Chapter 1: Chapter 1
General Leia Organa died.
No one quite knew why. Some said she lost the will to live after losing Han, Luke, and Holdo so close together. Some said it was the shock of how small the Resistance had become and learning her son now led the First Order. Some theorized her days had been numbered since she had been blown into space.
The only thing Rey knew was that the powerful woman who had welcomed her to the Resistance with open arms was gone forever the morning after their escape from Crait.
The Resistance had declared a day of mourning before resuming operations. They were still limited to the Millenium Falcon, which meant they were planet-locked until repairs were finished anyway. It was as good timing as any to face their losses.
Most of the Resistance had gone exploring the local establishments, hoping to drink themselves into oblivion. After all, General Organa was only one of many lives lost in the last few days. There were many to grieve. Rey, however, still felt too far removed from the others to go with them.
She, Finn, Chewie, and Rose were the only ones left on the ship. Chewie oversaw the repairs on the Falcon. Rose remained in a coma with Finn watching over her. Everyone had something to do or someone to be with.
Except Rey. She was in the cargo bay with the porgs in an attempt at privacy during the repairs.
She had been invited along to the drinking, of course, and Finn always welcomed her company next to Rose, but she couldn't accept. She hadn't told anyone about her force link to Ben. She had meant to tell the general, but now…
Rey sighed and closed her eyes as more tears slipped down her face. She felt like a traitor keeping it a secret, but who could she talk to who would understand?
The force shimmered and connected her to him, filling her with both dread and relief. Her heart had become so twisted since knowing him. She laughed through a sob. “Why you?” she asked, her eyes still closed.
Ben said nothing. And after a moment, Rey opened her eyes. He stood before her, masked and perfectly still. No, not perfectly still, she realized. He was trembling, shaking even.
“I hadn't seen that mask since you interrogated me,” Rey said. She stood and walked up to him, feeling bold in her grief. He remained silent, and she glared at him. “Are you so angry with me that you won't even acknowledge me? I had losses too. If anyone should be angry, it's me! You ordered the deaths of so many. You tried to kill me, Luke, and General Organa--”
A choking sob came from Ben, and Rey froze. That had not been a sound of anger. He was overcome with a different emotion.
“Ben, remove your mask,” Rey said, her nerves tingling with mortification already for misreading him.
Ben shook his head quickly and clenched his fists.
Rey took a deep breath and let it out slowly, calming herself. “Ben, remove your mask.”
He did nothing, and Rey took a step closer, carefully reaching up. When he didn't stop her, she undid the clasps that held it in place and took the mask from him.
Ben was crying.
His eyes were puffy and filled with tears that continued in a steady stream down his cheeks. His lips trembled, and a rash appeared to be forming around his neck from the combination of trapped fluids in his mask. He stared at Rey now with all the terror and pain of a child who had just discovered it was alone in the world.
Rey took the mask and set it down on the floor beside them, never breaking eye contact with Ben. “You grieve her too, don't you,” she said. It wasn't a question, and he didn't answer it.
Rey carefully took his gloved right hand, removed his glove, and wrapped her hands around his.
“You weren't there for me,” Ben said, his voice breaking with another sob.
Rey squeezed his hand. “I'm here now,” she said. “I miss her too.” A fresh trickle of tears escaped her and rolled down her face.
Ben gently brought up his other hand, still gloved, and wiped the wet trail away. He hesitated, then brought his arm around her and pulled her tightly to his chest. “Thank you,” he whispered, leaning his own head against hers.
Rey tensed at the hug initially, then relaxed, feeling their bodies meld together through the force connection. She felt safe for the first time in years, and it broke the dam of her grief.
Her breath came in deep, noisy gasps between wails of her loss. Not just of the general, but of Luke, her hope for her parents, her failure to convert Ben, and even the loss of Finn's attentions on her, for though she didn't see him romantically, she knew she was no longer the closest person to him, nor was he still the closest person to her. She also sobbed for the confusion of caring so deeply about her worst enemy.
Ben sobbed too, squeezing her so tight it hurt, but she welcomed the distraction of physical pain while feeling out the cracks in her heart.
After some time, his grip slackened, and he stepped back to gaze at her. “We shouldn't do this,” he said.
“I know,” Rey said. “But I don't want to be lonely.”
Ben studied her, then reached into a pocket to pull out a black silk handkerchief. He reached out to her face, but paused when she flinched. “May I?” he asked. Rey hesitated, then nodded.
Ben held her face still with his gloved hand and wiped the tears off it gently with the piece of cloth in his uncovered hand. He handed the cloth to her when he was done. “For your nose,” he explained when she didn't immediately take it. She blushed, for her thoughts had drifted to wishing his uncovered hand had been the one to hold her face.
She blew her nose on his cloth, looked at his own messy face, and tugged out her own handkerchief. It was a ratty off white square cloth, stained with grease, dirt, and oil from long years of use. She took one look at it and started to put it away again when he stopped her gently with his hand on hers.
“I would be honored,” he said. “Please.”
“It's disgusting,” Rey said.
“It's yours,” he insisted. “I want it.” His voice was its usual quiet, calm tone, but his eyes were filled with a greedy fire.
Rey backed away from his intensity on reflex, leaving the rag in his hands, and the connection severed.
She took deep breaths to clear her mind. She knew her connection to Ben remained, but she hadn't known their feelings remained as well. He still clearly cared for her, and she felt as drawn to him as ever.
She still had his handkerchief, and she gazed at it thoughtfully, noting that it had Kylo Ren monogrammed on one corner. “Should say Ben Solo,” she muttered, then glanced at it again.
She was holding his handkerchief.
She had taken a physical object from him through the force.
They could transfer items through the force!?
Rey shook her head in wonder and looked down to where she had set his mask. It was still there, which meant he no longer had it.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Kylo Ren stared at the space in his quarters where Rey had been. She was gone. He clenched the rag in his hand, wishing he knew how to master the connection between them so he could visit her at will.
Or stop her.
She had already hurt him when she rejected him following Snoke's death. Why should he make himself vulnerable to her again?
He looked at the stained cloth in his hand and sniffed it on an impulse to see if it smelled of her. It didn't, really, and he growled and threw it on impulse. It floated gently down and he realized how absurd he was being.
Then something else growled. Kylo looked down to see a tiny winged creature with giant eyes pick up the cloth in its mouth and toss it half an inch. It chirped at him proudly afterward, as if asking whether it did it right.
“Where did you come from?” Kylo asked a half second before he realized that he had Rey's handkerchief, which likely meant that the creature had come from her ship too. Unexpected, both the force transfer and that she had such a creature. A cherished pet, perhaps? Kylo raised an eyebrow at the creature. “I suppose I'll have to care for you until we meet Rey again. Do you have a name?”
The creature growled at the cloth and attacked it again.
“Growlie, then. At least until Rey corrects me. Come here. I'll have to bring you to the research station to figure out what you are and what to feed you.”
Kylo tried picking Growlie up, but it fluttered away. He tried once more, failed, and resorted to using the force, thankful that no one was there to witness the moment. He found a box to put the creature in and nearly left his quarters when he recalled Rey's cloth still on the ground.
He picked the cloth up with the force and tucked it into a pocket. He would have to do something about her lack of a proper handkerchief as well, since he would be returning her pet anyway, and she had his handkerchief as well.
It was a small effort to spare her future grief. It didn't mean he was planning to continue their relationship. The memory came to mind of how perfectly her small form had folded into his own, and he knew he was fooling himself. He would never give up until she asked him to, and she hadn't yet.
He headed directly for the research station. A number of people stared at him longer than usual, but it was only to be expected. He was their new Supreme Leader. He reached the station and pulled Growlie out for them to see. “I need as much information on this creature as possible without harming it. Then I want the creature returned to me intact with appropriate food when you are done.”
“Well, well, Supreme Leader. Adopt a new pet? What happened to your face!?” Hux said from beside him.
Kylo froze. Didn't he have his mask on? Then he remembered Rey had taken it off. Kriff. He looked at Growlie in the hands of a capable researcher and came up with an idea. “Found this creature with the girl. I believe it's her pet, and… I believe I am allergic to it. Whatever these creatures are, they're clearly abominable.”
“Allergies?” Hux seemed surprised.
Kylo Ren stared Hux down, and Hux backed off the topic.
“When did you collect this pet from the girl?” Hux asked, leaning across the desk to study it as the research technician inspected the creature. “I have to say that I'm impressed. You don't normally resort to such vile means, despite how effective they have been for myself and Snoke.”
Kylo narrowed his eyes at Hux. “What do you mean?”
“You plan to threaten the pet to get information about the Resistance, correct?” Kylo Ren said nothing, and Hux frowned at him. “Well if not that, why are you keeping it alive?”
“That is not your concern, Hux. Remember your place,” Ben said.
They glared at each other, but after a moment Hux sighed. “At least wash your face. You make my job more difficult the more unhinged you seem, so whatever these allergies are, get them under control or keep the mask on.”
Ben glared a few seconds longer, then walked away. Hux was, unfortunately, quite correct. Thankfully, he had several back-up masks already made. He went straight to his rooms to take a shower. When he got out, his eyes were still bloodshot and swollen, and so he put a mask on with his usual clothes. People would wonder, but he did not owe them explanations.
Now for the matter of the handkerchief.
He went to the ship's tailor directly. The uniforms were ordered in bulk from factories, but they kept the tailor, an old man named Wendo, for repairs, alterations, and custom requests.
Wendo was snoozing at his desk when Kylo Ren entered the tailoring office. Kylo frowned. “Wake up.” The modulator in the mask warped his soft voice into a monster's, and the man jumped awake with an ashen face.
“Supreme Leader!” Wendo gasped. “How may I be of service today?”
“I require a handkerchief.”
Wendo’s mouth opened and shut a few times, as if working out what to say. “A particular handkerchief, Supreme Leader?”
Kylo Ren nodded. “A white handkerchief. I need it to be monogrammed. Gold thread. The name is Rey, spelled R, E, Y.”
Wendo nodded. “A gift, then. Does this Rey have a last name to be included as well?”
Kylo started to shake his head, then held up a finger. “Actually, I do have a name in mind.”
Kylo told Wendo, who gave a sharp glance at the Supreme Leader before nodding and writing down the order in full. “It will be done, Supreme Leader.”
“Excellent. Have it delivered to my rooms. You will complete this order immediately and speak of it to no one. Once completed, you will forget it was done.” Kylo added a force suggestion to his words. He did not need rumors spreading about.
“I will complete this order immediately and speak of it to no one, then forget about the order,” Wendo echoed back to him.
Kylo Ren checked the written order for correctness and left the tailor to his work, smirking.
He almost chuckled for the dumbfounded reaction he imagined she would have. He would, of course, claim it was to honor her attachment to his father, but he knew she was perceptive and would wonder. His father's name was also the name she used for him, and he was making a promise.
Sooner or later, she would become his.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
The mask was surprisingly heavy.
Rey sat in a pile of blankets that was currently her bed in the cargo room. The first night following the battle, the Resistance survivors slept pretty much anywhere they could get comfortable, and the bunk room was dedicated to those who needed medical attention, like Rose. Rey had announced she would sleep with the porgs in the cargo bay, since she was used to them anyway. No one stopped her. No one joined her.
She had visitors, of course. Finn swung by when he was taking breaks from watching Rose. Chewie would consult her for help with the Falcon occasionally. Poe came by a few times, asking her if she had insight from the force on where to go or what to do next. Others would come by, thanking her for saving them or asking if there was anything they could get for her.
It had bothered her that they bunked up tight in the rest of the ship but left her alone in such a large space. Still, it was convenient given her connection to Ben.
She stared at the mask. It was really more of a helmet, going over his head and covering his hair. It had frightened her on Takodana when he appeared in the woods, and again when he interrogated her.
She hadn’t seen him wear it since then though, well, except briefly before Ben murdered his father. She chucked the mask aside at the memory, startling two of the porgs in the process.
He made no sense to her. She had heard so many stories of his ruthlessness and had experienced it firsthand on Starkiller Base, but he was also so kind to her at times, and he understood what she was going through in a way no one else did. They had both been abandoned. They had both been distrusted by Luke. They had both suffered the temptations of the dark side.
Of course, it was possible to have the wrong things in common.
But he had been there for her. He had tried to be gentle with her when she wanted to kill him on Takodana. He had offered to teach her when he should have destroyed her on Starkiller base. He had never denied that he was a monster, but he had been there for her when she was falling apart from loneliness on Ahch-To. She had seen a vision of a future where they stood together. He had killed his master rather than lose her, and fighting back-to-back against the guards with the force flowing between them had been the most natural thing in the world.
The force was telling her to trust him despite everything.
She flopped back down into the pile of blankets and summoned the mask to her with the force. “Why you?” she asked it, trying to imagine Ben’s face on the other side of it. “You’re horrible. You’re a monster. I shouldn’t want a monster at my side, you know. I should want someone like Finn or maybe Poe, not that I know him well, but he seems nice, if a little too friendly. Still, anyone should be better than my worst enemy.”
The memory of the mirrors on Ahch-To flashed to mind, and Rey sighed. Ben may be the Resistance’s worst enemy, but he was not hers. Her own worst enemy was herself. She was rash and easily led to the dark side, just as Luke had feared. Perhaps she was just like Ben.
She shook her head, clearing her thoughts. All thinking and no activity would get her nowhere, not that she knew what to do. Perhaps some force meditation would show her the way though.
Rey closed her eyes and opened herself to the force, feeling the life around her, and the weight of the mask next to her. Like a slingshot, she felt the force pull towards that thought and connect her to Ben. She groaned. So much for clearing her head of him and focusing on something else.
“Please tell me you’re dressed properly this time,” she said, keeping her eyes closed.
“That was only one time,” he said through a modulated voice. Her eyes shot open to see him fully dressed before her with his mask on. She looked down at the mask at her side and back at the one on his face, confused. “I’m the Supreme Leader of the First Order. Did you really think I didn’t have spares?”
Rey rolled her eyes and put his lost mask on her own head. “I’m the Supreme Leader of the First Order. Did you really think I didn’t have spares?” she said in a mocking voice. Her modulated voice sounded different than his, but still creepy.
Ben took his own mask off and offered her a lopsided smile. “Looks better on you,” he said.
Rey took hers off and offered it to him, but he shook his head.
“Keep it, if only to scavenge it. There are some very valuable materials in there, and I imagine my helmet would sell on the black market for quite a bit intact as well. Tell them you claimed it in the battle following Snoke. No one would suspect you.”
Rey looked at the helmet, raised an eyebrow, and shrugged. She wasn’t going to argue that. “I forgot to hand your handkerchief back. It’s still pretty nasty though.” She pulled it out and frowned, looking at the wadded up black cloth. “It’s interesting that we can do this. You know, hand objects back and forth. I don’t remember reading anything like it in the teachings.”
“Nor I, even with the records of the sith at my disposal. Snoke claimed to create our bond, but I believe now that what we share is unique and wholly ours. The force has drawn us together, Rey. From the moment I saw you, I wanted to protect you.”
“You’re right. The force has drawn us together. From the moment I saw you, I wanted to kill you,” Rey said, raising an eyebrow in challenge.
“The dark user drawn to protect the light user who wants to murder him on sight. From the beginning, we were balanced, and the force has always sought balance. I’m sure you have realized how vulnerable we are to each other. Have you told your little friends in the Resistance?”
Rey shook her head. “Have you told anyone in the First Order?” Of course, Snoke knew, but Snoke had stolen the knowledge from Ben’s head, and Snoke was dead now.
“I have not. There’s no one I trust so well,” he said in a soft voice. They gazed at each other for a moment, and Rey felt her hairs stand on end for her anticipation of what would come next between them. “I brought you a gift,” he said after some time.
“A gift?” she asked. Gifts were rare in her life.
He pulled out a white folded cloth. “To replace your rag. Please, take it.”
Rey did, surprised and curious. “Thank you.” She stared at it for a moment, then narrowed her eyes at him. “It’s not hiding something dangerous, is it?”
“You’ll have to see for yourself,” he said calmly, but there was a twinkle of mirth in his eyes.
Rey unfolded it carefully and saw golden embroidery in one corner. “Rey… Solo?” she said, confused. “Why does it say Solo? It’s not my real name, is it?”
Ben shook his head. “You dreamed of having Han Solo as your father, did you not?”
Rey flushed. “But that doesn’t mean I should carry his name on my handkerchief… He never claimed me as a daughter, and it’s not like I can ask his permission now.”
“You don’t need to. It is my name as well, and I am giving it to you,” Ben said. Rey flushed from head to toe. Ben also seemed flustered, as if he had forgotten his lines to a script.
A long silence passed between them as they stared at each other.
“I can take it back if you don’t want it,” he said. “It shouldn’t be hard to remove the embroidering for the last name if it’s so distasteful.”
“I will keep it,” Rey said. She quickly folded it and stuck it in her pocket. “It will be my reminder that you have not completely given up your name.”
Ben inhaled sharply. “That’s not what that means.”
Rey smiled. “That’s what it means to me. What else could it mean? A promise of marriage in the future between the First Order Supreme Leader and the Resistance scavenger?” She looked at Ben’s old helmet mask at her side. “One of us would have to give up our allegiance.”
Ben’s eyes widened, and she looked at him, surprised at his own shock. “You would marry me if not for the Resistance? The war is the only reason you left me?”
The blood drained from Rey’s face. “No… No! There are… lots of reasons,” she said, but Ben didn’t seem to be convinced.
“I would like to hear them,” Ben said with new determination in his voice. Rey shook her head fiercely as he stepped towards her, and the connection ended.
“That was too close,” she said. “Marriage? What in stars was I thinking?” She gazed at the porgs, who had clustered near her. One waddled forward and climbed under the helmet, and suddenly the room was filled with modulated chirping.
“Well he did give me his last name on the handkerchief. Isn’t that normally how a woman gets a man’s name? Not through a handkerchief, but... “ The porg she had been addressing stared back helpfully, and she sighed.
“I have completely lost my mind.”
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Rey was meditating when she heard a knock on the door. “Come in,” she said. She had lost track of time since her conversation with Ben, but it had to be getting late on the planet. Her joints were stiff from sitting still so long, but she felt at peace with the force again.
Poe and Finn entered the room together. Finn went immediately to her and sat down next to her, whereas Poe meanderied his way into the room, examining the porgs and other contents before standing next to them. Finn impatiently patted the ground next to him, and Poe grinned at his friend and sat down too.
“Well you’re right, it would be rude to remain standing,” Poe said.
“It would be rude. If the hero of the Resistance sits, so should we,” Finn said.
Rey smiled and shook her head. “You’re both heroes too, even if things didn’t go according to plan, and you both fought bravely on Crait.” There had been much news of the battle of Crait and how Finn had tried to sacrifice himself to save the Resistance.
“Thanks, though we didn’t single-handedly take out the leader of the First Order,” Poe said, raising an eyebrow at her and smiling. “I actually came here to ask if you could provide more details on what happened. What possessed you to even board their ship alone? I can’t argue with the results, but it was unspeakably reckless, and trust me, I know reckless.”
Rey froze. Even though Poe didn’t at all seem upset with her, she hadn’t yet thought of a way to explain things which wouldn’t open up a lot of conversations she wasn’t ready to have.
“Whoah, how do you have Kylo Ren’s mask?” Finn asked, holding it up from where she had placed it behind her. Rey gaped like a fish, her mouth slowly opening and closing, as she searched for an explanation that would be neither a lie nor the exact truth.
“She probably picked it off him during her battle with Snoke, right, Rey?” Poe asked.
“Oh, that makes sense. Yea,” Finn said.
Rey’s face fell. She didn’t want to lie to them, but what could she say?
“Though, if she was able to take his mask off, why isn’t he dead?” Poe asked, and he narrowed his eyes with suspicion.
Finn glared at Poe. “Well maybe she was too busy fighting off the guard to finish the job! You know, the guard? Eight big guys in red that are trained to eat Jedi for breakfast? She was probably a little busy.”
Poe stared at Finn in surprise, and Rey covered her head, unable to watch the conversation anymore. “Wait, you’re saying that Rey took out Snoke, eight specialized guards trained to fight jedi, and Kylo Ren?”
“Yes! She’s amazing, so don’t give her a hard time just because she failed to kill Kylo Ren, who is, as you may remember, the general’s son. Maybe she felt bad for him or something. Y’know,” Finn said. He wrapped an arm around Rey’s shoulders and pulled her to him for a comforting hug. “Come on, Rey. Cheer up. Poe’s just been under a lot of stress, you know, having to take on the Resistance and all. He doesn’t really mean to give you a hard time for not killing Kylo Ren, does he?” The last question was directed at Poe with the emphasis of a demand.
“He’s right to be suspicious though,” Rey admitted, rubbing her forehead with the heel of her hand. “Snoke is dead, but I didn’t kill him, I didn’t face the guards alone, and I didn’t fight--” she hesitated on using the name the others knew, but she knew saying his real name would complicate things more. “I didn’t fight Kylo Ren at all. I didn’t have to.”
Both men froze, staring at her with faces painted with a mix of shock, incredulity, and confusion. She sighed. This was not going well.
“What… what are you trying to say, Rey?” Finn said, recovering first.
“The whole thing… my being there, Snoke dying… this mask, even… Kylo Ren did it. He invited me there, he killed Snoke, and we fought the guards back-to-back. The only thing I did was get tortured by Snoke until Ben, I mean Kylo Ren, rescued me, and then there were the guards, and he was asking me to join him, but the war was going on, and I couldn’t think of anything other than saving the Resistance, so I tried to grab my lightsaber with the force to leave, and he grabbed it at the same time, and it exploded, and I recovered before he did and escaped.”
Rey trembled with the immensity of what she had shared. Course, she hadn’t mentioned the force connection yet, and it was probably only a matter of time until it was discovered, but finally, someone knew what happened besides her.
Poe and Finn were still staring at her wide-eyed in silence, though Finn had backed away from her to look at her properly. Rey looked at each in turn and tried not to start crying. What were they thinking? Would they hate her for going to Ben?
Then, like a dam bursting, both men erupted in questions.
“He invited you?!” “You accepted an invitation from Kylo Ren!?” “Kylo Ren killed Snoke?” “Wait, you and Kylo Ren were working together?” “Did you say Kylo Ren saved you?” “What’s this about joining him?” “Did you consider joining him?” “Are we talking like a friendship join or a First Order join or some other kind of join?” “How did Kylo Ren even contact you when you were training on Ahch-To?” “Why was he helping you?” “Was he using you to take down Snoke?”
The onslaught of questions bewildered Rey, and she covered her face with her hands.
“Stand down, Finn,” Poe said, and Finn shut up. “Rey, I’m sorry for reacting with… well… shock. I am shocked. You said that Kylo Ren invited you there. When did he invite you?”
Rey inhaled slowly and carefully let it out. “While I was training with Luke on Ahch-To.”
Poe narrowed his eyes. “How? Did he discover your location?”
Rey shook her head fiercely. “No, he didn’t know where I was.”
“A holo device then?” Finn asked. She shook her head again. “Then how? Through Luke Skywalker? Did they do some kind of weird force mind trick?”
“No, no… Not through Luke. Definitely not. They hated each other. A force mind trick isn’t a bad way of explaining it though.”
Finn stared at her in confusion while Poe inhaled sharply. “You mean through you. You can contact Kylo Ren using the force,” Poe said.
Rey nodded, and tears escaped her eyes. The truth was out, and now she would see how they responded to it.
“Well, there is a precedent. It hadn’t happened in years, but the general used to contact her son that way before… well, before,” Poe said.
“Really!?” Rey said. Relief flooded her. “I meant to ask her about it, you know, before… well. I thought she could give me advice on how to manage it. I mean, it’s so strange just minding my own business and suddenly he’s there, and we can see each other and talk and touch each other and… what?” she asked, noting that Poe’s face was filled with alarm.
“General Organa’s contact with her son was through the force, but she described it as hearing his voice in her head. She certainly couldn’t see him or… touch him? How did you discover that?”
Rey thought back to the moment Ben had taken her offered hand and the precious seconds they could touch each other before Luke had discovered them.
“Umm, Rey?” Finn said after a few moments. “You’re… you’re blushing.”
The color drained from her face as she looked at Finn and Poe, her best friend and her leader in the Resistance. “I… umm…”
Poe rubbed his head. “Okay, let me get this straight. Somehow you and Kylo Ren have this force connection, right?” Rey nodded. “And I’m guessing you got to know each other somewhat through it while you were away training with Skywalker. It was lonely out there for you, he realized that and took advantage of it--”
“He did not!” Rey said. Whatever else had happened between them, she trusted that Ben was just as shocked by how their relationship evolved as she was.
“Why did he invite you?” Poe asked.
Rey stuttered. “Well, it wasn’t really an invitation… We touched hands once through the force connection, and we both saw visions,” and her face turned red before continuing, “of us standing together in the future. I saw him turned back to Ben Solo, and I could feel it, that if I went to him then, that my vision would come true. I told Luke about it, and of course he protested, but I went anyway.”
She looked from Finn to Poe. They were both listening intently, as if they couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but they didn’t seem angry at each other. If anything, they seemed cautiously hopeful. “Once I was there, Kylo Ren… you have to understand, Snoke was in his head. Snoke apparently had been in his head this whole time. He had to… act like he tricked me to get Snoke in a vulnerable position. I felt so betrayed, and then Snoke tortured me and Ben just stood there, quietly watching while I was screaming in the air and Snoke bragged about how we would never escape and I would die, and then he ordered Ben to kill me, and… I was certain I was about to die, but Ben tricked Snoke and killed Snoke instead of me.”
Tears were streaming freely down Rey’s face now, and she wiped one with her hand before reaching in to grab her usual rag… and found the new handkerchief instead. She balled the part with the embroidery in her fist, wiped her face, and blew her nose, hoping they wouldn’t notice how nervous she was.
“It is weird hearing you call him Ben,” Finn said. Rey smiled and shrugged. “You like him though. Do you know how messed up that is?” Finn said, anger creeping into his voice. The smile dropped from Rey’s face. “He murdered an entire--”
“Finn,” Poe said, holding up a hand signalling for Finn to stop. “I’ve worked with General Organa since I was a child myself. The force works in mysterious ways. Maz always said the same too, and that we should trust it. If the force is telling Rey to trust that Kylo Ren, Ben Solo, whatever is going to turn if she’s with him, she should. Honestly, having Rey convert the Supreme Leader sounds a lot better than trying to fight the First Order through blunt force with only a few dozen mostly unarmed people on an ancient, beaten-up smuggling ship.”
“But it’s Kylo Ren!” Finn protested.
“I know. Look, I know that as much as anyone. I’ve faced that monster myself and had my mind pulled apart by him as he searched for information on Skywalker. I know how awful he is! But if Rey’s story can be trusted, and I can’t imagine why she would make something like that up, he’s got a soft spot for her, and madness though it may seem, she seems to be open to it. Why not use it to our advantage? There are worse things in this universe than encouraging two lonely force users to fall in love, even if one of them is a monster.”
Finn’s face fell. “No, Rey… this isn’t about me and Rose, is it?”
Rey gave her friend a look of disgust. “No. I didn’t even know about her, and even if I did, we weren’t like that.”
“But just because we weren’t like that didn’t mean you weren’t considering--”
“I wasn’t considering it,” Rey said, rolling her eyes that Finn would be so obstinate about that angle even after he had Rose. “Look, I went to him, he killed Snoke, we took down the red guard together, he offered to have me rule at his side, and I turned him down. Maybe my vision was wrong.”
“Wait, he wanted you to rule at his side? Sounds like he has a lot more than a soft spot for you,” Finn said. “You know, for the record, I still think this is absolutely crazy, but maybe Poe’s got a point. Maybe you should go back to him. This… force connection thingy, is it still something you two do?”
Rey looked at the helmet, now at Finn’s side. “Yea. He left the helmet with me earlier today by accident.”
Finn jumped away from the helmet. “WHAT!?”
Even Poe was alarmed, backing away. “You can transfer objects through this connection?” he asked. “That’s not good, Rey. That’s really, really not good. What if he dropped a detonator through? Or worse?”
“You have to turn the connection off. Can you turn the connection off?” Finn asked.
“I don’t know!” Rey said. “That’s why I wanted to talk to General Organa about it, but… she’s gone, and Luke’s gone, and Ben is literally the only other force user I know.”
“We could ask Maz,” Finn said, glancing at Poe.
“Not a bad idea. I think we should keep Rey in here though… if she can’t control when this connection thing happens, there’s no guarantee that the rest of us will be safe from Kylo Ren through her. Rey, do you think Kylo Ren is a threat to you too at this point?”
Rey shook her head. “He was angry that I didn’t stay with him after Snoke, but I don’t think he’s given up on me,” she said, and she revealed the embroidery she had been hiding. “This was a gift, and he told me to keep the helmet too when I tried to return it.”
“Rey Solo,” Poe read. “Wow, that’s… um… pretty forward.”
“He claimed it was because I admired his father so much, but when I protested not having his father’s permission, he said it was his name too and he was giving it to me, so it was okay for me to use it. I was pretty shocked. He seemed to be too. I don’t think he meant to say that, but...”
“That’s his real name too,” Poe said, staring at it in wonder. “Rey, you might really have a chance at this. If only the general were alive to know all this… may she rest in peace. I can just imagine her smiling though at the knowledge that her son’s still there inside.”
Rey nodded, and a part of her wanted to protest pursuing this plan, but she did want another chance to turn Ben.
“Look, Rey, this is a lot to process. I’m going to take Finn and go consult Maz. I’d normally invite you to join us, but I really don’t think we can risk providing Kylo Ren access to the rest of the ship and Resistance through you, so please stay in here until we get back to you.”
Rey nodded and stood up with them. Finn gave her a fierce hug and patted her on the back a few times as they departed and the door slid shut behind them.
She stared in a daze at the door for a few moments, then started stretching to work out all the kinks in her muscles from having sat so long. She had never thought she might consider going back to Ben after the scene with Snoke, but Poe was right. She had a better chance of winning over Ben Solo than the Resistance had of fighting the First Order with a single piece-of-junk ship.
“I don't like this, Poe. I don't like it one bit,” Finn said as they went to an on-planet communications hall to contact Maz. “It's too dangerous. That man is unstable.”
Poe raised an eyebrow at his friend. “He is, but Rey's powerful and smart. She can hold her own against him. Furthermore, if he's as infatuated with her as I suspect, he'll be too mesmerized at having her near to be angry for a long time. I mean, seriously, how badly do you have to fall to monogram your own last name with your crush? He may be a monster, but he must be smitten.”
Finn kicked at the gravel road, sending pebbles flying. “Or he’s tricking Rey into returning so he can remove his last major obstacle in defeating the Resistance. He's the Supreme Leader. He took out Snoke through trickery. How do we know he’s not tricking Rey too?”
Poe laughed. “Because he’s the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, who both knew a few things about how to seduce someone when it was convenient, and he’s stumbling around like a rathtar in a crystal shop. You may not know this, but I actually remember when he was just Ben Solo, hanging out with the Resistance as a kid. He was weird, but he was clever with people. I’m not at all surprised that he defeated Snoke through trickery, only that he did it to save Rey.”
“Or maybe that’s part of his evil plot too,” Finn interjected, widening his eyes to emphasize his point.
Poe grinned. “Possible, but unlikely. Ben was good at discretion. He rarely got caught when things went bad, and he often set it up so that someone else looked at fault. He was smooth at everything except getting caught by his mom. He loved her, you know. The general said there was a moment in the battle where she knew he had his finger on the trigger, aimed at ship, and he pulled his hand away instead of taking the shot. It’s one of the last things she told me. She died with hope for him.”
Finn narrowed his eyes. “Are you sure you’re not just letting your grief for General Organa cloud your thinking? Rey’s still alive. We could lose her if we send her to Kylo Ren.”
Poe’s smile fell. “You might be right. Well, we’re here. Let’s go in and ask for a conference with Maz. Hopefully there won’t be a line.”
They entered the communications hall and luckily found no line. Poe entered the usual code to request her correspondence, made easier with Maz’s specialized radio that she kept on her at all times. Before long, a holo image of Maz appeared.
“Well hello, boys. I didn’t expect to hear again from you so soon. Wasn’t expecting to hear again from you at all, given how the battles went. What can I do for you? Mind you, I’m a bit distracted here, so you might need to be patient with me,” Maz said, gesturing with a thumb behind her.
The holo didn’t show what was behind Maz, so Finn and Poe had no idea what she was referring to. “We were wondering what you know about force connections,” Poe said.
“Force connections? Between force users? A force user and a non-force user?”
“Between force users,” Poe clarified.
“Audio-only? Visual? Both? Oh, hang on one moment,” Maz said, and turned away from the camera. “Just breathe, honey. You’re doing great. Deep breaths. Breath with those contractions. This will be over soon.” They heard screaming and sobbing in the background. Poe and Finn exchanged alarmed looks. “You’re giving birth, not dying. Calm down! Sorry about that, gentlemen. The trouble with knowing a lot about everything is people will come to you for help with anything. So what kind of force connection is it?”
“Uh… They can see, hear, and touch each other. They can also exchange objects,” Poe said.
Maz’s already wide eyes grew even wider. “Fascinating. This would be between our new Jedi and the Supreme Leader, correct?”
“How did you--” Finn said, a quizzical expression on his face.
Maz barked a laugh. “Not like there are many options out there now, are there? Well that’s a trick, especially if they can exchange things. If they can exchange objects, I wonder if they could exchange people too… I trust that you’ve got her secluded and barred off from the rest of the Resistance, correct?”
Finn’s jaw dropped, and Poe’s lips thinned. “I did not think it necessary to lock her in. She has held her own against Kylo Ren before.”
“I think it’s crowning!” cried another woman through the holo, and Maz rolled her eyes, held up one finger to let them know to wait a moment, and disappeared from view. They heard a multitude of other unpleasant sounds and then the cry of a newborn baby. A minute or two later, Maz returned with a towel, which she casually used to wipe the blood covering her hands, arms, and some of her shirt.
“Sorry about that. Rey is strong with the force. I saw that when I met her, but she also is one person, and Kylo Ren has the entire First Order to work with, not to mention the Knights of Ren. I hate to say it, but she is a danger to you all because of this connection.”
“How… how do you turn it off?” Finn said.
Maz snorted. “You can’t. Leia asked me the same once, fearing her son would use his own connection to her to betray the Resistance to the First Order. The fact that he hadn’t was one of the reasons she could never give up hope. Her connection to her son was only audio, of course, but even that was not something she could turn off on a whim, not without cutting herself off from the force entirely.”
“Wait, wait… could she do that? Could Rey cut herself off from the force?” Finn asked, excited.
Maz sighed. “She could, but she’s not one to run from responsibility, young man. Nor do I expect Kylo Ren to end his connection, though she also presents a danger to him. I do not know that there is a good solution to this.”
“We have… reason to believe that the Supreme Leader cares for her, and she had a vision that she could turn him if she went to him.”
Maz tilted her head to the side, processing this, and a smile grew on her face that Finn most definitely did not like. “You think she might sway him to your cause and bring back Ben Solo.”
“Yes,” Poe said.
Maz tapped her chin with one finger, leaving small patches of blood on her face from where her fingers hadn’t completely been cleaned. “It is possible, but the risks… This is a dangerous gamble, Poe. You don’t only stand the chance of losing Rey’s life. You could lose Rey’s allegiance, and the universe may tremble under the power of two unified dark force users at its helm.”
“I know. I hoped you might have some wisdom on the matter,” Poe said.
“Well you can’t keep her with the Resistance now. What does Rey want to do?” Maz asked.
“I… uh… I’m not actually sure. She does seem to care for him too, but she turned him down right before the battle of Crait,” Poe explained. Maz gave him a questioning look, and he elaborated. “Rey said that he offered to have her rule at his side.”
Maz leaned on her bloody hand thoughtfully and rolled her fingers on her cheek. Finn cringed as more blood spread on Maz’s face, and Poe elbowed Finn to keep Finn focused.
“Well, the vision gives me hope, but I do think it will be very likely that, no matter what you say or do, she will return to him, and that before long we will have either two jedi or two sith lords. She will need your friendship, you two. Believe in her, and do not let her down.”
“Thanks, Maz,” Poe said.
She waved a bloody hand at them. “Anytime.”
“Take a shower,” Poe said, and signed off as Maz started cackling.
Poe stared thoughtfully at the holo for a minute, rubbing his chin as if stroking a beard, though his face was clean shaven. Finn watched him. “What are we going to do, Poe?”
“Get back to the ship. You’ll check in on Rose again, and I’ll talk to Rey about her options.”
“No, no. You heard the creepy little lady. Her friends have to stick with her. There’s no way I’m leaving her alone now. If Kylo Ren wants her, he’ll have to take me too.”
Poe smiled. “You would only be in the way, Finn, and the Resistance needs you. Rose needs you. I need you. Besides, even if you ask Rey, she’ll just tell you to stay with us anyway.”
Finn glared at Poe, but Poe kept on smiling at him, and Finn sighed, admitting defeat. “At least don’t let her leave right away. She’s one of the first friends I ever made. She’s already gone where I can’t go several times now, but I’d at least like to say goodbye first.”
“That I can manage.”
Rey was watching the porgs flutter around and occasionally roar at each other in mock fights when the door slid back open to reveal Poe, alone this time.
“Hey,” Rey said. “That was fast.”
“Well, Maz is good about answering the phone, even when she’s juggling ten things. This time she was helping someone give birth--off-camera. Should have seen the look on Finn’s face when she came into view with blood all over her,” Poe said, grinning.
Rey smiled. “He’s checking on Rose?” she guessed.
Poe nodded. “She’s been stirring. Not quite awake yet, but we’re optimistic it will be soon. I sent Chewie off to gather the rest of the Resistance from the local taverns. They’ll want to be here for that, and to say farewell to you.”
Rey frowned and looked at the mask of Kylo Ren. “Maz told you I need to go to him?”
“Not exactly. She said you would go no matter what we did, but she also said that we need to either lock you up or have you leave for our own safety. I don’t have to ask you to know which one you would pick. Finn offered to go with you though, as did Chewie when I told him.”
“You told Chewie!?” Rey said, shocked.
“Not everything, just that you would be leaving the Resistance for a special mission. I figure the less people who know about your force connection, the safer you will be. You don’t have to go directly to him if you don’t want to. I trust the force will guide you where you need to be when you need to be there.”
Rey nodded. “Thanks, Poe. Do I have a ship?”
Poe clapped his hands together and pursed his lips. “That is something I need to work on. I can’t send our best Jedi on a secret mission without a ship, can I?”
“No, you can’t,” Rey said, smiling at him. He was charming--handsome too, now that she thought about it. Of course, Finn was handsome too, as were several of the other Resistance fighters. She sighed. It wasn’t that she wanted to fall in love, but having the force drag her on an inevitable path to Ben made her wonder what it would be like to be normal.
Poe seemed to guess her thoughts, because he suddenly cleared his throat and stepped back, as if feeling awkward. “Um, I’ll get that settled as soon as I can. Do you know what your plans are? I’m going to see if we can’t find a communicator like the one Maz has to send with you, so we can still check in on you.”
“I haven’t decided yet,” Rey said. She knew she would return to Ben eventually, especially given the danger her connection was to the Resistance, but she also wanted to research more about the Jedi before she left, if only to forge a new lightsaber. “Umm… you don’t know if General Organa had saved any information on the Jedi, do you?”
Poe’s eyes widened. “Like, records on where they lived? Philosophy books? What are you looking for?”
“My lightsaber was broken. I need to make a new one, and if I could get any more information that might guide me… well, I need help.”
Poe tapped a thoughtful finger against his chin. “You know, Leia didn’t keep things on her, and the destroyed New Republic system would have been the most likely place for her to store any personal data, but there are libraries. Have you been to Coruscant?”
Rey shook her head, bewildered that he had to ask. Until she joined the Resistance, the only place she had been was Jakku.
“It’s where both the Old Republic and the Empire had their headquarters. It’s a nasty place to be, and it’s possible the archives have already been destroyed, but it’s probably your best bet for information on the Jedi. Even better, it’s still such a central hub that you could probably get a ferry ride there.”
“A ferry ride?” Rey asked.
“That’s right, you’re from Jakku. There aren’t ferry rides from there to anywhere, but a lot of the bigger planets have them. Come to think of it, not sure this place has one, but we can drop you off tomorrow at another planet for you to ferry there.”
“Why not just drop me at Coruscant directly?”
Poe shook his head. “There’s no way to land where we wouldn’t be seen, and the Millenium Falcon is far too famous to be missed. We’ll need to find someplace where we can land discreetly close enough that you can walk the rest of the way.”
“Okay, yea, that works.”
“And I’ll need to lock you in for the night… Um… What things will you need?”
Rey sighed. She wasn’t surprised, but she wasn’t happy about it either. “Dinner rations, extra water, and a bucket, I suppose.”
“A bucket?” Rey stared at him until he blushed. “Ah, yes, a bucket. Got it. I’ll come back with it soon. And Rey? Thanks for understanding. If you get into trouble, tell us, and we’ll do everything in our power to get you out. Even if it’s just 30 Resistance fighters in a single junk freighter against the entire First Order. You’re one of us.”
Rey bit her lip and smiled at him. “Thanks. That means a lot to me,” she said, and it did. She had been waiting for her family to find her all those years on Jakku. She would never see her parents again, but she had found a perfect family with the Resistance.
“May the force be with you,” Poe said. He saluted her and left the room. A buzz announced that the room had been locked from the outside, and she sighed.
Just because Rey was physically cut off from the rest of the ship didn’t mean she couldn’t see what was going on. She entered meditation and reached out through the force, feeling the lives and emotions around her. There was celebration in the med bay, and Rey could see that Rose was awake, though still groggy, and leaning on Finn with an amazed expression, as if she couldn’t believe her luck. Finn, for his part, seemed happy, but nervous too, and Rey wondered once again what had happened between them while she was gone.
She would need to get that story from them another time.
