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A Cross and a Girl Named Blessed

Chapter Text

I’ll come back sweetheart, I promise.”

Rey’s eyes fluttered open, only to see a familiar face staring at her.

“I thought I just woke from my nightmare,” she muttered, shutting her eyes firmly.

With any luck, she could just go back to sleep until he was gone.

“I didn’t want to wake you,” he said icily, “Was that a mistake?”

She rolled to her other side so that her back was to him. Her heart was in her throat as she contemplated his question. Would she rather he wake her next time, or that he watch her sleep? Even if he weren’t technically watching her, he would still have to be mindful of what noise he made. He would still have to be mindful of her.

“Leave,” she commanded pointlessly, knowing full well that neither of them could disconnect the bond.

She heard him sigh from where he was sitting, back against the wall, across from her cot. Briefly, she wondered what he had been doing before the Force bond had interrupted him. She chose not to ask. She hadn’t expected to see him so soon after escaping Crait, and she didn’t know what to say to him. If only she could go back to sleep and deal with this later, after she had a decent rest and could clear her head.

“I’ll wake you next time, then,” he decided, his voice still cold.

A spark ignited in her chest, incensed by the fact that he seemed angry with her. How could he be putting this on her? Blaming her? He’d led her right to Snoke. He’d refused to stray from the First Order. And then, he had killed Luke.

She shoved herself upright, the beating of her blood harsh against her veins as she turned to glare at him.

But he was already gone.

---

Rey strode out of the Falcon moments later to what seemed to be the remaining Resistance members setting up a camp. There were twenty or so that she could see. Was this really everyone who was left? In her pause, she noticed Finn headed towards her.

“Rey! You’re finally awake!” he exclaimed, reaching out to hug her.

“How long was I sleeping? What’s going on?” she asked.

Obviously they had landed, and they weren’t being attacked. The immediate surroundings were dense with plants and trees. Under her feet, the earth was damp and soft.

“After we left Crait, we were contacted by Resistance sympathizers on Zar En, which is where we are now. You slept through morning, but General Leia advised us to let you rest after all that Force wrangling you did,” he explained, “We’re just setting up base and trying to gather some resources now. The plan is to lie low while we regroup. It’s not ideal, but with our numbers, we don’t have much of a choice but to stay off the radar for a while.”

Rey didn’t miss the animation of his voice, or the way he had referred to the Resistance as ‘we,’ but she made no comment on it. If he was right, she would have plenty of time to learn of the reason behind his newfound willingness to be a part of the Resistance.

She inhaled the strangely humid air, thick with the scent of moss, and squared her shoulders. “How can I help?”

---

A meeting was called. Ren was doing well to look attentive, despite not paying much attention to the conversation happening around him. He was rather absorbed in his earlier encounter with Rey.

She slept much more soundly than he ever had, and he had no reason to disturb that. She looked so peaceful and untethered. Light pooled around her, ebbing and flowing with each of her breaths. Then she caught him staring at her, and she saw something written all over his face that caused her to turn away. How he wished she had turned away in disgust.

“Right, Supreme Leader?” Hux’s shrill voice pulled Ren back to the meeting.

“I disagree,” Ren deadpanned, secretly enjoying the pained expression his response elicited from Hux.

“On what grounds?” Hux asked, trying to imbue sweetness in his frustrated tone.

“The Resistance had been severely wounded in terms of numbers, but so has the First Order. We must crush them now while they are at their weakest, but we do not have the resources to find them and launch a full scale attack without putting ourselves at risk.”

Hux leered at Ren as though he has just repeated what everyone had been discussing for the last hour. “And what do you suggest?” he spat.

“I will comb the Force to find them, and then I will go with a small guard--”

“With all due respect, the Resistance may be few in numbers, but they are great in strength. We must not underestimate the combined powers of Leia Organa and the girl that killed former Supreme Leader Snoke,” Hux interrupted pompously.

Ren’s chair squeaked as he rose and threw Hux across the room.

---

On the third day after landing, Rey had scoped out a large area of the forest in which they were settled. The land under the Falcon sloped down facing south, which lead to a vast basin of reddish water with massive crimson colored aquatic plants that loitered along the surface. To the north and east were forest, and the west was a steep rocky hill that seemed to suggest they were in a ravine. She stopped by the lake in the morning to wash her face with the cold water before setting out to look for good, dry wood in the forest. As she approached the lake, she saw Rose filling her canteen.

“Good morning, Rey!” Rose greeted, waving to her.

Finn had introduced them days before, and it had dawned on Rey that perhaps this girl had something to do with Finn’s newfound loyalty for the Resistance. Still, she hadn’t had the chance to tease him about it yet, since they had been so busy setting up camp and establishing communication protocol with their allies of Zar En. All of their communications had to be handwritten and delivered in person, as the Resistance was not about to risk broadcasting their messages into space.

“Good morning, Rose,” Rey responded, crouching beside her and staring into the murky red.

She dipped one cupped hand into the water, then bent closer to the surface and splashed her face with it. Despite its coolness, she didn’t feel very refreshed.

“The Zar En people are coming to help us fish and identify plants today, will you be around?” Rose asked.

Rey shook her head. “I’m going out into the forest again today. We need more dry wood,” she replied.

Even though the Resistance was low in numbers, Rey wasn’t used to being surrounded by so many others all the time. She found it necessary to go exploring on her own so she could have a break from everyone. Especially as the ‘Last Jedi,’ she was ever popular around camp. Additionally, being alone meant that she didn’t have to worry about seeming crazy if Ben appeared to her. Luckily, he hadn’t since their arrival, but she knew it was only a matter of time.

Rose nodded, maybe understanding that Rey needed some space. “Alright. Hey, let me know if you see any cool caves! I’m no geologist, but I can tell calcite from halite.”

Rey smiled. “Sure thing. Maybe if we’re lucky, there will be some Kyber crystals too.”

Rose beamed at the suggestion, making Rey feel a little more at ease and ready to face the day.

---

Ren tossed and turned, unable to sleep once again. The old fools of the First Order didn’t respect him as much as Hux, and Hux was just waiting his turn to stab him in the back. His head felt hollow ever since Snoke’s death. He was beginning to wonder if his ascension to Supreme Leader was a pyrrhic victory. He’d gotten what he’d wanted, but at what cost?

And then there was Rey. She was so naïve and stubborn. And so self-righteous. Why must the Force insist on connecting them?

He reached out to the Force in search of answers, but only received the same lackluster silence as always.

I’ll come back sweetheart, I promise.”

Chapter Text

Trekking through the forest was more difficult than Rey had anticipated. Mud stuck to her shoes, gluing each of her steps to the ground. The rocks were slippery, either with moss or condensation that had been left over from the cool humid night. She slipped a few times before deciding it was better to walk around than try to climb over them.

She made it to where the ravine ended and kept following an imaginary straight line. Here, the grass and rocks were sparse under her feet, and it seemed like she was on an actual path. At least this path would be easy to retrace.

She walked toward the sound of crashing water until she came across a small waterfall. It emptied into a circular pool with a twisting tail that flowed southeast. The banks surrounding the pool were loamy and covered in smooth multicolored pebbles. She carefully made her way down to the water’s edge, where she noticed the water was clear as glass. The slope of the pool started out very gradually, then dropped to a depth that was probably over her head. Larger rocks and mud lined the bottom of the pool.

She took a seat on a fallen tree trunk that was wedged in the loam, stretched, and took a deep breath. Closing her eyes, she took a meditative position. It seemed to her that she had found a place that she hadn’t realized she had been looking for.

---

She started back to camp early that night, her rucksack filled with wood and her mind teeming with questions for the Zar En people. But most of all, she was excited to see Rose.

She had seen it while meditating. There were crystals on this world, which though she wasn’t exactly sure of their type, at least possessed a similar energy to Kyber crystals. Rey had mentioned finding them earlier to Rose as a sort of joke, but now the possibility seemed very real.

As she approached the camp, her ears began to ring and her vision blurred. She fought the feeling, trying to walk through the static of her brain, but it felt like she was pushing her way through water. When her senses finally cleared, everything around her was silent, and he was there.

He was so bad at hiding his emotions, and she felt a twinge in her chest as he tried to cover the surprise on his face with a neutral expression.

“You’re awake,” he observed.

He appeared to be sitting down, holding something. Rey guessed he was either writing or eating.

“Do you often visit me in my sleep, or was it just the last time?” she quipped, setting down her bag.

“We agreed I would wake you the next time it happened,” he replied evenly, “But to be honest, I’m glad I didn’t have to.”

Rey wanted to laugh. She didn’t know whether she was giddy from the prospect of finding Kyber crystals, or because the thought of her having a polite conversation with the Supreme Leader of the First Order was so absurd. That Ben Solo was the Supreme Leader at all…it seemed twisted.

“I’m sorry for how crabby I was. I was tired and frustrated with you,” Rey said finally. “I still am frustrated with you.”

“And I with you,” Ben said softly.

For a moment they held each other’s stare, neither of them breathing.

Finally, Rey sighed. “The Force must think we’re dense as rocks. Obviously there is some path for us together, yet here we are, at an impasse.”

She had seen the Light in him, she had felt his conflict. She knew he could turn, and she had seen a glimpse of his future. The Force had shown her his potential. But she didn’t want to bring it up again. It hadn’t gone over well last time. There had to be another way to go about this.

He rose from where he was sitting, and slowly took three strides to close the gap between them.

She felt her breathing quicken, and her skin flush hot. Her head swam and she tried to keep her thoughts straight. His stubbornness cost Han and Luke their lives. He would just as soon take Leia’s, and Finn’s, and…

“I’ve been thinking about that too,” he admitted. His voice was steady, but his lip trembled. She felt his fear, and it confused her. Did he have a solution in mind that was worrying him?

He was gone before she could ask.

---

Ren stalked around the Finalizer. He ignored each patrol that passed him and flattened a cleaning droid that dared get in his way. After a lengthy march around the entire ship, he made his way to the bridge. His rage was somewhat dulled enough to interact with Hux. But one look at that piteous man’s face, and Ren was filled with certainty that the murmurings he had overheard were true. Hux was planning a coup d'état.

“Supreme Leader,” Hux greeted him.

It wouldn’t do to simply kill him. Hux was likeable and well respected throughout the First Order, much more so than Ren. It was because of this that a coup d'état was even a possibility. If Ren just disposed of him now, it would be a massive upset to the First Order. Even if he wasn’t removed from his position of Supreme Leader, their unity would be gone.

He would need to keep the man very close to him. Very close. And then maybe happen to drop him into the lap of a certain sanctimonious Jedi.

“Supreme Leader?” Hux asked, puzzled.

“You’re doing a fine job, Hux,” Ren forced himself to say. He was a bad liar, but the shock on Hux’s face implied that it didn’t matter.

“Keep up the good work,” he added, before turning and walking back towards his quarters.

He tried to put that interaction out of his mind as quickly as his door closed. He strode over to his desk, picked up the scrap he had been writing on earlier, and crumpled it into a ball. Tomorrow, he would start from scratch.

Then he centered himself, took a deep breath, and began to practice his forms.

---

“The Zar En that came today explained to us that the water out there isn’t always red,” Poe explained, “It’s caused by those big floating plants. They’re actually a bunch of little plants all clumped up, and they’re pretty toxic. Of course, we didn’t know that, so some of us had been drinking the water and--”

“Rose!” Rey exclaimed, “Is she alright? Are the others alright?”

She looked around. The camp seemed more deserted than usual, and her stomach sank.

“She’s sick. About a dozen others are too, which isn’t great, considering our numbers. Apparently, red tides are uncommon at this time of year, so they didn’t think to warn us before our arrival. And when they arrived at our camp, it was already too late.”

“Will they be okay?” Rey asked, her brow creased in worry. Had the Zar En people taken those that were sick back to their village for treatment? And what about Finn?

“They’ll be okay. Sick, nauseous, and out of commission, but otherwise okay. We moved the sick into the Falcon so they can have more protection from the elements, and so they don’t have to move around a lot. The Zar En people returned to their village to see if they had any medicine left over from the last red tide. They should be back in a day or two. In the meantime, they told us of a woman who lives up in the mountains that they get most of their medicines from. General Leia thinks it would be a good idea to send a couple of us to her.”

Rey glanced at the Falcon nervously, as if it were going to look any different now. It didn’t, but this didn’t help to put her at ease.

“Are General Leia and Finn okay?” she asked.

“Don’t worry, they’re fine. They’re in the sick bay right now. You can go on in there and see who’s been affected and who hasn’t. It’s not a fatal sickness, but it is unpleasant.”

Rey wondered how Poe could seem so sure of himself and positive, when over half of their pitifully small numbers had just been infected with some mysterious illness.

“Hey, it’ll be okay,” Poe added reassuringly. He appeared to sense her doubt, and he put a hand on her shoulder. “Come on, let’s go see them right now, and while we’re at it we can talk with General Leia.”

Chapter Text

Hux knocking at the door of Ren’s quarters was an awful thought to have, and yet Ren could hear his sniveling voice accompanying the short raps on his door. He looked down at the note he had been trying–unsuccessfully–to write again, then crushed it in his palm.

He stood up, and his limbs felt heavy. Was it the content of the note, or the dread of seeing Hux? As he sullenly made his way to the door, he decided that it was most likely the latter.

“Supreme Leader, there is someone who would like to have a word with you about a possible alliance. She’s on the main comm--”

“Give me a summary,” Ren said flatly, not moving from inside his quarters.

Hux looked to the Stormtrooper on his left in annoyance, as if to get some kind of confirmation that he shouldn’t have to deal with this. The Stormtrooper’s helmet unsurprisingly remained in its passive molding. Frankly, Ren found it ridiculous that Hux was walking around with two Stormtroopers by his side. What did he need protection from on their own ship?

“Well, Ysanne Isard, leader of the Imperial Intelligence in the system of Thyferra, which as I’m sure you know, is a system renowned for its export of medicinal herbs and other manufactured drugs, has struck a deal which would give us access to certain biological weapons.”

“And the catch?”

“Well, they have the biological aspect down, but not the weapons part. They’re requesting a trade of arms for their strain of disease.”

Hux looked hopeful for some reason. Ren didn’t like it.

“And how do we know their strain is effective?”

Hux grinned, and Ren liked that even less.

“I suppose that is a question you may discuss with her.”

---

Naturally, Rey had been the first to volunteer to make the trek to the healer in the mountains. She was a little surprised, however, when the second person to volunteer was Poe instead of Finn.

“Then it’s decided,” Leia announced, “Rey and Poe will be accompanied by Arha, who will lead them through the mountains.”

One of the Zar En people who had remained after the failed fishing lesson stepped forward. She nodded towards Leia respectfully.

“You will have tonight to pack your things, and you will depart in the morning,” Leia added. She scanned her sparse audience, then dismissed them.

Rey watched Leia head back to the sick bay, then glanced over to see Poe introducing himself to Arha. She supposed she should introduce herself as well, but as she took a step forward, she felt a prickling sensation on the back of her neck. It was different than the feeling of the Force bond, but had the same pull that accompanied the Force. She turned around to survey the remaining Resistance members, who were interspersed with the Zar En people. All around, morale looked unfortunately low. Near the gangway of the Falcon, she saw Finn, and a little ping went off inside her head.

The Force wants me to talk to Finn?

She walked over to him, hoping that it wouldn’t be rude to save her introduction to her new guide for later.

“Hey, Rey,” he greeted, seeming dejected.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary about him. She reached out to the Force, just a little, but didn’t seem to notice a response.

“I’m surprised you didn’t volunteer to go too. I know you love a good adventure,” she finally settled on responding.

He smiled wistfully. “Hey, we can’t have all the heavy hitters leaving camp. Someone’s got to hold down the fort and see to the sick.”

She smiled back at him, and he said something else but it was inaudible to her. The sound of the world fell away, and she recognized the Force bond.

Not now, she thought, annoyed. Trying to focus her attention back to Finn, she noticed his expression had suddenly changed to concern.

“Rey?”

He reached out his hand toward her shoulder, and as it approached a buzzing sound began to fill her ears. She stepped away, instinctively.

“Sorry, I need a moment,” she choked out, breathless from the ringing in her ears and the swimming of her vision.

She turned and hightailed it into the forest, only stopping when the buzzing noise was gone. She bent over, holding her knees and catching her breath. When she looked up again, Ben was there, though his attention wasn’t on her. He seemed to be having a conversation with someone else.

“Ben?” she asked.

He closed his eyes, then barked, “Quiet!”

Indignation swelled in her chest.

“Not you,” he said, apologizing to the person he was listening to previously, “Hux, try to be somewhat more discreet.”

Although as he chastised Hux he was looking right at her.

“Fine. I didn’t want to be a part of this conversation anyway,” Rey muttered.

She wondered if she could just walk away from him and leave this holo of him that only she could see. Somehow, she doubted it. But more than her doubt, she didn’t want to leave. The Force was obviously trying to tell her something.

She sat down, assuming she would either wait for his conversation to end, or for the Force bond to disappear. She contemplated if the ping in her mind earlier had been a warning of an incoming Force bond, or if it really had something to do with Finn.

Ben was talking again. “So far I see no reason as to why this alliance couldn’t work, and I agree with your terms. I will leave General Hux to iron out the final details. If you’ll excuse me.”

She watched him walking somewhere, though since she wasn’t moving, it seemed as though he was walking in place in front of her. Finally, he seemed to shut a door behind him.

“I wasn’t expecting you,” Ren said, looking at her intensely. His shoulders were raised, his jaw tight, and his fists clenched. Everything about him seemed on edge.

“They can’t hear me anyway,” she reasoned, standing up to meet him. He was much taller than her, but she felt as though she was staring down at him.

“I know. It was for my sake,” he admitted in a low voice, breaking their stare and looking away.

Something about the way he said this embarrassed her, and she took a step back. The distance between them didn’t change. Force, why?

“Sorry to distract you,” she said simply.

“Don’t be,” he breathed. His fists uncurled, and his shoulders relaxed. His jaw remained tense, like he was stopping himself from saying something else.

The air was thick between them. Rey swallowed hard, and tried to gather her thoughts. At some point, she should really take the time to plan what to say to him at these meetings. He wasn’t stupid; surely he would listen to her logic and be able to see things from her perspective.

“Snoke was a liar, a manipulator, and a deceitful traitor. You must agree,” Rey began.

Ben’s expression soured. He looked away from her and crossed his arms over his chest. It was obvious that he didn’t want to be talking about this right now.

“I killed him, after all,” he stated flatly.

“Then do you really think the likes of him, and the kind of following that he would gather, would be fit to shape the galaxy to their ideals? What kind of universe would that be?” Rey continued.

She had tried to soften her voice, but she was still prodding him too much. She could feel bitter cold anger flowing from him. She backed off, perplexed.

He purposely left a conversation with Hux and other First Order constituents, presumably for a better reason than simply being distracted by her. Then how had he been expecting this meeting to go? What in the stars had he wanted to say?

“I’m sorry,” she tried. And since she couldn’t distance herself from him, she attempted to take a step closer. As she expected, the distance between them shrunk.

“You’re not wrong. But the Jedi way is no better. Don’t delude yourself with half-truths, when you’ve seen it yourself through my own eyes.”

Their argument was circular, and she hadn’t been prepared for this discussion anyway. For that matter, neither had he. The Force wasn’t exactly affording them that luxury right now.

Then what…?

“Anyway, there was something else you wanted to tell me?” she asked, changing the subject.

“I want to train with you,” he proposed, without hesitation.

Rey’s chest tightened, and she thought back to their encounter in the forests of Takodana. She knew he was remembering it too.

You need a teacher.”

And though she’d instantly, and easily, rejected him at the time, something about his current offer gave her pause.

He’s not offering to be my teacher, Rey rationalized, we could learn from each other. They’d fought together before and defeated the entire Praetorian Guard. It had felt so natural, almost familiar.

It was an enticing offer, but was it too good to be true? Would he just be looking for some weakness of hers to exploit?

But he had defended her, and she him. They had trusted each other completely in that moment. Maybe this could…return that feeling…

She extended her hand towards him, to confirm her agreement with a handshake. He looked at her outstretched fingers and slowly raised his hand to meet hers. Rey felt her heart hammering inside her chest. The last time they had touched had been…something.

Her mind was slowing. It was all she could do to watch while he carefully, tentatively, as if he were just as anxious about it as she was, reached for her hand with his.

A raucous, grinding, buzzing noise tore at her ears, and black spots floated before her eyes, obscuring him from her. She shot her hand forward, but he wasn’t there anymore, and then suddenly her hand mashed into something else.

Taking a deep breath and blinking hard, she readjusted herself to her surroundings without the Force bond present. Her hand had been smashed into a fist against Finn’s chest.

“Finn?” she asked, sounding dazed.

“Rey? Are you okay?” he gripped her shoulders with his hands, and peered into her face like he was checking for some kind of injury, “I had this really bad feeling. Like something bad was going to happen to you. I don’t know how to explain it. You ran off so suddenly, and then it was like I was having this vision, except instead of seeing anything I just felt this…darkness.”

“You’re Force sensitive…” Rey realized.

Finn shook his head. “Me? What? No, I can’t be. Rey, are you feeling okay? What happened?”

“Finn! You’re Force sensitive!” Rey exclaimed, with excitement in her voice now, “You sensed a disturbance in the Force! This explains how you wielded that lightsaber.”

She put her hands on top of his, and removed them from her shoulders. They both stared at his hands, unblinking.

“Me? Me?! A Force user? You mean I can be a Jedi? Me? A former Stormtrooper?”

A smile cracked the disbelief on his face. He squeezed her hands, let them go, then began pacing, still questioning the validity of her diagnosis.

She smiled as he fluttered about in front of her. Another Force user would be good news for the Resistance. She didn’t let herself think about what that might mean for her Force bond with Ben.

“Rey! Rey!” he circled back to her, his face incredulous, “We’ve got to tell General Leia.”

Chapter Text

Something wasn’t right about the way their communication had ended, but Ren had no idea how to pinpoint what was different. Seeing as he had no understanding of the mechanics behind their Force bond in the first place, he wasn’t about to start jumping to conclusions as to what might have caused that feeling like a door had been slammed in his face.

If the Force kept trying to bring them together, surely it wouldn’t have shut them apart when they were finally reaching some kind of agreement. And Rey had been the one to reach out to him. Even if she had changed her mind at the last second, he knew she had just as little control over the bond as he did. She couldn’t have been the one to cut the connection.

Something, or someone else had to be the cause. An earthquake? Lightning? Perhaps the Resistance camp was suddenly ambushed. Or maybe…his mother?

He felt a strong desire to ignore all of these possibilities. Maybe it was simply a fluke. Maybe the Force was just having a hard time keeping their connection together, like some of the old comm units.

He’d almost reached her hand.

He was more giddy about it than he should have been, which was not at all. If he was being honest with himself, he looked forward to their short meetings. He reasoned with himself that these encounters broke up the mundane day to day drudgery that accompanied being the Supreme Leader of the First Order. All of the crew of the Finalizer were afraid of him, and those brave enough to speak with him were either insipid or ingratiating scum like Hux.

Rey wasn’t afraid of him, and she certainly wasn’t trying to gain his favor. She wasn’t stupid and weak either, like so many others who had defied him and perished. He could admit to himself that he had been reckless in the past, and that he would do things differently if he had the chance. However, his memories of Luke’s Temple and the Jedi Code still made him sick to his stomach. He took great pleasure in knowing that enjoying Rey’s company was breaking one of the Jedi’s paramount rules: no relationships, familial, romantic, sexual, or otherwise.

This bond that they shared, what the Force was doing, it was bigger than the First Order and the Resistance. Together they had so much potential, and surely she would come to realize that too, if they trained together. If the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, together they could be even greater than the Force itself.

Gods, what was he thinking? He was delusional with emotion, and he needed to reign it in before he acted on his truly ridiculous thoughts. Without Snoke to tamp down his feelings, he was beginning to remember what a nuisance they could be.

He forthwith sought Hux in order to make somber his mood.

---

With the news of Finn’s Force sensitivity, there was much discussion on who exactly would be making the trip to the mountains tomorrow.

First it had been proposed that Finn go with Poe and Rey. More hands meant more ability to help the old medicine woman with what she needed in order to get the medicine they needed. However, another person would also be a greater burden on the woman. Would she be able to accommodate four of them, out of the blue? And there was the fact that there were already so few people at camp that weren’t incapacitated.

Then, it was suggested that Rey stay at camp and that only Poe went with Arha. Leia didn’t like this idea because it left Poe as the only Resistance member with two non-Resistance members. Though the Zar En were to be trusted, and Resistance sympathizers, the Resistance and the Zar En had yet to have sufficient time to develop a strong enough bond that Leia felt at ease with this option.

Finn could go instead of Poe! But Rey wasn’t exactly a master of the Force, or even qualified as any sort of teacher. She still needed so much training herself. Would it really be that helpful for them to go together on this short trip, which was focused on something entirely different than learning the ways of the Force?

After much deliberation, it was decided that nothing would change. Rey and Poe would go with Arha to see the medicine woman, and Finn would stay at camp.

“You’ll probably be seeing a lot of each other afterwards, so you might as well get some breathing room now while you can,” Leia had said.

Rey felt guilty for having a preference between the options, and even guiltier that her preference had been chosen. She hadn’t allowed herself to argue for any of the choices, mainly because of the reasons behind her preference. If Finn wasn’t around her, he wouldn’t be able to detect when she was speaking with Ben. It would be much easier this way.

But shame still shaded her. Why should she be keeping their bond a secret? And by keeping it a secret, was she doing a favor for Ben? For the First Order?

She tried to rationalize it to herself as she packed her things. Even if everyone in the Resistance knew, they wouldn’t be able to stop the bond. She doubted anyone had anything meaningful to say to Ben either…well, besides Leia.

Rey sighed.

Should she tell Leia? Leia was Force sensitive too, and she was also Ben’s mother! Did that give her a right to know?

Part of Rey was afraid that Leia would try to stop the bond between them. She had lost hope in her son long ago. Finn would definitely try to stop the bond if he could. But if the Force was causing the bond with no input from Ben or Rey, that meant it had to be important, didn’t it?

Maybe Ben wasn’t going to just flip from the Dark to Light side at the drop of a hat, but perhaps there was something else…

She thought to his earlier offer. She was about to accept training with him. Now that her head was a little less flustered, she tried to envision how that might go. Their meetings didn’t last very long, hardly more than a few minutes at most. How did Ben plan to train with her when they only had such short and sporadic moments together? She laughed softly to herself at the thought of him writing down some kind of lesson to give to her.

---

I’ll come back sweetheart, I promise.”

Twice in one day? Ben couldn’t believe his luck when he saw her again that night. He was drawing a bath for himself, waiting for the tub to fill, when the sound of the water pouring into the heavy cast iron basin disappeared.

He also felt some luck in the fact that he was still wearing his clothes, even though Rey appeared to be currently asleep. He tried not to imagine how he would otherwise have tried to slip his clothes back on without waking her. At least the Force seemed to have some sense of decency.

He turned off the water, though the tub was only half full. It would go cold, but he could fill the rest with scalding hot water after their chat and hopefully raise the temperature enough to have a decently warm bath before going to sleep.

She looked oddly at peace for sleeping on what appeared to be the floor of his refresher. He also remembered that at her request, it was his duty to wake her up. Now that the situation was upon him, he felt awkward. He’d first said it in anger, and then later she had brought it up in a teasing way. Would she be upset with him if he actually woke her?

“Rey,” he called softly, trying his luck that she was a light sleeper.

He crouched down next to her and contemplated his next move. Personally, he didn’t know how he would want someone to wake him up. In fact, he wasn’t sure that he would react kindly to being woken up at all. Skywalker had made sure of that. He would have to tell her not to try waking him up. He wasn’t sure how he’d behave, and he didn’t want to needlessly lash out at her.

“Rey.”

She slept on her stomach with one arm down her side and the other tucked up under her chest like she was clutching something to her heart. Wisps of hair escaping from her buns trickled across her face. He had the strong desire to brush them away, just to put them back in order, but he was in no way going to give in to that impulse.

He had touched her hand once before; therefore, it was the safest bet.

He brushed the pads of his fingertips over her palm, and nearly startled when her own fingers curled at the stimulation. He could feel her consciousness rising to the surface, but he kept his fingers in her grasp. The closer she came to waking, the more exhilarating the feeling of their contact was.

