they had come. "I'm going to go scout things out around here and see if I can't flush out some game. I'll be back within an hour, kill or no kill."
Kylo went about starting a fire and looking through their provisions for a suitable breakfast. When Litha returned, she had a good-sized hoofed animal of some sort hanging by the neck from her jaws. She allowed Kylo to carve off some meat for himself, and then she set about picking the carcass clean, conversing with him as she did.
"It's a steady uphill slog into the mountains from here. The forest doesn't thin out much until it gets cold, but there are a few clearings here and there and plenty of cliffs."
"We'll have plenty of trees for lumber at least. Think there are caves?"
"Almost certainly. Let's keep our eyes peeled for one."
Kylo secured the bags to Litha's back as she raked dirt over the fire with her massive paw. Once they had made their way back out of the woods, Kylo climbed up and settled himself back on her shoulders, and she took off into the sky.
It was high noon before she spotted a rocky outcropping overlooking a valley. A river wound its way through the trees below. The cliff face reared up behind the broad grassy ledge, and within it was a cave, partially filled with dirt, stones, and debris. The forest grew up onto the flat expanse from both sides. It was perfect. They ditched the bags nearby and set to work excavating the space within. At the end of the day, exhaustion had set back in. Litha built a fire while Kylo set up the tent. After eating and a short trip to the river to bathe in the icy water, they returned to their new home for the night. Kylo lounged on his back between Litha's front paws near the fire. She had recalled a song that she thought fitting for their situation, and he closed his eyes as she sang it.
In from the oceans they came
A vision, a shirt, and a name
But these lands they are wild
And these hands they are tame
Don't forget your own
It gets buried in snow
Call it 'home'
It's lumber and stone...
Stranded and free
Kylo couldn't help but grin at that last bit. He opened his eyes and stared up into the night sky as she sang on.
This is not like home
This is not like home
And you feel alone
In a world that's not your own...
Not at all, not at all
Not at all, not at all
Not at all, not at all
She threw her head back as she sang the last few lines, a satisfied smile gracing her features. Fitting indeed.
Litha changed back to her human form once they decided to sleep. The sudden sight of her naked body bathed in moonlight nearly made Kylo choke, and he quickly cast his own clothing aside as she beckoned him into the tent.
The days rolled into weeks, and never had Kylo been so happy. He lay with her nearly every night and often again the next morning. Once the cave was excavated and had become a proper home, they spent their time hunting, eating, listening to music, and sparring out on the wide plateau. Some days she took him out flying, and he laughed and whooped as he clung tight to her fur while she dived and banked through the air. Just as often, he sat and simply watched from the ground as she performed her acrobatics. It was a beautiful sight to behold, and he never got tired of it.
Over time, her skills with the sparring sword improved. She'd never be able to defeat her partner, of course, but she didn't mind. It was all a great deal of fun to her. She enjoyed taunting Kylo, often trying to get a rise out of him by suddenly transforming and stealing his sword when he started to gain the upper hand. He would chase her to the edge of the cliff and she would take off flying as he yelled after her. Other times, he would tease her instead; throwing clods of dirt or flicking water at her while she sunned herself. After one such occasion she leapt up and took off after him, quickly pinning him to the ground and licking his head so that his hair stuck up at a wild angle. Immensely proud of herself, she had fallen over laughing at the sight; even in her beastial true form producing a sound that was strangely human as her sides heaved. He had simply bided his time, waiting for her to change back. Once she did, he immediately threw her face-down on the ground and delivered several sharp slaps to her bare ass.
That, of course, had awakened an all new monster.
It shouldn't have surprised Kylo Ren to discover that he had a dominant streak in the bedroom, but he was a bit caught off guard by her willingness to submit to him there. Her strong, forceful personality melted away the second she found his fist tangled in her hair or his hand at her throat, and she became eager to obey and please him. Then, their passions spent, she would change back to her true form and become wild and untamed again; snorting with derision whenever he dared try to command her to do anything. It was sublime.
And it didn't last.
As time went on, Kylo found himself falling back into depression. Guilt began to eat at him. He would lie staring at the ceiling of the cave long after waking, thinking of how he didn't deserve this paradise. He found himself unable to enjoy their flights through the mountains. He got irritated easily during their sparring matches and would strike out at her too hard, causing her to shrink back and stare at him with this awful look on her face that said "Why?" This, of course, caused him to spiral further. He lost interest in sex, in talking, even in listening to her sing. By the third week of it, he had withdrawn completely and shut her out of his mind so that they could no longer feel one another.
Litha, being an experienced Soother, knew what was happening. No one who had been through what he had could escape their demons forever. She would gently prod him to talk, but always let it be when he made it clear he just wasn't ready. She could sense the storm gathering and knew things would have to come to a head sooner or later. But Kylo was stubborn and ornery, so all she could do was wait him out. She watched him closely for signs of a breakdown, all the while dealing with her own sadness and pain on her own.
After all, there was no one around to Soothe the Soother.
The song Litha sings this chapter is This is Not Like Home by Great Lake Swimmers. I'd encourage you to give it a listen, it really sets the mood for that particular scene. Also, have an illustration! I'm only just starting to draw again after years and years, and it shows, but at least this should give you an idea of the size difference between Kylo and Hyalitha.
EDIT TO ADD: I can't help but imagine Kylo having a "ALRIGHT, THIS WHITE DEVIL THING HAS GONE FAR ENOUGH" moment when Litha fucks his hair up and I can't stop laughing
One bright morning, Kylo sat in the shade of a tree near their cave, feeling morose, as he so often did of late. He had taken Hyalitha's music player and a small bag of dried fruit from their provisions and was hoping to distract himself with some of her music. He set the device to shuffle through every single song on it, and when he didn't like one he simply skipped it.
He had skipped three songs already based just on the title alone. 'The End of Love'? Nope. 'Destroy Everything You Touch'? Nope. 'I Will Never See the Sun'? Nope.
The next one was called 'Please Come Home', and he facepalmed, but out of sheer morbid curiosity decided to listen to it anyway.
My lost boy, you've been lonely I know
I'll bring peace and I'll carry you home
Please come home
Please come home
Make me whole again
NOPE NOPE NOPE.
Okay, what about 'Tears of Laughter'? Surely that one was happy. That hope faded based on the depressing introduction alone, but then the words came.
I would be crying tears of laughter
If I could see me smile again
For shit's sake, I thought she had happy music on this thing? He skipped that one too, tossing the player aside without even looking at the next song. If it wasn't anything good he'd just give up and turn it off.
Regrets collect like old friends... He instantly recognized it as the first song he had heard her play the day after he'd met her, though he had never heard the first part.
... Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play
And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues drawn
It's always darkest before the dawn
A lump had been growing in his throat since the third line, and when he heard the last one tears started to course down his face. He drew in a ragged breath, fighting against the wave of emotion with all his might. He was terrified of what would happen once the dam burst. But burst it did, and he turned the music off and buried his face in the crook of his arm as he started to sob.
Litha was suddenly out of the cave. In his fit of despair, he had dropped his walls, and he felt her stab of concern as she approached. She sat down next to him, but didn't touch him; reaching out to him with her mind instead of speaking out loud.
'I'm here, little human.'
'Make it stop.'
His anger flared and he lashed out at her through their connection, causing her to physically flinch. How could she refuse to help him now, of all times?
'You have been fighting this for weeks. You need to get the poison out.'
'I can't take this, it's too much!'
'You can, and you must. I'm right here with you.'
'Litha, please...' He was pleading by now, desperate to escape the overwhelming despair that had taken over his mind.
'It won't feel this way forever. It will pass. Endure it, and it will pass. Your mind will clear again.'
His thoughts were a whirlwind. What would his mother even think of him if he ever saw her again? How pathetic was he to be crying like a child? Why hadn't his parents ever cared about him? Why had his own uncle tried to kill him? What was it about him that seemed to inspire so much contempt in everyone who got close to him? Litha would eventually see it too. She'd come to despise him like all the others, and then she'd leave.
'Come now... You know that isn't true.'
Her words barely registered; he only sobbed harder. He was so broken. He could never in a million years make up for what he'd done. Nothing would bring back the people he'd killed. Nothing could erase the horrible black mark he had put on the galaxy. He was such a selfish asshole for neglecting Litha the past few weeks. He wasn't worthy of having her in his life. Why couldn't she see that?
At that point she reached a paw over and gathered him in; allowing him to bury his face in her forearm as he sobbed, seeking comfort. Before long, he began to quiet; and soon he was calmly sitting between her front paws thousand-yard-staring off into the distance, his head still leaning against her dampened fur, his eyes unfocused and seeing nothing. He felt empty and sad, but at least his mind wasn't the complete mess it was during his breakdown.
Litha saw the small bag of fruit lying forgotten on the ground and hooked it with a claw, dropping it in front of him. He stared at it. 'Go on. It'll help bring you back.' He stared a second longer, but finally relented and opened the bag up, popping a piece into his mouth and slowly chewing. Tears came to his eyes again, but he didn't know why. Nothing specific was springing forth to haunt him at this point.
'There's still some negative energy left in there. Focus on the taste and feel of that fruit. It'll stop soon.'
He sniffled and dried his face on his sleeve. She was right. Having something material to focus on grounded him; and though he was left exhausted, he stopped crying.
'I hope that never happens again.'
'You've started to process things. It's going to happen frequently until you've faced every last demon. There aren't any shortcuts through this, Kylo. But I will be with you through it all, and you will come out the other side stronger than you've ever been.'
'You sound as if you've been waiting for this to happen.'
'I have been. I've known it was coming since we escaped.'
He craned his neck to scowl at her. 'You could have warned me.'
He threw up his hands, exasperated. 'Why?!'
She stared impassively down at him. 'Because you would have fought it even harder than you already were and you'd never have made the progress you made today.'
Kylo's eyes narrowed; they locked in a stare.
'Am I wrong?'
He wordlessly dropped his head onto his knees.
'I didn't think so.'
He was silent for a while, and then he spoke out loud, wanting to disconnect from his own head and embrace his senses for a while to keep himself grounded. He didn't think he could take another breakdown like the one he'd just endured anytime soon. "We haven't been out flying in a long time."
Litha stood and stepped over him, out from under the tree. She shook herself and then dipped her shoulder, radiating warmth and contentment. It had pained her to see him so distraught, but she was pleased to see that some of the pressure had been released. This was the start of Kylo Ren's rehabilitation.
Songs in this chapter are Please Come Home by Steven Wilson, Tears of Laughter by Diary of Dreams, and Shake It Out by Florence and the Machine.
Chapter 14: Confessions
Edited another illustration into this one.
That night, Kylo sat cross-legged on the furry pad between Litha's shoulders as she lay on her belly, gazing out at the expanse of trees that covered the valley. She had insisted that they talk about the things that had gone through his mind during his breakdown; and though he had argued and fought about it at first, she was relentless, and he knew she was right.
"You felt like your parents didn't care about you. Why is that?"
"They were busy. Always busy. Too busy for me. And I had... issues. I was Force-sensitive and I could never control my emotions. The older I got, the more my outbursts and the power that manifested scared them. So they shipped me off to my uncle. I scared him too, so he apparently decided it would be prudent to kill me in my sleep."
He was becoming agitated, both from facing the awful memories and knowing that Litha was going to try to find out what happened next. He slid off her shoulder and started to walk away, but she only hooked a paw around his torso and pulled him down to the ground between her arms.
"I told you, I don't want to do this."
"You don't have to tell me, Kylo. If you don't want to talk, just let me go inside and see."
His walls went up instantly, and she huffed.
"You are strong enough to face this, and you know it. What frightens you so much about talking about your past?"
Falling silent, he slowly let his walls back down; allowing her to feel the storm that was starting to rage in his head again.
She began to understand. "You've done things. Terrible things. And you think if I find out I'll abandon you. Well, your choices are as follows: You can keep hiding it and let it all fester, all the while worrying about what will happen should I ever find out. Or, you can settle it all right now. Let me in, and then find out once and for all if I'll stay."
Tears were welling in his eyes again. "I can't. Litha, I can't keep going without you. I might as well throw myself off this cliff the second you fly away from me."
Her voice was stern, though no anger radiated across the bond. "Do you really have such a poor opinion of me that you think I would actually leave you here to die?"
"You don't know what I've done."
She began to send feelings of reassurance and calm into his mind. "So tell me, and we can exorcize this demon together."
He wanted to beat his fists against his own head in frustration, but her mind's influence on his own started to win out. He calmed, the tears finally spilling, and dropped his walls completely.
She found the memory of his uncle and started there. The sound of the lightsaber igniting, the eerie light it was casting on the wall when his eyes opened, the sight of a bearded man in robes standing over his bed with the saber in hand. More tears came as she saw him bring down the hut on Luke's head, and he covered his face with his hands and wept openly as she watched him slaughter his fellow students and recruit the rest to go and join Snoke. He felt her horror, and it sickened both him and her alike. But she didn't shrink away. She went back, looking at earlier memories of Snoke's influence. She listened to his attempts to seduce him away from the light. Her anger grew as he slowly succeeded, but to Kylo's surprise... It was directed only at Snoke. She spoke to him as the memories of his horror show of a career as Snoke's apprentice began to flash before her one by one, though he could feel her flinching at almost every one.
'You were a child, Kylo. You were a child and this twisted creature made you his prey. He found every crack in your armor and he exploited it. This could have happened to anyone who had power like yours, and the outcome would likely have been the same.'
'So what, you're saying I have no blame in this?'
'No, I'm not. You still chose to do the things you did. And it ruined your life. You'll never get those years back any more than these people you killed will get their lives back. But here's the thing. Every day is a choice. Every day when you wake up, you choose what kind of person to be. And you've learned how not to be that person anymore. You're already well on the path to redemption. You just have to continue to make the choices that come so easy to you now.'
She began to dredge up his memories of his time with her now. Their first kiss, packing their supplies, holding their breaths every time they passed someone on the way to their escape ship, the heavy bag suddenly coming up from below the ship and clobbering her, knocking her to the floor of the cargo hold.