The repair work was completed, if the absence of the repairmen were any indication. Chewie was back in the cockpit. Others were mingling in the lounge, talking. Their grieving seemed to be past as they went over recruitment, attack, and defense plans for the Resistance. Rey smiled wistfully. If she hadn’t had her connection with Ben, she could have been out there with them, but she was also relieved in a way.
She had spent most of her life alone, and the idea of being in the middle of so many people at once was as overwhelming as it was appealing. If it were up to her, she would have her own ship and either trade or smuggle for a living, depending on how corrupt the governments were, and maybe she would tinker on the side. She was good with machines, and seeing so many working aircraft and robots gave her all sorts of ideas.
Of course, she didn’t want to be alone. A companion or two would be nice. Chewbacca had been a good friend during her travels to Ahch-To, and Ben… Rey paused, considering. Ben was someone she felt comfortable with. She had a thousand reasons not to trust him, but she did, and she knew the force was a big part of that, but she did trust him. He would probably give her anything within his power if she asked, except for the First Order itself.
She shook her head, trying to imagine Finn or Poe with her instead, but she knew that Finn would drive her nuts, and Poe, for all that he was handsome, smooth, and charming, Poe was boring. However, Ben challenged her. He challenged her in combat, in the force, in her values… in everything. She would never stop evolving while at his side, and the idea thrilled her.
If only she could get the pesky First Order business out of the way.
Rey’s eyes lit up as she realized that maybe she could, and she began planning.
Kylo Ren paced his room with furrowed brows and a frown on his face. Behind him, Growlie quietly waddled, every now and then flapping its wings to catch up with Kylo’s long stride. The trouble with being the Supreme Leader is he had no one to speak to for advice, and yet advice was what he needed. He cursed and slammed a fist into the wall as he recalled his idiotic attempt to claim Rey through the embroidery handkerchief. She had turned it on him in a heartbeat, focusing on his weakness instead of the unspoken promise he meant to imply, and how on earth did he end up asking her if she would marry him if they weren’t at war?
“I’m a fool,” he said, dragging his hand down his face. Growlie moaned at him and snuggled against his boot. Kylo sank down next to Growlie and gently pet the porg’s head. The research station had returned Growlie just after his last conversation with Rey. Apparently it was from a little known planet named Ahch-To. Kylo suspected that might have been where Rey trained with Skywalker. He couldn’t think of any other reason his scavenger would have kept a pet from there.
“You know, my father would have actually been useful for this. Not that I would have followed his advice, necessarily, but it would at least give me a frame of reference. I haven’t tried to have a relationship of any kind since I was still with Skywalker, and now I’m talking to a pet,” Kylo said, leaning back. Growlie hopped into his lap and snuggled in next to his chest.
The com for his room buzzed, and Kylo looked over as it slid open. He had not locked it, but he also did not expect anyone to try and enter without his permission. Hux, of course, never ceased to disappoint him.
“If you’re not busy, there are several matters that need addressing, Supreme Leader,” Hux said, sweeping in and shutting the door behind him. Kylo stared up at Hux, not bothering to stand up. Hux rolled his eyes in disgust. “Can you at least get off the floor? Is that that creature from earlier in your lap? You don’t seem so allergic now.”
Kylo took a deep breath, gently set the porg on the floor, and stood up to face Hux. Five minutes ago he probably would have used a force choke to straighten up Hux’s insubordination, but Kylo’s wrath was tempered by his desire to have someone he could talk to. “I don’t recall inviting you in,” Kylo said.
“You’re not allergic to the creature, are you?” Hux said. Hux studied Kylo’s face, and Kylo’s eyes narrowed.
“Are my allergies the matter that needs addressing, Hux?”
They glared at each other in silence, and Hux backed off. “I don’t think it would come as any shock for you to know that I hate you--”
“It’s quite mutual,” Kylo interjected.
“It is, isn’t it?” Hux said and sighed. “I thought about killing you, you know, when you were stretched out unconscious on the floor of the throne roo--” Hux’s voice cut off as Kylo gripped his throat with the force. Instead of fighting it in terror, however, Hux glared at Kylo.
Kylo loosened it after a moment, but did not let go entirely. “Is there a point to this? It’s no secret that you have mutiny in your heart.”
Hux did not speak right away. “The girl is a problem.”
Kylo felt his heart chill. “The girl?” he asked, even though he knew perfectly well who Hux referred to.
“Yes, the girl, the one from Jakku, the Jedi you claimed killed Supreme Leader Snoke and the guard and knocked you unconscious,” Hux spat and immediately gagged as Kylo tightened his grip.
“What’s your play, Hux?” Kylo asked. “Think very carefully over your next words. You would be difficult to replace, but not impossible.” He loosened the grip once more.
“There are two possibilities. Either she’s far more powerful than you, the Praetorian Guard, and Supreme Leader Snoke combined, in which case we would need to develop a plan to defeat her, or you helped her and were betrayed by her.”
“Rey is not your concern!” Kylo shouted, sneering openly at Hux and flinging the man across the room. Hux slammed against the far wall and collapsed to the floor. He stared at Kylo Ren with wide eyes as Kylo stalked towards him again. “She is mine,” he hissed.
“Unbelievable. You care for her,” Hux said. “But she left you for dead, and she’s part of the Resistance! She even turned you against Snoke.”
“Snoke was a cruel master to us both. Don’t deny that you are glad that he is gone,” Kylo spat.
Hux was silent as he pulled himself to his feet and looked Kylo Ren in the eyes. “I do not deny it. Now that we’re being honest, I am curious. Who turned the blade on Snoke?”
“I did,” Kylo Ren said.
“Good. I might feel guilty about what I’m planning if it had been the girl,” Hux said, grinning maliciously.
Terror froze Kylo for only a moment before he used the force to pull Hux to his knees before him. “You will tell me your plans,” Kylo said. Hux’s expression turned to horror, and Hux screamed as Kylo used the force to bluntly shove his way into Hux’s mind.
Kylo Ren’s rage grew as he found half-developed plans to capture and torture Rey in order to manipulate and eventually kill him. “Never,” he hissed. He snapped Hux’s neck with his next thought and dropped the corpse to the ground.
A small noise made Kylo spin around and draw and ignite his lightsaber, but it was only Growlie, coming out from behind a chair.
Kylo Ren sighed and turned off his lightsaber before putting it away. “I will protect her,” he said to the creature. “I have to.”
Growlie chirped at him absently and then waddled back off to explore another part of the room. Kylo Ren collapsed onto his bed and gazed down at the red-headed corpse of Hux. For years they had competed for Snoke’s approval and trust, each trying to undermine each other. It was strange to see the man gone. Kylo Ren wondered if he should feel loss, but he felt nothing except satisfaction that he had kept Rey safe from Hux.
Unfortunately, this meant he would have to find someone to promote to General of the First Order and explain yet another mysterious death to the already skeptical leaders of the First Order’s troops.
He pulled himself up and went to his desk. He had a lot of work to do.
Rey was meditating when the door slid open next, revealing Poe, Finn, and Rose. Rose was leaning heavily on Finn, but seemed fairly alert for someone who had recently been in a coma.
“Rose! What are you doing here?” Rey said, abandoning her meditation to stand up and help Finn move Rose to an empty box so she could sit down. Rey quickly shooed off the porg that had been there as Rose eased down. Rey and Finn remained on either side of her, and Poe stood at the entrance.
“She insisted on coming with me,” Finn said.
“I’m not letting you out of my sight,” Rose said with a slight slur. “You would have died if I didn’t stop you, Finn.”
“And you nearly killed yourself in the process!” Finn exclaimed.
“Worth it,” Rose said, grinning at Finn with open affection. “You’re absolutely worth it.”
Rey bit her lip trying not to giggle. “Wait, so are you two..?”
Finn looked away and scratched behind his ear rather than answering, but Rose leaned closer to Rey and held up her hand like she was going to say a secret, then announced loudly enough for everyone to her her, “I kissed him after he rescued me.”
Rey did laugh at that, as did Poe, though she felt a little bad for Finn. He was going through such a variety of expressions and gestures that it was clear he had no idea what to make of things yet with Rose. Then again, this was the same man that kept insisting on holding her hand and finding out if she were single when they barely knew each other and were trying to escape Jakku with their lives. She couldn’t feel too badly that he was getting a taste of his own medicine.
“So, umm, yea. Poe says there’s a plan. What’s the plan?” Finn asked.
Rey had let Poe know that she was plotting something when Poe had dropped off her rations and bucket earlier, but she hadn’t informed him of more than that, except to bring Finn along next time.
Rey hesitated now, glancing between Rose and the boys. “Oh, Rose is cool,” Finn said. “You can trust her. She came with me to Canto Bight when we were looking for the master codebreaker Maz told us about so we could stop the Supremacy. I was actually kinda thinking she should come along on whatever this is that you’re planning. She’s a wizard with technology, a good fighter, and a solid team player.”
“Okay,” Rey said, taking a deep breath and smiling at Rose, who seemed confused. “I guess I should tell her then… Umm…” She was silent, trying to find the words to explain to someone she barely knew what was going on.
Poe stepped forward after a moment’s silence. “Rose, I think you already know that Rey is a Jedi, right?”
“Like Luke Skywalker?” Rose asked, excited.
“Yea, kinda,” Rey said.
“And you know Kylo Ren is also a user of the force?” Poe asked. Rose nodded, giving him an impatient look. “Sometimes force users can connect with each other.”
“Connect,” Rose echoed, clearly confused.
“Connect,” Finn confirmed. “Through the force. As in, Rey can see, talk to, and touch Kylo Ren from anywhere in the universe.”
“WHAT!?” Rose screamed and half jumped away from Rey, who was now covering her face with a hand . “All the time? Can he see us? Can we see him? How does that even work? Oh my gosh, I think I’m panicking. I’m completely panicking.”
“Whoah, whoah,” Finn said and gently pulled Rose into a tight hug. “You’re okay. You’re okay. It’s okay. It doesn’t happen all the time, and Rey will tell us if the connection is happening, right, Rey?”
“Yea, he’s not… here right now, and even if he were, he can only see me and what I’m touching, and he has to be touching me to see more than that.”
“Wait wait wait… touching you? That sounds like…” Rose screwed up her face, staring at Rey in confusion as she hugged Finn’s arms closer to her. “He’s our enemy… how do you even know what he can see or can’t see?”
Rey blushed. Poe bit his lip to suppress a grin, and Finn shook his head in disgust.
Rey spoke. “He is the enemy of the Resistance, and at first… well… The first time the connection happened, I shot him with my blaster. It didn’t hurt him. It just ended our connection. Umm, we eventually realized that neither of us were in control of it, and it always happened when we were alone anyway, so we started talking.”
“...and you started touching?” Rose asked, skepticism lining her voice.
“I had some bad moments on Ahch-To. There was one night I was really scared and lonely. I was crying, and then he was there, and he told me I wasn’t alone. He understood me. He understood what it was to be feared, doubted, abandoned… What it’s like to have this immense power and not know who you are or what your purpose is, and he understood what it was like to be alone, and we realized we weren’t alone anymore. We had each other.”
“That’s… actually kind of romantic,” Rose said with wide eyes. “I mean, if you can ignore that Kylo Ren’s a terrible human being who basically exists as a mad dog for Supreme Leader Snoke.”
“Actually, Kylo Ren is the Supreme Leader now,” Poe said. Rose stared at him with a dazed, confused expression, and Poe shrugged. “A lot happened while you were out. Rey went to the Supremacy, probably at the same time you and Finn were on it, to meet Kylo Ren, and Kylo Ren killed Snoke rather than follow orders to kill Rey.”
“And then asked her to rule at his side like some kind of weird marriage proposal,” Finn said. He leaned in close to Rose and widened his eyes as much as possible. “He even gave her a handkerchief with ‘Rey Solo’ embroidered on it.”
“Ooooh,” Rose’s own eyes widened to match Finn’s, and she turned back to Rey. “He’s got a crush on you.” She paused a moment and frowned. “Wait, Kylo Ren is the Supreme Leader, and he has a crush on Rey? The Supreme Leader of the First Order has a crush on the Jedi of the Resistance? Isn’t there some kind of rule against that sort of thing?”
“There should be!” Finn said, glaring at the room. A porg nearby roared at him, and he gave the bird an annoyed look. “When did the Falcon get infested with those things, anyway?”
“Guys, please stay focused,” Rey said, groaning.
“It’s so cute!” Rose said, finally letting go of Finn to reach out and try to pet the porg that roared. It mock-snapped at her finger before nuzzling up to it. “I’m going to keep it,” she declared.
“You’re not going to keep it. It’s not even a proper animal. It’s got wings like a bird, but it doesn’t have a beak. What kind of proper bird doesn’t have a beak?” Finn complained.
Rey glanced to Poe for help, and he smiled. “I can’t help it. After the last few days, it’s nice to have some normal moments,” Poe said with a lopsided grin. “Though I do suppose we need to talk about your plan before you connect next with Kylo Ren.”
Rey shrugged. “I’ve never had the connection happen when there were people around, so I think we’re--” she broke off as the force connection fell in place. Ben was sitting in a chair, facing her. He looked exhausted and defeated, but a sliver of hope came into his eyes when he looked to her. “Umm… Hi Ben,” she said weakly.
In a heartbeat, both Finn and Poe pulled out their blasters from their holsters, and Rose looked around for a weapon and ended up grabbing the metal bucket Poe had brought, which was mercifully still empty.
“She calls him Ben?” Rose hissed at Finn and Poe. They shrugged at her.
The hope faded in Ben’s eyes and he narrowed them in suspicion. “What is it? You’re distracted.”
“I’m not the only one here… on this side. I guess… would you like to meet my friends?” she said awkwardly. Something dark passed through Ben’s eyes. She gestured to her Resistance friends to back down, and to their credit, Poe put away his weapon, Finn lowered his to his side, and Rose hugged the bucket instead of holding it ready to swing.
“I’d rather not. You’re the only one I want to see,” Ben said.
“Please,” Rey said, holding out her hand to him. “I want to show them the real you.” Ben did not react other than to stare longingly at it.
“What’s happening?” Rose asked the boys in a quiet voice.
“They have to hold hands for him to see us, right?” said Finn.
“Oh yea. Wait, so we really might see Kylo Ren here in a moment?” Rose asked. “Or does it only work so that Kylo Ren can see us, but we still can’t see him?”
Finn glanced at Rose with an impressed expression. “You know, I don’t know.”
Ben still hadn’t moved, and Rey sighed, withdrawing the hand. “It’s okay. You don’t have to meet them. I’ll ask them to leave so we can talk.” She turned to Poe, Finn, and Rose. “Guys, I’m sorry, but could you give me some privacy for a bit?”
“Wait,” Ben said, holding up a hand in the stop position. Rey turned her head, and the others looked with her, even though they couldn’t see anything where she looked. “You told your friends about us.”
Rey blushed. “It came up. I didn’t want to lie to them,” she explained, blushing.
“No, of course not,” Ben said. He seemed sad, and Rey took several steps closer to him before she realized what she was doing and stopped. Ben’s eyes met her own, and he looked away. “Treasure your friends, Rey. We’ll speak later,” he said, and the connection ended.
“He’s gone,” Rey said. Both her voice and her expression reflected her shock, and she stumbled a step, nearly tripping over a porg in the process, before slowly sinking down to the ground. “Something’s wrong.”
“What is it? What did he say?” Poe asked. “Are we in danger?”
“No… not like that. At least, I don’t think so,” Rey said. “Something was wrong on his end. He seemed really sad. I think he needs me. I’m sorry, but could I ask you to leave? I’m going to try connecting to him. It always seemed to happen by chance, but I never tried reaching out to him either. There’s got to be some way I can reach him when I need to.”
“You’re legitimately worried about him,” Finn said, incredulous.
“Of course, Finn. I know it’s strange and doesn’t make sense, especially with his being the Supreme Leader now of the First Order who we’re fighting against, but he’s my friend. Just, please, let me help him.”
“Come on, Finn. Let’s leave. You too, Rose,” Poe said, and he opened the door for them to all quietly file out.
Rey waited until the door slid shut and locked again, and then she squeezed her eyes shut, reaching into the force with all her strength. “Please, bring me back to Ben. Please.”
Kylo Ren leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. Hux’s body had been disposed of, and he had called on the Knights of Ren to fill the gaps in the First Order’s leadership. They would do the job with no questions asked. He had trained his tools well.
Everyone in his world away from the Resistance had been either tools or his master, except for Hux. Hux had been his only peer, though Hux had no ability with the force and Kylo knew little about general military command. He did not regret killing Hux. He would not miss Hux either, but with Hux’s death, he realized he wished things had been different between them. He wished Hux had been someone he could have confided in. The realization bothered him more than he cared to admit.
The porg was chittering on the desk behind him, scattering documents and tools as it explored. Its simplicity and blind trust in him tainted him with hope and longing for a normal life instead of this cage of power. The painful desire filled him to the point that he half considered killing the porg just to avoid feeling, but he knew he wouldn’t. He might be a monster, but even he wouldn’t take the life of an innocent without good reason. He found no thrill in killing.
Ben . Please .
Kylo Ren’s eyes widened as the force forged itself between him and Rey, and she appeared on the floor before him, sitting cross-legged. She had sought him out, though he had left her to the company of her friends. Had something gone wrong?
“Thank goodness. It worked,” she said when she saw him. She smiled at him and bit her lip. “Did you know we can establish the bond ourselves?”
Kylo Ren knew. After discovering the bond outlived Snoke’s death, he had thought back and realized that every bond had happened when he had been thinking about her, but he was not ready to share that. “You’re here,” Kylo said. “Why did you come to me?”
“I was worried about you,” Rey said in an annoyed voice. “You didn’t seem like yourself, and then you told me to treasure my friends as if you weren’t one of them too. Is it so strange I would want to be here for you?”
Kylo felt some of his tension and fear leave him at her words. He wanted to remind her that he was a monster and her enemy, but she had already demonstrated time and again that she saw past that, and he was hungry for her friendship. “No, it’s not strange,” he said after a moment.
Kylo carefully climbed down from his chair to sit cross-legged across from her on the floor with their knees just inches apart. They both looked down at where their knees almost met. “I killed Hux,” he said after a moment of silence. Rey said nothing, but her surprised eyes came up to meet his. He looked away after a moment. “Hux found out that I cared for you. He wanted to use you against me.” He looked back up and met her eyes again. “He would have hurt you,” he said, sadness coloring his voice.
Rey looked down and remained silent, and Kylo feared she might be disappointed in him. He wanted her approval badly, though he would not have changed his decision to kill Hux.
“Hux was the general who worked alongside you under Snoke, right?” Rey asked. Kylo nodded. “You grieve him?”
“No,” Kylo said, shaking his head. “Nor do I regret killing him.” Rey shuddered, and Kylo gave her a piercing look. “That frightens you?”
“Yes,” Rey admitted. “There's no one in the Resistance whom I wouldn't mourn, though I am still learning their names, but you have killed both Snoke and Hux now with little hesitation.”
Kylo growled. “They both threatened you,” he reminded her.
“I know, Ben, but I don't think that I ever realized how isolated you've been. Do you have anyone in your life you would miss?”
Kylo locked his gaze with her. She should already know he had one person he would have given up everything for, and he was in no humor to spell it out that moment. “I wish you hadn't left me,” he said. “We could have left this behind.”
Rey sighed. “I couldn't abandon my friends, Ben.”
“I think I understand now. They're precious to you.” Surprise painted Rey's face, and Kylo frowned, trying to find the words to explain it. “I understood after I killed Hux. Hux was no friend, but he was a peer. He was my only peer in the First Order. With Snoke gone, I had half-hoped that we might learn to be a team. It was a foolish thing. We’ve hated each other since the moment we met. Still, I have no one to talk to.”
“You have me,” Rey said. She gently reached for his hands, and he sighed as he felt her skin against his. Reality blended around him as her surroundings in the Falcon overlapped with his bedroom on the Star Destroyer. Her hands were rough from her years of hard labor in the desert, but they were her hands, and he never wanted to let them go.
Kylo Ren forced his eyes away from their joined hands to look at her. “What must I do to keep you at my side?”
Rey’s eyes fluttered down, pausing briefly on his lips before focusing on their joined hands. She swallowed hard. “I’ve been thinking about that,” she said.
“Have you?” Kylo asked, furiously trying to squash the hope her words generated before it consumed him.
She didn’t immediately respond, and he freed a hand to lift her chin gently so that she faced him. Rey leaned into his hand for a half-second before blushing fiercely and shaking herself free of him. Kylo struggled to remain calm at her rejection. He had waited over a decade to free himself from Snoke. He could learn to be patient with Rey, so long as she was beside him.
“I came up with a plan… I was about to discuss it with the others when you found us, and I expect you’ll hate it and so will they, but it’s something.”
Kylo frowned at the thought of her discussing her plans for their relationship with her Resistance friends, but he said nothing and waited for her to elaborate.
“I want to make a wager, I suppose. A gamble. I want you to get to know my friends in the Resistance and give them a chance to know you as well.”
Kylo Ren glared at her and backed away, pulling to his feet and pacing around her. “Why? So that I will be less likely to order their deaths?”
Rey flinched as if she had been struck and stood up as well, rotating with his pacing to face him. “No! I mean, that wouldn’t be bad, but no, that’s not at all why I suggested it. They think you’re some evil, heartless monster. You think they’re a bunch of worthless thieves and murderers, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Ben, I see the good in you. I want others to see it too, and if you care for me, I know you can learn to care for them too.”
Kylo stopped pacing to stare at her. “You called it a wager, a gamble.”
Rey nodded. “After Snoke’s death, we didn’t have time to talk about what it would mean to go with each other. I thought that maybe we could find out. Give the Resistance a second chance by getting to know them, Ben, and if you can find a place there, work with them to end the war peacefully. And during that time, you can teach me about the First Order, or whatever, and show me what your vision of us ruling the galaxy together would be like.”
Kylo Ren bristled at the thought of having anything to do with the Resistance, but he saw where her idea had merit, and he expected it would be equally distasteful for her to involve herself with the First Order. If she were willing to go so far to give his dream a chance, he could do the same for her. “And if neither of us can convince the other to join them in the end?” Kylo Ren asked.
“Then, assuming we’re still friends at that time, we get on a ship together and leave it all behind. Nothing but us and the future,” Rey said, stepping closer to him.
“You would abandon the Resistance for me?” Kylo said, his voice shaky with emotion at what she was offering.
“If they can’t see the good that I see in you, I’m not sure they’re worth saving,” Rey said. “Please,” she added, holding out her hand to him.
“You won’t come to me in person until we’re done, correct? There are too many here who would want to kill you.” He still couldn’t believe that she had come to the Supremacy while Snoke lived. She had too much faith in him. There were limits to how much he could protect her.
“Same with the Resistance,” Rey admitted. “The force bond allowed you and Luke to see each other when we held hands, right? We can use that to keep each other safe. Just let go at the first sign of trouble.”
Kylo Ren stared at her incredulously. “We would have to hold hands constantly, Rey, and everyone would see.”
Rey shrugged. “Let them see. I don’t want to be ashamed of our friendship, Ben.”
He searched her eyes, wishing for some indication of whether she desired more than just friendship with him, but it wouldn’t change anything. He was losing his interest in maintaining the First Order by the hour, and horrifying the Resistance through an open display of friendship with Rey seemed a diverting way of closing that chapter before he and Rey started over on their own, for he did not doubt for a moment that she would refuse the First Order and that he would be utterly rejected by the Resistance.
“I accept your terms,” Kylo Ren said, clasping her offered hand within his own.
Rey grinned broadly at him and let go of his hand to wrap her arms around his waist. “Thank you,” she murmured into his chest.
He wrapped his arms around her and stroked her hair, leaning his own head on top of hers. “You’re welcome,” he said. “Thank you for choosing me,” he added after a moment, squeezing her tightly for a moment.
She stepped back from him and gave him an odd look. “You don’t think this will work, do you? The Resistance giving you a second chance?”
“Not for a moment, but I will try for your sake,” he said.
Rey smiled at him, and the bond ended, leaving him alone in his room. No, not alone, Growlie was sleeping in a tiny pile of fluff in the center of his bed. He sighed, wondering when he would remember to return Growlie to Rey. He would miss the strange creature.
“That is the worst idea I have ever heard,” Finn said after Rey finished explaining the bargain she had made with Ben.
“I don't know. It's not a bad deal for us. All we have to do is try to be pleasant with him while Rey likely gets more information about the First Order than we could dream of obtaining through the usual spies,” Poe said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
“Unless he uses it to plant bad intelligence and leads us all into a trap,” Rose pointed out. “Also, didn’t someone mention that he could leave detonators through the bond? Are we just going to ignore that?”
“He wouldn’t do that,” Rey said, slightly annoyed at her friends despite understanding their skepticism. “Besides, that’s why I’m asking you to come with me. I still need to build a new lightsaber. I’m just asking for you to come with me, and while we’re away from the Resistance anyway, give Ben a chance. He’s really not that bad.”
“Umm, yea, he is,” Finn said.
“I have to agree with Finn on this one. Kylo Ren, Ben Solo, whatever you want to call him... he’s pretty bad,” Poe said. “However, I’m willing to take the chance to see if this works.”
“You mean you’re willing to sit back and let us risk our lives exposing ourselves to that monster?” Finn said, raising an eyebrow at Poe.
Poe laughed. “Not at all. I’m coming with you.” Finn, Rey, and Rose were all silenced by shock. Poe looked around at them and shrugged. “Come on, it’s a diplomatic mission that could change the fate of everyone we know. You didn’t really think I was going to let you have all the fun without me, did you?”
“But, but… who will lead the Resistance?” Finn asked.
“Kaydel’s well-suited to gather resources and continue the search for pockets of Resistance supporters without me. Besides, someone has to keep you out of trouble, Finn,” Poe teased. Finn stood up and gave Poe a firm hug, which Poe readily returned. “I love you, buddy,” Poe said, patting Finn hard on the back.
“I love you too, man,” Finn said.
Rey and Rose glanced at each other, neither sure what to make of the bromance before them. “Well, does that mean we’re doing this?” Rey asked. “Are you all coming?”
“If Poe’s in, I’m in,” Finn said, stepping back from Poe to face Rey, but with his arm around Poe’s shoulders still.
“I said it before. I’m not leaving Finn’s side,” Rose said. “I’m in.”
“We’re here for you, Rey,” Poe said. “Besides, I suspect you’ll need my help. You may have caught his attention with the force and this whole bond thing, but I know a thing or two about guys and how to keep their attention without giving them what they want.”
Rey’s jaw dropped as she stared at Poe with disturbed confusion. “What do you think he wants from me?” she asked.
“And what do you mean by knowing about how to keep the attention of guys?” Rose asked, now looking considerably less comfortable about how close Finn and Poe were.
Finn’s eyes were wide too. “Yea, you into guys, Poe?” he asked, but he didn’t remove his arm from Poe either.
Poe shrugged. “Would you like to find out?” he asked Finn in a husky voice with a raised eyebrow and lopsided grin that caused Finn to jump back and both Rose and Rey to blush deeply. He chuckled at their reactions. “I won’t speak to my personal interests, but I’ve taken on a few unusual roles over the years when gathering intelligence. Like I said, I know a thing or two, and I suspect Rey will need advice from someone with experience before long.”
“Who says I’m not experienced? I’m plenty experienced. I can give experience,” Finn protested.
“I thought stormtroopers weren’t allowed to have any personal relations,” Rose said. “It was one of the things General Organa used to list for reasons why the First Order needed to be stopped.” Finn glared at Rose, and she shrugged and smiled at him. “It’s okay. I don’t mind being the one to teach you.”
Poe coughed to cover a laugh at Finn’s flabbergasted reaction, and Rey bit back a smile herself before speaking. “I’m glad I won’t have to go alone. We’ll need money to cover our transport though. I can scavenge his mask. It would have been worth at least a month’s rations back on Jakku, but I don’t know how that translates to credits…”
“It may be too dangerous to sell intact, Rey. He could learn our location if news of the sale spreads, which it’s bound to,” Poe said. “Better to dismantle it and sell the parts, even if it earns us less money.”
“I suppose,” Rey said. She did not care for the mask itself, and yet it was something Ben had given her. “Or I could offer my services repairing ships,” she said as she considered that there were other opportunities than scavenging for her now.
“I could help with that,” Rose said.
Poe shook his head. “We’ll sort it out tomorrow. I think the Resistance has enough saved up to pay for our shuttle to Coruscant, and there will be countless opportunities there, including possibly selling the mask intact. Even if he knew to head to Coruscant, it would be next to impossible for him to find us. There are trillions of people living there.” He snapped his fingers and grinned. “This could work, and we could get the money to get Rey a better wardrobe while we’re there too.”
Rey frowned at him. “What for?”
“To seduce the Supreme Leader, of course. What else?” Poe said and waggled his eyebrows at her. “We’ll have him eating out of the palm of your hand in no time.”
“I really don’t think I’m comfortable with that,” Rey said. “I didn’t come up with this plan to seduce him. I came up with it to find a way to end this war with peace.” She did not volunteer that saving her friendship with Ben had been an even more substantial motivation.
Poe chuckled. “Trust me. This is for the best. I need to fill Kaydel in on what’s going on and what her new responsibilities will be. We’ll leave on the first shuttle out tomorrow. Come on, Finn, Poe. Let’s let the Jedi get her beauty sleep. She’s going to save the galaxy with her pretty face, after all.”
“Night, Rey,” Rose said before leaving. Finn offered her a salute before he left, though he was obviously unhappy about the whole situation.
The door buzzed indicating it was locked again, and Rey shook her head in frustration. She should be happy that they were cooperating at all, but it was clear they were just planning to take advantage of the situation rather than truly get to know the real Ben Solo, the one she saw.
“New clothes?” she muttered to herself. “I don’t need new clothes.”
She ate her dinner rations in silence and curled up in the pile of blankets that served as her bed. “Seduce him, really?” she said. The whole concept was foreign to her. She did not seduce people. Even friendships were still a relatively new thing, and while she supposed she felt more for Ben than friendship explained, that didn’t mean she planned to seduce him.
The force stretched around her as her thoughts kept circling to Ben, and they were connected once again. He was resting, his broad chest mercifully covered by a blanket as he faced away from her a foot in front of her.
“Are you… in bed with me?” Ben asked, looking over his shoulder at her. He looked mystified, though not displeased. Rey blushed, but it wasn’t like she had planned for the force to bring them together like this.
“Sorry, I was down for the night. I didn’t expect this to happen,” she said.
He smiled at her. “You were thinking of me?”
Rey huffed and rolled on her back to stare at the ceiling of the cargo bay--and not him. “I had just finished discussing our plans with my friends in the Resistance, so yes, you were on my mind.”
Ben was silent a moment. “I expect they were quite eager to play along so that you could spy for them,” he finally said.
Rey blushed that Ben saw through her friends’ plans so easily. “They’ll come around.”
Ben leaned up on one elbow next to her, his chest just inches from her own, and she felt reality ripple around her as the blanket covering him sometimes covered her as well and sometimes was not there at all. Even the floor beneath her sometimes felt more like a mattress as he gazed down upon her. She half-expected him to kiss her, though she wasn’t sure if she desired or feared it more. Her focus moved from his eyes down to his mouth, and she wondered what it would be like to be kissed.
Her mind was so engrossed in his lips that his next question took her completely by surprise. “You don’t change your clothes to sleep?”
Rey startled and rolled to face away from him, embarrassed of where her mind had been heading and that he had not been thinking the same thing at all. “What is everyone’s obsession with what I am wearing? I’m a scavenger, or I was one. The rare times I found extra clothes, I sold them to eat. One outfit is plenty.”
She felt Ben reach out and tuck a loose hair behind her ear, and she turned back to face him. “Allow me to indulge you, and you will never want for anything again,” Ben said.
Rey took a moment to translate his words. “You want to buy me pajamas?” Rey asked with no small amount of skepticism.
“It would be my pleasure,” he responded seriously.
Rey sighed and faced away from him again, curling up on her side. She felt ridiculous even considering accepting his offer, but she supposed something to wear while she washed her regular outfit was not a bad thing, and she could always sell the gifts later if they needed more money. Feeling guilty just considering it, she blurted out. “I might just scavenge them too.”
A pause, and then behind her Ben said, “I’ll accept the risk.” He traced his finger down her arm over the blanket, and though the blanket separated his finger from her skin, a trail of goosebumps rose along her arm in response. Rey’s heart pounded in her chest, wondering what he might do next and if she should end the connection or allow the unexpected intimacy to continue.
Ben removed his hand from her and took a deep, ragged breath behind her. “Your presence… soothes me. May we stay like this?” he asked. She paused to think about it, then nodded slightly, as if afraid to admit it even to herself.
Ben sighed relief behind her and reached out to rest one hand against the nape of her neck, as if to reassure himself that she was there. She felt that the drumming of her heartbeat would never let her rest, but either Ben did something or exhaustion won her over, because next thing she knew, it was morning and Ben was gone.
However, he had not left her empty-handed. A colorful pile of new clothes was draped over her and a credit chip had been placed in her hand. Rey felt dazed as she looked from the chip to the assortment of random, but obviously expensive, clothing. “I’m a long way from Jakku,” she muttered, eyes wide and shocked.
Kylo Ren stood at the bridge of his Star Destroyer with Banto Ren, fellow dark side user and his second in command for the Knights of Ren, at his side. Banto was a short, stocky human with sandy hair and green eyes, though his mask and armour hid everything but his height. Kylo Ren also wore his mask for the occasion. He was the master of the Knights of Ren, but that did not mean he was above their suspicion. They had been loyal to Snoke before him and most would not hesitate to turn on him if they guessed half the conflict in his heart.
“The knights are assembled as you commanded, Master Kylo,” Banto said. “We have scoured the ships and found no unpleasant surprises left behind from the late General Hux. Less than a half dozen officers and troops had to be removed from service in the transition. The First Order is once again stabilized and ready for your instruction.”
Kylo nodded. “Good work, Banto. I want a list of planets in our territory that would benefit from a demonstration of our power. We do not want them thinking a change in leadership would make us vulnerable. Next review external threats to the First Order and order a temporary ceasefire with the Resistance, though do continue the surveillance for them.”
Banto paused. “A ceasefire with the Resistance?”
Kylo narrowed his eyes at Banto, sending his displeasure through the force so Banto could feel what the mask disguised. “I have discovered another force user among the Resistance. Her potential rivals my own. I plan to recruit her, and I cannot recruit her if she is dead.”
Banto turned to him sharply. “This would be the Jedi who killed the late Supreme Leader Snoke?”
“She would be a great asset if turned, and I have seen her succumb to the darkness before,” Kylo said, though he knew that Rey would never completely abandon the light anymore than he would completely abandon the dark. They had that in common, being neither all one thing or the other.
Banto continued to face Kylo Ren, then eventually bowed. “I look forward to welcoming her to the Knights of Ren.”
“What did you learn of my mask’s location, Banto?”
“The tracer indicates it is in Coruscant, and there is a stocked, nondescript ship prepared for you to retrieve it personally, as you requested.”
“Thank you. The mask had been with the Resistance on the Millenium Falcon, but they would not have brought the Falcon to Coruscant. You did not see where the mask was prior to Coruscant?”
Banto shook his head. “No, the mask was already in Coruscant when we traced its location. You are going to meet the force user, correct?”
Kylo Ren studied his subordinate, wondering how much he could trust the man next to him. All the Knights of Ren were dark side users of the force, but they varied in how corrupted their hearts had become. Banto was greedy. However, Banto would not betray Kylo Ren while there was nothing to be gained from it, which is why Banto was his second in command. His predictability was an asset.
“That is my purpose. I have reason to suspect she holds affection for me, and so I am courting her as both a Knight of Ren and a man,” Kylo Ren explained. This much was true, though he could never own his own attraction to her in front of the knights. He had learned from Hux how quickly those around him would use any attachments he had against him.
“Your father would be proud,” Banto said, sending his sick amusement through the force at Kylo Ren.
The next second, Kylo Ren had his lightsaber activated and swinging at Banto’s head. Banto blocked Kylo’s hit with his own orange lightsaber. Kylo used his larger size and strength to press against the smaller man, turning his lightsaber’s guard in the same moment to pierce Banto, but was shoved back slightly with a force shove. Kylo Ren used his own force to flip Banto face-first into the floor and rip off Banto’s mask. He put a knee in Banto’s back and held his lightsaber close enough to singe Banto’s neck. Banto deactivated his lightsaber.
“You were saying?” Kylo Ren spat, but Banto smiled a wicked grin and started chuckling.
“There’s the ruthless Kylo Ren I know. I heard you had ordered clothes and an untraceable credit chip with thousands of credits on it for this female Jedi. I was worried you had gone soft.”
Kylo Ren glared at Banto a few moments before deactivating his own lightsaber and standing up, but he did not put it away. “She will have less reason to pawn the mask if she is well funded, which allows me to continue tracing her physical location.”
“And the clothes?” Banto asked as he pulled himself to his feet and collected his own mask.
Kylo Ren had thought up a valid excuse for this indulgence while he ordered them late in the night. “My role to court her will be more convincing if I find her physically attractive.” He did not volunteer that Rey could have worn a paper sack and he would still find her attractive.
Banto chuckled at his excuse. “Ah, well if she must be dressed up to be tolerable, I suppose I should be thankful that you’re the one she has eyes on. Still, I am surprised. Do you even know how to court a lady? You have avoided the advances of every creature I have seen you around.”
Kylo Ren glared at him once more and left the bridge without another word. Banto had grown cheeky during Kylo’s absence from their group. He would have to plan a demonstration within the knights to keep them in order as well. He suspected that Banto was not the only one who doubted his leadership.
Kylo returned to his room, where he found a cage and food for Growlie left outside. He picked them up, entered his room, and found Growlie building a nest in his bed using papers from his desk. Kylo sighed, gently picked up the porg, and placed him in the cage on his bed. “We’re going on a trip, Growlie,” he said. He took off his mask, stretched, and curled up in his bed next to where Rey had appeared the night before.
“Rey,” he mumbled, willing the force to connect them. He had not told her yet that he was coming or why, and she deserved a warning.
“Ben?” he heard as the force connected them. She appeared right next to him, sitting on the edge of his bed, and he wondered if she were sitting on her bed with him on top of it, or if he just appeared floating in the air behind her.
He leaned on his elbow, looking up at her. “I need to come to you,” he said.
“I thought we agreed it wasn’t safe,” Rey said.
“We can safely meet somewhere neutral and away from our forces. Coruscant, perhaps?” he said, and he smirked at the disturbed shock on her face. “My armour, including the mask, has built-in tracers should I ever need to be found on the battlefield. It’s how Hux retrieved me from Starkiller Base before it exploded.”
Rey sucked in a deep breath. “You know where the Resistance is?”
“I do not. I had not planned to track you when I left my mask with you, and you were already on Coruscant when I decided to learn your location. Unless the Resistance has greatly changed habits, they avoid core worlds while gathering resources, so I expect you’re alone. However, you and I will need to spend time together in person to fulfill our bargain. The Knights of Ren will hunt us both down if they suspect the bond existed prior to Snoke’s demise. It’s too much evidence that we were a team against Snoke. We will have to spend time together and pretend that it is a new development, possibly while searching through the library on Coruscant for records of the Sith and Jedi.”
Rey’s eyes widened at him. “But you’re their Supreme Leader,” she said.
Kylo sat up and faced away from her, reluctant to see her disappointment in his world even as he felt it himself. “I am their Supreme Leader, and Snoke was mine. Loyalty is in short supply in the First Order.”
He heard Rey adjust behind him. He wondered if she were leaving, but instead he felt her lean back-to-back against him with her head on his shoulder blade. Her hair mingled with his own at his neck, and he took a deep breath as he embraced the peculiar sensation. “You’re supposed to be trying to recruit me, not scare me away,” she said, and her words vibrated against him.
“I would not deceive you,” he said, wishing he could turn and face her without risking losing the comforting position. “I have told them your potential and claimed that is why I will recruit you. I also told them that you… have a special regard for me that makes you more susceptible to me, and that I am courting you solely to take advantage of it while trying to lure you to the dark side.”
Rey went very still against his back, and Kylo struggled to breathe while waiting for her response.
“You need a reason to keep me exclusive to you so they stay away,” she said.
He exhaled and relief filled him that she knew what he meant. “Yes. It will also justify your comfort in holding my hand, as well as my allowing you to do so, in the presence of the First Order. I fear that If they suspect my true regard for you, that they will use you against me as Hux had intended.”
They stayed like that a moment, and Kylo felt fear pool as he realized she had never agreed to follow along with his plan. “Would acting that role be difficult for you?” he asked. She shook her head slowly against his back, and he felt a knot loosen in his chest. “Thank you.”
“Thank you for the clothing and the credit chip. The others were quite relieved I could afford to rent my own room so they wouldn’t have to worry about waking up to you.”
“The others?” Kylo asked.
“Oh, yea,” Rey said and adjusted her position so she was sitting next to him on the bed, but leaning against something that was probably a wall in her room. “I didn’t come here alone. I have Finn, Poe, and Rose with me. They decided it was too dangerous to have me near the majority of the Resistance, but they couldn’t get to know you according to our agreement if I was isolated, so they came with me to Coruscant. They were expecting to see you through our force bond, so don’t be surprised if they’re rather shocked to find you in person.” She raised an eyebrow at him and gave him a suspicious look. “You’re not allowed to kill them, you know, even if they try to attack you. Poe and Finn said you had stopped a blaster bolt mid-shot the last time Poe tried to shoot you, so don’t pretend you can’t defend yourself without hurting them.”
Kylo Ren sighed. He had hoped to get Rey to himself, but all the same, he was relieved that her friends hadn’t completely abandoned her. “I promise not to kill your friends no matter how annoying or aggressive they are.”
Rey grinned broadly at him, then leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks. I’ll see you soon,” she said. The force connection ended, and Kylo Ren was left staring dumbly at where she had been.
“There’s no way he picked the clothes out,” Rey said. “I sincerely doubt he even checked through them himself.”