Finally, she blearily blinked her eyes open.

“You think you’re a monster. You’re about as monstrous as an Ewok,” she murmured, her voice heavy with sleep.

He found himself trying to stifle laughter at her bizarre and unexpected statement.

“If I’m an Ewok then you’re a Diathim,” he responded, keeping his voice low.

“What’s that?” she asked, yawning.

“You know…an angel,” he supplied, trying to keep his voice neutral. His skin felt hot. It must have been because of the steam from the rapidly cooling bath.

Electricity jolted through him as she squeezed his hand. “You’re holding my hand.”

“Actually I…I was just trying to wake you. As you requested in a previous exchange,” he said, failing to keep his voice neutral. She was sleepy, but even in this state she would have heard the catch in his voice.

“Mmhmmm,” she intoned, and she closed her eyes again, “Well done, Ben.”

He was glad her eyes were closed and that she couldn’t see his face. He felt weightless, his chest felt full, and he knew he couldn’t hide the longing expression on his face. He gripped her hand tightly for the remaining fleeting moments that the Force bond allowed them.

Chapter Text

Ben slept well that night, and he woke in the morning in an unusually good mood. Then he thought of all the things he had to do and all the vile people he would have to talk with, and he deflated a little.

He rose and readied himself quickly. Then he made his way to the one place he would have never imagined willingly visiting on his own accord. He knocked on the door to Hux’s chambers and waited. Hux was a methodical man, and he followed the same routine daily. Ren knew that at this time, Hux was just getting ready for his day.

Ren knocked again, more insistently this time.

“Yes? Coming!” Hux shouted from inside.

Ren pursed his lips in an attempt not to smirk. He found it somewhat amusing that Hux wasn’t expecting anyone to come visit him. He could only imagine the look on his face when—

Hux threw open the door with an air of arrogance, like he was too important to be disturbed. Then, as he registered that it was the Supreme Leader at his door, his face paled and he emitted some kind of surprised squeak.

“Good morning, General Hux,” Ren said pleasantly.

He took a step forward, like he wanted to enter Hux’s chambers. Hux looked positively horrified, and Ren was very much enjoying it.

“S-Supreme Leader!” Hux gasped, as if the ghost of Snoke himself had appeared to him. Finally remembering himself, he stepped aside to let Ren in.

Hux’s room was sparse and orderly. Most of his possessions, including the furniture, were standard First Order military issue. The only real identifying quirks were the three calendars that were hung on adjacent walls, and the two alarms clocks that stood guard on either side of Hux’s neatly made bed.

Ren imagined that if he opened the standard issue wardrobe in the corner of the room, that he might find several nearly identical looking outfits. Somehow, none of this really surprised him. He almost expected Hux to have a framed portrait of Snoke hung above his bed.

Hux just stood there by the doorway, gaping at Ren as if he expected the Supreme Leader to inspect him for tonsillitis.

“Hux, I’ve come to ask your help,” Ren stated plainly.

He watched the way Hux’s brain seemed to break.

“You have? I mean. What? You? My sincerest apologies, but,” his mouth seemed to be running without any input from his mind, “But I—I have not prepared anything—I wasn’t expecting--”

“I’ll wait,” Ren said simply, and instead of leaving the room, he walked over to Hux’s desk and took a seat.

The desk was bare, save for a pad of paper and a few freshly sharpened pencils. In the back right corner of the desk was a framed diagram of what appeared to be Hux’s family tree. No pictures of Hux’s actual family were to be found. On the wall behind the desk hung one of the three calendars.

Hux seemed to be contemplating the probability that either he or Ren had gone insane. Despite his confusion and discomfort, he managed to retain his sickening manners.

“Please excuse me. I must use the refresher,” he droned robotically.

He let the door to his chambers close, then he mechanically walked to his refresher, where he could meltdown in private.

Ren waited patiently and centered himself. He would need to be careful in how he phrased things. Even with the advantage of how flummoxed Hux would be, Ren was still terrible at telling lies. He would have to lie by omission, and stick to things that were technically true.

Hux returned eventually with an expression on his face of muted apprehension. There was no other chair in his room, so he seemed to settle for standing at attention adjacent to where Ren was sitting at the desk.

“I apologize for the wait, Supreme Leader. Now, what was it that you wanted to discuss?”

“Hux, it is no secret that you are well respected within every rank of the First Order. You also possess great social awareness and political savvy,” Ren began.

“Oh, thank you, Supreme Leader. You are too kind--”

“You must realize that I, on the other hand, am disliked and not respected. I have only come to claim the title of Supreme Leader because I am feared,” Ren interrupted, “I lack the social graces that you have, and this may cause the First Order to fall out of favor with some of our allies. Obviously, the First Order cannot afford such a thing right now.”

Hux was hanging on every word.

“I am asking for your help dealing with the nobility and other high ranking philanthropists that I will inevitably be required to meet with. At present, I especially request guidance in the matter concerning Thyferra,” Ren concluded. When Hux seemed to be waiting for more, Ren added, “What is your opinion of all this?”

Hux’s mouth twisted. He must be conflicted about saying something negative about the Supreme Leader to his face, Ren thought.

“I can’t say the other leaders haven’t noticed the difference between your leadership and former Supreme Leader Snoke’s,” Hux finally admitted, his voice cautious, “Certainly many have noticed your lack of…engagement during meetings. And some find it puzzling when you abruptly leave. Ysanne Isard, for example…”

Ren was a little surprised to hear that others had actually noticed that his mind was almost always elsewhere during meetings. Perhaps he was even worse at lying than he thought.

“I have made some arrangements with her, if you would like to go over them in greater detail, we can look at the plans I left in the bridge…”

---

Rey, Poe, and Arha set off in the morning and headed northwest. Rey had been able to introduce herself to Arha, during which time she noticed their guide’s stoic nature. Either Poe hadn’t noticed, or he was really attempting to make friends, because he continued to ask her questions about herself, about the system, about anything.

Arha politely answered, but her responses were concise. Rey decided to stay silent. Her thoughts were a muddle of imagining how their meeting with the healer would go, and how her next meeting with Ben might go.

Hiking up the steep and craggy hills helped her concentrate. Thinking about her last meeting with Ben gave her a feeling like she was falling from a great height. Exhilarating and terrifying. She wasn’t sure how to proceed.

He seemed so nice. He was nice. He wasn’t inhumane or cruel, he didn’t delight in others’ suffering like Snoke or some of the Stormtroopers she had encountered. He’d been misled down the wrong path, and now he was in so deep. What would it take to get him out? Even if, by his own accord, he wanted to leave the First Order, was it really practical?

Rey furrowed her brow, analyzing different scenarios. If Ben left the First Order and joined the Resistance right out of the blue, would it really help? No one in the Resistance would trust him, and the First Order would immediately set their sights on eradicating the Resistance. They would put all of their effort into it because Ren, Leia, and the Last Jedi together would be a terrifying unity. But with the state of the Resistance right now…if Rey was honest with herself, she didn’t think they could survive the full force of the First Order. Especially a First Order out for revenge.

But if he stayed…How would it affect him? He would be complicit in enslaving entire worlds, killing innocent younglings, separating friends and families, raising bloodthirsty villains to power…

Where was his moral compass? She knew for a fact that he had engaged in all of those acts before, because he thought he was doing it for the greater good. Did he still believe that? Perhaps she should really take the opportunity of one of their midnight chats to ask him these things, instead of going all moony over being teasingly compared to an angel.

She shoved that thought away. It was embarrassing how open she had been in her half-awake state.

Anyway.

He wanted to do the right thing. She felt it in him. She felt it in their connection. Their bond felt so pure. Maybe he was just going through the motions, and doing what he had to in order to keep up appearances. Maybe, with her help, they could take down the First Order from the inside.

She was getting so ahead of herself. It didn’t help that most times she saw him, she wanted to forget all about the Resistance and the First Order and just talk to him about nothing.

They came up to a hill so steep, it appeared that they were in the bottom of another ravine. Arha stopped and turned to Rey and Poe.

“We have options,” she said, “We can continue walking along the gorge until the land becomes even, but then we will have to backtrack so that we can be at the top of this cliff. Or, we could climb up this tree to the top of the cliff, and continue on the way.”

She looked from Rey to Poe, clearly expecting that they wouldn’t want to climb. With their rucksacks, it wouldn’t be easy, but Arha seemed to know that it was possible.

“Have you climbed up this way before?” Rey asked. Knowing that it was actually possible might make her decision much easier.

“Yes,” Arha responded.

“Well, I’d love to get a birds eye view. What about you, Rey?” Poe asked.

“I’ll race you,” she challenged. She wasn’t about to be shown up by this flyboy.

Arha balked. “Please, be careful,” she chided, “It is my duty to guide you safely.”

Rey and Poe both laughed sheepishly.

“Sorry. We’ll be more serious,” Poe assured her.

---

They made the climb without any injuries occurring, but Rey’s muscles were sore and she was very tired. Her comrades seemed to feel the same, and Arha suggested that they set up camp for the night.

There were fewer trees at the top of the ravine, and more hills spread out in front of them. They found a suitable copse of trees that provided enough cover, and pitched the one tent they would all be sharing. Rey was a little concerned about the close quarters, especially since she had yet to see Ben that day.

They ate dinner together in a comfortable silence. Even Poe seemed too exhausted to hold a conversation.

Rey wondered how everyone at camp was doing. She reached out with the Force, just to try and see if she could sense Finn or Leia. She wasn’t sure whether she could faintly recognize their presence, or if she was imagining it.

After eating, she made her way to a nearby river to wash up.

Force, if you want to embarrass me, at least do it while I’m alone and not in front of the others, Rey thought to herself. She undressed hastily and waded into the stream. At its deepest, it came to her waist. The water was fairly cold, so Rey quickly submerged herself up to her neck. Even so, the temperature of the water seemed to crush her chest.

She washed herself with handfuls of sand from the riverbank, which were easily swept away in the flowing water. Not wanting to linger in the icy waves, she finished, dried herself, and got back into her clothes.

Alright Force, let’s hope they are deep sleepers, Rey thought as she headed back to camp.

But she needn’t have worried, because the Force did not connect them during the night either.

Chapter Text

It was their third day of traveling, and during lunch Arha informed them that they would arrive either later that night or in the next morning. Rey was anxious to get to their destination, and even more anxious that she hadn’t seen Ben since the night before they left camp.

It wasn’t his fault, but his absence made her feel angry towards him, as if he were purposely avoiding her. Perhaps the Supreme Leader was just too busy to have time for some nobody. She thought about how they had fought together so fluidly, only for him to say she wasn’t even part of this narrative. And yet, as much as she wanted to hate him for it, now it seemed like such a hollow insult. He had offered her to join him in the Dark side to restore order to the galaxy. It didn’t seem like an offer a nobody would receive.

He had exploited her emotions in an attempt to sway her. He had wanted her. He had hurt her to try to get her.

Her mind reeled, and it had nothing to do with the increasing altitude.

She had hurt him too, given him that scar. He had broken into her mind, then she his. The list went on and on. How long had they been entangled like this? Always on opposite sides of this war.

“You are shivering,” Arha noted. She removed the tan colored cloak she was wearing, and draped it across Rey’s shoulders.

Rey hadn’t noticed how cold she had been, and she was grateful for the warmth.

“Thank you. But you’ll get cold,” she protested reluctantly.

Arha shook her head, then returned to where she had been sitting. Poe continued to stuff his face next to her.

“Actually, I think I’m going to go meditate for a little,” Rey said, standing up.

She stretched lightly, then walked just far enough to be alone. She could clear her mind, and then they would be on their last leg. It would probably be best to meet someone new without any lingering doubt or frustration clouding her mind.

She sat on the forest floor and called to the Force. It met her, and swept her around the world until she was dizzy. Breathe, she reminded herself. As the Force led her along, the thought occurred to her to seek out Kyber crystals. But she pressed that thought back. She wanted to empty her mind, not start another quest.

She inhaled deeply and just let herself feel and be. The only sound was her breathing and her heartbeat. Everything else dropped away.

Time elapsed. She wasn’t sure how long, but then she started to come back to herself when she heard shuffling. Though she tried to ignore whatever small creature was probably scurrying through the brush and distracting her, ultimately she accepted that her meditation had come to an end.

As she opened her eyes, her heart skipped a beat and all of her calming meditation went out the window. Ben was practicing his forms in front of her.

All the questions that had been tumbling through her mind for the past few days suddenly dried up in her mouth.

Ben noticed her and paused. “Would you like to join me?”

She tried to swallow, then she stood and matched his form. They moved together through the forms in unison. A warm silence draped around them as they moved.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked quietly.

He seemed to misunderstand her. “I thought we agreed to train together.”

“Not that,” she said, not breaking stride, “Why train with me, when I’m of the Resistance and you’re Supreme Leader of the First Order? Why try to understand me when we are on opposing sides? Why ask me to join you and in the same breath call me a nobody with no relevance to your story? And how dare you call me a nobody, when you chose to serve an alien you knew nothing about, who had no connection to your family or the Sith?”

She shouldn’t have been breathing so hard from just practicing forms. He might have stopped, but she was completely lost in the movements. She pushed herself harder, the straining in her muscles complementing her resentment.

She felt cold Darkness bubbling from him and seeping her way. Of course he wouldn’t react well to her verbal attack. She wanted to banish all of that Darkness with her Light, but all she could find within her was the blinding fire of frustration.

She moved into an offensive form and stared straight at him, challenging him.

He obliged, and then they were sparring. It wasn’t like on Takodana, because now neither of them had weapons, and the threat of serious injury or death was gone.

It was a clean spar, fair and evenly matched. Rey found that being engaged in a physical fight was easier to face than any of the thoughts she’d ever had concerning Ben. She only had herself to blame if she failed to block or dodge one of his strikes, and likewise he had no excuse if he failed to block or dodge hers.

It lasted a good fifteen minutes before they were both breathing heavily and sweating. Rey felt like she could keep this up for hours. She reveled in the simplicity of the rules of sparring, and she wished the other aspects of her life could be as cut-and-dry.

Rey would have been satisfied to keep going until she was bleeding and bruised and too tired to move, but Ben stopped and spoke.

“I can’t tell you why I followed Snoke. I know he was in my head. I know he preyed upon my fears. I know he presented me with solutions to problems that he himself had created for me.

“But, I can’t blame him for everything. I chose to follow him, and I don’t know how much of that was because of him or me. It doesn’t matter. My judgment will come, and in the meantime I am doing everything I can to atone for my mistakes.”

A gentle breeze rustled the leaves of the trees surrounding her, and Rey felt a chill crawl across her skin. She took a long draft from her canteen, and only as the cool water passed through her lips did she realize how much her head throbbed and her muscles ached.

“As for what I said to you, it was a manipulation tactic. I tried to strong-arm you into staying with me by preying upon your insecurities. I had just killed Snoke, but I suppose the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.”

He straightened his stance, then dipped his head in submission. “I should have never resorted to that. I am sorry, Rey.”

His apology was raw, and left Rey feeling too embarrassed to process it. She had known this side of him existed because she had felt it, but it was another matter to listen to him be so vulnerable. His openness with her bore heavy implications on the nature of their relationship, and Rey wasn’t ready to unearth her own heartaches.

Despite her sudden timidity, she couldn’t restrain herself from walking over to him. She wanted to be closer to him. She wanted to feel his skin against hers.

“You can’t possibly stand for what the First Order stands for,” she whispered.

She reached out and tentatively dipped her fingers against his cheek. The contact felt right, and gathering her courage, she slid her palm to cup his jaw. Slowly, she raised his head to look at her. She could count her heart beats as he drew his gaze from her wrist, down her arm, to her neck and jaw, and finally to meet her eyes.

Light burbled under his surface. She felt peace and compassion and empathy. The Dark was there too, but as much as it was in anyone.

“I was lost, and I regret many things I’ve done. But I see the First Order for what it is. A rotten core of power supplied by scared people following orders, fearing for their life, just trying to survive.”

“You can’t leave now,” she added, feeling his thoughts and emotions as if they were her own. She saw something else, and she pulled her hand away.

“I trust you,” she said finally. Her voice sounded like she had only realized it as she was saying it. When she thought about it, she decided it was a fair representation of how she felt.

A shock raced through her, jarring, though not entirely unpleasant. Be it the bond, or something else, she realized that she was the first to ever verbally put trust in him. Snoke hadn’t, Luke hadn’t, even his parents hadn’t. Trust could be a heavy burden to bear, but as she looked at him, she sensed surprise and a deep gratitude.

He smiled softly. “I trust you.”

It felt like something had been ripped away to reveal how things between them had been gradually shifting since the beginning of their Force bond. The change was striking and left Rey feeling bare. She clutched the cloak she was wearing tighter around her.

This was all a lot easier when she was half asleep.

She took a deep breath and drew strength from deep inside herself. She moved forward until she was in his space, and she slowly brought her arms around him. She squeezed and sighed as he hugged her back.

He dissolved in her arms, the Force bond disconnecting them.

---

Ren had been slacking on his training, but now with the egregious amount of time he spent with Hux, he needed to train and meditate in order to stay sane. He hadn’t anticipated how much talking he would have to do, and he certainly would never have imagined how much listening. Powerful people evidently loved talking about themselves and how powerful they were, and then repeating themselves a few times. It was as exhausting as it was irritating to have to endure.

With training, he could just focus on one thing, accomplish it, and bask in the satisfaction of progress. With meditation, he could withdraw inside himself and recover. It was this recovery that kept him from force choking half the politicians he had met in the last few days.

Every life is important, he heard Luke say from the depths of his memory. Then Ren knew it was time to stop meditating and get back to being the Supreme Leader.

He met Hux at the helm of the ship.

“How’s the course going?” Ren asked.

Hux nudged the person at the helm’s controls, and a map projected in front of them.

“Straight on to Thyferra, Supreme Leader. We should be arriving in their orbit at around 17:00 hours,” he reported, looking less pleased with himself than Ren expected.

“Any problems?” Ren prodded.

Hux hesitated before responding, but his newfound bond with the Supreme Leader had made him marginally bolder. “Do you find it odd that Director Ysanne Isard asked to meet you alone? It seems like this could put you in a dangerous position.”

Ren shrugged. He had thought it was odd that the meeting was supposed to be just the two of them, but frankly he didn’t care. Even if she was stupid enough to try and ambush him, he was confident in his ability to defend himself. It was almost more strange that Hux was worried for his safety. It could only benefit Hux if Ren were put out of commission.

“If you’re worried that I will commit some kind of political or social suicide, don’t be. I probably will,” Ren deadpanned.

Hux held up his hands as if he were trying to wave away any such idea. “Oh, no, no, of course not. I have the utmost confidence--”

Ren turned his back to Hux and left the helm. He knew he wasn’t supposed to abruptly leave in the middle of conversations anymore, but he had his limits. He would need the time to mentally prepare for this impending meeting.

Chapter Text

Mid-morning they arrived to a small stone cottage, high in the hills, surrounded by trees. There was chopped wood stacked up on one side of the house, and smoke rose from a stubby chimney on the slate roof.

“I will introduce you in my language. It’s just a formality and a sign of respect,” Arha had explained, “Maiathah prefers Galactic Basic anyway, so you don’t have to worry.”

She knocked on the door with Rey and Poe behind her. Moments later, a comely figure opened the door and greeted them.

“Arha! Oh how I’ve missed you,” she cried, throwing her arms around her, “And who are your friends?”

Arha stood stock still, clearly embarrassed. She appeared like a child who didn’t want to be seen hugged by her mother in public. Despite their obvious familiarity, they didn’t look remotely related. In fact, the medicine woman didn’t appear to be the same species as any of the other Zar En people that Rey had seen so far.

Arha mumbled something in her language, detached herself from the zealous healer, and gestured towards Rey and Poe. Then she switched back to Galactic Basic.

“Rey, Poe, this is Maiathah True,” she said, introducing them. Rey and Poe both spoke a few words of greeting, and then Arha continued. “We are in need of your help.”

“Well, come on in!” Maiathah exclaimed, moving out of the door frame and ushering everyone inside, “We can discuss everything over a cup of tea.”

---

Tea was served to them by Maiathah’s apprentice, Felosial, a Zar En girl who looked to be about the same age as Arha. Like Maiathah, Arha seemed familiar with Felosial, yet their relationship seemed very different. Arha did not meet the girl’s eye, thank her for the tea, or acknowledge her presence at all. In turn, Felosial seemed glad to leave quickly after the tea was served.

“She’s a bit shy. We never have visitors,” Maiathah explained.

Rey looked down at the amber colored tea she had been poured. It was still too hot to drink, but the steam coming from it smelled like flowers. It seemed like the perfect refreshment after their chilly hike.

Arha began explaining their situation when Rey’s hearing faded away. It wasn’t great timing, but Rey preferred this to not seeing him at all. He faded in, and it appeared like he was seated next to Arha. Rey caught his eye, then widened her eyes and directed her gaze away from him. She hoped he would get the hint that she was supposed to be listening to someone else right now.

He appeared to be writing something, but he had stopped when he noticed her presence.

“Rey,” he said, as if to confirm to himself that she was actually there. He seemed to understand her position. “And I thought I was the only one of us who had to attend boring meetings.”

She looked down at the teacup in her hands and nodded slightly.

He returned his attention to whatever he’d been writing.

Rey strained to hear the conversation going on around her, but it was like trying to listen through a thick wall. It seemed that they were coming to an agreement. Meanwhile, she could clearly hear Ben’s breathing and the rustling of his wrist against his sleeve as he wrote.

Poe nodded so Rey nodded too. She took a sip of her tea, which was hot against her lips but flavorless.

“I think I’ve found a way to help us both,” Ben said, not looking up from his work.

Rey tried not to look at him. She feared her intense concentration in attempting to look normal was making her look like something was wrong. She could feel sweat beading on her temples.

“I want to do what’s best for the galaxy,” he added, “And it’s more useful for me to be in the position I am now…a lot will be set up behind the scenes.”

Poe was saying something now. Maiathah laughed. Rey hoped she wasn’t supposed to talk. She gulped down more tea. The conflict inside Ben was crackling like a fire. She couldn’t make sense of his intentions.

“I’ve been wondering if this was my true path all along. For me, our Force connection was a sign.”

He stopped writing, and began to fold the paper.

“There must be significance for you too.”

Rey didn’t understand what he was saying, and she couldn’t hear what anyone else was saying. They were looking at her now. Was she supposed to speak? Her head felt dizzy and hot. Her Force connections were never like this before…

“Rey?”

She heard Poe’s voice. He seemed to be coming closer to her in snapshots.

“Rey?!”

She lost grip of her teacup, and her vision faded entirely.

---

Ben readied himself for his meeting with Ysanne, and boarded the small transport that would take him to meet her on Thyferra. He was glad he had seen Rey earlier, but of course their meeting had cut off right before he’d given her the letter.

He didn’t even know if it were possible for her to take it, or if she would even take it. It seemed she had been in a meeting. She was doing a much better job of paying attention than he ever had.

He wasn’t sure why, but he felt worried about her. She had seemed just fine, but he wished he could have heard her voice. It was ridiculous, he tried to tell himself, to worry about her. She was extremely capable of handling herself and any trouble that came her way.

But he took the slight anxiety and used it to bolster his resolve for his impending meeting. If things went as he planned, this meeting would begin the undoing of the First Order.

She met him alone on what appeared to be a deserted Imperial compound. She stood with her arms crossed behind her back, and she was dressed in a red jumpsuit. Her hair was a dark brown with streaks of gray. She was about the same age as his mother.

“Greetings, Supreme Leader, Kylo Ren, and welcome to Thyferra,” she said, her voice commanding.

She stared him dead on as they shook hands. He noticed she had one blue and one red eye.

“I’ve had the others clear out for our meeting,” she stated, even though they had previously agreed upon those terms, “We’ll begin with a tour of the facility, and then we can…negotiate.”

Ren strained to follow the brief lesson on etiquette that he had received from Hux. He smiled and thanked her. He followed as she led the way. And he tried his very best to pay attention to everything she was saying.

As he accompanied her, he could feel the Dark encircling her. He had seen it behind her eyes too. She was a slave to the Darkness. The strength she had, the power she attained, were mere scraps to her. She was begging the Darkness for something unattainable, and she would be under that spell until she got it. Ren knew the feeling well, as he had been there before. He would still be there if it weren’t for Rey.

He knew he wouldn’t be able to keep his emotions off his face, so when they sat down, he got straight to the point.

“When the Empire collapsed, several fragment groups formed. One of those groups became the First Order, and we collected many smaller groups to become what we are today. But, your Imperials never joined us. You were an ally to us, but there must have been something that stopped you from integrating.”

She smiled like he had complimented her.

“Very astute of you, Kylo. Then I take it you realize we didn’t agree with the direction of Former Supreme Leader Snoke. But now that he is gone, we have high hopes to come to an agreement with you.”

“And of course you realize that much of the upper echelons of the First Order are filled with those who still follow Snoke’s vision,” Ren said carefully.

She dipped her head and looked at him from under her eyelashes. “I’m much more interested in your vision.”

---

Rey woke up in a bed. It was so warm and soft and comfortable, and the sheets smelled like lavender and night. She stretched and sat up, looking around the room.

There was another bed, which had Arha’s rucksack claiming it. Rey looked around for her own and found it on the floor next to her bed.

Between the two beds was a night table with a glass of water. It looked as if it had been sitting there a while, because there was a puddle of condensation under the glass. She picked it up and tipped the glass to her lips. She hadn’t realized how thirsty she was until she put the glass down and realized it was now empty.

She yawned, and considered going back to sleep. It was so comfortable, and she had never slept in a bed like this before. But she also wanted to know what had happened to her, and how long she had been asleep.

She reluctantly pulled herself out of bed and padded into the hallway. Evidently their quarters were on the second floor, yet the only sounds she heard were coming from the first.

She followed the noise to Maiathah’s kitchen, where Poe, Arha, Maiathah, and Felosial were helping prepare a meal together.

“Rey, you’re awake! Careful!” Poe said, putting down a bowl of greens and coming to her with his arms out like he was afraid she would lose her balance.

“Poe, what happened?” Rey asked.

She had to admit to herself that she still wasn’t feeling that great. She had a headache, and she felt slightly dizzy and more than slightly exhausted.

Maiathah came up behind him. She was holding some sort of curly gourd.

“Rey, you seem to be experiencing a little bit of altitude sickness and dehydration. Please, sit down,” she said, gesturing to a round table bordered with chairs. “I understand you are from a desert planet. With the high humidity here, it’s unsurprising that you did not realize how much water you would need to stay hydrated.”

Rey took her advice and sat at the table. Poe and Maiathah followed.

“How are you feeling?” Maiathah asked.

“Not great. Tired and nauseous,” Rey managed.

Poe disappeared then quickly returned with another glass of water, which he gave to Rey. She accepted it thankfully and began to drink.

“Yes, you may start to feel better tomorrow morning, but you probably won’t be fully recovered for a day or so,” Maiathah said. Her tone was kind and soft.

Rey liked her.

“We just started making dinner,” Poe added, “And we didn’t want to wake you. Arha would have brought you a portion if you slept through it though.”

Rey frowned, and tried to get up. “I should help too.”

Maiathah laughed, and took hold of one of Rey’s hands.

“Oh no, Rey. You need to rest and recover. Think about it this way, you’ll be much more helpful to your friends at one hundred percent than at fifty or seventy,” Maiathah chided gently.

Rey found herself agreeing with the healer, and she sat back down.

Poe went back to what he had been doing, while Maiathah set the gourd on the table and went to get a cutting board and a knife. She brought them back to the table and sat across from Rey.

She began chopping the vegetable. “Well, earlier we didn’t really get to meet properly, so let’s start over. I’m Maiathah.”

Chapter Text

Ren tried his best to dodge Hux’s questions about how his meeting with Director Ysanne had gone. He settled on repeating that the matter was highly sensitive and couldn’t be discussed with anyone until the details were finalized.

Hux was unhappy about it, and when he learned that Ren was to have two more meetings on his own with Ysanne, he threatened to tell the council about it. At the next meeting, he did.

“We ought to know what we are agreeing our forces to,” he urged.

The other members of the council seemed stunned by Hux’s outburst. Usually it was Ren who was raising discord.

“It appears the Supreme Leader is rubbing off on you, General,” jibed one of the council members.