'...That one was your memory.'
Her reply was heavy with mock surprise. 'Was it? Huh, interesting.'
'Still salty about it, I see.'
She ignored him and continued to make her point. He saw them lying naked in a tangle of limbs at their first coupling. He saw a hundred other memories of their sexual escapades, and suddenly he realized how much he missed it. He saw himself on her back, watching the world race by as she flew through the mountains. He saw them lying in the cave watching a thunderstorm roll in. On and on it went.
'There are a lot of days ahead of us, Kylo. You just have to choose what to do with them.'
He let her know he wanted to think a while, and gently closed their connection. He thought of the promise he had made to her on that ship. He had vowed that he would tell the dimar how to destroy Starkiller Base. He thought of Snoke, sitting in that stupid throne room of his on the Supremacy. Kylo's disappearance wouldn't have stopped him. The First Order was still out there doing what the First Order does. And he had a choice to make.
Getting to Dimar may well prove to be an impossible task. He had never seen another dimar in his entire life as far as he knew. They blended in seamlessly with humans except for the pads on their hands, which were easily hidden with gloves. The odds of contacting Litha's kind from this planet were slim to none.
The only other option was the fucking Resistance.
... God fucking dammit.
"... My name isn't Kylo. That's the name Snoke gave me."
He felt her surprise ripple through their bond.
"My birth name is Ben Solo. My mother... She's alive."
A stab of excitement. "Do you know where she might be?"
"I know exactly where she is. She's leading the Resistance. I'm General Leia Organa's son."
She gaped for a second, and then slowly turned her head, side-eyeing the fuck out of him. "...Well, that explains a lot."
Chapter 15: Making Contact
Another smackeral of smut, my lovelies. Enjoy.
Litha had been sleeping outside the cave in her true form the last few weeks, but last night she had changed back to her human form and joined Kylo in the cave. Neither was in the mood for sex after the day they'd had, so they simply went to sleep, with Ben curled right up against her back.
Now he awoke to find sunlight streaming in from the cave's mouth. It was a glorious morning. Birds sang, the breeze was cool and refreshing... And Ben found himself with a raging erection. Good. It was about time he put an end to their dry spell. He pressed his lips to the back of her neck and she responded immediately with a soft gasp, grinding her ass into him.
He quickly rolled her to her back, and as their lips met his hand began to stray downward. She grit her teeth and growled as his fingers gently brushed her clit. "It's about fucking time, loser."
The hand between her legs moved like lightning to her throat, and he gave it a warning squeeze. "That's some tough talk coming from someone who's going to break down and beg when I refuse to touch her where she wants again."
She glared up at him, but kept her mouth shut.
His hand returned to its former position, but he kept his fingers just shy of making contact. "I don't hear any begging."
She made a small whimper. "You're cruel, you know it?"
"And you're mouthy. Maybe I'll give that mouth of yours something to do besides talk an endless stream of shit."
He rose to his knees and straddled her, making it clear exactly what he expected her to do. She happily obliged him, taking his cock into her mouth and starting to work her magic.
Within seconds he groaned, already too close after not having had an orgasm in weeks. Didn't think that plan through, did I? Pulling himself free of her mouth, he smirked down at her. "Wanton little thing you are. So eager to suck my cock."
Her eyes were pleading. "For god's sake, will you please fuck me?"
"You can do better than that, little girl."
It was the truth, and soon she was proving it. Still on her back with her legs spread wide, Ben lay between them, his face inches from her center. He snickered as she bit her lip, squirming and whimpering, her eyes squeezed tightly shut and her brow furrowed in frustration. "Ben, please... Please. It's been too long, and I've missed it so much..."
Normally he would have enjoyed tormenting her for quite some time yet, but her words got under his skin and undid his resolve. It had been too long. He scooted forward and started showering her clit with the attention she was so desperate for, slipping two fingers inside her as he did so. It wasn't long before her hips jerked upward and she made the tell-tale breath-caught-in-her-throat sound she always made right before she came. His cock throbbed as her cries echoed through the cave and probably halfway down the valley.
He loomed over her on his hands and knees, his hair hanging down toward her face. "You want me to fuck you now?"
She reached her hands up and gripped his shoulders, attempting to get him to take up the proper position. "Gods, yes, I need you inside me. Now. Ben, please..."
It had been strange, at first, hearing his old name rolling off her lips. But now it excited him. Not about to let her take charge, he hauled her roughly onto her hands and knees and slammed his cock into her so hard from behind that she cried out. Within seconds, she was moving in time with him, thrusting herself backward as he thrust forward, trying to get him in as deep as she could with every stroke. He reached down and grabbed a fistful of her hair, leaning over her to snarl in her ear as he pulled her head back.
"I'm gonna cum so hard inside you. I'm gonna make up for every night I didn't pin you to this bed and take what was mine. I will take you on the floor of this cave. I will take you out in those woods. I will take you on the banks of that river."
He was starting to come undone. His fingers dug into her hips as his orgasm hit him so hard he saw stars. Gods above, below, and beyond; how could he ever have lost interest in this? They collapsed back onto their bed, exhausted, sweating, and satisfied.
After resting a while, Litha looked at the mess on their sparse bedding and wrinkled her nose. "Guess we'll be taking all this to the river for a wash today."
Ben shrugged. "It's warm and breezy, so we might as well since it'll dry fast. I think we could use a wash too." Litha wanted to snuggle closer to him, but they were both still overheated. She settled for reaching a hand across the bed and letting it fall against his arm. "Breakfast first?" He nodded. "Breakfast first."
They had built a rack for smoking meat and fish, and they had a nice little stockpile of both set aside. Litha looked through the rest of their food supplies, frowning. "We're running out, Ben. There's not much salt left, and the dried fruit is nearly gone too."
He sat down next to her with a strip of smoked meat and a bowl of fresh berries they had foraged two days back. There was plenty of fresh food to be found, sure, but luxuries like salt and sugar weren't things you could pull off a bush or vine. They ate in silence, neither wanting to bring up the obvious solution.
The walk to the river from the nearby clearing Litha landed in was always a pleasant one. Ben carried their clothing and bedding in one of the bags they had brought, along with what was left of their powdered laundry detergent. That would run out too, one of these days. He pushed the thought away. Suggesting a trip to one of the settlements or trading posts would inevitably lead to a conversation about contacting the Resistance; and for now they both just wanted to let it be.
The trail wound downhill through a gully that channeled rain straight into the river during storms. Litha hopped from one side to the other over Ben's head the whole way down, chuffing happily. Her tongue lolled from her mouth as she frolicked through the woods, running literal circles around him. He was sad to think about leaving it behind. She was so happy here, and so was he. Going to the Resistance base would be a miserable experience. He had no idea how his mother would react to his return. He knew for certain that everyone there would hate him, just as he deserved. Suddenly he felt a wave of comfort and serenity wash over him. Litha was standing in the gully further down the trail, looking his way.
'Don't stress yourself over it, Ben. You can't control what others think or do. All we have to do is give them the information they need. We can come back here with some supplies as soon as we do. All will be well.'
He sighed ruefully, having meant to guard his thoughts better. Her words comforted him, though, and they walked side by side the rest of the way to the river.
Once back at the cave, Ben found that he was too on edge about contacting the Resistance to try to pretend it wasn't happening anymore.
"We have a functioning datapad and, thank the gods, a signal. You know how to reach them. We might as well just do it so you can avoid spending the rest of the day stewing over it."
"There's a problem, though. Let's say we get in touch with the Resistance without the message being intercepted by any number of people who would do us harm. What do we tell them? Any mention of me will bring the First Order right down on our heads if they're listening."
She shrugged. "I'll tell them what I am and offer them my services for a while in exchange for any help they can give to get me home. We won't mention you until they come to get us."
He scoffed. "And then what am I supposed to do? Jump out from under your wing and yell 'Surprise'? They'll shoot us both dead."
Litha gnawed at her lip. "I could meet them somewhere nearby while you stay here in the cave. That way I can explain things without putting us both in danger by catching them off guard. If they're pissed about it, then they're free to fuck off back to their base, wherever it is."
It was as good as things were going to get. Ben drew in a shaky breath, pacing as Litha composed the message. Once it was sent, there was nothing to do but wait for a response and hope it hadn't been intercepted.
Both of them dived for the datapad the second the alert came. Litha read the response while Ben looked over her shoulder. "They're coming. Three days. They've agreed to meet at the top of the cliff behind the cave."
Three days was a long time to sit and hope that nothing would go wrong. However, the Resistance didn't take three days to arrive. Within three hours, Litha's ears perked.
"Do you hear that?"
Ben was instantly alarmed. "That's a ship. There's a ship approaching. Fuck!" He immediately reached out with the Force, trying to discern the intentions of the people who were coming for them. Stars, they were close already. How did they sneak up on them?
"It's not the First Order. Whoever it is, they're as nervous as we are."
Regardless, Litha moved in front of the cave's entrance, blocking Ben from view as the ship suddenly appeared, racing through the valley and approaching their ledge. It was a transport similar to the one they had escaped on. The second it landed, over a dozen men and women bearing the symbol of the Resistance poured out, all pointing blasters at Litha while Ben hid underneath her wing. She crouched fearfully, remaining perfectly still.
Their leader was a young, handsome, dark featured man wearing a leather jacket. He approached at the head of the group, calling out as he did. "Stay still, and you won't be harmed! Now, we're sorry to get the jump on you, but we needed to be sure this isn't a trick. It's not a trick, right?"
She shook her head, eyes wide. "No, of course not! I just want to help you."
He had them lower their weapons. "Okay, so here's what's gonna happen. You're going to lie down on the ground. We're going to blindfold you, load you up, and take your scary ass back to the base. Easy enough, right?"
Fuck. They had caught the pair completely off guard, and now she had no way to explain Ben's presence with him at a safe distance. The base must be incredibly close, perhaps even on this very planet, for them to have come so quickly. Oh, the irony.
Litha remained crouched with Ben hidden under her wing, starting to panic now. She swallowed hard, ears pinned back against her skull. There was no avoiding it, she had to reveal that she had Ben with her. "Wait! Th... There's something else. Something I couldn't tell you before."
Their commander narrowed his eyes, noting the odd position of her right wing, and motioned for them to raise their weapons. "She's hiding something under her wing! Hey, what are you trying to pull, huh?"
"Nothing! It's not a trick! Don't shoot me, please! I can explain!"
Ben had heard enough. He wasn't about to let Litha die trying to protect him. His only hope was to convince them of her innocence before they shot her dead, even if it cost him his own life. Dropping his lightsaber on the ground, he stepped out from under Litha's wing with his hands up. "Hey, hey... Don't hurt her. She's done nothing wrong."
The commander stared at him for a brief moment, recognition dawning on his face. And then... "Oh hell no." He aimed his blaster at Ben and fired it. The last thing he heard before darkness overtook him was Litha's anguished roar, followed by the sound of repeated blaster fire. It had all gone horribly awry.
Chapter 16: The Resistance
Ben slowly opened his eyes to harsh fluorescent lighting and a pounding headache. It was more than he could take, so he simply squeezed them shut again, confusion swirling through his consciousness. How was he still alive? He suddenly felt a cool, damp cloth pressed to his brow, and his eyes snapped open again. The hand holding the cloth moved aside, and he found himself gazing up at General Leia Organa. His mother.
Her eyes welled with tears. "Ben."
His voice was tight and croaky when he tried to speak, and he had to clear his throat several times. Leia handed him a glass of water, and he downed it greedily. He found his voice again, but realized he didn't know what to say, so instead he just clammed up and stared into the empty glass.
"Ben. Ben, I'm so sorry." He looked up at her, surprised. Her voice cracked with emotion. "I should never have sent you away. I'm sorry."
"Mom... Please don't... It doesn't matter now. I got away."
"Ben, what happened? I can guess why Lady Hyalitha didn't say anything about you, but-"
"Oh, fuck! Litha! Where is she?!" He stood and immediately swayed, the pounding in his head reaching a crescendo that threatened to make him sick. His mother caught his wrist and guided him back against the wall where he could lean. He laid his head back against the cold metal, feeling the pain subside. Leia got him another glass of water.
"She's locked up on the transport they brought you two back on. Their orders were to stun her and bring her in unharmed if anything went wrong. Now, I don't know what a dimar is doing running around in the wilderness with my apparently fugitive son, but she's awake now and she's in a rage. No one can approach her, it's like she's lost her mind."
"Mom, she probably thinks I'm dead. Let me go to her. I can-"
A distant, loud bang followed by a crash and the sound of a spine-chilling roar suddenly echoed up the hall. Leia's datapad lit up, and she scrambled to grab it. "Please tell me she's not out."
The voice that responded sounded panicked. "She's out!"
Ben didn't hear whatever command his mother gave the person on the other end. He had noticed his lightsaber sitting on top of his folded cloak shortly after waking; his mother must have rescued his things from their captors and brought them into the room where he was recovering. He raised his hand and the saber leapt across the room and slapped into it. He was out the door and running down the hall before Leia could stop him. The sight that greeted his eyes as he burst from the hall into the base's hangar made his blood run cold, and then hot with rage.
She was surrounded by rebels, all of whom were aiming their blasters at her. They had backed her against the far wall where she crouched; ears back, tail curled around with the sharp tip on display and wings flared in a threat stance, clearly ready to strike. Her face was contorted into a fierce snarl, and was wet with tears. Torrents of grief and rage rolled off of her in waves and hit him like a ton of bricks. He didn't hear himself screaming as he ran toward her. He saw her gaze snap toward him and watched her expression change to shock as their eyes met and she mouthed his name, standing up as if she had forgotten about the dozen-odd guns pointed at her face. In a flash, he skidded to a halt in front of her, igniting his saber and brandishing at the rebels. His mother followed hot on his heels. Litha protectively wrapped a paw around him and pulled him toward her, but he shrugged her off in order to keep his saber positioned to defend them both.