The others had come to her room and were searching through the pile of clothing gifted Rey for any surprises. It was their first time taking a good look at the collection, since their shuttle ship left too soon after Rey discovered the gift for them to do more than bag the clothing on their way out. However, while the collection included several combat outfits, there was also an inordinate amount of low-cut dresses and a bag full of lacy silk underthings as well.
Poe sighed, methodically feeling the seams of each item for hidden objects. “I wish we had a scanner. He could have bugged these, left tracers--”
“What would you do if he had left a tracer on me?” Rey asked.
“Destroy it and immediately leave,” Finn injected.
“Which he could then immediately replace and track us again if he wanted to,” Rey said, repeating a conversation they had had a half dozen times over already, which she decided was sufficient justification not to warn them that Ben was already on his way thanks to the tracer in his mask. “I understand you want to avoid him, but it’s impossible without also avoiding me. He and I are linked. That’s the whole reason we left the Resistance.”
“We can still try!” Finn protested.
Poe narrowed his eyes at her but said nothing. Rey suspected he knew that she wasn’t telling them everything.
“I’ve never touched such pretty things in my life,” Rose said, holding up a particularly elaborate violet gown with silver flowers embroidered into the chest panel. Rey smiled at Rose’s adoration and made a point of noting which ones Rose liked best. Rey had no use for anything she could not comfortably fight in, but that did not mean Rose could not enjoy them.
“How did he know your size?” Finn asked, staring red-faced at the black, lacy bra he was holding up.
Rose yanked the bra from him. “I don’t think he did, unless Rey’s hiding a lot more than she’s showing,” Rose said.
Rey blushed. “I’m not. The combat clothes fit. I tried them on earlier, but everything that required exact measurements was too big on me.”
“That’s smart of him. You can always get clothes too large tailored down to fit a smaller frame, but it’s next to impossible to tailor a garment that’s too small to fit a larger frame,” Poe said.
“Can I try this on?” Rose asked, gazing at a blue gown.
“Of course,” Rey said, smiling at her newest friend. Rose bit her lip in delight and slipped out of the room with the dress as both men stared in wonder. The concept of having close friends at all was still somewhat foreign to Rey, but she found that she was greatly enjoying having a friend who was only interested in Rey and not Rey the woman or Rey the Jedi.
“We can bring these with you to a tailor once we’re done inspecting them,” Poe said. “Even if he didn’t know what he was getting you, refusing to wear any of the clothes is too much like rejecting the man who gave them.”
“I said the combat clothes fit. He can see me in them,” Rey said.
Poe chuckled, and Finn glanced between the clothes and Rey like he was at war with whether he wanted to see her in them or keep anything of Ben’s away from her. Rey sighed and wished for Rose to return. At this point, even having Ben show up would be an improvement, though she knew they would likely attack him on sight. She wasn’t sure what to make of the fact that she trusted Ben to hold himself back from hurting her friends, but she didn’t trust her friends enough to even ask them to hold themselves back ahead of time.
There was a knock on the door, and they turned to see Rose enter with the blue gown on. It fit her perfectly and looked gorgeous on her, and so it was only a moment later Rey saw the look of distress on Rose’s face and the tall, dark figure standing behind her.
“Ben!” Rey said in delight, then turned in fright at her companions, who both were struggling with their throats. Rose stumbled to Rey’s side inside the room. “Ben!” Rey said again, this time with a strong warning. “You promised!”
“I promised not to kill them. I wanted to make things clear before they had a chance to disclose my identity to everyone within five blocks of this seedy place. I am here undercover to assist Rey, and if you do anything to jeopardize her safety, including announcing my true identity, I will make sure you regret it. Are we understood?”
The men nodded. Ben released them and came into the room, shutting the door behind him while Poe and Finn gasped for breath. He stared at the pile of clothing on the floor and raised an eyebrow at Rey.
“They were checking them for tracers,” Rey explained.
A gleam appeared in his eye as he studied Rey and her companions. “You did not tell them of the one in my helmet?” he responded.
“Rey?” Finn asked, his expression and voice full of hurt. “You knew?”
Rey crossed her arms. “I told you he could find us no matter what, and something came up where we needed to spend time together in person.”
“You knew he was coming!” Finn said, fury outlining his every word and feature. Poe sighed, as if he expected this, and Rose looked between Rey and Finn in bewilderment.
“If we can’t call you by the name we know, what should we call you?” Poe asked, slowly pulling himself to his feet and putting his hands on his hips.
Ben gazed at Rey for a moment before looking at Poe. “Ben will do. I recognize you. You were the one I interrogated for information on Skywalker’s map back on Jakku.”
“Name’s Poe Dameron. I’m the current general of the Resistance, and though you may not remember it, I knew you when you were younger as well. You are only three years my junior, after all. My condolences on your mother. She was an amazing woman and an inspiration to us all,” Poe said and offered his hand to Ben.
“Poe!” Finn cried in protest, but Poe kept his eyes on Ben. After a moment, Ben took the offered hand, shaking it firmly, and Rey thanked the stars that Poe had decided to join them on this journey instead of leaving things to just Finn and Rose.
“Thank you, General Dameron,” Ben said.
Poe chuckled nervously. “Just Poe is fine. We all know you know Rey. Have you met Finn and Rose, my friends and associates?”
“Hello, FN-2187,” Ben said, turning to face his former stormtrooper with a distinctly sour expression.
“Hi Ben , annihilated any innocent villages lately, Ben ?” Finn responded, standing up and baring his teeth with each repetition of Ben’s name as he stalked closer to Ben.
“Finn!” Rey said, standing up to dart between him and Ben. “Stop it!”
“But he’s a murderer, Rey!”
“Finn, stand down,” Poe said, putting a hand on Finn’s shoulder to gently push him away from where Ben stood silently with a displeased face. “None of us are innocents here, Finn. We’ve been at war. I’m not excusing what he’s done, but the only way forward without more bloodshed is to make peace with the past.”
“No, I’m not going to stand around and pretend to be friends with that monster! I said I would come, not that I would be part of this madness. I’m out,” Finn said, and left the room, slamming the door behind him. Rose bit her lip and followed shortly, muttering apologies as she passed the others.
Rey trembled in frustration, clenching her fists against the flood of emotions threatening to break through her in the form of tears.
Poe sighed and scratched the back of his head. “Sorry about that, Rey, Ben. I’ll go talk to them. Why don’t you two… catch up or whatever,” he said and left the room, leaving Rey and Ben alone.
Ben reached out to touch Rey’s shoulder, but she flinched and shrugged away before he could make contact. “How could you?” she hissed, spinning to glare at him. “Are you trying to sabotage me? His name is Finn, so call him Finn!”
“He’s FN-2187, a defector from the First Order,” Ben reminded her.
“And you’re a defector from the Resistance who took on a new name on leaving as well. Look, I know you’re not happy about it, but he was never going to be the stormtrooper you want.”
Ben stepped closer to her, leering down at her so closely that she felt his warmth reach her own in the chilly room. “And I will never be the jedi you want,” he said.
Rey closed her eyes in frustration and leaned her forehead against his chest. “I don’t want you to be a jedi. Honestly, you would make an awful jedi. I just want you to be my friend.”
Ben tentatively brought his arms around Rey, and when she didn’t cast him off this time, pulled her tight against his chest and sighed. “Do you really think that calling him by his new name will make any difference?”
“I think it’s worth trying,” Rey said, wrapping her arms around him. He nuzzled the top of her head with his own, and they stayed like that a bit.
“This is our first time embracing,” he said, and Rey looked up at him, confused. “In person, I mean. Every other time was through our bond. I can’t read your emotions through the bond, and I always wondered what they were like in these moments.”
Rey blushed. She had not even considered that he could sense her feelings through the force now. “What do you feel?” she asked, afraid to hear the answer, for she was not used to examining her own emotions and did not know what he would find.
“Safe,” he said. He stroked her hair and brought the hand down the side of her face, lifting her chin so he could look into her eyes. “I’m sorry. I will call him Finn.”
“Thank you,” she said, gazing up at him. After a minute, she blushed again. “I’m not used to having you in person, at least not without fighting.”
He smirked at that and removed his arms from her, stepping back from her embrace. “We’ll figure it out. What brought you to Coruscant?”
“My lightsaber. I need a new one. I thought there might be some texts in the library for how to construct one,” she said.
He leaned his head to one side, studying her. “Technically, it was my lightsaber, but it doesn’t matter. You do realize I have at least a half dozen lightsabers available for use at any time that I would have happily shared with you.”
“I want to build my own. It’s considered a rite of passage for force users, isn’t it?” Rey asked. It occurred to her then that he might be able to save her the trip to the libraries. He had offered to teach her several times now, and she did need more knowledge of the Jedi.
“It is. Traditionally, the trickiest part is collecting the kyber crystal for the energy beam. The empire had depleted many of the known natural stores of kyber crystals when building the death stars, and those were destroyed by the Rebellion. The First Order has a small stockpile of them collected from scavenging the lightsabers of jedi who fell in battle. Alternatively, we could seek one of the known caves to see what has been missed or grown since the Empire came. Ilum, the most popular source, was not completely destroyed. You may have better luck than me.”
Rey gave him a funny look, and Ben pulled his lightsaber free of where it had been hiding inside his jacket, which she now realized was a normal black, leather jacket over a long-sleeve black shirt and black slacks. He was not wearing any of his usual armor. He kept his lightsaber off and pointed at its crystal, which had a notable crack in it.
“This is why the cross guards are necessary--they’re actually vents for the unstable energy. Still, it is my lightsaber that I made with a crystal I found, and it has served me better than any other I have used.”
Rey nodded. “We’ll go to Ilum then,” she said. “Thank you for helping me, Ben,” she said. “Finn and Rose will come around in time, I’m sure.” He gazed at her quietly, neither supporting nor denying her faith in her friends. She glanced down, not sure what to say, and saw the clothes still scattered on the floor. “By the way, we were wondering if you picked the clothes out yourself or had someone else do it for you?”
Ben looked at her sharply. “Someone else. I trusted the First Order tailor would be far more sensible of current fashions for a young woman than myself, though I did request that he include combat gear for someone your height. Why do you ask?”
Rey bit her lip to suppress her grin and held up one of the gaudier, more revealing items of lingerie. Ben’s jaw dropped in shock, and Rey fell apart laughing.
“I just don’t understand how you can pretend everything’s okay and that we can all get along now!” Finn hissed at Poe. They were in the room for the boys. Rose was sitting on Finn’s bed while Finn and Poe faced off by the door.
“It’s standard politics, Finn. The enemy of yesterday is the ally of tomorrow in times of war. I’ve been through this before several times now, though usually it’s just local warlords, not the Supreme Leader of the First Order. Still, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. I’m not going to pass it up just because there’s bad history,” Poe said.
“I saw him order the massacre of a village, Poe,” Finn growled.
Poe nodded. “I know, I know. I was there too, buddy. Remember?”
“Rose, are you okay with this?” Finn asked.
Rose jerked her head to focus on him. “I… I don’t… Was that really Kylo Ren?”
Finn nodded. “Yes, if you mean by him, that was the evil creature that leads the First Order and eats babies for breakfast.” Poe raised an eyebrow at the last comment, and Finn rolled his eyes at Poe.
“He’s just not what I was expecting,” Rose said thoughtfully.
“And what were you expecting, huh?” Finn asked. Poe crossed his arms and leaned back casually at the door, relieved he wasn’t part of the exchange.
Rose shrugged. “I don’t know. Someone who was genuinely evil. The legends say dark force users hurt people for fun, but he didn’t hurt met all. He found me in the hallway and told me he needed to speak with Rey.”
She paused to take a deep breath.
“I reached for my blaster because no one was supposed to know Rey was here. He stopped me from pulling my blaster out somehow, I guess with the force, shook his head at me gently, and held up a finger to his lips to be quiet.” She frowned at them. “He seemed too gentle to be a monster, well, until he was in the room and force-choking you guys, I guess. Even there, he didn’t really seem interested in making you suffer though.”
Finn rolled his eyes at her. “He’s a monster. Trust me. I still don’t buy this crush nonsense. He’s using her. He will turn on us. We just don’t know how or when yet.”
Poe shook his head. “He could have killed or captured all of us easily in there, searched our minds for knowledge of the Resistance’s whereabouts, and then annihilated us and the Resistance before dinner if that was his intent.”
“You’re underestimating me and Rey. We fought him before and won, you know that?”
Poe smirked at his friend. “Would this be the battle on Starkiller Base you’re referencing? Chewbacca said Kylo Ren had taken a bowcaster bolt in the side before you two began your battle with him, and that was immediately following the murder of his father, which meant you got him as distracted and injured as possible before the battle began. Bowcasters are nasty weapons. I’m surprised he was even standing.”
Finn frowned and looked down. Poe wrapped an arm around Finn in a side-hug and rubbed Finn’s shoulder. “Look, I get it. It’s easier to make things black and white and say the bad guys are all bad and the good guys are all good, but it’s not that simple. Whatever’s going on, Rey wouldn’t be so struck by that man if he were all bad. I don’t know her very well, but she’s not the type to fall for a guy just for having a pretty face. There must be something good to him.”
“She. Has. Not. Fallen. For. HIM,” Finn said, glaring at Poe.
Poe raised an eyebrow at his friend. “She’s been chatting with him about who knows what this whole week and literally surrendered to him and the First Order based on a single vision that indicated she could save him. She apparently meant to keep this a secret from all of us, and since we discovered it, her first plan was to win our approval by bargaining that we get to know him in exchange for a chance at peace, which also allows her to spend more time with him. Speaking of which, did you not notice that she didn’t volunteer what they plan to do if we don’t make peace?”
“Wait, what? What’s her plan?” Finn asked.
Poe shrugged and removed his arm from Finn. “I don’t know. I asked her, and she just blushed. If I had to guess, they’re planning to run off together if this whole peace treaty thing doesn’t work out. She’s got it bad as I’ve seen, Finn. Look, I know you’ve had a thing for her, but this is not a time to let jealousy win. We could lose Rey entirely if we don’t take this seriously.”
Finn looked immediately to Rose, who couldn’t have avoided hearing them. She bit a trembling lip and avoided his eyes. He sighed. He had no idea what to make of her, but he didn’t want her to be hurt. Rose really was quite beautiful in that dress, and he should have said something sooner. “Poe, this isn’t about jealousy. I’m worried about her, I’m worried about you, and I’m worried about Rose, who, by the way, looks absolutely stunning in that dress.”
“Thanks,” Rose muttered, keeping her eyes averted.
“My point is… I don’t know what my point is. I hate this. I came along because I want to support Rey, but this whole thing feels wrong to me. I don’t know what to do.”
“I’m going to support her,” Rose said. “If he’s hiding a monster under his kindness, Rey’s going to need to know we’re here for her, and the only way that will happen is if we’re by her side the entire way.” She hopped out of the bed and stepped around Finn and Poe, avoiding their eyes.
“Where are you going?” Finn asked, hoping she would turn and look at him.
“To Rey and Ben so she’s not alone with him unless she wants to be, or did you even realize that you abandoned her in there?” Rose said, finally meeting Finn’s eyes with a glare for a half second before leaving the room and slamming the door behind her.
“Me abandon her?” Finn said with wide eyes and a gaping mouth. “I did not… you were in there… What’s she…”
Poe clapped his hand on Finn’s shoulder. “Maybe we should go back and join them, and this time, I recommend starting with an apology.”
“I am NOT apologizing to that snake!”
Poe rolled his eyes. “Regardless of whether you owe Ben an apology, you definitely owe Rey one. Seriously, she asks you to give someone a chance and you start a conversation by asking him if he annihilated innocent villages lately? Come on. It’s like you’re begging for a fight.”
“Well I’m still not apologizing to him,” Finn said. Poe raised an eyebrow at him. “Okay. I’ll consider it, but only if he apologizes for using my old stormtrooper name first. I wasn’t the only one itching for a fight there!”
“Fair enough, Finn. Now let’s go see what they’re up to. I think I’ve been hearing laughter.”
They opened the door and went back to Rey’s room, where Rose stood in the doorway. Rey was doubled over laughing with tears streaming down her face while a blushing Ben leaned against the opposite wall with his arms crossed, glaring at her.
“Stop it, Rey,” he growled.
“I can’t, your expression was priceless!” she said, gasping for air between laughs.
“Hey, what’s going on, Rose?” Finn asked her.
“I don’t know… they were like this when I opened the door,” Rose said.
Ben glanced at them and waved a hand. The next moment, they were shoved back into the hallway without ceremony and the door shut in front of them. The click of the lock came a moment later. Then they heard it unlock, then lock again.
“Oh come on, Ben. Let them in. It’s not that big of a deal,” Rey said from the other side of the door.
“You won’t stop laughing at me,” Ben said, but the door unlocked and opened this time.
Rose, Finn, and Poe reentered the room cautiously. Rey was still struggling to not laugh, but the occasional giggle escaped her. “What’s so funny?” Rose asked.
“I showed him some of the garments that he had gifted me. He was completely dumbfounded, jaw hanging and everything. He had no idea that lingerie was mixed in there,” Rey said. “Apparently the ship’s tailor picked the selection. See? I told you he would never buy that--” Rey paused as Ben looked at her sharply with a dark expression. “...sort of thing for me,” she finished weakly, gazing at him with confusion.
Finn did not like the charged look they were sharing. He charged forward to Rey, stepping directly into the line of sight between her and Ben. “Rey, I realized I owe you an apology. You asked us to give Ben a chance, and I was rude to him. I’m sorry.”
Rey gave him a skeptical look. “Shouldn’t you be apologizing to Ben too?” She looked behind him, and he realized that Ben moved so that he was standing just behind Finn’s back. Every nerve in his body stood on end at the close proximity with such a creature.
“Finn,” Ben began. “I owe you an apology for referring to you as FN-2187 when you were introduced with your Resistance name.”
Finn watched Rey bite back a proud smile at Ben, and he stewed inside that she would think better of that monster than him. “Don’t you owe Rey an apology too?” Finn said, clenching his teeth.
“I already apologized to her when we embraced while you were gone,” Ben said calmly, his eyes on Rey. Finn clenched his fists at imagining the two hugging, but he relaxed a little when he saw Rey glare at Ben too. Rey and Ben were staring at each other intensely, and Finn got the impression they were somehow having a private conversation without speaking, for their expressions kept changing as they looked at each other. It ended with Ben turning away to face Finn with a solemn expression.
“Please allow me the honor of introducing myself properly. I am Ben Solo, and I am here to help bridge relations between the Resistance and the First Order at the request of Rey.”
Finn stared at Ben dumbfounded until Poe cleared his throat loudly. “Um… yea… I’m Finn.. just Finn, and I’m here to help Rey too,” he said and offered a hand. Poe cleared his throat loudly again and mouthed a four-syllable word at Finn. “What?” he said, confused.
“Apologize!” Poe whispered.
Finn sighed. He had forgotten that he promised to apologize if Ben had apologized first. “Fine,” he grumbled quietly. “I apologize for my earlier rudeness…. Ben,” he said and accepted Ben’s handshake, gripping Ben’s hand harder than necessary.
Ben matched the grip before letting go and turning to face Rose. “I don’t believe we’ve met,” he said and offered a hand.
“I’m Rose Tico, a mechanic with the Resistance,” she said. They shook hands and stepped away.
“Now what?” Finn asked.
“Actually, I’ve been wondering something. Ben, what do you have in your front pocket?” Rey asked. “I’m sensing a small life force.”
Ben removed a sleeping porg from his pocket. “This little guy. Growlie accidentally came back with me back during one of our earlier force bonds. I’ve been keeping him safe.”
“Growlie?” Finn asked.
Rose gave Finn’s shoulder a friendly punch. “See, I told you they would make good pets.” Finn scowled and rubbed his shoulder.
“So he’s not your pet?” Ben asked her.
Rey raised an eyebrow at him. “Did you really think a girl who only bothered keeping one set of clothes would keep a pet?” Rey asked. She said the words gently and smiled, but color still flushed Ben’s cheeks. “I do think it’s sweet though. Thank you for looking out for me. The porgs were just unexpected passengers from a trip the Falcon made.”
“May I keep him?” Ben said. They all looked to him in surprise, and Rey nodded. “Thanks. I got used to the little guy,” he said, tucking the sleeping porg back into his pocket. “If that’s settled, I would like a moment alone with Rey before we head to the libraries. I recommend that Rose change as well. That gown would make her a prime target for thieving and trickery, and I’d rather not attract attention to ourselves.”
Finn thought about protesting leaving Rey and Ben alone again when they had just had a moment alone together, but then thought better of it. It was a losing battle, and Rey and Ben could connect even if he somehow separated them physically. Poe patted his back and they walked out the room together with Rose.
Rose put her finger in Finn’s face the second the door closed behind them. “I know what you said and what I’ve heard, but no man who adopts a porg can be all evil. I’m going to get changed now.”
Poe whistled in wonder as Rose marched off to her room and Finn sighed.
Kylo waited until everyone left but Rey before setting a waking Growlie loose in the room, stretching out on her bed, and closing his eyes. The challenge of politeness with her friends had exhausted them, especially with Finn effectively shouting his angry and jealous emotions at him the entire time. Kylo had not had to pretend friendship with more than one person at a time in years. Suddenly enduring three new people, including one who unabashedly hated him, was simply too much.
Still, he would endure them for Rey. He expected he would do anything for her at this point.
Kylo could feel Rey studying him with affection, trust, and confusion. He wondered if she even realized how much her emotions were revealed. He would need to teach her to maintain a mental shield before he exposed her to the knights, and there was no better time to start than now. The sooner she could defend herself, the better.
“Rey, form a mental shield,” he said.
He felt her surprise, but she closed her eyes and focused. After a moment, he could feel the force solidify into a small, round shield between them. Not what he had meant, but he was curious to see its potential. He had not considered using the force to create a shield, though it could prove more effective than his usual method of freezing things. He sat up, picked up the pillow from the bed, and tossed it at where he sensed the shield.
“It worked!” Rey exclaimed in delight as the pillow bounced off.
He pulled out his lightsaber and activated it. Rey’s shield destabilized as uncertainty flooded her. He lazily swung at the shield with the lightsaber and it shattered. He turned his lightsaber off and put it away. “Not quite combat ready, unfortunately,” he said. “Still, it was an interesting interpretation of my request. I hope you will practice it.”
“That’s not what you were asking for?” she asked. He suppressed a smile at her confusion. He had seen from her mind that she was brilliant with mechanics and a masterful fighter. She was fierce and loving at once, and she seemed always blunt and direct. It was fitting that a subtle art like defending the mind would not even occur to her.
He shook his head. “Do you remember when I entered your mind? I want you to form a shield against that. Last time, you stopped me by invading my mind in turn, but there are ways to put up a wall where others cannot gain access to begin with.”
She frowned. “I don’t know how.”
“You learned how to invade my mind from seeing how I invaded yours. I will put up a shield. Try to invade my mind and learn from my shield.”
Kylo Ren prepared his mental defense as Rey frowned at him. He knew she would hesitate, but he also knew that when she struck, she would be beautifully vicious. He gazed at her as he waited. She bit her lip and looked down in thought, and his only warning was a quick glance of determination before she slammed into his mental defenses.
Even knowing what was coming, he was still nearly overwhelmed by her attack at first. He reorganized his thoughts and shield to make it firmer, than decreased his defenses slowly so that she could feel the changes. She decreased the intensity of her own attack to match him until it almost felt like they were embracing against the wall of his mind. He briefly considered dropping his defenses entirely so she could slip inside his mind and see how strongly he admired and loved her, but he neither wanted to frighten her nor distract her from the lesson.
“I think I understand what to do now,” she said. She dropped the attack entirely and entered a meditation pose. Kylo Ren sighed in relief as he felt her cut off her emotional broadcast. He would miss knowing how she felt, but her safety came first. The knights would not forever let her hide behind the force bond. He made a mental note to practice combat with her as well over their time together. She was amazing already, but the knights were stronger than the Praetorian Guard, and he did not want her unprepared.
Furthermore, Kylo knew he would eventually need a healthy way of letting off the steam of dealing with her friends. Poe’s political suave reminded him entirely too much of his mother, and Finn was about as pleasant as a hungry rancor. He did not think Rey would take kindly to his usual destructive methods.
“I’m ready,” Rey said, disrupting his thoughts.
Kylo moved to sit across from her on the floor, closed his eyes, and let his hand hover over her head as he felt the shape of her mental defense through the force. Strictly speaking, he did not need to be physically close to her for this, but he was reluctant not to take advantage of the expected intimacy he had adopted in their prior interrogation. Her defense was brittle with gaps in it, but it was still very impressive for a first attempt. He brushed it gently with the force, and she immediately adjusted her defense accordingly. He smiled. Rey was an excellent student.
“You’re going easy on me,” Rey complained.
“I am. I’m here to help you, not impress my own ability on you,” he said, but he also pushed a little harder. She reacted beautifully, but not before he got a glimpse of what was foremost on her mind. He froze as every nerve in his body tingled, and he opened his eyes to meet her own. “You want to kiss me,” he said in wonder. He studied her frozen face. “Why haven’t you?” He brought the hand that had been hovering by her head to cup her face.
“I don’t know what it’s like,” she said softly.
He leaned forward slowly and carefully placed a chaste kiss on her lips. Her breath hitched at the contact, and he nudged her bottom lip apart to pull it between his own lips before letting go. She was breathless with rose-tinged cheeks and bright, wide eyes before him, and he savored the sight.
“That’s what it’s like,” he murmured. Her defenses slipped and revealed desire for him. He smiled at the knowledge and went on the offensive again, brushing her mind with the force as she hastily put her wall back up, but not before he saw how much his kiss had shaken her.
Her mental wall began to crumble, and she went on the offensive herself, tackling him back physically as she pressed into his mind with the force. He reinforced his own mental wall to block her and flipped her so he was on top while cradling her head with one hand to protect it from the floor.
They stared at each other breathlessly. Rey had her thoughts shielded again, and Kylo made a point of keeping his own barrier strong as he examined her defense for weaknesses. “You’re amazing,” he said as he realized she had made a solid barrier this time. He could still break it if he really wanted to, but he was unusually strong in the force. His knights would not find Rey an easy target now.
He rolled off her and helped pull her to a sitting position without once breaking eye contact. “You’ll need to learn to maintain that shield at all times,” he said.
Rey frowned at him. “Even when sleeping?”
“Especially when sleeping,” Kylo confirmed. “The Knights of Ren will strike you when you’re most vulnerable. I will do what I can to protect you, but you must also be able to defend yourself.”
“You talk like you’re certain the knights will come after me,” she said.
“They believe you killed Snoke. They won’t try to kill you without reason while they believe you under my influence for the dark side, but there’s no question they will seek to tear the truth of your ability and what happened from your mind, and they will not wait for my permission to do so.”
The color drained from Rey’s face. “How will I learn to defend myself in my sleep?”
“I will be at your side, and I will guide you,” Kylo said.
“Thank you,” she said. Growlie chose that moment to hop on her, and she smiled at the porg and scratched its head briefly. Growlie trilled at her before hopping to Kylo’s lap and snuggling against him. “He is cute. Back on Jakku, I knew I would die if I ever spared the rations for a pet, but I always wanted one. Anything, really. I was so lonely.”
“You are not alone,” he said, repeating the words he had first said to her a lifetime ago when they first joined hands.
“Neither are you,” Rey said, smiling, and she held out her hand.
Kylo Ren took her hand and pulled them both up, knocking Growlie into the air. Growlie fussed at him and flew to his shoulder. Kylo ignored him to gaze at Rey. “Thank you for choosing me. We’ll get through this together,” he said just before knocking announced the end of their privacy.
Rey smiled at him, let go of his hand, and opened the door to reveal Finn, Poe, and Rose, who was now in regular clothes.
“Moment done? Because we’re going to miss library hours if we hang around here anymore,” Poe said to them.
“Let’s go,” Rey said, and they filed out the room.
Rey was sitting in a dark diner with food in front of her, and her head was killing her. She had no recollection of how she had gotten there, but Ben, Poe, Finn, and Rose were all there and eating and talking normally, so she assumed nothing unusual had happened. Ben and Poe seemed to be deeply engaged in some discussion about politics--freedom versus order or something like that. She must have lost track of things while trying to organize her thoughts and maintain the shield.
Ben had kissed her.
Rey thought back on the moment. She had been terrified when he discovered her curiosity about kissing him during the mental shield training, but he had not reacted in disgust or displeasure. He had kissed her, gently and masterfully. It had felt amazing.
Then he withdrew, smiled, and attacked her mind again.
She was not very knowledgeable of these things, but she was pretty sure that kissing normally lead to more kissing when two people like each other, which had brought up some awful questions. Why kiss her only to attack her after? Had the kiss been a planned distraction to test her focus? Had he been teasing her? Was he indulging her desire simply because he knew what she wanted? She didn’t understand.
She picked up her fork and set it down again. Vaguely, she realized she didn’t remember ordering her food either, but the mysterious meat and vegetables looked okay, except that she had no appetite.
Yesterday, she had fully believed Ben was infatuated with her. However, he had done nothing more intimate than stroke her arm when they shared a bed through their bond, and now it seemed he kissed her only out of pity or trickery. He definitely wanted her at his side, but wanting someone at your side did not mean wanting them romantically. She bit her lip.
Ben elbowed her gently, and she glanced at him. He seemed worried about her, so she forced a smile to show she was fine. She was not fine.
The idea that Ben kissed her to distract or mollify her was mortifying. She had made a mistake revealing her desire to him. She would not repeat her mistake.
Ben’s knee bumped into her own under the table, and she moved her legs away rather than indulge in the contact. Anguish hit her heart as she realized she no longer knew what to made of his touch, even the casual, friendly touches.
She felt Ben use the force to brush against her mental defenses, as he had done many times since they left, and she reinforced them almost on reflex. Her shielding ability had improved immensely. Whatever else Ben was, he was an effective teacher.
However, the shielding kept her from focusing on what was happening around her. She barely followed the conversations at the library, where they were told that Luke Skywalker had removed all texts regarding the force over two decades ago. They had searched anyway, hoping to find something missed, but the library closed before they had any success.
Rey supposed she should focus on being thankful that Ben seemed to be getting along well with both Poe and Rose. Even Finn was showing more civility. However, the mental shield training was exhausting.
And her world had been turned upside-down by that kiss.
She hadn't even been certain she wanted to kiss him. Her world had been a solitary one before the Resistance, and she had not been looking for love. Half the reason kissing him had even been on her mind was because she had thought he desired her.
However, the kiss had exposed her to hope, and that hope tore down a wall of defenses that she had not even realized existed inside her. The belief that her abandonment meant she did not deserve anyone special had protected her from romantic desire her entire life up until that moment. With it gone, she found herself crushed to discover she was the one who desired Ben.
The irony did not escape her.
Next to her, the conversation on politics continued. Both Poe and Ben had started off a touch defensive, but they had found common ground to agree on and seemed to both be enjoying the thrill of having their philosophies challenged. Finn and Rose were listening attentively and occasionally offering their own insights.
Rey wished she could follow the conversation, but it was far over her head. She knew about machines and trading, but the only politics that had mattered to her before this week were the politics of survival: Keep your head low and stay away from trouble.
So much for that.
Ben brushed her mind with the force again, and Rey tempered her shield accordingly.
She stared vacantly at the food in front of her. A week ago she would have eaten everything and licked her plate clean within a minute. Her time on Ahch-To had spoiled her, and her distress killed what remained of her appetite.
“Rey, are you alright?” she heard Finn say from across the table. She blinked a few times and realized the table had gone silent. They were all looking at her with concern, and she wondered how long they had been trying to get her attention.
“Sorry, I’m fine. The training is just tough, that’s all,” she said, and made a point of putting a forkful of food in her mouth. It tasted like ash to her.
“Training? What training?” Finn asked.
Rey looked to Ben for help explaining. “She’s learning to maintain a mental shield so that she won’t be susceptible to mental attacks, like a force interrogation,” he explained. His plate was empty, and Rey realized that she was the only one with food left. Even Growlie had finished tackling his small plate of extras and was roosting on Ben’s shoulder again.
“And that makes her look like she’s not slept in three days?” Finn asked.
“He’s been attacking my mind throughout the evening to make sure I’m keeping my defenses up,” Rey said, and immediately regretted it as fury took over Finn’s face. “Finn, it’s training.”
“She’s made immense progress. I did not underestimate her potential with the force,” Ben said.
Finn slammed his hands down on the table. “You know, I’ve been listening to you go on and on about how the First Order is great because, even though you’re treating people horribly to instill order, you’ll be able to reintroduce freedoms gradually later and things will be healthier overall, but you can’t do that with people. If you break Rey, you might not get the chance to fix her!”
“You underestimate her,” Ben said, looking coolly at Finn.
“He might, but she looks awful, Ben, and she’s barely touched her food. Ease up on her, would you?” Poe said from where he sat next to Finn and across from Ben. “At least so she can eat and get back to her room without falling over.”
“I can carry her back if need be,” Ben said to Poe before turning his gaze to Rey. “What do you want, Rey?”
She wanted to turn back time to when her gut reaction to his presence was to attack him. It was easier fearing for her life than for her heart. She sighed. This whole attraction thing was stupid and distracting. Regardless, she definitely did not want him to think she was weak. “Keep training,” she said. “I want to be prepared.”
Ben raised an eyebrow at the others, as if inviting them to challenge her. Finn grumbled. “She still needs to eat.”
Rey felt the wariness of Ben’s attention through the force leave her mind. “Eat,” he said. She stared blankly at her food, and Ben sighed at her side. “Do I need to do a force suggestion to make you eat?”
“Can you do that?” Rose asked.
Rey shook her head and said, “Not with me. It doesn’t work on me, but force suggestions can work on others. I used a force suggestion on a stormtrooper to get him to free me on Starkiller Base.”
Ben chuckled softly. “I wondered how you pulled that off. You really are amazing. You had shown no signs of force ability when I captured you on Takodana, and it was clear you had no idea what you were doing when you fought my interrogation and jumped into my mind. Now I learn that within the five minutes I was gone, you had discovered and successfully used a force suggestion. You will rival me when you reach the height of your powers.”
“Wait, why haven’t I heard of this?” Poe asked, clearly delighted at the news. “Rey, you invaded his mind when he tried to interrogate you?” Rey blushed at the implied praise and glanced to see her other friends’ reactions, but Finn and Rose seemed more disturbed than pleased. “So does that happen often? Where two force users simultaneously try to invade each other’s mind?”
Ben shook his head. “I had not heard of it happening before. I have wondered, since then, if perhaps that is the origin of our bond.”
Rey glanced sharply at Ben. “But Snoke said…” Her voice faltered. Now that she thought about it, she really didn’t have any reason to trust that Snoke had been telling the truth.
“It’s very possible that the visions we had were true. After all, you came, and Snoke died as a result, freeing me to follow my own path,” Ben said.
Rey studied him dubiously. At the time, she thought her vision had been of him as a Jedi. She had since decided that would be impossible for Ben. She wasn’t even sure if being a Jedi was possible for her. The stories she had learned from Luke of calm warriors who never acted out of anger or passion were a far cry from her own turbulent personality. She examined the vision again and realized that he had become something neither dark nor light. In her vision, he had balance within him.
“So I’m just wondering here… these mental shields you’re working on, would they block you from connecting through the bond?” Poe asked.
Ben shook his head. “No. My shields were up most of the times we connected previously. The bond slips right past them. I cannot read her emotions through the bond though.”
“Fascinating,” Poe said earnestly and glanced at Rey’s plate. It was empty. Rey had no idea when she had started eating, but she felt better for it. “Well, since everyone’s done. Let’s head on back for now. Where will you be staying tonight, Ben?”
“With Rey,” Ben said calmly as they stood up to leave.
Rey froze as a wave of emotions hit her, and she realized she could sense her friends’ reactions now. Poe was amused, though he coughed to cover it. Rose felt concern and a touch of jealousy, though Rey had no clue what the jealousy was about. Finn was furious at Ben and worried for her, though she was surprised to realize he wasn’t jealous. She had thought he would be. Maybe she had misunderstood everyone.
She realized after a moment that they were looking at her to respond, even Ben, though she could not read his feelings. “Why are you staying with me?” Rey asked him.
“To continue your training. I said earlier that you would need to learn to defend yourself even in your sleep.”
The suspicion Rey immediately felt from the others nearly overwhelmed her, and she wondered if there was some way to turn off her ability to read others. She was more comfortable not knowing their thoughts, though it would have been a useful skill on Jakku.
As far as Ben’s plan, she was not thrilled to continue the training or spend more time with him while her heart was hurting, but she knew defending herself was important, and the sooner she adjusted to her new reality with him, the sooner she could focus on their friendship again.
“Okay, everybody. Ben’s staying with me. Let’s go.”
Rey entered her room first and coached herself to remain calm as Ben followed her in. He had been uncharacteristically quiet on the way back from the diner, walking beside her so closely that his hand brushed hers several times before she grasped her other arm to avoid the chaos his touch was causing to her emotions. However, he never said a word.
Ben shut the door quietly behind him, but did not come farther into the room. Rey knelt down and began picking up the clothes that had been left in a mess on the floor so she wouldn’t have to face him right away. He did not move to help her, and Rey knew that her odd behavior had not escaped his notice. She finished what she was doing, took a deep breath, and checked that the muscles in her face were relaxed before she stood to face him.
He leaned against the closed door, studying her with a blank expression and intense eyes. She met his gaze, desperately trying to keep her breathing even and not betray her aching heart. Growlie’s flight from Ben’s shoulder to a chair was the only movement, and even that did not shift their eyes.
“I’m waiting for you to tell me what’s wrong,” Ben said. Rey hugged herself and looked away. “You’re afraid of something. What?”
How did he know she was afraid? Rey hastily checked her mental shield, but it was still in place. He hadn’t infiltrated it. She felt some pride at having come so far so quickly, but her pride was quickly lost amidst her inner turmoil.
Her momentary confusion must have shown on her face though, because he shook his head and said, “I do not need the force to read your expression. You look scared. What are you afraid of?”
She was frightened of her feelings for him, but she couldn’t tell him that. Ben pulled himself away from the door, and Rey stepped back without thinking. He froze, staring at her more intently now, if possible.
“You’re frightened of me ,” he said, the surprise evident in his voice. “There’s no need to be.” He paused with a thoughtful expression. “It has been a while since I took a new student. Was my training too harsh?”
Rey shook her head abruptly to that. This topic, at least, was safe. “No, no… not at all. I did have an awful headache for a time, but eating dinner helped that and it’s amazing to know I can defend myself now,” she said. “Thank you.”
Ben took another step forward, and Rey forced herself not to move. “If not that, then what? You were fine before we started training. You seemed fine when we kissed--”
He broke off speaking as Rey abruptly looked away and began fidgeting with her hands.
“The kiss. I don’t understand,” Ben said. “You wanted the kiss. I could see it in your mind.”
Rey looked back up at him and saw that, while his voice was calm, agitation laced his features. “I was curious,” she said, since it was true at the time and less terrifying than what she learned of her feelings afterwards.
“Curious?!” Ben growled. He turned and slammed the wall behind him with the back of his fist several times before facing her darkly. He stalked towards her. Rey gasped and scrambled backwards, collapsing on the bed. She recalled then that she had thought him unstable when they first met. He had always been so calm and understanding with her since then that she had forgotten.
Ben leaned over her with the grace and fury of a tiger. “Is there anything else you’re curious about, Rey? Have I sufficiently satisfied your curiosity of carnal pleasure?”
Rey flinched away from him and covered her head with her arm. Having his fury directed at her stung her to her core, and her mental defenses crumbled as she sobbed in earnest. “I’m sorry,” she said, hardly knowing what she was apologizing for. “I didn’t mean for you to kiss me,” she added, trying to calm him down since he seemed angry at her for being curious.
He froze, closed his eyes, and flexed his grip in the sheets on either side of her. “Put your shield up.”
Rey looked at him dumbly. Was the shield really that important right now?
“Put your shield up!” he snarled. “I don’t know how long I can hold myself back from invading your mind to find out exactly who inspired you to be so curious about kissing, and I don’t know what I’ll do to him if I find out. Put. Your. Shield. Up.”
Rey blinked, and she removed her arm to stare at Ben curiously. Why would he think she was thinking about kissing someone else? Why would he care if she was? “You sound jealous,” she said, not meaning for the remark to sting, though Ben did flinch. Her eyes widened.
“Put your shield up,” Ben repeated, though his breathing had grown calmer while she watched him. The anger fled his face to be replaced by anguish. “Please, Rey. Don’t tempt me to do something that would hurt you.”
Rey gaped, then scooted back so that she could sit up to face him. “You are jealous,” she said in wonder. The entirety of their afternoon together started clicking as she recalled all his attempts to casually touch her during dinner and then the hand-brushing when walking back.
“Rey, please put up your shield,” Ben said and knelt down so that he was imploring her from below now. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against her knees. “Please.”
Rey studied his abject form and reached a hand out to brush through his hair before she realized what she was doing. She froze, mid-reach, still trying to process what was happening here. She had been afraid he kissed her out of pity or trickery, but if so, would he be angry that she had been curious or jealous that she might want someone else?
No, he wouldn’t.
She let her hand fall to her lap and sighed deeply as she accepted that she had misunderstood things greatly and caused them both pain in the process, and she knew what to do to clear things up between them. “No, I won’t put up my shield,” she said and tried to make her mind as open as possible, for she knew firsthand that his invasion hurt when met with resistance.
Ben looked up from her knees with a puzzled expression on his face. “You want me to look,” he said with a mix of fear and awe. Rey inclined her head and gave him an encouraging smile. He stared at her, but he didn’t reach out with the force, so she took his hand into her own and held it against her head until she felt him reaching out. He was clearly scared, but she trusted he would take the chance.
This time, the invasion came as a caress, and she gently tugged his inquiry into her thoughts, showing him how nervous she had been, how much he had consumed her thoughts of late, and how terrified she had been to believe that her own newly discovered feelings had been unrequited.
“No one else?” she heard him say hoarsely, though he was still wrapped in her mind.
“No one else,” she confirmed, revealing a touch of how miserable she suspected she would be to have Poe or Finn as her companion. Afterwards, she gently removed Ben from her mind and reformed her shield.