Hux flushed a brilliant shade of red, and he shouted, “We must take this seriously.”

“The Imperials see how strong the First Order has become, and they want to join us rather than be taken. They offer no munitions or fighters, only a little known bacteria that could become the key in an era of biological warfare. Obviously, such a thing needs to be handled with extreme sensitivity. They don’t have the numbers or the power to use it against us, but we shouldn’t let it fall into other hands or let them destroy it,” Ren explained coolly.

The elderly council members were nodding and mumbling their agreement.

“Going without any backup seems foolish,” Hux shot back, “What if she uses it on you? None of us are experts of this sort of thing. How would you even know that you had been poisoned?”

Again, Ren found himself confused by Hux’s concern for his well being. And though an unlikely scenario, Ren had thought about it before.

“If I were to become ill or die, suspicion would be cast on them first, and they would stand no chance against us, as I already explained. But in order to get what we need from them, we will have to gain their trust, and that is why I will go alone.”

After the meeting, Ren noticed that Hux seemed to be following him. He ignored the General until the very last possible moment, at the door to his quarters.

“Yes, General?” Ren sighed.

“I was hoping to speak to you privately,” Hux spat.

Ren wished he had some other business to attend to, but since Hux was the only one who willingly talked to him on this ship, he didn’t exactly have an excuse. Especially considering the man knew his entire schedule.

Ren allowed Hux into his quarters and begrudgingly followed.

Hux rounded on him. “It is certainly odd to me that you seemed so dispassionate about taking on the role of Supreme Leader until I introduced you to her.”

Ren stared at Hux blankly.

“What?”

His apparent cluelessness as to where Hux was going with this only irritated the man further.

“You, the antisocial, ruthless, Jedi killer, Kylo Ren, who talks to not a soul on his own ship, suddenly sets up three secretive meetings with a potential ally to the First Order.”

Ren didn’t follow. “So, you are upset because, after mourning our former Supreme Leader and then finding my footing as the new Supreme Leader, I am finally doing my job correctly?”

Hux’s face was as red as it was when he was being choked. “Is there,” he snarled, “Something going on between you and that woman? Because it would reflect very poorly on the First Order if news of some affair were to surface.”

Ren did not bother to hide the disgust on his face, and then he tried not to laugh. He had to be misunderstanding Hux’s point, because everything he was saying suddenly seemed absurd.

“It is nothing of the sort,” Ren answered, his voice still tinged with confusion. He looked at Hux, trying to ascertain if there was some other meaning that he could be missing. Hux looked away under his gaze.

“Forgive me for my rudenesss when I say this, but I doubt anyone ever explained to you how manipulative and seductive certain people can be.”

Ren wanted to laugh again. How could he not know all about that, when his master had been Snoke?

“I assure you, General Hux, there is nothing…” Ren’s voice trailed off as he noticed Hux’s face begin to fold in on itself.

It was a strange sight to behold, and it made Ren more uncomfortable than the implications behind Hux’s accusations.

Hux lowered his head and rushed past Ren, bursting out of the room.

---

When Rey awoke the next morning, she felt someone holding her hand, which was dangling off the bed. She stirred, raising her head to confirm that it was Ben who was sitting by her side and keeping her company. She smiled shyly as he turned to look at her. He smiled back.

“You didn’t wake me this time,” she observed.

“Sorry sw--,” he coughed out, seemingly surprised by his own voice.

She settled back down in the bed, laying her head on the pillows so that she could still see him. She sighed. Her head was still pounding a little, but she did feel better than yesterday.

“What’s wrong? Are you ill?” Ben asked, his voice full of concern.

He squeezed her hand and brushed the back of his other hand against her brow.

She found that she couldn’t stop smiling. “Just a little, but I should be fine by tomorrow. I’m under good care.”

At her words, she saw something dark pass through his features. She could tell he was thinking about how small and under-supplied the Resistance was. She could nearly hear him telling her to leave them. That he could provide her with excellent care.

She appreciated that he didn’t say any of it.

“It’s really okay,” she assured him, her voice soft, “Why don’t you tell me about that big important thing you were about to do yesterday?”

A wave of emotions surged through him, and she had a tough time defining them all. Then, he looked sheepish.

“What?” she asked playfully.

“Well, everything that I was talking about yesterday went fine. And then I ran into a bit of an unexpected issue…”

The hand that he had used to touch her forehead now strayed to trace her ear. He looked embarrassed almost, and she couldn’t tell if it was from the intimate gesture or from whatever he was remembering. She relaxed under his touch, waiting for him to continue.

“I received a confession of sorts,” he admitted.

Before she could stop herself, she tensed, just enough that she knew he would notice. She tried to tamp down the twinge of jealously she felt. After all, he was the Supreme Leader, and probably received all kinds of attention.

“I did not reciprocate, of course,” he added hurriedly, sensing her feelings.

“Oh,” she said.

Relief flooded her mind, along with a bit of embarrassment. She wished her feelings had a little more privacy.

Sensing her discomfort, Ben changed the subject.

“Would you like to know how I built my first lightsaber?”

She nodded, then proceeded to listen. She noticed how he winced when he mentioned Luke, and how his eyes lit up as he remembered where he found the crystals. She felt a warm contentment spreading through her as he shared his memory with her, and when he was done she wanted to throw her arms around him, hug him, hold him, kiss him.

But shyness got the best of her, and she wasn’t sure if that would be okay with him anyway. She wasn’t sure she would be okay with all that. Instead she brought his hand that she had been holding to her lips and kissed his knuckles.

His eyes widened, and he looked at her so innocently. She laughed, partially from nerves and partially because of how ironic it was to associate Kylo Ren with innocence.

“Now it’s your turn.” He grinned.

“My turn?” she asked quizzically, her stomach aflutter.

She glanced at their entwined fingers.

“Yeah. Tell me something of your childhood. I know it’s hard to think of a good memory, but try.”

She laughed again. She knew he understood her growing pains, and maybe they could commiserate about them later. It was a comforting thought, for him to understand her in that way.

“Well, I’m afraid I wasn’t as virtuous as you in my youth,” she teased, “So you’ll have to pardon my deceitful ways. I picked up quite a few card tricks at Niima Outpost…”

---

The Force bond didn’t last through her entire retelling, but she felt fulfilled all the same. He listened to her with such rapt intensity, like she was so important. She could hardly believe that she hadn’t imagined the whole thing.

Her stomach angrily reminded her that she had missed breakfast, probably hours ago at this point. She got up, changed her clothes and refreshed herself before heading downstairs. She assumed that everyone had wanted to leave her recover, and she was hoping that someone was still around. She didn’t want to be poking about and helping herself to her host’s food.

“Hello?” she called, as she made her way from the landing into the kitchen.

Felosial dashed out from a connected room that Rey had yet to enter.

“Good morning! You’re finally awake,” Felosial called brightly. She seemed much more chipper than she had yesterday, and immediately she washed her hands and began pulling ingredients and cooking utensils out of various drawers.

“Good morning,” Rey replied, approaching the counter, “I can help you, if you’d like.”

“Oh, it’s no trouble at all,” Felosial sang, her hands not slowing from their work, “Maiathah told me to look after you today, so that is what I plan to do! I haven’t had a real patient in ages.”

Rey smiled, and rationalized to herself that at least she was helping out by being ill. “Where is everyone?” she asked, noticing the silence of the rest of the abode.

“Maiathah, Poe, and Arha went out to pick White Ash flowers, which you will need to make the medicine for your friends. It’s a good thing you didn’t come a couple of weeks later, because by then it would have frosted and all the flowers would have died. We probably could have come up with a substitute remedy, but the one that uses White Ash is tried and true.”

Rey couldn’t help but wonder if her slight dizziness was a lingering symptom from the altitude sickness, or if it was from the speed at which Felosial was talking. She reached out and took a drink from the brew that Felosial had set before her at some point. Despite its unassuming odor, Rey scowled at the bitterness of the liquid.

“Yeah, it doesn’t taste too great, but it’ll make you feel better,” Felosial chirped, noticing the betrayed look Rey was giving to her cup. She proceeded to place a plate full of eggs and bread on the table. “This should taste much better. We raise our own Vakiir!”

Rey started on her breakfast, which she had to admit, was way better than her tea.

Chapter Text

“Watch as we administer a dose of TXJ9 to the subject,” Director Ysanne said, clasping her hands behind her back and staring past the thick glass wall in front of them.

Ren watched, hardly breathing, as a droid administered a syringe to someone strapped down to a metal table. While nothing remarkable seemed to happen on the exterior of the patient, the monitors surrounding the patient began going crazy. And then, a flatline.

The droid wheeled the table out of sight, bringing a new table with a new victim strapped to it as if they had an infinite supply in the back room. Considering that the first living being Ren had seen in this system, besides Ysanne, was the first victim, he realized that perhaps this was reality here.

“Obviously, injecting the strain would be difficult, and not very practical, especially when trying to infect several at once. So, with a bit of modification, TXJ10 can also be used as a deadly inhalant. Of course, the time to fatality is longer, but we think of this as an advantage. If you release this gas into a crowd, and everyone drops dead, then there’s an obvious cause to be investigated. If everyone parts ways and dies at later times, it becomes much less likely to suspect foul play.”

This victim had a mask hooked up to a gas cylinder, which the droid opened. The patient began to breathe in the contaminated air.

Somehow, Ren felt sick. He wanted to cut down that droid so badly. To think that they were just using the inhabitants of this system as disposable test subjects, it was disgusting. Ren didn’t even want to begin to think about how many had died before this. He wished he didn’t notice how Ysanne hadn’t even blinked when the first victim had died.

Something’s really wrong with her, he thought. He realized that he was in a much more dangerous position than he’d originally thought. She was absolutely ruthless. He wasn’t sure of her end goal, but he knew that she wouldn’t let anything stand in her way until she achieved it. If she even had a goal. Could she just like seeing people suffering?

With this strain under her control…He felt idiotic for what he had said to Hux earlier. Sure, the Imperials were a small group, but now he was beginning to think that maybe they could overpower the First Order.

But they hadn’t tried. Which meant there was some uncertainty that was too great to risk.

He’d have to play this very, very carefully.

“The generation time is quite rapid, but even so it will take some time for a lethal dose to accumulate in the body,” Ysanne explained.

On the other side of the glass, the droid was closing the cylinder, and taking the mask off the victim.

“In the meantime, we can discuss business. Would you prefer to stay here so you can make sure the subject isn’t tampered with during our discussion? I can also have a droid follow us with the subject,” Ysanne offered in a sweet voice, like a grandmother offering candy to her grandchildren.

Ren tried his hardest to keep a neutral expression while fighting the urge to force choke this sociopathic woman.

“Here is fine,” he grunted.

She pulled out her holopad and ordered a few droids to bring them a table and chairs. When they were both seated, she placed her datapad between them on the table.

“Per our previous discussion, we both came to the agreement that Snoke’s ways were flawed, and that though he is gone, he still lingers through his followers. Followers that have substantial power and influence within the First Order…”

Ren knew where this was going, and suddenly he wasn’t so sure that this was a good idea anymore. Taking out Snoke’s loyal followers would be a huge setback for the First Order. Although this in itself wasn’t a detriment for Ren, he wasn’t so sure about the aftermath. Ysanne would have more power, and a greater ability to take control of the First Order. Could he chance that?

He heavily doubted that anyone from the First Order would follow him after all those council members were wiped out. Obviously he would be at fault. And though he suspected many of the workers felt trapped or forced to do the bidding of the First Order, ultimately they wanted some kind of safety. Ren would be the obvious orchestrator of it all, so why would they put their trust in him?

He could go back to the Council, tell them of Ysanne’s plan, and then launch a surprise attack on Thyferra. However, this wouldn’t solve the issue of getting rid of the council. In fact, this would only kill the field grunts that were just hoping for a meal at the end of the day.

Could he go along with Ysanne’s plan, and still pin all of the blame on her? The best case scenario seemed to be having the First Order and the Imperials engage until both sides were so weakened that…

…That they would be easily overtaken by the Resistance.

But, in the worst case scenario, Ysanne would get a lot of power and influence. She would have one of the harshest weapons the galaxy had ever seen. And there was no doubt that she was not in this to bring peace to the universe.

If he declined her offer to work together now, she would hold a grudge. When she felt ready, the First Order would be the first target on her list. There was no middle ground option with Ysanne. It would be all in or all out.

“So,” she said fiercely, her red and blue eye trained on him intently, daring him to make a choice, “Do we have a deal?”

---

No one’s ever really gone.”

I’ll come back for you, sweetheart.”

It is you!”

On her second day in Maiathah’s home, Rey was still not cleared to go with the others to gather ingredients in the morning, but Maiathah allowed her to join them in the evening for the first stage of preparing the remedy.

Six large wooden baskets filled with white flowers sat on a long black table in front of Poe, Arha, and Rey. Maiathah stood on the opposite side of the table as them, demonstrating the technique they would use to prepare the flowers.

“First, lay out a single flower like so,” Maiathah instructed, plucking a flower from a heap and gently resting it on the table. “Then, take your stone cylinder and roll it over the flower like this. It’s important to have an even pressure distribution. We want the cells to burst, but we don’t want clumps, which is why we don’t just throw these all to the mortar and pestle. For best results, it must be like this.”

As she rolled her stone cylinder over the flower, the white petals began to take on a translucent blue color. When all of the white was gone, Maiathah stopped.

“This is what it should look like, and this indicates that the flower is ready to be dried. The stem is also used, even though it doesn’t change color. Luckily, we have the petals that can indicate the inner alchemy of the flower.”

She picked up the flattened flower ever so gently, then placed in on a large metal sheet that would later go into the oven.

“I’ll call Felosial back in here and then we’ll each have one basket to work on with one left over--”

“I’ll do it,” Rey volunteered, unprompted, “I wasn’t able to gather them, so I’ll do this. I want to help.”

Maiathah smiled at her. “Sure, if you want.”

“I’ll help you too,” Poe offered.

And though Rey protested, he insisted. She decided to wait and see who ended up finishing their basket of flowers first.

They worked in silence, with most of their concentration going to their work. Rey was anxious to contribute, and her impatience showed in her flowers. Dark blue blotches bloomed in her petals, unlike the uniform transparency they were supposed to resemble.

“Take your time,” Maiathah reminded her gently.

But Rey was frustrated. Poe and Arha, though also new to this, were rolling out their flowers much faster than she could.

Maiathah finished first of course. She offered to help Rey, but seemed to understand that Rey wanted to figure things out on her own. She moved on to various other tasks. Felosial on the other hand, did not come to this realization, and began taking flowers from Rey’s basket to decrease her workload. While Rey knew this was an act of kindness, it frustrated her even more.

How could she be messing up something so simple?

Arha finished her basket and left the room without a word. Shortly after, Poe finished his. He lingered for a bit, trying to elicit conversation with Rey and Felosial. Rey had to admit she wasn’t a very integral participant in the conversation. Finally, he left, citing his tiredness from getting up so early in the morning.

Eventually, even Maiathah finished up her various potion making and other tasks. She reminded Felosial to clean up, then she was on her way out as well.

They had just half a basket left, but Rey felt so stupid.

“I don’t get it. I used to repair the tiniest mechanisms. I don’t feel as though my hands have gotten any less stable,” she huffed, mostly to herself.

“Hey, it’s fine,” Felosial soothed. “You might have more luck tomorrow.”

Rey stopped and just watched as Felosial worked. Her fingers moved gracefully, like they were dancing across the table. She moved from one flower to the next with a smooth effortlessness, like she was an invisible force causing the plants to bloom blue.

“I was terrible when I first started too. But I wanted to do this more than anything else, so I kept at it.” Her voice turned from inspiring to wistful. “And now, here I am.”

“Have you changed your mind?” Rey asked.

Though they weren’t exactly in the same position, Rey knew all about second thoughts. Her mind drifted to Ben for a second before she wandered back, guided by Felosial’s soft voice.

“No, it’s not that. I still very much want to be a healer. The path has just been different than I expected.” She sighed.

Rey couldn’t help her curiosity now. She picked up a flower, and her stone cylinder, and began working again. “What do you mean by that? Did you not know you would have to live up here in the mountains, away from the rest of your people?”

Rey wondered if this girl was like her, missing her parents. She was surprised when Felosial laughed.

“Actually, things were a lot different then. A long time ago, our people used to be nomadic. The only ones who stayed put were the healers, so they could have an easier time storing things and having a sort of base,” she sighed, lost in memory, “Then our people had a war with the people of another system. We traded medicines back and forth with them. They wanted more than we were willing to give, they attacked, and our people were almost destroyed. After that, our people decided to settle down, but they wanted a very secure location. They chose a place, but it wasn’t too close to the base of the healers.”

Rey noticed that Felosial’s hands had stilled.

“So then, because of stubbornness, the healers stayed where they were, and the main village remained in its new location. There used to be other houses around here too. You had to decide you wanted to become a healer at a young age, and there had to be an opening for you. I was lucky, and Maiathah needed two new apprentices at the time.

“It was my dream, and I was ready to sacrifice everything for it. I left my parents, and came here with the other new apprentice, Arahi. She and Maiathah, and the rest of the healers, became my new family. It was like a dream come true.

“But, you know, that couldn’t last. Our enemy came back and demanded a specific plant from us. They claimed that they needed as much as possible because their system was overrun with disease. They came looking. They attacked the healers first, and after they took all our supplies, they ravaged what they could find from the forests. Many died, Arahi included. Maiathah was the only healer that survived who decided to stay here. The rest moved back to the village, not that there were many. Most of the ingredients we need for medicines grow close to here, so there’s really not much of a point for the healers to be far from this place.

“And I decided to stay. It felt like I had to, and I’m not saying the reason I stayed is because I felt like I had to. I wanted to stay on my own accord. But it did feel like that…”

Finally pulled from her past, Felosial blinked at Rey.

“Oh! I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to talk so much about that, I just. Actually, I’ve never really talked about it with anyone so--”

“It’s alright,” Rey reassured her.

She felt a sad kind of understanding. When she had lived on Jakku, she had occasionally come across the opportunity to leave, stow away on a trader’s ship and start new somewhere else. But the only life she ever knew was on Jakku. She had no memory of her parents to even take with her, and her life on Jakku wasn’t worth remembering. If she left it, she really would have nothing.

“Do you ever miss your parents? Your family?”

Rey watched Felosial’s face for a sign of distress or discomfort, but she didn’t find it.

“Not really. When I was younger I did, but I was determined to become a healer and that got me through it. Eventually we just became distant. I have a lot of younger siblings that they’re occupied with. I wish I’d gotten to know them more, since I’m their older sister and all…But, I guess you can’t miss what you don’t know.”

Rey felt herself drawing back and frowning. She had spent her entire life missing what she didn’t know. And in the end, it hadn’t been worth it. In the end, she had known all along that they weren’t worth missing, but she’d rewritten history in her head. She needed something to hope for on that wasteland of a planet.

Her hands clenched into fists, and her nails stabbed the flesh of her palms. She was frustrated with herself; she couldn’t prepare the flowers, she couldn’t hold onto her parents, she couldn’t gather the strength to move on.

“Are you okay? I’m sorry! Did I say something wrong?”

Rey’s skin was prickling, but she fought to keep her focus on her work.

“My parents left me…”

She let go of a heavy sigh. She accepted as the girl came forward to hug her. She listened to what comforting words were offered, and she allowed herself to be the victim for once.

“They left me, and I was just a child.”

She felt like she had in the moment when she jumped into the pool below Ahch-To. When she had been so scared to acknowledge the truth. It was an ugly truth, but by denying it she was denying a part of herself. The Dark touched everyone, and some were more shaded than others. It would always be a part of her, and she could never rid herself of it. She was imperfect, and her past imperfect. Her parents were flawed, and her childhood was dreary and lonesome. But she had survived.

She had grown from the dirt that piled upon her. She rose like the sun after a long winter night. And it was because of her darkness, her imperfections, and her past that she could be who she was today. Strong and whole.

There was no room for denial.

Chapter Text

Ren returned from his meeting with Ysanne and went straight to his quarters.

He sat at his desk, and let his head rest on the smooth resin surface. The consequences of his decision were heavy in his mind. He reviewed the scenarios, once, twice, three times, to the point where he was actually too engrossed in thought to hear the knocking on his door.

Although Ren usually had little trouble being resolute in his decisions, he couldn’t help but second guess himself. If this all went wrong, where would he go? At least he had a place with the First Order. At least he knew what role he was supposed to fulfill.

“Are you going to get that?” Rey asked, causing him to nearly jump out of his skin.

He brought his awareness back into the room and noticed the urgent knocking on his door.

“You can hear that?” he asked, bemused, as he rose and headed for the door.

As he walked, he kept his eyes on her. He didn’t want to look away and have her disappear on him.

She was crouching, but not in a defensive position. She seemed to be collecting something, but he couldn’t see what. She paused when he reached the door, and he wondered if she could see his surroundings too.

“I can’t see where you are.” Rey seemed to read his mind.

Her insight into his surroundings and thoughts put him ill at ease. Had he been so deep in thought that she was more aware of his surroundings than he? And why didn’t he have any more sense of her surroundings than usual?

Happy, albeit somewhat puzzled at her presence, he decided to take care of the distraction at his door first. He flung it open, expecting an irritated Hux, but was instead met with a nervous looking Mitaka.

“Mitaka?” Ren was surprised. No one other than Hux and the occasional droid had ever knocked on the door of his chambers. Even Snoke had just called him through telepathy.

Mitaka stood before him, square and straight, a perfect example of basic military training. His eyes held the same nervousness that new recruits had for their superior officers. He seemed to brace himself before he spoke, like he was half expecting Ren to order him to do twenty push-ups.

“I’ve come to inform you that General Hux held a meeting with the First Order Council in your absence, and that there is another scheduled during your next departure. I was not in attendance, and do not have any information regarding the contents of the meetings.”

Ren frowned at the information, partially because it was another thing he had to deal with, partially because Mitaka was preventing him from speaking to Rey alone, and lastly because this action indicated that Hux was attempting some kind of betrayal.

“Thank you for the notice. I will take care of it.” He shut the door on Mitaka, and he tried not to think too deeply of the informant’s honesty. He would have time later to sort out this new development, and in a way, this could prove immediately beneficial.

“Rey,” he said, turning around to face her once again.

His gut clenched as he hoped she was still there.

She was.

“Ben,” she regarded him, mimicking his own greeting to her.

“You seem much convalesced,” he noted. He couldn’t bring himself to move from the door, though at the moment he wanted nothing more than to be closer to her. Fear kept him at bay, threatening that if he moved too far into her bubble that she would burst and he would be alone again.

He needed her right now. He needed her strength and conviction and reassurance for what he was about to do.

“It was nothing,” she replied confidently, rising to her feet.

As she stood, Ren found himself wanting to fall to his knees.

---

Rey watched as the man in front of her crumpled.

“Ben?!” she called in alarm, rushing to his side.

She hesitated before reaching out to him. The atmosphere felt charged around them, and she didn’t know why. Had the Force hurt him somehow?

She kneeled next to him and brushed the hair away from where it was hanging in his face. He was on his hands and knees. As her hand brushed his forehead, she felt a terrible howling loneliness.

“I’ve done bad things, Rey.”

His feelings were in turmoil, and Rey couldn’t parse whether he was referring to his past actions or if he had done something recently.

“It’s not too late,” she tried, her voice barely a whisper, “You have all of the future to make up for it.”

He shook his head, trembling. He looked wholly unstable.

“I don’t deserve mercy,” he hissed, screwing his eyes shut. It looked as though he was preparing to be hit.

Rey swallowed hard. Carefully she placed one wobbly hand on his shoulder, and smoothed it across his back.

“No one deserves mercy. That’s the whole point.”

After a few tense and breathless moments, he sat back on his heels, still not looking at her. His gaze was fixed a thousand meters ahead. His face glistened.

Rey’s heart was working itself into a frenzy. She had never seen him like this before, and if her ragged breathing was any indicator, she was scared.

She put her arms around him, hugging him, skimming off feelings of worthlessness and frustration. His torment influenced her emotions. How could she be so stupid? He was the leader of the First Order, and she was the last Jedi. Did she think they would just keep going about their separate ways forever?

“Is this about the Resistance?” she asked, a sudden fear gripping her.

“Are you afraid I’ve found the Resistance? That I’ll come and raze it to the ground? That it’s tearing me apart to have to do this?” he spat, looking up at her fiercely.

His face was contorted as if he were in pain, and his muscles tense as if he were deliberating to break free from her embrace. She kept her arms soft around him, giving him the option.

It had been her first assumption, yes. He must have thought she was jumping to conclusions about him in the same way that Luke did. Her heart ached for him, but she was at a loss for what to say. Instead, she just kept her gentle grasp of him.

He didn’t break away from her and actually seemed to settle into her a little more. She felt him controlling his breathing. He was calming himself by going through a beginner Jedi breathing exercise.

“I’ve made a deal with a biochemical weapons dealer,” he stated, “And tomorrow will be the end for the First Order.”

“What do you mean?” she asked hurriedly, barely managing to keep herself from asking the thousand other questions burning her lips.

He gave her a long look, which was really the only answer she expected from him. While her instinct urged her to find out more, she didn’t want to push him when he was like this. He seemed so uncharacteristically fragile.

But there was one thing she had to know. “Will you be okay?”

Before he could answer, she heard his voice from a memory, telling her, ‘It’s time to let old things die.’

“Please,” she added, “Please, Ben.”

Finally she let her arms squeeze him into a crushing hug, and she was surprised to find that he reciprocated with the same strength.

---

Ben let her warmth wash over him until he didn’t need to be actively controlling his breathing to stay calm. He softened in her clasp, yet her grip remained firm. He wished his life were in her hands, instead of at the mercy of whatever luck would befall him tomorrow.

“I’ve been promised my survival,” he recounted.

Ysanne wouldn’t need him, and though he was sure he could physically fight whatever forces she put against him, he had to be careful about the strain. She had given him a small vial, which was supposed to contain the antidote. Unfortunately, she hadn’t demonstrated its effectiveness as she had with the strain. Apparently only a finite quantity of the antidote existed, and she didn’t want to waste it.

Rey looked distraught, and he felt a pang of guilt as the realization came to him that he had transferred his negative emotions to her.

“I thought the First Order would bring stability to the galaxy. But I see now that what the galaxy needs is balance. My entire life, I’ve tried to find peace in order. I’m past due for a bit of chaos.”

She frowned at him, her eyes glassy. “You don’t have to do everything alone, you know?”

He didn’t quite understand her meaning, but he didn’t have much time to analyze it. She moved one of her hands to behind his head, and pulled him closer until their foreheads were touching. He could feel her warm breath against his face, and his heartbeat shot up.

She was so close, and all of his other thoughts fell away. There was only Rey and her strong arms, her forehead stuck to his. He could see each of her eyelashes individually, the creases on her lips, her pores. Tomorrow didn’t matter when this was his now.

“Promise me you won’t leave me,” she whispered, her lips seemingly brushing against his.

He squeezed her tighter to him, and she kissed him.

His mind was reeling, and before him was a fuzzy vision. He couldn’t process much of it, and it slipped from him when the kiss ended. He was left with the feeling that it was some good omen. He was also left with the feeling of several thousand exclamations.

“I’ll be okay,” he promised her.

“You better!” And he couldn’t tell whether she was laughing or sobbing, or both. But she relaxed around him, and wiped at her eyes.

Through his delirious contentment, he remembered something. He reached into the pocket of his tunic and pulled out a sealed envelope.

“Can you see this?” he asked, hesitantly.

He’d taken his time to get the words just right, but it was an absolute impossibility to deliver this without someone from the First Order discovering the contents of his message. It would be a shame to not at least try to send it, though.

“A letter?” Rey asked.

He was ecstatic that she could see it, and he felt like kissing her again, but a newfound shyness held him back. He cleared his throat.

“It’s for—uh—my mother,” he stammered, “Could you—could you give it to her? Please.”

He watched as she took the letter from him successfully. She turned the smooth envelope over in her hands and traced along the wax seal.

“Of course,” she said, tucking it away into her own tunic, “Consider it a deal. You stay safe, and I’ll deliver this letter.”

She smiled at him daringly, and he hugged her so, so tightly.

Chapter Text

Ben was prepared for his ‘last’ meeting with Ysanne. He didn’t know why, but he’d felt the need to dress up for this one and look somewhat more presentable than usual. He smirked at himself in the mirror of his refresher after he was finished dressing. This would only fuel Hux’s asinine theories about him and Ysanne.