"Hold your fire! Do not harm them!"
A tense standoff ensued. The cocky motherfucker who had shot him was at the front of the group. His eyes blazed hatred at Ben. Ben's eyes blazed hatred right back at him. Go ahead, fuckface. Shoot. Try it and see if I don't send it right back at you this time.
"Stand down. ALL OF YOU." He glanced at his mother. She had positioned herself between the rebels and her son. None of them budged. Her voice rose. "Did I fucking stutter? Drop your damn weapons, NOW. Do you have any idea who you're aiming those things at?!“ This time they obeyed her. If they weren't in such a dire situation it would have amused him to see that his mother was still, even all these years later, a force to be reckoned with.
The cocky one piped up. "Looks like Kylo Ren and his pet monster to me." Leia took a step forward, and Ben almost thought she might slap him right upside the head. He wisely shut his mouth. She turned back to him, her voice softening. "Ben. That means you too. Put down your lightsaber."
He only lowered it a fraction. "Mother. I want you to promise me right now that Litha won't be harmed. Promise me!" He heard Litha's sharp intake of breath behind him as she realized who the woman before them was. His hands began to shake as his anger turned to fear. Leia took a step toward him. "She won't be, Ben. I promise, she won't be. Neither of you will be."
Litha nosed him from behind, causing him to flinch. "Ben, come on... It's alright. They're all just scared same as us." He searched the faces of the people in front of him and found that she was right. Save for the bigmouthed pilot, they all looked terrified. He extinguished his lightsaber and slowly set it on the ground. Litha stared daggers at Mr. Bigmouth, an edge creeping into her voice. "Well, except for that one, anyway. That one's clearly too stupid to know when he ought to be afraid."
That seemed to make him angry. "Hey, why didn't you tell us you had him with you, huh? You think maybe that might have been an important detail to mention?" Leia rounded on him.
"Dameron, you idiot, he defected. The First Order is probably monitoring every communication channel available listening for his name. Of course she didn't announce it. She'd have led them right to us."
Dameron. What a stupid name. Litha bared her teeth at him. "Might have explained it when you found us had you not shot us before I could." Dameron raised his hands. "Woah, woah, woah now. Let's be fair. I didn't shoot you." He gestured to Ben. "Just him."
A snarl tore from her throat and she made a false lunge at him, sending him stumbling backward into his comrades. Leia whirled around again, hissing through clenched teeth, "Dameron, shut your goddamned mouth! You're dismissed! All of you!" She waved her hands at them. "Get out of here!" They were all too happy to oblige, even Dameron, who only sent one hateful glare back over his shoulder as he took off across the hangar with the others.
She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Please try to excuse Poe... He's a cocky, hot-headed moron, but he's a damned good pilot and as much as I'd like to toss him out an airlock sometimes, I can't afford to. The Resistance needs his skills."
Heh. Poe. That's an even stupider name. Leia gestured back toward the same hallway he had run in from. "Come on, we have a lot to talk about. And I know you two must want to rest. You're safe now."
As they left the hangar, Litha glanced over her shoulder at the wrecked door of the transport she had forced her way out of. "I'm sorry about your ship, General. I'll help fix it if I can." Leia waved a hand at her. "Oh, don't worry about that. They'll have it back in shape in no time. It's really on Dameron for shooting first and asking questions never, anyhow."
As they passed the room Ben had woken up in, he remembered his cloak and ducked in to get it, knowing that Litha would want to be covered upon transforming so as not to make his mother uncomfortable. He was still shaking and on edge, and he could feel her adrenaline-fueled tension roaring through his mind. Leia led them deeper into the base; down a wide set of stairs, across what looked like a mess hall, and finally down another hallway that led to the barracks. Everyone they passed stopped what they were doing to stare at Litha, but she was too wound up to notice.
Once Leia had the door to their room open, Ben stepped in and waited for Litha to transform before wrapping her in his cloak. If his mother had any opinions on the spectacle of her transformation or his casual familiarity with her naked human body, she didn't voice them. Litha stepped into his embrace as he covered her, wrapping her arms around him and drawing in a shaky breath.
"I thought you were dead. I thought their piece of shit commander killed you. I watched him shoot you."
"I know, sweet girl... But I'm still here, and we're still together. He looked like he just about shit his pants when you went for him back there. I bet he'll think twice before he tries to tangle with you again."
Her transformation had cut her emotions off from him, but the edge was back in her voice. "He'd better, or he won't think again."
The room was a private one, small and utilitarian. It contained nothing but a single bed, a wardrobe, a desk with a lamp, and a narrow door that led to a cramped refresher. Leia stood gazing at her son and his strange companion. It was clear that they loved one another fiercely, and she was grateful. So very grateful. Her son was back, and he wasn't all alone in the world. She approached Litha and laid a hand on her shoulder.
"You brought him back to me. I don't... I just can't see how I could ever repay you." Her voice cracked again, and tears spilled over and ran freely down her face as she covered her mouth with her hand. Litha let go of Ben and immediately wrapped her arms around Leia instead, seeking to comfort her.
"There's nothing to repay. Ben was already lost to the First Order when I found him. I only gave him a reason to leave. Look, I'll give you two some time alone. I'd really like to take the first hot shower I've had in months, if it's all the same to you both."
Once Litha disappeared into the refresher, Leia sat on the bed and gazed up at Ben, who was leaning against the desk avoiding eye contact. Surprisingly, he spoke first.
"I don't want to talk about what happened up until Litha showed up. Any of it."
"Fair enough. How did she end up captured? I'd hate to think that the dimar have been discovered by the First Order."
So Ben told her the story of how Litha had found her way into his life, and how they had escaped. He told her about his guilt, his breakdown, and the decision to contact the Resistance. He didn't shy away from the fact that he didn't at all want to be there. Still, he was glad to see his mother, and it showed.
"I know I'm going to regret asking this, but... Where's dad? Not here, apparently."
His mother dropped her eyes to the floor, and sighed deeply. "No, son. He's not here. When everything... Well, when it all went to hell with you and Luke... He just couldn't deal with it. So he and Chewie got on the Falcon and returned to the only thing they knew. I haven't seen or heard from him in years."
Ben seethed, his face darkening. "What a shocker."
Leia shrugged. "I stopped being angry about it a long time ago. Anger never brought either of you back to me."
His anger shifted from Han Solo to himself, and guilt stabbed at him. "So I abandoned you, he abandoned you, and Uncle Luke abandoned you."
"And yet, here you stand."
"No, mother. It's not good enough. Litha and I want to help you destroy the First Order. It's the only thing I can do to even begin to make up for the things I've done."
As if on cue, Litha emerged from the refresher, clad in a towel. "That felt amazing. I haven't felt clean in months." She moved immediately to Ben's side, and he wrapped his arms around her as she leaned on him while he elaborated.
"The First Order has a weapon, mother. A superweapon."
"Another Death Star?"
"No, mom... This is bigger. This one can take out an entire system from anywhere in the galaxy. They're going to destroy the Hosnian system. They know who your allies are."
Leia's eyes widened and she stood, starting to pace the small room. After a moment, she stopped and turned to Ben. "How do we blow the damn thing up?"
"There are a few ways to destroy parts of it, but really only one viable way to destroy the entire planet."
Litha piped up. "They literally gutted a planet and converted it to a base with a giant cannon that can drain a star and redirect the energy somehow. I saw it with my own eyes as we escaped."
Leia sank back onto the bed, her mind boggling at the idea. "Every time I think we might be gaining some ground... Okay, fine. So we blow it up. How?"
"The cannon isn't operational yet. They're working on the last of the construction and then they'll move on to the testing phase. The only way that amount of energy can be contained is through a thermal oscillator. If we can get in and sabotage it so that it fails after charging the cannon, the energy will escape and start a chain reaction that destroys the whole thing."
Leia nodded, gnawing at her lip. "So now we have to come up with a plan. The problem is, Ben, we need you to be there helping us work it out and no one here is going to be happy about that."
Ben stared miserably at the floor. "I know, mom." Litha merely shrugged. "I mean, they're going to have to get over it, at least until this is done with. They don't have to accept him or forgive him, but if they're truly loyal to the Resistance..."
"That's not the issue, really. The issue is convincing them that we can trust him. That this isn't a trick, that he's not just trying to draw us out on a suicide mission so that the First Order can destroy us for good."
"They'll follow you wherever you lead them when it comes down to it though, right?“
"I guess we're going to find out."
Chapter 17: Persuasion
Despite being extremely ill at ease at the Resistance base, Ben was immensely relieved to finally have the luxury of a refresher again. He came out well over an hour after he went in, clean shaven and with his hair looking almost as good as Litha remembered it from Starkiller Base, despite it having grown almost to his shoulders during their time in the mountains. He discarded his towel and joined her in the small bed.
"How's your anxiety?"
"Through the roof. I'm glad I got to see my mom, and I'm glad she doesn't hate me. But I still don't want to be here. I don't belong here."
"We're just here to relay information. Hopefully we won't be here long. I thought of something while you were in the shower, though."
Ben squirmed against her, fighting to arrange himself comfortably around her in such a tiny bed. "What's that?"
"Well, I feel stupid that it escaped me until now, but since your mother is clearly familiar with my species... She must be in contact. I mean, she has to be, right? We don't just casually interact with the rest of the galaxy. Not in our true forms, anyway."
Ben blinked in surprise. He hadn't thought of it either, but she was likely right. "If that's true... Will they come get us?"
"I'm thinking more along the lines of them helping us. It's possible that a threat like Starkiller Base could get our leaders to sit up and pay attention. We can absolutely wage war if we need to. It could turn the tide in our favor. And then, once we've won... Ben, I could take you home with me. We can have a home. A real home. I can continue my work locally. You could learn a trade of your own, if you wanted."
"What happened to 'We're just here to relay information?' You're sounding like you want to lead the charge."
"Hardly. But you know as well as I do that you won't be able to sleep at night if that weapon isn't annihilated. Just walking away isn't an option."
He sighed deeply and covered his face with his hands. "Why do you always have to be so fucking right all the time?"
She brushed a strand of hair out of his face. "Let me put you to sleep. Hush now, stop your fretting. All will be well."
The next thing Ben knew, it was morning, and Leia was at the door with breakfast for them both. Thanks to Litha, he had slept like he was dead and his anxiety had yet to creep back in. She, unfortunately, hadn't slept much at all. The bed was simply too small for them both. They sat and ate in silence as Leia outlined her plan, though Ben's countenance soured as she spoke.
"I've called all my officers and whoever else isn't busy with something urgent at the time to a meeting at the command center. Both of you will be attending. Litha, I'd prefer you to appear in your true form. No one here is really aware of your shapechanging abilities, but most of them know the dimar and respect them. It'll add weight to your words. Ben, you're going to stand beside her and keep your mouth shut unless directly addressed. I'll introduce you both properly and Litha and I will work together to convince everyone that Ben has truly turned on the First Order."
Litha voiced the question that had been burning in her mind since last night. "General, I have to know... Are you in contact with my kind?"
"I am. The Resistance is one of the few groups the dimar maintain contact with. Unfortunately, our communications tower is down for maintenance, but it'll be up and functioning again within a day or two. Once it is, we're going to get in touch and let them know one of their Soothers has escaped both slavery and the clutches of the First Order with the help of Ben here."
"And about the superweapon, right? If they're made aware of it, maybe they'll come to our aid."
Leia merely shrugged. "Doubtful, but we can try. At the very least, they may send some of their Healers here to help us out of gratitude for your safe return, even if they refuse to fight alongside us."
"I want to help, too. Once I've been introduced to everyone, I can offer my services to anyone who needs it, along with whatever else I can do to help."
Litha didn't catch the angry look Ben immediately shot her, but his mother did. "Ben? What's the issue?"
Ben, of course, absolutely did not want to engage for even a second. He could feel his temper flaring as he realized that he was cornered. Litha recognized the red flags instantly. Before he could lash out, she stood, pointing to the door to the refresher. "Take a walk, dude. Go and breathe. We will figure this out. We always do."
He needed no second bidding. He stood and yanked the door to the refresher open, slamming it behind him hard enough to make Leia flinch. She turned her gaze to Litha, visibly shaken. "His problems with anger have always scared me to death."
"He's pissed because he doesn't want to stay here any longer than he has to. He knows he's surrounded by people who hate him. He's still struggling with hating himself. On top of that, I'm sure he felt betrayed hearing me talk about helping as if I'm volunteering us both to stay forever. It's... A long road ahead for him. But he's come so far, General. You should be proud of him. He's healing. I think being here might even help him, given time. At the very least, contributing to the demise of the First Order, even in the smallest of ways, will put him further down the path."
Leia stared at the floor, for a moment looking as exhausted as she must actually be. "Getting away from Snoke was the most important thing... Believe me."
"That, too. Gods above, what a creep he is."
"You have no idea."
It wasn't long before Litha was able to coax Ben out of the refresher. His anger had faded into resignation and sadness, and he rebuffed Litha's efforts to talk it out. "Forget it... I just want to get this over with. Then I want to go outside. Sitting in here is going to make me crazy."
On the way to the command center, Litha, having returned to her true form, could feel the emotions churning their way through her partner's head. Anxiety was leading the way, followed by shame, frustration, and despair. She tried to gently nudge some positivity his way, but he shut himself off to her the second he realized how much he was broadcasting. Leia, being Force-sensitive, could feel it too, but she had long since decided to let the professional deal with her son's issues. All she could do was love him as much as he would allow her to. She wondered sadly if he ever would open back up to her fully. Her thoughts drifted to his childhood, and how much he had loved both her and Han at first. Her throat tightened as the memories chased their way through her head. Better to stow them away again for now. There was work to do, and her focus needed to remain on the task at hand. Perhaps later, if there was time, she herself would seek Litha's comfort.