“My turn,” he said, taking her hand in his, and she felt him open his mind to her.
She tried to go as gently as he did, but he grimaced when she entered his thoughts all the same. “Sorry,” she said.
“I do not mind it for you,” he replied, and he brought her through his thoughts, and she realized that he had felt strongly for her since her first saw her, though the nature of his feelings had grown immensely as he had gotten to know her.
She withdrew from his mind and gazed at him, blushing from head-to-toe as she realized how intimate that exchange had been. Ben put his mental shield back up and brought her hand to his lips, kissing it gently before setting it back down within his own.
“What now?” Rey asked, rubbing her thumb over the flesh of his hand. She had no experience with relationships, nor did she know what to call her connection with Ben, but she knew they had gone far beyond friendship with their exchange just now.
Ben glanced at her lips and back to her eyes. “Now I want to kiss you so thoroughly that you never again doubt my desire for you.” He slowly straightened up on his knees so that they were approximately the same height and gazed at her. “May I?”
“Yes,” Rey said, and she leaned forward to meet his lips. This kiss started off the same as the first one, and she chose to let Ben lead to see where he would take it. As time went on and nothing really changed, Rey realized that Ben might actually know less about kissing than she did. She pulled apart and looked at him. “Is it okay if I try something more intense?”
He eyed her suspiciously, but nodded.
Rey knew she had heard other scavengers talk about the pleasure of exchanging tongue before. She had never experienced it, but she could guess as to the basics of how it went.
This time, when she kissed him, she opened her mouth to lick his lips. He gasped, and she slipped her tongue in to caress his own. His eyes widened with shock. Rey had a half second to wonder if she had gone too far before he ferociously invaded her mouth with his own tongue as if starving for contact with her. There was discomfort as they bumped teeth occasionally, but the pleasure at being so intimate at last greatly outweighed it, and as the kiss went on, they found a rhythm that felt good without the awkward clashing.
She reached up to wrap her arms around his wide shoulders and pulled herself to him so that they were flush against each other. Ben moaned in pleasure and broke the kiss, breathing hard as he gazed at her with flushed lips. Rey imagined they matched her own.
“I think I understand now why so many of the force regimes forbade intimacy,” Ben said. Rey’s eyes widened in shock. She had not even heard of any such a restriction, though the knowledge confirmed her suspicion that she was not Jedi material instead of invoking any sense of shame in what they had shared together. “I could do this forever instead of training.”
Rey sighed. She had forgotten what their original purpose was in coming together that night. “Right, training.”
She slipped away from him, closed her eyes, and entered meditation to calm her body, mind, and heart. She sensed Ben do the same on the floor in front of her, and when their breathing finally matched a safe, normal pace, she opened her eyes again to meet his.
“So how do I defend my mind in my sleep?”
Rose felt sorry for herself, and she hated it. She had agreed to join this mission both because she wanted to be with Finn. She had gone because she wanted to be a hero again. She had gone because she had admired Rey's achievements and wanted to get to know her.
She hadn't gone to sit alone in a hotel room with nothing to do. At least with the Resistance she could work on ships.
“This is ridiculous. Why am I even here?” she asked the empty room.
Things had been okay at first. She had delighted in learning that Rey also had a passion for mechanical work. Finn, if not romantic, had still been affectionate towards her and attended her plenty. She had been included and part of things.
She had feared the promised introduction to the Supreme Leader, but had also imagined herself to be the hero to discover his vile trickery and comfort Rey's broken heart just as she used to comfort her sister's broken heart when dumped. She would then help Poe and Rey discover feelings for each other while she and Finn fell in love and they would all live happily ever after fighting for love in the Resistance. On some level, Rose knew her happily ever after theory was not that probable, but she had had confidence that Kylo Ren was deceiving Rey and that Rey could count on her to support like a sister.
Instead, however, Kylo Ren had shown up in person, and not only was he completely enamored with Rey, the man had enough heart and gentleness that he had adopted a porg. Rose was still terrified of his power, but there was nothing there to save Rey from. If anything, Kylo Ren seemed more likely to be the one who would suffer a broken heart. Dinner certainly seemed to go that way.
Not just that, but Finn had fallen for Rey too. Rose shouldn't have been surprised. She knew the two had escaped some desert planet with BB-8 and gone on an adventure with the famous Han Solo and escaped Starkiller Base together. It made perfect sense that they might have feelings for each other.
It made perfect sense that Finn wouldn't feel anything for her.
It made perfect sense that once Kylo Ren had arrived, everyone would forget she was even there.
Rose sniffed and stood up. If she didn't find something to do, she would lose her mind. It was late, but this was Coruscant. There would be opportunity no matter the hour.
Rose paused as she stepped outside her room. The others would worry if they didn't find her in her room, but she absolutely wasn't going to interrupt whatever Kylo Ren and Rey were doing, and she was afraid of how she might react to Finn right now.
“I'll leave a note,” she said to herself. She went back into her room, scribbled a note, and deliberated whether to leave it in her room or with the front desk. In her room should be fine. Both Rey and Kylo Ren had demonstrated they could easily manipulate locks with the force.
“Maybe I should start thinking of him as Ben,” she said to herself, but it didn't matter.
She left the note on her bed and locked the door behind her.
The Coruscant streets were nearly as active at night as during the day. Thankfully, they had gotten rooms in a relatively low crime area, but she still kept her blaster ready as she retraced the path to the starport they had arrived in. The weather outside was chilly, and she absently wondered how warm Rey and Kylo Ren were keeping each other, assuming they weren’t fighting. Rose wondered when she would ever get a chance to have someone like that. Not that she wanted a man known as a villain across the galaxy, but she wished that she might have someone who loved her to hold her on a cold night.
The starport was huge and one of dozens on the planet. Built to hold hundreds of ships and manage dozens of simultaneous arrivals and departures, it was easily one of the largest and busiest structures Rose had ever seen. Rose headed directly for it. Where there was business, there were bound to be opportunities.
Rose didn't know where to go, having never worked outside the Resistance before, so she found a help desk for those who spoke basic and got in a line about a half dozen deep. There were at least a half dozen other such help desks for various languages used in the galaxy. Rose smiled at the thought of all the chaos and life out there. Sure, with chaos came pain, but so did happiness, and she wouldn’t give that up for anything. Rose would never support the First Order, no matter how well-intentioned Kylo Ren’s mission for it was.
Around her, a dozen conversations took place. Feeling taciturn, Rose resolved to ignore it all when she heard someone mention Kylo Ren in a strange, metallic voice. Rose glanced in the direction of the conversation and found two fully armored figures with sinister masks covering their faces heading for the exit.
“Coincidence, it has to be coincidence,” Rose muttered even as she knew it couldn’t be a coincidence. Kylo Ren had described the Knights of Ren during their investigation at the library. He had mentioned that they were the real reason he came to train Rey, as they were the only remaining power in the galaxy that could truly threaten either of them. Kylo Ren was their master, but he made sure that Rey and her friends understood that they would betray him if they discovered his plan with Rey.
And they were here.
Rose made her decision in an instant. She would follow them and see what they were up to, and, if necessary, distract them from the others.
She left the line and walked directly after them. Some part of her wondered if she should attempt stealth, but there were so many people in the crowded starport that she knew she would lose them if she didn’t focus fully on following them.
A couple of large humanoids stepped in front of her, blocking her sight and slowing her down. “No, no, no,” she said quietly, trying to get around them. Eventually, she was able to slip around them, but she could no longer see the two knights ahead of her.
She stood still in the flow of foot traffic, slowly spinning around to seek out her targets. When she realized they were good and truly lost, she made for the exit, knowing that she had to warn Ben and Rey. She wasn’t sure why that moment was when her brain decided to call him by Ben instead of Kylo Ren, but she didn’t have time to ponder it. Her friends were in danger.
Rose made it back out the starport and broke into a sprint back to the hotel, alarming more than a few of the other entities out on the streets as she dodged around them.
She made it two blocks when she felt her legs seize up. She fell hard enough on the pavement to see stars. Her ankle was screaming at her, and she had about two seconds to wonder about how badly she was hurt before an elderly man approached her, leaning down to help pull her up.
“You had a fall, young lady,” the man said. Rose reached up and grasped his hand, but he suddenly let go of her, backing away as he looked at something behind her.
Rose strained to look behind her and saw the two dark figures from earlier lean down to pull her up by the arms. They supported her like two friends might support a drunk, with her arms around their shoulders as they each put an arm around her back. “We’ll take it from here. Go about your business,” one said in a metallic voice.
“I’ll go about my business,” the man said absently and walked away.
Rose was trapped between them. Though it probably looked to any passerby that they were helping support her down the street, they had frozen her upper body with the force. She couldn’t reach her blaster. She could barely move her head. She tried to scream but nothing came out, and the people that passed them by quickly averted their eyes when they saw her captors.
“Is it time to notify the others?” the one on her left asked. He was the taller of the two, though both were taller than her, not that that meant much. Most humanoids were taller than her.
“Soon. I want to search her mind first and confront Kylo Ren. It may be that this girl was another victim to his act,” said the captor on her right. Rose was surprised to discover the voice sounded feminine despite the modulation of the mask.
“Careful, Rypo,” the man said. “You sound hopeful that our doubts are unfounded.”
Rypo turned sharply at her companion. “If Banto’s suspicions are true, the New Order will once again fall to chaos, and it is chaos I object to.”
“Aren't you saying too much in front of the girl?”
“Were you planning to leave her alive, Teva?” Rypo said. “And to think you accuse me of sentimentality.”
Rose struggled to escape again, but she found her body even further immobilized instead. Kriffing force users. She wasn’t sure what she could do if she escaped. With her hurt ankle, she was likely to just fall over, but she didn’t want this to be her end.
“Relax, girl. Despite Rypo’s recommendation, I don’t plan to kill you right away,” Teva said. “Unnecessary deaths lead to unnecessary trouble, after all. Rypo, if she is a valued companion to the girl, we could use her as bait,” Teva said. “Furthermore, you could take your time extracting information. Who knows what knowledge she possesses.”
Rose’s eyes shot wide. She had no clue what knowledge she possessed of the Resistance, but she had definitely seen enough of the moonstruck Ben for these people to doubt his loyalties. She went over her options. They had stopped her movement and her speech, but they had not stopped her thinking.
Rey! Rose thought as loudly as possible, feeling ridiculous and entirely uncertain as to whether this would work or not. Rey! The knights are coming!
Rypo let out a long sigh. “Hostages add complications and chaos, and you know my feelings there. She’s trying to project to her friend. Put her to sleep.”
“Aye, aye,” Teva said, and Rose felt her world go dark.
Kylo Ren knelt next to the bed holding Rey’s hand as she lay sleeping on the bed. They had attuned to each other through the force so that he could continue instructing her while she slept. Being so connected to her was exhilarating, but he focused on the task at hand. She still had a ways to go yet before mastering the mental shield while sleeping.
Kylo thought to her. Rey, you’re doing well blocking your emotions, but your memories are still accessible when I--
Rey! The knights are coming!
Kylo Ren jerked back from his examination of Rey’s sleeping shield, and Rey’s eyes shot open. They had both heard the cry.
“Rose,” Rey said. “The knights have her. She’s in trouble.” Rey immediately got up and rushed to pull her boots back on.
“Wait,” Kylo Ren said, taking her arm firmly. The knights could learn entirely too much from Rose. He had to think this through. Depending on how he reacted, he might expose the truth of what happened with Snoke, and then both he and Rey would be in danger.
“She’s in trouble,” Rey snapped, ripping her arm free from him and heading for the door. Kylo Ren quickly pushed against the door with the force so that she could not pull it open. She tried anyway, failed, and glared at him. “Let me go.”
“We need to plan first,” Kylo said. His heart raced. There was too much he could lose. “Rushing in will only make things worse. This is why Snoke spoke against compassion. It makes one weak and foolish.” Why didn’t Rey understand?
“Compassion is what gave you the strength to destroy him,” Rey countered, and the truth of it sunk deep, but he did not see how it changed things here. “Stop this, Ben. Let me go to her!” She took a step towards him with tears in her eyes, reaching her hand out.
Kylo Ren shook his head, though his heart ached to see Rey so distraught. “Not without a plan.”
Rey stared at him a moment, then glanced at where he had left his lightsaber on the table. He reached for it with the force, but not before she had already pulled it to her, ignited it to slash apart the door, and jumped through the broken doorway with lightsaber still in hand.
Kylo Ren stared at where she had been in shocked silence for a second before leaping up and chasing after her. Plan or no plan, he could not let Rey face them alone. He startled Finn in the hallway, who was outside Rose’s door.
“What’s going on? I just saw Rey run past with your-- Hey, wait!” Finn said.
Kylo Ren did not even turn around. He had no time to explain, and involving Finn would only make things worse. He had to protect Rey.
He reached out in the force to locate both Rey and Rose. Rose was in the starport with a dim signature, as if unconscious. Rey was running straight for it, deactivated lightsaber in hand. She had discovered how to locate Rose through the force on her own. He shook his head, amazed yet again at her ingenuity and skill with the force.
Kylo sprinted to catch up to her, but Rey was faster than he expected. She reached the airport well before him.
If his knights had followed him here without notifying him and bothered to take Rose prisoner, they were likely investigating him. Rose knew more than he should have allowed, but he might still be able to spin this as part of his ploy. He had told Banto that he would be feigning interest, after all.
The starport was incredibly crowded, but Rey slipped through it like an eel through water. He projected an aura of fear ahead of him to clear a path, and he ran along it, catching up to Rey just as she found the ship.
Teva stood on the ramp with his purple lightsaber lit at his side. Rypo was sitting with a blood orange lightsaber extended over the neck of the unconscious form of Rose. They had clearly been waiting for them.
Rey froze at the sight and backed up to Kylo's side. He wondered if he and Rey would end up fighting the knights just like they had Snoke’s guard--perfectly synced and back-to-back. A moment later, Finn joined them from behind, surprising both of them and disrupting Kylo’s reminiscence.
“What’s going on? Are those the knights you talked about? Why do they have Rose?” Finn asked in a rush. “Is she dead?” Finn squeaked this last part.
“Not dead. Just unconscious,” Rey said, keeping her eyes on Rypo’s blade at Rose’s neck. “Ben, what do you suggest?”
Kylo gazed at her. She had his lightsaber lit in her hand, and it was clear she did not plan to give it back while Rose was in danger.
“Come any closer and I kill the girl,” Rypo said.
“What do you want?” Rey said, fury hardening her voice.
“Order,” Rypo answered. “Master Kylo Ren. I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself, but this girl’s mind shows that your heart has been consumed by chaos. It is our sworn duty to uphold order, even when it means eliminating one of our own. What defense have you?”
Kylo said nothing as he thought furiously. He had to get Rypo farther from Rose before he could attack them, and that meant eliminating Rey and Finn from the equation. He quickly covered Rey’s hand where she held the lightsaber, turned it off, and commanded her body to sleep. Rey fell limply to the floor at his feet as he took his lightsaber from her hand. He dared not cushion her fall given the eyes on him.
“What? No! You betrayed us! You monster!” Finn cried and pulled out his blaster. Kylo Ren knocked the blaster down with the force and put Finn to sleep a second later. Finn hit the floor with a hard thump, but Kylo Ren was already looking ahead at the knights. He could not afford to reveal his concern for either Rey or Finn while they were still in danger.
Both the postures of Rypo and Teva suggested surprise. Good. The next step was the true gamble. He walked casually towards them, not once glancing at Rose. Rypo glanced down at Rose and back to Kylo twice and deactivated her lightsaber. Teva deactivated his a second later. Kylo hid his relief easily enough. He had years of experience at hiding his emotions. He had hidden much from Snoke. He could certainly hide them from his knights.
“Even Banto knew I was feigning compassion to lure in the jedi,” Kylo Ren said, stopping just a few feet short of the ramp and very carefully looking only at the masks of his knights. “Your doubts were not unreasonable, but your actions were. You may have permanently unraveled my plan and set the jedi against the First Order once again. What defense have you?” he asked, echoing Rypo’s own question back at her.
Teva stared dumbfounded at him, but calm, collected Rypo responded. “You warned them of us. You were expecting us to interrogate them. Yet you said nothing to stop us.”
Kylo Ren cocked his head slightly and narrowed his eyes. “I should not have needed to. I was to be left undisturbed on this mission.”
He stared at those blank masks, searching for hints of their feelings, but he had trained them well. Nothing leaked out, and they would notice if he sought past their defenses.
Rypo stood up after a moment and bowed. “Master Kylo Ren, I humbly request permission to inspect the jedi myself,” Rypo said. “As she and her companions are already unconscious, you can have no objection. Confirmation of her compassion for you would be reassuring to the knights that your quest is not in vain. If I find deceit or hatred, then we can kill her and be done with her.”
Kylo Ren schooled himself not to react. “You overreach. You know my own ability far surpasses yours.”
Rypo straightened. “Knowledge provides order. The other knights fear that you may be seduced by the light. Since your own mind is beyond my ability to question, allow me this and I will serve as witness to the wisdom of your plan. Deny me and you will have to kill us both and explain our deaths to the remaining knights.”
Kylo had no idea if Rey's shield was up, but it did not matter. This was his best chance to escape without everything falling apart. If it failed, he would kill Rypo anyway. “Inspect the jedi,” Kylo Ren said. Rypo stood up and walked over to Rey before kneeling down again. Kylo watched closely, ready to strike Rypo down in a moment.
“Unexpected,” Rypo said after a few seconds. “She has a shield up, even though she’s not awake. I thought you were the only one capable of that, Master.”
Kylo Ren felt pride fill him as he strode forward. “She will be a powerful asset once turned, but she is not strong enough to resist me. Would you like assistance entering her mind?”
Rypo eyed him carefully, then sat back and waited patiently. They had done this routine before in training. Rypo had been one of his best students for mental interrogations, but Rypo’s ability still did not compare to his own. There was a reason Snoke depended on him for important interrogations.
Kylo Ren knelt by Rey and gently put his hand on her forehead, seeking the attunement they had achieved earlier during training so that he could communicate with Rey under Rypo’s radar.
Rey, remember how I spoke that you would need to pretend regard for me before the knights? I need you to do so now. Create a pocket in your shield and pour desire for me into it. Do not allow any knowledge of my feelings to come through.
Rey didn’t respond, but he felt her shield ripple until there was a pocket, just as he had asked. He inspected it and was blasted with an image of himself shirtless during a previous force bond. He allowed himself a smirk as more images floated up, all depicting a very physical desire for him.
“You’re smiling,” Rypo said.
“I am celebrating my success. See for yourself,” he said, stepping away from Rey.
Rypo faced him for several seconds before placing a hand on Rey’s head and reaching into her with the force. Rypo almost immediately broke the connection, nearly falling backwards in her rush to create distance. “That was… unexpected. I thought the jedi forbade such thoughts.”
Kylo Ren allowed his grin to spread across his face as he eyed Rypo. “Exactly,” he said. “Do you still doubt my potential to turn her?”
Rypo shook her head. “No, there is definitely potential. With that passion, I am surprised Skywalker accepted her as a student. She is far too emotional to be a knight though. Do you intend to make her a sith?”
“Or something new,” Kylo Ren said. “Regardless, she will be mine.”
Rypo nodded thoughtfully and stood up. “My apologies for disturbing you, Master Kylo Ren. I will report what I have found so that you may continue your mission undisturbed. Do you wish to keep the girl’s companions?”
“Winning their trust has been part of the ruse. Their disappearance would raise unwanted questions,” Kylo Ren said.
“Right,” Rypo said before standing. “Teva, move the captive from the ramp to safety. We’re done here.”
Teva followed Rypo’s directions without complaint. Kylo Ren watched in silence as they entered the ship, closed the hatch, and flew away.
Poe chuckled in the silence of his empty room as he pulled off his pants and shirt from the day and exchanged them for a large white linen nightshirt and some loose patchwork drawstring pants. Things were not perfect, but he could not believe how well the mission was going. In many ways, today had been a dream come true.
Not only had he been correct that Ben was completely lovesick for Rey, but he had also been able to take advantage of the circumstances to discuss where common ground might exist between the First Order and the Resistance and build a comradery with the otherwise unattainable Supreme Leader of the First Order. He pulled out his journal and started jotting down notes for a preliminary sketch of terms for peace with a mind to discuss them with Ben the next day.
“General Organa, we may yet have peace with your son. Wish you were alive to see all this,” Poe said in the air, shaking his head in happy disbelief. “And all because of love, too. I know you never bought much into fairy tales, but it’s still amazing.”
Of course, Rey hadn’t seemed overly thrilled with Ben earlier, but he expected it was just a small lover’s spat. She hadn’t turned down his request to stay with her, so Poe imagined it wasn’t all bad. If the Ben/Rey dynamic was still off tomorrow, he’d pull one or both aside and check in on what was interfering with their relationship. Of all the roles he had to play over the years, he never expected to be playing cupid, nor find it to be this fun or rewarding.
And he didn’t even have to limit himself to Rey and Ben. While it was clear Finn still hadn’t sorted out his feelings for Rose, Poe got the impression that Finn no longer felt as possessive towards Rey, whatever that meant. Poe chuckled to himself as he recalled the conversation he had just five minutes before, where Finn had referred to Ben as a man instead of a monster for the first time.
“Miracle after miracle,” he said, still smiling. By now, Finn should be talking things out with Rose in her room, and hopefully Ben and Rey had made amends.
The sound of wood crashing to the ground and the hum of a lightsaber jolted him upright and filled his heart with dread. “Oh no… no no no no no,” he chanted to himself as he hurriedly slipped his boots on. He heard Finn’s voice outside and running, then nothing. Poe grabbed his blaster and holster belt and finally made it out the room, still buckling it in place.
The door to Rey’s room was cut into several large pieces on the floor of the hallway. Finn, Rey, and Ben were all missing. Poe ran to the exit, but saw no sign of them. He grabbed a random passerby by the arm. “Excuse me, sorry, but have you seen anyone run by with a lightsaber? Probably red and scary-looking?”
The alien gave him a funny look, shook its head, and shrugged him off. Poe stared around wildly. “Anyone seen someone with a lightsaber leave here!?” he shouted, feeling ridiculous, but he had no other clue for finding out which way they went.
He got a few odd looks, and a couple negatives, but no one responded in the affirmative.
Dejected, Poe wandered back inside to find a Twi’lek couple complaining about the condition of the hotel with the manager in front of the damaged door to Rey’s room. They had a small child with them who was playing chase with a small flying creature.
“Growlie?” Poe said uncertainly. The creature roared at the small child and flew to land in Poe’s hair. Poe blinked in surprise. He hadn’t expected a porg to recognize him as a familiar person. They had always seemed quite dumb on the Falcon. “Hey little fellow. Where’s your human?” he asked, hoping against hope the porg might help him find the others. Whatever intelligence the prog possessed, it was clearly done sharing as it curled up in his hair and settled in.
“Mine!” the kid cried in basic, drawing the attention of the Twi’leks and the hotel manager to Poe.
“You! Responsible for this mess? You came in with the girl who had this room, did you not?” the manager exclaimed. He was a portly humanoid of some sort that Poe didn’t recognize with long black fur everywhere but his face, which was bald with an enormous beak-like nose.
“Me? I didn’t do this, but you are correct that I am part of the party responsible. I don’t know just what happened, but I do apologize for the trouble. We will pay for replacing the door, and perhaps double the fees for staying here tonight?”
The manager raised a thoughtful eyebrow. “Not bad offer, but you find elsewhere to stay tomorrow. No trouble wanted here. Bad for business,” he said, gesturing to the other family. “Also, you pay their fees. Trauma compensation.” The Twi’lek family, which had been heading for the exit with heads held high, paused at this tidbit, and looked at Poe with interest.
Poe made a sour face, but shrugged. “Sure, sounds good. Now if you’ll just excuse me, I was just heading in there,” he said.
He did not know whether it was Rey or Ben who slashed apart the door, but since he was confident that it was a lightsaber that did the damage, he would be putting the bill on them. The First Order could afford it anyway.
Poe slipped into Rey’s room with Growlie still in his hair and looked around for hints of what had happened. The bed was made, though the pillow and blankets were disturbed, so at least one of them had rested on top at some point. The clothes had been put away quickly in a pile. There was a dent in the wall by the door that had not been there earlier today. Still, if they had fought, he would have expected tossed furniture and broken things, and everything else appeared to be in good order.
“Guys, where are you?” he muttered, then remembered that Rose might still be in her room.
He went and knocked on her door. “Rose, sorry to bother you so late, but Finn, Rey, and Ben are missing, and I’m trying to figure out what happened.”
He got no response. “Rose?” he tried again, knocking louder this time, but no one answered.
Poe sighed and threw his hands up. “What am I supposed to do?”
He went back to Rey’s room again and sat down on the bed, figuring someone should guard the room until they could get the door fixed, but sitting was boring.
Poe went through the pile of clothing, sorting out things he thought Rey would use from things he thought would work well for infiltration and things that were simply gaudy. He created a small pile for Rose as well, trusting that Rey would not mind sharing with her friend.
They still weren’t back.
After checking that the hallway was clear of observers, he found the Kylo Ren mask and studied how it worked, putting it on his own head for a moment and laughing just to hear what it would sound like. Creepy, he decided and took off the mask. The noise even startled Growlie, who flew down beside him. Poe raised an eyebrow at the porg and carefully lowered the mask over the porg’s body.
Modulated chirping followed, then growling, then hysteria that sounded like the dying wails of a thousand souls.
Poe rapidly lifted the mask back off Growlie and stared at the porg with wide eyes. Growlie looked back at him and gave him a friendly chirp. Poe carefully tucked the mask away under the blanket where the Growlie could not access it, all the while keeping eye contact on the bird.
Poe shrugged and decided that it didn’t matter how creepy Ben’s pets were so long as they could arrange peace between the Resistance and First Order. He glanced back at the destroyed door nervously. Peace had seemed such a sure thing a couple hours ago.
Poe looked up to see Finn and Rose coming down the hallway slowly. Rose was limping and had an arm wrapped around Finn.
“What happened? I was looking everywhere for you!” Poe said, standing up and rushing forward to help Rose into the room and to a chair. “Oh Rose, what’s injured?”
“Ankle,” Rose answered. “Just twisted, thankfully. Rey checked it before she left with Ben.”
“Left?” Poe asked, feeling his heart drop in his chest. “With Ben?” He couldn’t form a peace treaty if he couldn’t communicate with Ben.
Finn growled. “That traitor turned on us, and Rey’s so blinded--”
“Finn,” Rose hushed. “Rey believes in him.”
“Well you didn’t see him use the force to knock her out. She just fell, like a limp doll, and he didn’t even try to catch her before she hit the ground!” Finn exclaimed.
Rose frowned. “But we are alive and free, aren’t we? I thought I was a goner when those knights captured me…”
“That monster is ice cold, Rose. You can’t trust him. I’m sure he just needed us alive to continue tricking Rey!”
“Whoah whoah whoah,” Poe said, waving both hands up and down to settle them. “Look, I have no clue what’s going on here. I heard crashing, a lightsaber, and people running off, and I’ve been sitting here by myself in a wrecked room, babysitting a very creepy porg, mind you, while you were off having your adventure. Could you please start from the beginning?”
Rose and Finn looked at each other and sighed. Finn gestured to Rose, and she nodded. Poe looked to her as well and sighed. Whatever she told him, if Ben and Rey were gone, his mission for negotiating a truce had gone from near miraculous success to total failure in a matter of hours, and he was getting really sick of his missions failing.
“It started when I left to find some work at the starport…”
“And we’re in hyperspace,” Teva said as the stars streaked past them. He leaned back in the pilot’s seat and folded his hands in his lap and blew out a breath. “So are you going to tell me what happened back there or do I have to wait until Banto shares the official report?”
He heard Rypo’s groan and smiled. He knew taking joy was not appropriate for a Knight of Ren, but he didn’t care. He was never one for philosophy. He had joined the knights because he had been bored and preferred the military-based First Order to the overly-political New Republic. It seemed a logical choice given his force-aided fighting specialization.
“You don’t want to know,” Rypo responded in a disgusted voice.
“I asked for a reason. Come on. I’ve never seen you quit an interrogation so quickly,” Teva replied. It was true. He had worked alongside Rypo on missions for years. Normally Rypo would spend so long inside a person’s head that Teva felt that he would die of boredom. For Rypo to jump out so quickly, especially for such a high-profile target, was very unusual.
He heard Rypo’s chair swivel around, and he turned to face her. They had agreed some years ago to take their helmets off in-flight when it was just the two of them so they could breathe more comfortably and hear each other more clearly. Well, that’s the reason Teva claimed, but he enjoyed seeing Rypo’s face. She was solid and dark-skinned, with black, curly hair. She was beautiful, and Teva considered himself lucky to be the knight most often partnered with her.
Right now, Rypo’s lovely face was contorted with revulsion. “The girl lusted for him,” Rypo spat.
Teva raised an eyebrow, wondering what the big deal was. He lusted for Rypo all the time, not that Rypo knew. The first lesson Master Kylo Ren had given each of them was learning to shield their emotions and thoughts. Only Supreme Leader Snoke had been allowed unfettered access to their minds. “That’s good, right?” Teva had not been paying close attention to the meeting Banto held following Master Kylo Ren’s departure, but he recalled something about a plan for Master Kylo to seduce the jedi.
Rypo frowned at him, took a calming breath, and sighed. “I forget you’re you.” Teva raised both eyebrows now. “Lust inspires so many other feelings that most of us have sworn to celibacy in both body and spirit to avoid the conflict it introduces.”
Teva narrowed his eyes in thought. “No, I don’t get it. Don’t you see emotions all the time when you’re reading minds? That Bothan was scared out of his wits when you dug into his thoughts last week.”
Rypo shrugged at him. “Fear is fear. It’s simple. It’s easy to dismiss. Lust is different. With her lust, that girl felt hope, desire, fear, affection, disgust and so much more… It’s like being alone in an open field and suddenly you have ten attackers on you at once. It’s confusing and unsettling. It’s different. It’s dangerous.”
“If you say so,” Teva said. He thought about the irony of this conversation given his own desire, but shrugged. He knew better than to pursue that direction. “That oath to celibacy… was Master Kylo one of the ones who swore it?”
Rypo tapped her lips thoughtfully and leaned back. “It’s a private thing. I don’t know, but I admit I’m still concerned. The knowledge that she can be swayed is substantial, but it still is not evidence of Master Kylo’s motivations. Banto fears that Master Kylo has become unstable since the death of Supreme Leader Snoke.”
Teva repressed a snort at that. He had always thought the grandson of Darth Vader seemed unstable. Still, it was no shock. The man had such a mixed heritage of powerful force users and had been under Snoke’s thumb since Teva had joined up. Teva did not envy his master.
Rypo cursed suddenly, disturbing Teva’s contemplation. “What is it?” Rypo asked.
“I didn’t even think to check for the girl’s memories of that battle. I was so shocked by what I found that I forgot entirely… How did she do it? She didn’t do anything to save her friend past stand there with Master Kylo’s lightsaber until he put her into a force sleep. How is it that she could be so powerful as to kill Supreme Leader Snoke and the guard and knock Master Kylo unconscious, but she couldn’t even do anything for her friend against us? She didn’t even defend herself when Master Kylo used force sleep on her.”
Teva shrugged. “Obviously, she trusted him. She left herself completely open to him.”
Rypo’s black eyes flashed at him. “Why does she trust him? I saw lust in her thoughts, not trust. When I scanned the mind of her friend, I saw their afternoon and visions of him with some weird bird thing and eating dinner together and other boring details. The only things the girl showed me were images of Master Kylo without his shirt on and images of his lips and her fascination with each. It was almost like she was broadcasting those thoughts to hide…”
Teva cocked his head to one side. “Hide?”
Rypo hissed, baring her teeth. “She tricked me. She must have somehow known that I wouldn’t look closely past those images.”
Teva shrugged, feeling amusement beneath his carefully blank face as he realized what happened. “Master Kylo said he was opening her mind to you.”
“You’re right! He must have selected what I had access to, or warned her somehow… They tricked me!” Rypo said, slamming the wall next to her.
Teva revealed a lazy smile at the sight of Rypo so very unraveled. He didn’t care if Master Kylo was conflicted or not. He didn’t care if Banto usurped Master Kylo, though he saw clearly that Banto was organizing them against Master Kylo for that purpose. As long as he got to work in the First Order alongside Rypo and catch these rare glimpses of her heart, he was content.
“So they’re working together. What do you plan to do?” Teva asked, leaning forward on his knees.
Rypo bit her thumb as she thought. Teva’s thoughts went to dangerous places at the sight, and he bit his own lips in response.
“I don’t know. If the girl were all jedi, I would report this to Banto in the concern that Master Kylo might be converted to a jedi, but that’s not the case. I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t like it. If this girl and Master Kylo have been working together, then the story about what happened to Supreme Leader Snoke might...” She glanced at Teva in sudden fear.
Teva laughed, knowing from experience where her thoughts were going. “You seriously think I would report you for treason? As if we’re not already investigating our new Supreme Leader to treasonous levels.”
Rypo bristled at that. “We’re following orders,” she corrected.
Teva smiled and felt a thrill run through him at the idea of pushing her loyalties. “Yet we speak of the possibility that our current Supreme Leader participated in the destruction of Supreme Leader Snoke. I have a theory for you to consider, while we’re discussing such dangerous thoughts.”
Rypo glared at Teva, but did not try to stop him from speaking. His smile broadened. He had been evaluating his theory since he heard of the plan for the supposed seduction of the jedi girl, and the more he learned of the girl, the more he suspected his theory was true.
“Perhaps, just perhaps, Master Kylo met this not-jedi girl and felt something for her, and this not-jedi girl felt something for him. Maybe this is nothing more than a case of two very different people falling for each other in a situation where they must disguise it to have any hope of being together.”
Rypo scoffed. “That’s preposterous.”
“Is it?” Teva asked. “You knew our Supreme Leader Snoke. Would he have tolerated Master Kylo having an attachment for another person? He kept Master Kylo isolated from everyone--even us--as much as possible. He would not have tolerated the girl’s existence if he discovered an attachment--not to mention she’s supposedly a jedi.”
Rypo’s eyes widened. “That’s not… but…” She furrowed her brow with her jaw dropped slightly. “You mean to say Master Kylo killed Supreme Leader Snoke to protect the girl?”
“Can you imagine any other scenario where Master Kylo would have turned on Supreme Leader Snoke? He was as loyal as they come. He lived for Snoke’s approval, but if he had fallen for someone...”
Teva could practically see the gears and cogs of Rypo’s mind turning as she processed this possibility. “I suppose it is possible. That… how does that change things?”
Teva shrugged. “Well, where are your loyalties? The First Order? The deceased Snoke? Banto? Master Kylo?”
“The First Order,” Rypo said firmly.
“Then you should decide which future provides the most stability for the First Order and go with that,” Teva said. He had already considered this, and he suspected Master Kylo would be the best option so long as he did not turn the entire First Order over to the Resistance. Banto was too greedy to not cause more chaos in the end. Furthermore, if Master Kylo set a precedent for allowed relationships between force users… Still, he would support Rypo’s judgment, whatever she decided. He cared more for her than anything.
“I’ll have to think on everything. Teva, where did you even get this sort of crazy idea?” Rypo asked.
“The idea that a man might throw away everything for the girl he loves? No idea,” Teva said as he gazed at Rypo.
Apparently, Banto’s idea of a stocked ship included liquor. Kylo Ren stared at the murky brown bottle hidden in the galley cabinets. His entire life had been about control. Skywalker and Snoke had both strictly forbade alcohol just as they had both forbade intimacy. Even in kissing Rey earlier, he had been afraid that something bad would happen if he let loose. She had been the one to take things further, and it had been nothing short of amazing. He smiled and poured himself a drink from the bottle. He was ready to lose control.
Rey came in just as he took his first sip. It was disgusting, but he forced his face to remain expressionless.
“Is this your personal ship? I didn’t see any insignia on it,” Rey asked. She looked around the small galley and squeezed behind him to check out the contents of the cabinets. She picked up the bottle he had left on the counter and read the label. “Corellian Liquor? I didn’t think you were the type to drink.”
Kylo Ren took another sip. “This might be my first time,” he admitted. “Would you like some?”
Rey wrinkled her nose. “According to you, I was sold to pay for my parents’ drinking habits. I think I’ll pass.”
Kylo immediately moved to pour the glass out, but the liquid stopped mid-pour as Rey saw what he was doing. “No, I didn’t mean for you to… I’m sure drinking just once won’t make you a drunk, and I know you would never abandon me. Here,” Rey said, taking his wrist in her hands and righting it so the liquor would stay in the glass without the help of the force. “Enjoy it if that’s what you want to do. I mean it. It’s okay.”
She smiled up at him as she let go of his wrist. His skin there tingled from her touch, and he gazed at her as he slowly took another sip. “It tastes awful,” he confided.
“It smells awful,” Rey said and grinned big. “I admit I’m curious what you would be like a little drunk. Would you laugh?”
Kylo gazed at her and took another deep sip. He would probably make a fool of himself somehow--his father always had when drunk. However, Kylo was curious, and he trusted Rey to see him like this. He finished off the glass while maintaining eye contact with her.
“How do you feel?” Rey asked. She leaned back with her elbows on the counter behind her and smiled up at him. Her smile was beautiful.
He felt strange, and he wanted to kiss her. Maybe this time he would do a better job without her help. Maybe this time he would be the one to lead her in exploring something new. He stepped forward and placed his hands on the counter around her, leaving the glass. He braced himself and leaned down to pause just shy of meeting her lips.
Her shields were up, and so he could not read her desire, but he could sense her heart racing from his proximity. “Would you like to know how I feel?” he asked, his breath husky as their lips brushed slightly with the movement from speaking.
“Yes,” Rey whispered, and he closed the gap, kissing her and stepping forward so that their bodies were flush together. This time he did not hesitate to open his mouth to explore her and invite her in, and he cradled her head in one hand while wrapping the other tightly around her back as he deepened the kiss.
The angle was awkward for his neck though, and without processing what he was doing, he moved the hand that had cradled her head to support her butt as he lifted her onto the counter. Rey broke the kiss and stared at him with wide eyes, and Kylo realized he still had his hand on her butt. “Um…” he said and started to remove it, but he felt the force pull his hand back firmly in place. He gazed in wonder as Rey smiled shyly and bit her lip.
You surprised me. That’s all. He heard Rey say through the force. She wrapped her arms around his neck, tugged him down, and kissed his cheek. Don’t you want to know how I feel too? Kylo blushed to his core, but he stroked her butt cheek and squeezed it.
She licked his jawline in response, nipping and licking her way down his neck to his collarbone. She stopped just above it on his right side and gently nursed the spot, alternating between sucking, licking, and nibbling it with her teeth. Kylo moaned and moved his other hand to join the first in exploring her tight posterior. He felt his blood pool and harden him, and he gasped. It wasn’t that he didn’t know it could happen, but it had been a very long time since he had allowed his body to feel that sort of arousal while awake.
“Rey,” he said, suddenly fearing that too much was happening too quickly. Was there a line that should be drawn? “Maybe we should continue this later, after we’re in hyperspace on the way to Ilum.”
Rey let go of his neck and gazed up at him. He carefully removed his hands from her butt and stepped back, giving her space to hop down. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “And after we get our stuff from the room.” She froze. “I just realized that I left that door in pieces… I hope Growlie didn’t escape,” she said.
Kylo’s eyes widened in shock, and he reached out with the force to sense where Growlie might be, but there were too many wild little creatures on Coruscant, and Growlie wasn’t sentient enough for his signature to stand out in the force. “I’m going to go look,” he said. “You’ll come with me?” he asked, glancing back at Rey.
Rey hopped down from the counter. “Of course,” she said, and they raced out the ship to towards their hotel.
The starport was still plenty crowded, but Kylo had no trouble clearing a path again with a projection of fear. He wondered briefly what Rey thought of his technique, but she said nothing as she ran closely behind him.
The door to their room was still broken and in pieces when they arrived. A quick search inside revealed no porgs, so Kylo did a quick sweep through the force to look for Growlie again in the nearby area. This time, he sensed a form that was likely Growlie in Poe’s lap in Poe’s room. Kylo let out a sigh of relief.
“Poe’s got him in their room,” he said to Rey.
“Thank the stars,” Rey said. “Let’s go ahead and pack up, and then we’ll check on the others and collect Growlie. You can say your farewells that way too.” She grabbed her copy of Kylo’s helmet and started shoving the clothes back into a large duffel bag without ceremony, crushing and wrinkling several fine dresses in the process.
Kylo started to nod and froze, thinking back on his last interactions with Finn and Rose, who were also in the room with Poe. “Maybe I should stay in here while you get Growlie,” he said. “Finn thinks I betrayed you.”
Rey shrugged. “He’ll get over it. You saved Rose’s life.” She finished picking things up and threw the large bag over her shoulder. Kylo was surprised. He had half-expected her to hand it to him, but this was Rey. She wasn’t one to ask for help.
Or to wait for a plan. She had already stepped around him and was knocking on the door for Finn and Poe’s room. “It’s me, Rey,” she said. He could sense them getting up to let her in.
Kylo stepped back. “I shouldn’t. I really don’t want to have to block blaster bolts right now.”
Rey raised an eyebrow and smiled at him. “Then I’ll block them for you.”
The door opened and Rey went in. He heard Rose say, “Rey! You’re back! I didn’t think we would see you again before you left!”
“Rey, you can’t go with him. You just can’t!” Finn said.
“Nice to see you too, Finn,” Rey said dryly. “Poe, thanks so much for looking after Growlie for us. Ben was so terrified Growlie escaped that he ran the entire way here, right Ben? Ben?”
Rey poked her head back into the hallway and gestured for him to come in. Kylo stood firmly in place. He didn’t belong in there. Rey rolled her eyes and pulled with the force, summoning his body across the hallway and into the other room before the door shut behind him. The others were shocked silent, perhaps noting that he had not arrived under his own power.