He was also hoping that Hux would be too focused on his own jealousy and insecurities to be able to tell that Ben was lying. With any luck, he could pull off his plan and save some of the menial workers and Stormtroopers.

He stepped out of the refresher and into his quarters, surveying the things in his room. Although he had once scoffed at how impersonal Hux’s quarters were, he realized he didn’t have much room to judge. His own quarters were furnished with standard military issued items, though at least he had chosen different colors than the default. He supposed there was also a touch of personalization in the way he had arranged the furniture, but it wasn’t something he thought he would miss.

In fact, he was a bit happy to see it go.

He left his quarters with a sense of urgency, quickly making his way to the bridge. Hux was there, as usual, ordering people around like he wasn’t enjoying the power trip. He immediately shut up as Ben approached him.

“S-Supreme Leader!” he stammered, seeming flustered, “It’s still too early for your departure, is it not?”

Ben marched past him purposely, pushing someone out of the way of their controls and bringing up a large map on the screen in front of them.

“I’ve combed the Force, and I’ve found the Resistance,” Ben announced.

He zoomed in on the Munai system, a planet that had been deserted long ago because of its degraded environmental state. The atmosphere was no longer breathable, and the water and soils were polluted. Ben had spent several hours this morning looking through the Force and making sure that there were no signs of intelligent life occupying this system.

“Munai? It’s uninhabitable!” Hux exclaimed. His eyes bulged at the image on the screen. “It’s impossible,” he added.

“Then you see why it would be an excellent choice for a hideout,” Ben replied, shifting his gaze to Hux.

The wheels in Hux’s head certainly seemed to be turning. Better yet, the officers and flight crew around them had gone silent. Ben furtively swept his gaze over his subordinates. A solemn acceptance seemed to permeate their features.

“Perhaps we should send a small scouting party first,” Hux wheedled. He was still staring incredulously at the map. “Do you have more information, other than that they are somewhere in this system?”

Ben zoomed in on a particular spot on Munai. “This is where I feel they are. Small in numbers, but those numbers are highly skilled. This could be our chance to eliminate them once and for all. Sending a scouting party risks alerting them so that they may escape before our backup arrives.”

“And what of your meeting with Director Isard?” Hux challenged.

Ben feinted. “Yes, it is unfortunate timing. And I’m afraid this last meeting is critical to attend. I can’t back out now, with so little notice. It might be seen as a trick or an insult. As a fair strategist yourself, you must recognize this.”

Hux was lulled by the compliment, but he frowned anyway.

“Yes, this is all rather unfortunate,” he paused a beat and then asked, “What do you recommend, Supreme Leader?”

“Send as many Stormtroopers as we can spare. Raze it to the ground. We will need a good amount of TIE fighters on stand-by in case of an attempted escape.”

“Perhaps we should just use the ship’s cannons to blow a hole through the system,” Hux suggested.

Ben shook his head. “Others will want evidence that we did destroy the Resistance, once and for all.”

Hux stepped toward the screen, then tapped it and brought up coordinates. Soon he had three other screens up, calculating variables and statistics. Suddenly he halted himself, and whirled around back to Ben.

“Surely we should call an emergency meeting of the Council…It’s short notice, and I’m not sure everyone could assemble before you had to leave…”

That snake, Ben thought, trying to cover his tracks by pretending to call a meeting that he very well had already planned. Of course, this was nothing Ben hadn’t already anticipated. Even better that Hux was confirming what Ben was banking on.

“I don’t know that’s necessary,” Ben countered, “They’re a bunch of out-of-touch fools. They can’t be relied on for action in the face of urgency such as this.”

Hux sighed dramatically, and Ben could hear the duplicity in the man’s breath. Conditions were looking as favorable as he’d hoped.

---

Ysanne handed Ben a small yet tough box that closed by a latch made of the same material. Inside, three vials of the gaseous strain were nestled comfortably. Though they just looked like empty jars, Ben held the box with extreme care.

There wasn’t a lot of need for talking, as they had both agreed on what would happen.

She raised her own box that matched his, and then followed him to where they boarded his transport in silence.

Ben checked the time as he prepared the controls for the short trip back to the Finalizer. It was early from when he was expected to return, but late enough that the Council would be assembled by now. He would escort her to the bridge, as a guest, because that’s where Hux was supposed to be. When they ‘discovered’ Hux wasn’t there, Ben would go off to ‘find’ him.

Ben wondered if he could somehow warn Mitaka. The man had helped him, whether it was his intention or not. It would be a shame for him to die…

The pair were greeted by droids and the usual disembarking crew upon arrival.

“General Hux is with the Council,” an alarmed crew member informed him, “Should I call for him?”

Ben tried to keep his expression grim. It wasn’t hard, considering the impending massacre.

“No,” he answered, “I will fetch him myself. Please escort Director Ysanne Isard to the bridge.”

She smiled deviously at him as the crew member led her away. Her red eye seemed to shine more fiercely than the blue.

A knot tightened in Ben’s stomach, but he pressed on. Now wasn’t the time to doubt himself, so he leaned on the familiar crutch of the Dark. It approved of their progress so far, and it encouraged him to take this further. He saw how simple it could be to kill Ysanne after she had done her end of the deal. Destroy the entire First Order and leave not a soul. Hurl the infected gaseous bomb, that the Finalizer would become, into Coruscant and let other systems tremble in fear of his terrorism.

He let the Dark linger, and though the thoughts stayed in his mind, he knew where his limits were. He was going to stick to the plan, and nothing else. The galaxy would be freed from the tyranny of the organization he had spent so long supporting…

At last, he reached the outside of the conference room. He stood at the door and listened to the voices inside. They were laughing, loudly. He could distinctly make out Hux’s nasally guffaw.

Across the hallway was the emergency alarm. He regarded it thoughtfully, as there was still one decision he was toying with. This idea had been proposed by the Light, and he wasn’t so sure of it.

Sighing, and determined to get on with the action, he opened the box and removed one vial before carefully shutting it again. He would need to move quickly once this started, and he had no way of telling when Ysanne would begin.

He pressed his back to the double doors leading to his prey. And then, he saw her.

“Rey,” he whispered.

“Ben!” she shouted, and started to run towards him.

Their connection ended before she reached him. It had to be their shortest connection yet.

Ben didn’t need another sign. He marched forward and pulled the emergency alarm.

---

When Ben made his way back to the bridge, he saw through the viewport that the Finalizer had been surrounded by enemies. Ysanne’s forces.

She was nowhere to be seen, and suddenly Ben was acutely aware of the unsafe respiratory conditions. He sprinted back to the hangar, trying not to breathe as he went. Along his path he saw bodies, but he had no time to check their cause of death.

A wall of fire blocked his way to the hangar, and he realized his mistake too late.

He turned and headed for the closest functional escape pod. He felt stupid and disgusted by himself. Before the hatch closed, he threw the glass vial that he had been holding and watched it shatter.

---

Rey and Poe were in the lab, crushing up the dried petals and then mixing their dust into large vats of proportioned stock solutions that Maiathah and Felosial had prepared earlier. The latter two were rolling out the flowers that Rey, Poe, and Arha had gathered earlier. Arha had volunteered to start making their dinner.

“Is she shy?” Rey asked Poe while they worked.

Poe talked to her the most and seemed to be able to hold a conversation with her, unlike the others. Although, Rey supposed her tepid relationship with Arha was her own fault. Each time they left in the mornings to forage for ingredients, Rey would hurriedly go off on her own, far from Poe and Arha. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to spend time with them, but she rationalized it by telling herself that if Ben would appear to her she wouldn’t have to fake some excuse and run off mid-sentence. When she meditated during her lunch time, a more honest part of herself revealed that she was trying to attain the right conditions, as if she could invoke him.

“She’s just quiet,” Poe shrugged, and then he grinned at her slyly. “Maybe if you joined us for lunch sometimes, you could get to know her, and she would warm up to you.”

Rey supposed he could be right, but she suspected that Poe’s striking charisma and years of social interaction had something to do with his ease to make friends. He was certainly charming, in a way he didn’t quite realize. He was easygoing and approachable and always willing to help. In fact, his most strong qualities were those that Rey had so desperately avoided developing on Jakku.

As a scavenger, it was best to do your own work and keep your head down. Never draw attention to yourself. Don’t initiate conversation unless necessary. Don’t make friends. Be an absolute nobody, just living for yourself, until they come…

Her old thoughts pricked her for two reasons. One, because, at the time, she had actually wanted to be a nobody. In fact, that was all she’d ever wanted to be. She really hadn’t decided to become a Jedi or join the Resistance because of her own research or following of world news. In fact, she had known so little…she had mistaken Finn, a recently escaped Stormtrooper as a high ranking officer of the Resistance! If anything, she had been pulled into this adventure by something else, maybe the Force. The Force had shown her that despite her efforts, she was somebody. Somebody important, at that! The last Jedi…

And then Ben had called her a nobody. It was almost like he’d accused her of doing all of this for attention. How could he have fundamentally misjudged her character after the bond they shared? She let the bitter memories pass through her and color her with frustration and sadness. And then, she released those feelings with her next breath.

She already knew he had just been trying to get her to side with him. He had already admitted he was wrong. He wouldn’t try something like that on her again. She was past this.

The second point was that of her parents. She had spent all her time on Jakku waiting for them. Hoping for the day they would return and rescue her from this planet. She had often dreamed…

I’ll come back for you, sweetheart, I promise.”

She had heard that before, in her dreams when she was younger! And she had forgotten about it until just now. That was the voice she always heard when she closed her eyes in her roughed up AT-AT. In her dreams, she had just seen a dark figure reaching out to her. She had always assumed it was her father. Could it have been a vision of the future?

“Hey, it’s okay, I was just kidding. I know you need to meditate and do your Force thing,” Poe said cautiously, breaking though Rey’s deep thought, “Uh, are you okay? I’m sorry if I said something…”

“No, no, it’s okay. Sorry I just spaced out,” Rey explained hurriedly. In a more normal pace, she added, “I just zoned out and started thinking about…about how awful my parents were.”

“You too?” Maiathah questioned from behind her.

Rey stopped what she was doing and turned to look at her. The healer had a knowing yet wistful smile on her face.

“In my experience, coming to terms with your parents’ flaws is part of the healing process. You realize they aren’t perfect, maybe you even realize that they’re truly horrible evil people. Maybe you realize that they’re somewhere in between. You feel angry, betrayed, sad. Disbelief. You doubt yourself. Then it starts all over again.” She chuckled softly. “And eventually you come to accept it. What’s done is done, and you are you. And you have your whole future to shape.”

Rey was gaping, but she didn’t care. Maiathah’s words rang true in her heart, and she was shocked that someone else understood what she was going through. She felt comforted by the company, even though they were linked by negative experiences.

Maiathah seemed to read the expression on Rey’s face easily. She sighed, but then she smiled playfully. “You must have noticed by now that I’m not from this system.”

Rey stole a glance at the blue-skinned Felosial who had large, solid black eyes, two small slits as a nose, no noticeable ears, with purple markings running across her body. In comparison, Maiathah had eyes like those of a human, though her irises were red. Her skin was also red, though her face had a couple black bands on her forehead. She had long pointed ears, and even longer curled and pointed horns. Rey recalled noticing on her first day here that Maiathah was not the same species as Arha and Felosial, but she hadn’t realized that Maiathah was from a completely separate system.

“It’s okay,” Maiathah laughed, “My appearance is very different from that of the Zar En people.”

“How did you…I mean, if you don’t mind me asking…” Rey stumbled through her words.

“When I was just a child, my parents were poor immigrants to Thyferra, and the Bacta Cartel had just come to power. I was sent to work for them among the Vratix, the indigenous species of Thyferra. I never saw my parents again, but I knew they received money for my work. Years later, after the collapse of the Empire, the Cartel began losing strength. Other cures were being developed that were superior to Bacta. Our system tried to skim ingredients from other systems through unfair trades in an attempt to improve the Bacta. One such ingredient was from this system, and after some back and forth, Thyferra was at war with Zar En.

“The humans who ran the Cartel weren’t going to come and take what they needed by force, so they sent who was expendable to them. The Vratix and the minorities. I was shipped off without realizing what I was being sent to do. At the time, I remember just being happy to get out of that damn factory for once.

“Both sides suffered heavy losses, and I was able to sneak away and hide in the woods. The Vratix eventually got what they wanted and left. Then I was found by a group of healers, and since I wasn’t a Vratix or a human, they took pity on me. And so, a healer I became. The Vratix would come back, years later, and they stole or destroyed many of our supplies. They killed a few of the healers, and the remaining healers lost faith and left the area. The rest is history, I suppose.”

Rey could see where Maiathah’s story linked with the one she had heard from Felosial. She felt an intense empathy swelling in her chest for each of them. As she struggled to find something to say, she dipped her head towards them in a moment of silence.

“You casually glossed over the part where my sister died.”

Sharp words pierced the peaceful moment like the final blow from a lightsaber. Rey turned to see Arha fuming at the door.

Chapter Text

Ben programmed the escape pod for Munai. Hopefully Hux had followed through on sending at least some of their forces there. Ben was at a loss for what else to do. He had nowhere else to go.

Ysanne betrayed him and would likely take charge of whatever forces remained on the Finalizer with her own troops. In the best case scenario, he would find members of the First Order on Munai, and they would think him to be naïve or just plain dumb. They wouldn’t trust him to lead them in a rally against her. At worst, they would see through his failed betrayal. They would willingly join Ysanne and come after him.

The silence in the escape pod made his ears ring. He stared into the vast space enveloping his craft, and wondered where he would go if he wasn’t accepted by whomever he found on Munai. He really had been foolish, not even considering an outcome like this.

Though the escape pod was by no means slow, in comparison to the Finalizer, he might as well have been traveling backwards. He ran his fingers over the controls, which lit at his touch. He could try to use the comm and see what was going on.

Choosing to stay in the dark, he stepped away from the controls and sat down. It had been a long time since he had felt this kind of suffocating isolation, and he wanted to punish himself by indulging in it. His anxious thoughts spun out in front of him, greater in number than the stars in front of his ship, and infinitely more unavoidable.

---

Rey felt uncomfortable, like she had encroached upon a conversation she wasn’t supposed to hear. She looked to Poe who, as a neutral party with good people skills, was the best hope to diffuse the situation. Sadly, if the grimace on his face was any sign, he felt equally as awkward.

No one spoke for a second too long, and then Arha fled. Quietly, Maiathah put down her things and followed after her. Pieces of history that Rey had learned since coming here clicked together. Maiathah’s other apprentice…So that explained for the frosty relationship between Arha and Felosial.

“Should we go after her?” Poe asked.

Felosial shook her head. “It’s a personal matter.”

Rey tried to remember what her hands had been doing. She looked down and tried to make sense of the mortar and pestle that she was holding. Not a whole lot made sense to her at the moment.

Despite having no memory of her parents, she had always missed them. Or rather, she had missed her idea of who they were. She missed what role they should have filled in her life. When she saw families in Niima Outpost, she had felt jealous, but she had also felt hopeful. Maybe her mother was as clever as that one. Maybe her father was as gentle as him. And maybe one day they’d come back for her and explain how it was all a big misunderstanding, or accident, that they had gone without her.

It was hard to think about how it must feel to lose someone close to you, that you had actually known. Rey knew of loss, but she had experienced it on what now seemed to be a surface level. How long had she known Han before he had been killed? Luke?

She supposed she had lost hope in her parents. However, lacking and losing seemed so different in this case.

“It’s hard,” Poe offered, “I lost my mother when I was young. I never got to see her much because she was a pilot for the Republic, and then…when we finally had time…”

He cleared his throat. “It was because of natural causes, but I still blamed my dad for the longest time. Sometimes you just…don’t know what to do with all your grief.”

---

That night, Rey found herself lying in bed trying to pick up her thoughts and hide them somewhere else so that she could mindlessly drift to sleep. It wasn’t working.

At the moment, her roommate was bathing. She had come back late from talking with Maiathah, and though she seemed slightly better than earlier, a warm soak couldn’t hurt. Rey wasn’t sure whether or not having the company would help her sleep, but she didn’t expect Arha to be back for a while.

To her astonishment, as she rolled to her other side for the umpteenth time, Ben was there. Recognition was enough, she didn’t give herself time to think about why he was also lying down. She didn’t notice the melancholy hanging over him or the pensive look on his face. She didn’t give herself the time to process that he had survived whatever dangerous mission he had mentioned previously. He was simply there, and she wanted him. She needed their lips to be together, and she made it so.

She swept all of her tension of the day aside, her clumsy fingers and ineptitude for mixing the healing solutions. As she felt his lips soft against hers and his warm breath stuttering across her face, she released her anxieties about being the Last Jedi, the only individual who was supposed to save everyone. Her body burned in such a plain and understandable way, and she allowed herself to steep in that aching arousal.

It was easier to give in to her body’s instincts than to put into words her conflicting feelings for Ben. It was even easier to press their bodies together until there was no breath between them and no way to talk about the force between them that wasn’t the Force.

Her throat was hot with all the words she couldn’t say to him. The responsibilities that usually loomed over her – that dictated that she hate Ben and oppose him – were temporarily drowned under a thick syrupy stirring in the pit of her core. For once, she let go of all of the pressure and standards that had been applied to her, and she acted on every spark of whim coursing through her veins. The simplicity of wanting something and letting herself have it was intoxicating.

Their teeth clicked together. Straddling him, Rey clenched her fist in the front of his tunic and forcefully drew him closer. Her other hand gripped his cheek. His arms were wrapped loosely around her waist. He broke away from their kisses, attempting to catch his breath. She instantly redirected her attention to his neck.

She nosed along the groove of his scar until it disappeared under his tunic. His flesh was smooth and pliant under her mouth. She sucked softly on the skin right by the hem. He shuddered, and the fire within her blazed with heightened intensity. She wanted him even more. To satiate her desire, she let go of where she had been holding him and ran her hands down his sides until they reached the end of his tunic. Slowly, she began rolling it up, her thumbs pressing against his bare hips, then midriff as she labored.

“Stop,” he panted, and Rey immediately froze. His voice was gasping and strained.

She looked up to meet his eyes. He was breathing heavy, and his skin was flushed and dewy. It seemed like he was physically enjoying this as much as she was…

But his eyes held fear, and Rey felt her stomach sink. The world came crashing back down on her shoulders with a vengeance and an inertia so strong that she felt like she was plunging into the icy caves beneath Ahch-To once again.

“Sorry!” she yelped, quickly pulling his tunic back down to cover everything.

Awash with guilt, she removed herself from him entirely. Her head was buzzing with worries that she had gotten carried away with her lust and violated him. Quite literally, this was the first time she was ever doing something like this, and she really had no idea what she was doing in the first place. She sat up and scooted her way to the edge of the bed so that there was some distance between them.

She hadn’t meant to cross any boundaries! She hadn’t been thinking at all. She was so stupid. She had just assumed that they had been on the same page and--

“I feel like I’m the one who should be apologizing,” he said, and she felt him shifting behind her.

“You? Why?” she asked incredulously, turning to see him lying on his side and facing her.

He didn’t answer her, and his expression was indecipherable. Nor did she have any help from the Force in deciphering his feelings. All around her, energy clanged like bells in the wind. She couldn’t tell, but she thought the ground might be shaking. Either that, or she was shaking.

He reached out his hand towards her.

“Come back,” he pleaded softly, “I was okay with everything before…just then.”

She nodded once, solemnly, and then folded herself under his arm.

It was a while before she could relax again. He was rubbing little circles into her arm with his thumb, and she was embarrassed that it seemed like he was comforting her. How backwards was that? But as her thought came back into focus and the Force straightened itself out around them, she began to feel his emotions fading in and out of her consciousness. He wasn’t upset with her, and she hadn’t hurt him. He knew it was an unintentional mistake.

He still wanted to be near her.

She didn’t know what to make of this new layer on their already complicated hell-maze of a relationship.

After some time, she pressed a chaste kiss onto the tip of his nose. The action was as much a question as it was a reassurance. If something like this were to happen again...there would need to be a more open communication between them.

He smiled at her lopsidedly. Her face felt warm.

“We can learn from this,” she whispered determinedly. We can learn each other’s boundaries, she thought to herself.

He hummed in agreement and drew her closer to him, burying his face in the hair on the top of her head. Her face squashed against his chest, she wriggled until she had enough room to breathe. She took a deep breath, and she identified his scent. She resolved to remember this until…until maybe she could verify it in person.

They stayed like that for as long as they could.

Chapter Text

“The antidotes should set in three days, which is about the time it’ll take you to walk back given that you don’t take any shortcuts,” Maiathah explained. She was wrapping the finished vials in a protective gauze, and helping Poe, Rey, and Arha to pack their bags.

Things seemed better between Arha and Maiathah, although Arha and Felosial’s relationship remained about the same. Rey supposed it wouldn’t matter soon enough, but nonetheless she noticed.

“Aw, you got me. I knew this great way through the woods that if we jumped off a cliff or two and swam a short distance, we’d save a day and a half,” Poe joked.

Maiathah rolled her eyes. “Well, if you do manage to get back sooner, remember the solutions need three days before they will be at full strength. You’d do best to remember that, unless you want to trek all the way back up here.”

Rey felt a twinge of sadness at the idea of leaving. She had come to like the effortless routine they had settled into; waking up early to go gather ingredients, meditating during lunch, coming back in the afternoon to have dinner and to work with the freshly harvested ingredients while Felosial chattered their ears off. She would even miss Maiathah’s cool demeanor, and her endless knowledge about plants and herbs.

“You never know. The next time you see us, we might have scraped together some kind of repayment for your generosity,” Poe quipped.

“That’s not necessary.” Maiathah shooed the idea away. “I’ve seen the effects of the Empire firsthand. I know the First Order won’t be any different. Any forces that try to put an end to that regime will have my full support.”

They exchanged goodbyes, and then they parted.

As they walked, worry began the creep into Rey’s mind. The members of the Resistance had seemed pretty sick when they had left, and hopefully they were doing okay. Although she trusted Poe when he told her that they would survive, he wasn’t a medic.

To quiet her anxious thoughts, she tried to imagine what it would be like after everyone had been cured. First, she would take Rose to the waterfall she had found to show her how beautiful it was. Then they would go searching for those crystals that she had sensed.

Too late, she realized that she should have asked Maiathah if she knew of any crystals like the ones she had sensed. Rey supposed if they had been in the general vicinity that she would have sensed them again, but she felt annoyed at her own lack of diligence. In an attempt to comfort herself, Rey vowed that if she and Rose couldn’t find the crystals after a thorough search, that she would come back and ask Maiathah about them.

And then there was Ben.

Setting aside her remorse over their last encounter...

She really wanted to know what was going on with him. She wished they had more time together than their short encounters where she barely remembered her own name, let alone the list of forty thousand questions she wanted to ask him. What was he doing? What was he planning on doing?

Why had she thought it was appropriate for her to treat him like a lover?

Would it be weird for her to ask how the First Order was doing?

Was he going to leave the First Order? Take it down from the inside, as she’d hoped? Even if he did, she knew he would never join the Resistance. He was too prideful, for one thing. Then there was the possibility that he couldn’t face his mother.

There was the possibility he wouldn’t want to be around herself.

Rey was carrying a letter that he had written to Leia. The simple fact that he had written it and given it to her to be delivered had to be a good sign. And though she was curious about its contents, she would never read it.

She had betrayed his trust enough. She would relay this message without doing so again.

Rey could feel how good Ben was, and she meant that in the ‘he wants to do the right thing’ kind of way, and not the other way which would encourage her to take a nice sobering ice bath. With so little information about his whereabouts and the actions of the First Order, it was hard to see how their futures could tie together. What was the Force bringing them towards?

No one’s ever really gone.”

It is you!”

---

Ben found their settlement easily, and he wasted no time in entering their makeshift base. To his surprise, he felt somewhat relieved at the familiar sight of Mitaka, who was handling the malfunctioning comm station. The man straightened as he approached.

“Supreme Leader, all of our communications with the Finalizer have collapsed. We’ve been in the dark since we’ve landed.”

Ben did a quick calculation in his head. They shouldn’t have lost signal so soon. By the time he and Ysanne had boarded the Finalizer, their party should have been stationed on Munai for an hour. After a quick survey of Mitaka’s face, Ren puzzled at just how deep Hux’s treachery ran.

“What is the status of this deployment?” Ben asked.

“Thirty-five Stormtroopers, five captains; Chuan, Claidi, Shalott, Min, and Malla, three technicians, and I arrived at zero fourteen hundred hours. The captains have taken their respective squadrons to search the system for signs of the Resistance. The remaining technicians are setting up our camp, and I was to run the comms.”

“No medics?” Ben questioned.

“No, Supreme Leader,” Mitaka reported. His eyes were still wide with curiosity.

Ben skimmed the surface of Mitaka’s thoughts. He was under the impression that Hux had sent them here to trim the fat of the First Order. Chuan and Malla were notably empathetic, and Claidi had been flagged for behavioral problems. Ben, and apparently Mitaka, were unfamiliar with Min and Shalott. The Stormtroopers were disposable, and a few were still only cadets. The technicians were also disposable. And as for Mitaka himself…he suspected that Hux had found out that he had warned the Supreme Leader of his secret meetings.

Ben pulled away from Mitaka’s mind and tried to parse facts from Mitaka’s opinions. Given the options, this wasn’t a terrible group to work with. And if Ysanne had managed to take out the Council and Hux, well…

“Does our comm work? Can you contact the Stormtroopers and their captains and bring them here?”

“Yes, Supreme Leader. I will do so right away.”

---

Ben awoke to a gentle nudging on his shoulder, and when he opened his eyes and saw Rey, he sat bolt upright.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Rey whispered. She drew back from him, looking embarrassed.

“Don’t be, it’s fine,” he said hastily.

He reached for her hand, and when it was in his grasp he felt ten times more awake even though it was the middle of the night.

“It’s morning here,” she supplied, as if she had read his thoughts.

For a second, he wasn’t sure if she actually had read his thoughts. The Force allowed him to feel her emotions, and sometimes he felt that there was a thin line that separated thought and feeling.

“Good morning, then,” he greeted her.

Until now, he supposed they hadn’t had a significant time difference between them. He wasn’t going to let it stop him from spending this time with her. Sleep could wait.

As he pulled himself down into his consciousness, he became more aware of her silence. Her expression seemed grim. The air around her seemed dry and stagnant, and was very reminiscent of his time on Jakku. Even next to her, he felt the barren shadow of loneliness fall over him.

“What is it?” he asked, concerned.

“Tell me about Luke,” she stated.

His blood ran cold as a familiar shroud of Dark swept over him. Instinctively he tried to shake away the icy numb feeling the only way he knew how.

“What for?” he demanded crossly.

She frowned at him, which added to his anger. But he could see two steps further into this interaction, and he knew that letting his rage take control would only be a step backwards with her. Knowing this did little to calm him.

Heat pricked at where his hand touched hers, and he wanted to let go. Despite his discomfort, he held fast. He had a feeling that things could spiral out of control in a heartbeat. He was too volatile, having been plucked from sleep without what little emotional defense he was able to muster throughout the day.

He closed his eyes and purposefully slowed his breathing, counting each second in his head. It was an old Jedi trick, much to his chagrin, but more importantly he knew it was effective.

“I don’t want to end up fighting you,” Rey murmured.

Her words jarred him from his relaxation exercise, and he opened his eyes to stare at her. His whirlwind of emotions was congealing into a big lump of confusion. He caught himself wondering why they hadn’t picked up where they had left off last time. Although still confusing, at least his body seemed to have known what was happening.

“I won’t fight you,” he promised.

He knew he could never fight her, not seriously. He hadn’t been able to before, when they were barely strangers to each other…No, they had never been strangers to each other, had they?

It is you.”

He vividly remembered finding her in the forest of Takodana. He had never been so captivated before. They had fought, but he had no intention of harming her. Snoke had scolded him for having compassion. He could have easily killed her, if he had wanted to. He never wanted to.

This was the girl he had been searching for his entire life. Her haunting ran deeper than his conflict between Light and Dark, and whatever she was, he wasn’t about to let her go when he had just found her. Not then, and not now. Not ever.

Whether he was bound by her or bound to her, he didn’t know; however, he was aware that since the first time he had seen her in that forest, he was utterly at her mercy.