A group of people of varying species stood waiting for their appearance; including, to Litha's chagrin, Poe Dameron. A hush fell over them as the dimar started to duck her massive head and shoulders into the entrance to the area, only to think better of it and remain partly in the passageway. Ben skulked near her shoulder, refusing to make eye contact with anyone present.
Leia didn't hesitate. "So. It's been an eventful couple of days, and we have guests. The dimar here is Lady Hyalitha. She's a trained and experienced Soother. As for the other one... Look, guys. I know what you're all thinking. But Litha here was a captive of the First Order, and he busted her out. Are you parsing this? At great personal risk to himself... He got her out. He defected. And together they've come to help us against a threat greater than any the galaxy has ever known."
The group exchanged dire looks as their General revealed the existence of Starkiller Base and the superweapon it housed. She explained that Ben not only knew the location, he also knew its weak point. It was at this point that Poe, who's expression had darkened the second they had all walked into the room, jumped in.
"And we're just supposed to trust this information? You're asking us to go out and put our lives on the line on the word of Kylo Ren?"
Leia shook her head, opting to pick her battles in regards to Ben's name. "I'm not asking you to trust him, Poe. I'm asking you to trust me." She gestured to Litha. "And her. Just try to pry the stick out of your ass and listen to what she has to say."
Poe scoffed. "Uh, you do realize she attacked us not once, but twice, right?"
Now it was Litha's turn to become indignant. She immediately snapped back at him, teeth bared. "Are you kidding me? You shot my partner right in front of me. What did you think was gonna happen, dickbag?"
Before Leia could cut in to de-escalate, Poe held up a hand. "Woah woah wait wait wait... Partner? Like... Romantic partner?" Ben finally looked up, and they both simply stared back at him defiantly. He snorted in derision. "Okay so... like, how does that work? Do you just like... From behind, or?"
Ben rolled his eyes while Leia simply facepalmed. Litha, however, had had just about enough of Poe's shit. Wordlessly, she took a step forward and transformed. As she stood there naked before the entire assembly, she gestured to her body as Poe's mouth dropped open. "Does this answer your question, jackass?"
The deafening silence that fell over the group was broken only by Ben's snort of laughter upon seeing the shocked expressions on everyone's faces. He coughed and covered his mouth to stifle it as Litha stepped backwards and returned to her true form. Leia was gaining a serious appreciation for Litha's not-a-single-fuck-given attitude, and she nudged Ben as she stepped forward to address the gathering again. "I like her."
An older man with grey hair and a thick mustache who stood next to Poe suddenly guffawed and punched him in the arm. "Boy, she sure shut you up, didn't she?" Leia cut in before there could be any more interruptions. "It's about time somebody did! Now, can we get back to business?"
Order restored, Leia began to make her case. "Look, you all know that the dimar are good creatures. They may not have involved themselves in the war, but they're out in the galaxy helping in their own way. Litha here is living proof of that. She didn't attack unprovoked, Poe, and you know it. So you can cut that crap out right now. You two need to make peace, and that's an order."
Poe didn't challenge Leia, but the man who had punched him raised a hand and cut in. "Look, I like her. And not just 'cause I saw her naked, either, no." He continued to talk over the snickers from the crowd. "She's clearly protective of those she loves, and I got a lotta respect for that. But, to come to the point... M' lady, if you two are in fact romantically involved, how can we be sure that you're not so love-stupid over him that you're blind to his faults? And, no disrespect, General, because I'd follow you into a black hole and you know it... But you're his mother. I could ask the same of you. You can see where we're coming from, right?" There were murmurs of assent.
Litha decided that she liked this one, and addressed him herself. "What's your name, human?"
He nodded politely. "Alhelor, m'lady. I mean no offense, I hope you realize."
She shook her head. "None taken. Your concern is valid. Having said that..." She trailed off, trying to think of how to word her response. "I'll tell you exactly what I told his mother yesterday. Ben here was lost to the First Order before I even came along. He didn't have to rescue me from an interrogation chamber. He didn't have to risk keeping me safe in his chambers. But he did. I could tell right away that he wasn't the monster he himself was convinced that he was. Snoke's method of control involved isolating him from outside influences of any sort the whole time he had him. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why. If he had allowed anything besides his own poison to enter Ben's head, that would be it. He'd lose his grip on him. And that's exactly what happened mere days after I arrived and simply showed him basic kindness and understanding. He was already fed-up and wanting a way out, because he simply isn't what Snoke tried to make him. All he needed was a worthy alternative. Now he has one." She looked down at Ben, who was again staring awkwardly at the ground. "I'm not gonna lie, he does have me pretty love-stupid, as you so eloquently put it. But it's my job to read people. I've been trained to recognize a manipulator. Snoke is a master manipulator. But this guy? This one here couldn't manipulate his way out of a wet paper bag. You don't even have to have my level of training to read him, just look at him."
Ben craned his neck to look up at her and lifted his hands in an are-you-fucking-kidding-me gesture. She simply arched an eyebrow at him. "What? It's true. You have to be able to control your emotions well enough to hide them to manipulate people. You can't. Hell, you can't even lie convincingly."
A young red-headed woman piped up, clearly swayed by Litha's words and the apparent sincerity in her and Ben's interactions. "I believe her. I mean, if the situation is as dire as it sounds, we really can't afford not to, can we? We need all the help we can get. And frankly, he does look like a pretty poor excuse for the monster you lot have made him out to be."
Leia looked over the group as they exchanged looks and began to mumble their reluctant agreement. It was a start, at least. She'd take it. "Alright then, it's recon time. You on it, Robin?"
The redhead from before strode off with a will toward the main hangar. "Like a fat kid on cake!"
Leia rolled her eyes and dismissed the rest, and they began to disperse. She explained the next steps to the pair as they made their way outside. "There isn't much to do now but contact Dimar once the tower is fixed and see what they have to say, and wait for Robin to get back. Once we have her information to back yours up and we know if we have help, we can formulate an official plan. Settle in and relax, you two. It'll be a few days."
Chapter 18: Waiting
Leia, having escorted the two outside, went back into the base to tend to other matters. Ben's mood improved a bit as he and Litha explored the outside of the base, and she soon found that she could feel his mind against her own again.
"I'm sorry I upset you so badly earlier. I should have thought before I spoke. I know it must have felt like I was betraying you."
Ben sighed. He didn't want to talk about it, but he had spent enough time in Litha's company to know that he'd feel better if he did. "It did. But it wasn't fair of me to get angry at you. I know you want to help, and I shouldn't stand in the way of that. I'm just... I'm so lost here. It feels like the very structure of the base itself hates me and wants me dead."
They walked out to the edge of the base where it started to blend back into jungle. "I think you may be projecting, little human. While it's true that not very many of these people are happy to have you here, I think your own guilt and self-loathing is what's really eating at you."
Ben fell silent. He didn't know how to deal with his emotions. He didn't know how to control his outbursts. Litha always managed to see so much good in him somehow. His mother had welcomed him back with open arms. But what if Litha was the one projecting? What if Alhelor was right, and both she and Leia were simply blinded by love toward him? He sent these worries to her over their bond.
"First of all, I'm going to point out that you are, at the very least, acknowledging that your mother and I do love you. You're able to believe it. Many people I've counseled who have done terrible things in their past have a really hard time with that. They often think that no one can possibly love them, because they don't love themselves or see themselves as worthy of love."
"I don't feel worthy of anybody's love."
"Well, I've got good news for you. The people in your life who love you will continue to do so regardless of what you think or feel. You have no control over it. And there's something kind of comforting about that, isn't there?"
"I guess so."
He didn't sound convinced. They turned down a trail through the jungle that led to an open clearing a short walk away. The air was hot and sticky now that the sun had climbed higher into the sky, and Ben started to sweat even though their pace was slow and leisurely. It felt good to be away from the base, though, so when they reached the clearing, he headed straight for a large boulder toward the far edge and sat in its shade. Litha followed, flopping onto her belly nearby. Ben gazed up into her blue eyes. They were soft and full of love and compassion.
"I wish I were like you, Litha. I wish my first instinct this morning had been to want to help people here, the way you did. I'm just a selfish coward, wanting to run back to our cave and bury my head in the sand."
"Ben... You have spent years disregarding any and all concern for yourself. You are allowed to be selfish for a while. Don't be so hard on yourself, little human. You're healing. You can be selfless and brave later. When you're well again. I'll guide you when the time comes."
His chest tightened and a lump formed in his throat. He would have thought that by now, he'd have gotten used to her kindness and understanding toward him, but it often still overwhelmed him. He quickly crawled over to her massive shoulder and leaned against it, heedless of the climate. She curled her tail around him as he broke down once again, sobbing fitfully until he was spent and exhausted.
Eventually, the heat became oppressive, and they opted to head back and seek respite in the cool air of the underground base. Litha was hungry, but she wasn't about to attempt to hunt in the middle of the day as hot as it was. Ben wasn't sure he was feeling up to enduring everyone's stares, glares, and general ill will at the moment, but he wanted even less to be cooped up in their tiny room. They chose a spot near the main hangar that was mostly out of the way and sprawled out on the cool metal floor, with Ben sitting back against Litha's shoulder again. He wished like hell he had her music, but it along with almost everything else of theirs had been left in their cave on the neighboring planet. Eyes closed and head leaned back against his partner, he was brooding over this when Litha suddenly issued a low growl. When he opened his eyes, several resistance members had surrounded them and were staring daggers at him.
He wasn't afraid, certainly not with Litha there. She had already curled her tail protectively around him, and her sharp fangs glistened as her lips curled into a snarl. He casually turned his head to arch an eyebrow at her, as if he were bored to tears. "Well, what do you think this bunch wants?"
She hadn't taken her eyes off them. They were hard as flint, as was her reply. "A beating, apparently."
They got the hint. Wordlessly, they moved on. Litha and Ben exchanged looks. Perhaps their room was a better place to be after all. They didn't even have time to get to their feet, however, before Poe suddenly appeared. Litha huffed in annoyance at yet another intrusion. Couldn't anyone just leave them alone? Her tail lashed, hitting the ground with a loud thud. "Well, what do you want, then? Come for another show?" Ben smirked. He had almost forgotten about that.
Litha expected a scathing reply, but Poe just rolled his eyes. "Yeah, don't flatter yourself. General Leia is looking for you two. Said she'd head down to your room." With that, he turned his back on them and sauntered off.
Once they made it back to their tiny cabin and Litha had returned to her human form, they told Leia what had transpired. She sighed deeply.
"And here I wanted you and Ben to go out and try to start winning people over a bit. I should have expected this sort of thing, I guess. Well, no one is going to do anything stupid as long as you're with Litha, Ben, so whenever you're outside this room, I want you to stick together. Here, hang onto this comlink so we can stay in touch. If anyone else harasses you, call me immediately. I'll not have this sort of bullshit among my ranks."
The weather cooled that night, and the next couple of days were pleasant outside. Litha noticed that there were broad ledges above each hangar door, and she and Ben frequently lounged together on one of them. No one else bothered them; in fact, Resistance members often smiled and waved to them on their way in or out. Well, they smiled and waved at Litha, anyway. Ben was often ignored completely. His depression hung over him like a pall. He didn't seek Litha's guidance; having opted to retreat into himself for a while as he invariably did after opening up. Litha wanted to involve herself in the day to day operations of the base, or at least get out there and try to improve morale, but she refused to leave Ben alone and they both knew no one wanted him hanging around. There was nothing left to do but wait.
Chapter 19: Making Peace
This exchange is actually one of the first ones I thought up in my head for this story.
On the third morning after the meeting, Hyalitha had once again returned to her favorite spot on the ledge above the hangar door. Ben had been with her earlier; lounging against her underneath her wing where the sun wasn't as hot, but he had eventually grown bored and restless and had decided to risk going back inside on his own. His relentless misery had worsened and was starting to take its toll; and though she felt guilty for it, she was secretly relieved to be left out here for a while, mostly cut off from their mental bond. He was still close enough that she could be by his side in seconds should he reach out to her. That would be good enough for now. Her tail dangled down in front of the open hangar door, and she closed her eyes; letting the feeling of the sun hitting her fur distract her from her worrying about Ben.
That is, until she felt a tug on her tailspade. Her eyes flew open and she reflexively jerked her tail back up alongside her body. It was Poe. They had seen one another around the base the last two days, but he had left her in peace and she had largely ignored him. He had wisely backed off a few feet, but stood staring up at her from the ground. Bristling at his audacity, she narrowed her eyes and bared her teeth. "You seem to have very little regard for your own life, human."
He drew in a breath and sighed, shifting uncomfortably. "You know, you're not the first one to tell-"
She cut him off. "What do you want?"
He sighed again. "Well, I guess I..." He scratched at the back of his neck, trailing off. She knew he wasn't afraid of her, so why did he seem so... Awkward? He started again.
"Look, despite the animosity toward me, you seem like a good type. I've never met one of your kind before, but everyone who knows anything about you says you're all kind and generous and come from a peaceful society." That wasn't entirely true, of course, but she didn't care enough to correct him. "I actually have a lot of respect for you guys. So... I guess I came to make peace. I don't want to be on a dimar's bad side. Seems like... I don't know. Bad juju or something. And I don't want to be on Leia's bad side because that's just dangerous. So... I'm sorry I've been such a dick this whole time."
She blinked in surprise. He didn't wait for a response. "So can I ask you something while I'm out here?"
Still irritated, she snapped back without even thinking. "You just did."
Looking defeated, he turned to leave. Well fuck. Now she felt like a dick. So, swallowing her pride, she quickly extended a wing down over top of his head in front of him. "Wait. I'm... I'm sorry. You seem to have come here in good faith, and here I'm just being shitty for no reason."
He turned back toward her, shrugging ruefully. "I'm really not the sort of person who gets to lecture people on being unnecessarily shitty, so..."