Not fair . He said to Rey through the force, as he gazed at the others in the room. Poe sat on one bed with Growlie nestled in his hair. Rose was stretched out on the other with her injured ankle propped up on Finn’s lap.
Don’t be a baby. Rey said in response.
“Ben!” Poe exclaimed, leaping off the bed and offering a handshake. Kylo took it. “I’m so glad I got to see you again before you left. Listen, I took notes on our conversations, and I think I might have some ideas for a peace treaty between the Resistance and the First Order, and--”
“Poe, you can’t do that! He just betrayed us again!” Finn cried.
Rose used her good foot to gently kick Finn in the side. “He saved my life, Finn.”
Rey smiled at Ben encouragingly, and he gazed back at her, losing himself to her even with the chaos of the others’ debating his character. Poe let go of the handshake, and Ben turned to look at the others again. He was speechless. This whole encounter was off any script he had imagined.
Rey spoke up. “Poe, we’re going to Ilum so I can find a Kyber crystal to build my own lightsaber. Why don’t you work on cleaning up your treaty notes with Kaydel while we’re gone?”
“Rey, I can’t let you go with him alone,” Finn said. “It’s too dangerous!”
“Ilum is dangerous,” Kylo said, finally finding something he felt comfortable speaking on. “It’s a planet covered in ice that was half-destroyed in the Empire’s search for Kyber crystals. Much of the planet is ripped open so that molten lava and unpredictable eruptions exist side-by-side with the ice caves where the crystals grow. I will go with her. You could not protect her there, nor could you protect her against me if I were to turn on her. You would only be in the way.”
Finn gaped at this, and Rey stepped forward. “He’s right, Finn. Look, you’re one of my best friends, and you’re an excellent fighter, but this is different. Please, stay with the Resistance. They need you.”
“And you don’t,” Finn said with a dark expression. “Fine. I get it. Just go. But don’t expect me to hold back from saying I told you so when he breaks your heart. Oww!” He turned to Rose, who had kicked him again, harder this time. “Would you quit that?”
Kylo looked sharply at Rey, who was struggling not to cry beside him. He glared at Finn, but knew anything he wanted to do to Finn would only make things worse. Instead, he put a hand on Rey’s shoulder and tugged her gently into his embrace. He looked at his helmet in her hands and took it from her, giving it to Poe. “The same tracer is found on all my helmets. Use this one to identify the signal. I have another aboard the ship we’re taking. It will enable you to find us.”
“Won’t it also let us find the First Order?” Poe asked, taking the helmet.
“Yes. There will be a cluster of the signals with them from my backup masks. However, I recommend avoiding them.”
“Thank you,” Poe said. “You were not what I expected. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to know you better.”
“It’s mutual,” Kylo said. They shook hands again, and Poe handed Growlie to Kylo, who tucked Growlie in a pocket after doing a force sleep on the little bird. Kylo waved to Rose and Finn and stepped out of the room. Behind him, he heard Rey tell Rose to keep Finn out of trouble, and then Rey joined him and closed the door behind her.
“That could have been much worse,” she said.
Through the door, they heard Rose exclaim, “Did you see the hickey on his neck?”
Kylo raised an eyebrow at Rey, and she blushed. Kylo smiled at the sight and took her hand as they walked back to the ship with Growlie in his pocket.
Finn glared at Poe after Rey and Kylo Ren left their room. “So is this it? We just trust that Kylo Ren’s actually a good guy, let them make out, write a peace treaty, and ignore everything that’s already happened?” Finn asked.
“Seems better than our other options,” said Poe. “He’s given away the First Order’s location to us just so we can track Rey, and it’s clear she can handle herself around him. Did you see the way she dragged him in here? I really don’t think we need to worry about him as a threat anymore. Though we will need to lose the tracker before we head back to the Resistance in case anyone else in the First Order is monitoring them, which means we’ll need to find a way to locate it before we head out.”
“Tomorrow,” Rose said. “Let’s save that for tomorrow. I think I’m still in shock that Rey and the Supreme Leader are a couple. They are a couple, right? I mean, they were gazing at each other and that had to be a hickey on his neck.”
“You don’t have to sound so happy about it, Rose,” Finn said, staring at where his hands rested on Rose’s injured leg. He wasn’t upset that Rey had found someone she liked, but why did she have to pick someone as unstable and dangerous as Kylo Ren?
He felt Rose shift her leg next to him in the bed and immediately turned towards her with a pointed finger. “Don’t you kick me again! I thought you liked me!” Rose blushed and set her foot back down on the bed. Finn didn’t look away from her. He wanted an apology. He was sick of being treated poorly for having a healthy level of skepticism that their greatest enemy was suddenly lovey-dovey with one of their greatest heroes. “Well?”
“Sorry,” Rose said in a small voice. Finn’s heart sank as he saw tears pool in her eyes. He wanted her to stop hurting him, not to start crying. Rose pulled herself up from her reclined position, carefully removing her injured ankle from where it had rested on Finn’s lap, and then placed both feet on the floor. “I think I’m done for the day. Poe, can you please help me back to my room?”
Finn was surprised that her implied rejection stung, but he didn’t let it quiet him. “Rose, I can take you,” Finn said. “Don’t you want me to take you?” He had been on his way to talk to her earlier when everything happened with the knights.
Rose froze and looked at Finn with the eyes of a Fathier before the whip. His jaw fell open. She shouldn’t be looking at him that way. Had he bungled things that badly? “Rose, please. I’ve been wanting to talk to you anyway.” He noticed that Poe was suddenly very interested in his pile of notes.
She pulled back slightly, distrust in her eyes. “Good talk or bad talk?”
Finn shrugged. “Good, I think,” he said. “Like, maybe try things out between us good. Assuming you’re still interested, that is.”
Amazement cleared away the fear in Rose’s face, and her eyes crinkled as she smiled. “Really?”
Finn nodded and smiled back at her, relieved that she was no longer frightened. “Yea, really, but no more kicking me, okay?”
Rose nodded. “Yea, okay.”
They sat there grinning at each other like idiots. Finn was okay with this.
Across the room, Poe cleared his throat. “I would appreciate it if you two went to her room before you start making out. That is, unless you want me to join you.”
Finn and Rose both startled and glanced to Poe, who smiled mischievously at them. “My room’s good. That good with you, Finn?” Rose asked in a rattled voice.
“Yea, your room sounds great,” Finn said. He scooted closer to Rose, wrapped an arm around her, and helped her stand up. Together, they limped to the door and made their way down the hall to her room.
Finn helped Rose in, shut the door, and helped her get in her bed. Rose winced each time her ankle bumped something or she had to put weight on it, and Finn sighed in relief when Rose was finally in place with her ankle elevated on an extra pillow.
“So, I can kiss you?” Rose asked him after he tucked her in. He grinned, feeling bashful, but nodded. “Will you kiss me?”
Finn chuckled. “You’ve really been looking forward to this, haven’t you?”
Rose blushed. “Yea, kinda. You’re sure you’re okay with this?”
Finn threw up his hands. What was wrong with her? “Do you think I’d be saying you can kiss me if I weren’t okay with it?” he asked in a slightly annoyed voice.
“It was just earlier this afternoon Poe said you had a thing for Rey, and you didn’t disagree with him, so yea, I’m checking.”
Finn sighed out slowly. Rose had a point. “Yes, I’m okay with kissing you and being with you. Look, Rose, I’m new to this…. All of this,” he said, waving his arms in a big circle. “Rey was literally the first girl I met outside the First Order, and she was pretty and amazing and pretty amazing, so yea, I did hope for something there, but Rey’s…”
He wasn’t sure he had the words for it. “I don’t know how to describe it. I felt like I had to protect her. I still feel that way, even though I can’t. She’s a better fighter than me, a better soldier than me, and a better person than me, but she never looked at me--not really. Her eyes were always on something bigger in the distance. First it was helping BB-8, then it was Luke Skywalker, and now this whole thing with Kylo Ren and saving the Resistance... Her eyes were never on me.”
Finn paused and gazed at Rose. “But your eyes were,” he said. “From the moment we met, you looked right at me and told me I was a hero and you admired me… right up until you tased me.”
Rose giggled, and Finn chuckled too. “You saw me. You saw my flaws. It wasn’t that you didn’t value the Resistance, I mean, you did tase me, but you forced me to look with you so I would see the world through your eyes. You took the time to show me what things were really like. We saved those fathiers together and helped those kids, and it was an amazing adventure. And then you saved my life, Rose.”
“I did, didn’t I?” she said.
“Yes, you did,” Finn confirmed, smiling at her. “I’m still trying to understand all this, but I like that you look at me and see me. I like knowing I’m someone worth teaching things to in your eyes. You also were absolutely gorgeous in that blue dress earlier. So yea.”
Rose smiled up at him and reached a hand out that he cautiously took. She tugged it gently towards her until he was leaning over her. “If you’re okay with kissing me, then kiss me,” she said.
Finn blushed. For all his talk, he hadn’t actually been prepared to make a move like this. Grabbing Rey’s hand in their escape had been easy enough, but kissing someone? “Umm…” He saw the disappointment in her eyes and quickly closed the distance, squishing his lips against hers for a long second before pulling back. “Was that okay?”
Rose chuckled and raised an eyebrow. “It was a start.”
Finn groaned. “Look, it’s not my fault that I--”
His words cut off as Rose put a hand behind his head and yanked him down for another, more thorough kiss. He stared at her, bewildered, when she let go.
“Yea, that was nice. That was very nice,” he said.
Rose giggled. “Yea, it was,” she said. “Want another lesson on how to kiss?”
Finn answered by kissing her again.
Rey lounged in her bunk in the sleeping quarters with one of the jedi texts she had stolen from Luke propped up against her knees. They were in hyperspace on the way to Ilum and expected to be for some time, and though Rey was in desperate need of sleep, she also was in desperate need of more knowledge about the force.
Ben walked into the small room barefoot with only his black high-waisted pants on. “Refresher’s open, if you want to clean up. Watch out though, Growlie’s in there trying to attack his reflection.”
Rey glanced up at him and blushed at his bare chest. She had always wondered if she had caught him fresh out of the shower that time, and it certainly seemed to be the case. “I might go later. I’m almost done with this chapter.”
Ben sat down on the bunk opposite her. Rey felt mixed relief at discovering his ship’s sleeping quarters were not designed for sleeping together. She felt oddly liberated by having someone to share intimacy with, but she also wasn’t sure how far she was ready to take things. Furthermore, she had no way of protecting herself from pregnancy, and she knew she wasn’t ready for that. Separate bunks were a good thing for now, at least.
“That’s one of the ancient jedi texts. I recognize that book,” Ben said.
“I’m not surprised. I took it from Luke when he refused to help the Resistance,” Rey said and smiled at him. “He wasn’t using it, after all.”
Ben snorted and grinned at her affectionately. “Scavenger,” he said.
“Did you just laugh?” Rey asked. Ben shrugged, still smiling. “I want to hear it again,” she said, but he shook his head. “Oh come on, please?”
“Maybe later,” Ben said. Rey pouted at him and went back to her book. “I’ve been wondering: How did you learn to read? You were sold too young to be very literate, if literate at all, and you had no friends in that place.”
“Someone would come in from the Tuanul settlement once a week to teach locals basic things like reading and math. Unkar Plutt, that’s the one who bought me, knew that literate scavengers brought in better goods, so he didn’t try to stop it even though they fed us when they came. It was the one reliable meal I got, and it saved my life many times over.” Rey glanced up from her book and saw a disturbed look on Ben’s face. “What?”
“I’m not sure you want to know.”
Rey pursed her lips to the side, set the book down, and faced Ben fully with her legs dangling off the bunk. “Tell me,” she said, staring at Ben.
Ben sighed deeply and leaned forward with his hands clasped. “You heard Finn accuse me of destroying a village. The village he saw me destroy was the Tuanul settlement on Jakku.” Rey gasped in horror, but Ben continued. “They were harboring a man named Lor San Tekka, who had the missing map piece to Luke Skywalker.”
“So when I found BB-8…”
“He had been fleeing me,” Ben said. “I made a bad bargain. I told San Tekka I would preserve his village if he gave me the map, but not if he withheld it. I did not think he would forfeit the lives of everyone there for someone as worthless as Skywalker, but he did.”
Rey narrowed her eyes. “You didn’t have to follow through on your threat!”
“Yes, I did!” Ben shouted, his anger exploding from him as he slammed the compartment underneath his bunk.
Rey’s eyes shot open in shock at the sudden display of violence. She waited a few seconds for him to say or do something, but he was still. “Ben?” she asked tentatively.
“I regretted it,” he said hoarsely. “I knew I couldn’t go back on my word, I knew Snoke would be proud of me, but I regretted putting their lives on the line. I didn’t intend for innocent people to die.” He took a deep breath and looked Rey directly in the eye. “I regret killing my father too. I’m sorry I took him from you. He was a lousy father, but you cared for him all the same. I did too. At the time, I thought killing him would erase the pain, but... I wish...”
Ben’s voice broke into sobbing. Rey sniffed as her own eyes filled with tears. She climbed from the bunk and stepped up against him, hugging his head to her stomach as he grieved. “Me too,” she said, and Ben wrapped his arms tightly around her waist.
They stayed like that until Ben’s breathing calmed to normal. “Thank you,” he said, rubbing his face on her shirt briefly before looking up at her with eyes red from crying.
“You’re welcome,” Rey said and leaned down to kiss him gently on the forehead. She moved to sit next to him on his bunk with their sides pressed together. His chest was warm, solid, and very distracting.
“The Tuanal settlement is gone, but I can use my power as Supreme Leader to improve the lives on Jakku. Was Unkar Plutt a reasonable man?”
Rey shook her head to clear her focus and answer his question. “Not at all. He was a filthy cheating snake, and hopefully dead from blood loss now. Chewie ripped his arm off on Takodana when he followed me there.”
Ben quirked his head to the side and raised both eyebrows. “Chewie actually ripped his arm off?” Rey nodded. “To think it wasn’t all talk. Dad had been going on about Chewie ripping arms off for ages. He used to threaten me with it when I was a kid, but it never happened.”
Rey smiled at him. “Of course not. Chewie would never do that to a kid… Unkar Plutt… I would have put a lightsaber through him if I had one at the time. I did try to shoot him, but my safety was still on, and I was caught. Chewie saved me.” She paused, lost in her memories. “I had forgotten that Chewie was part of your family too. He’s… he’s still with the Resistance, you know, if you’d like to come visit.”
Ben frowned. “The last time Chewie and I were near each other he shot me in the side with his bowcaster. I don’t think he wants to see me.”
Rey bit her lip. Ben had a point. “He could have aimed at your head though,” Rey said. Ben raised an eyebrow at her. “I’m sure he would be willing to give you another chance. He knew I was going to you, you know. He was the one who flew the Falcon close enough that I could get to the Supremacy in an escape pod. He never tried to talk me out of it or anything. I think he’s been hoping as much as anyone that the Ben he knew was still underneath that mask.”
She caressed his cheek, letting her hand linger on his jawline. He leaned forward and kissed her. “I’m not the Ben he knew.”
Rey gently grasped his chin, turning his face so she could look at it. “No, but you’re not the Kylo Ren that Snoke created either. You’re someone else now. Someone who wanted to help me even after I tried to kill you. Someone who destroyed a monster to save the girl. Someone who took a chance to know his enemies as friends. Someone who adopted a porg and named it Growlie,” she said, chuckling as she finished speaking. “You’re someone who saw a nobody scavenger who came from nothing and offered her the galaxy.”
She yawned and offered him a sleepy smile, for though she wanted to stay awake with him, the exhaustion of the day was finally catching up to her. Ben took her hand from his chin and kissed it before setting it down on his knee.
“I’m someone who sees a beautiful woman who needs to get her rest. You should change before bed. Where are the pajamas I got you?”
Rey frowned as she tried to recall what he was talking about. “Pajamas? Oh, right… you said you would get me some.” She furrowed her brow trying to think through the clothes he had left with her. “I don’t think there were pajamas.”
“What?” Ben said.
“All those clothes… I don’t remember seeing pajamas.”
Ben’s gaped at her. “You’re certain?”
Rey shrugged, got up, and pulled open the duffel bag of clothes, dumping its contents on the floor. “Dress, dress, combat clothes, dress, unmentionables, robe, dress, more combat clothes, more unmentionables…” She tossed each item in its own pile on her bunk until there was nothing left on the floor. “No pajamas. It’s fine. I’ll just sleep in what I’m wearing.”
“That can’t be comfortable,” Ben said, scanning her up and down. Rey glanced down at her own clothes, the same vest, sleeveless tunic, and capris she had been wearing during their battle with Snoke, and she realized then she probably hadn’t bathed since then either. There simply hadn’t been time with everything else going on and being locked in while on the Falcon.
She blushed as she realized she must stink as well, though Ben was probably too refined to ever complain. He was noble in his way, and as Rey thought about it, she remembered that his mother had been referred to as Princess Leia by some, which meant there was a very good chance that she was standing in front of a literal prince while she wore clothes and bodily filth that had not been cleaned in several days or battles.
“Maybe you’re right, but I’ll go visit the refresher and get clean first.” She fumbled through the pile of clothes and pulled out a combat outfit that didn’t look awful and some random lingerie, since she needed something to wear underneath. “This should do, right?”
“Wait,” Ben said. He stood up and reached into a compartment, pulling out some of his own clothes. He held up a simple, black, long-sleeve shirt against her. It was long enough that it reached mid-thigh on her. “Wear this. It’s soft.”
Rey took the shirt. “Okay,” she said, hugging the shirt to her. It smelled like him, and she struggled not to blush at the thought of his smell being wrapped around her as she slept. Her legs would be awfully exposed in the shirt though without pants. She looked at the combat pants she held, which were a rough, rugged material designed for durability over comfort, and then thought about how he might react to seeing her legs as exposed as his chest.
She left everything but the shirt and lingerie behind as she left for the refresher.
Kylo Ren thumbed through the jedi text Rey had been reading. He had read it before many years ago and wondered if it might offer insight he had missed before. So far, he found little that wasn't historical descriptions of famous jedi or explanations of jedi philosophy--including a chapter on the importance of abstinence. Kylo felt his stomach drop as he realized the chapter was much later in the book than Rey had gotten. Rey might not yet realize that what they shared was against the jedi order.
Kylo had mentioned the restriction to her earlier, but there had been a lot going on, and he couldn’t remember if she had confirmed hearing it or not. Of course, Rypo had discussed it with him as well around Rey, but Rey had been unconscious at the time. It was possible she didn’t know. How would she react when she found out?
Would Rey end intimacy with him and insist on just being friends? Would she lose herself to a maelstrom of emotions as she battled with her regret and desire? Would she hate him for encouraging intimacy without warning her? Somehow, though he had planned for her to pretend desire in front of his knights, he had not thought through what it would mean for her as a jedi. His heart ached realizing that their first day kissing might also be their last.
Kylo Ren briefly considered destroying the section on abstinence to hide it, but he had said from the start that he wanted to be honest with her. He would not change that now. He would not hide the truth from her. He would not even delay it. He did not want to create more memories together only to have her regret them at an unexpected moment.
He would tell her tonight, as soon as she returned from the refresher.
She had left behind the pants, only bringing his shirt with her. He swallowed hard at the thought of seeing her freshly washed with her legs bare underneath something that belonged to him. Had she realized the effect it would have on him? Was it as intentional as his own decision to not wear a shirt, knowing that his bare chest attracted her?
If he were going to have this talk with her properly, he should put a shirt on.
Kylo grabbed a shirt for himself and pulled it over his head before stretching back out in his bunk. How long would she be in there? He listened to the shower water from the refresher and found his mind drifting to how she was naked right now. The bond started to form, and Kylo shook his head violently to stop it before things between them could become even more complicated.
“Meditation,” Kylo gasped between panting at what he had almost initiated with Rey. “I need to meditate.”
Ben? He heard her say in his mind. She must have felt what happened. She sounded startled, but not entirely displeased.
I want to speak with you, but I can wait until you are decent. The force was less patient. I prevented the bond from forming when I realized its intentions. Kylo explained.
He heard nothing for a minute from her, and he began to despair her reaction when she spoke in his mind again. I’ll be out soon.
Kylo sighed and forced his mind to empty itself for meditation. He lost himself to time, and suddenly Rey was there before him, touching his knee gently. He opened his eyes and nearly lost his resolve.
He had some idea of what she would look like in his shirt, but his imagination had not filled him in on how her cheeks would be flushed or how she would smell good. It had not occurred to him before that she had smelled bad, given that he was used to the smells of battle and sweaty stormtroopers, but smelling soap mixed with her own feminine scent without the usual smell of sweat and dirt was intoxicating. He did not dare look at her legs yet.
“You wanted to talk?” Rey reminded him. She was smiling and blushing, and he felt cruel and heartless for the reality check he was about to give her, but it had to be done.
Kylo Ren very carefully maintained eye contact. “There is something you should know before we proceed,” he said. Rey’s eyebrows knitted together as she looked back at him. “I’m sorry I did not tell you sooner.”
“What’s wrong, Ben?” Rey asked.
Kylo gazed at her and found he could not bear to witness her reaction. “It’s in your text. Chapter 24. Please read it.” He thought for a moment to ask that she make sure to keep her shields up as well, but she had not dropped them at all since she made the small hole for Rypo to investigate, and that had long been patched.
Rey bit her lip and turned away from him. She picked up her book, sat down in her bunk, and flipped to the designated chapter. Kylo Ren closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind as he waited.
“The Jedi and Abstinence?” Rey said out loud.
Kylo felt every muscle in his body tense at hearing those words from her lips, but he nodded, assuming she was looking at him. He listened to her steady breathing and the slight scrape of her finger sliding across the page as she read. His own breath hitched as she flipped the page, and he realized he was terrified, though her own heartbeat remained steady. After another excruciating minute, he heard her close the book and put it down.
She stood and walked up to him, so close he could feel the fabric of the shirt she wore brush against the fabric covering his knees. He did not dare open his eyes to see her expression.
“You’re afraid,” Rey said. Her voice was tinged with wonder, and he did not understand why.
“I am,” he admitted.
“Ben, I’m not going to give up what we have just because some dusty old book says it’s a bad idea,” Rey said.
Ben’s eyes shot open to look at her. She was standing with her hands on her hips, glaring at him. She was beautiful, and he felt something like hope ignite inside him.
“Did you think a little note like that would sway me when the fact that you’ve been more dark than light and the leader of the First Order didn’t stop me? These texts say not to desire physical intimacy. They also say I shouldn’t feel hate, fear, or any passionate feeling. I feel all of them. I feel them strongly, including desire. They’re part of who I am, and I won’t give that up.”
She dropped her hands and let them hang limply at her sides. “I’ve embraced the conflict within me. This book is a guide, but only a guide. I make my own choices, and I chose you.”
Rey held her hand out to him, and he stared at it blankly, noting the black sleeve folded up on itself to be the right length for her arm even as he was still reeling in the shock that she was not affected by the teachings against intimacy.
She dropped her hand when he didn’t take it. “You put your shirt back on for this, didn’t you?” she said. “Weren’t you going to seduce me to the dark side?”
Kylo was speechless as she took the hem of his shirt and slid it up, stroking the muscles of his chest in the process. He lifted his arms as she pulled the shirt all the way off and tossed it on the foot of the bunk. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and kissed him slowly, deeply, and intensely. The position hitched his shirt up high on her thighs so that the entirety of her legs were visible. They were beautiful, and he reached out to feel the outside of her thighs without thinking. Her legs were not shaved like those of most women he had seen. They were wild, just like she was, and he loved it.
He relaxed into the kiss, finally trusting that this was the future she wanted. He recalled how much she had wanted his hands on her bottom the last time they had kissed, and he slid them up from her thighs to cup her butt underneath the shirt. He fully expected to find underwear underneath. He did not.
She gasped, breaking the kiss, and stepped backwards away from him. “The… the underthings you got me were too big to wear. I hadn’t planned on…” Her voice drifted off and she pulled the shirt down with her hands, obviously self-conscious now and blushing deeply.
Kylo froze and processed that she had nothing on underneath his shirt. His tailor had bungled things amazingly in supplying her clothes. “We can get new underwear for you after Ilum,” he said. “Nightclothes too.”
“Yea. That sounds good,” Rey said.
“I’ll go check how far we have until we exit hyperspace. Why don’t you try to get some sleep?” Kylo said. He was entirely too wound up to rest, and Rey looked like she needed some space to recover from what had just happened.
“Thank you,” Rey said. He gazed at her, not wanting to leave her, and she gazed back. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I backed off right after reassuring you that I do want to be intimate with you. I don’t know anything about how to pace these things.”
“Me either,” he admitted. “We can figure it out together.”
Rey smiled shyly and nodded before carefully climbing into her bunk, pulling the blanket over her, and closing her eyes. Kylo gazed at her still, marveling at his luck to be with her.
The beeping of the ship’s exit from hyperspace woke Rey. She blinked a few times as she found her bearings. She was on a small ship with Ben, and they had been on their way to Ilum to find a Kyber crystal for her new lightsaber. If luck was with her, she would find two and create a staff instead of a sword. The jedi texts all showed the same boring lightsaber design, but if Ben could have a lightsaber with cross guards, she saw no reason she could not alter the design to create a staff if she had the crystals for it.
Rey wondered what Ben would think of it. He had expressed doubt that she would find even one intact crystal, let alone two.
Rey sat up and looked to the other bunk, expecting to see Ben, but it was empty. She reached out into the force and found him in the pilot’s seat with Growlie. She smiled at that. She knew since Ahch-To that Ben had good inside him, but she had never expected it to manifest in such sweet and simple ways.
Her outfit from yesterday was clean and folded neatly at the foot of her bed. Ben must have washed and dried it while she slept. She didn't even realize this little ship had laundry facilities. She would have to explore it fully later. It was entirely different from the battleships she had studied and scavenged on Jakku, and she was eager to learn more about it.
Rey grabbed her freshly cleaned underwear and one of the warmer-looking combat outfits before disappearing into the refresher. She dressed quickly and efficiently, though she blushed at the memory of standing there the night before with Ben’s shirt on and staring at the lingerie that had been too large to stay on her. Would she have done things differently had she known what would happen?
The memory of his incredibly smooth hands on her made her dizzy with the blood rushing to her face. That had definitely been unplanned. She gazed at her own coarse hands, calloused from too many years working in harsh conditions without any sort of skin care. She had seen a bottle of lotion used once by a visiting historian curious about the ruins. The historian had laughed at her when she asked what it was for, explained when he realized her question was sincere, and shoved her away when she asked if she might use some for her own hands.
Ben hadn't seemed to mind her rough skin, but she did wish it were as smooth as his. “I wonder,” she said out loud and began digging through the small cabinet in the refresher. Sure enough, there were a number of bottles and ointments provided in there, including several types of lotions. Rey laughed in delight. She couldn't believe her luck.
Rey pulled each one out and opened them. They had slightly different smells, all appealing in different ways. She could just use all of them, but it seemed excessive. Then she noticed that one lotion was labelled ‘rose'. She grinned at the familiar name and put the others away before squeezing out the rose lotion. The scent reminded her of the flowers she had collected on Jakku.
Rey rubbed the lotion into the skin of her hands, but though they felt smoother, they were still very rough, so she used more.
Are you dressed? Rey heard Ben ask in her head. We've arrived at Ilum, but we only have a few hours of daylight for the part of the planet most likely to have intact Kyber crystals.
Rey nodded before she remembered he couldn't see her. I'm dressed. I'm just putting some lotion on my hands before we go. She paused, just then considering that she hadn't asked first. Would he mind?
Rey tried to put the bottle of lotion away, but it slipped right out of her hands when she picked it up. She tried again with the same results. Frowning at both the lotion and her hands, she used the force to complete the task and stood up. She felt Ben's presence on the other side of the door and pressed the button to slide it open with the force, no longer trusting her own hands.
Ben was dressed in thick layers and had a scarf, hat, and gloves in his hands. Before Rey said anything, he wrapped the scarf around her neck, expertly tucked it in, pulled the hat over her head, then glanced at her hands to put the gloves on, and stopped.
They both stared at her hands quietly, and Rey realized the lotion was a thick layer on top of her skin.
“You never used lotion before,” Ben said quietly. Rey slowly shook her head. “We’ll need to remove the excess.” He put the gloves in a pocket, grabbed a hand towel, and gently but firmly rubbed the excess lotion from Rey's hands.
After most of the lotion was off her hands, Ben put the hand towel down, took his own gloves off, and then rubbed his own hands against hers, absorbing the last of the excess lotion into his own skin. She bit her lip, feeling the difference yet again between the texture of his hands and her own. She felt dumb, coarse, and, even worse, wasteful. “I'm sorry,” she whispered. When he raised his eyebrows at her, she added, “For using too much.”
The corner of Ben's mouth curled up. “When I was a child, I once got into my mother's collection of creams and lotions following a bath and came out covered so thickly that even Chewie couldn't get a grip on me at first, and then he smelled of the lotions for weeks. Han laughed himself hoarse when he found out what happened.”
Rey smiled at that. “I wanted my hands to be smooth like yours,” she said.
Ben brought her hands to his lips and kissed her knuckles. “You don’t have to change, but there are facilities that can smooth out calluses. Mother used them before. We can visit them, if you like.”
Rey nodded, and Ben released her hands, handing her the gloves he had brought for her and putting his own back on. “Ilum is not a forgiving place. We need to move quickly.”
They went to the cockpit and strapped in for the flight to the planet surface. Ilum was a broken world with lava showing in deep gashes in the earth and ice everywhere else. “How do you know where to land?” she asked.
“There are some intact crystal caves that Skywalker brought us to when he deemed us ready to build our first lightsabers.”
Rey studied Ben. “Is your current lightsaber your second one then?” The teachings said that Kyber crystals only turned red when overpowered by the dark side, and she couldn’t imagine that Luke had allowed Ben to do that.
“No, my current lightsaber was originally blue, and the cracks small enough that it did not then require the cross guards. It became red and unstable when I overpowered the crystal after I left the academy. Pure kyber crystals resist use by the dark side.”
Rey gave a small smile at that. “You didn’t have any problem using my blade during our battle with Snoke and the guard.”
Ben smiled. “It seems I have embraced my own conflict as well, but you forget that blade also belonged to me.”
They reached the surface with a smooth landing despite a harsh gusting wind and heavy snowfall. Ben put on a cloth mask and goggles to protect his face and handed her a second set along with a thick jacket.
“How do I know what to look for?” Rey asked as they got ready to head out.
“Trust the force. The crystals are alive in their way, and the one meant for you will sing to you.”
Rey frowned, thinking back on the two crystal pieces from the broken lightsaber. She had imagined them calling to her at times, but the lightsaber had always called to her. It didn’t necessarily mean they were meant for her. Besides, they were no longer whole. She shook her head to clear it.
The ramp opened up, and Ben and Rey joined hands on reflex to brace each other as they were blasted with snow and wind. They climbed down the ramp, and the ramp closed behind them. Ben lead her through the snow into the side of a mountain and then into a dark cave. He pulled out a stick from one of his pockets, fiddled with it, and a bright light came from it, illuminating the cave they stood in. It lead to many other caverns, and Rey had flashbacks of when she first explored a Star Destroyer, back before she had found the schematics that taught her how to navigate them.
Reach into the force. Where is it leading you? Ben said into her mind.
Rey reached out with the force, sensing the cold, abused world beneath her, the volcanic wounds exploding lava onto the ice, but the force drew her immediately back to Ben. Or perhaps she was simply focusing on Ben. She hesitated in her uncertainty. Would he be upset if he thought she weren’t focusing properly? Still, that’s all she could feel as she cleared her mind and tried to connect with the life around her. The force is leading me to you. She said.
Ben turned to look at her. She couldn’t see his expression through the protective gear. Are you sure?
I think so. Are you looking too? She said.
Ben shook his head. I shouldn’t need to, I… That’s strange. I do feel something pulling me. He started walking towards a cavern on the left, and Rey followed him.
They went through many caverns. Some had snow, some had hanging stalactites and towering stalagmites, some had ice, but all had deep gouging wounds in them, as if machines had come in here and scraped up the walls at some point.
Finally, Ben stopped and stared at a spot high up. Would you levitate me? I need to get up there.
Rey used the force to lift him even as she wondered to both herself and to him. Why can’t we levitate ourselves?
No idea. Ben quickly responded. A little more to the left, please .
Rey adjusted him. If we can levitate each other, could we make each other fly as a team?
Ben plucked something out from the roof of the cavern and stared at it quietly. Bring me down. She returned him carefully to stand in front of her. He held out a yellow crystal to her. Do you hear it?
Rey shook her head, and Ben looked sharply at the crystal. Is it meant for you? She asked.
Reach out again, see if you feel anything drawing you.
Rey complied, and now she felt drawn towards the way they came. She started walking, and Ben followed with the light. The tug she felt brought them back into the snow, and though she did not see it right away, to the ship.
I don’t understand. Ben said.
Rey thought back to the broken crystals. I think I might. Can broken crystals still be used to build lightsabers?
He opened the ramp to the ship, and they climbed aboard as the ramp closed. Ben went to the ship’s dashboard and pressed some buttons, and Rey felt hot air blow out the ventilation system. He took off his mask and goggles and stared at Rey. “You mean the crystals from the broken lightsaber.”
“That lightsaber has always called to me. I found it in Maz’s castle. When I touched it, I saw visions… so many visions, including you,” Rey said. “I didn’t realize what any of it meant.”
“Rey,” Ben said carefully and stepped closer to her. “You can’t heal a kyber crystal that’s been broken in two. It’s not possible.”
Rey thought back to her vision of her staff. “I’m not sure I’m meant to. The sword… it’s not my weapon of choice. On Jakku, I fought with a wooden staff. I think I’m meant to create a lightsaber staff… with two blades and the handle in the middle.”
Ben’s eyes widened. “Like Darth Maul.”
“Who?” Rey asked.
Ben waved his hand as if to dismiss the topic. “A lightsaber staff. That might be possible. The size of the crystals can impact the strength of the blade, but if the force is telling you to use the broken pieces, than we should trust it.”
“And did the force tell you to forge a new lightsaber?” Rey asked, thinking of what he found in the caverns.
Ben pulled out the yellow kyber crystal from the cave and studied it. He frowned and put it away in a pocket. “Let’s leave the surface before we’re caught night-side. We’ll decide what to do next once we’re back in orbit.”
If someone had asked Rypo what she felt a week ago, she would have told them nothing. Now, her thoughts were full of chaos. Doubt on what path to take was first and foremost, but also confusion as to what was truly going on. Curiosity, as much as she hated it, also lingered at the edge of her thoughts. She had portrayed disgust at the idea of lust, but the rush of what the girl had felt towards Master Kylo kept returning.
It was not that Rypo found Master Kylo desirable. She didn’t. Some distant memory of the girl she had once been insisted that he was most certainly not her type. However, the lust had been a good feeling, and Rypo had not felt anything that was good in a very long time.
She had forgotten what it was like.
Rypo gripped her hands tightly, wishing the gloves were off so she could distract herself with the pain of her nails in her palm. Enough. She had to complete her mission to inform the remaining knights of what she had learned regarding both the girl and Master Kylo’s strange behavior. The Knights of Ren were gathered in a boardroom to hear her report, and she still hadn’t decided how to handle this.
Telling the truth was certainly a betrayal of Master Kylo, but was betraying Master Kylo the same as betraying the First Order? Furthermore, what of the theories she and Teva developed on their return?
Banto had asked for their report when they returned, but they declined giving him a private audience to their findings on their leader. Now Banto was the only one they waited on. Teva sat to her left, as he always did at such gatherings. Jun’Pon and Hama-Ki sat across from them, and Nighwitch sat at the foot of the table, leaving the seat at the head open for Banto.
They had their helmets and armor on, as was custom, and the room was silent. The banter she occasionally shared with Teva on missions was frowned upon. Of course, removing their helmets was as well. They were trained to be emotionless tools for the First Order. Rypo bit her lip as she considered whether she should insist on more protocol with Teva, but she knew she wouldn’t.
The door to the boardroom opened, and Banto came in, taking his seat.
Banto broke the silence. “Knights of Ren, you heard my concerns regarding Master and Supreme Leader Kylo Ren’s actions of late, particularly regarding his interest in converting the new Jedi, a girl named Rey. Knights Rypo and Teva were sent to Coruscant to observe this development and report back what they learned.” Banto turned to Rypo. “Report.”
Rypo took a deep breath and let it out carefully, thankful that the helmet hid the uncertainty in her expression. “We arrived at Coruscant without complications. As we left the starport, we discovered a Resistance member named Rose Tico following us,” Rypo said. “I glanced at her mind and saw that she was acquainted with both the girl Rey and Master Kylo. We abducted her and returned her to our ship for further investigation.”
She paused, hesitant to continue. “This Tico had memories of Master Kylo surprising her in the hallway before going together to meet with the girl Rey, who was with the traitor FN-2187 and a man named Poe Dameron, who was known to Tico as the current leader of the Resistance. Master Kylo met them on friendly terms, though he and FN-2187 apparently had some initial tension. He had a porg, which is some type of bird, with him that he believed to be a pet of Rey’s, and when she denied it, he asked to keep it for himself. He had named it Growlie.”
Rypo looked around the room without turning her head, wishing not for the first time that she could see their reactions when providing a report. No one commented or interrupted on the mention of a pet porg. She continued.
“Kylo Ren then accompanied these four Resistance members to a Coruscant library, where they searched for texts on the force and shared historical knowledge of force users with the group. During this time he told them of our existence as the Knights of Ren and warned them to stay away from us for their own safety.”
Rypo heard a modulated gasp from across the table, but she could not tell if it was from Jun’Pon or Hama-Ki. Neither of them spoke, though she gave them time to. After a few seconds, Banto gestured at her. “Go on, Rypo.”
“Following the library, Kylo Ren had dinner with the Resistance group, where he primarily discussed politics with Dameron. During this discussion, Master Kylo’s spoken values did not betray the values of the First Order. However, Tico had noted that Master Kylo was highly distracted by the girl Rey. Following dinner, he said he was spending the night with this Rey. That was Tico’s experience with Master Kylo. I meant to investigate her knowledge of Rey’s relationship with Master Kylo and the events from the Supremacy, but Tico had sent out a force projection warning Rey of our arrival when we abducted her. Rey, Master Kylo, and the traitor FN-2187 arrived before I could scan further.”
“Master Kylo put his companions into a force sleep and declared we had risked his mission. I asked permission to scan Rey’s mind. He granted it, but her mind was shielded. Master Kylo offered to crack her shield for me. I accepted, and when I checked again, I found… lustful images of Master Kylo in Rey’s mind. Master Kylo presented this as evidence that the girl could be swayed away from the light side of the force and asked us to leave. We returned Tico to him at his request before we left. Thus ends my report.”
Rypo resisted the urge to sigh in relief at its conclusion. She had shared the facts of what she had found and nothing more. All their theories were better left unsaid for the moment, at least.
“Thank you, Rypo. Teva, do you have anything to add?” Banto asked.
Teva’s head turned to Rypo, and he was silent for a long moment. Rypo wished she could see his face to get some idea of what he was thinking. Would he share his suspicion that Master Kylo and the girl had been working together?
“This girl Rey was holding Master Kylo’s lightsaber when they arrived to rescue their friend. She showed no fear of Master Kylo or wielding a tool of the dark side. It is my conclusion that Master Kylo has succeeded in earning this girl’s trust and that she has conflict within her heart. That is all I have to say.”
A thrill ran down Rypo’s back at the knowledge that she and Teva were keeping their suspicions from the rest of the knights, and she wondered at the sensation as she realized she liked it, though she shouldn’t.
“You have heard their report. Questions?” Banto asked.
Jun’Pon turned to face Rypo. “You said you searched Rey’s mind. What did you find of Supreme Leader Snoke’s demise?”
Rypo’s heart pounded as she thought out what words to use. “I was unable to learn more than her desire for Master Kylo.” There. She had answered the question without admitting her own weakness in backing away too soon or that she had likely been duped. She frowned beneath her mask as she realized she was protecting Master Kylo and this girl. Why was she protecting them? For the First Order? Because Teva was also protecting them?
“Disappointing,” Jun’Pon said in a voice that was deep despite the modulation. “I would have liked to know how she managed it. Did I hear you say that she was able to maintain a mental shield while unconscious?”
Rypo nodded and said, “She was definitely powerful. Master Kylo is the only other human force user I have known with that capability.”
“Does that mean Master Kylo is training the girl?” asked Nighwitch, leaning on her elbows at the foot of the table.
“Doing so certainly would be an effective way of earning her trust,” said Rypo. She had not considered the possibility before, but it made perfect sense, especially considering Teva’s theory that the two had affection for each other.
“Earning her trust, yes, but also honing a weapon for the Resistance,” Jun’Pon said. “It is an act of betrayal against the First Order, as was divulging knowledge of our existence to the leader of the Resistance.”
“Only if we are actively at war with the Resistance, and we are currently under a ceasefire ordered by Master Kylo, who is our Supreme Leader, for the exact purpose of working out a peace treaty. If he is not to negotiate terms with the Resistance, than who?” Nighwitch countered. “Our objective is to provide order, not destruction. We are not the Empire!”
“But we are the Knights of Ren, and we do not go around flirting with the enemy to meet our objectives!” Jon’Pon said.
The force crackled in the room between them, and Rypo saw Teva discreetly free his lightsaber from its holster under the table.
“Enough,” Banto said. “Calm yourselves. Emotion is weakness. If you have forgotten, my underlying concern is that Master Kylo has become too emotionally vulnerable to serve as our leader. Hux had left a substantial detailed report of his suspicions regarding Master Kylo. Obviously, there’s his parentage. I think everyone here knows he was born from and raised with the enemy.”
He paused to face everyone in the room before he continued, even though none of them could meet eyes due to the helmets. “Hux wrote that Master Kylo has consistently ignored orders where this girl Rey was concerned. He brought back the girl instead of the droid when searching for the Skywalker map. He fought her outside Starkiller Base instead of checking for sabotage, dooming our greatest weapon. Need I even mention that it was under her presence that Master Kylo witnessed Supreme Leader Snoke’s death? What if he could have prevented it and chose not to because of the girl?”