He breathed out slowly, trying to remember what she had told him about mercy.

“I’m no longer Supreme Leader,” he confessed, “I tried to take down some of the most powerful figures of the First Order and spare the lowlings and grunts. It backfired spectacularly. I was never meant to be a leader. Unfortunately I don’t have a choice.”

Her mouth had fallen open a little in shock. He wished to cover it closed with his own, but he refrained.

“I don’t know the current status of the First Order. I am with a small group, and we will be about forty-five once everyone returns to base. I still have to relay to them what happened, and then go from there. I’m not sure I’ll have any allies after that…”

He wanted to add that it didn’t matter, but that would be a lie. It did matter. He would hardly be able to make any significant changes in the galaxy alone, especially against someone like Ysanne who would be using biochemical warfare. He had considered for the briefest of moments what it would look like if he joined the Resistance, and that fleeting second had already been too much for his stomach to handle.

She looked at him curiously. It was okay for her to know. He wasn’t part of the First Order anymore, it wouldn’t matter. Even if he was somehow still Supreme Leader, even if he could somehow trick Ysanne into believing that he still honored their partnership, it still didn’t matter. He wanted Rey to know everything.

He thought a silent prayer that the Force would give him enough time to explain.

Chapter Text

“One of the other acolytes was saying something about how gemstones other than Kyber crystals could be used in lightsabers, and I, the insufferable know-it-all teenager that I was, took it upon myself to loudly correct him in front of Master Luke…Luke told me knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom, and I had to practice thirty forms that evening.”

“Hmm…no wonder you are so skilled at combat.”

“Very funny.”

“I tried building a landmine once.”

“You? That doesn’t seem like something a follower of the Light would do.”

“I wanted a security measure around the AT-AT I was living in. Admittedly, I also just wanted to see if I could do it.”

“And…?”

“I ended up forgetting where I put it, and then later when I found it, I completely ruined a perfectly functional speeder. By the time I fixed it up, I was no longer interested in that kind of security.”

---

Rey recognized the path back, especially as they came within a day’s walk to camp. She actually had to make an effort not to hasten her step, as their early arrival wouldn’t do any good. They had to wait for the medicine to set, so whether they were still traveling or in the sick bay, it wouldn’t matter. In fact, Rey assumed it would be harder to be around her sick comrades with their cure, only to have to wait another day before administering it.

Poe was already talking about weeks into the future, where everyone was at full capacity and making trips to other systems to gather support for the Resistance. The First Order had been weakened when they had last seen them on Crait, and if they acted soon, this could be their chance to wipe them out for good!

Rey hadn’t told him the news she had heard from Ben, that the First Order was even more fractured than before. She didn’t know what she was waiting for, or why it didn’t feel like her information to tell. Her plan was to discuss it with General Leia when she handed her the letter. If anyone would know what to do, it was the General.

“I admire your conviction for your cause,” Arha was saying.

Rey could tell their guide was getting swept up in Poe’s words, and it was hard not to. If she wasn’t already part of the Resistance, surely he would have convinced her to join on the spot as well.

He launched into another heroic tirade, and she smiled.

---

“I think I had seen you before. Before we first met, I mean. Before the forest on Takodana. In dreams…”

“I don’t remember my dreams.”

“Oh…”

She didn’t have the heart to tell him that she had seen him too. In nightmares.

“You were a strong Jedi warrior woman…When I was training with Luke, and I tried to envision the Light, I saw her, I saw you. And then, even as I trained with Snoke…I thought it was just a representation of the Light as a human woman that I had come up with…”

“You flatter me,” Rey demurred.

His visions of her as the embodiment of Light made her a little uncomfortable. She wasn’t strictly a Light being, she had Dark in her too, and she wasn’t afraid of it. She also didn’t really feel like any sort of hero, especially not like how he was describing. This led her to be reminded of his shock at discovering her actual identity.

Is it true, you’re just a scavenger?”

She wasn’t as glorious as he had built her up to be, clearly.

He seemed to sense her insecurity.

“I was an ignorant child, with one dimensional thinking. I couldn’t comprehend the complexities of strength.”

“And now?”

“Now, I feel neither knowledgeable nor wise.”

---

Ben addressed the soldiers succinctly, and left them with their choice to try and join Ysanne, leave, or stay under his command. No one dared to go into whatever chaos was now present on the Finalizer, but a few of the Stormtroopers did decide to leave on one of the transports.

The remaining crew members weren’t necessarily thrilled with their choice to stay, but felt it was the best option. Ben could see that he lacked their trust and loyalty. They were no longer a unified force as they had once been, they were just stuck together through necessity.

Without wasting much more time, they had packed up and left Munai, in case any survivors on board of the Finalizer were to tell Ysanne of their whereabouts, and in case she was feeling particularly bloodthirsty. They set a course for the nearest system, where they would hide out and hopefully retrieve some information about the state of the First Order under Ysanne.

Captain Chuan removed her helmet, and addressed Ben directly.

“So, does this mean we’re rogue now? Is this the end of the First Order?”

Now that they were out of immediate danger, Ben could feel the disquiet settling among his comrades.

“The First Order died with Snoke,” Ben postulated. He stood tall and slipped into the role of looking bored yet menacing.

The Stomrtroopers remained silent and were hard to read as their helmets gave no indication to their emotions. Ben felt a tug of longing for his old helmet, a sentiment he hadn’t felt since before the death of Snoke. Concealing emotions could be very useful, especially for someone who wore his heart on his sleeve the majority of the time.

“We’re free!” he heard one of the technicians whisper to the other two. They seemed pretty content with the turn of everything, though for some reason they also didn’t appear to want to let their true excitement show. Ben wasn’t sure if it was because of him, or because of the faceless Stormtroopers that outnumbered them.

He also tried to imagine how the Stormtroopers might feel. They had been taken from their families at birth, and trained—indoctrinated—to serve the First Order. Surely at least some of them were resentful of that. FN-2187 had been the only one to successfully escape, but that didn’t mean he had been the only to try.

“If I may add, the First Order has been losing a lot of favor with the galaxy since the death of former…of Snoke,” Mitaka informed them, “Our decreasing numbers lost us quite a few former sympathizers. Hux was desperately trying to get the Council to pull strings on their home systems to get more support…but since they were all on that ship…”

“They may be dead,” Ben blurted, echoing what everyone had been thinking. “Otherwise Ysanne may use them as spies or hostages.”

“So where do we go from here? Forgive me for doubting our chances here, but we’re gonna need allies. And what exactly…are we still pursing the same goals anymore? To bring order to the galaxy?” Captain Claidi raised her voice so they could all hear her. She didn’t remove her helmet.

“There’s more than one way to pluck a Vakiir,” Captain Min retorted.

Claidi swiveled her head towards him. “Keep that attitude up, and before we know it, you’ll be shacking up with the Resistance.”

If she had meant it as a joke, no one laughed. In fact, Ben felt an entirely different reaction to her words.

“Supreme Leader,” Mitaka started carefully, “For our own safety…Your mother is the de facto head of the Resistance…Maybe…”

“Oh no. Oh no, I do not like where this is going,” Claidi groaned, shaking her head.

Ben sighed.

“We will land on Sepulch, and see what intel is available about the Imperials. We will go from there.”

There wasn’t much room to escape to, but Ben retreated to the console, effectively signaling the end of the meeting.

---

He couldn’t talk now. He was surrounded by others, Rey supposed.

Instead she watched him, as he thoughtfully dragged his fingers across what she figured was a map.

“Sepulch is not far from here,” he mused to someone she couldn’t see.

As far as she could gather, he was navigating the ship. If that were the case, his group of people must really be as small as he’d told her. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe in his meticulously trained flying skills, but she didn’t expect that hierarchy would allow the former Supreme Leader from doing something so mundane.

Every so often he would look up from the console to sneak a peek at her, and she would furtively deliver a grin to him.

She was barely familiar with Sepulch. It was a neutral planet in a neutral system that stayed out of most politics, and retained a fairly homogenous and xenophobic population. It was very difficult to gain citizenship there if not granted at birth, and she could not remember a time when their system had ever taken in refugees. Despite their historic strict stance on foreigners, over the years they had cultivated a thriving tourist business, which seemed to soften the younger generation’s ideas about foreign policy. The planet had also always tried to remain civil and even friendly with other systems, regardless of Republic or Imperial sway.

Rey had to wonder how Ben would proceed upon arrival. There wasn’t a chance they would be granted admission to the system without stating a purpose. She wondered on whose behalf he would be asking.

“Mitaka, could you come here a moment?” Ben asked, looking over his shoulder.

Around her, Rey heard Poe stirring. Today was the morning of their last day of traveling. If all went well, they would reach base sometime in the afternoon.

“Earlier, you suggested something about the Resistance. About contacting my mother,” Ben stated calmly.

All of Rey’s focus suddenly abandoned her surroundings as she honed in on what Ben was saying. To her annoyance, she couldn’t hear or see anything other than Ben. However, he seemed to be aware of this and was phrasing things so that she would have enough clues to be able to piece together the entire conversation.

“Yes, I know Captain Claidi was not in favor of this idea, but you were not given a chance to explain,” he continued smoothly.

Rey couldn’t say she had eavesdropped on many of Ben’s conversations with other members of the First Order, but of those that she had, he sounded much calmer and almost friendly now.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to contacting them. They are small, but strong. So are we. And we share a common enemy now. One with great and terrible power that must be stopped.”

Rey couldn’t believe her ears. Never in a million years would she have thought that Ben would ever willingly contact his mother, especially to seek some form of pact. She strained to hear more, but she could tell the connection between them was waning.

Luke’s voice rang in her head. “No one’s ever really gone.”

She opened her mouth to try and say something encouraging that would bring him to her. To say anything. But her voice was stuck in her throat, and in the blink of an eye he was gone.

Chapter Text

They arrived on time, to a camp buzzing with many more welcoming faces than expected. A group of Zar En people were cheerfully helping one or two familiar Resistance members make dinner around a fire, while others were cleaning their weapons, and still others were working on speeders or small aircraft that had suddenly appeared.

The trio was warmly greeted and led to the sick bay, where they found General Leia speaking to Captain Wexley of the Black Squadron.

“Wexley!” Poe greeted, and the two men hugged each other.

Rey looked around them and saw Finn getting up from where he had been sitting next to a sleeping Rose. Other members of the Black Squadron were interspersed about the room, and despite the numerous unconscious forms, the morale seemed fairly high.

Finn rushed to Rey and crushed her in a hug, mirroring the reunion of Poe and Wexley.

“That was too long, Rey. I’m going with you next time,” he swore.

Before she could respond, Leia had called them all to order. Soon, Poe, Arha, and Rey were showing the others how to administer the antidote to the victims. Excited whispers filled the room as they worked.

Rey wished she could talk to Finn more, but she wanted to stay focused on her work, and she was also distracted by the thought of the letter she had to give to General Leia. Surely, Leia would have some kind of debriefing with the trio later, and then after, maybe she could request to speak to Leia alone…

Finn helped Rey as she worked. She wanted to ask him why everyone was so happy, and why there were so many people around camp. And where had Wexley come from? Was the Black Squadron one of the reinforcements that Leia had tried to contact so long ago?

He seemed to sense her curiosity.

“The Zar En people have decided to join us in the Resistance. There’s a whole history about this planet being picked on…I won’t bore you with it, but anyway, using their comms we were able to finally get in touch with some allies. And you’ll never believe what else!

“The First Order is dead! We don’t know all the details, but something happened, and their ship was hijacked by a rogue Imperial group. Of course, now we kind of have to deal with them, but they lack the unity and connections that the First Order had been gathering.”

Despite already knowing some of the information, it was still a lot to take in as Finn told her.

“Slow down!” she exclaimed.

“I’ve been training too! Well, trying to anyway. You know meditation is kind of difficult? I mean it’s not hard to do, but it’s hard to not fall asleep…”

---

After the first dose of antidote had been administered, Leia rounded up the trio to speak to them privately, as Rey had expected. She filled in the gaps that Finn had missed in his excitement.

“When the Empire fell, it didn’t just disappear. There will always be groups like that out there, and there were. But they weren’t unified. Snoke brought many of those factions together, and with the help of the wealth and influence from former Empire loyalists he could persuade, the First Order was formed.

“However, not all Imperial groups joined the First Order. Perhaps these groups didn’t like Snoke, or perhaps they wanted more power to themselves. Well, it appears that one such group of Imperials decided to make their grab at power after the death of Snoke.

“And it appears they were successful. Leader of the Bacta Cartel, Ysanne Isard managed to hijack the Finalizer, killing most of the First Order members in the process. It has even been said that the entire First Order Council was assembled at the time of her attack, and none have been seen since.

“After seizing power, she began threatening Coruscant with war. Captain Wexley let us know that a rumor is circulating that the Bacta Cartel has been developing some biochemical weapons while the First Order had been taking center stage. This rumor has been corroborated with what we have learned from the Zar En people, who had been in war with Thyferra and the Bacta Cartel years before over medicinal herbs.

“Which brings me to announce that after all of this, the Zar En people have decided to join our efforts. They fear the biochemical super weapon could bring about the end of life in the galaxy, and they want to address how they have been wronged by the Bacta Cartel in the past.

“Which is why we will need to make our move as soon as everyone recovers. The Cartel is still small, and their only leverage at the moment is through threats and fear. They’ll soon make a move to demonstrate their power, which will bring support to their side. We’ve got to stop them before that happens.”

Rey could hardly breathe, and she felt a spark of hope light in her chest. If Ben came to them, surely he would know the weaknesses of the Finalizer. With his help, they could put an end to the Imperial reign before it even began. The letter in her knapsack felt as though it was burning a hole to her back. She wanted to speak with Leia alone more desperately now than ever.

“What is our plan of attack?” Poe asked.

“Captain Wexley and I were just discussing that as you arrived, so I can’t say we have very many details ironed out yet,” she informed him patiently.

Poe gritted his teeth, obviously trying to hold himself back from saying something impulsive. His impatience starkly contrasted with Leia’s calm. Rey didn’t want a drawn-out argument between them to ensue, not when she could tell Leia about the possibility of Ben joining them!

“We should sleep on this news,” Rey said pointedly, mostly to Poe. “This is a lot of information, and we only just got back. We will feel more settled in the morning.”

Poe seemed to accept this, but Rey was surprised when Arha piped up.

“I am glad to see that we have joined forces with the Resistance, as I have lost my sister to the Cartel. How may I be of service?”

Leia smiled at the determined recruit. “I’ve appointed some leaders of your village to be Captains: Leshanna, Peren, Uthemar, Naeris.”

Arha’s eyes brightened as she recognized the names, and Rey noticed that Poe’s grimace had softened into a wistful smile. Something about this small gesture reminded Rey of the way that Rose looked at Finn. She wondered about the way she was inexplicably drawn to Ben, and if any of these things were related.

Finally, Leia dismissed them, and as planned, Rey hung back.

“I must admit, I have tried to teach Finn something about the Force, but I seem to only have succeeded in teaching him how to nap on command,” Leia chuckled, “I was never trained in the ways of the Force, and I know you barely had any training. I didn’t want to place the burden on you.”

“Oh, it’s not a problem. We can train together. You too, if you would like,” Rey offered politely.

“I’m afraid I’m a bit too old, dear. Even if I could learn, I’m not as spry as I once was. Fortunately, the mind can be just as formidable of a weapon,” Leia gibed. “But I sense there is something else you wanted to talk to me about?”

Rey shrugged off her knapsack and reached inside. For a second, she was frightened that the letter had disappeared, or that she had imagined it entirely. Her fingers caught the crisp edge of the envelope, and she nearly sighed a breath of relief. She drew it out, and held it towards Leia. A thick seal of black wax holding the envelope together caught both of their attention.

When Rey looked back up at Leia, there were tears in her eyes.

“That’s impossible,” Leia breathed, “My son?”

Rey handed her the letter. “No one’s ever really gone, General.”

---

Ben had spent an agonizing morning convincing several Sepulch officers to allow his party entry to the planet, an endeavor which he would have much rather settled with violence. However, he was in no position to do that, and he knew they wouldn’t gain entry that way. He would have gone with the route of throwing money at them, but he had come to find out that his assets had been frozen since the fall of the First Order.

This left him with the only option of sweet talking, promises, and several IOUs. He doubted he could have pulled it off if he wasn’t the son of Han Solo. He also felt that if his father were watching him from the Great Beyond that he would have been cheering him on. In a way, his actions felt like a sort of apology.

He didn’t want to dwell on the thought too much though. Thinking about his father was complicated and painful. His morning had already been sufficiently rough, and so as soon as they landed, he headed straight for the refresher.

They were staying at a community campsite for tourists, which was strange on so many levels. Ben thought his presence might be a bit jarring to the tourists until he remembered that his public image was masked and covered from head to toe in long black flowing fabric. As it was, not a soul cared about him, and he seemed to blend in with the technicians aboard his ship. The Stormtroopers, however, elicited some sympathetic stares.

The refresher wasn’t private, and seemed to be more like a public bathhouse. If there was supposed to be segregation by gender or species or any other classifier, Ben could not tell. Regardless, he hoped that no one would barge in on him, partially because of the embarrassment, but also because he had a headache.

He quickly washed himself off before entering the large pool of steaming water. His crew was eating dinner right now, so he knew they wouldn’t interrupt him, but he wasn’t so sure about the other tourists. He closed his eyes and relaxed, sinking into the hot water and letting the knots in his head come undone. He found himself controlling his breathing, but he didn’t care enough to stop himself. Perhaps the Jedi had been onto something with their breathing exercises at least.

Least of all was he expecting to be interrupted by who actually appeared. He figured the water would be covering him up enough to maintain his decency, but one look at her face told him otherwise. He quickly hoisted himself out of the water and threw on his towel. It was much too short for his liking.

“Why does this always happen to me?” he complained, breaking the awkward silence between them.

His face was already flushed from the heat of the water and the steam, but now he could hear the rushing of blood in his head.

Rey just stared at him – at his face – her eyes wide. As their eyes caught, she looked away. Her face bloomed with red blotches, and her eyes darted around the floor.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t…” she trailed off.

“I know,” he sighed. “Better you than anyone else, at least.”

Though caught off guard, Ben’s embarrassment had been fleeting. In comparison, he could feel Rey’s embarrassment coming off her like steam over boiling water. He didn’t understand what she had to be embarrassed about, and he preferred to just move on.

He cleared his throat. “I think some of my crew would be open to talking with the Resistance. I’ve even heard some murmurings from the officials of Sepulch that many of the sponsors and shall we say, philanthropists, of the First Order were not happy about Ysanne’s rise to power.”

He noticed that she didn’t seem very focused, and he began to fumble his words. “I mean it seems like that could be good. It could—it might mean that financially…”

He couldn’t even finish his sentence. “Are you okay?”

He leaned towards her in concern, inspecting her pupils for dilation. Perhaps she had suffered a concussion and was now dazed.

“Sorry, I…Uh...You’re naked,” she managed to say to the floor.

He wasn’t sure how to respond or how to feel about her reaction. In fact, he couldn’t even really discern whether her reaction was one of fear, or disgust, or something else…

“I can go fetch my clothes and dress,” he suggested.

Her eyes darted back to his, and she seemed to disagree with this idea. Now he was thoroughly confused and feeling somewhat self-conscious.

“No, I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant…You seem very healthy…physically fit…”

Oh. Understanding finally clicked in his brain. She found him attractive. He had sort of realized it before, when she’d kissed him that time, but it was a challenge for him to connect that event to now. Of course he wanted to be with her, and his feelings for her had started a shamefully long time ago, but those feelings seemed to be different to the ones Rey was experiencing.

Opportunity was right in front of him, and it was spooking him just as much as last time. He felt unprepared. He thought back to how he had stopped her, and he took comfort in the memory that she hadn’t been upset. In fact, she was completely okay with it. Apologetic, even. This wasn’t the end of the world.

She began to laugh nervously, and for some reason he began to laugh too. There was something so ridiculous about how apprehensive and uncertain they both were in this situation, when they had each faced death numerous times in their lives already.

“Sorry,” Rey apologized again, through laughter that was beginning to sound more genuine than anxious. “I don’t mean to be so out of it…I’m sure you wish you would have known this on Starkiller Base…You could have just disrobed, and I would have been completely useless. Might’ve saved you that scar.”

He brought his hand to his cheek, running it over the marred skin. Though it had healed a while ago, he could still feel the burn of Luke’s lightsaber if he pressed too hard. At the same time, he felt oddly possessive of it. He wouldn’t have changed what happened back then, even though he knew her suggestion hadn’t been serious.

He found himself smiling at the bizarre idea.

“I’ll just have to try my best to keep my clothes on when we take down Ysanne,” he added jokingly.

Her eyes flashed. “You mean it?” she asked excitedly. “Together?”

His chest swelled. “Together,” he decided firmly.

Chapter Text

Within two days, Rose was conscious again. Though she wasn’t allowed to get up and move around out of the sick bay, under Dr. Kalonia’s orders, this didn’t seem to dampen her spirit. In fact, the morale of camp climbed higher each time another Resistance member awoke from their Red Tide induced coma.

Rey relayed to Finn and Rose the information about the Kyber crystals that she had sensed on the planet, and both were eager to begin the search. Finn was especially thrilled at the prospect of designing his own lightsaber to wield.

Rey noticed that the Force seemed to have taken a stronger hold of Finn while she had been away. And though she’d only met two other Force sensitive people, Ben and Leia, she felt that Finn’s power was overwhelmingly Light. In no way could she find that trait bad, but it troubled her when she thought of Ben coming to join efforts with the Resistance. Ben had nearly killed Finn, how could they ever get past that? They were on opposite sides of the Force as well…

She thought about the one time Finn had interrupted her Force connection with Ben, and how she heard felt that horrible screeching in her head. If she was destined to lead Ben to the Light, was Finn destined to strike him down? She didn’t want to lose either of them.

A day after Leia read the letter that Rey had given her, a meeting for every Resistance member was held.

“Until now, reports have been inconclusive as the whether or not Kylo Ren escaped the hijacking of the Finalizer. As I stand before you today, I can tell you with certainty he is alive.”

No one in the crowd spoke, nor did anyone seem that surprised. He was the Jedi killer, after all, an untouchable evil that couldn’t be brought down by something so earthly as a mad scientist.

“I have also received correspondence directly from him, stating that he would like to work together to defeat the Imperials.”

Conversation exploded. Accusations of this letter being a trick, general hatred for the man who had caused them so much pain, curses, gasps, and even sobs were all heard.

Rey looked at the two men on either side of her. Finn’s hands were clenched into fists. Poe’s face was contorted with rage, no doubt remembering how Ren and his Stormtroopers had violently beat him and interrogated him.

There would be no olive branch between their forces. Kylo Ren was irredeemable.

---

“I gave your letter to your mother,” Rey said.

It was early in the morning, and she had hiked to the waterfall where she had first sensed the Kyber crystals. Now that she was back at base, her first priority was training. Finn usually came with her, but today was Rose’s first day that she was allowed to leave the sick bay, and he wanted to make sure that she didn’t overdo it.

She stared at the gently rippling pool in front of her, which became more choppy and chaotic as the base of the waterfall drew nearer. Her back was to him, but she could sense him there.

“Thank you,” he said quietly.

She turned to see him, and her face broke. She could feel his Light, and it made her so sad. She ran towards him and tears escaped her eyes. Snippets of the meeting last night replayed through her head; countless scenes of Resistance members disavowing his name. They would never choose to see the good in him. She felt confident that they would go so far as to choose to ignore it. And what grand sweeping gesture was he supposed to do to win them over anyway? No one could possibly see him as simply changed.

She folded herself into his arms, and pressed her face against his chest. The black fabric was soft against her face and absorbed her tears.

“Rey? What is it? What’s wrong?” he asked frantically.

His arms tightened around her to hold her, to steady her. She pressed more of her weight against him.

She couldn’t tell him that the Resistance would never accept him. The last thing she wanted to do was discourage him from joining them. The futility of the situation weighed her down.

“Did something happen to my mother? Is this about the letter?”

Rey shook her head, though she wasn’t sure he would understand what she meant by that. As for how Leia felt about the contents of the letter, Rey couldn’t say for sure. The fact that Leia had called a meeting and suggested that Ben join them was a positive sign, but doing so would have been her duty regardless. Rey hadn’t had the chance to ask her personally, and she didn’t know the contents of the letter.

“Rey,” he pleaded softly, “Please tell me what’s wrong.”

She struggled to calm herself enough to speak. Breathing deeply, she listened for the sound of his heartbeat, and for a few moments she just listened.

For a few moments, only they existed.

“I’m afraid,” she admitted.

“Maybe you are, but I know you are brave,” he murmured.

He leaned forward so that his forehead rested on the top of her head.

“I don’t want to lose you,” she whispered.

She felt him give pause, and then his uncertainty flooded through her. Of course he had thought about this too, that he had burned every bridge he had ever crossed and there weren’t many allies he could count on to support him. In fact, if his current crew realized how he had betrayed the First Order, he wouldn’t have any. The Resistance would be foolish to welcome him with open arms, or to welcome him at all. The path he had chosen was so solitary.

“It’s not too late,” he said into her hair, “Weren’t you the one to tell me that? That it wasn’t too late for me?”

She felt his uncertainty draining away, only to be replaced with determination. His loneliness recoiled at the prospect of camaraderie.

He placed a tiny kiss on the top of her head.

“Leia is my mother, and the Resistance has always been my home. I’ve strayed for too long, but now…I’m coming back. You won’t lose me.”

---

Later in the day, Mitaka received communications from escaped crew members of the Finalizer. Though they refused to serve Ysanne, they had nowhere else to go, and so they had sought out the former Supreme Leader for guidance. Surely he would be planning to overthrow Ysanne and take back what was rightfully his. Surely everything could go back to the way it was.

His actual stance underwhelmed them. Destroying Ysanne made sense to them, but he could feel their confusion as to why they needed to work with the Resistance to do so. No one asked, but he could hear their unvoiced questions of if he was planning on double-crossing the Resistance once Ysanne was out of the picture. Some seemed disappointed when he gave no indication of that being the case.

But he knew for the most part that the Stormtroopers would do as he said, because that was what they were born and raised to do. FN-2187 had been the only documented Stormtrooper to ever defy orders, so it wasn’t as if Ben thought disobedience was impossible. However, he chose to see FN-2187’s escape in a different light. That he and all Stormtroopers were capable of embracing Light.

He had to stop thinking such saccharine thoughts. Nothing ever went the way he thought it would, especially on the rare occasion when he was being optimistic.

Therefore, he was thoroughly surprised when a very flummoxed Mitaka called for him that evening.

Half expecting it to be his mother, he approached the makeshift comm station warily. This ramshackle setup wasn’t designed for tracking the destination of who was on the other end, and at first glance it hardly seemed like it would be able to transmit communications at all. Had Hux sent the Stormtroopers to Munai with the oldest equipment on board of the Finalizer?

Approaching the holo screen, he was disappointed to see that it was not his mother, but Ysanne herself. Of course, he realized discouraged, how would the Resistance know how to contact them anyway?

“Director,” he greeted her evenly.

He was unsure whether she would prefer the term Supreme Leader now, or if he should even address her with any formality at all. He waited to see whether she would carry on the ruse of an amiable relationship between them.

“Ren, I was surprised to find out you had evacuated the Finalizer. Did you not trust the efficacy of the antidote that I gave to you?”

Ben was aware that everyone on their small ship was within listening distance to him. He was also aware that everyone behind him was listening, and that he had neglected to tell them of his plan to eradicate Hux and the other council members by conspiring with Ysanne.

When the truth came out, a fight would ensue. Regardless of who won, he would be all alone. He wanted to slice through the comm station right then and there, but he knew that wouldn’t do any favors to his image.

She took his silence as an answer. “And now I hear that members of my new crew are running with their tails between their legs to you. What am I supposed to make of this? Are you planning to unseat me?” She sounded almost amused as she asked. “Or are you rounding up the stragglers to slaughter those disloyal to our cause? If so, do hurry up.”

He could hear in the tone of her voice how naïve she thought he was. And he realized that he had been quite naïve in his dealings with her. Maybe he could use this to his advantage.

“No. There was a deployment shortly before our arrival to the Finalizer, in order to avoid our combat forces from expiring during the dismantling of the Council. As you mentioned, you lack fighters. I had to protect our assets. I cannot speak for the escapees.”