Feeling a bit kinder, she sat up and reached her paw down, offering to pull him up to her level. He hesitated, but grabbed onto her claws with both hands, and she lifted him up and set him down next to her on the ledge. "What do you want to ask me, then?“
"Well, first of all, again... I'm sorry. For everything. But I'm just trying to understand, I guess, because I just don't get it. Kylo Ren is a monster who's killed countless people. He's killed some of us. Some of our families. Some of our friends. Did he tell you all that?"
"Yes, he did. He showed me the memories though our bond. I saw a lot of the things he's done."
"So how can you, someone who is clearly good, want to even be around someone who is so clearly evil? How can you stand it? I get that you're trying to help him, but since when does someone like him deserve any help, or kindness, or compassion? Even from a creature like you. Especially from a creature like you."
She didn't answer for a minute, mulling it over in her mind, trying to frame it in a way he might understand. "Do you know... He expressed the same sentiment to me before the first time I Soothed him. That he didn't deserve my help. And I'll tell you exactly what I told him: No one gets to decide that but me. It's not up to you, or him, or anyone else. It's my perogative."
"Fair enough, I guess. I just... How did you not want to kill him after seeing those memories? Hell, I still want to kill him."
She narrowed her eyes, her voice hardening. "That would be a mistake."
"I know! I know, and hey, I promise I won't. I'm just layin' it all out there. I'm being honest. Surely you can understand where me and the others are coming from."
She sighed. "Believe it or not, yes. I do. Your feelings are valid and justified. You have every right to hate him. Every right to want to kill him. Every right to fantasize about killing him. Seeing people you love killed inspires the worst sort of rage and hatred. So yes, I get it. And I don't expect any of you to forgive him or accept him. I don't even expect you to be nice to him. That would be asking too much of you, after what he's done."
Poe sat down and dangled his legs over the edge, falling silent and considering her words. After a minute, she continued.
"Do you want to know what the secret is, Poe Dameron?" He shrugged. "Sure, hit me."
"The secret is this: You can't control the thoughts or actions of anyone but yourself. You don't show compassion for his sake. You do it for yours. You have a choice as to what sort of person you want to be. As for me and my kind, we've chosen the path of trying to make the world a better place. We want to see less suffering, not more. And the gods know I have a hard time with it. Look at how I've treated you since I've been here. I've been acting on my baser instincts. The desire and drive to see someone punished, even if they learn nothing from it. I wanted to kill you after seeing you hurt him. And killing you in the act of protecting him would be the right thing to do. He's the most important person in the galaxy to me. Not protecting him isn't an option. But killing you just because you made me angry, choosing to give in to that anger even though there's no real threat... That's optional. It's a choice. And it would be pointless. That sort of lack of self-control only brings suffering, and the world is a little dimmer for it. And I have to continue living in that world. Truth be told, as mush shit as I like to talk, I've never actually killed anyone. I hope that never changes." She looked down at him, meeting his gaze. "I'm sorry I've been so mean. And I appreciate you coming to me. I may not have seen my error had you not. It was good of you."
He nodded. "Hey, don't worry about it. You obviously love him. You can see something in him that I don't. You're a better person than me, I'll tell you. But hey, if you believe that he's changed his stripes, then I guess I do too. We'll see what he has to offer when it comes time to plan our attack."
She curled her tail around him amicably. "He's miserable here, you know. He hates himself for the life he's led. He knows everyone here save for me and his mother hates him. He knows he earned that hatred and deserves nothing less. I'm not sure he'll even defend himself if anyone here attacks him at this point. I knew that I would be helping him through a crisis of conscience. I've done it for others. But this is harder, because I do love him. Through our bond, I feel the despair rolling off of him in waves whenever we're together. I want to see him happy. He was, for a while. When we first escaped. But now..." She sighed deeply. "I knew it was coming, but it's still hard."
Poe didn't know what to say and felt like he had made her sad, so after a minute, he shifted topics and restarted their conversation. "So you can fly with those big, beautiful wings, huh? What about back home? Do you guys have competitions, or like... Air shows, I guess?"
Litha smirked, unsurprised that the ace pilot had brought up flying. They settled into a comfortable conversation, with her explaining the various festivals and games, and him repeatedly expressing the desire to see it for himself. Soon enough, though, she felt a familiar wave of sadness. Ben was coming back outside. She stopped mid-sentence, peering over the edge of the ledge. He was there, staring up at her and Poe, looking confused. She chuffed at him, beaming reassurance into his mind, and reached her paw down again. His eyes briefly met Poe's, but he turned them downward in an instant, unwilling to maintain eye contact. As he took hold of her paw and was lifted up, Poe got to his feet.
"Well, Litha... Thanks for being cool. I better head back in. Maybe when things settle down you can show me what you can do up there in the air." He hopped down rather than wait for her to lower him, but stopped before going inside and looked back up at them.
Ben was leaning against her, his hand on her shoulder, forehead resting against her fur, eyes squeezed shut. He looked exhausted and completely broken. Litha nuzzled him, and then gazed back at Poe. "I'll take you out flying on my back someday."
She waited for him to go back inside, but he didn't. He stood there, gnawing his lip, before finally lifting his gaze to them again. "Hey," He grimaced, his voice flat and strained. "... Ben." Ben startled at the sound of his name, his real name, coming from the pilot's mouth, and he turned and stared at him, looking confused, incredulous, and suspicious all at once.
"Sorry I shot you." Without waiting for a response, he ducked back inside.
Litha snorted. "That sounded like it physically pained him." Ben turned his gaze toward Litha, maintaining his expression. "What... just happened?" Litha took a deep breath and fanned her wings, feeling better than she had in days.
Chapter 20: Respite
Fair warning to you all:
Ben is a bit rougher with Litha during their little kinkfest in this chapter. It's nothing particularly brutal, but is certainly an escalation compared to the last two chapters with smut, and they both talk a lot of shit. Don't worry, she loves it no matter how much she pretends not to. I'm going to update tags accordingly.
It was amazing what having one tiny little olive twig extended toward him did for Ben. Litha was able to convince him to eat a full meal, and afterward they took a walk out into the jungle with a few foragers to help gather fruit from a stand of trees that wasn't too far off from the base. There was always a glut this time of year, they had said, and Litha had been outfitted with several large baskets that the foragers had managed to strap to her back and sides. The rebels assigned to foraging duty on this particular day didn't seem to be particularly hostile to Ben at all, and had in fact merely shrugged and agreed when Litha had made his inclusion a condition of agreeing to be their beast of burden for a few hours. Both were relieved; Ben because he felt like less of an outcast and Litha because she felt sort of gross for attaching strings to any sort of help requested of her.
The baskets were bulky and awkward and the fruit trees, as it turned out, were well off the established trail where the flora grew thick and dense. They hadn't thought to bring clothes for Litha, so rather than transform to help gather the fruit she opted to wait on the trail while the humans did the harvesting. Ben shot her a nervous look as he followed them into the thick foliage, and she beamed reassurance into his mind.
'It's alright, little human. Go on, now. Lend your strength. I'll be right here.'
He nodded wordlessly and disappeared into the trees. It wasn't too long before they were back with the first set of full baskets. They left them at Litha's feet on the trail and Ben tossed a few of the fruits into her jaws as they turned to head back for more. She snapped them up greedily and settled back down to wait for them to finish their labors. Ben's confidence had clearly increased by time they had finished; he worked together with the other rebels as if he had always been there among them. At one point, as they sat the last overflowing baskets down in the ground, Ben had actually cracked one of his dry, sarcastic jokes and made them all laugh. Relief washed over her as she watched him help get the baskets strapped securely to her body. They returned to the base with their bellies full and their hands and faces covered in sweet, sticky fruit juice.
They had returned to their room after helping deliver the fruit to the kitchen workers to be dried, canned, and otherwise rendered shelf-stable for long term storage. Another group had been headed out to fish, and there were mechanics working on all sorts of projects as they had made their way through the hangar they had entered the base through, but Ben didn't want to push his luck with anyone else.
"Besides," he had said, "I've got fruit pulp in places I didn't even know I had. Even in my hair. I want to shower."
"I could lick your head again."
He didn't respond other than to glower at her.
They had already attempted to shower together in the tiny refresher in their room and knew that it was far too small; so they simply took turns, with Ben going first and Litha following. The second she stepped out into their room, Ben was on her; force-pulling her towel off her and sending it into the corner as he backed her into the wall.
She managed a "Hey, dickbag!" and then let out an indignant squawk as her back hit the cold metal, and he smirked as he menaced her; leaning over her with his hands planted on the wall on either side. She glared up at him even as the heat began to grow between her legs.
"Oh, so this is what's happening, is it? We're gonna play this ga-"
He cut her off with a hand over her mouth. "Shut up and bend over that bed before I really give you something to complain about."
She huffed, but moved to obey him. He forced her down with a heavy hand between her shoulder blades and kicked first one ankle, and then the other; forcing her to spread her legs for him as the hand that wasn't holding her down went instantly to her folds. He shook his head, chuckling darkly as he ran his fingers between them.
"How many literal seconds has it been since you walked out of that shower? You're already dripping. Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
There was a muffled snort. "No."
He gave her ass a hearty swat. "I bet you aren't."
His fingers slipped inside and immediately found the right spot, and she was soon arching and squirming; moaning and tearing at the covers on the bed with her nails. He abruptly withdrew them and flipped her over; pinning her wrists together above her head and leaning down to snarl into her ear.
"Don't. Fucking. Move."
She bit her lip and did her best to remain still and avoid squirming as he slid his fingers back inside. She hated when he did this; if she couldn't get her own hand between her legs then she had to wait for him to make her cum, and having to rely on her own willpower to not touch herself was hell compared to simply being restrained by physical force. He was in his element, of course, the smug fucker. He wanted her to break down and beg, but her pride wouldn't allow it; not this soon. We'll see who ends up smug in the long run, she thought.
It was Ben, of course. In these encounters, it was always Ben. He had seen the look of defiance spread across her face and had immediately switched tactics from bringing pleasure to causing pain. His hand moved from between her legs to her breast, and he found her nipple and pinched it roughly, causing her to cry out and instantly move her own hands to pull his away. When she opened her eyes upon realizing her mistake, he was staring down at her, smug triumph written all over his face as he smirked.
"I thought I told you not to fucking move."
"... I hate you."
"I know." His hand shot out and a wooden kitchen spoon flew into it from seemingly nowhere.
Her face fell. "Where the fuck did you get that?!"
He snorted as he hauled her up off the bed and yanked her down over his lap. "The kitchen, dumbshit. Where else? Now... What did I just tell you to do?"
Silence. Ben wasn't surprised. She was often defiant at first these days. She didn't want to simply give in anymore. She wanted to be conquered. She wanted to fight back and lose. She wanted to be tamed. He moved the spoon gently over her back and down to her ass. It was her only warning. "I asked you a question, little girl."
She opened her mouth to answer him, not particularly wanting to endure what promised to be a particularly painful thrashing... But there was that stubborn pride again. Silence reigned.
CRACK! Litha gasped at the sharp pain. Holy shit, this was much worse than his hand. He brought it down again, and this time she cried out. She managed four more strokes before her resolve began to falter and she started to squirm and whimper.
"You told me to stay still!"
Another crack of the spoon, another cry of pain. "And?"
"And then you pinched my fucking nipple, you ass!" She knew what that would bring, but she just couldn't bring herself to let go just yet. She grit her teeth through the flurry of strokes that resulted.
"Are you quite finished being obstinate?"
That last bit had done it. "... yes."
"Good. Now that we've solved that problem, I can punish you for your disobedience."
All the force behind her voice had melted away along with her defiance. "Can't we talk about this?"
"Nah, that sounds like a shit idea to me. All you do with that mouth of yours is get yourself into trouble. So no, no talking."
He grabbed a fistful of her hair and held it firmly, knowing the calming effect it tended to have on her, especially once her will had been broken. Then he immobilized her arms and legs using the force to stop her from kicking or thrashing. "You're gonna want to avoid transforming in front of anyone for a while. The bruises I'm about to put on your ass might raise a few questions."
She didn't respond other than to sigh in resignation, knowing that she had earned what was coming.
By time he was finished with her, her ass was covered in welts, which he took a moment to admire before relenting. Tossing the spoon aside, he released her and let her slide to the floor. He gave her a moment to rest before scooping her up in his arms and depositing her gently back onto the bed.
"Are you ready to be good for me now?"
He returned her to her former position with her hands above her head, giving her the same instructions not to move. This time, she was completely pliant and did exactly what he wanted her to do in the first place as he slid his fingers back into her, which was to beg.
"God, Ben, please. I need to cum."
"You need to obey, is what you need to do."
He turned his eyes skyward and heaved an exaggerated sigh. "Fine." He caught her hand as she moved it downward. "Oh, no you don't. I'll do it. Put that hand back where it goes and don't move it again, or I'll find that spoon and raise a few more welts." She put it back.
He pressed his thumb gently against her clit and started to work his magic with his fingers again. His other hand found her throat and gripped it; a menacing reminder of who was in charge. It was less than a minute before her breath hitched. He leaned over her, maintaining his grip on her throat. "That's it, baby... Cum for me." Somehow, she managed to keep her hands in position even through her orgasm, save for turning them enough to grip the blanket on the bed.
Ben was so hard at that point that it was almost becoming painful. He swiftly positioned himself between her legs and took her roughly; pinning her to the bed, biting into the side of her neck, and burying himself inside her. It wasn't long before her cries of pleasure sent him tumbling over the edge.
Ben spent a good fifteen minutes after they were finished once again admiring the welts and bruises he had given her. He liked the shapes the spoon made, and decided that he was going to hang onto it. Perhaps the threat of it would keep his mouthy partner in line for a while. Not fucking likely, he thought with a satisfied smirk.
Litha, for her part, was too tired to protest or complain, though she did put on a show of pouting when he sent the spoon up onto the desk with a flick of his wrist and let it rest there; its threat heavily implied. She turned her back to him and curled up huffily, and he lay behind her and rubbed her back the way he knew she liked even when she was pretending to be mad at him.