He waited for that to sink in. Rypo squirmed, wondering if Banto suspected as she and Teva did. Banto continued. “And now, instead of hunting her down and destroying her before she can cause more harm, he is buying her presents, adopting animals for her, getting to know her friends, and quite possibly even training her. And, of course, there is his murder of Hux. Hux was an excellent general. It was not strategy or the First Order’s well-being that drove that decision.”
Hama-Ki leaned forward and spoke quietly, but everyone faced her with rapt attention. Though her force talent was small, she was the eldest of them by several decades and usually the one to settle disputes with her wisdom. “Banto speaks truly. Master Kylo has been erratic. However, he has always been erratic, which is part of why Supreme Leader Snoke monitored him so closely. Even knowing this, Supreme Leader Snoke still made him our master and ordered us to trust and follow him in his stead.”
She copied Banto’s tactic now and paused to face everyone in the room in turn before continuing. “Master Kylo has trained everyone in this room, and he has always spoken loudly against the chaos of the Republic. Though he may err where his personal connections are concerned, I believe he is still the best person for the role of Supreme Leader. Furthermore, regarding the death of Hux, it was well known that Hux desired to rule and had no respect for Master Kylo. He would have sought to topple Master Kylo sooner or later in his hunger for power.”
“And what of Master Kylo? Does he not also hunger for power?” Banto challenged.
Rypo surprised herself by shaking her head, and she was not alone. Hama-Ki, Teva, and Nighwitch also shook their heads.
Teva spoke, “Master Kylo rules because someone must rule, and there is no one else he trusts with the task. He shared his power with us when he needed help. He let me and Rypo live, though we had interfered with his plans and revealed we were investigating him.”
“He may trust the girl enough,” Rypo said, thinking on what she had seen and realizing something she was terrified to voice. All heads turned abruptly to her. “What if the reason he’s with her and training her is to make her his queen?”
“An interesting theory, Rypo,” said Hama-Ki. “It could explain his actions of late, and that presents a much more unsettling issue. I trust Master Kylo to lead us, but what of this girl? She is an unknown.”
“We cannot allow a jedi to lead the First Order,” Banto said.
“She’s not a jedi,” Teva said. “At least, not like in the history books. Her comfort with Master Kylo’s blade and her lust for him both speak to conflict within.”
Hama-Ki nodded. “I do not think Master Kylo would be drawn to a person who is all light. He hated Skywalker more than Snoke did. We will have to wait and see where this leads.”
Banto nodded at the head of the table. “Hama-Ki speaks with wisdom, as always. We will monitor the situation. Now, please report on your divisions. Jun’Pon, what is the status of stormtrooper and officer recruitment efforts?”
Rypo settled back in her chair, thankful to have the discussion over for now. Next to her, Teva clipped his lightsaber back and patted her gently on the knee before returning his hand to his own lap. Much of the tension left her at his reassuring touch, and she wondered yet again that she felt better with him around.
Kylo Ren watched as the streaks of stars returned to normal space near a red gas giant planet with many moons. Rey stood up and leaned against the dashboard next to him. “You said you would show me jedi ruins. Where are we?” she asked as he flew them in closer to a moon that was more vegetation than water.
“That’s Yavin,” Kylo said, pointing at the red planet, and then he pointed at the green and blue moon nearest them. “That’s Yavin 4. The Massassi Temple is there. It was built to service a Sith Lord, then used as a rebel base during the war with the Empire, and more recently housed Skywalker’s Jedi academy. It burned the night Skywalker betrayed me, but I expect there's plenty of material and technology left that might interest a force-talented scavenger.”
Rey grinned, and Kylo felt relief. Even knowing her scavenging tendencies, he had not been sure how she would react to his suggestion.
“So what’s the plan? Go down there and build our lightsabers together?” she asked casually, but she watched him carefully as they glided down to the moon’s surface. Kylo kept his face expressionless. Rey had tried several times to discover what he thought of the yellow Kyber crystal that had called to him during their time on Ilum yesterday. He knew what it meant, but that didn’t mean he had to accept it just yet. He wasn’t ready.
Kylo shook his head. “I’m returning to the First Order. I requested that a shuttle pick me up here so that you can use this ship while I’m gone. Consider it yours. Build your lightstaff and scavenge what you will from the ruins. You should be able to contact me through the bond, but I’ve also included the codes for contacting the First Order within the ship, including the clearance sequence to reach me directly. Keep my helmet with you. It will allow the Resistance to find you when they’re ready.”
A burst of pure panic slipped through Rey’s mental shield. “You’re leaving me?”
Kylo swallowed hard, but he waited until the ship landed near an old, damaged temple before turning to face her. “We discussed this. You were never meant to come to the First Order in person while our future remains undecided. It’s too dangerous.”
Rey shook her head, and his heart dropped as he saw anguish and hope battle across her expression. “But you weren’t supposed to come to me either, and that worked out. Besides, I thought we still had to establish a basis for the bond.”
Kylo took a deep breath. He had not confided in her his fears yet, and he was not sure he should. Rypo had gone through Rose’s head, and Rose had known the truth of their bond and what happened to Snoke. Nothing in Rypo’s countenance suggested that Rypo had discovered the truth of things, but Kylo had thought he had cleared Banto’s suspicions before he left as well. He wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. He had to find out what the knights knew and whether they still had loyalty to him. For all he knew, he would be returning to an ambush.
“Ben, what’s wrong?” Rey said.
He gazed at Rey, wishing he knew what to do or say. He sighed as he recalled his earlier pledge to be honest with her. He would tell her the truth, though it may put her in danger. “It’s possible that I am returning to a trap.”
“A trap? Then let’s go together! I can protect you!” Rey said. Kylo smirked at that. Rey had definitely proven her right to fight beside him. He would never forget how amazing the battle against the Praetorian Guard had been with her at his back. However, this was not likely a battle that would be fought with lightsabers.
“If it’s a trap, then coming with me would only entrap you too. If it’s not a trap, then coming with me would still put you in danger. Rey, stay here.”
“No, Ben. Please. I don’t want to be alone,” Rey said. Tears came to her eyes, and she choked back a sob.
“You are not alone,” Kylo said, meeting her eyes and taking her hands into his own. “You will never be alone again, Rey. No matter how far apart we are, you can reach me. Open the bond every minute if you need to, and I’ll be there right beside you. You will know everything that’s happening.”
Rey shook her head. “No. I don’t care. I want to be with you.”
“You agreed to stay away from the First Order!” Kylo said, snapping.
“And you agreed to stay away from the Resistance!” Rey snapped right back. “But you came anyway, and I will come with you, Ben. I will not stay here waiting and wondering when or if you will return to me. I won’t go through that again. I won’t!”
Kylo shuddered. “No, Rey. I let you into their fold once, and you nearly died. Do you have any idea how terrified I was for you? How horrific it was to watch Snoke torture you and know I was powerless to stop him? I will keep you safe!”
“I don’t want to be safe! I just want to be with you!” Rey shouted. Tears streamed down her face in a rush. “I just want to be with you,” she repeated as the steam blew out of her and she crumpled into a ball, crying and hugging her knees. “Please, Ben.”
His own anger evaporated at the sight of her misery, and he shrank down with her, wrapping his arms tightly around her and leaning his head on top of hers. “Shh, it’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay.”
“Not if you’re gone.”
Kylo scrunched up his eyes and sighed. He knew that she was stronger than this, but he knew how badly her parents’ abandonment had scarred her. Leaving her would scar her again, and perhaps bringing her with him would make a difference. “You can come with me.”
Rey froze in his arms, then gently pulled back to look him in the eyes. “What?” she asked softly.
“You can come with me. I won’t abandon you.”
Relief flooded Rey’s face, and she sobbed anew, hugging him tightly. “Thank you, Ben. Thank you.”
“You may die.”
“I knew that the first time I came to you too,” Rey said. She snorted. “That escape pod even looked like a coffin. Chewbacca must have thought I was insane.”
Kylo agreed, but he couldn’t find humor in it. “You were absolutely insane. What convinced you to go so far for me, anyway? We had become… something like friends, but you trusted me with your life in that moment. Why?”
“I told you then. I had a vision that if I saved you, you would turn,” Rey said.
Kylo gazed at her. “Was that everything?”
Rey bit her lip, as if uncertain. “It was what I focused on, but I’ve wondered since then if maybe I knew even then that I would fall in love with you.”
Kylo trembled. “And do you love me?” he asked carefully.
Rey gave him a deadpan expression. “How can you ask that? You saw inside my heart. You know what I feel. Here,” she said, and she dropped her shields, filling the force around them with the flood of her love for him. “I love you.”
He dropped his shields as well, and the force swelled around them. “I love you too.”
Rey giggled. “I feel like I could force lift an entire planet right now.”
He smiled. “Yea, me too. We should do this more often.” He bent down and kissed her passionately. Rey returned it, and they only broke away when they heard a shrill chatter behind them from Growlie. Ben, or was it Kylo? In that moment, he wasn’t sure, but he gazed at Rey until he saw her glance away and saw her eyes go wide.
“Are we doing this?” she asked in wonder, and he turned to look as well.
All around the ship, objects were floating in the air, including Growlie, who was drifting upside down near the ceiling. “Let’s put them down,” he said.
“Yea, let’s do that,” Rey agreed, and they carefully put everything back in its place. Kylo put Growlie in his pocket for safe-keeping. The bird nuzzled in, apparently thankful for the security. “That was amazing.”
Kylo nodded. It had been overpowering. “Skywalker once said something similar had happened when I started training with him. He said he had never seen someone so powerful before.”
“Really?” Rey said. “He told me I had your potential, but he didn’t mention anything floating. She put her shield back up, and Kylo did the same. “So what happens next?”
“The shuttle should arrive tomorrow morning. Let’s go explore the temple together and see if we can find the parts for your new lightstaff to be built,” Kylo said.
“But not your new lightsaber?” Rey asked.
Kylo shook his head. He knew where the force wanted him, but he wasn’t ready. “Not yet.”
By the time evening fell on Yavin 4, Rey had built her light-staff with Ben’s assistance using parts from the temple. She knew she would have normally found the temple fascinating despite the devastating damage from fires that burned during Ben’s last departure. However, her thoughts were so full of what might happen when she and Ben went to the First Order that she could barely think.
Ben had noticed, of course. “You don’t have to come,” he said as they entered his ship for the evening. “I can still request a shuttle and leave without you.”
“I’m going,” Rey insisted. Of this, she had no doubt. Somewhere between her fear of abandonment and her desire to support him she had decided she would never leave his side again. It was embarrassing to know her fears still ruled any part of her heart, but they were the truth of her. She might always be afraid.
Ben gazed at her and went back down the ramp. “Come on.”
“What?” Rey said, following him back outside.
“There’s no room inside for a proper battle,” Ben said. At the bottom of the ramp, he unclipped his lightsaber and turned it on. The red, unstable beam cut through the darkness, and Rey felt a sense of deja vu as she recalled both their battle in the woods on Starkiller Base and her vision of him with the knights.
Rey frowned at him. “Why are we battling?”
“Consider it a lesson.”
“I don’t need lessons in how to handle a staff while fighting, even if it’s got lightsabers built in,” Rey countered.
Ben stared at her, and the red of the lightsaber reflected in his eyes.
Rey imagined, for a moment, that he was wielding a yellow lightsaber made from his new Kyber crystal instead. Though he was in denial, she had no doubt what the crystal meant. It was time for him to be reborn again. She wondered if he would reclaim his birth name or choose yet a new name when he did it.
“Your shields are up, but you’re obviously distracted. I find that combat helps me let go of the distractions. Perhaps it will help you too. Furthermore, I would enjoy crossing blades with you. Please.”
Rey smirked at that. Well, since he asked nicely… She unclipped her own lightsaber and turned it on. Twin blades of blue erupted from either end of the hilt. She smiled, knowing that this lightsaber was fully hers.
Ben came at her swiftly from below, Rey blocked with the bottom half of her lightsaber, and so they began. Red met blue and blue met red, over and over in the darkness of the night, until Rey’s thoughts cleared of everything but the man she loved before her and the colors between them. Rey lost herself to time until Ben caught her blade between the blade and crossguard of his and pulled her closer to him.
“Feel better?” he asked her.
Rey watched the red and blue lights reflect in the sweat gathered on his face. One bead rolled down, and Rey wondered what it would taste like.
“You look like you want to kiss me,” Ben said quietly.
“I do want to kiss you,” Rey admitted.
Ben smiled at her and leaned in to kiss her forehead. “Let’s go inside for that,” he said. He untangled his lightsaber, deactivated it, and went up the ramp.
Rey copied him and followed, though her nerves tingled with the awareness that they were going into the ship with the plan of kissing. All their other kisses had been spontaneous things in the moment. Would this time be different? How would they start? Where would they stop?
Once inside, Ben put away his lightsaber, withdrew Growlie from his pocket, and poured out some food and water in two small bowls for the little bird. Rey had forgotten the porg had been on him throughout the day, though he had let Growlie loose to flutter around them several times. Ben turned to face her and opened his arms. “Well?”
Rey blushed and stayed near the ramp, though she did close it. “Well what?”
“You know what,” he said. He met her eyes, lowered his gaze to her lips for a few seconds, and then looked back.
Rey didn’t move. She was used to acting on instinct, not plans.
Ben walked up to her, removed her lightsaber for her, and set it aside. “May I kiss you?”
“Yes,” Rey said.
Ben closed in gently, watching her face until their lips met, and then she closed her eyes and let herself focus on the sensations of his soft lips against hers. It was not as intense as some of their earlier kisses, but it felt right for this moment, and she felt her body and soul relax with the safe intimacy. His arms wrapped around her back gently, and she wrapped her own around his neck. When their lips parted, she leaned her face against his chest.
“I never want to leave you,” she said.
“I know,” Ben said. “I don’t know what we’ll be facing tomorrow. The knights… I don’t actually know them well at all. Snoke had me recruit them and perform their initial training, but then I was Snoke’s apprentice and they were not. Though I have learned to trust their efficiency, I have not spent as much time with them as I should.”
“What are their names?” Rey asked, figuring that she may as well know what he did know.
Ben shrugged. “I know them as Banto, Hama-Ki, Jun-Pon, Teva, Rypo, and Nighwitch. My second-in-command, Banto, was a street lord on Coruscant when I found him. There’s no telling what his real name is, but he went by Banto there too. Hama-Ki also kept the name she had before. She’s an older woman who served in the Senate during the Old Republic. She had no interest in the Sith or the Jedi, but she wanted to help the First Order.”
He paused to inhale and exhale deeply. “Teva also did not change names. He was a mercenary. I’m not sure he’s not now. He follows orders well, but he never showed much interest in the First Order’s ideals or the foundation of the Knights. Rypo and Nighwitch are both new names. You met Rypo. She’s loyal to the First Order and the knighthood faith. Nighwitch is the same, though she does not specialize in mental invasion like Rypo does.”
Rey shook her head. It was a lot of names all at once. “So Rypo and Teva were the ones who abducted Rose, right?”
Ben nodded. “Under Banto’s orders, no doubt. I don’t know what they’re expecting. The knights are used to working independently of me. I’m really not sure what to expect.”
“How powerful are they?” Rey asked.
Ben shrugged. “In a straight-up battle, you and I could take the team of them out easily. There’s a reason Snoke left them to my management instead of taking them on himself. Rypo has no physical prowess. The others have little ability to manipulate minds. Hama-Ki actually specializes in healing with what little power she has. Their best fighter is Teva, and even he has not won in combat against me without cheating.”
Rey frowned. “But you’re afraid of them.”
“I left them in charge of the First Order. They could bring the fleet down on us before we ever make it back, and I’m an outsider to them. I don’t even know why they would keep me around. Even without the whole business with the investigation regarding you, I would be concerned.”
Rey wanted to calm his fears, but anything she could say would be empty assurances. She knew nothing of his relationship with the knights beyond what he told her, and she had no reason to believe they cared for him as she did.
“I want you around, and I will be with you when you face them,” Rey said.
Ben kissed the top of her head. “Thank you.” He paused and leaned back far enough to look Rey in the eyes. “If I may, I would like to keep you in my arms tonight.” He gazed at her. “May I?”
Rey bit her lip. The thought of what this might lead to made her nervous, but she knew he would not push her into anything she didn’t want to do. “You may.”
“Thank you,” he said again, and they kissed again.
After dinner, Rey showered while Ben flew them to orbit. After Rey was clean, she found herself hanging out with Growlie in the cockpit while Ben had his turn in the refresher. She could have stayed in the bunk room, but the bunks really were not designed for two people, and she wasn't sure what to do. She still didn't have night pants, though she did at least have underwear on underneath Ben's big black shirt. She blushed, wondering what would happen tonight.
“You sleep with him every night, don't you?” she said to Growlie. “I'm jealous, I think. I would like to snuggle up to him without worrying about what might happen.”
Growlie squawked at her, and Rey frowned at the porg and sighed. “I’m not your enemy, Growlie. We’re both far from home.” She gazed out at the stars. “I wonder what direction Jakku is in.”
She heard steps behind her, and Ben leaned over her shoulder. His chest was bare and warm from the shower, and its proximity left her feeling lightheaded and a little dizzy. “Ready for bed?” he asked.
“The bunks are too small,” Rey said.
Ben smiled. “Maybe if we were planning to make love, but they’re big enough for us to sleep holding each other.”
Rey blushed. Apparently she had been the only one thinking they might do something more tonight. “Okay,” she said, feeling and odd mix of relief and disappointment. What in the force did she want?
Ben took her hand and led her back to the bunks. Ben got into bed first, turned on his side, and left an arm sprawled across the bed in invitation to her.
Rey crawled in next to him, facing him with her head on his arm. She was still nervous, but when he pulled the blanket up to their chests and rested his arm on top with their faces inches apart, the space felt like a tiny cocoon of paradise.
Ben smiled at Rey and hugged her closer to him. Her face ended up against his neck, and while she enjoyed feeling treasured, the idea of being this physically close to another person for any length of time without an objective was confusing, and she had no idea what to do with her arms and hands. They were awkwardly tucked between them with her hands curled away from his chest. Her legs were equally stiff and withdrawn.
It did feel like paradise, and she had no idea what she was doing in it.
“Don’t be afraid, Rey. Here,” Ben said. She felt him lower his mental barriers, and a wave of warmth and love hit her.
“What are you doing?” Rey asked, wary even as she felt her nerves relax.
“Calming you. Do you want me to stop?”
“No,” Rey said, and she lowered her barriers too, because feeling was easier than thinking. The force swelled with their love for each other, and she smiled sadly. “We won't be able to do this when we're with the First Order,” she said.
“No. It won't be safe there,” Ben said. She sensed his consideration of whether he should even bother going back when everything he wanted was here in his arms.
“You don't have to go back,” Rey said.
Ben sighed, dropping the thought for a conviction to return. “Poe won't get a peace treaty to happen without me, and you wouldn't want to leave your friends exposed to the First Order without it.” He frowned. “You do have good friends. I understand why you wanted to save them.”
Rey reached her arm around his back and snuggled against him, her awkwardness forgotten in her gratitude for Ben.
“Thank you,” Rey said.
“You're welcome. We can talk more in the morning. Let's get some sleep,” he said. Rey sensed his intent to help her rest, and she closed her eyes as he sent her to sleep using the force. Her dreams were peaceful and warm.
The next day cycle came too soon.
Waking had been all smiles and gentle embraces, but now they were zooming through hyperspace to the First Order. Their minds were closed to each other once more in preparation. Rey was tempted to ask Ben if he had a plan, but she hated them herself. Still...
“All I need to do is act like I’m infatuated with you, right?” Rey asked.
The corner of Ben’s mouth twisted into a frown. “That had been the plan. I’m thinking of a new plan now though. We do love each other.”
Rey frowned. “Weren’t you afraid they would use your attachment to me against you?”
“I thought we would only be connected by the bond. With you next to me… Rey, they couldn’t stop us if they tried.”
“Unless they blow us out of orbit before we board the ship,” Rey reminded him.
Ben smirked. “There is that.” He gazed at the streaks of light from the stars passing by. “However,” he said, and turned to look her in the eye. “I’m tired of hiding. I didn’t realize until last night how very little I know of my knights, and how little they likely know of me. I killed Hux, you know, and I don’t think I trust my second-in-command in the knights to think beyond the vision Snoke provided us, but if one of the others were worthy, maybe I could train that person to replace me and be free of it all.”
Rey’s lips parted in shock. “You mean it. You mean to renounce the First Order.”
His eyes narrowed. “I mean to stay by your side. If that means renouncing the First Order, then so be it, but I will do my part to leave it in good hands. Therefore, if they decide not to blow us out of the sky, we will join them as ourselves in truth, and you will help me find a suitable replacement.”
Rey nodded and gazed back at the stars. Somewhere beyond them was her future, and now it was a future with Ben, without the First Order, possibly without the Resistance. After all, while Rey loved her friends, her role had been to support them against the First Order. Once the conflict was no more, she had no place there.
Rey smiled and turned back to Ben, wondering what they would do next. She had always fancied the idea of smuggling after hearing of the legends of Han Solo, but given Ben’s personal involvement in that legend, she doubted he would care for the idea. Besides, neither of them were very good at lying, which seemed to be a crucial skill set.
“What will we do, after?” Rey asked.
Ben’s eyes widened and his own lips parted, and Rey knew then that he had never thought that far ahead. “I don’t know. Do you have any ideas? No, not smuggling,” he said, narrowing his eyes. Rey chuckled. “I don’t know how to live in a galaxy without war. It’s been my entire life. What’s scavenging like?”
Rey scoffed. “You want us to be scavengers?”
“Not at all, but it’s something you did that didn’t involve the war.”
Rey hadn’t thought of it like that before. “In a way, it did. I was scavenging parts from an old battle, and they likely went back to use for new battles. I never did ask Plutt what he did with the goods we sold him.”
She paused to think about it. “Scavenging was hard and dangerous work. I thank the force that I’m alive. Most child scavengers didn’t make it. Many adults didn’t either.” She shuddered, thinking on the corpses she had come across of those who never made it home from searching for salvage. “It’s not a future. Repairing ships, though, that might be something, and piloting! We’re both solid pilots.”
Ben smiled at her. “We are. Maybe we can make that our future.” The dash beeped and the smile faded from his face. “It’s time.” He dropped them out of hyperspace, and over a half dozen Star Destroyers and other ships were suddenly before them. Rey bit her lip against the fear that welled up inside at the sight of the fleet. The Resistance would never survive a full-out battle against the First Order.
Next to her, Ben barked out the codes to grant them permission to land, and a moment later, they were caught in a tractor beam pulling them into the hangar of one of the Star Destroyers.
“Looks like everything’s in order,” Ben said. He took her hand in his, and they watched out the viewport together as they came closer. “Got your lightsaber?” he asked when they landed. She nodded. “Good. Let’s go.”
Teva waited in the hangar with the rest of the knights for Kylo Ren to exit the ship. Rypo stood at his right side, and he made a point of stepping slightly ahead of her so that he would be between Rypo and Master Kylo when the ramp opened.
Just in case.
The ramp lowered, and out walked Master Kylo with the girl Rey close behind him. Teva wasn’t surprised, though he could see that some of the other knights were from the way they tensed up when she stepped out. Kylo and Rey were armed with lightsabers, but nothing else. They also did not have masks, just like the last time. The knights, of course, wore their own masked helmets. Banto stepped forward, as was his duty as the second-in-command.
“Welcome back, Supreme Leader and Master,” Banto said, and knelt down. Teva and the other knights followed suit. He noted that the girl with Master Kylo seemed mildly disturbed by the demonstration. That was something, at least, if she was not interested in power over them.
“Thank you. You may rise and remove your helmets. I want to see your faces,” Kylo said. The knights stood as one and removed their masks. Teva glanced at the faces of those he did not know and found the others doing the same. He was surprised and slightly disappointed to discover they all appeared human. “Are there any critical updates?”
“All has been peaceful. Our engineers have determined that it may be possible to repair The Supremacy in time. The Resistance has been quiet. The knights have several suggestions for improvements after observing the forces directly this past week, if you care to hear them, Master.”
“That time will come, Banto. We have much to discuss. Let’s move to the board room first,” Master Kylo said. He put an arm around Rey’s waist, who seemed surprised, and led her through the knights without another word.
“That is not what I was expecting,” Rypo whispered to Teva as they gaped at the back of the couple walking away. Except for Nighwitch, the other knights seemed hesitant to follow as well. Nighwitch had already fallen in step behind them.
Teva nudged Rypo and started following as well with Rypo at his side. “That is not the same Master Kylo who left us a week ago.” Teva heard more footsteps and glanced behind to see the other knights following now, though none very closely.
“No, it’s not,” Rypo said. She glanced behind as well. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Be patient, hear Master Kylo out, and then decide. Whatever you choose, I will support you,” Teva said.
Rypo gave him a sideways glance, and Teva wondered if she were finally picking up on his devotion to her. He smiled at her, and she frowned at him, but she also walked just a little more closely to him. Teva glanced down at her and wondered if she might someday let him hold her the way Master Kylo was holding Rey.
In the boardroom, Master Kylo took the head of the table, as was his right as Supreme Leader. Rey sat to his left, Banto to his right, and the other knights filled in the end of the table as they had during the last meeting with Nighwitch at the foot.
Master Kylo closed the door behind him with a glance and a push of the force before turning to face them. The force around them was unsteady, and Teva trembled with anticipation of what was to come. He knew to his bones that whatever was said in this room today would change everything.
Next to him, Rypo seemed to be similarly affected, only where he felt excitement, her body language radiated fear. Teva nudged her to get her attention and gazed at her, hoping to ground her. When he saw her start to relax, he offered an open hand under the table. They had never held hands before, but something told him she might need that support now. He glanced down at his hand to draw her attention to it. She frowned at him again on seeing the offer, but took it, and after a moment, her breathing calmed.
Teva pursed his lips to keep himself from smiling.
“I have a few announcements to make,” Master Kylo said. “In my absence, I spoke at lengths with the current leader of the Resistance, a man called General Poe Dameron, about the differences between the Resistance and the First Order. Our approaches have been different, but the goal is the same: An ordered galaxy that is free of corruption and chaos. Now that I have had some time to think on the matter and returned to the fleet, I plan to officially open negotiations with the Resistance to end this conflict once and for all. This will allow both the Resistance and the First Order to dedicate resources towards making that dream come true instead of battling each other. Furthermore, the Resistance has political allies that have long opposed the First Order’s rule. Once allied, those allies will become ours as well or be forced to go against both the First Order and the Resistance. I expect your involvement in determining the details of the peace treaty. Does anyone object?”
Silence fell over the room, though Teva noted that Jun’Pon was squirming in his seat and Banto appeared miffed. Hama-Ki was leaning forward, interested. Both Nighwitch and Rypo had blank expressions. Teva looked up to see that Rey was watching him with open curiosity. Interesting. He winked at her. She narrowed her eyes at him, and he smiled. Rey rolled her eyes and returned her attention to Master Kylo. Very interesting.
He felt a tug on his hand, and he glanced at Rypo, whose expression was no longer blank but confused as she glanced between Teva and Rey. He squeezed Rypo’s hand and laced their fingers together. He figured the added intimacy would either reassure or offend Rypo, and that would be better than leaving her in doubt. For several breathless seconds, Rypo froze, and then her fingers curled around his and pink tinged her cheeks.
Teva let out a sigh of relief and smirked.
“The next topic at hand is an introduction. My companion is Rey of the planet Jakku. She joined the Resistance shortly before the destruction of Starkiller Base and has been instrumental in helping General Dameron and I set our differences aside so that we could speak peacefully about the future. She is a powerful force user, my ally, and my friend.”
Here, Hama-Ki frowned and said, “Is she not the same Jedi who slew the late Supreme Leader Snoke?”
Teva’s eyes darted back to Rey and Kylo just in time to catch their nervous glance at each other.
“I am not a Jedi,” Rey said carefully. “I admire many of the principles of the Jedi, and I want to do good in this world. However, I abhor their strictures against passion. The Jedi preach against fear, anger, and desire. They even caution against attachments and love. I refuse to give those feelings up for anyone or anything. I am my own person, and no one is going to change that. I am Rey, and I will always be Rey.”
Nighwitch spoke up next. “Master Kylo, what do you make of this? You taught us to suppress all feelings that we may be better tools to serve the First Order.”
Master Kylo looked at Rey, then gazed at the knights. “I did, and suppressing our feelings did make us better tools, but the First Order needs leaders now, not tools, and leaders need to feel. Supreme Leader Snoke felt. I have allowed myself to feel, and now I am asking you to do the same.”
“You’re dismantling the Knights of Ren!” Banto exclaimed.
“Not at all. I’m redefining it. We were once the emotionless tools of Supreme Leader Snoke. Tomorrow we will be the leaders of the First Order. Those who are willing must rise to the challenge.”
“But you are our leader, Master Kylo,” Nighwitch said. “Direct us, and we will do your bidding.”
Teva saw the dismayed glance Master Kylo and Rey exchanged, and Teva sighed. “I’m fine with it. Honestly, I never bought into the emotionless stuff anyway,” Teva said.
“I’m devoted to the First Order. If opening myself to emotions allows me to better serve, than so be it,” Rypo said from his side, though she sounded terrified as she said it. Then again, terror was an emotion. Teva squeezed her hand, and she looked to him.
“Banto, is there something you wish to say?” Master Kylo said.
Teva glanced at Banto and saw immediately what Master Kylo was referring to. The man was quietly livid. “The First Order is not a democracy or a senate. It only needs one leader,” Banto said.
“Agreed. Furthermore, you never addressed this girl’s role in the death of Snoke,” Hama-Ki said. “We were told you were recruiting her the Knights of Ren. And yet here you are telling us that you have fallen to her own force ideology, a new, untried way at that, and that we should convert as well? How can you justify this? Snoke trusted you to lead us, yet you betray that trust by abandoning the ways he taught us. I cannot support this.”
“Agreed,” Jun-Pon said.
“He is our leader. Though I do not agree, I will trust him,” Nighwitch said.
“I want to know the truth of what happened to Supreme Leader Snoke,” Hama-Ki repeated. “The girl does not have the eyes of a murderer.”
Master Kylo stared Hama-Ki down. “She tried to murder me the first time she set eyes on me. She’s more than capable.”
“Then why has she not admitted to murdering Supreme Leader Snoke?” Jun-Pon asked.
Teva knew it was a fair question, and he also knew why Rey didn’t answer. It was becoming clearer that neither his Supreme Leader nor this girl much liked lying. “She didn’t kill him. Master Kylo did,” Teva said. Both Kylo Ren and Rey looked at him in shock. “I’m right, aren’t I? Nothing else makes any sense.”
“Is this true?” Banto asked, looking to Master Kylo. Teva noted that the man didn’t seem surprised. If anything, he seemed thrilled.
“But why would Master Kylo harm Supreme Leader Snoke?” Nighwitch asked. Her face was one of disbelief.
“Because he wanted the throne for himself, clearly,” Jun-Pon said.
“No, he didn’t! Did he? Did you?” Nighwitch said, clearly distressed.
Teva looked to their leader, who was speechless in shock. A second later, Rey pulled her lightsaber out and slammed it on the table, keeping her hand tight on it. “He killed Snoke for me, and if anyone has a problem with it, they can talk to me. Snoke was going to kill me. Ben saved my life.”
Silence filled the room, and then questions and accusations exploded from everyone but Teva and Rypo.
“Master Kylo’s name is NOT Ben!” “You killed our glorious Supreme Leader for a girl!?” “Kylo Ren is a traitor to the First Order!” “Master Kylo, how could you?” “The girl deserves to die.” “You have forgotten our ways, Master.”
Rey ignited the lightsaber on the table and held it up, and Teva saw immediately that it was not a lightsaber, but a lightstaff. Interesting.
“I said if anyone has a problem with what he did, they can talk to me. I love him. I will not let you hurt him.”
Everyone stood, drew their lightsabers, and ignited them as well. The room buzzed with the excess energy. “No problem,” said Banto. “I’ll just set things straight by killing you as Snoke intended.”
“You will have to come through me,” Master Kylo said. “I did kill Supreme Leader Snoke to save Rey’s life. I love her, and I will destroy you all if I must to keep her at my side. Now put your lightsabers away before I unhand you, literally. You know I am capable.”
Rypo put hers away first, and Teva followed. Nighwitch and Hama-Ki were next, and Jun-Pon and Banto last of the knights. Master Kylo nodded at Rey, and they both deactivated theirs as well.
Master Kylo faced them all. “I am not here to debate the past. You feel you need the facts. Yes, I killed Snoke, and yes, I did it for the girl standing beside me. However, I have been faithful to the First Order in every other way. I will not surrender my claim to lead to those who have not proven themselves a better leader than me, and so I have asked you to remove your helmets and show me your worth by discovering who you are and becoming leaders instead of simply tools.”
“You mean to abdicate to one of us,” Rypo said. All the knights, including Teva, gaped at her in shock. Teva shook his head. She had to be wrong. There was no way Master Kylo would give up his throne to one of them.
They looked to Master Kylo. “Rypo’s right. I’m here to choose a successor before I leave the First Order.”
Rypo gazed at the man who had taught her everything she knew about the First Order and knighthood. Master Kylo had outgrown them, just like that, when he found someone who loved him and he loved in return. The feelings that had awakened in her since she poked around Rey’s head told her it was funny, in a way, to see him give up everything so simply, but she was too practiced with concealing her feelings to smile or laugh. She could only watch and wonder what Teva thought of all this. After all, Teva had been the one to point the possibility that love was the reason for everything. With all the excuses Teva found to touch her lately, she wondered if he might not also be inspired by love. The thought warmed and scared her.
“It is not your right!” Hama-Ki exclaimed, disrupting Rypo’s thoughts. “You have betrayed the First Order and our late Supreme Leader Snoke. You have no right to choose who replaces you.”
“That’s right,” Jun-Pon pitched in. “You have no say in this, Kylo Ren. You intend to leave us anyway, so be gone already.”
They were being ridiculous. Choosing anyone other than Master Kylo would cause chaos, the very thing they stood against. Rypo glared at Jun-Pon a moment and then looked to Hama-Ki. “And whose right is it, if not Master Kylo’s?”
Banto said, “Perhaps mine, as the one who has led you this last week in his absence?”
Rypo struggled not to roll her eyes. Of course Banto would jump for the opportunity to lead. She and Teva suspected the man had long been after Kylo Ren’s position as Master of the Knights of Ren, but he had a point that they followed him this last week.
Teva chuckled next to her and patted her thigh gently under the table. Rypo quickly captured it in her hand, appreciating his support and wondering what more it might mean. “No thanks, Banto,” Teva said. “You led us a few days in a time of peace under Master Kylo’s direction. That’s hardly justification for you to pick his replacement. I support Rypo’s claim that Master Kylo Ren should choose his own replacement.”
“I do too,” Nighwitch said. That wasn’t very surprising. Nighwitch had always supported Master Kylo. Rypo wondered at times why the young woman was so devoted to Master Kylo.
“As do I,” Hama-Ki chimed in. Rypo offered the older woman a surprised glance and saw that the others also found this unexpected. Hama-Ki had opposed him just seconds ago. “Yes, I had originally opposed him, but it’s clear from the others that his voice is still the most respected one of our group, despite recent events, and therefore his will provide the most order. Kylo Ren, do you have someone in mind?”
Rypo quietly sighed. With Hama-Ki, Nighwitch, Teva, and herself supporting Kylo Ren’s right to choose a replacement, Banto and Jun-Pon could hardly oppose. Teva squeezed her hand and smiled at her gently when she glanced at him. She smirked at him, then returned her attention to the proceedings.
Kylo Ren gazed at them. “I do not have someone in mind. I will need some time to reacquaint myself with each of you before I decide. It has been too long since I was with the knights regularly. Rey will assist me in assessing each of you. Treat her with the respect and courtesy due your Supreme Leader while we remain here.”
They bowed accordingly, though it was clear that Banto and Jun-Pon were reluctant to. Rypo narrowed her eyes at them. She doubted they would go down quietly if not chosen, but she had no idea what they might do.
“Now that we have settled the question of who gets the final decision, I am adjourning this meeting. It is late in the cycle here. Eat, rest, and think on what qualities you would value most in a leader, and who best matches those qualities. Rey and I will seek each of you out in turn. Dismissed,” Master Kylo said, and he stood and exited the room with Rey at his side.
The knights looked at each other, and in a heartbeat, Banto stood and stomped out of the room with Jun-Pon close on his tail. Hama-Ki followed shortly after.
Nighwitch looked to Rypo and Teva. “I like her, you know. I can’t quite describe why, but I do. It’s not just that Master Kylo found her worthy, but something else in the way she holds herself.”
Teva laughed. “You mean the way she was willing to face all of us single-handedly to defend Master Kylo? Yes, Rey definitely has spirit. I enjoyed seeing her reaction to kidnapped friend too. She came charging in with Master Kylo’s lightsaber in hand, fully ready to take both of us on for her friend’s sake. If Rypo hadn’t been holding a lightsaber to the girl’s neck, I might have feared for our lives.”
Nighwitch smiled serenely, and Rypo realized the young woman was quite beautiful. “Rey does seem impressive. I am glad you see the value in Master Kylo too. I had feared that… well, I am glad. How long have you two been together?”
Rypo glanced in confused horror at Teva. Teva sputtered, “We’re, we’re not… umm...“
“I’m sorry for misunderstanding. I only saw that you two were holding hands under the table.”
“That was visible?” Rypo asked.
“I don’t think anyone across from you could have seen, but it was quite visible to me at the end. Rey and Master Kylo would have been able to notice too,” Nighwitch explained. “Anyway, I was only curious. Good night.”
Teva and Rypo watched Nighwitch leave the room and then turned to each other. Teva raised his eyebrows at Rypo. “Well, I would like it,” he said, gazing at her.
Rypo narrowed her eyes. “Like what?”
Teva shrugged and buried his hands into his robe’s pockets. “Being together with you.”
Rypo’s heart shuddered, and she gazed at him as her thoughts swam. “You realize I haven’t considered being with anyone for years.”
Teva quirked his head to the side. “I know, and I know you’re the only person I’ve considered being with for years. You don’t have to decide right away. Take your time. I just wanted you to know. I’ll keep holding your hand when you’re scared regardless.”
Rypo scoffed. “I was not scared!”
Teva smiled at her. “Of course not. Meet at the usual time for dinner?”
Rypo glared at him and felt a thrill at the sensation that made her smile. “Of course.”
Teva pointed to the exit. “I’ll be heading on then. See you there.” He took a step around her, and Rypo grabbed his arm. “What?” he asked.
Rypo frowned, wondering if she was mad to take this step. “I’m thinking,” she said.
“You’re holding onto my arm to think.”
“I’m thinking I accept,” Rypo said. She took a deep breath and exhaled. “I accept being together with you.”
Teva grinned broadly. “Good. I won’t let you regret it. See you for dinner,” he said and walked on out.
Rypo watched him leave her with frustration. That was it? He confessed to having desired her for years and then just walked out when she agreed to be with him?
Teva burst back in the room. “Sorry, I forgot something.” He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “There. See you for dinner.”
Rypo touched her forehead in a daze and shook her head, smiling.
Rey followed Ben out of the boardroom and down a series of hallways. Ben had been quiet since the meeting with the knights. She suspected he was distracted by his thoughts. Her own mind had been quite full of questions and wonder at what had transpired. “Where are we going?” she asked.
He paused then, and his cheeks tinged red. “To my room,” he said.
“Oh,” Rey said, surprised to find the answer simple. “Well let's go.”
Ben ran his fingers through his hair. “I've never brought a girl to my room before.”
“Is it different than bringing me to your ship?” Rey asked seriously. He was nervous, and Rey didn't know why. After all, they had spent most of the last week in the same living space.
Ben sighed at that. “I suppose it's not,” he said, and they continued on.
Rey frowned, wondering if she had missed something important, but she was too curious about his living quarters to be distracted long.
Ben unlocked the entry and let them in. Rey took in the bed, the desk, and the general simplicity of it as Ben pulled Growlie out of his pocket. “We're home, Growlie.” The porg fluttered down and immediately set to exploring the place.
Rey watched Growlie attack a chair leg and wondered at the lack of decoration. For though her AT-AT home was all made from scavenged scrap, she had flowers and decorations. Ben’s room had nothing of that nature except for a pedestal that had some weird, half-melted mask on it. “What is that?”
“A piece of the past. Darth Vader’s helmet, retrieved from his funeral pyre on Endor. He was my grandfather.”
Rey frowned, trying to remember if she already knew they were kin, but decided it didn’t matter. “You don’t have any other decorations.”
Ben shook his head. “They were frowned upon. What would you do here?”
“Holoscreen of the view outside… flowers, and colors other than black and gray. Books… I don’t know. I’ve not been in many normal homes, but something.”
Ben removed his cloak and gloves and tossed them on the chair Growlie was investigating. The porg fussed at him and turned to investigate the cloak instead. “Well, we won’t be staying here long.” He paused. “I wanted to thank you in there. You were amazing. I don't think my knights ever expected a rumored jedi to face them off in my defense.”
Rey smirked. “I expect not, but they weren't all against you.”
He shook his head. “No, they weren’t. I was surprised. I had trained them to be impersonal and rational, and yet I must have failed them. They all had attachments of some sort.”
Rey snorted. “I'll say. The two next to me were holding hands under the table.”
Ben raised his brows. “Rypo and Teva were holding hands?”
“They were. They seemed different from the others. More prepared. I think they already suspected the truth of Snoke's death and us. Maybe from what they saw of us in Coruscant.”
Ben frowned and dragged a hand through his hair. “I guess I should be thankful they didn't expose us earlier, but I don't like this. How do we know it’s not a trap? They have no reason to be faithful to me.”
Rey frowned. “Were you cruel to them?”
Ben shook his head. “No. You know I take no pleasure in hurting others. I did my best to be fair and efficient with my knights.”