He could feel the tension behind him. Anger and confusion radiated around him. They couldn’t tell his lies from his truth, or where this strategy was going. He knew at least one Captain already had her blaster pointed at his back.

“Well, perhaps they’re just confused. I suppose you can bring them all back, and decide their punishment later.” Though she said it loftily, he recognized the thinly veiled command behind her words.

“Will do,” he said, and the sound of his voice wrenched him through several memories where he had responded the same way to Snoke.

“Good.” She sounded pleased. “I expect you back by fourteen hundred hours tomorrow. If anyone makes a fuss, dispose of them. Over.”

Just as the line went dead, he felt the muzzle of a blaster brush the hair on the back of his head.

Chapter Text

“Perhaps if we could read the contents of the letter, we would be better able to decide whether or not your proposed communication is reasonable,” Admiral Statura stated.

Rey looked around the console to read the face of each high ranking Resistance member around her. She felt out of place, though Leia had specifically insisted that she attend this meeting.

“I want to arrange a face-to-face meeting between myself and Kylo Ren. I will be accompanied by Rey as a security measure,” Leia had proposed, moments ago.

Rey had listened to the pros and cons of this idea, and then another repeat of the cons. The higher ranking officers did not seem to like this plan, but finally Admiral Statura seemed to be taking a more neutral stance. If that was a positive sign, Rey had no idea.

“And could you tell us again how you got this letter in the first place? You said he directly gave it to you? What does that mean? Is our location compromised?”

Leia spoke with unwavering conviction. “The Force connected us in a dream, and he handed me the letter. When I awoke, I was clutching it in my hand. I do not believe he knows of our location, as he specifically mentioned that he couldn’t see my surroundings. I couldn’t see his either. If you insist, I can read the letter out loud to everyone, and even pass it around.”

For some reason, Rey didn’t want to hear what was written in the letter. She knew it wasn’t meant for all of their eyes and ears. It was a letter between a mother and a son, and it likely drew on whatever events transpired in his early life that had made him feel so lonely. She could remember how isolated and hollow he had felt when they had touched on Ahch-To. Even on Starkiller Base, she had recognized that same longing ache that she had been all too familiar with in her own childhood.

Murmurs rose around her, but Rey blocked the sound from her thoughts. She glanced across to where Poe was seated next to Captain Wexley. He had a deep frown on his face that Rey wasn’t used to seeing.

Leia began unfolding the letter, and Rey closed her eyes.

---

A trembling feeling passed through Rey. It felt almost like when the Force would connect her to Ben, except incomplete. She opened her eyes from where she had been meditating, and pulled herself back into the world around her. Nothing seemed out of place. The waterfall emptied into the pool in front of her at its usual rate. Insects were buzzing about, and the rock she was perched on had been baked warm in the sun. Beside her, she could hear Finn’s steady breathing as he continued to meditate, undisturbed by whatever she had sensed.

“Did you feel that?” she asked.

Instantly his eyes opened. “What? Did I feel what? Should I have? Is it the Force? Are we under attack?”

She smiled, and tried her best not to laugh at Finn’s…enthusiasm.

“No, nothing like that,” she assured him, “I just felt something, like a ripple or a disturbance in the Force. But it was fleeting. Maybe I just imagined it.” She allowed herself to laugh now. “You’ve got to wonder how all of those ancient Jedi didn’t go crazy with all the time they spent alone sitting in contemplative silence.”

Finn rolled his eyes as soon as he heard her doubting herself. “Nah, I probably just missed it because I’m not as attuned to the Force yet. Or maybe I was falling asleep. Who knows?”

He broke from his meditative sukhasana, and stretched himself out so that he was lying on his back on the rock. “Wow, sitting like that for hours sure is uncomfortable. I’m starting to think maybe those ancient Jedi were a little crazy.”

She mulled over this sentiment while stretching her legs out in front of her and leaning back on her elbows. Her only point of reference for the Jedi was Luke, and he wasn’t doing the ancient ones any favors in terms of not making them out to be a little screwy. Her smile turned wistful, but her heart glowed. Hopefully she was making him proud or at least somewhat amused at her attempt to teach Finn.

“Well I think that’s enough for today. We accomplished a good amount, right? Forms, meditating. Realizing our insignificance in the vast, omnipotent, and mysterious power that is the Force.”

“When do I get to move rocks with my mind?” Finn asked in jest.

They both laughed.

After a few minutes of relaxing to the sounds of the water cascading down the rocks of the bluff, Finn spoke again.

“Do you think General Leia is serious about meeting with Kylo Ren?”

Rey felt her stomach twist. She could answer his question easily enough, but there was more to it than just a simple yes or no. She didn’t want to lie to him, and she didn’t want to lie by omission either. Part of her wanted to tell him about her Force connection with Ben, especially since he had seemed to affect it. Yet, she also realized it would be a hard sell for him to believe that any kind of Light or goodness resided in the former Supreme Leader.

Finally, she settled on saying, “She’s his mother. She knows him better than anyone.”

“Is that what Han thought too?” Finn asked.

Rey winced as he reminded her of the scene they had both witnessed. Han approaching his son, who seemed reconciliatory. The flash of red that preceded his fall. Finn taking Rey’s hand, and them running for their lives as a murderous Kylo Ren glared their way.

Before Rey could think of something to say, Finn sighed. “Maybe that’s not fair. What do I know about family dynamics? I never knew my family. I’m not entirely convinced that I wasn’t grown in a tube by the First Order, along with all the other Stormtroopers.

“So maybe it would be okay for him to meet with Leia, but I’m not sure where we could go from there. No one else would be safe around him.”

Rey dipped her hand in the water in front of them and considered the flow of the current and that of the Force. Neither seemed to be pushing answers her way.

“What about the letter? What if he’s decided to turn his back on the First Order for good, and he’s given up all their secrets? He is a powerful enemy, but he could be a powerful ally.”

Finn looked at her dubiously, and his gaze shifted to where her hand rested in the water. If she was trying to catch the current, she had to know it was impossible.

“Look, as a former Stormtrooper who is now considered a Resistance Hero,” he broke into a smile and Rey chuckled as he said this. Then his face returned to a serious expression. “I’m really in no place to judge what his intentions are. Maybe he’s seen the light, and is only going to be the kindest Samaritan in the entire galaxy from now on. Who am I to say that’s impossible? But I did serve under him. Even disregarding the rumors…I know he’s not stupid, and I know he did a lot of bad things. Suddenly deciding to be a ‘good guy’ doesn’t excuse him for what he did. The Resistance hates him, and they have good cause.”

She wanted to counter his words. She wanted to ask what Ben could do to make up for his past actions. How could he prove himself? What if the Resistance just let him help them until the Imperial forces were defeated once and for all, and then they could think about his sentence.

Instead, she remained silent. She knew Finn wasn’t wrong.

“Man, this stuff is heavier than learning about the Force,” Finn exclaimed, as he stood and stretched. He offered his hand to Rey, and then pulled her up so that she was also standing.

As her eyes locked to his, she felt a pulse go through her body, and she was met with the urge to tell him everything. She bit her lip and turned away to retrieve her staff from where it had been leaning against a tree.

“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what General Leia decides,” Rey finally managed to say, effectively putting an end to the topic as they started back to base.

---

Time was of the essence, and so a decision was reached that evening. Rey would accompany Leia on a transport, where they would meet Kylo Ren and his escort. As a precaution, Poe and Black Squadron would be following, cloaked, in case of any mishap. Kylo Ren’s transport and Leia’s transport would meet in neutral airspace, and the meeting would be no longer than two hours. All of the comms on the transport would be left live so that everyone at base could at least faintly hear the conversation that took place.

After the details were set, all of the interested Resistance members gathered around the comms to listen to Admiral Statura and Kylo Ren’s comm tech agree upon a meeting time and location. Though too quick for the taste of some, the meeting was set for the next morning.

Leia pulled Rey aside once the final details were set and everyone had more or less broken up.

“I know the Force has been connecting you two, but you have to make a promise to me. If something goes wrong, if Ben tries to instigate anything, any sign of aggression, any hint of hostility, you must fight,” Leia urged grimly.

Rey swallowed thickly. “Of course.”

Leia eyed her warily as if she could sense Rey’s compassion for her son.

“I believed in him for a long time. I held out hope. And though I still hold on to a little bit of that hope, I’ve become skeptical. He’s committed terrible crimes. We must assume that we’re walking into a trap.”

Rey didn’t believe that Leia truly thought this was a trap. She wouldn’t have fought so hard to make this meeting possible if she thought that were the case. She certainly wouldn’t have agreed to meeting in person.

“Be careful,” Leia added, and she gave Rey a knowing look.

Rey felt a little embarrassed, but she tried not to let it show. Her loyalty was first and foremost to the Resistance and, if it came to it, she would fight Kylo Ren.

“I understand. I won’t let the Resistance down,” Rey pledged.

Leia smiled. “I know you won’t.”

Then she swept away, leaving Rey to her own devices.

It was late, and many of the Resistance members were either preparing to go to bed or milling about before taking over for night watch. Rey reasoned that she should probably turn in early as well, considering she would be up early to prepare for her trip.

She shuffled her way to the dim sleeping quarters, which was already populated by sleeping members of Black Squadron. Although it was her best chance of getting a full night sleep, she hesitated as she stared at an open cot.

Part of her, most of her, wanted to see Ben through the Force bond one more time before facing him in person in the morning. Though she knew staying awake wouldn’t affect the outcome of whether the Force would connect them or not, the thought of going to sleep and waking up only to prepare for the trip made her feel uneasy.

She wasn’t sure why her gut was churning. Was it because of what Leia had just told her? Was it nervousness about seeing Ben in person for the first time since Crait?

She sat down on the cot she had been scrutinizing, and drew in a deep breath. After focusing on her breathing for some time, she reached out to the Force. It greeted her with its usual indifference, and she tried to filter through its vastness to find her connection to Ben. After some more time, she accepted that she would not be able to call him to her.

Even tonight.

The Force did not indulge.

Chapter Text

“Be very careful with your next words,” Captain Claidi seethed.

Ben had stopped blaster fire from hitting him before, but he had never tried when the blaster was pressed to his skull. He had a suspicion that stopping the blast at this range would cause the entire weapon to explode, which wouldn’t really be any more beneficial to the well-being of his cranium.

“If she knew of our disloyalty to her, what’s to stop her from making us ash in a crater?” he reasoned.

“Put the blaster down, Claidi,” Chuan pleaded from even farther behind him.

He felt Claidi lower her weapon, and then he turned around slowly to face them.

“Explain yourself.” Claidi barked.

Ben surveyed the faces before him and sighed. Only Claidi seemed angry with him. The others seemed either concerned or passive.

“She attacked the Finalizer with poison gas and brought her own forces aboard. I would estimate that most First Order members perished from the poison. This means they are not equipped for combat, but we are. If we are invited aboard, we can easily strike them down,” he explained.

“What about the fact that you apparently have the antidote for this poison? And that she gave it to you?” Claidi shouted, “What are we supposed to make of that?”

Chuan took a step forward towards Claidi. “Calm down, and let’s be rational. Kylo Ren was already Supreme Leader of the First Order, what need would he have to attack his own forces and jeopardize his own safety and social status? This is obviously the product of a deal gone wrong.”

Ben appreciated the loyalty of Captain Chuan, and he appreciated even more the out she had given him.

“I wanted to acquire the biochemical weapon for our own forces. With it, the First Order would have been unstoppable,” he stated carefully, “Obviously I underestimated whom I was dealing with.”

Claidi scowled bitterly, her face shadowed with doubt and disgust. “What a gamble. And now you’re listening to the comm jockey that we should join forces with the Resistance!”

She spit on the ground at his feet. Beside him, he felt Mitaka stiffen.

“Strategically, it’s our best bet,” Ben pointed out, “But you’re free to leave if you like.”

She crossed her arms against her chest and pouted. He could sense she wasn’t done arguing, but perhaps she could sense that he was. Mitaka had said she had been flagged for behavioral problems. Ben was beginning to see why.

Soon after, another call came through on the comm. This time, Ben was pleasantly surprised to be met by the sight of his mother. He hadn’t actually seen her since his TIE-fighters had shot her from her ship. The holo in front of him comforted him, as well as filled him with a deep sense of guilt.

“Mother,” he greeted her, almost involuntarily. He would have to try not to lower his defenses so much, when he knew that his entire fleet of forces was listening. How he conducted this meeting would be crucial if he wanted to retain any sort of following.

“General,” she corrected, her raspy voice admonishing him gently.

“General Mother,” he sneered, although without malice.

“Oh boy, and here I thought you might actually be playing the nepotism card,” she drawled.

“We have much to discuss,” he said quickly, encouraged by the amusement on her face.

“Too much than what should be disclosed on a rickety old comm,” she agreed, “Which is why I believe a meeting is in order.”

---

Of course Claidi was not a fan of the meeting, and she was even less thrilled that it was to occur before their planned meeting with Ysanne.

Ben explained it as insurance. He would meet with the leader of the Resistance, General Leia, on her terms, in order to gain her support. When he returned, they would all make the trip to the Finalizer, where they would launch a surprise attack against Ysanne. Per his meeting with Leia, they should be backed up by Rebel Forces.

It wasn’t a perfect plan, and it certainly had its risks and loopholes as Claidi was quick to point out, but it was their best chance in what little time they had. According to Leia, there were already reports of an outbreak on Coruscant. If Ysanne gained control of that system’s resources, she would be a much more difficult foe to defeat.

“This is madness!” Claidi screamed, “This isn’t what we are! The principles of the First Order--”

“There is no First Order anymore,” Ben bellowed. He was losing his patience with her.

“Maybe not under you,” she taunted.

He took a step towards her, igniting his lightsaber. He would have no choice but to kill her if she refused to obey. She knew too much sensitive information about his meeting with Leia, and she was a liability. On top of that, she was making him look bad. The old Kylo Ren would easily strike her down, even if only as an example to the rest of his troops that he was not to be questioned.

She raised her blaster. This was not a fair fight.

Around them, Stormtroopers gazed on somberly. He sensed that her particular squadron was conflicted. Defer to their captain who had led them for years, or to the Supreme Leader who outranked all of them? Overall, he sensed a fear from everyone concerning his instability. He saw images of his own face, contorted with rage as he blindly ordered shots after shot on Luke during the battle on Crait.

He could lead his new troops by their fears, as he had done in the past. It didn’t seem like an appropriate way to go about convincing them to work with the Resistance.

She smiled smugly as he extinguished his saber. Her smile vanished as her blaster flew to his free hand.

“Now is not the time for this,” he remarked, “I gave everyone the chance to leave, and you made your choice. If we’re not united now, we will be picked off one by one from either side.”

Still scowling, she dipped her head in defeat. Around her, the others were looking at him somewhat incredulously. It wasn’t like him to not fly into a rage and attack. Maybe he had earned just a little bit of their respect. At the very least, he hoped they would think of him as more stable than when he was on Crait.

---

He wished he could see Rey through the Force before he would see her standing next to his mother. It was going to be a struggle to keep it together with both of them in front of him. He could only hope that Mitaka wouldn’t report any signs of weakness to the others.

He imagined that Rey would comfort him, as she had before he had led her to Snoke. She would tell him that everything was going to be alright, and that he was strong enough to do what needed to be done. She would reaffirm him of her support.

He needed her words to feel confident, so he settled for replaying what she had told him by the elevator.

I’ll help you.”

He repeated her words over and over in his head as he prepared himself. He realized that he should be rehearsing what he was going to say to Leia. She wouldn’t trust him, but he needed her help. He was beginning to think that he always had but was just now accepting it.

Mitaka found him moments before their scheduled departure.

“Excuse me, but it’s time to go now. The techs have the transport all ready.”

Ben’s heart leapt to his throat, and he could only nod and follow Mitaka. He wasn’t sure who he was more anxious to face.

---

Somehow he made it onto the transport, and somehow their transport loaded the coordinates given to them by the Resistance. He was feeling light-headed, so he left navigation to Mitaka and auto-pilot. If Mitaka noticed black spots swimming in front of his vision too, he didn’t say.

As he saw the other transport come into view, he was sure he was having a heart attack. His heartbeat was so loud and fast, surely Mitaka could hear it. He wouldn’t be surprised if the women on the other transport could hear it.

The two shuttles met, and a durasteel dock emerged from the transport of the Resistance. A tunnel was formed between the two ships. Troops were rarely transferred from one transport to another, but it was known to happen enough that most ships had the functionality for it. They were to meet in that tunnel.

The panel of the transport whooshed open to connect their ship to the other. With no walls between them, Ben could sense each of their Force signatures. Second thoughts clouded his mind.

Mitaka finished up at the controls, and then headed for the door expectantly. When he reached it, he looked back at the former Supreme Leader as if to remind him of their mission. Though he opened his mouth, he quickly shut it without saying anything and looked down at his feet. He waited for Ben to join him.

Ben managed to wrench himself from his dread and strode to meet Mitaka. He knew he was supposed to lead the way, and so he did. To his discomfort, he found them waiting for him in the tunnel.

“Hello, Kylo,” his mother greeted.

Rey was standing tall behind her, her shoulders square like a soldier. She stared him down as if he were a child caught eating sweets before dinner. He was too nervous to even think about beginning to approach her through the Force.

“General Leia,” he responded, a beat too late.

His mouth felt dry. He waited for her to take the next action and lead this meeting, as he was clearly incapable. He was barely fit to stop his eyes from darting back and forth between the women.

She seemed to take pity on him. “Well, as much as I’d love to stand around in this dim tunnel, I’m not as young as I used to be, and I’d rather take a load off. We’ve got a few spare seats on our transport, if you’re not opposed to the idea.”

Ben nodded dumbly.

“Thank you very much,” Mitaka supplied, as Ben had seemingly forgotten how to talk.

They followed the two women aboard the transport, which was as sparse and unadorned as their own. As Leia promised, there were a few seats and a table which they could gather around. Both Mitaka and Rey waited for their respective leaders to sit first before seating themselves.

Ben was now sitting across from his mother and next to Rey. If he wanted, he could reach out and touch either of them, but he firmly stamped that idea down. This was not the time for a tearful family reunion, or a…whatever kind of encounter he might have with Rey.

“So it seems we have a common enemy,” Leia said, getting right down to business.

She swiped her hand across the surface of the otherwise unassuming table, and it lit up as a holopad screen. With a few more taps, she had pulled up an image of Ysanne Isard. The Director’s cold blue eye and fiery red eye stared up at them menacingly.

“And I believe you proposed an alliance between your forces and ours,” she continued briskly, “So, with all of that being said, let’s get to planning.”

Chapter Text

Ben found it much easier to talk about strategies and facts, especially when he limited himself to staring mostly at the screen underneath his fingers. His mother was just as sharp as he remembered, and he was beginning to feel confident for the first time in ages. Every now and then, he allowed himself to surreptitiously glance at Rey. She noticed every time, of course, but he didn’t feel like his heart was going to pound a hole through his chest anymore.

“She’s not familiar with the Finalizer like we are, and we can use that to our advantage,” Ben was saying.

Then several things happened at once.

Leia put a hand to her chest as a voice from a concealed comm yelled, “Red alert, red alert!” The transport shuddered, and glass and lights exploded around them. There was a sickening sound of screeching durasteel, and a blast of icy cold enveloped them. Everyone lurched to the ground, thrown out of their chairs.

Ben struggled to pick himself up. From outside the viewport, he could see dozens of X-wings swarming the transport. But that didn’t make any sense. Why would the Resistance attack itself?

Leia was already up and at the controls, rescinding the tunnel that had connected her transport to Ben’s. She was frowning. Rey and Mitaka were getting to their feet as well.

Ben went to her side.

“What is it? What’s going on?” he shouted above the howling of the atmosphere leaking out of the transport. It was like they had been hit.

“We’ve been hit,” Leia confirmed as if reading his mind, “Looks like a ship jumped to lightspeed and crashed right into us.”

The words didn’t make any sense to Ben. Someone would have to manually override their ship’s systems in order to do something so stupid, and by doing so they were most likely signing their death certificate.

Mitaka and Rey joined them at the console.

“The impact has shorted the operating system, and something seems to be jamming the transfer bridge from retracting. First and foremost we’ll need to shut the door manually--”

She was cut off as a bolt grazed her cheek.

Everyone turned to look to the two intruders who had just boarded their transport.

Captain Claidi and Ysanne Isard.

Ben charged at them instantly, bringing his Lightsaber to life as he ran. Claidi shot at him with her blaster, but he blocked with his saber. Ysanne stood placidly behind Claidi, holding a simple crossbow.

More loud crashing erupted all around him. He heard the man from Leia’s comm yelling something, and Leia calling out to Rey and Mitaka. Rey was beside him in an instant, and suddenly he heard nothing at all.

Ysanne was shielding herself with Claidi, so Ben focused on her first. He should have killed her when he had the chance. Still, she was no match for him, and with Rey by his side, she was about as threatening as a splinter. As they advanced on her, the transport shook violently once again, and he was barely able to remain standing.

A loud crack sliced his ears from behind, along with the sound of more shattered glass. The lights all went dark, and he could only see by the glow of his saber.

The flooring beneath his feet buckled, like the transport was going to split in half. He dared a glance behind to see that the entire viewport had shattered, and it looked like another ship had crashed into it.

Anger surged through him, and he raced towards Ysanne, ignoring Claidi completely. He felt shots from her blaster hit his side, but the adrenaline running through his system kept the pain at bay. A simple swing of his Lightsaber and her body hit the floor.

Ysanne didn’t seem fazed and didn’t move.

Before he could blink, his vision went black and he was floating. The transport had torn apart, and his consciousness was fading fast. Before he totally lost himself, he felt a familiar warmth surrounding him.

His mother’s Force signature.

Desperately, he struggled to stay awake and in her glow. She was pulling him to her, and away from the dark void of space. It was all he could do to hold on to her – the woman he had pushed away for years.

His feet hit something solid, and he was released. The sudden removal of her support had him fall to the ground, but at least there was ground to fall on. Looking up and focusing on their surroundings, he recognized the interior of his own transport.

Mitaka was on the floor unconscious beside him, and Rey was at the controls.

“The engine is malfunctioning, I need to check it out!” she was screaming to Leia.

Leia, having ostensibly pulled them all to safety, nodded once in acknowledgment and then focused her energy to the gaping hole where the transfer bridge had previously been. She reached her hands out to the side, raising them until she laced her fingers together above her head. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and then began to press her hands down past her face. In front of her, a heavy durasteel door slammed shut, closing them off from the vacuum of space.

Ben forced himself up and dragged himself to the console, where thousands of alarms were going off. Rey had disappeared up the ladder that led to the engine room, so he could ignore that warning for now. He prioritized having the air reserves pump as much fresh air as possible into their chamber, as well as restoring pressure to the chamber. As each issue was resolved, the viewport cleared to reveal what was taking place outside. Wreckage of the TIE-fighters was strewn in front of their transport, and there were still some which were very obviously losing to the X-wings.

In a way that was a good thing, but the transport they were in was not built for combat. Ben tried to throw up the shields, but the console didn’t seem to be responding to his request. He hoped that this was a product of the mechanical issue that Rey was currently fixing, but in the meantime they would need cover.

He got on the comm and blindly started flipping through channels. It was unfortunate that they had ended up on his ship instead of the Resistance transport, which probably had Resistance contacts programmed into its comm.

“Mother,” he called, “What channels are the Resistance pilots using?”

He turned back to look at her and saw that her arms were raised above her head again. Her whole body seemed to be emanating a light so ethereal, Ben wasn’t sure if he was hallucinating. Awestruck, he stood there, paralyzed as she floated towards him – then past him to the console. As she drew nearer, he saw that even her eyes were ablaze with the same fire, and he felt an overwhelming pull towards her.

Only his eyes moved as he tracked her. She paused in front of the comm, and without moving her arms, he saw the channel indicator was changing. It finally settled, and he knew she had connected him to someone from the Resistance.

Finally, he unfroze and returned to the comm. Before he could send an outgoing call, debris from a nearby TIE-fighter explosion scattered towards the transport. With the speed it was going, and the mass of the chunk that was headed their way, Ben was sure there would be a direct impact. He was unsure if the transport would be able to handle that impact, especially without shields.

Panicking, he reached out to the Force to try and stop it, but his connection to the Force was too muddled and disoriented. The object was too big and coming too fast to track, and he couldn’t stop it. His fingers tapped at the controls, not because of some last ditch effort to program something, but because he was shaking that badly.

If anyone could pull off a miracle right now, Rey, please

But the miracle came from somewhere else. The flying detritus veered wildly away from the ship, like it was being roped in by the gravitational pull of some massive planet nearby. His relief was short lived, as a rising sense of dread consumed him. He looked at his mother desperately.

She was using too much of the Force. This is how Luke…

All he could do was get them to a safer position. He returned to the comm, and sent a request for communication to whatever channel Leia had chosen. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rey climbing down the ladder from the engine room. Before he could speak to her, the comm crackled to signify a successful connection.

“This is the First Order transport requesting cover from all sides. Shields are down. General Leia and Rey the Jedi are onboard,” Ben reported.

Silence, and then a sickeningly familiar voice answered him.

“Is this Kylo Ren?”

Poe Dameron. Of all the people Leia could have chosen, and it had to be him?

Luckily, Rey dashed up to the comm and took it over from there.

“Poe, is that you? It’s me, Rey. I’ve managed to get the engines up and running again, but I think the transport could really use a reconfiguration of the power system. But in order to do that, all systems would need to come offline, and we’d really need some cover in that case…”

“Alright, that’s no problem. I’m on my way. But you mind telling me the plan from there?”

Rey bit her lip and looked out of the viewport to do a quick scan of their surroundings.

“How many TIE-fighters are left?”

“Not many, maybe three or four stubborn ones. But they’re not up to their usual standards, that’s for sure. Maybe you should wait until we clear the area before doing that hard reset. It shouldn’t take long.”

“Alright. We’ll hold until your call. Once the reset is complete, I’m assuming we’ll be able to fly this thing back to base.”

“You think that’s a good idea with Captain Psycho onboard?” Poe asked dubiously.

“Yes,” Rey said firmly, “There’s a lot to be discussed later. Now is not the time.”

Poe seemed to accept this. “Roger. Wait for my signal, then.”

The comm cut to static.

Rey finally looked at Ben, then to Leia.

“What’s happening to her?” she asked.

“She’s using the Force to protect the transport. But she’s pushing herself too far…” Ben didn’t want to say what he was thinking, but Rey seemed to understand anyway.

“General, we have cover. You don’t need to shield the transport anymore. Can you hear me?”

Leia seemed indifferent to Rey’s words. The glowing mist around her maintained its transfixing shine.

Ben didn’t know what to do. His mother could be as stubborn as he was, and he hoped she wasn’t holding out until the shields were back up. He wasn’t even sure if she could stop at this point. He had never been so at one with the Force.

Frozen again, he watched Rey close her eyes and even her breathing. He felt her reaching out towards Leia through the Force, and he felt stupid for not thinking of it himself. He reached for her too, and the light around her began to dim.

As soon as the light went out, Leia collapsed. Ben was quick to catch her and lay her gently on the floor. She was still breathing and still solid in his arms. She was still there. The Force hadn’t claimed her…but something still felt off. He couldn’t pinpoint what it was, and he didn’t have the time or the clarity of mind to focus right now.

The comm buzzed from an incoming communication.

“All clear, Rey.”

Rey tore her eyes away from Leia to answer Poe. “Alright. I’ll do the manual reset now. If it doesn’t work, we’ll need a gravity tow back, so here’s hoping.”

She looked one more time at Ben and Leia, allowing herself one vulnerable moment before steeling herself and scrambling back to the ladder.

Ben felt useless once again. He tried to calm his breathing, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t focus, and there was so much fear in his heart. The Dark was calling to him, but even its familiarity was not a comfort. It was all he could do to hold his mother, as if he were holding her soul to her body.

He didn’t even notice that Mitaka had gotten up and approached him until the man spoke.

“Sir, what is going on?”

As soon as the words left his mouth, all of the lights on the transport went out.

“I’ll need you at the console when the lights come back on,” Ben ordered, trying to sound confident.

The fact was, he wasn’t sure what Mitaka should do. He wasn’t even sure what he was doing anymore.