Once they had both recovered, they lay in each other's arms and talked as they grew sleepy. Ben pressed a kiss to her forehead as he wondered out loud when the communications tower would be fully repaired.
"I would have expected today, but apparently not. Maybe tomorrow. Have you seen your mother at all today?"
He frowned. "Come to think of it... No. We can find her and ask her in the morning. She's a busy woman. Always has been."
Litha glanced at his face, but there didn't seem to be any resentment or bitterness there. "That doesn't seem to be bothering you."
He shrugged. "Maybe I'm over it. Maybe I'm numb to it. I don't know. It's nice to not have it eating at me for once, so I'd rather not dredge it up."
She took the hint and moved on. "We had a good day today."
"Yeah, we did. Things don't feel so... I don't know. Hopeless. Pointless."
"Good. Perhaps the next time you start to spiral you'll find it in yourself to allow me to stop it before it gets so bad. I know you like to handle these things on your own, Ben, and to an extent it's healthy to do so, but it's exhausting and destructive to let it go as far as you tend to. In any event, we at least both contributed to the cause today, and it's become clear that plenty of these people don't actually hate you at all. Even Poe, as it turns out."
"I still think his name is stupid."
There was a brief lull in the conversation before Ben spoke again, smirking to himself. "Wonder if that fruit is an aphrodisiac of some sort."
Litha snorted. "We'd better hope not, because otherwise nobody's going to get anything done around here for weeks. No, I think we just had a lot of pent up sexual tension. Seems to happen a lot lately."
Ben felt a pang of guilt, though he knew she hadn't meant to make him feel that way. "I know. I'm sorry I make things so damn difficult when I'm struggling with something big. Knowing my mom could come knocking at any moment doesn't exactly help, either."
"Hey, you don't need to justify not being in the mood for sex. You're sorting out a lot of baggage, and let's face it... Our sex life takes a lot of energy to keep up."
He yawned, snuggling down under the covers to sleep. "Wouldn't have it any other way, and neither would you. Goodnight, sweet girl."
"Goodnight, little human."
Chapter 21: Good News
The two of them awoke to loud pounding on their door. Ben was out of the bed, lightsaber in hand, in a fraction of a second; Litha (who had been sleeping quite deeply) sat up and groggily tried to put together what was even happening.
"Guys, it's Poe! Open up, I've got news!"
Ben quickly pulled on a pair of pants, threw on a tank top, and huffily reached over to open the door, finding himself slightly irritated not only at being so rudely woken up, but at the audacity of Poe just showing up at their room as if they'd all been friends forever, rather than having what really only amounted to a truce. He silently glowered down at the smaller man, who shrunk back a bit upon finding himself looking up into the narrowed eyes of the former Kylo Ren as he towered over him in the doorway.
"Uh... Hi! Probably coulda... maybe not knocked so loud. But hey! There's good news! Where's Litha? She's gonna want to hear this!"
Ben rolled his eyes and turned to the side to let the commander into the room. Litha was still in bed, sitting up with the blankets pulled up around her. She looked only slightly less grumpy than Ben. "This had better be important."
"It is! The last bit we needed to fix the tower finally showed up last night, and it's up and running. You're never gonna believe what was waiting for us once we got it back online."
Ben shut the door and leaned against it. "Well, you're apparently desperate enough to tell us to risk the potential consequences of scaring us both out of bed at..." He glanced at the clock, then back at Poe. "...not even an hour past dawn. So spit it out."
He needed no second bidding. "A message from Dimar."
Both Ben and Litha's mouths fell open. Litha recovered first. "What did they say? Are they in trouble?"
Poe grinned. "Not a bit... But the First Order is. They've learned about Starkiller Base through their own spy network, apparently... and they're joining the fight. We didn't even have to get down on bended knee and beg like we thought we would. Leia's working out something with them now.
Litha was stunned completely silent, but Ben was confused. "Okay, but... I thought they were completely isolationist? I mean..." He turned to Litha. "Do you guys even have much of a military?"
She picked her jaw up off the floor and blinked. "Well... our planetary defense technology is pretty advanced. The peacebreed dimar, which is most of the population, have shunned warfare for centuries... but there is one barryd, Mulkol, that never gave it up. They've worked with the rest of us to keep the planet well-defended in case of discovery, but despite the opposition of every single other barryd on the planet, they've also developed actual offensive weaponry. I don't know what exactly they've got up their sleeves, but I've met Mul dimar before, and believe me, you don't want to find yourself on the wrong side of a war with them. They're bigger, meaner, and covered in firescales year-round, rather than only during the summer like the rest of us."
Poe arched an eyebrow at her. "Firescales?"
She nodded. "Peacebreeds like me only scale out during fire season, when fur is, well... less than optimal. We've done quite a bit of genetic tinkering there, too. Firescales are strong enough to be resistant to blaster fire, so that'll give the Mul one small edge in a fight at least."
Ben shook his head. "The First Order has more than just plasma blasters. Unless they're impervious to ion cannons and the like, they'll still be fucked without shielded armor."
Litha shrugged. "Like I said, I honestly have no idea what they've got. I've never been to Mulkol itself and they don't often seek the help of a Soother. They tend to see it as weakness. Honestly, from everything I've heard and going by my own brief encounters with them... they're total dicks. But if it weren't for them, we'd be lucky to be able to defend ourselves at all. I'm betting the spy network largely consists of shapechanging Mul."
Ben gnawed at his lip. "You realize what this means for your kind, right? I mean... You can't start a war with the strongest military force in the galaxy and expect to stay hidden. If the dimar are really going to join us in this fight, then it's the end of being a relatively unknown world. Taking out the First Order's strongest weapon is kind of a big deal."
Litha shrugged, seemingly unconcerned. "There was never any chance of us remaining completely undiscovered. It's always only been a matter of time. The peacebreeds can't keep pretending otherwise. In any event, I'm guessing Leia will find us whenever she's finished negotiating. I'm dying to hear the details, so maybe we should keep that comlink on us, have some breakfast, and find something to occupy ourselves with until then. We could take that little flight I promised you, Poe."
Poe lit up upon hearing that particular suggestion. "Fuck yeah, let's do it."
The bland porridge that was served every morning had been spruced up with fresh fruit and nuts from yesterday's foraging. Another party had gone out at about the same time and had come back with a bounty of some type of tree nut and another type of fruit; every bit as sweet but with a completely different flavor profile. It really is the little things, Ben thought to himself as he spooned it down. Learning to appreciate things as simple as having something flavorful to eat after days of bland food was a lesson that was a long time coming for Ben Solo, but learn it he had. He made a note to try to remember this moment the next time he felt his mood begin to slip. For now, though... His belly was full, and Litha was by his side, stuffing her own face with gusto. He felt good.
"Are you coming outside with me later to take Poe flying? I can't fit you both on my back, but..."
He smirked. "Only to see how he plans to stay on your back without command of the Force."
Half an hour later, on their way out of the hangar, Litha noticed a familiar looking old man; a friendly face among the many people in the hangar who stopped to stare or glare at Ben. He was on his way up the ramp onto a transport ship with a bag of tools, and she recognized him instantly from his mustache. It was Alhelor. She nudged Ben. "Maybe he needs help. You should go ask."
Turns out, he didn't need to. Alhelor had dropped the toolbag at the top of the ramp and was headed back down. He pointed at Ben. "Hey there, boy! You know your way around the guts of one of these things? Gimme a hand up here, will ya?"
Litha snorted at the look that crossed Ben's face upon being called 'boy'. He didn't say anything, though, and simply stalked over and followed Alhelor up the ramp as she continued her way outside, glancing around to read the room as she left. Most of the rebels had gone back to their tasks, with only a few casting dirty looks and muttering to each other. Oh well', she thought. Can't win them all over'.
It wasn't long before Poe appeared, carrying a large, unwieldy bag over his shoulder and trailed by a small orange and white astromech droid, which beeped and booped in an adorable fashion that made Litha grin. He smirked at her as he approached. "There you are. Almost didn't recognize you there, what with the clothes and all."
Her smile faded and she narrowed her eyes at him. "Oh, do fuck off. Who's the droid, and what's in the bag?"
He slung it off his shoulder onto the ground while the droid ran circles around him. "His name is BB-8, and he's my best buddy, aren't you pal?" BB-8 chattered back at him in whatever language droids used that Litha didn't understand. "As for this, it's a harness and saddle I dragged out of storage. Who knows what it was originally made for, though. Hopefully we can get it to fit."
She shrugged and was about to strip right there in order to transform when she remembered the bruises from last night's little play session with Ben and thought better of it. Instead, she made for a stack of crates to hide behind; folding her clothes neatly as she removed them and reaching back to stow them in her pouch once she transformed. Poe had dragged everything out of the bag and was laying it out on the ground as she stepped out from behind the crates, and he immediately began sizing her up, looking from her chest and shoulders to the harness and back again several times. "I think we can make this work." BB-8, for his part, took one look at her true form and took off straight back into the hangar with a frightened series of beboops.
When Ben finally came outside after helping Alhelor figure out the problem with the transport, Litha was straddling one of the crates and Poe was atop it, lying on his back underneath her as if he were working on a ship. He noted the harness that Poe was struggling to adjust and the saddle sitting on the ground next to the crate. Well, that's boring.
Litha chuffed at him as he approached, and Poe glanced his way and nodded absently as he continued to adjust the straps of the harness. "A saddle? Really? Don't you find that a bit degrading?"
She shook her head. "Nope. We ferry humans and other two-legged denizens of Dimar around using saddles all the time. The only ones who give a shit are the Mul, with their stubborn pride."
Ben smirked at her. 'You should talk, Miss Black-and-Blue.'
She narrowed her eyes at him. 'Shut it.'
It wasn't long before, between the three of them, they managed to get the harness and saddle to fit (for the most part). Poe climbed up into it and donned a pair of goggles, noting the small crowd that had gathered to watch. He thumped the side of Litha's neck. "Looks like everybody wants a ride now."
"Ugh. Should have known this would attract everyone's attention. Are you strapped in and secure back there?"
"Yep!" He kicked her lightly with both feet. "Giddy up!"
Her head swiveled round, and she gave him a withering look. "Human, I will take this thing off with you in it and hang you up in a tree." She didn't wait for a response, and quickly trotted over and leapt over the crowd's heads to the top of the hangar, flapping once to gain the height she needed and making a point to jostle Poe in the saddle. Once atop the hill that rose up over the top of the door, she crouched down. "I hope you're ready for this. Here we go."
Ben leaned against the stack of crates and watched Litha rise into the sky with the commander on her back. He had just started to feel slightly melancholy upon realizing how long it had been since he himself had gone flying with her when his mother appeared and made a beeline for him. He forgot his sadness instantly, and stepped toward her as she approached, this time not even noticing the way the crowd that had gathered quickly moved to avoid him.
"Mom! What's the news?"
"Oh, nothing much. Just, you know, an official alliance with Dimar. They're on their way here already."
Leia didn't bother calling any meetings or making any formal announcements. She opted to simply let word of the alliance filter through the ranks. It would have to do for now; a war council could be called later after the dimar arrived with reinforcements. Right now, Ben was in front of her, and she hadn't seen near enough of him since his return. Work had gotten in the way, just as it always had. No longer.
She led Ben back into the base and down to her own personal quarters, chatting all the way about details of the meeting. Upon arrival, she sent out a quick "Busy for an hour, do not disturb except in case of emergency" message to her officers and locked the door behind them as Ben stood awkwardly to the side. Noting his discomfort now that they were completely alone, she opted not to invade his personal space and simply leaned against her desk as he went and sat on the edge of her bed.
"So where'd Litha fly off to? I heard some of the mechanics say something about her giving people rides."
"She took Poe. He dug a saddle out from somewhere."
Leia breathed a sigh of relief. "You guys are all... okay, then?" Ben shrugged. "I mean... I guess. He apologized to us both. Doesn't mean I want to be friends. Litha seems to have warmed up, but she's Litha, soooo..."
She couldn't help but smile. "She's good for you."
"Yeah. Too good."
"That's really up to her, dear."
He rolled his eyes. "Trust me, she's made that abundantly clear. You'd have been proud of the tirade she went on when I expressed that particular opinion back at Starkiller."
"Hah! I knew I liked her for a reason."
Ben's anxiety was generally at an all time high when he was away from Litha for too long, and now was no exception. Though he appreciated his mother taking the time to just talk to him, as the hour wore on he began to fidget and grow restless.
"Mom, can we go back outside? I'm starting to worry about her. We can't hear each other if I'm this far into the base."
To his relief, she didn't argue. It wasn't long before they were making their way back through the base again. The news had spread, and morale seemed to be climbing. They stepped out into the afternoon sunlight just as Poe was sliding out of the saddle off Litha's back, looking as haggard as she did smug.
"Give me a good ship to fly any day. Not being in control up there sucks. And I don't know how the hell you can even think about not being strapped in. That was nuts."
Ben thought of his own ship, left behind with the rest of his old life. It was the only thing he missed. He sent the thought to Litha, who beamed her sympathy back into his mind, then spoke.
"Ben had a ship. But we couldn't escape in it, so he had to leave it behind." Poe lit up immediately, thumping Ben on the arm with the back of his hand as he pulled away and scowled. "Yeah, I remember that thing! Come on, tell me about it. I fantasized about stealing it so many times." Ben's scowl deepened as he took Poe's bait, following him as he walked back into the hangar. "You would have failed. The controls are personalized for me, for one..."
'Well, they're not exactly friends, but it's a start. Here, let's get this saddle off before anyone else starts demanding a ride.'
Litha startled at the sound of Leia's voice in her head, blinking down at her. 'You're either a telepath or Force-sensitive.'
'The latter. I'm very good at guarding my emotions, though, so I'm not surprised you didn't pick up on it. It runs in the family.'