Rey smiled. “So you were a good leader. Why wouldn't they be faithful to you?”
He stared at Rey with a frown that appeared half surprise and half consternation, and Rey's smile broadened.
“You’re so shocked. You know I see the real you, and it seems they do too. Honestly, I thought they would be a lot more sinister. I saw the knights once in a vision. You were there too... In a dark field of corpses in the rain. I was terrified. But seeing them in person with their masks off… They're just people, aren't they? Just like you.”
Ben reached out and stroked her gently along the jawline. “Perhaps.” He reached into a pocket and pulled out the yellow kyber crystal. He gazed down at it. “I told you I wasn’t ready before. I think I'm ready now.”
Rey blinked at him. Hardly a cycle had passed since he told her he hadn't been ready to address the crystal. “What changed?”
“Confronting my knights. Admitting the truth of what happened. Openly declaring our relationship and my intention to leave the First Order… I don't feel like the man who fled Skywalker for Snoke and dreamed of becoming the next Darth Vader. I don't feel like Kylo Ren anymore.”
Rey jumped back and stared at him with a slack jaw that slowly morphed into a smile so broad and brilliant it almost hurt. “Really!?”
Ben returned her smile with a lopsided one. “I'm not exactly Ben either, at least, not the Ben my parents envisioned… but I'm not Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren was born when I joined the First Order. It's only fitting he die when I leave.”
“Will you come up with a new name?” Rey asked.
Ben shook his head. “I’m done with new names. I don’t need to kill my past--just redefine it.”
Rey hugged him tight and leaned her head on his chest. “So I can keep calling you Ben Solo?”
“You always called me Ben Solo,” he said, returning the embrace and kissing the top of her head. “I am Ben, but I am Ben with two sides, a light and a dark. A red lightsaber and a yellow one.”
Rey pulled back far enough to study his eyes. “You intend to keep your old lightsaber?”
“It’s still part of me, and we are equals in the force. We seem to both be destined to wield two blades,” he said and stepped to his desk, where he pulled up a data pad and sat down. “There. I’ve ordered the parts to be delivered here. What should we do while we wait?”
“I don’t know,” Rey said. “Do you have any idea who you will choose to replace you yet?”
Ben shrugged. “I’m tempted to eliminate Banto given his threat to you, though he is my second-in-command.”
Rey frowned at the word choice. “You only mean to rule him out and not actually kill him, right?”
Ben gazed at her thoughtfully. “I am tempted to do both to ensure your safety, but I only mean to rule him out for now. After all, you are more than capable of holding your own against him. I do not believe Teva would make an effective ruler. He is a follower, as are Nighwitch and Jun’Pon. That leaves Banto, Rypo, and Hama-Ki.”
“I like Rypo best of those three,” Rey said seriously.
“Despite our earlier conflict with her?”
Rey shrugged. “She thinks for herself, and she doesn’t seem to have an agenda beyond what’s best for the First Order. She also has Teva’s dedication.”
“A dedicated lover does not make one an effective leader,” Ben said.
“Says the man who offered me to rule at his side when he inherited the throne,” Rey countered, but she smiled to show she meant no malice.
Ben studied her and gestured her towards him with a finger. “Come here,” he said and patted his lap. “I want to kiss you.”
Rey raised an eyebrow at him and stepped closer, but not within reach. “You want to kiss me while I’m sitting in your lap?”
“I want to enjoy my time with you before my lightsaber parts get here. Now come. Here,” he said, and he gestured with his hand. Rey felt the force drag her to him until she stood pressed against the chair between his knees. He released her then. “Please?” he asked, gazing up at her.
Rey shook her head in disbelief, torn between amusement and annoyance. “You used the force to bring me to you,” she said. Ben had the decency to look sheepish, and she grinned, recognizing he hadn’t meant ill and feeling mischievous herself. “I’ll kiss you… if you can catch me,” she said, and she shoved the chair away with the force at the same moment she leapt in the opposite direction to stand near his door. Growlie, who had been nestling in the cloak left on the chair, fluttered madly around the room squawking.
Ben stood up from the chair quickly and gestured towards the bed, tossing Rey onto it. Rey grabbed a pillow and flung it at Ben, who blocked it with his forearm. Ben leapt for the bed, and Rey force-lifted him into the air, trapping him several feet above her.
“Remember my question from the cave?” she asked while he studied his predicament. “If we could fly if we force-lifted each other?”
Ben studied her for a moment and smiled. And then he lifted her.
Banto seethed as he left the conference room with Jun’Pon close on his heels. He had expected to need to discredit and challenge Kylo Ren to become Supreme Leader. How could he have known the man was mad enough to give up the helm willingly? And now Kylo Ren had set the other knights against him… except Jun’Pon. No surprise there. The man had always been licking his boots.
“Banto, what will we do? The others spoke against you,” Jun’Pon said, as if Banto needed a reminder. Once again, his extensive experience was passed over for favoritism and tradition. He had risen from being a nobody orphan to the leader of the most deadly street gang in Coruscant. He deserved to be on top. Jun’Pon recognized him, but what of the others?
Banto glanced around to make sure they were alone. “I have a contingency plan.” He always did. No one survived the streets of Coruscant without them.
He had hoped for the support of the other knights when he informed the First Order that Kylo Ren had betrayed them and rallied the forces behind him as their new leader. However, he could work around the changes.
Killing them would be the cleanest move, but he would never win against them in traditional combat. However, he had control of the fleet still and the location of the Resistance. Maybe he could do something there?
“Banto?” Jun’Pon said.
“Quiet. I'm thinking,” Banto replied. He crossed his arms and tapped his jaw.
“What are you thinking?” asked a woman behind him.
Banto turned to find Hama-Ki studying him. Hama-Ki had always been a strange one. The woman had access to power her whole life and yet seemed perfectly content to live in obscurity. “I’m wondering about the future of the First Order, of course,” he said, judging it a safe response. He had hoped she would side with him, but Hama-Ki did value order more than chaos, even if it went against tradition. Could he convince her that supporting him would be more sensible?
“As we all are. You want to lead,” she said. Jun’Pon gasped at their side, but she ignored him.
“Do you not?” he asked, turning the focus on her and also ignoring Jun’Pon.
Hama-Ki raised an eyebrow. “Not particularly. I don’t care for the pressure. I’m surprised you do. You can still have much power and influence as a knight. Leadership will put scrutiny on your every action. A false move can mean your death, such as with our late Supreme Leader Snoke. Master Kylo was wise to choose to abdicate before his own life was taken in turn.”
Banto studied her. He had never been able to read her intentions. Her logic was too foreign to his own, and it frightened him. “What exactly are you saying?”
Hama-Ki looked him in the eye. “Whatever crazy plan you’re thinking up to claim the throne, don’t do it. In the process, you will set the knights against you and the First Order against itself. It’s better to bide your time.”
Banto schooled his expression to remain calm and relaxed. “I have no such plans.”
“Keep it that way,” Hama-Ki said and stepped around him to walk past.
Banto and Jun-Pon waited until she left their corridor before speaking again. “That’s not good,” Jun-Pon said.
Banto suppressed an eyeroll. “She knows nothing.”
“So there is a plan?” Jun’Pon asked.
Banto scratched his head in frustration. He did not normally let Jun’Pon into the inner workings of his mind, but he was not sure how to actually put things together, and at least Jun’Pon was loyal to him. “I said there was one earlier, didn’t I? Now let’s move somewhere more private before the others find us too.”
Banto led Jun’Pon through a series of hallways until he reached his own quarters. Banto sealed the door behind them and scanned the room for recording devices. Once he verified nothing was there, he turned to Jun’Pon. “Kylo Ren has not yet removed my authority over the fleet, and I just happen to know where the Resistance is located, something even he may be unaware of.”
Jun’Pon’s eyes lit up. “You know where the Resistance is?”
“They had Kylo Ren’s helmet with them on Coruscant. It’s how he found Rey. When I sent Rypo and Teva to spy on him, I sent a second ship with a spy to follow the helmet to the Resistance, and then follow the Resistance to their hideout. They sold the helmet. They had no idea that they picked up other tracers in the process. Nor does Kylo Ren. You are the first person I’ve told.”
“Thank you for your trust. So you plan to go after them?”
Banto sighed and paced the room. “My original plan involved as much, but that was before Kylo Ren managed to win the remaining knights to his side in supporting a peace treaty with the Resistance.” He frowned, trying to figure out a way to gain an edge. “He can’t form a peace treaty if he doesn’t know where they are, though.”
“He doesn’t know where they are?”
Banto shook his head. “My spy says that the Resistance knows where the fleet is, but that they had not provided Kylo Ren with a way to contact them.”
Jun’Pon sat down hard on a chair. “So what do we do?”
He tapped his chin. “Offer to send a representative to go over the treaty, of course. Perhaps Hama-Ki. She likes those sorts of things, after all,” he said, narrowing his eyes and smiling.
“So… we sabotage the ship and frame the Resistance?” Jun’Pon guessed. Banto’s smile widened, and Jun’Pon’s own smile matched it. There was a reason he and Jun’Pon got along, after all. “It would undermine Kylo Ren’s authority as well, wouldn’t it?”
“Very much so,” Banto said. “We’ll have to play this by ear, but I expect several of our knights might meet with unexpected casualties in the face of the Resistance.”
“Excellent planning, my lord,” Jun’Pon said.
Banto felt a thrill at the title Jun’Pon gave him, though he had not quite earned it yet. “Mind your speech until I’m actually in charge, Jun’Pon. We wouldn’t want the wrong ears to overhear.”
“Got you,” Ben said softly, gazing at the amazing woman in his arms. Rey was flushed from their game of force chase in the room. Ben expected his own cheeks were similarly red. Sweat was dripping down his face, after all, and he couldn’t stop smiling at her. He had not had such fun since he was a little boy.
Rey smiled back at him and leaned into his embrace, and they silently lowered themselves to the floor.
“Am I allowed to kiss you now?” Ben asked her.
Rey laughed and pulled him down for a quick kiss. “Yes,” she said.
Ben bent down to return the kiss when the com beeped for the room’s entry door. Ben froze, his smile disappearing in an instant, and sighed before throwing the door a disdainful glare for interrupting them.
“You could ignore it,” Rey suggested.
Ben pursed his lips, considering it, but he did not want to risk anything that might delay their plans to leave the First Order. He released her and opened the door.
“Supreme Leader, the parts you requested, Sir,” said the stormtrooper waiting outside. He had a box in his hands, which Ben took from him.
“You’ve done well,” Ben said and shut the door.
Ben set the box down on his bed and opened it. Everything looked to be in order for a second lightsaber, but he still examined each part carefully as he removed the pieces from the box. Growlie jumped onto the bed to help investigate and generally get in the way.
“Should I leave?” Rey asked.
“No, no. Stay, please,” he said, though he was quickly becoming absorbed in the task before him. He summoned the yellow kyber crystal from where he left it on his desk, amazed yet again at how it sang to him, and meditated on it, beginning the assembly of his new lightsaber.
The force flowed through him, and he lost himself to time as the parts floated in the air before him. He felt, rather than saw, how they should fit together. This crystal had no crack, and so the crossguard modification he made on his old one was unnecessary. This new lightsaber was a simple, yet elegant, tool, perhaps reflecting the simplicity of his values now. He felt responsible for the First Order, but once that was managed, he looked forward to a quiet life in obscurity at Rey’s side.
Visions flowed through him of the future as he thought of her… quiet mornings curled up together in bed on a planet with a cool morning damp. Rey giggling as he wrapped a hand around her waist and pulled her closer for warmth. Flying through space together with Growlie on his shoulder, Chewbacca in the copilot seat, and Rey leaning over him with arms wrapped around his shoulders. Rey’s face straining with labor. An academy where Rey held his hand as he lectured to a new generation of force users and Nighwitch juggled their children in the background. Holding Rey. Kissing Rey even as her hair grew silver with age and wrinkles lined her face.
He opened his eyes to see her sitting across from him on the bed. The completed lightsaber was in his hands.
“Turn it on,” she said.
Ben held the lightsaber away from them and Growlie and ignited it. A smooth, balanced yellow beam came out.
“You did it,” Rey said.
He gazed at the beam, turned it off, went to attach it to his belt and realized he only had one slot. “I’ll need to get a second holster,” he realized out loud. He set the lightsaber down on the bed and looked to Rey. “I love you.”
Rey smirked. “I love you too, What are you thinking about?”
“You,” he said, still working out how to put his vision into words. He cleared the space between them with a gentle sweep of the force, sending spare parts, the box, and Growlie to the floor. “We’re going to have children.”
Rey’s eyes grew large. “A vision?”
He nodded. “Many visions. You never stop being beautiful,” he said. He kissed her gently, relishing how soft and warm her lips were against his own. He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against hers, feeling her eyelashes flutter against his eyelids. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” Rey said. “I’ll really have children? I used to watch families in Jakku… not the scavengers, we couldn’t afford to take such a risk, but traders would sometimes come with their children. Sometimes I dreamed I was the child with the loving mother… but other times... I’ll really have children?”
Ben pulled back far enough to look her in the eyes. “You’ll really have children, and Nighwitch helps us raise them at the Academy.”
Rey’s mouth dropped in shock. “You’re pulling my leg.”
“I’m not,” he insisted.
“We’re starting the Academy again? But Ben, what if we repeat Luke’s mistakes?”
He gazed at her. He had shared her fear many times over, especially as Snoke had charged him with leading the knights, and so he had more time to process how he would be different from his own teacher. “We won’t. If our children, or other children, have darkness within them, we will embrace it alongside the light, and we will guide them, whatever they decide. We may make other mistakes, but not that one. We will accept them for themselves, just as you accepted me, and I accepted you.”
Rey leaned in and kissed him, slowly and passionately. “Nothing seems impossible for you.”
He nodded, though he swallowed hard. He still needed to select the next Supreme Leader and arrange the peace treaty with the Resistance. “Has Poe contacted you?”
Rey shook her head. “No. He hasn’t contacted you?”
“No, though he should be able to find us since I left him the tracer that matches the signal on my backup helmets.” Ben frowned. “We don’t have a way to reach out to him, do we?”
Rey shook her head. “We could try using the force.”
“Does it even work that way?”
Rey shrugged. “No harm in trying, right? We found Rose with the force.”
“She was a few blocks away, not across the galaxy,” Ben protested.
“Does it matter?”
Ben gazed at her. Once again, Rey was throwing his reality on its head by asking simple questions for which he had always assumed the answer. “Let’s find out,” he said, finally buying into her proposal.
They faced each other, cross-legged on the bed with knees touching. Rey took each hand in her own and rested the joined hands over their knees. “I’m going to search for Finn, since he’s more familiar to both of us and should be with Poe.”
Ben nodded and pictured Finn in his mind. The force signature he had felt when FN-2187 had refused to participate in the slaughter on Jakku. The battle in the woods. The argument in Rey’s room on Coruscant, and all the other times since. He could feel Rey searching her own memories of Finn as her mental shield lapsed to let Ben join efforts. They reached into the force, merging their thoughts of Finn until the intensity was as rich and powerful as a lightsaber’s humming.
The force led them.
Their focus went past the ships in the fleet, past the planet system, past several suns and kept going until they reached a yellow star with a number of planets covered in life, including a pair of twin planets. “Corel,” Ben said out loud, breaking the vision. “They’re in the Corellian system. It’s where my father was from.”
“I’ll go to them. Let them know we’re ready to form a truce,” Rey said.
Ben gazed at her. “You’re sure?”
“You can’t leave, and they wouldn’t trust anyone else. The force will connect us,” Rey said. “Besides, your vision promises we will be together again.”
Ben frowned. He had always been told that visions were not guaranteed to come true, but he relented. “Let’s find a ship for you. We can still bond, right? It’s been several days since we tried.”
He immediately felt Rey open a bond between them, and he felt like he was seeing double as he saw her in his reality and again through the bond. She turned it off quickly, visibly alarmed, and he suspected she saw the same as he did.
“Nothing to worry about, then,” he said, hoping it was true. “Come on, let’s go to the hangar. The ship we arrived on should still be available.”
Ben watched Rey fly the ship they had shared into space and enter hyperspace with the deep satisfaction of knowing she would return to him, and when she did, the peace treaty would be signed and the war over. The next time, they would be leaving together and leaving all this behind.
He took a moment to gaze at the stars before turning about face to leave the hangar. Updating the knights would be the next step. They would need to send someone to negotiate the details. Rey was a brilliant woman, but not suited for that role. Furthermore, the First Order would want someone loyal to them to represent them.
He would let the knights decide.
Ben marched for the cafeteria. It was dinner time. Rey had opted to skip it in her determination to catch up with her friends before they might change location again, but the knights should be there.
Sure enough, while they were scattered across several tables, his knights were all present in the cafeteria at various stages of meal completion. He collected his own dinner, set it on the table reserved for the highest ranks where Banto and Jun’Pon already sat, then went around to the other knights asking them to relocate.
Once they were all seated together at the head of the room, he spilled the news. “Rey and I have located the Resistance, and she has left to request that we begin negotiations for peace.”
“And are we to trust a Resistance member to represent our interests in the negotiations?” Jun’Pon asked.
“Of course not, nor should you trust me as a known sympathizer. Pick one of your own to send for when Rey says they're ready,” Ben replied between bites of some kind of avian meat. He gave it a second glance, thinking of Growlie, and searched for the bird’s force signature in his room. Growlie was sleeping, but most definitely alive and well and not on his plate. Ben exhaled in relief and took another bite.
The knights all exchanged glances and then pretty much looked as one to Hama-Ki. “I suppose I am the natural choice for this role,” she said.
“You're the only one of us with any real diplomatic experience between governments,” Rypo said. “Will you do it?”
“Of course,” Hama-Ki said, as if refusing the offer were beneath her. “Though I want a well-armored ship with sufficient firepower to defend itself if they change their minds. It's plain that the Supreme Leader's consort wants this treaty to happen, but that does not mean her Resistance allies are in agreement.”
Ben blushed at her title for Rey, but he did plan to spend his life with Rey, so consort was an apt description.
Banto straightened and put his fork down firmly. “The ship can be arranged. Would you like to have someone accompany you to manage the guns? Perhaps Teva, since we all know how well he fights?”
Teva snorted. “I may best you easily in physical combat, but I'm fairly certain you're the better shot between us, Banto.”
“Banto will be needed here with the fleet,” Hama-Ki said. “While I approve of having Master Kylo help select the successor, I do believe that Banto should remain in control of the fleet until that successor is chosen. Are we in agreement?” Ben watched as the other knights hesitantly nodded. It seems he was not the only one with reservations against Banto, but not greater reservations than they had against himself. “Thank you. Then Banto will remain in control of the fleet. However, finding a gunner for me is no issue. We have plenty of stormtroopers who excel at aiming even without the force. I am sure there are more important things for Teva to be doing than babysitting me.”
Ben kept his silence. As long as things were proceeding smoothly towards peace, he didn't care much for how it happened. The conversation continued around him as he ate and let his mind drift to Rey. There had been food on the ship. He hoped she was eating too. The visions he saw of their future together were amazing. Of course, none of them addressed what would happen with the First Order and the Resistance, only with him and Rey. Furthermore, even those visions had no guarantee of coming true. He sighed, hoping that everything would go smoothly.
Setting up a new academy for force users would prove an interesting challenge. He had enjoyed teaching the younger students under Luke’s direction, and they had clearly approved of him, as evidenced by the ones that followed him that night. He sighed. He would never have let them follow him if he had known he was leading them to their deaths. Snoke had not been interested in recruiting them.
He gazed around the table at his knights, and his eyes fell on Nighwitch. She had been in his visions too. He wondered if he should tell her or wait to discuss it with Rey first. After all, they did not know when they would establish the new academy… though Rey had not been notably older in his vision.
What was Rey doing? He debated opening the bond to her, but he also was not ready to give himself away in front of his knights, and he did not trust that he would sufficiently hide the connection with them present.
“Master Kylo?” Teva said.
Ben glanced up. They were all looking at him. Kriff. What had he missed?
“Banto wanted to know which channel Rey would use to get in touch,” Teva explained.
Ben gazed at them. “A private one,” he said eventually, realizing he had not given her an alternative to the bond for reaching him.
Hama-Ki huffed. “Given how much you are invested in making the treaty happen, it would only be appropriate to provide one of us with the means to contact your consort should something happen to you.”
Ben gazed at them all. “Then don’t let anything happen to me.” He saw their varied faces of frustration and sighed. “I’ll set something up outside the private channel.”
“Thank you,” Rypo said. “I am glad for the opportunity to stop that threat through peace. Entirely too many of our resources were spent on managing the Resistance and replacing the losses from our conflict with them.”
He felt the bond vibrate through the force, as if Rey were nudging him, and he stood up. “Excuse me,” he said, and left the table for his private quarters.
When he got there, he opened up the bond and found Rey standing before him. They embraced without a word, holding each other tight from across the galaxy. After a few moments, Ben stepped back to look at her. “Did you eat?” he asked.
Rey nodded. “Did you?”
“With the knights. They want me to set up a communications channel access for you so that they’re not dependent on me to make the treaty happen. I didn’t think explaining the bond would be appropriate.”
Rey smirked at that. “No, probably not.” She took his hand and looked around his room. Ben could see the inside of the ship overlay with it, and he wondered yet again about the bond between them. “Where’s Growlie?”
He glanced around the room, searching for the tiny force signature. “Asleep on my pillow,” he said. “Smooth trip?”
“Yes, of course,” Rey said, smiling at him. “I have a few hours before I’ll arrive in the Corellian System. I’d like to spend them with you.”
Ben kissed her gently on the forehead and gazed into her eyes. “I want to spend every moment with you,” he said. He kissed her on the lips and walked them backward into his bed, which he sat down on, parting them.
“There’s nothing solid on my side… I might fall if I’m not on top of you,” she said.
Ben smirked. “I’m perfectly okay with you being on top,” he teased. She gave him a funny look, and his smirk faded. He always forgot how little she knew of the world. “It’s okay. You’re not too heavy, and I like being close to you. I don’t think we should stand for several hours though, and this is more comfortable than the floor.”
Rey nodded and carefully climbed into his lap, hanging her legs off one side and wrapping her arms around his neck. Her expression was still pensive, however. Ben kissed her cheek to bring her attention back to him. “Is this an okay way to spend this time together?”
Rey nodded and kissed him. Ben wrapped his arms around her waist and lost himself to the kiss.
Some time later, he felt Rey stiffen and pull away from him. He studied her and watched her face burn crimson with a blush. “What is it?” he asked.
She stared at him with wide eyes. “On top,” she muttered, then buried her head in his shoulder and shook her head against him. Ben chuckled lightly, marveling at both her reaction and the sensation of laughter.
He watched Rey roll her head to face him, still leaning on his shoulder, and smile brilliantly. “You laughed,” she said.
He smiled back at her. “So I did.”
The beeping of the ship woke Rey. She reluctantly pulled herself away from Ben's side to check the cockpit. The ship would be exiting hyperspace soon.
Rey went back to where Ben's bed had been superimposed over her cot through the bond and kissed his forehead gently. He murmured, but did not wake up, so she found paper and a pen and scribbled a note letting Ben know she would reach out to him again after she was with the Resistance. She tucked the note into his hand before closing the bond between them.
Ben disappeared, and Rey sighed. She looked forward to when they were always together, though their make out session had gotten rather intense when she had asked that they rest instead of continue. Of course, Ben had insisted on sleeping next to each other, which involved a good half hour of experimenting with their bond to get their beds lined up properly.
Rey smiled and shook her head at the memory.
They had fought over the challenge, since Rey was fine sleeping on the floor with their pillows, and Ben insisted they needed to understand their bond better. He had even proposed trying to move his mattress to her location since they knew they could transfer objects, but Rey couldn't get the mattress through.
However, they had found they could transfer anything Rey could lift off the ground, including life, thanks to Growlie’s small size. Rey glanced around in a panic and reached into the force to make sure she had not unintentionally left the porg on her side of the bond. Upon finding only herself, she sighed in relief.
It was with these thoughts that she exited hyperspace outside Corellia. She shook her head briefly to clear it and reached into the force, searching for Finn as she had done before with Ben's help.
The force guided her as it had before. She sat down at the controls, closed her eyes, and put her faith in the force to lead her to her friends.
Eventually, she stopped, and opened her eyes to see a large battle cruiser in front of her. Unexpected. She searched for the com, switched it to an open channel, and froze as she realized she had no idea what the protocol was for announcing herself to this ship, or even if she should. What if her friends were prisoners? Or on a mission where her arrival might cause problems? Or they might attack her if they knew her identity?
“Cruiser to unknown vessel. Identify yourself,” came a familiar voice over the com.
“Poe?” Rey asked, uncertain.
“Rey!? Is that you?” Poe asked.
“Yea, where did you get hold of a battle cruiser?” she asked.
“Come aboard! I'll explain it all. We'll use a tractor beam to bring you in, if that's fine. Wait, is he with you?”
Rey had no doubt Poe meant Ben. “A tractor beam is fine, and no, I'm alone.”
There was a pause, and the tractor beam locked onto her ship. Rey turned off the engines to avoid wasting fuel. “Everything okay between you two?”
Rey could hear the apprehension in his voice, and she smiled, knowing she could reassure him fully. “Everything is great, Poe. I have a lot to share too.”
“I look forward to seeing you on board then.”
“I look forward to seeing you too,” Rey said with sincerity. Poe was not her closest friend in the Resistance, but she treasured his sincere passion for helping the Resistance succeed. Not many people she knew would have so quickly accepted a former stormtrooper as a best friend, and his willingness to work towards a treaty with Ben had been nothing short of amazing.
She relaxed back and watched the stars, ships, and planet outside as the beam pulled her to safety. There were a number of war vessels nearby, and Rey wondered what exactly the Resistance had been up to in the week she had been gone.
Once on the battle cruiser, she exited her ship to find Finn waiting on her. “Finn!” she shrieked with delight and gave him a big hug.
“Oh Rey, we were so worried about you. He didn't hurt you, any, did he? I'm supposed to take you to the bridge so Poe and you can debrief each other. Rose is up there too. He didn't hurt you, did he?”
Rey smiled at his repeated question. “I'm fine. He didn't hurt me at all. We're in love, Finn,” she said. She watched Finn go bug-eyed with shock and tried to think of something easier for him to grasp. “Oh, and I have a new lightsaber. Well, staff, really. Want to see?”
“Yes, yes, but let’s join the others first. You're in love? With him ?”
“Yes,” Rey insisted, though she followed his lead. She noticed now that there were a number of fighters onboard and people working on them. “Where did all this come from?”
“I'll let Poe explain,” Finn said.
They reached the bridge, where Poe stood with a number of unfamiliar people, except for Rose, who was sitting down at one of the stations.
“Rose!” Rey said, spying her friend.
Rose squealed and stood up. Finn rushed to Rose and shoved her back down not entirely gently. “The medic says your ankle is not recovered and you can’t just walk whenever, Rose. You know that!”
Rose pouted at him and crossed her arms. “But it’s Rey!”
Rey walked to Rose, feeling silly about the whole encounter. “My legs are working, Rose. Don’t worry.” She embraced her friend and stood back. “How has everything been? Where did all these ships and people come from?”
“I can explain that,” Poe said, joining them from behind. He offered his hand for Rey, and Rey shook it firmly, smiling at him. A moment later, Poe pulled her into a bear hug too. “It’s good to have you back with us, Rey.”
“It’s good to be back. The First Order is not nearly so friendly,” she said.
“The First Order?” Finn said, confused. “Is that where you were?”
Rey froze. She had forgotten her friends didn’t know. “Only for a few hours. Not even a full cycle. Poe, Ben and the knights want peace! They’re sick of the war too. They want to form a treaty with the Resistance!”
Poe’s jaw gaped with a huge grin. “Sincerely?”
“No way!” Rose and Finn said together.
“It’s true! Ben called them together and told them that he had met with you, Poe, and that he liked your suggestions for peace. He’s tired of the war… he even told them how he plans to retire with me, so he’s selecting a replacement leader.”
The smile fell away from Poe’s face. “A replacement leader? But Rey, the only one we know is Ben. How can we trust a treaty with one of the knights when we know nothing about them?”
Rey’s smile faltered. “Well, they’re not all bad. The two who kidnapped Rose seem pretty reasonable. They want peace too, and they supported Ben’s right to choose his successor even after they learned he killed Sn--”
Poe’s hand clamped over Rey’s mouth, and he glanced around them with apprehension. “Maybe we should go somewhere more private to finish this discussion.”
“Yea, okay,” Rey said, backing out of the hand.
“I want to be part of it,” Rose protested.
Finn shook his head at her. “Stay here. Your ankle needs to rest. I’ll fill you in later. Promise.”
Rose nodded, and the two men and Rey left the bridge after Poe briefly spoke with another officer.
Finn and Rey followed Poe to a large walk-in supply closet with just barely enough room for the three to stand. Rey looked around at the assortment of brooms, mops, and other cleaning materials in fascination. She knew what they were, but she had never seen so many in one place at once.
“Okay, so the ships, people, and all that? They’re supporters from the outer rims. Got the distress signal from Crait, but they organized too late to help us, and then took several more days to find the Resistance since we had hidden away for a time. Kaydel discovered them while we were all on Coruscant. They want to help us, but they’re not so keen on allying with the First Order. I’ve been trying to sway minds all week. It’s why I hadn’t reached out to you yet, Rey.”
Rey frowned. It made sense, in a way, but peace was actually within their reach. “The First Order is led by the knights, and they’re all currently onboard with a peace settlement. You’ve got to convince them, Poe!”
“No, we have to convince them. They’ve been asking all week about this legendary jedi girl they heard about who single-handedly killed Supreme Leader Snoke and saved the Resistance on Crait. These are people who grew up on legends of Luke Skywalker, Rey. They believe in you even though they’ve never met you. If we’re going to make peace happen, you have to be part of it.”
Rey screwed up her face in frustration. “But I don’t know anything about making fancy speeches or convincing people!” she said. “I couldn’t convince Finn to stay with the Falcon on Takodana… I couldn’t convince Ben to convert on the Supremacy … I could barely get Unkar Plutt to get me the rations I needed to survive, even when I brought him quality salvage!”
“But Finn did stay with the Resistance, and you’ve won Ben’s heart, right?” Poe asked.
Rey nodded. “Still, there are a lot of things I don’t know… why should they like me?”
Poe laughed. “Rey, everyone likes you. You’re honest, straightforward, and passionate about the right things. You’ll do fine. We’ll just need to clean you up some first… maybe. I don’t know. Should she wear a dress for this like the General once did? What do you think, Finn?”
Finn shook his head firmly. “No, Rey’s perfect the way she is, and I’m pretty sure she would trip in a pair of heels anyway. She doesn’t need to be pretty to win their affection, though she is pretty. Rey, you’re pretty. Don’t let anyone tell you anything else.”
Rey smiled, recognizing Finn’s own social blunders and attempts to cover them for what they were. “Thanks, Finn, Poe. I’ll do my best.”
Rey took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly after Finn left her in a guest room on the cruiser. She had endured what felt like hours of explanations on who the new Resistance members were and what stakes they had and so forth from Poe. Didn’t he know that she couldn’t process all that in a single go even on her best days? At least BB-8 had found them after a while.
Furthermore, Rey had forgotten how chatty her friends were. As much as she had missed them, they overwhelmed her. She was ready for quiet… and Ben.
Rey scanned her new bedroom briefly to ensure no one else was there. Thankfully, the room was simple enough that there was not much to check. Bed, small refresher, underbed storage, and a small desk and a chair--all anchored to the ship, as was standard on a cruiser that expected to see action.
Rey took in another deep breath. She sat down on the bed, reached for her bond to Ben, and tugged it gently to let him know she was ready to connect.
How long had it been since she had parted with him, after all? Rey wished she had some easy way of checking the standard cycle time. She lived by the rise and fall of the sun on both Jakku and Ahch-To, and the rest of the time she could easily check the time in the ship cabin, but here in this bedroom there was nothing.
The bond opened while Rey was examining the room. “Looking for something?” Ben asked.
“How do people normally track the standard cycle time when off-planet?” Rey asked.
Ben frowned at her. “The same way they do anywhere. A watch.”
It was Rey's turn to frown. “What's a watch?”
Rey watched the subtle changes to Ben's face. The slight lift of the eyebrows, the smallest separation of his lips, and a small wrinkle in his forehead as he tried to restrain his still very obvious shock that she didn't know whatever a watch was. Her face burned in a mix of humiliation and frustration, even knowing that he would not hold it against her.
“Let me show you,” Ben said, and he pulled up his sleeve to reveal a device strapped to his wrist. He took it off and handed it to her.
“I've seen these! Unkar Pouty always said they were worthless.”
Ben shrugged. “Generally, they are. Would you like to keep it?”
Rey eyed the small mechanism. It had a small display with numbers and coordinates attached to a strap that adjusted for wrist size.
“Thank you,” she said. She tried strapping it to her wrist and failed.
Ben took it gently from her and fastened it for her, then kissed her wrist above it. “So the Resistance got a new ship?”
“How did you know?” Rey asked. She had wanted to tell him, but wasn't sure how to bring it up. What would he think of everything?
Ben smirked and nodded at the bed behind her while holding her wrist gently. “You're in a bedroom with anchored furniture, so you're on a ship that's not the Falcon . A ship big enough to have guest bedrooms to spare, and since you were heading to join the Resistance, it's the logical conclusion.”
Rey nodded. May as well break it to him. “Not just one new ship. They were joined by a fleet, and Poe hasn't convinced them to agree to peace terms with the First Order.”
“A fleet?” Ben said, shaking his head with disbelief. “How? And how will we fix this?”
“Poe hopes that I can influence them as the jedi of the Resistance. I don’t have experience with that kind of thing, but I have to try. What else can we do?”
Ben gazed at Rey. “I know that look. They cornered you and overwhelmed you, didn't they? I’m sorry, Rey. You shouldn’t have to go through that.”
Rey glared at him. “What else can I do? I can’t give up.”
“No, you can’t. I just don't want you to become a pawn in this, Rey. You mean everything to me.” Ben crushed her in a hug. “Don't let them make you into something you're not.
Rey wrapped her arms around him and rubbed his back, recognizing he was scared for her. “I won't, Ben. I won't let them change me. Do you want to talk to Poe directly? I'm sure he would want to. He had a lot of questions for me about everything.”
”I think that would be a good idea. Is he still the official leader?”
Rey shrugged. “As far as I know. He has less power because he did not provide the fleet, but he’s still calling the shots from what I can tell.”
Ben sighed. “That's a relief. What of Finn and Rose? Is Rose’s ankle healed up?”
“Not quite.” Rey shook her head and smiled. “You should have seen Finn fuss over her. He really likes her. I'm happy for them.”
Ben smiled at that too, and he gazed at her. “No chance we can just fly off and leave everything behind, is there?” he asked her.
“Not while there's hope for reconciliation, Ben.”
A knock came on the door, and Rey reached out with the force to identify it. “Poe is here, alone. I'll let him in.”
Rey opened the door with the force and watched Poe enter the room. She and Ben weren't currently touching, but she could see Ben following her gaze anyway.
“Hey Rey, just realized you probably don't know when mealtimes are around here, so I thought I would drop off a schedule. I meant to send Finn, but he disappeared. Probably somewhere with Rose. I can’t find her either.” He gave the pamphlet to her, and Rey made sure to avoid physical contact with Poe in taking it..
“Ben's here,” Rey said. She watched Poe freeze. “He wants to speak with you.”
Poe slowly straightened up. “The bond thing, right? I had nearly forgotten you two could do that.” He scratched his head. “I wanted to speak to him too, and I do have a few minutes, so sure, why not?”
Rey glanced at Ben and offered her hand. He took it, and Poe gasped as he became able to see Ben.
“Even knowing what to expect, that is freaky watching you just phase in,” Poe said. “Is that your room I’m seeing? Is that Growlie?”
Ben offered a slight smile. “It's good to see you, Poe.”
“Likewise, Ben. Oh, am I still supposed to call you that? Do you prefer… um… It would be weird to call you Supreme Leader, considering.”
“Ben is fine,” Ben said. “I wish to congratulate you on your new forces, and also to discuss their impact on the peace treaty we had been working toward.”
Poe frowned. “Thank you, and I'm concerned. If your mother were still here, I'm sure she would have gotten them to agree to peace, but they don't know me as well. They do all know of Rey though. She's a hero.”
Ben frowned. “So I hear. Were you the one who decided to dangle her in front of them and hope they bite? Will you be putting her in fancy clothes and doing her hair and makeup too, Poe?”
“Hey, it’s not like that. They don’t trust me. They don’t trust Finn or Rose. We’re all young upstarts… and yes, Rey is too, but what they know of her is legendary. They see her as the next step to Skywalker’s legacy. I mean, she did convince him to train her, and then she convinced him to return to battle, and while we may know it’s not true, she is the rumored slayer of Snoke. Her word carries weight that mine doesn’t,” Poe explained.
“That doesn’t give you the right to force her to--”
“Ben, he's not forcing me to do anything,” Rey interjected. “And who knows? Maybe I would enjoy those things, Ben. I've never even tried them before. Would you object if I wanted to be pretty for myself?”
“Of course not, Rey,” Ben said. “I just want to make sure they don't try to mold you into something you're not.”
Poe shook his head vigorously. “Look, being perfectly honest, I considered it, but I checked with her and Finn, and Finn reminded me that Rey is extraordinary as herself. However she looks and acts, it will be her decision. She won't go through what you went through, Ben. That's what this is about, right? About how your parents initially tried to make you into some poster child for the Resistance?”
Rey looked sharply at Ben, and he squeezed her fingers as he glared at Poe.
“Don’t hurt her,” Ben said.
“I won’t. How could I? I’m a decent shot, I suppose, but she has the force.”
“I know she can fight well. You don’t get it. She cares about you and your friends. I’m saying don’t pressure her. Don’t let her down. Don’t ruin the part of her that believes in people.”
Rey hugged Ben. “I’ll be fine. Trust me. Even if he lets me down I’ll be fine. I’ve got you.” Rey tugged the hand closer to her and leaned into Ben’s chest.
“And that’s my cue to leave,” Poe said. “Ben, anytime you need to chat, just let Rey know.”
Poe stepped out, and Rey and Ben stared at each other. “I would like to make sure our beds line up again,” Ben said.
Rey gazed at them. “You do?”
Ben kissed the top of her head, her forehead, the tip of her nose, and then her lips. “Yes, I do.”
Ben stood before his knights in the conference room and gazed from face to face. “I have some unfortunate news.” He studied their passive expressions betray only the slightest curiosity and felt some relief that they could still mask themselves well.
“I have been in contact with Rey since she returned to the Resistance, and the peace treaty is no longer their only hope. The Resistance has received aid in the form of a battle-ready fleet.”
He paused to let his knights process this update.
“Poe, the leader of the Resistance, still wishes to make peace, but his new allies do not. He and Rey hope that her role as the hero of the Resistance may sway them. However, if that fails, you must decide your next steps.”
Ben sat down and gestured for his knights to contribute.
“Can we help her?” Nighwitch asked. All eyes turned to her. Ben studied his youngest and most recent recruit, wondering what the girl had in mind. Did she really want to help Rey? “Can we help her convince them to negotiate for peace?”
Of course, the peace treaty was the priority for his knights. Still, the idea of Nighwitch and Rey working together played into the vision he had of them. Would this be how it happened, without any intervention from him at all? Nighwitch and Rey were similar in age, though with very different backgrounds. Nighwitch had grown up in a large family surrounded by people.
“And how would we do that?” Jun’Pon asked. “Should we just fly on over and introduce ourselves at the Knights of Ren?”
“Actually, they’ve not seen our faces before,” Rypo said. “And with the voice modulation on our helmets, it’s quite possible we could go unnoticed in normal clothing, especially if they’ve just had a large number of new recruits. Hama-Ki, you’re the most knowledgeable in these matters. Can we help her?”
“But do we even want to?” Banto interjected. “If the Resistance is so eager for war, it may be best if we stay here and prepare for the inevitable battle.”
“The First Order should not continue its war with the Resistance if there is an option for peace that does not require us to sacrifice our principles. There has been too much meaningless loss, Banto. The battles are wasteful and distract us from our goal of protecting order in the galaxy,” Hama-Ki said. “Now, that doesn’t mean I want to hop on a ship and join the Resistance undercover, but I am curious to hear how Nighwitch and Rypo might help the Supreme Leader’s consort with the negotiations. If there is merit to their plan, then they should go.”
“I will go too. I expect she’ll need a better strategy than turning on her light-staff and snarling at people when they speak poorly of Master Kylo,” Teva said with a wry grin. “Rypo’s got her interrogation techniques… and I’m not sure muscle will be needed on a peace mission, but I can keep my eyes and ears open there. Nighwitch can… what is your specialty, anyway?”
“Nighwitch is good at being seen when she needs to be and going unnoticed when she doesn't,” Ben explained. Snoke had marked her for a natural spy should they need one with force capabilities. “However, there is a potential complication for each of you. The stormtrooper FN-2187 defected for the Resistance. Have any of you been seen by him unmasked? He is Rey's friend, but he does not easily trust.”
“Where was he stationed?” Hama-Ki asked.
Ben answered. “Sanitation on Starkiller Base, primarily. His first combat mission was on Jakku, and he defected shortly after.”
Teva snorted. “No, I'm pretty sure I never took my helmet off around any janitors.”
Rypo jabbed him sharply with her elbow before Ben could find the words to reprimand Teva’s slight against sanitation officers.
“Teva, mind yourself unless you want to clean your own refresher,” Rypo said. Teva frowned, but Rypo had already redirected her attention to Ben. “Master Kylo, would the reasons FN-2187 left potentially jeopardize the mission?”
“Not likely. I have no reason to believe he is against a peace treaty. He cracked when I ordered him to kill and defected to avoid such orders again. Do not assume he is soft, however. He makes a formidable opponent when on the defensive. I rather enjoyed crossing sabers with him on Starkiller Base.”