Moments passed in cold silence.

Leia felt lighter in his arms.

“No…no, mother, please,” he whispered.

The lights snapped back on, and Rey scaled the ladder and met Mitaka at the controls. She took advantage of his consciousness and rattled off coordinates, allowing him to help her program the transport.

“Our systems are back online, and we’re headed back,” Rey shouted into the comm.

“Rey, wait. You’re taking a First Order ship back to base. With Kylo Ren aboard. I’m not so sure this is a good idea,” Poe responded, his voice stricken with panic.

Rey looked down at where Ben was cradling Leia in his arms. Her face blanched, and Ben didn’t want to guess why. He kept holding tightly to his mother, but he wouldn’t look at her anymore. The world around him was blurring.

“It’s an emergency!” Rey yelled, “General Leia’s life is on the line.”

Neither Poe nor any other X-wing pilots on the channel had any objections to that.

Chapter Text

The transport landed at the Resistance base on Zar En minutes later. The X-wing pilots had already informed those at camp what was happening, and so Dr. Kalonia and a Zar En medic were already awaiting their arrival. They were not, however, expecting Leia to be carried off the transport by Kylo Ren himself.

“She needs medical attention right away,” he screamed, his throat burning.

Resistance members that had gathered at the transport backed away at the sight of him. Even Dr. Kalonia took a step back.

Rey and Mitaka appeared behind him.

“Ben, this way, this is Dr. Kalonia. Come on, let’s get her to the sick bay.”

Ben, Mitaka, Dr. Kalonia, and the Zar En medic all followed Rey to the sick bay.

“Ben needs medical attention too,” Rey noted as they made their way, “He’s been shot by a blaster.”

“I can wait,” he growled, “See to Leia first.”

“There are plenty of medics to go around,” Rey admonished, shooting a frown at him.

“I’m not leaving her,” he countered.

Neither Dr. Kalonia nor the Zar En medic seemed to want to interrupt. They began examining Leia as soon as they reached the sick bay. Ben laid his mother down in one of the empty cots, but he would not let go of her hand. Around him, medics began hooking her up to various machines and monitors. He knew he was somewhat in their way, but he refused to let her go. It wouldn’t be like last time, when he had let go of her to be carted off with Luke. He couldn’t shake the feeling that if he let her go this time, it would be forever.

---

“We need to get boots on the ground in Coruscant and find out what’s going on,” Rey muttered, flipping through the channels of the comm.

“What we need is to not get ahead of ourselves,” Poe challenged, “We have the galaxy’s most heinous intergalactic terrorist in our sick bay, unfettered--”

“He’s not going to do anything,” she protested weakly.

“You don’t know him like I do, Rey. You don’t know what he’s capable of. He doesn’t have a shred of humanity left,” Poe spat. He grabbed the back of her chair and spun her around so that she was facing him.

She was not intimidated by him.

“It’s his mother, Poe,” she replied coldly, “You remember what it was like to lose yours.”

Though he tried to keep his expression unchanged, she saw the slight waver. Guilt curled around her heart.

“Rey,” Finn said, approaching the two of them in an attempt to diffuse the situation, “He’s extremely volatile. And Poe’s not wrong about his track record. We should focus on things here before figuring out how to help Coruscant.”

Rey was unhappy that they were right, so she said nothing.

Rose entered the console moments later.

“Admiral Statura is holding an emergency meeting in a few minutes. He’s going to be leading us…in the meantime,” she announced.

That was fast, Rey thought bitterly, but she didn’t say it. Realistically, Admiral Statura was a perfect candidate to lead them, and she wouldn’t have chosen anyone over him. The thought of losing Leia was hard for her to bear. First Han, then Luke, and now…

She wished she could be in the sick bay with Ben, but she didn’t trust herself to not lose it.

“She’s come back from worse,” Poe said, tapping the back of Rey’s chair, “She’ll be alright.”

Rose looked at her sympathetically.

---

“I’ll be frank,” Admiral Statura stated, not waiting for the side conversations to quiet down. “Leia’s status isn’t looking good, and we’re worried about how Kylo Ren may react if she doesn’t make it. Because of this, we’re going to need to get them far away from base. The best way to do this is to have a small team fly her to the healer in the mountains. Rey and Poe, you’ve already been there and you’re no strangers to piloting. Dr. Kalonia is working hard to keep Leia stable, but she doesn’t advise moving her from the sick bay in the Falcon. You two will fly her there, along with Kylo Ren.

“We’re going to keep Mitaka in custody here, unless Kylo Ren makes a fuss about it, in which case he can go with you. We want this to go as smoothly as possible. Once you are there, we will send more medics and supplies as needed. Communication will be extremely important through this process.

“As for Coruscant, we can’t just let this issue lapse. A small elite team led by Wexley will infiltrate the planet and do some preliminary reconnaissance. If the rumors are true, well…we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. As for the rest of us at base, we’re going to be preparing for an attack on Ysanne, and maybe for an attack on Thyferra.”

Rey was sitting on her hands as she watched Admiral Statura speak. She didn’t disagree with his plan, but she found it kind of insulting that he clearly viewed Ben as an emotional time bomb. It also suggested that he wasn’t very optimistic in Leia’s recovery, and Rey didn’t want to be anything but positive. He was reminding her to brace for the worst, but she wanted just one more minute of hope.

She also didn’t want to be separated from Finn and Rose at this time. Finn was just hitting his stride with training, and Rose still had to help her find those crystals! She made a mental note to tell them to come with the reinforcement medics if they could. She had a feeling that she was going to need them.

But she ultimately didn’t get the chance to speak to them before the meeting ended and she was whisked off by Poe. The next few moments went by in an automatic blur as she helped him prep the Millennium Falcon for takeoff. Of course, Poe designated her to inform Dr. Kalonia and Ben of what was about to happen.

Dr. Kalonia seemed like she was already aware of the plan, which Rey supposed wasn’t that surprising since she had obviously spoken with Admiral Statura before he had held the meeting. Ben gave no indication that he even heard her, but he didn’t react negatively either. Part of Rey was frustrated that he was ignoring her. There was more to it than that, but Rey didn’t have time to examine her feelings. As soon as she delivered the news, she quickly made her way back to the ship’s controls where she would be piloting with Poe.

“Ready when you are,” he said gruffly as he stared straight ahead through the viewport.

---

Maiathah, though warned by comm, was still a bit surprised when the Millennium Falcon landed in her back yard. Still, she was able to bring Leia inside her lab and analyze the problem within a few minutes.

“This cut on her cheek was from a bolt, wasn’t it? And there was a compound on the tip of that bolt. I recognize it from when I lived on Thyferra. It blocks the flow of the Force of the body. And considering she’s used a lot of her own life force, its inability to replenish itself has left her in a comatose state.”

Something in Rey’s mind clicked, but she decided to save it for later. Both Maiathah and Ysanne were from Thyferra…

“What does that mean? Can you heal her or not?” Ben demanded.

The bandage that had been haphazardly applied around his waist was soaked through with red, and halfway falling off of him. Nothing in his expression indicated that he noticed or cared.

Maiathah clenched her jaw at his abruptness. She swept her gaze along Leia’s still form as if estimating her chances. Then she sighed through her teeth.

“I will do my best.”

---

Rey and Poe waited idly in the kitchen while Maiathah and Felosial worked to save Leia. It was snowing heavily outside, and the wind was harsh and whipped thick clumps of wet snow against the windows. Rey vaguely remembered the last time she had been here that Maiathah had said something about how they had come at the perfect time, just before the frost. She was glad a second time for the serendipity of their first visit. Had they not stocked up on some of the medicinal plants then…would Maiathah have had enough to help Leia? Part of Rey was wondering if she would have enough now, or if there was some crucial ingredient which they had missed out on and was now dead beneath a pile of snow and hardened earth.

“How are they going to get other medics and supplies up here with this weather?” Poe mused, mostly to himself, “The Resistance doesn’t have ships that are cut out for this.”

“The Zar En used to be nomadic,” Rey recalled automatically, “Hopefully they can help us out in that area.”

Her voice seemed to pull him out of his daze of thoughts, and he looked at her and nodded. “Can’t help but hope they send some soldiers too.”

She knew he was talking about Ben, and she didn’t feel like arguing with him again. It was obvious that nothing would change his mind about Ben’s character, and his reasoning was valid.

“Maybe we should start making dinner now,” Poe suggested, changing the subject.

Rey agreed, and together they began preparing a meal. The repetitive tasks of cooking helped take her mind off the situation. Soon, only the sound of branches scraping the windows or the thud of snow piles sliding from the roof could distract her from the smell of spices and the warmth of the oven.

Earlier than expected, Maiathah, Felosial, and Ben trickled in from the lab.

“Oh, you’ve already started dinner! Thank you,” Maiathah said gratefully. She helped herself to a seat, and rested her elbows on the table; her head dipped low with exhaustion.

Even Felosial’s usual exuberance seemed dampened. “We’ve stabilized her, and we’re brewing something to unblock the chakra flow. It should be ready by tomorrow morning, and it’s supposed to work quickly.”

Poe checked on the status of the food in the oven, which still wasn’t ready, and then joined Maiathah and Felosial at the table. “We should be thanking you. You’re life savers.”

Felosial beamed, and even Maiathah seemed to brighten a little.

“Well, there isn’t a salve, sachet, or supplement from Thyferra that I’m not familiar with,” Maiathah concluded wryly.

Though Ben had entered the kitchen with them, Rey noticed that he had hung back near the door. Even now, he wasn’t approaching the table. He stayed in the corner silently, his eyes cast down. She didn’t feel that inviting him to the table would make him any more comfortable, so she left him to hang around in the shadows.

Poe on the other hand, was as boisterous as ever. “Are you serious? Do you know Ysanne Isard? Do you know what she was working on?”

Maiathah’s eyes flickered with recognition. “Sure, she took over the Bacta Cartel right before I came here. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s developed a super Bacta that can regenerate cells…achieve immortality? Isn’t that what power hungry villains always want?”

“Why don’t you fill her in, Ben?” Poe taunted.

In a mere second, Ben went from looking like a dejected schoolboy to the ruthless murderer that Poe insisted he was. He looked at Poe so coldly, so fiercely, that Rey stepped in between them. What on earth was Poe thinking to taunt him like this?

Ben took a step towards them, drawing his posture so that he was standing at full height. The air around him seemed to thicken, and the howling of the wind outside seemed to intensify. Rey stared straight into his eyes, trying to read what he was thinking, what his next action would be. Surprisingly, for someone usually terrible with hiding his emotions, Rey could not discern his intentions.

He wouldn’t meet her gaze. It was as if he were staring right through her with his eyes only trained on Poe. He reached into a pocket of his tunic and retrieved a small clear vial.

“I’ll begin with the cure.”

Chapter Text

Maiathah opened the vial gingerly, then dipped a thin wooden stick into its contents. When she removed the stick, it was coated with a thin layer of clear gel. She waved the stick in front of her face and sniffed the substance. Then she dragged one of her fingertips across the surface of the stick. She rubbed the gelatinous material between two of her fingers.

“This is just regular Bacta,” she determined, arching one of her eyebrows, “I highly doubt this is the cure to Ysanne’s super weapon.”

Ben scowled, but he didn’t look particularly surprised. Rey’s head was spinning with questions and answers. Ben had told her he had made a deal with a biochemical weapons dealer – Ysanne. He had said he was trying to take down some of the leaders within the First Order and failed. Ysanne had betrayed him, and that was how he had ended up marooned with only a small handful of troops. But as for how she had so easily seized power from him…maybe she hadn’t betrayed him. Maybe he had backed out on his end of the deal.

Poe’s smug grin made her feel both irritated and doubtful. She didn’t want him to be right about Ben, even if she already knew he was partially correct. She had thought that because she wasn’t afraid of the Dark, of his Darkness, that it couldn’t affect her. Frustratingly enough, that didn’t seem to be the case anymore.

She wanted to demand answers from him, but he beat her to it.

“Ysanne gave this to me, but I wasn’t confident that it was actually the cure. She gave me three vials that supposedly contained the strain itself, but I don’t know how real those were either.”

Maiathah looked interested. “Do you happen to have those with you as well?”

His frown deepened. “No…But I know where they are.”

“We have to go get them!” Rey cut in.

“Whoa there, Rey, we don’t even know that they’re real. And I don’t think Admiral Statura would be okay with us letting Kylo Ren go back to what remains of the First Order,” Poe piped up.

“The citizens of Coruscant are in danger!” she reminded him.

She gave him a fierce look. When had he become such a stickler for rules? Was he not the same Poe Dameron who had gone against direct orders to take out a dreadnought? Who had criticized Vice Admiral Holdo for not doing enough? Was his hatred of Ben that strong that he would rather do nothing?

Sensing the tension in the room, Maiathah got up and started for the oven.

“Dinner smells ready. Let’s eat, and then once we’re all a little calmer we can revisit this.”

---

Rey felt more centered after she had eaten but also much more exhausted. It was only because of her lack of energy that she agreed to putting off launching a rescue mission for the vials on Sepulch until tomorrow. She had settled for the agreed upon arrangement that they would contact Mitaka, whom Rey realized that Ben had been too distraught to notice had been left at base, and then contact the remaining troops on Sepulch.

Ben would have to go collect them and bring them back to base. It had to be him, because he was the last authority figure that they trusted who could convince them to come. Obviously, he couldn’t go without someone from the Resistance, and Poe made it clear that it wouldn’t be him. Being only option left, Rey would be accompanying him.

The thought of traveling alone with him made her stomach flip. Since their meeting on the transports, she hadn’t had the chance to directly communicate with him at all. She understood that a lot had happened quickly, and he was deeply concerned for his mother. She wasn’t sure if his focus on that lessened the pressure on herself or just built up more anxiety for what she might say to him when she had the chance.

She was no good with emotions, and she doubted she would be any better at comforting him. Not in this case, anyway. She had no idea what it was like to lose a parent that had actually loved and cared for her. And then there was this unspoken thing between them. The Force bond, and what it highlighted. Her…feelings…

It was making her uncomfortable just thinking about it.

She was grateful when it was finally time to go to bed. She followed Felosial up the stairs to the sleeping quarters, but paused when she heard heavy footsteps rushing up the stairs behind her. She turned to stare at a very annoyed Poe.

“Yes?” she yawned, unable to contain her sleepiness. She was also quite tired of how irritable he had been all day, especially in regards to how he rejected anything go smoothly that involved Ben.

“We have a problem,” he hissed through clenched teeth, “I am not sharing a room with that monster.”

Rey looked at the door to the quarters he had stayed in last time. It was basically identical to hers in that there were two beds and some other sparse furnishings. Rey hadn’t been in Felosial’s quarters, but for some reason she had imagined the girl had the room to herself. She had come to that conclusion the first night of her stay here when Arha had chosen to share a room with Rey.

“So...Are you saying he should share a room with me?” Rey asked. Her face felt hot, and she hoped that Poe wouldn’t notice.

His eyes flashed. “No! Of course not! I don’t trust him with me, let alone what he would do…no.”

“Are you suggesting we take turns sleeping?” Rey asked, bemused. The idea of ‘keeping watch’ while the other slept was outright ridiculous in her mind.

“No. I’m suggesting…well, either we could share quarters and Ben could have your quarters to himself, or we could ask Felosial if she would share her quarters with him, if she has the space.”

Rey felt her eyes roll, and she regretted it as she saw how her reaction further soured Poe’s expression. She couldn’t help but be out of patience with him though. He was making this into a much bigger deal than it needed to be!

She looked to Felosial’s door. “She’s probably already asleep. She had a long day working in the lab. Are we really going to wake her up or disturb her for this? She needs all the rest she can get in order to keep helping Leia…”

Just then, Rey heard footsteps on the stairs, and she turned to see Ben reaching the landing. He paused and looked from Poe to Rey and then back to Poe. He frowned.

“Is there a problem?”

Poe shook his head. “No, we just have to talk about some things for a minute. If you’re looking for your sleeping quarters, they’re through that door.”

Then, Poe grabbed Rey’s wrist in an attempt to pull her through the doorway of his quarters. She wrenched her arm away from him instinctively. For good measure, she added, “Get off me!”

Ben was beside her in an instant. Dark pulsed around him like the snow outside hitting the windows. “Don’t touch her,” he seethed, his voice low.

Rey pressed her lips together into a thin line as she stepped away from both of them. She didn’t need Poe to protect her from Ben, and she didn’t need Ben to protect her from Poe. She glared at both of them, not that they noticed due to the intense staring competition they seemed to be having with each other.

“Ben, I do need to talk to Poe in private for a minute.” She winced as she said the words, partially because she didn’t feel like having this conversation, and partially because she could feel Ben’s emotions.

Ben continued to stare at Poe murderously, but it was a front. She felt the cold slither of betrayal seep through his skin. He was wildly off base with his thoughts, and she reached to the Force to nudge a little Light his way. He stayed rooted to the ground, somehow withstanding the tempestuous mix of feelings on the inside.

“You’re free to go to your quarters,” she added.

“And I’m also free to stand here,” he countered, not looking at her.

Without saying anything else to him, she entered Poe’s quarters and shut the door behind her. Despite the wooden barrier between them, she could still very clearly sense Ben’s presence.

“What the hell was that?” Rey fired out, wheeling on Poe.

“I’d like to ask the same question,” he said, though the stern tone of his voice had lost a bit of edge to genuine puzzlement.

“You didn’t have to go grabbing my arm like that,” she scolded.

“I’m sorry, Rey,” Poe said finally. He exhaled slowly, softening the features of his face. “It’s a bit odd how he reacted though, don’t you think?”

She walked a thin line answering this question, and she couldn’t think of something so fast. Instead, she deflected. “It’s been a weird day for all of us.”

Poe seemed to understand. “I guess...”

“Anyway, I don’t think this needed to become such a big sodding circus! If you don’t want to share with Ben, that’s fine. If you remember correctly, I have bested him twice in combat, so you don’t need to worry about me--”

“That was different. If you’re asleep, your guard will be totally down. I hate to bring this up, but who knows what he would try--”

“So it’s not okay for us to share sleeping quarters, but it’s suddenly going to be okay that we’re on a ship together tomorrow, alone, for hours at a time?”

“Don’t take this as some kind of challenge. I just want you to be safe, okay? I know you can defend yourself just fine, but you have to agree this is different. You can’t be ready to defend yourself while you’re asleep, and you’re a beautiful woman--”

Rey’s stomach twisted.

“I get it. Okay? I…thank you for your concern, Poe,” Rey muttered quietly.

She turned his words over in her head, looking at the situation from his point of view. He didn’t know anything about her and Ben’s relationship. He hardly knew anything about Ben at all. Of course Ben wouldn’t do something as despicable as he was imagining, but he couldn’t know that.

“I’m just trying to look out for you is all. I know I can’t make any decisions for you,” he replied softly.

He caught her gaze and stared at her gently. The care behind his eyes made her a little uncomfortable, even though it was strictly platonic. People weren’t supposed to worry for or care about her. It was…weird and she didn’t want to burden anyone with that.

“Hey, that’s what friends are for,” he added.

She swallowed. Suddenly, she felt sad. He was right, maybe. Friendship shouldn’t be this hard for her to figure out, but thanks to her deadbeat parents…

She clenched her fists at her side and took a deep breath. She steadied herself. Felosial was just next door, and she had proven to be a good listener the last time Rey had vented about her parents. She…she supposed she could vent to Poe about them too, however now didn’t seem like an ideal time. If she came out of this room crying, she could only imagine what Ben would do to Poe…

“I’m sorry too, for losing my temper,” she conceded, “I’m going to ask Felosial if I can share with her.”

“Okay. Yeah, okay.” He nodded in agreement.

“Otherwise I guess I’ll be back here!” she tried to sound lighthearted, but didn’t quite achieve it. “Well, anyway. Goodnight, Poe.”

“Goodnight, Rey.”

She made her way out the door and closed it behind her. Ben hadn’t moved. Her eyes met his, and he gave her a long look. There were too many things he wanted to say to her, and she couldn’t catch them all.

“Tomorrow,” she said as if giving an explanation.

Tomorrow she would tell him about her conversation with Poe, if he still wanted to know. Tomorrow they would be alone together. Tomorrow they could talk.

“Tomorrow.” He repeated.

Chapter Text

Too soon it was morning, and too soon were they leaving the orbit of Zar En on course for Sepulch. Ben’s breakfast was barely settled in his stomach before he felt like he was about to lose it. There were countless things troubling him: his mother’s health, the reaction of the remaining troops on Sepulch to his presence, the reaction of those same troops to Rey’s presence, and Rey in general.

Ironically, Ben had no idea what to say to her now that they were actually together and actually alone. He busied himself with all the menial tasks necessary in flying a ship, and Rey did the same. Unfortunately, this greatly reduced the time it took to do all of those tasks, and they were just as soon sitting in silence monitoring the map and the autopilot system. All the while, he could feel Rey’s eyes on him, like he were her prey.

“So…” Rey began. She was a direct person. She might be beating around the bush for his sake, but he doubted it would last long. He also had noticed that every time he looked at her she seemed closer to him. Strange.

He wasn’t sure what this was like for her, but to him bit was much more intense being with her in person than when the Force connected them. He felt as though he could hear her eyelashes brushing against each other every time she blinked. He could feel every slight shift in her movement, and his mouth was dry as the desert she was from. He could even smell where she was, because the scents and odors of the Millennium Falcon were familiar childhood memories to him and she just stood out.

“I wanted to see you before the transport meeting with my mother, but the Force had other plans,” he decided on saying.

She looked surprised, like she hadn’t been expecting him to say that.

“Me too,” she agreed gently.

He felt himself melting in front of her. He couldn’t afford to be doing this right now. He had to focus on the mission, on looking like a solid stable individual for the remaining Stormtroopers. To be convincing enough to bring them back with them, and not have them disband or try and join Ysanne. He was barely holding himself together, and Rey could cut right through him. He couldn’t be open at a time like this.

There was silence as he didn’t respond. He didn’t want to go down this road with her, but he didn’t want to change the subject either.

“Ben.” She was touching his shoulder now.

He held his breath as he glanced down at her hand. His gaze was drawn up her arm, her shoulder, and finally to her face. Her brows were furrowed, harshly contrasted by her soft doe eyes. She was frowning.

“Your mother will be okay. I can’t say I’ve known many healers, medics, or doctors, but I know Maiathah. And I know the Force works in strange ways…”

The Dark seized him, and he stopped listening. His stomach felt full of cold stones, and he suddenly wanted to be very, very far away from her.

“Don’t be so fatalistic,” he struggled to choke out, “You’re saying if I had turned earlier that none of this would have happened to her. It’s my fault she…”

He couldn’t breathe. He felt like someone was force choking him, a sensation he hadn’t felt in years, and he briefly thought Snoke might have come back for him. He stumbled backwards out of Rey’s grasp, then fell to his knees. His whole body was burning. He felt like he was going to be sick. Pain darted from his gut through his chest and into his throat.

“Ben?” Rey asked, kneeling down next to him.

He fought to breathe at all, and the tiny labored gasps he was able to take were making him lightheaded. His chest was crushing all of the air out of him. He was going to die like this, by this mysterious ailment that had gripped him to so suddenly.

---

Rey checked the Force flow through Ben’s body, and found it normal. He seemed to be in so much pain, but she could not tell the source of it. He appeared to have no physical wounds or ailments, and she could not imagine he had been poisoned.

She placed her hand on his back, smoothing it up and down. He was hyperventilating, that much she could tell. As she probed at him with the Force again, she felt a swirl of fear. It felt like she was falling through the air, like she was in an X-wing that had been shot down. Like she had been standing, looking over the side of the cliff on Ahch-To and lost her balance. Like she was tumbling down a long dark tunnel, with wind pushing past her in a rush to get away from whatever she was falling towards.

It took her a second to separate herself from those feelings that so quickly latched onto her. She centered herself, and then reanalyzed the situation. Ben was leaning forward, his hands firmly pressed on the floor. She continued rubbing his back, and with her free hand she pushed hair that had fallen across his eyes away from his face.

His face was wet, and his eyes were watering. She couldn’t really call it crying because he seemed so far off that it was like he wasn’t entirely in control of his body.

“Ben, it’s okay. Hey, look at me, okay. I’m okay. You’re okay. You’re safe. You’re safe with me, Ben.”

She reached for one of his hands, and placed her hand on top of it. She ran her thumb over the back of his hand, keeping her grip loose.

“Breathe with me, okay? Deep breaths. As deep as you can. Follow my counting. One…two…”

She counted out the most basic Jedi breathing technique she knew. It was the first that she had learned, and according to Luke it was the first that every Jedi learned. She hoped the familiarity of it would reach Ben.

She counted and breathed and waited.

She felt helpless. She could not identify the source of his fear, and she felt guilty like she had somehow caused this. Had mentioning his mother set him off? She didn’t believe it was his fault that Leia had been hurt, and she wanted to tell him that, but she didn’t know if bringing up the subject again would only make things worse.

“Would some water help? I have my canteen…”

He reached for her canteen with his hand that wasn’t covered with hers. As he drank, awareness slowly seeped into his eyes. When he was finished, he stared dazedly at the leather covered flask for a long time.

Slowly, their pace of their breathing began to match. Ben sat up, and Rey continued with the meditation exercise.

When they finished, Rey stood up and stretched. Ben seemed to have regained his calm, and he stayed meditating. She glanced at the controls, wondering if she should check their progress. Before she could complete that thought, Ben broke the silence.

“Don’t go. Please…Stay with me.”

She sat back down next to him. His eyes were closed, and his hands were gathered in his lap, but as she settled into her own Sukhasana, he reached one hand to her. Without hesitating, she took his hand, and she was transported back to the vision she had seen on Ahch-To when they had first touched hands…

---

“Would it be better if you talked to them first and I waited here?” Rey asked.

Ben was still warm with shame from having been so openly vulnerable with her earlier. Now, he could see the question in her eyes of whether he was okay to go through with this. Strangely enough, he wasn’t worried about meeting with the soldiers. It was something he had done so often, that it would be effortless to slip back into the mindless role of a dictator barking orders. Even if he wasn’t that anymore, he knew he was going to lean on that familiarity.

“They know you’re coming and we’re arriving on the Millennium Falcon. There’s no point for subtlety now,” he drawled mirthlessly.

She eyed him carefully as they prepared to disembark, and he tried not to think about it. He tried not to think about anything because they didn’t have much time to get their message across and round up whatever troops were willing to join them. The officers of Sepulch had been quite alarmed to have Kylo Ren with Rey asking for entry to the planet.

The troops were already gathered by the landing pad as they touched down. After finalizing the landing, Rey wasted no time in gathering her things and making her way to the gangplank. Before she could exit, Ben had the sudden urge to call out to her.

“Wait!”

She turned and stared at him in a way that made him feel like she was seeing straight through his soul.

‘Thank you…for earlier.” He coughed.

If he had expected her to smile, she didn’t. Instead she only nodded gravely. “No problem…Are you ready?”

He nodded back, and together they exited the Falcon.

---

Ben didn’t have an impassioned speech to give, nor did he care about being convincing. Public speaking had never been his strong point, and for once his past failures did him a favor. No one seemed to notice how tired he sounded, and no one questioned the flat monotonous drone of his voice as he methodically listed out their situation and possible options.

As he was speaking, Rey was wandering around. They hadn’t really spoken about what she was going to do, and he wasn’t sure why he assumed she would just stay put and listen like another Stormtrooper. Even so, it made him anxious whenever she dipped out of his line of sight. He tried to reassure himself with the logic that of course she wouldn’t want to be left on Sepulch because there was no action here. Logic only confronted him with the fact that his years of abandonment issues were once again making an appearance.

He tried his best to let the fear go as it came to him. He quenched it with the dullness of his own speech. Though odd, at some point, it did help a bit. By the end, he was even feeling a bit sorry for subjecting these people to such boredom.

At the conclusion of his briefing, he observed the divide between the troops he had just addressed. As expected, Claidi’s former Stormtroopers stood together in a cluster. Those without their helmets looked uncomfortable or conflicted. On the other hand, the other Captains and their squads seemed nonchalant or accepting of Ben’s offer.

What he hadn’t expected was the consternation of the three techs. If he remembered correctly, the techs had seemed fairly excited to be leaving the First Order behind, going so far as to call it freedom.