As Leia began to undo the straps of the harness, they too began a comfortable conversation that led into a Soothing session up on Litha's favorite ledge. As the afternoon wore on, she shed her stress; telling Litha about everything that caused her worry or pain, from the loss of her husband to her guilt over Ben to the immense pressure of leadership. Litha listened, as any Soother does, only speaking when she needed to and finishing up with a burst of calm reassurance directly into the general's mind when she finally broke down into tears. By time they were done and Leia had recovered, it was time for dinner.
Both were shocked to walk into the mess hall and find that Ben and Poe had remained in one another's company and were apparently still arguing about the finer points of being a pilot and what made for a good ship.
"What? I said I liked your ship's paint job," Ben said rather airily.
Poe glowered at him from across the table. "You have absolutely no appreciation for starfighter modification. That thing is my baby."
Ben shrugged, not even looking up from his bowl of stew until he spotted Litha and his mother out of the corner of his eye, standing side by side with insufferable smirks plastered on their faces.
He immediately felt self-conscious and defensive and moved away as Litha sat down, dragging his bowl with him down the long table and giving her a stare that dared her to say anything. She wisely kept her mouth shut. Poe, on the other hand...
"He's my best friend now," he chirped, jabbing a thumb at Ben.
"Oh, fuck off, both of you."
The afternoon rolled into evening, and Ben eventually stopped sulking as his anxiety began to climb again. He was overstimulated and ready to retreat to their room, whether she planned on coming or not. Though she planned to go around seeing if anyone needed a listening ear later that night, she readily agreed to going to lie down with Ben until he fell asleep.
Ben had realized that his anxiety seemed to have at least one pattern: Even if he felt good throughout the day it often crept up on him at night, and he would begin to replay parts of the day in his head and pick apart everything he may have done wrong. When he mentioned it to Litha, she was immediately over the moon.
"Ben, that's fantastic! Realizing these sorts of things about yourself is essential to getting better. Sometimes your brain is your own worst enemy and you just have to outsmart it. Now that you know that your anxiety spikes at night and causes those sorts of intrusive thoughts, we can work to subvert it."
"I'm not sure how to feel about the idea of my own brain being out to get me. It makes it seem so... Inescapable. Can't exactly exist outside of it or get away from it."
"Yeah, but the goal isn't to escape it. The goal is to make it your bitch and force it to stop making you miserable."
He couldn't help but huff a small bit of laughter. "Sing for me tonight? It always helps, and I haven't heard you sing since we got here. And I'm already all wound up after the day we've had."
"Of course." She gave him a sly look. "Wanna get it on first?"
He was surprised to realize that he actually kind of did, despite his frazzled emotional state.
They took their time with this round. There was no hair-pulling or snark; no slaps on the ass or orgasm denial. For once, it was slow and gentle, with an occasional whispered "I love you", and though the anxiety still loomed at the back of his mind, he found it within himself to ignore it for as long as it took to rock her world.
Once their passions were spent, they took turns showering before arranging themselves comfortably in the tiny cabin bed. He hung on every word as she began to sing, closing his eyes and relishing the feeling of her cool fingers carding through his hair.
Set me aflame and cast me free
Away you wretched world of tethers
Through the endless night and day
I have never wanted more
Always thought that I would stand
Before the faceless name of Justice
Like some law unto myself
Like a child of God again
And if rain brings winds of change
Let it rain on us forever
I have no doubts from what I've seen
I have never wanted more
With this line I'll mark the past
As a symbol of beginning
I have no doubt from what I've seen
I have never wanted more
Ben decided that he liked this song immensely, finding it simultaneously inspirational and comforting. The icy grip of anxiety began to melt and surrender its hold.
In this picture stands a man
Far away, alone and distant
Like a solitary field
In some nameless foreign land
All around him points of light
Start to dim and cease transmitting
Shadows fell on futile games
And then there was nothing more
And if rain brings winds of change
Let it rain on us forever
I have no doubts from what I've seen
I have never wanted more
With this line I'll mark the past
As a symbol of beginning
I have no doubt from what I've seen
I have never wanted more
With her free hand she began to gather the sheet and blankets up around his shoulders, all the while continuing to run her fingers through his hair. His thoughts returned to that fateful night months back when she had first done this for him... The night he fell in love with her. Gods, they'd come so far since then. Sleep was creeping up on him already without any further intervention from her, but he refused to give in and miss the last part of the song.
Sever the line to the guilty past
To the ones who brought us nothing-
She practically spat the last word in that line, and Ben flinched slightly at the unexpected fervor.
Spoke of futures brave and proud
And brought only hate and war
Lined the roads with hollow praise
Marked the land with paper statues
Shadows fell on their futile ways...
Her fingers had stilled against his temple, and he felt the familiar tingle as she began to work her magic.
...And then there was nothing more.
Song is Solitary by VNV Nation.
Robin returned the next morning, though she didn't have much to say about Starkiller Base itself that the dimar hadn't already told them. Seeing as there wasn't anything interesting to hear, Ben and Litha decided to head outside and join another foraging party. Litha, however, got distracted just inside the hangar door by BB-8, who was rolling around the hangar getting in everyone's way and generally making a pest of himself. Ben rolled his eyes and kept walking down the path toward the storage unit that contained fuel for the speeders. He never could understand what people found so damn endearing about astromech droids.
What happened next wasn't his fault, really. He was so focused on getting the stuck door open that he wasn't tuned into the force; wasn't paying attention to anything but what was right in front of him. And really, why would he ever expect the wasps that exploded from who-knows-where and descended on him in a cloud of buzzing, stinging fury the second he kicked the door to shift it? Who the hell would see that coming?
Not Ben Solo, apparently.
Litha, having heard her partner's sudden outburst of colorful language off in the distance, had rushed outside to see what had happened. She took a few tentative steps forward as Ben stalked toward the hangar door. His arms were dotted with bright red stings, his right hand was swollen almost beyond recognition, and his left eye was also nearly swollen shut where one had got him right next to his eyebrow. She was still in human form and couldn't sense him, but Litha knew just looking at him that he was feeling downright murderous, and she covered her mouth with her hands. Poe, who had come to collect his droid after several complaints about his effect on productivity in the repair hangar, audibly sniggered as Ben drew close.
"Shut the hole in your face, Dameron. I will skullfuck you if you say anything," he snarled through clenched teeth. He was inside before Poe could retort.
It wasn't long before Litha had cornered him in their room and convinced him to sit still while she used what little healing powers she had to ease the pain and swelling. He stared hard at the ground while she worked.
"I didn't see a fucking wasp's nest anywhere near that goddamn storage unit."
"Poe was saying that these ones live in tunnels in the ground, usually."
"Poe can go dive headlong into one for all I care."
"Oh, stop it. It isn't his fault and you know it." She lifted his hand up to examine it. "Man, what a mess. Can you even move your fingers?"
He scowled darkly. "No."
Leia suddenly appeared in the room, and Ben pouted up at her from his spot on the edge of the bed. He didn't get the sympathy he expected. The corners of her mouth quirked up when she saw his hand, and her eyebrows shot up in an expression of fiendish glee. He narrowed his eyes at her. "Don't."
She went there anyway. "...Well I sure hope we don't have to amputate it." The jibe had the intended effect.
A few hours later, Leia was sitting up on the ledge above the hangar explaining to Litha about her family's penchant for losing hands. "I know I shouldn't needle him," she admitted, laughing. "But sometimes it's just so easy."
Litha sighed. "I know. I'm trying to teach him to stop taking the bait and getting angry, but so far it hasn't stuck. At least I was able to get him back to looking normal. He might have murdered Poe otherwise, since the idiot can't keep his mouth shut." She glanced over at the general, only to find that she had stood and was gazing up at the sky. Ben suddenly burst from the hanger underneath them and ran a ways before he, too, stopped to stare. Litha followed their gazes, knowing something was wrong. Very wrong.
They watched in horror as a handful of planets, never before even visible in D'qar's sky, were skewered by beams of light and obliterated all at once. Pandemonium erupted all around them, and Leia, for once, seemed to be too stunned to take charge.
Ben dropped to his knees out in the middle of the roadway. It wasn't supposed to be ready yet. It shouldn't have been anywhere near operational. But it had just fired. Starkiller Base had just completed its objective of destroying the Hosnian system. He couldn't even breathe, he was so gutted.
It took very little time for the group of men who had stared them down shortly after they arrived to show up and turn on Ben, quickly whipping part of the crowd into an angry mob at least two dozen strong. They advanced on him, cutting him off from any avenue of escape.
In an instant Litha came sailing over them in her true form, skidding to a halt between them and Ben. Her terrifying roar and a swing of her thick tail over their heads, close enough that most of them could feel the breeze as it whizzed past, halted them in their tracks.
"He knew!" one of them yelled. Another voice rose above the rest. "Liar! You said this wouldn't happen!"
"How could I have known?! I've been away for months, nearly a year!"
"They're spies! Kill 'em both and send their corpses back to Snoke where they belong!"
The sound of a rather large number of blaster rifles being readied shifted the mob's focus to their rear, where Poe, Alhelor, and Robin stood at the head of a large assembly of rebels. Leia moved through the assembly with her own blaster as Robin addressed the mob and Ben scrambled onto Litha's back.
"Not today, fucknuts! Stand the fuck down! What is this, a fucking mutiny?"
Litha didn't stick around to see what happened after Leia took charge; she immediately skirted the whole lot, ducked under the door of the hangar and booked it down to their room, transforming and locking the door behind them. She leaned against it a moment to catch her breath as Ben collapsed into sobs behind her, then joined him on the floor as her own tears began to flow.
So many people had just died. Billions of them. And for what?
Litha wasn't sure she had ever genuinely hated anyone before now. But she hated the entirety of the First Order. She hated Snoke. She hated Hux. Ben hadn't told her much about Phasma but she was pretty sure she hated her too. She hated the men who had threatened them, the slavers and the people who did business with them. She wished she could roll the whole lot up into a ball and set it ablaze.
She couldn't be any real help to Ben with her own emotional state in shambles, so she simply gave him the mercy of putting him quickly to sleep. She sat alone on the floor next to the bed until a knock at the door sent her scrambling to her feet in a panic. Fortunately, it turned out to just be Poe.
His face was grim, and he carried a bottle in one hand and three glasses in the other. "Mutiny's squashed. Thought we could all use a drink."
"Ben's out already. I couldn't do anything for him like this so I just knocked him out for the night. Where's Leia?"
"Trying to get in touch with the dimar. She won't rest for days."
Litha sighed deeply, sniffed the glass he handed her, and wrinkled her nose. "This smells rather strong."
He reached over and tipped the glass up with his fingertips as she took the first sip. "Trust me on this one, it's good whiskey."
They didn't talk much, really. What was there to say, after all? What was there to do, other than drink until the pain numbed somewhat? The minutes stretched on until suddenly Ben stirred in his sleep, moaning fitfully and throwing an arm over his face. Litha immediately set her glass down and went to his side. "Nightmares," she muttered. "He hasn't been having them as much lately, but now..." Poe watched as she pulled the covers off him and placed her hand on his brow, and he immediately fell quiet as her face screwed up in pain. Her expression was grim when she opened her eyes again.
"It used to be worse?"
She took a deep breath and shrugged, reaching for a towel to mop up the sweat that had broken out all over his face and chest. "Comes and goes in waves, really. I let him ride out the minor ones on his own, but when he starts fretting the way he was just now I step in. I can see what he's dreaming of. Usually it's something awful he's done that he regrets. This time it was one of Snoke's little punishment sessions."
A pang of nausea slithered it's way into Poe's stomach as he eyed the faint scars marring Ben's skin. "...Punishment?"
"Electric shocks. Force lightning, Ben called it. Just as often he'd simply command his guards to beat him and then lock him in his quarters for days with no medical treatment. He doesn't ever remember those dreams, I make sure of it. I just chase them out of his head."
She had barely finished speaking when Ben's nightmares started anew. Litha sighed deeply. "Of course, on occasion they won't stop no matter how many times I intervene, and I just have to wake him. It's gonna be a long night. Careful now, sometimes he wakes up fighting."
Ben sat straight up in bed the second she brought him back out of the induced sleep she had put him in, gasping for air. His eyes were wild and full of panic. Litha set about calming him as Poe filled the unused glass with water from the refresher. Ben blinked up at him from his position on the bed for several seconds as he held the glass out. He looked lost.
"What's he doing here?" There was no anger in his voice, only genuine confusion.
"He brought booze. Thought we could use a drink."
Ben only blinked again as she lifted the glass of water to his lips. "Focus on this, Ben. Focus on how it tastes and feels. Is it cold?"
He nodded again.
"What can you taste?"
He stared straight ahead, his brow furrowing in annoyance. He was starting to come back to reality. "It's water."
"Okay, but how does it taste? Good, bad...?"
"Stale. Like its been sitting in a tank. Because it has."
He seemed to be calming down, so Poe plopped back down on the floor as Litha explained the reason for her questioning.
"Grounding exercise. It helps to snap someone out of a dysfunctional headspace and back to reality when they're melting down or panicking."
Tears had started to course down his face, and his voice had a bitter edge to it. "Reality fucking sucks."
It was definitely time for more alcohol. Poe took Ben's empty glass when he finished the water and filled it with whiskey.
He eyed it warily as he slid down to the floor, drying his face on the towel that Litha had earlier. His voice cracked as he spoke, and his breathing still had yet to level out. "I've never had it before."
"Well, it's a hell of a lot stronger than beer, so just go slow."
"No, I mean... any of it. I've never had alcohol."
Poe balked at that. "What the fuck, you've never... really? Oookay then. You're gonna want to go really slow."
He sniffed it, wrinkled his nose the same way Litha had, and then took a sip, coughing harshly upon swallowing. "God, it burns!"
Litha couldn't help but smirk a bit as she stroked his hair. "That's the best part. Feel how warm your belly feels now? I never drank much, but I always found that part comforting."
Poe decided to try and take their minds off things by regaling them with tales of some of the epic benders he'd been on, and Litha told them about the first time she'd really gotten good and drunk.