“Sabers?” Is he force-sensitive?” Jun’Pon asked.
“He had somehow acquired a lightsaber belonging to my grandfather. As you should know, our own training program prepares them for battle with sabers. I have no reason to believe he is force sensitive.” Of course, Ben had not known Rey was force-sensitive either until he delved into Rey’s mind.
“And does he still have this lightsaber?” Teva asked.
Ben shook his head. “Rey claimed it after he fell in battle. It became the staff she wields now.” Several of the knights raised their eyebrows at this, but Ben said nothing as he thought back to the battle on The Supremacy and then the subsequent construction of Rey’s staff. “So Teva, Rypo, and Nighwitch wish to go to Rey undercover and help her convince the Resistance to treaty for peace with the First Order. Hama-Ki, Banto, and Jun’Pon will stay here to determine defensive measures should the peace treaty fall through.”
“That does seem the sum of it,” Hama-Ki said. “However, those three still do not have a plan, nor do we have an extraction plan should they be discovered.”
Ben thought to his experiment with Rey passing Growlie back and forth via the force. “I might have something in mind for that.”
“And what is that?” Banto asked, narrowing his eyes.
“An extraction plan,” Ben repeated, ignoring his second-in-command’s obvious request for details. He had not shared his bond with them yet, nor did he plan to at this time. “However, I am more interested in what Nighwitch, Rypo, and Teva intend to do once they get there.”
“I thought I would find Rey and offer my services as needed,” Nighwitch said. “If anyone asks how we know each other, I’ll claim to be her padawan.”
“Wouldn’t they know if she had a padawan?” Banto asked.
All heads turned to Ben. He thought about the question. “Perhaps, but Rey was gone from them for several days as well. There’s no reason you couldn’t claim to have been found by her in that time, when I was with her, and chosen the light side of the force over the dark.”
“Well, we cannot all be Rey’s new apprentices. It would be entirely too suspicious,” Teva said. “I could offer my fighting expertise to the Resistance, and Rypo here could pose as my wife, since her true skills would make her a target of suspicion.”
“Partner,” Rypo corrected with brilliantly red cheeks.
“We don’t want to make them suspicious, Rypo,” Teva said, leaning on an elbow and gazing at her with a crooked grin.
“Save your flirting for some other time, Teva,” Banto snapped. “It’s enough that you two join the Resistance together and separate of Nighwitch. You can argue out the details on the flight there.”
Teva chuckled and leaned back in his chair. “Fair enough. You’re not thinking this out fully though. With the three of us there, we can also destroy the Resistance from the inside should they be opposed to peace. We will, of course, make sure Master Kylo’s lady love will be far away before this happens.”
Teva glanced at Ben, and Ben nodded, acknowledging he had no objection. He had considered it himself, though he felt actually volunteering such a plan might be a betrayal to Rey. She herself had approved of his allowing the knights to replace him so they could move on. She could hardly complain then should they act on a strategy they developed without him.
Even Banto smiled at this suggestion. “Excellent thinking, Teva. I think I might be disappointed if this treaty works out now. I should like to see the Resistance gone once and for all.”
“I also approve of this,” Hama-Ki said. “And their mission makes more sense now. Whether they convince the Resistance to come to peace terms or destroy the Resistance from the inside, this war will finally be over. Any objections?”
The knights shook their heads. Ben faced his knights. “Meeting adjourned then. Rypo, Teva, and Nighwitch, I’ll send you coordinates and order some ships prepared to meet your needs. May the force be with you.”
“Rey,” Ben murmured in her ear.
Rey opened one sleepy eye to find Ben on the bed next to her. “When did you get back? What time is it?”
“Late. I needed to warn you that the knights are on their way.”
Rey bolted upright to stare at Ben. He sat up with her, and he was close enough that she could see his room overlap with hers. “What? Here? Why? Are they attacking?”
“No, they're attacking the Resistance. They're coming to help you. I told them about the challenges you faced, and they volunteered.”
Rey shook her head, still trying to clear her thoughts from the muddle of sleep. “All of them?”
Ben shook his head. “No. Nighwitch, Rypo, and Teva are the ones coming. Nighwitch will pose as your padawan--your apprentice, that is. Nighwitch and Rypo will pretend not to know you and do some reconnaissance separately.”
“Why?” Rey asked.
Ben shrugged. “They're tired of the war too, and they believe you need help. Apparently you made quite the impression waving your new light staff at them.”
Rey groaned. “You know, on Jakku, all I had to do was hold my tongue or counter offer most of the time. I know how to be patient and stubborn, but I know nothing about actually negotiating.”
Ben smiled at her. “I'm not sure they do either. Hama-Ki and Banto are the ones who know the most about political power plays, and they’re staying behind. However, the knights joining you have their hearts in the right place. I'm sure you'll figure something out between you.”
Rey wrapped herself into Ben's arms. “I hope so. Do you trust them? I mean, can I trust them?”
“They want the peace treaty to happen just like you, Rey.”
Rey nodded, mulling over how this would impact everything. “I'm not sure they will make matters better, but I appreciate their help.”
“I wish I could be there to help you too,” Ben said.
Rey kissed him. “I know.”
Hours later, Rey stared at the young woman brought before her by Poe in a small lounge, where she had been catching up with Finn and Rose in some relative solitude. They were the only ones present.
Even with Ben's forewarning of what to expect, Rey was shocked to discover how much a change of clothes and atmosphere could alter the image of Nighwitch, who had introduced herself to the Resistance as Alice. Her soft blonde hair had been pulled back into a gentle ponytail and tied with a brown ribbon that matched the modest brown robes she wore over khaki pants and blue sandals.
“Greetings, master,” Nighwitch said and bowed deeply to Rey.
Rey froze for a moment, then remembered that others were watching. “Greetings, Alice. I'm glad you were able to join us safely.”
“Much praise be to the force for guiding us together again,” Nighwitch said.
“Rey, that is so cool! I didn't know you had a padawan! Why didn't you tell me?” Finn asked. “Especially one as pretty as--ow!”
Rose had kicked Finn with her good foot.
“I thought you said you would quit that!”
“You were ogling her!” Rose protested.
“I was not!”
Nighwitch turned with interest to the bickering couple, then zoned in on Rose’s ankle. “You're injured! Why haven't you treated it in bacta yet?”
“The Resistance doesn't have the resources to use bacta for anything other than life-threatening circumstances,” Poe explained to Nighwitch. “You must be pretty upper-class yourself to expect that sort of treatment. Of course, the First Order also has those kinds of resources. When did you come across Rey again?” He narrowed his eyes at Nighwitch.
Rey’s heart thudded in her chest, and she wondered yet again if she should clue her friends in on Nighwitch’s real identity. Wouldn’t it be better if they all worked together. She looked up and saw Poe’s eyes narrow more on her. She sighed. She was always a lousy liar for things like this.
“Do the First Order has easy access to bacta?” Nighwitch said, ignoring Poe’s question. “No wonder you have so much trouble with them. Master Rey, would it be okay if I healed your friend's ankle?”
Rey stared at Nighwitch in shock. She had thought Ben said that Hama-Ki was the healer among the knights. “You can do that?”
Nighwitch smiled. “I picked up a few things before the force guided me to you. I can show you, if you like.”
“Can we trust her?” Poe asked, looking at Rey.
“Why wouldn’t we? She’s Rey’s padawan. Rey wouldn’t take on just anyone, would she?” Finn asked.
Poe scoffed. “Oh come on, Finn. Rey comes in from spending several days in the First Order, and suddenly today a padawan arrives that she’s not told anyone about? How are you not suspicious?”
“Well, when you put it like that,” Finn said, studying Nighwitch.
Rose, however, was quicker. “You’re one of the knights, aren’t you?” she asked.
Nighwitch frowned. Her image shifted slightly to reveal ugly scars under her previously perfect skin, and Rey realized the young woman must have created an illusion with the force. “Should I silence her?” Nighwitch asked Rey.
“What? No!” Rey said. “They’re my friends. I was already wondering if I should tell them about you and…”
Nighwitch glared at Rey. “This mission is of critical importance for not only the future of the Resistance and the First Order, but also the happiness of Master Kylo. Do not let your sentiment become a stumbling stone!”
“And the truth comes out,” Poe said, rubbing his brows. “Rey, you’ve got this, right?”
Rey reached into the force and did the same trick on Nighwitch that Ben had once done on her what felt like a lifetime ago. “Sleep,” she said, and Nighwitch fell unconscious.
Poe stepped in and scooped up Nighwitch before she hit the floor hard. Unconscious, her force illusion was gone, and they saw her true appearance. Scarred, with flesh gouged out in places, and deep sunken eyes.
“Man, she has seen better days,” Finn said.
“I wonder what happened to her,” Rose added in a worried tone.
“Let’s go somewhere more private than this lounge, and I’ll get Ben. I think he’ll need to be here to keep her from attacking us when she wakes up,” Rey said.
“Or we could just lock the door,” Poe said.
“Yea, let’s lock the door,” Finn said. “I don’t think we need to be dragging an unconscious woman across the ship.”
Rey sighed and reached down her connection to Ben. He answered immediately, and the bond formed between them. “Ben, we need your help.”
Rey took his hand, allowing him to see fully into her world. As he became visible to the others, Rose and Finn both yelped. Even Poe flinched. Ben inhaled sharply as he saw the unconscious woman on the ground. “Nighwitch. What happened? She didn’t fight you, did she?”
“Your precious little knight was about to take out Rose for discovering her identity,” Finn said. “What do your knights have against Rose, anyway?”
“Nothing,” Ben answered honestly. “Just bad luck. Rose, how did you figure it out? Nighwitch usually excels at disguise and infiltration. As you might have noted, she’s very good with illusions.”
“It wasn’t me! Poe was the one who pointed out we should be suspicious,” Rose said, pointing at Poe.
“I was suspicious from the start since Rey hadn’t said anything about having a padawan, which didn’t seem like something she would forget, and then Rey’s face when this… Nighwitch, you called her? Anyway, Rey acted like she had never seen the girl before.”
“Sorry,” Rey said to Ben.
Ben shrugged and looked at the others. “I suppose we should have informed them from the start. It’s out now. Nighwitch is one of my knights. She volunteered to help Rey convince the Resistance to form the treaty. Will you allow her to stay and continue aiding Rey?”
“Can she really heal ankles?” Rose asked.
Ben’s mouth dropped slightly. “I… don’t know. It’s possible. I never learned the healing arts, but that doesn’t mean Hama-Ki never taught her.”
Rose pursed her lips. “Well, I am tired of limping, so if we can wake her up, get her healing, and not have her kill me, I’m all for letting her help Rey. I’m pretty sure we’ll need whatever help we can get.”
“Poe? Finn?” Ben asked.
Poe sighed. “I’m pretty sure this technically counts as treason. However, since I’m already working with you and that’s little different, I’m okay with it. Finn, I know you don’t trust Ben as much as Rose, Rey, and I do, but you can keep your mouth shut on this, right?”
Finn frowned. “She didn’t seem bad… and if she can help Rose… alright.”
“Rey, wake her, please,” Ben said.
Poe held up a finger. “Before we do that. I just need to know one thing. Will there be any other surprises coming in the form of helpful knights?”
Rey and Ben looked at each other, and Poe threw his hands up.
“Of course,” Poe said. “Of course I get stuck in the middle of all this. Okay, I need to know who and when, now.”
“The ship's clean. I did a full sweep. Didn't even find a tracer,” Teva said. He patted the underbelly of the ship to emphasize his point. “The make and model is one of the top five most common ships on the market too. No one should suspect a thing. Did you pick up anything in your night sweep?”
Rypo shook her head. “Nothing useful. Banto was particularly distressed, but I was too far away to determine more than that things were not going the way he wanted.”
Teva snorted. “Hardly a surprise. It's obvious that he's no longer the favored one. Well, if you're set, let's get on board and take off.”
Rypo hesitated and bit her lip.
“What is it?” Teva asked. “You're beautiful in plain clothes, if that's what you're wondering.”
Rypo glanced down in shock, as if just now realizing she didn't have her standard black knight garb on. A blood red long tunic covered up a black knit turtleneck and black leggings, which were tucked into her standard issue black boots. Her long, curly black hair had been tied into a messy bun on her head. She looked like a creature of the night, and Teva smiled in amusement at the contrast with the relatively innocent woman underneath. “I had forgotten,” Rypo said.
“Then what's the matter?”
Rypo hesitated. “I'm not sure I could properly pretend to be your wife.”
Teva barked a laugh. “Don't worry about it. You are my girlfriend, right? We'll just stick with that, and you can be yourself. Except names. We'll need different names since Rey's companions know ours. Call me Brann. It's my first name, after all. Brann Teva.”
Rypo smiled gently at him. “Brann Teva, huh?” She was quiet a moment, and then joined him on the ship and closed the hatch. “My real name is Indy Ryce-Potts.”
“It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Indy,” Teva said, offering a hand.
“Likewise, Brann,” Rypo said and shook his hand.
Teva pulled it to his mouth and kissed her knuckles gently. “Let's go,” he said and released her hand.
Rypo gazed at the spot he had kissed. “You enjoy touching me,” she said.
Teva smirked. “Well, I do like you. It's normal to want to touch the person you like.”
He got the ship cleared for flight, brought them outside the hangar, and, after making sure Rypo was buckled in, brought them into hyperspace.
“And now for the wait,” Teva said as the stars streaked by them.
Rypo unbuckled and stretched in the seat beside his. “It would be normal for me to touch you then?” Rypo asked.
Teva looked at his partner and felt the hairs all along his body stand up in anticipation. “Yes, it would.”
Rypo reached out tentatively, then withdrew her hand. “I feel silly.”
Teva smiled through his disappointment. “It's okay. Don't rush yourself. I can learn to become satisfied with elbow jabbings. I will simply have to make more inappropriate remarks.”
Rypo bit her lip, then reached out and grabbed his hand tightly. “Is this okay?” she asked him.
Teva laughed, thrilling in the knowledge that she had reached out to him this time, even if he had goaded her some into it. “It's perfect.”
Some time later, they arrived at the Resistance fleet. “Message for General Poe Dameron of the Resistance. My name is Brann. I’ve heard you’re in need of help. Well, I’m a skilled fighter, and I would like to join the Resistance. Over.”
Rypo gave him a funny look.
“What? Did I overdo it? Is there some more proper way to join up?”
Rypo shrugged and smiled at him. “We’ve never done a mission like this before.”
“Yea, normally it’s get close, let you do your mind-reading thing, kill whoever we need to, and then get out.”
“Greetings Brann. Turn off all weapons and prepare for the tractor beam to take you aboard,” came a voice over the com.
Teva followed orders and sat back. “Well, that was surprisingly easy.”
Rypo snorted. “It’s probably a trap.”
“You’re right,” Teva said. “Yet, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather die beside than you.”
Rypo gave him an askance look and turned her direction back to the view outside. Teva grinned. He found it hard to be upset at much of anything now that he was with Rypo. Sure, he wanted to help the First Order and the Resistance find peace, but his mind was on the woman next to him.
As they entered the docking bay, they saw Rey and Nighwitch waiting for them along with Finn, Rose, and someone he didn't know. No one else was in sight. The ship landed. Teva lowered the ramp and walked out with Rypo at his side.
“Hi there, folks. Would one of you happen to be the General Poe Dameron?”
“Drop the act. They know who you are, Teva,” Nighwitch said. Teva raised an eyebrow at both her words and her attitude. He had never seen her so distraught.
Teva stepped in front of Rypo, shielding her with his large frame. “Is that so?” he said. Rey hadn't seemed the type to go on the offensive, but he had been wrong before.
The unknown man stepped forward and offered a hand. “I’m General Poe Dameron. Your... master informed us of your mission and asked that I might work with you.”
“Did he?” Teva said, glancing at Rypo.
“General Poe’s telling the truth, at least,” she said. “What happened here?”
“Master Kylo lied to us!” Nighwitch said.
“He didn’t lie to you… he just chose not to share everything,” Rey said in the tone of someone who’s had to repeat herself several times. She looked at them next. “I’m bonded with him… through the force.”
Teva frowned at Rey. “With who? Master Kylo?”
Rey reached out and grabbed something where there was nothing, and then Master Kylo was in the room with them. Teva’s eyes widened, and Rypo stepped closer to his back. “What sorcery is this?” she asked.
“The force,” Master Kylo explained. “We’re not certain how it happened. We became bonded after the destruction of Starkiller Base. Snoke took credit for it, of course, but he’s gone and the bond remains.”
“Bonded?” Teva asked.
“They can see each other from across the galaxy… communicate and interact at any time,” Finn said. “They can even exchange objects.”
“And life,” Rey added. All heads turned to her but Master Kylo’s. “We experimented with the porg the other night.”
“So no matter where you are in the galaxy, you can reach each other?” Teva said.
“Yes,” Master Kylo responded.
“That is amazing.” Teva turned to Rypo and bit his lip. He wished he could have that kind of connection with Rypo. Then again, if Rypo hadn’t been interested, it would be a nightmare. “So, if you can transfer life, could you just toss all the officials opposing the treaty through to the First Order?”
Poe snorted, and Finn's eyes lit up with delight. “Okay, I like him. I really like him.”
“That is the extraction plan,” Rypo said, ignoring Finn's comments. “Passing us from Rey to Master Kylo through the force. That’s… that is amazing. These three know of it… anyone else?” she asked, gesturing at Rose, Poe, and Finn.
Rey shook her head. “They’re the only ones I trusted enough, except perhaps Chewbacca,” Rey said, gazing at Master Kylo.
“Who’s Chewbacca?” Rypo asked.
“A wookiee,” Finn said at the same time that Rey answered, “His uncle,” while looking at Master Kylo. Teva snorted. He had heard of the famous Chewbacca that had flown with the even more famous Han Solo, who was Master Kylo’s father, but Rypo clearly hadn’t.
“A wookiee’s his uncle?” Rypo asked. Both Finn and Poe snorted, while Rose seemed surprised.
Master Kylo gave Rey an exasperated stare while she smiled boldly at him, and Teva found himself grinning too. He could definitely handle supporting their love.
“We’re getting off track,” Master Kylo said. “Everyone knows each other now. Rose and Finn, will you have trouble working with Rypo and Teva given your prior encounter?”
“Your ankle all healed up?” Teva asked, sticking his hands in his pockets and looking at Rose.
Rose turned to face him, and while she seemed wary, her eyes held no malice. “Yes, thanks. Alice, or Nighwitch, or whoever she is… she actually was the one to heal it. She did a good job,” Rose said.
“I didn’t know you knew how to heal,” Rypo said, looking at Nighwitch. Teva hadn’t either.
“You two hang out. Sometimes Hama-Ki and I would hang out too,” Nighwitch said quietly.
Master Kylo sighed, and all eyes turned to him. “Okay, so it looks like everyone can handle working together. Do we have a plan for convincing the rest of the Resistance to work with the First Order in establishing peace and order in the galaxy?”
Everyone looked quietly at each other. Teva had known they would be looking for ideas when they arrived, but they had only just gotten off the ship.
“I liked that guy's idea of just tossing everyone who disagrees to the First Order using the force,” Finn said.
Teva grinned at Finn despite the scowls Rypo and Rey were sending both of them.
“As appealing as the idea may be, any method involving brute force will not lead to a sustainable solution,” Master Kylo said.
“But, it could lead to a temporary one,” Rose said.
“Temporary isn't bad,” General Poe said thoughtfully.
Teva snorted. No wonder the Resistance was in such a mess if this is what their leadership looked like.
“I'm confident we can come up with a better solution,” Rypo said. “Nighwitch, you've been quiet. What are you thinking?”
All eyes turned to Nighwitch. “We need something that would provide a common goal for the First Order and the Resistance. The union between Master Kylo and Rey is what brought us together today. We need something for tomorrow that everyone would be invested in.”
Teva shrugged. “Do you have something particular in mind?”
“An academy for force users. An academy for all force users. No more of the jedi and sith and light and dark nonsense. A place for force users to belong, learn, and feel safe from the politics of the galaxy so they're not pressured into these extremist roles that will pit loved ones against each other in this vicious cycle of death and destruction.”
Teva considered her suggestion, and he could tell the others were thinking it over too. It wasn't bad. Especially if the school also invited speakers from both the First Order and the Resistance. He had wondered, at times, if the restriction against intimacy was to prevent force-strong children from being used as pawns.
“It's something to make happen, but is it enough?” Rey asked. “I'm the only Resistance force user that I know of.”
Nighwitch's shoulders sank, and Teva stepped forward. “But there will be more force users. It's obvious that you and Master Kylo are heading in that direction, and…” he paused as he considered that Rypo might not be ready to think that far ahead yet. “There will be others. There will always be others. The force works in mysterious ways.”
Poe clapped his hands together. “And if a force academy cuts more deeply into the First Order's power, that's all the more reason for the others to agree.”
“So what do we say? Let's have peace with the First Order in exchange for having a neutral academy for all who are force sensitive? Isn't there more to it?” Rose asked.
“It's a start, and I would like to address them, if I may,” Master Kylo said.
Poe sighed. “You know what? Why not? Absolutely nothing else has gone to plan. To for it.”
“But let's make sure your extraction plan works first,” Rypo said. “Just in case anyone needs a quick escape.”
The extraction plan worked. Ben had demonstrated its effectiveness with Growlie once more, and then Nighwitch had volunteered to be their first human test subject. Rey had some trouble lifting Nighwitch, given that Nighwitch was taller than Rey, but then Rey thought to use the force to help her, and Ben had no trouble picking up Nighwitch on his end.
Rose volunteered next, and Finn refused to let her go first, so Rose and Finn became the next subjects. Poe was grinning big throughout the whole procedure, but showed no interest in trying to cross space through the bond himself. Ben looked at Teva and Rypo next, but they firmly and politely declined.
“You’re a handsome man, Master Kylo, but I’m not interested in jumping in your arms more than absolutely necessary,” Teva said.
And so ended their exploration of transferring people. Ben took Rey’s hand again afterward so that he could still see and interact with the others.
Knowing the extraction plan worked relieved Ben somewhat, but he still feared for Rey. If she got in a bind, could he pull her out too? There was no way to check beforehand without permanently removing her from the Resistance ship. He had not said anything to her about it, but he could tell she was wondering the same thing.
Still, his visions gave him hope, as did Nighwitch’s proposal of the academy. They would have a future together. They had to.
“I should go speak with Hama-Ki and make sure she’s available for negotiations,” Ben said to his knights and Rey. Hama-Ki would be needed if they convinced the Resistance to enter negotiations.
“Hama-Ki is..?” Poe asked.
“Another knight,” Rypo said.
“One who’s actually good at politics,” Teva added, earning frowns from both his colleagues and Ben. “What? It’s true.” Ben shook his head. Had Teva always been this snarky underneath the knight facade?
Poe nodded. “A negotiations specialist would be good. I should bring Kaydel in on this too. She’s much better at talking with people than I am, even though I got landed with the leadership role. She knows I’ve been in negotiation talks with the First Order and that Rey and Ben are together.”
Ben nodded his agreement. He vaguely recalled Kaydel as a young girl who followed his mother everywhere and even mimicked his mother’s hair styles. He wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover the girl had grown into a skillful negotiator, though he saw no issue with Poe’s own skills beyond that the pilot-turned-general lacked the polish the political types preferred.
“Wait, Poe and them call you Ben?” Teva asked him.
Ben shrugged. “I was Ben Solo before I was Kylo Ren.”
“I’m learning everyone’s original names today!” Teva exclaimed. “Nighwitch, what’s yours?”
“None of your business,” Nighwitch said evenly.
Ben smirked at that, though he would rather see Nighwitch get along with Rypo and Teva. “We still need to figure out how to address the rest of the Resistance. Poe, is there already a time set up for Rey to address them?”
Poe nodded. “They’ve been begging to meet her since she arrived yesterday. I was going to have a conference in this ship later tonight at eighteen-hundred standard cycle. There's a large auditorium mid-ship. It's a bit old-fashioned, but it should do. Some will be joining us by holo though. Can Ben be seen by holo through the force bond?”
That question led to another series of experiments, in which they determined that, yes, the holo projection equipment did properly scan Ben through the force bond as long as Rey was in contact with him.
“So what happens if this all fails?” Poe asked when they finished testing the holos. “What’s plan B? Dump opposing officials into First Order prison cells via the bond like Teva here suggested earlier?”
Teva laughed. “Sure beats our original plan of destroying the Resistance from within.”
Ben rubbed his forehead in exasperation. The Resistance members stared at Teva in horror, and Rypo and Nighwitch both glared at him.
“Look, it’s the truth,” Teva said. “Did you forget we’re on opposite ends of this war? It’s nothing personal, but that was the original plan. The war between us is wasteful. We’ll end it one way or another with this. However, I am all for preserving life by making hostages of the bigwigs who are determined to cause more suffering for everyone.”
“I will stop you if you try to kill anyone,” Rey said and stepped forward. Ben wasn't certain she even realized that she was dragging him too.
Teva sighed and shrugged. “Fair enough. Just be prepared to pass some people to Master Kylo then. You okay with this, Mr. Resistance Leader?” he asked, looking at Poe.
Poe shrugged. “It wouldn’t be the first time I staged a revolt within the Resistance for the greater good. I’m also not sure I can actually stop you at this point either. I mean, I could order the ships to escape and attack the location of your fleet, but… well, you knights don’t seem so bad… then again, who is replacing Ben when he retires? Ben, you are still retiring, right?”
Ben nodded. “I am,” he said. He had given much thought to this over the last few days. Though he was tired of protocol and withholding information, he knew he should wait until all his knights were present. “I will announce my chosen successor tonight when I address the Resistance,” he said. He would have Hama-Ki, Banto, and Jun’Pon join things from his end. After all, extra hands would not be unwelcome for addressing any potential complications. “Could we have the conference stream to my ship as well, so that we can follow the whole discussion?”
“I’ll make it happen,” Poe said.
“I would like some time with Ben, alone,” Rey said. “Are we done here?”
The others filtered out of the hangar, leaving Ben and Rey alone. Once they were gone, Rey’s neutral expression melted into sorrow. “Ben, you were planning to let them destroy the Resistance, weren’t you?”
He gazed at her beautiful face and shook his head. “It was not a bad plan.”
“Except for the part where people died for not agreeing with you,” Rey said.
Ben’s heart sank, even though he did not regret his actions or the plan. “Do you want me to apologize for doing whatever it takes to end this war?” Ben asked softly. “You know I’m not all light side, but I am all for our future together.”
Rey sniffed, and tears rolled down her cheeks. “I know that, but I just…” She frowned and took a deep breath. “I’m glad Teva’s plan is an option. Or we could even have made everyone go to sleep and managed things that way. There are other non-lethal options. You don’t always have to blow things up.”
Ben smiled. “Perhaps you could stay by my side and remind me.”
Rey wrinkled her nose at him, but she smiled too. “You know I will. We’ll have this argument again and again, won’t we? Dark versus light?”
“Until we’re old and gray, if possible,” Ben said, stepping in and kissing her wet cheeks. “Let this be the last time we’re separated though.” He kissed her lips then, but she didn’t respond. “Please,” he murmured into them.
Rey pulled back slightly. “I’m still angry.”
Ben sighed and stepped back to give her more space. “I understand. I’ll see you tonight.” He closed the connection and sat down heavily on his bed, pulling Growlie to him with the force so that he could comfort himself with petting the porg, at least. Growlie squawked at him and settled down in his lap.
The bond opened back up, and Rey stood before him. “I didn’t mean for you to go away!” she said. “I still want to spend time with you. I just needed a minute before I kissed you.” Her eyes fell on Growlie in his lap. “The porg can move.”
Ben’s heart glowed with hope and warmth, but he wasn’t going to let her off too easily. “Weren’t you angry with me?”
Rey glared at him. “I'll be angrier if you don't move the porg.”
“No,” Ben said.
Rey stalked towards him, glared at the Ben, and flicked the porg with a finger, causing Growlie to squawk angrily and take flight.
“That wasn’t very nice,” Ben said. He never let his eyes leave hers though.
“You know I’m not all light,” Rey countered and crossed her arms.
The thrill that ran down Ben’s spine at her simple words made him want to throw her down on his bed and make love to her then and there, though he knew Rey was not ready for that level of intimacy and still in the hangar on her side of the bond. “Kiss me,” he ordered.
“You sure you wouldn’t rather snuggle with Growlie?” Rey taunted.
Ben reached out and pulled her into his lap, wrapping an arm around her waist tightly to pull her back against him. “What do you think?” he asked, tilting her head back with his free arm to crush his lips against hers.
Rey bit his lip firmly and deepened the kiss when he opened his mouth in response. She twisted around in his embrace and wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist. I think I never want to let go of you. Rey said into his mind.
There’s a solution to that predicament. Ben returned.
Don’t let go of me.
Rey felt her heartbeat in her ears as she stood on the stage in an auditorium with an audience of what seemed like hundreds of beings, some of which were present through holos. Perhaps it was hundreds of beings. It was hard for her to see clearly through the bright lights pointed at her, and even harder to think through the novelty of it all. She had never experienced anything like this.
Poe and Kaydel stood before her with BB-8 and Threepio, though Kaydel had decided to leave the speaking to Poe since he knew the situation better. To the side, she could see the three knights alongside Finn and Rose off-stage behind the curtain. Ben stood a few feet to her other side through their bond, waiting for his cue to speak as well.
“I present to you Rey of Jakku, the hero of the Resistance!” Poe announced.
The room thundered with applause, and Rey offered a shy wave and stepped forward to the podium with the microphone. “Um, hi,” she said, wishing yet again that she had spent some time thinking about what she would say instead of spending nearly the entire afternoon making out with Ben. “I’m Rey.”
“Lift some rocks!” shouted a voice from the audience.
Rey frowned. That was not what she had expected. “You… want me to lift rocks?”
The subsequent cheering and applauding did not quite drown out the sound of Ben’s laughter behind her.
“Go ahead, Rey,” he said.
“But there are no rocks,” Rey said. Poe quirked his head at the droids, and Rey sighed. “Fine.” She reached into the force and levitated both BB-8 and Threepio into the air for the audience.
“Oh my!” Threepio said as BB-8 trilled and the audience thundered with approval.
“Okay, so we’ve established that I can lift things with the force,” Rey said as things quieted down. She heard some chuckling from the audience and smiled. She could do this. “Lifting rocks is a useful skill to have and actually helped saved lives on Crait, but as Luke Skywalker once said, there’s more to the force than lifting rocks. It’s about the balance and bonds between all living things.”
She glanced at her friends, who gave her encouraging smiles and thumbs-ups. “There’s a lot of talk about balance with the force, and a lot of stories. Um…” She paused. She wasn’t sure how to bring the topic around to what was important that night. “Luke Skywalker was a legendary jedi. Darth Vader was a legendary sith. They existed in balance with the Rebellion and the Empire. Opposite forces that existed until they were each destroyed in the battle between light and dark. You probably see the same balance with me and Kylo Ren.”
A chorus of booing followed her mention of Kylo Ren, and Rey clenched the podium, struggling with her desire to leap to Ben’s defense when they wouldn’t understand why.
“Listen, there are more ways to have balance than fight each other. We can work together.”
“You can’t work with evil!” someone jeered. The audience erupted in pandemonium, and Rey stared in dismay.
Poe grabbed the mic back. “Silence! Look, you came here to see what the hero of the Resistance had to say. Now quiet down.”
The audience quieted down, and Rey took the mic back from Poe with shaky hands. “I get it, actually. I was once like you. Shoot first and ask questions later when it came to the First Order.” She took a deep breath. “Through some wholly unexpected circumstances, however, I was put in a situation where I could not battle with my blaster or my staff or my lightsaber, and I had to use my words. And when I did, I started listening.”
She paused and gazed at Ben behind her.
“When I started listening, I learned that not everything was as black and white as it had seemed. And furthermore, I was not alone. My dreams for a better future were shared with Kylo Ren. He was not the monster I thought he was.” Protests erupted from the audience. “I know, he did horrible things. Terrible things, but he did it with a passion for tomorrow, and not a tomorrow where he was some sadistic master of everything collecting power, but a tomorrow where the galaxy could live free of pain.”
“What about Hosnia?!” someone shouted, and a chant formed. “Hosnia! Hosnia! Hosnia! Hosnia!”
“The destruction of Hosnia was engineered by Snoke and Hux, who are both dead. Kylo Ren did not support it,” Rey protested.
The chant continued, and Rey closed her eyes, fighting tears. They weren’t listening. “Look, do you want me to talk or not?!”
The audience quieted down again, and Rey wiped her face on the shoulder of her tunic. “I’m sick of the destruction. I’m sick of the fighting. The losses have been too steep on both sides, and I came here mostly to announce that Kylo Ren and I are done with the war. Both of us.”
Silence fell, and the tension in the room became so thick that Rey could hardly breathe.
“Whatever happens next, I’m leaving the Resistance, and Kylo Ren is leaving the First Order. As our parting gift, we would like to help you arrange peace terms so that the Resistance and First Order can work together to make the galaxy a better place for everyone.”
Chaos erupted once more as voices protested her departure, the likelihood of Kylo Ren’s departure, the possibility of peace, and more.
Poe stepped up and took the mic again. “I think the audience wants to know how you can be so sure that Kylo Ren is leaving the First Order. Can you help with that, Rey?”
The audience quieted down, and Rey took a deep breath. “I can. You see, Kylo Ren and I are bonded through the force. We are always together, no matter how far apart we are.” Rey gazed at Ben as murmurs of confusion echoed through the audience, and then she took his hand.
Screams and shouts echoed throughout the auditorium as he came into view, and a number of people started rushing for the exit. Rey huffed at their reaction and slammed the exit doors shut with the force.
“I didn’t think that many people knew my face,” Ben said into her ear.
Rey shrugged. It’s not like she understood it either. “Everyone! Please calm down before you hurt yourselves. You are not in any danger from him. I can make him go away at any time. Watch,” she said, and she let go of his hand. The panic level in the room immediately dropped, though she could easily still feel their fear.
Poe stepped up again. “That’s an impressive jedi trick there, Rey. Is the audience ready for more of the Supreme Leader of the First Order?”
“He’s going to kill us all!” cried one panicked person.
“This was a horrible idea,” Rey muttered.
“Relax,” Poe said to her away from the mic. “They just need some time to get used to the idea. Speaking of which, Finn, Rose, get over here.” He waited until Rose and Finn were standing awkwardly next to Rey, and then grabbed the mic again. “Okay, let’s change the pace some. Does everyone know who these two are?”
Sounds of affirmation came from the audience. “Yea, this is Finn, the stormtrooper who defected and used his insider information to lead the destruction of Starkiller Base. Next to him is Rose Tico, whose sister Paige destroyed the dreadnaught in the evacuation of D’Qar, and Rose herself went on a covert mission to save the lives of everyone on the Raddus when it looked like all hope was lost. They’re also heroes, and, as you know, I’m Poe Dameron, your general. We love the Resistance as much as anyone, and we’ve proven time and again that we’re willing to risk our lives for the Resistance. We’re also some of Rey’s best friends. We went through the same shock and doubt you’re going through now, and I’d like Finn and Rose to say something about it.”
Finn stepped up first. “Umm… I’m Finn. Yea. You know that.” Some cheers erupted, and he smiled. “Yea, that’s me. A big deal, you know? Look, I was inside the First Order, and I saw exactly how awful Kylo Ren could be. When Rey told me she had some kind of bond with him and was beginning to trust him, I thought she was absolutely crazy. Com-plete-ly bon-kers,” he said, enunciating each syllable. “However, she brought us on some crazy mission, and then Kylo Ren shows up. Like you, I was certain he was there to kill us all, but then he didn’t.” He paused. “Kylo Ren has changed. He actually helped us, and what’s more, that man was smitten, and I do mean head-over-heels smitten, with Rey. He bought her clothes. He gave her his helmet… you know, the freaky looking thing that makes him sound like a robot? He just gave it to her. He was determined to do anything to be with her. I was still in denial then of what was happening, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was simple. He’d fallen in love with her, and you can’t be all evil if you can fall in love.”
The audience went nuts again, this time with shock and denial and a few people asking if Rey returned Kylo Ren’s affections.
Rose grabbed the mic from Finn. “That’s right, they’re in love, and they’re determined to be together. You can’t stop them.”
This did not quiet the audience down, and the knights stepped out onto the stage in clear preparation for battle, if necessary, as Rose failed in her attempts to calm the audience down.
Rey exchanged a worried glance with Poe and Ben, and Poe smiled. “Wait, I’ve got an idea. Rey, don’t interfere. Teva, Rypo, come here.”
Rey and Ben exchanged worried glances as the two knights and Poe huddled briefly. They nodded, and the next thing Rey knew, Teva had Poe in a headlock with his lightsaber out against Poe’s neck. The auditorium immediately fell into silence.
“If you don’t want your general to die, then shut up and listen,” Rypo said. “My name’s Rypo. I’m one of the six Knights of Ren, followers of Kylo Ren, Supreme Leader of the First Order. My friend who has General Poe pinned is Teva, and Nighwitch is the young woman standing behind me. We are armed and dangerous, and we could destroy all of you within an instant. All we’re asking, though, is for you to hear us, Rey, and Master Kylo Ren out. So everyone head back to your seats quietly unless you want Nighwitch to visit you personally with her lightsaber.”
The audience quieted immediately, and a number of people sat back down.
“That’s better,” Rypo said. “Now, it’s been a weird few weeks for the First Order too. The destruction of Starkiller Base saw the end to countless First Order lives, and not just soldiers. Technicians, scientists, and families were on that base when you destroyed it. The Hosnian destruction also impacted us, as many of us had family in the Republic. Supreme Leader Snoke was too powerful to stand up against. However, he was someone that Master Kylo could stand up against. Rey, join hands with Master Kylo again so we can all see him again.”
Rey did so. The fear in the audience spiked again, but this time, they stayed in their seats.
“You’ve been praising Rey for assassinating Supreme Leader Snoke these last few weeks. She was instrumental to his destruction, but she was not the one who cut him in half. That honor went to Snoke’s apprentice, Master Kylo Ren. You owe the freedom of the galaxy from Snoke to none other than Kylo Ren.”
“Master Kylo, tell them what you told us,” Rypo said.
“Snoke had forced me into a position where I had to kill Rey or Snoke. I killed Snoke to save Rey’s life. I love her.”
Shock emanated from the audience, and Rey blushed. Ben squeezed her hand, and she squeezed it back, stepping closer to him.
“I am capable of being a monster, but Rey freed me from being Snoke’s tool. Where Snoke delighted in tormenting his enemies, I have no desire to see suffering, nor do my knights, who have stepped up to fill the gaps in leadership after I disposed of Hux and the others of that era. We wish only for peace and order in the galaxy. However, Rey and I will no longer let your feud separate us. This plea for peace is our parting gift. Whether it works or not, Rey and I will retire to form an academy for force users of all alignments that is wholly separate of both the First Order, the Resistance, and all other governments. My knights are welcome to join me, as they are also force users, as are any within the Resistance who wish for a safe place to learn and be themselves in the force. Therefore, I need to make an announcement on the leadership of the First Order, so you know who you are dealing with in the future. I nominate Rypo, this capable woman in front of you, to lead the First Order in my absence. She is reasonable and desires nothing above an end to the chaos that war brings upon us.”
Rey smiled. Rypo had been her first pick too. Beside her, she saw Teva’s proud grin and Rypo’s shock.
“I... I would be honored,” Rypo said, bowing deeply to Ben.
Ben turned abruptly and pulled out both lightsabers, Rey stared in shock as she saw glimpses of a lightsaber fight near her, and Rypo searched the air before them. “What’s happening over there?” Rypo asked her.
Rey took Rypo’s hand rather than speak out, and they watched together as Ben cut someone down. The body did not stay in contact long enough for them to identify before disappearing again on their fall to the floor.
Ben turned around, deactivated his lightsabers, and faced Rey. There was blood sprayed on his black clothes.
“What happened, Ben?” Rey asked.
He frowned and took her free hand, revealing himself to the audience once more. “My apologies. I had not yet informed my knights of my choice, and two of them found it objectionable. However, the objection has been eliminated, and the remaining knight with me fully supports Rypo’s nomination. You see that we also support peace, even if it means we must stand up against our own. We hope you will do the same. May the force be with you.”
Ben studied the people around him and turned to where Poe was still in Teva’s headlock. “General Poe, Teva, I do believe you can quit your act now.”
Teva deactivated his lightsaber and let Poe go. Poe grinned for them and took the mic. “There you have it. There are still details to be worked out, but as you can see, the First Order has changed leadership and has a vision compatible with our own. Will all in favor of ending the war once in for all and entering negotiations with the First Order for peace raise their hand or appendage equivalent?”
Rey saw movement, but she found she no longer cared as she turned to face Ben. She and Ben had done their part. The rest was up to the others. Ben’s eyes were on her as well. “Think you can extract me from here without putting the others in danger?” Rey asked.
“I think it’s time we find out. The others should be fine now,” Ben said. “That was some speech you gave.”
Rey nodded and yawned. “I never want to give another speech again.”
“Then come here,” Ben said and opened his arms to her.
Rey wrapped her arms around him as he lifted her off the ground and closed the bond. Instantly, the noise from the audience was replaced with the nearly still quiet of the First Order ship’s ventilation system.
“It’s over? I’ll just excuse myself then,” Hama-Ki said from beside them. Rey watched the old woman leave the conference room and recalled what had happened just before.
“You don’t have to look,” Ben said, sensing where her thoughts were heading.
Rey nodded and buried her face in his chest to avoid seeing the bodies of Banto and Jun’Pon, whom she knew would be on the floor. “What happened?”
“They attacked me after the announcement. Stupid of them, but I suppose they thought they could win if they caught me unaware and then attack the Resistance while the other knights were stranded there. I was not unaware, nor was Hama-Ki. She was actually the one to slay Jun’Pon. He didn’t even have his guard up against her.”
Rey took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Is it really over? Can we really leave it all behind now?”
Ben kissed the top of her head and leaned against it. “Yes, I think we can.”
The end! I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to tell me what you think!