"This was in my true form, mind you. I threw up the next morning. A lot. Put me off drinking in either form for quite some time. Speaking of which..." She reached over and relieved Ben of his drink, which he had quickly adjusted to and was now sipping much faster than he should have been. "We made those mistakes so you don't have to."
Poe smirked at him as he stared miserably down at his empty hands. "Hey, don't worry. We're gonna have plenty of reasons to drink again. Because when her buddies show up we're gonna get in our ships and we're gonna go fuck the First Order right up their asses. Once that's done, we're gonna throw the wildest fucking party anyone here has ever seen. I'll get you good and wasted. It'll be a blast."
Ben couldn't help but feel at least a little comforted, between the buzz he had going on and the strange sense of belonging he felt, sitting on the floor drinking and commiserating with them both. It wasn't something he'd experienced before. "I hope you're right."
Litha allowed him one last sip before bidding him to get back in bed. "I'll sing you back to sleep, alright? Poe, you're welcome to stay as long as you like, of course."
"How's my mom?"
Poe grabbed a spare blanket and wrapped it around his shoulders, getting as comfortable as he could on the cold metal floor. "I saw her before I came down. Once she finally removed her boot from the asses of all those insubordinate fuckheads she went to send a message to the dimar. You know her, tough ol' bird that she is. Jumped right back on the horse. We're gonna help her figure all this out, Ben. She'll be okay."
That seemed to placate him for the moment, and he allowed Litha to push him into his back and pull the covers back up. "Any requests, my love?"
He only shook his head, staring up at the ceiling with a distant look in his eyes. She thought a bit, and then chose a song from her extensive arsenal of lullabies and comfort music, running her fingers through his hair as she started to sing.
Will there be sunshine shinin'
Will we find a silver linin'?
Come along, sing a song
When today becomes tomorrow
Will we find joy or sorrow?
Sing a song
Is it wrong
To put all our hopes together
And wish for something better?
Is it wrong to be loved?
To face the future with another
Who means more than any other
Is to be loved
We'll paint the gray clouds
With pretty rainbow hues
And we'll brush the gloom away
And save it for a rainy day
Rainy day, oh today
If troubles cast a shadow
And shadows make the sun
Afraid to stay, why it's okay
'Cause there'll be sunshine shinin'
And we'll find a silver linin'
Tomorrow is another day
How I hope you'll always stay
Tomorrow is another day...
Poe had never heard Litha sing. He sat listening, feeling immensely grateful that in a galaxy so full of hatred, war, and greed there were still people like the Soothers of Dimar who'd inevitably turn up and start the healing process.
She came and sat next to him once Ben was asleep again, and he refilled her glass for her. "I'm glad you guys will be around after this whole shitshow comes to whatever end it comes to. Soothers, I mean."
"There'll be a lot of us here, I hope. I can't keep doing this all on my own. Not for everyone. Burnout is a real problem among us, as I'm sure you can imagine. I've seen things in people's heads that I'll never get out of my own. Healers have it just as bad, if they're working in war-torn places. And they get kidnapped and trafficked even more than we do."
"But you keep at it."
"Until we retire, yep. Those of us that work off-planet where shit really gets real don't usually last more than a decade or so. Maybe now that we're finally joining the rest of the galaxy we'll be able to recruit more people to Enhasa to learn the art. Then I can rest, and Ben and I can just... live."
Poe had long since bid her goodnight and gone back to his own room by time Litha decided to try to sleep, the alcohol still buzzing in her head. Now that she was alone again, the despair started to creep back in.
Maybe tomorrow would seem brighter, somehow. Maybe it was all just a bad dream and it hadn't really happened. Maybe they'd wake up and her kind would already be there, and she'd be able to seek solace in someone else for once.
Or maybe she was a fucking idiot. Sugary lullabies be damned, tomorrow would dawn grim and silent and full of despair. Reality would still be waiting for her when she opened her eyes. And people would be looking to her for the sort of comfort that she alone could provide until her kind showed up.
Litha didn't sleep much that night.
Song is Tomorrow is Another Day by Shelby Flint. If you've seen The Rescuers, you've heard it.
Also, Ben's threat to Poe after the wasp attack is lifted directly from a Penny Arcade comic where Gabe threatens Tycho with spoilers because it always struck me as hilarious and it sounded like something Ben would say.
Litha, having tolerated as much as she could of a lonely, sleepless night, finally just got up and left the tiny room she shared with Ben. Her mood was lower than it had been in ages, since she'd been taken as a slave really. She knew Ben would sleep for at least another hour, so she brushed aside her guilt at leaving him alone and locked the door behind her. She huffed an irritated sigh when she remembered she had put clothes on when Poe had shown up last night, and quickly stripped them off before transforming.
She trudged sullenly and aimlessly through the base, glaring at anyone who so much as looked sideways at her to keep them at bay. She couldn't be anybody's rock right now. She couldn't offer encouragement when she herself was falling into a pit of despair. She couldn't reach into someone's mind and fill them with reassurance and positivity when her well of reassurance and positivity had run completely dry. She just didn't have any more to give.
The more she wandered, the guiltier she felt at every person who saw her countenance and deflated a bit. Fuck, why couldn't her brothers and sisters from home just get there already? Why did it always have to be her? Just as she was about to turn toward the nearest hangar to head outside so she could fly off somewhere else for a while, she realized she was only a few strides from the corridor to the command center.
Leia. Leia might know if her people were close.
She was very surprised indeed to find Ben already by his mother's side. He was pacing back and forth, gnawing at his lip while Leia, Poe, and a few other rebels of various races glanced between a holographic star map and a console with text covering the screen. Ben saw her first. The look of confusion and worry that crossed his face caused a fresh stab of guilt to lance straight through her chest. She saw him wince as it reached him.
'Where did you go? Are you okay?'
'I'm sorry, little human. I just wanted out of the room and lost track of time.'
He strode across to her and pressed himself against her foreleg as she moodily plonked her hindquarters onto the floor. Well, at least he wasn't mad at her.
'What news of my kind?'
'They're close. Two days, maybe, and they'll have their entire fleet here. Soldiers, technicians, ships, weapons, war machines. Litha, they're pissed. I saw one of those Mul dimar you were talking about on the holo. You weren't kidding. They're-'
She abruptly cut him off.
'Soothers, Ben. Are they bringing Soothers?'
'...Yes. And Healers. Dimar, arallins, humans, fuck, even a bunch of wookiees. You never told me there were wookiees on... Litha?'
She wasn't even listening anymore, and he had realized it. She felt his stab of irritation. She didn't care. She needed a break. From this situation, from this war... even from him.
It was too late for her to shield her thoughts. He had heard them loud and clear, and he slammed their connection closed as he turned to snarl up at her.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize that I'd been burdening you so much!"
Litha had been barely holding it together to begin with, and one of Ben's tantrums was not something she was prepared to tolerate. She bared her teeth at him and snarled right back. "Oh, stop with the fucking melodrama, Ben! No one said you were a burden!"
He started toward the exit. "You know what? You want a fucking break? Fine, I'll give you one!"
"People are trying to kill you, you dumb fuck, you can't leave my side!"
"Didn't stop you from taking off without a word this morning! I don't fucking need you to protect me anyhow!"
Still furious, she snapped back as he took off down the corridor. "You forgot to stomp your foot and loudly declare that you're running away from home!"
"Lady Hyalitha, ENOUGH!"
Leia's sharp tone cut through her fury in an instant, and as the general started toward her she immediately tucked her tail and dropped to her belly in a submissive display. Holy fuck, that woman was terrifying. But Leia didn't yell again, or strike out at her. She simply glanced at Poe and ordered him to go after Ben, and then she crouched down in front of where Litha had dropped her head to the floor and started to cry.
It must have been strange for the others, really, seeing such a large creature break down and cry the way any human would. They milled about awkwardly as Litha's sides heaved and tears streamed down her face. Leia laid her hand on her muzzle.
"Litha. You're exhausted. Sneaking out after Ben is asleep to counsel whoever needs you, keeping him sane when all he's known for years is Snoke's insanity, putting in your share of physical labor when you can. Of course you need a break. Poe will see to Ben. I don't care how much that boy of mine tries to pretend otherwise, he trusts Poe and eventually he'll listen to him. Now get up, go outside where you can hear him if he calls you, and rest."
Ben, for his part, had taken off down the path toward the forest clearing that he and Litha had visited early in in their stay, Poe in hot pursuit and undeterred by his insults and threats. His lightsaber was out and ignited the second the large rock was in sight, and soon he was taking out all of his rage and pain on the hapless stone, marring it with deep gouges until he was utterly spent. With a final roar of anguish, he hurled the saber into the woods and dropped to the ground, exhausted and gasping for air.
This sort of thing was not in Poe's wheelhouse, and he was at a complete loss as to how to comfort the broken man who he was, gods help him, beginning to regard as a friend. So he wordlessly sat down next to him and drew his blaster, setting it on the ground in front of him with the safety on.
"If I were really going to kill you it would have been you instead of the rock, stupid."
"Blaster's not for you, pal. It's for anybody who might have followed us up the road with ill intent."
Ben snorted. "I don't need you to protect me. I'm Kylo fucking Ren, you think I've never been attacked before?"
Now it was Poe's turn to snort. "No, you're not. Not anymore. Now shut up and catch your breath already before you have a goddamn anyeurism."
"What the fuck do you care what happens to me?"
Poe wasn't about to try to have a heartfelt conversation and was rather irritated at this point, so he picked up a pebble and threw at him. Ben deflected it with a glare.
"Look, I'm not about to explain to your scary-ass girlfriend that you ended up wounded or dead at the hands of a mutineer on my watch, okay? So just-"
"Fuck you, asshole, I'm not-"
"Poe, shut the fuck up, someone's out there!"
Poe grit his teeth. "Oh, goddammit. Behind the rock! You know, the one that screams 'Kylo Ren and his stupid lightsaber were just here'!"
Ben flipped Poe the bird the second they settled behind the boulder. Silence reigned. Minutes passed as Ben reached out with the force, trying to ascertain exactly who was coming and why.
"One man, alone. On the path. Frightened, but full of resolve... and hatred."
"Welp. You immobilize him with whatever crazy force powers you have, and I'll shoot him?"
Ben gave Poe a pitying look, as if he were an idiot. "Yeah, no. We take him alive and interrogate him. Five seconds and I'll know who every single one of his traitor friends-"
Ben had blanched, a feeling of intense dread washing over him at what he knew was about to happen. "Oh... shit," he breathed.
Litha's roar suddenly echoed up the trail, and suddenly a man burst into the clearing, screaming and running for his life. Litha was after him in a flash, and just as he lost his footing and stumbled, he turned the blaster he was carrying on her and fired it right at her face. Ben's hand instantly shot out and he stopped the bolt mid-air as she dodged it nimbly, her jaws closing around the man. He managed one last scream as she reared onto her hind legs, lifting him high off the ground. Poe and Ben watched in stunned silence as Litha threw the man down, killing him instantly.
"Holy fucking shit! Did you see her just... She just... And you just...!"
Ben wasn't listening to Poe's gibbering. He released the bolt and ran to Litha as she roared down at the crumpled body, still reared up with her wings spread and claws unsheathed. It was a terrifying sight to behold. The moment passed quickly, however, and the sound died in her throat as she dropped to all fours again. Her expression changed from rage to horror as blood dripped from her mouth. Her teeth and the fur on her chin were stained with it, and she suddenly backed up, turned away, and retched; emptying the contents of her stomach in the tall grass at the edge of the clearing. She turned back after a moment and, whimpering, approached the body as if she thought he might still be alive, that she may be able to save him. But he wasn't, and she couldn't, and she soon backed away from the sight of what she had done. Overwhelmed, she dropped down onto her belly and covered her face with both paws.
Ben crouched down and put his hand on her muzzle.
She drew in a shaky breath. "I could taste his blood."
"I know, sweet girl. I know."
She was starting to cry again now, and in the distance Ben heard the sound of speeders tearing up the trail. His mother arrived, flanked by several others, all armed to the teeth. Leia took in the scene and, assuming the worst, ran to Litha's side.
Ben held up a hand as she approached. "She's fine, mom. She's just never killed anyone before."
"What the hell happened?!"
Poe nudged the body with his foot, pointing at the dead man's blaster lying on the ground nearby. "Looks like we still got a few troublemakers. This dummy was headed up the path after Ben with that blaster and Litha put a stop to it. Hey, speaking of blasters, are you at all aware that your son can stop a bolt in mid-air?"
Leia wasn't listening. She crouched down and placed both hands on one of Litha's paws while Poe directed the others to sweep the area in case there was anyone else hiding out. She gave the paw a gentle shake. "Litha, come on and get up. Let's get away from here and get you some water." Litha obeyed, following Leia up the trail for the short walk back to the base, sobbing all the way. Ben quickly retrieved his lightsaber and brought up the rear for protection just in case. God, his stupid outburst seemed so petty, so insignificant, so long ago already.
Poe and the other rebels soon returned with the man's body wrapped in a tarp, and two of them quickly bore it away before Litha could see it. Leia was pacing back and forth, seething as Ben helped clean Litha up and calm her down. She turned to Poe. "Who was he? I want to know who he was and who his friends are. If anyone else is even thinking of harming my son, I will execute them myself. I said it before, I won't have this bullshit among my ranks!"
Poe had recognized the man as one of their many mechanics, and they briskly walked back into the base together to discuss. Ben was drying Litha's fur with a towel. It was still damp with tears and some of it was still tinged with pink, but at least she couldn't smell or taste blood anymore. She had remained completely silent through it all, and suddenly her body rippled, heralding her transformation back to her human form. Ben immediately wrapped the towel around her before any of the men hanging around could gawk at her naked body. She pressed herself to his chest and he stood holding her for several minutes. When it became apparent that she might just stand there all day if he let her, he let go of her and led her into the base and straight back to their room.
He wished he knew where to even start apologizing.
I swear things will get better and stop being so angsty soon. Help is on the way for everyone, Litha included.