After a final announcement of when he and Rey would be leaving, he made his way over to the group of techs. Surely they would be easier to win over then Claidi’s former troops. A dark part of him even thought about just killing her former troops – it would make things simpler.

“You three seem concerned,” he settled on saying to the group.

A man with a scar through a permanently shut eye spoke up. “We’re not sure the Resistance has a place for us.”

Ben turned this comment over in his mind. “The Resistance would be wary of using former First Order techs to work on their systems, you mean?”

The man shrugged. “Well, yes…”

Ben sighed. “The Stormtroopers will have the same issue. They won’t be trusted. But there are always low level tasks that need to be done, even if they aren’t specifically within your field.”

The tech looked a little sheepish, and he exchanged glances with the other two. They all seemed to know something that Ben didn’t.

“It’s just that…we were placed as techs because we were determined to be unfit as Stormtroopers. So, we’re not so sure how useful that makes us in the eyes of an organization like the Resistance, especially if we cannot carry out our usual specialized tech work.”

Ben suddenly felt Rey’s presence strongly behind him.

“The Resistance has a place for everybody,” she said, as she marched up by his side. “And if you don’t like it, we can always relocate you to somewhere safe.”

Ben noticed she was holding the strongbox that Ysanne had given him. How she had found it so quickly took him for a loop, and he was thoroughly stunned to the point where he could no longer think clearly. He excused himself to let Rey handle the rest of the conversation.

Chuan, Malla, and their troops were already breaking down camp and moving their things to the Falcon. Shallott and Min were standing around talking, but their troops seemed to be helping the effort. This left only Claidi’s troops off to the side, consulting among themselves. Ben didn’t trust himself to interact with them, so instead he boarded the Falcon to go over the flight controls he already knew by heart.

Chapter Text

It was snowing again when they arrived. Not heavy and thick like before but cold and wet and hard. Rey was the first to disembark, and she had to shield her face with her hand to protect it from the pelt of ice. She led the new recruits straight to Maiathah’s door and squinted up at the figure that came to meet her.

“Rey,” Arha greeted her calmly. If Rey didn’t know any better, she would say she even looked somewhat excited. “I’ll go get the others.”

Before Rey could even greet her back, Arha had already gone and retrieved Maiathah and Admiral Statura.

“Right on schedule,” Admiral Statura observed, “They’ll be staying in a nearby cottage with another healer. Maiathah will show them the way.”

Rey was confused about the sudden change in plans, so she skimmed his mind ever so lightly. She didn’t need to go that deep to sense his hatred of the former First Order troops, and his fear of keeping them near Leia. Rey supposed his fears were logical, and she knew there wouldn’t be enough space in Maiathah’s home anyway.

“I take it the reinforcements have arrived,” Rey noted.

She felt a pang of embarrassment from Admiral Statura. He felt guilty for leaving her out of the loop.

“I can brief you on everything once everyone is settled,” he said sympathetically.

Rey nodded, then turned to Maiathah. “I’ll escort them with you.”

Without many more words, the two of them set out leading the others through the fluffy powdered woods. Rey noticed there were a lot of tree branches on the ground that must have been broken in the last storm, and she was careful not to trip over any. She didn’t know how far the path would be, but from what Maiathah had told her before, she knew the healers had all lived quite close to each other. Still, her shoes were already wet, and her toes were icy. She would have to remember to ask for military grade boots later.

“We’re going to an old neighbor of mine, whom I suppose is once again just my neighbor. Her name is Yevelda, and she lives just up this way,” Maiathah offered, conversationally.

Rey was silent, as she was mostly focused on trudging through the heaps of snow without tripping over any buried debris. Still, she appreciated the information.

“It seems to me, the Zar En have decided to go back to their old ways. It’ll be nice to have company again,” she added.

A few minutes later, and they arrived at a similar looking stone cottage, guarded by tall evergreen trees, with smoke curling from the chimney. The door was flung open before they even reached the landing, and Rey was happy to see the tenant ushering them in towards the warmth.

As Rey and the troops filed into the warmth, she watched as Maiathah greeted the Zar En woman as if they were old friends.

Ben was the last to sweep through the door, and though he hadn’t touched it, the frame shuddered as the door closed. If Rey hadn’t already been shivering, she might have at the sight of him. His hair was dripping and blanketed with snow, and his face pallid and almost gray. He seemed quite miserable.

“Well, welcome!” Yevelda announced soon after the door was closed. “I am Yevelda, and you’ll be staying with me for now. We have some other boarders too, from the Resistance, as well as my apprentices, Dren and Sutha.”

Behind her, a young male and female Zar Enian stood shyly.

“They will show you to your quarters and bring you a change of clothes if you so need. I think it’s best if you get settled first, and then you can join us for dinner at eight sharp. Of course, feel free to leave your quarters and explore. I haven’t been here in years, so there’s not anything of value around. In fact, we have quite a few cobwebs in need of scouring…”

Rey gazed at the assembled troops, who were all still more or less clumped around their former captains. Those with Shallott and Min had discarded their Stormtrooper uniforms and were in their civvies. Chuan, Malla, and their troops were also wearing civvies, but had kept their uniforms in case they could be useful for infiltration later. Rey was impressed at how easily those squads had taken to being part of the Resistance. Only one Stormtrooper from Claidi’s squad had come with them, and though her helmet was off, the rest of her armor remained on.

Rey wondered how the other Resistance members might react.

She also wondered if Finn and Rose had arrived, and where they would be staying.

If the refugees had any complaints, they didn’t voice them. Instead they slowly dispersed, following either Dren or Sutha to what would be their chambers. Ben joined the group following Dren, and Rey wanted to stop him, but she didn’t know why. Instead she let him go.

“Well, I hate to say we’ve got to walk back in that snow, but…” Maiathah said lightly.

Rey sighed. She had just stopped shivering, and the thought of going back into the storm wasn’t exactly enticing.

“Oh, poor dear. You know, there might be an old speeder up at Lubash’s place. He would sometimes use it to gather items, he was quite old. It’s been sitting for years, so I doubt it works now, but maybe you could fix it up,” Yevelda offered.

Rey smiled in spite of herself. “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind. Maiathah will have to give me directions another time.”

A few goodbyes later, and they were back in the snow.

---

Arha wasn’t the only familiar face to have arrived at Maiathah’s house. Finn and Rose were gathered around the hearth, and despite her chilled bones and heavy exhaustion, Rey couldn’t help but to bound up to them excitedly.

“You’re here!” she cried, taking turns hugging each of them.

“As planned!” Rose exclaimed back.

“Glad you made it back safely. Poe had us all worried,” Finn said, his tone light. He nodded towards Poe, who was walking up to the group.

“Rey! Welcome back.” Poe grinned.

Rey scanned the smiling faces of her friends, and suddenly she felt a pang of sympathy for Ben. What was he doing right now? Did he have friends among the other ex-First Order members?

In the time she spaced out, Admiral Statura came up beside Poe. “Rey, I believe I owe you a briefing.”

While he did, Rey wasn’t feeling too keen on all this attention at once. Especially not when she was fighting to keep her eyes open. Inadvertently, she yawned.

“How about tomorrow?” Rose proposed to both Rey and Admiral Statura, “I’m sure Rey wants to get washed up and get some rest.”

Though Rey didn’t like missing out on information, she didn’t see the harm of waiting until morning. In fact, it might be better to hear the news with a clear head.

Rey and Admiral Statura agreed, and in what seemed like a few blinks of her eyes, Rey had bathed and put on fresh Resistance issued clothes. She made her way to the room she had previously shared with Arha, wondering whether her roommate would be Arha again or Rose. She tried not to think about how Ben had been the last to use this room. She tried not to imagine which of the two beds he had used.

As she entered her quarters, she saw Arha’s pack next to the bed she had previously occupied. The familiarity felt comfortable, and Rey let herself melt into her own bed. The sheets crunched around her as she put her weight on them, they smelled freshly washed.

She pulled the crinkling blankets up to her shoulders, and welcomed sleep. She had a feeling it would come easily to her tonight.

To her surprise, she didn’t feel the familiar falling sensation that usually preceded slumber. Instead she felt the Force plucking her consciousness and focusing it somewhere else. She opened her eyes to see the person she expected.

He was sitting on something, hunched over, his elbows on his knees, and his hands folded together. He was dressed in sleep clothes, so Rey assumed he was also preparing to go to bed.

Almost reluctant to leave the warm heavy cocoon of blanket around her, she hoisted herself up and crawled across the bed until she was sitting next to him. He turned his head to look at her, and he looked so tired.

But then he smiled.

She felt her heart skitter as he reached his hand to her cheek. Her heart fully stopped as he leaned forward and softly applied his lips to hers.

Was this the Force connection, or was she dreaming?

Apparently unable to speak, Rey held to him as long as she could. When they separated, he was still close, and he traced his fingers around the shell of her ear.

She felt so warm inside, and it was too soon when he began to fade away.

---

Yevelda’s home wasn’t any bigger than Maiathah’s, and with the number of former First Order troops plus the Resistance members who had already been stationed there, that meant that the sleeping quarters were stuffed to the brim. At dinner, Yevelda had explained that they would be moving some of the refugees to the home of another healer later. Whether this was a test of their loyalty or a way to split them up, Ben didn’t know nor did he really care.

The moment the Falcon had touched down on Zar En soil, he had reached out to find his mother’s life force. When he found it, exhaustion had hit him like a collapsing wall. He didn’t deserve it, but she was alive.

Though now technically without rank, Ben noticed how all of the former captains and only a few of their troops showed up for dinner. The troops stayed close to their former commanders, and everyone formerly of the First Order still deferred to him. He didn’t have the energy to argue when of course he was to get one of the few beds to sleep in.

When he saw Rey that night, he wanted to thank her for how she had comforted him through his panic on the Falcon. She hadn’t seen his vulnerability as a weakness. She was there for him in a way that no one else had ever been. He couldn’t think of the words to express how much he appreciated it, and when he saw her he couldn’t help but kiss her. It may not have been a sufficient thank you, but it left his heart aglow.

At breakfast, everyone was assigned tasks. Though the Resistance members and former Stormtroopers were used to following orders, Ben and the former captains were a little taken aback. Ben realized he would have to humble himself, even if that meant picking up branches that had fallen and chopping firewood. He couldn’t remember the last time he held an axe, and he could barely believe he was allowed to use one.

The suspicious glares from the Resistance members didn’t go unnoticed. He didn’t recognize any of the Resistance members here anyway, not that he had been keeping a mental catalog. He was sure a few of them hadn’t recognized him until others had informed them of his identity. He was almost glad he had worn that silly mask for so long. The more he separated himself from that image to these people, the easier it would be for everyone.

Certainly, he wanted to see his mother, but he understood why he wasn’t allowed. Feeling her presence through the Force was enough for him at the moment.

By night, the Force allowed him to see Rey. Because they were surrounded by others most of the time, they spent their time together in a comfortable silence. Occasionally, he would walk a bit into the woods, and though it was bitterly cold, their conversations were invaluable.

Chapter Text

“What I’ve managed to catch up on is that Coruscant has closed their borders to any incoming travel or imports period. All transportation is shut down, schools are closed, bodies are being burned, the whole nine yards.

“Maybe they have something planned. Maybe they don’t. But I’m almost certain there are Imperial spies still on that planet that helped to spread the disease in the first place. Still, the fact the borders are closed doesn’t give us the option to help them from the ground, which means our only option at this time is to take the fight to Ysanne.

“And while she may not have an army, and we have information about her ship, the best time to act will be after the antidote is formulated. Though we’ve just started that process, it’s never too early to start fortifying our own troops.”

Leia was alive, and conscious, and addressing them. For the rest of the Resistance members staying with other healers, she was being broadcasted via holopad. This was a great morale boost for everyone, Rey included.

When the official broadcast was over, Leia called on Rey. Though Rey had the urge to congratulate Leia for some reason, possibly for surviving, she knew Leia wouldn’t have any of that. As expected, Leia got straight to the point.

“There’s something on this planet that calls to me the way Luke’s lightsaber did. I have a feeling you know what I’m talking about.”

Rey just nodded dumbly. Though she had sensed the Kyber-like crystals a while back, and she had talked about it with Finn and Rose, she couldn’t recall whether or not she had informed Leia. She also had never thought that it could be her mission to go and find the source of that power. Maybe she had doubted that what she sensed was actually real…

“Excellent. I’ll be sending you and Finn to go find it.”

Rey paused. If Leia planned to send both of them together, why hadn’t she informed them both at once? Rey couldn’t help but to think it had something to do with the other Force user currently on the planet.

“Can Rose come too? She knows a bit about geology, and so it might be helpful.”

Leia broke eye contact with Rey.

“You may ask her to join you. However, I…I was wondering whether I should send Ben with you. He knows the entire process of how to make a Lightsaber…”

Rey waited, but Leia didn’t come to a conclusion. It was unlike her to be indecisive.

“What is your opinion?” she finally asked Rey.

Rey knew she couldn’t answer this question without bias. But Leia already knew that and was still asking her.

“I have no problem with it. Finn might. Rose…probably wouldn’t go with us then,” Rey settled on saying.

Leia seemed to accept this answer.

---

Later, Rey found herself in the lab. Finn would either be talking with Leia right now, or had just finished speaking with her. Rey didn’t really want to know his reaction to having Ben join them to look for Kyber crystals just yet. Once he knew, Rose would know soon after, and Rey didn’t particularly want to see her reaction either.

Maiathah and Felosial were working steadily in silence. Rey spied the small box she had delivered that contained the vials of the strain on one of the benches. The strain had already been extracted from each vial, and now Maiathah was working on analyzing it thoroughly.

While Rey was content with the calm quiet, Felosial seemed eager to fill the room with chatter.

“I heard you’re interested in old Lubash’s speeder. It hasn’t worked in years. He hasn’t been alive in years, so you can imagine how long ago that was!”

“It might make the transport of items a little easier, especially with all this snow,” Rey replied absentmindedly.

The convenience of a speeder was the last of her priorities right now. She doubted it would help her party get along, even if they found the crystals fairly quickly.

Ben was the only one of them who had learned from the Jedi how to make a lightsaber. That meant if they did find the crystals, they would have to follow his instructions. Rey couldn’t imagine Finn taking orders from Ben, and she couldn’t imagine Ben giving instructions in any way that didn’t come off like he was giving commands.

“Lubash lived pretty close to Yevelda, if you remember the way,” Felosial offered, “I’d show you the way, but I don’t think I’ll have any free time for a while. I could give you directions though. You could always stop at Yevelda’s to ask for more directions if you end up getting lost or something.”

“Worst comes to worst, I can draw you a map,” Maiathah quipped, not even looking up from the solution she was titrating.

Rey considered that fixing up the speeder might be a good distraction for her right now. She also had a slight hope that if she was going by Yevelda’s home, that she might see Ben at some point on her journey there or back.

She let her imagination wander further. She had wanted to see Ben through the Force one last time before their meeting in person on the transports with Leia and Mitaka. She hadn’t had that opportunity. If she, Ben, and Rose were going to look for Kyber crystals together, she would like to see him before their departure. And if she could do it without relying on their sporadic Force bond, in person, wouldn’t that be all the better?

“I’m pretty good with directions, I think you can just tell me and I’ll figure it out,” Rey said confidently.

---

When Ben had watched his mother’s broadcast earlier in the day, he couldn’t help but to skim the minds of the former Stormtroopers whom he knew had been trained to hate her. He wanted to know if any of that conditioning still remained. He didn’t know what he would do with that information when he found out, but he needed to know.

He was largely met with indifference, and he realized that not everyone was even paying attention. The lack of care was somewhat comforting because it meant they wouldn’t be a threat.

On the other hand, he found that some of Malla and Chuan’s troops were actually somewhat excited and inspired by the speech. He didn’t know why, but their ability to switch sides so easily made him uncomfortable. Either they were quick to turn, or they had been unhappy in the First Order for a long time. Both of these options didn’t sit well with him.

Since Yevelda’s home was still overcrowded, Ben had to go outside to find any kind of peace and quiet acceptable for meditation. He climbed into a tree, snow shaking off the branches as he ascended. It would be better to sit here than on the blanket of snow covering the ground.

He meditated and tried to ignore the wet coldness of some slush that had wormed its way into his shoes as he had walked to the tree. Likewise, he tried to ignore the sting of his hair as the wind whipped it across his face, or the way that the sunlight was reflecting so brilliantly into his face from the piles of woolly white beneath him.

It was here that he felt Rey’s presence, and he opened his eyes and turned his head to see her meditating next to him. She’d told him before that she liked to meditate during lunch, and he was a little relieved to see that she still kept with that practice. He didn’t want to disturb her, but she seemed to notice him in the way that he had noticed her.

She opened her eyes and gave him a small smile. His heart lurched so violently that he fell out of the tree.

She seemed surprised, then amused when she saw he was okay. She carried on as if nothing had happened, though her eyes held a wicked glint. He hoisted himself back into the tree, feeling warm with embarrassment.

“Did you see the broadcast this morning?” she asked.

“I managed to spare some time to watch it,” he answered sarcastically.

She rolled her eyes, but chuckled. Her smile made him feel like he might fall out of the tree again.

“Then you know it was a call to arms. That we’re beginning preparations to go up against Ysanne.”

She seemed so excited, but Rey wasn’t someone who took pleasure in fighting. He was curious as to what else she might tell him, and he might have pressed the issue if he wasn’t suddenly so enveloped with the need to be close to her. To hold her, to kiss her, to breathe her in. And though he had done these things, however fleeting before, the majority of his life experience as an outcast trying to be seen as a loner weighed him down. So it was as best he could do to not gape at her like a lovestruck tongue-tied fool. He sat on his hands and waited for her to continue.

She looked at him oddly, like she expected him to say something. When he didn’t, she continued.

“Well, anyway…Leia will be sending Finn and me, and possibly Rose, on a mission of sorts. And she told me she was thinking of having you come with us.”

Ben felt his face freeze. “What?”

He heard a faint buzzing sound in his head, and he wasn’t sure if it was just from the shock of the news or something else. He felt even more foolish when Rey looked behind her, distracted, as if she had heard it too.

“But, anyway, I can tell you about it later. I need you to be outside tomorrow morning, just after dawn. Can you manage?”

He found himself nodding, though he wasn’t entirely sure what he was agreeing to. The buzzing in his head grew louder.

“In the trees, far enough away from the house to been seen, but close enough so I can find you. Wait for me, please.”

The buzzing rose in volume to a strong crescendo that blurred his vision and vanquished her from his sight.

He leapt down from the tree, the light reflecting from the snow suddenly too bright for his eyes. If he had understood her correctly, they would be meeting in person tomorrow morning. After so long, finally.

---

Rey trudged through the thick layer of snow that had accumulated over night. The new standard issue Resistance winter uniform suited her much better for this terrain, though she was unfamiliar with the bulk and the way it inhibited her movements.

She had told Leia that she ought to fix the speeder up so that the Resistance could use it to gather materials while she and Finn and whoever else might be going were forging lightsabers.

Leia had granted her permission, and though she didn’t say it out loud, Rey had clearly heard her thinking, “You may also go and see Ben on your way.”

Rey didn’t want to discern whether that had been her imagination, or Leia communicating with her via the Force. For her own pride, she hoped it was the former.

Of course everyone and their brother wanted to join Rey on this excursion as well. Finn was worried for her safety in this weather, Poe figured he could help her navigate, and Rose was interested in seeing the old speeder itself. Even Arha offered to help guide her. She politely, but firmly, declined. And when that didn’t suffice, Leia happened to find temporary assignments for everyone.

Oh, it definitely had been a Force connection.

She marched through the snow, each step pressing any nervousness to see Ben beneath her heavy boots. They had seen each countless times through the Force bond, so why should this be any different? And much like the Force bond, she wouldn’t be able to stay long. She had a schedule to keep, even if her main priority had little to do with fixing up a speeder.

The sun had just risen, and the sky was a murky cloudy gray. The whole world felt bandaged into a silent snowy bubble. A light scattering of snowflakes gently made their way to join the gauzy floor. There was more peace in this small section of the forest than some people experienced in their entire lives, and Rey felt the Force within her surging like a second heartbeat.

She knew she was close when she passed Yevelda’s home, and she sensed him before she saw him. He waited for her, as she had asked. She made her way to where he was leaned against a tall barren tree. Of all the evergreen trees to choose from, and he had picked one of the few deciduous trees to stand against.

Her eyes met his, and he straightened up considerably. She found it funny, how it looked like he was about to shake her hand and invite her to discuss interplanetary politics over tea. However, she wouldn’t have minded if that were the case.

“Ben!” she greeted him, her breath visible as she spoke.

“Rey.” He seemed hesitant, but he finally stepped forward and took one of her hands. At first, he just rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb, as if he wasn’t expecting her to actually feel her there. When he was ostensibly satisfied that she was in fact physically present, he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed just above her knuckles.

If she weren’t already flushed from the trek to meet him, he surely would have noticed her turn red at that. She struggled to find words.

“Does it make sense to say that I missed you, even though I saw you yesterday?” As he lowered her hand from his mouth, she wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed him to her. She felt him curl around her in response.

“No, I know what you mean.”

She wished they had more time for this. Just to stay like this, together, enjoying each other’s company.

“Can we just have two minutes? No Resistance, no First Order, no Empire, no Rebellion, no Imperials. Two minutes of just…us?” Ben asked.

Rey couldn’t agree more.

Chapter Text

Two minutes wasn’t enough, but Ben wasn’t going to take this time for granted. He tried to memorize her weight against him, and how she smelled of earth and sunshine even in the dead of winter. He longed for the days where they would have hours upon hours to spend in each other’s company. To talk late at night, as the Force bond sometimes permitted, about their past or about their day. About their hopes and fears concerning the future. He would watch as she gained more skills and honed her abilities far past his capabilities. And he hoped that in turn, she would be able to witness him become a better person.

They would end this war, together.

But then, the two minutes was up, and she was the first to pull away. She kept her hands holding onto both of his, though. He felt comforted that she hadn’t yet let him go.

“There are powerful crystals on this planet. Kyber crystals, or maybe the equivalent. I noticed them a while ago, and General Leia just mentioned to me that she sensed them as well. She wants to send me and two other Resistance members to go find them. She was also considering sending you with us, since you had learned…how to make a lightsaber…”

Rey seemed very cautious at the end of her sentence for she knew that memories of Luke’s training still haunted him. Now, he tried to see the bigger picture of his time spent as a youngling.

“I would go, if she allows it,” he responded.

If it meant getting to spend more time with Rey, it wasn’t much of a choice.

When Rey didn’t react to this with immediate excitement, he felt a pit form in his stomach. He had to focus on their joined hands to keep his thoughts from spiraling to the familiar anxieties of rejection and abandonment.

“Rey…” His voice was soft and pleading. He wanted so badly that she accepted his decision.

“I’m worried because, of the two Resistance members that would be joining us, you know one of them. Finn, the Stormtrooper who defected. He’s also force sensitive…”

Ben remembered him well. He vividly recalled looking up, moments after watching his father sink to the depths below his feet, and seeing that traitor with Rey. His gut twisted as if to remind him of the rage he had felt. The irrational jealousy. And even more anger and frustration because the pain he sought to end was no more dulled.

He remembered fighting him in the forest – yes, the traitor could use a lightsaber, of course he was Force sensitive. And he had survived the fight, even though Ben was channeling his surplus of emotion in the only way he knew how, violence. They were fighting each other to the death, and Rey had saved them both. She had saved them all.

Now, Ben understood her concern, and his fears of her rejecting him diminished a little. Still, new fears cropped up in their place. Did this mean she would prefer to be off making lightsabers together with a defect?

“Would you rather go with him than me?” Ben asked quietly.

He was trying to slow down his thoughts. He focused on his breathing, and he knew Rey would recognize the method. But he needed to ask, just to be sure of her answer. Just to crush his doubts.

Rey furrowed her brow. “No, that’s not what this is about. I just don’t want you two at each other’s throats.”

He let her words sink to the deepest parts of him. He let the relief well up inside of him as his anxieties were momentarily quelled.

“There are plenty of things I would rather do with you. And only you,” Rey added, and she looked away and then pretended to cough.

If Ben didn’t know any better, he would think that her face was reddening for some other reason than the stinging of the wind. Her sudden coyness made something even deeper inside of him than his anxiety stir. He ignored that feeling for the moment.

“I have no reason to be hostile to him. We’re on the same side now,” he reasoned.

Rey looked at him, really looked at him, and he could feel himself shrinking under her gaze. He wasn’t particularly good at hiding his emotions in the first place, and Rey could slip past the boundaries of his mind as if they were nothing but water. On top of that, he didn’t need to hide anything from her.

“We didn’t get off to a great start. I don’t like him. But I don’t think I need to like him. I will do what’s in our best interest so that we can defeat Ysanne,” he explained.

But he still sensed doubt from Rey, and it hurt him.

“You explode and lash out. Your emotions get the best of you.” Her voice was soft, but deliberate. Like she was just trying to state facts without insulting him.

Ben swallowed. She wasn’t wrong, but he was working on it. The only way he was ever going to improve would be to keep putting himself in situations that would test him.

“You’ll help me.” It was both a statement and a question.

She looked a little surprised. “O-of course.”

“Then it’s only Finn you’ll need to worry about.” He smiled.

Slowly, the serious expression on her face disappeared and was replaced with a smile that matched his. She rolled her eyes. “Of course.”

She wore happiness so beautifully. Ben was enamored. He leaned down to kiss her mouth again. He cherished this moment they had together.

When they parted form the kiss, she was laughing.

“I will need to leave at some point, you know.” Her tone was overt with reluctance.

He smirked. “Two more minutes. Please.”

She grinned mischievously. “Let’s make it three.”

---

Rey spent half the morning fixing up the old speeder. Lubash had died years ago, but his apprentice had returned to their former abode. Rey didn’t catch the apprentice’s name, but they seemed quite mopey and asocial. Though, to their credit, they did help Rey find any supplies she needed for fixing up the speeder, and they didn’t care if she took it. Rey let them do their own thing while she worked.

When it was up and running to Rey’s standards, she said her thanks and goodbyes, and then was on her way back to Maiathah’s home. The trip was much shorter due to the speeder, and because she didn’t take any pit stops this time. She made it back in time for lunch, and then she and Finn headed out to train.

Finn was unusually quiet, and Rey wondered if Leia had told him of her plans. She assumed that if he had found out that he would want to discuss it with her. As they went through the forms, she found herself suspended in anticipation for this conversation.

When it didn’t happen, she tried to think of reasons he might be holding off. Perhaps he wanted to speak to both her and Rose at once. Maybe Leia had told him to keep it to himself? Was he waiting for her to bring it up first? But the longer she waited, the less she felt comfortable initiating the discussion.

“Hey, Rey, are you okay?”

Rey forced her attention back to the surface. Finn was looking at her with a concerned expression on his face.

“What?” she asked, her mind racing to catch up to the world around her. She had spaced out, hard, and ostensibly Finn had noticed.

“You just seem a little distracted,” he said, his voice light and kind.

Although Rey had run through countless scenarios of how she would initiate the conversation and what she would say, her imagination had not prepared her for what she actually ended up saying.

“Do you ever feel angry that your parents aren’t around to guide you or offer you some kind of advice? Like, not even memories from your childhood that you could use in the future when you really needed it?”

Finn looked about as surprised as Rey was to hear her say that. He didn’t respond right away, and he seemed to be processing her words thoroughly. When he finally replied, he was somber.

“Yeah.”

The air was dead all around them.

The white landscape and the silence seemed to stretch out endlessly in front of them. It was stifling. Not even the wind dared so much as a sigh.

Rey finally spoke up again, if only to cut through the heavy atmosphere that had settled around them. “It’s not fair.”

“It’s not.” He agreed.

“We didn’t deserve that!”

“We didn’t.”

Snow crunched as Rey crouched and then sat herself in the snow.

Finn came closer and sat down next to her. He leaned against her and their shoulders touched.

“At least we’ve got each other,” he noted.

Rey knew he wasn’t wrong. In the back of her mind, she held a hazy memory of Maz Kanata.

The belonging you seek is not behind you – it is ahead.

Rey considered all of the people back at camp who would easily lay down their lives for one another. She thought of Finn, and Poe, and Rose, and Leia. She thought of Arha, and Felosial, and Maiathah. Wexley, Admiral Statura, Admiral Holdo, Black Squadron. Gray Squadron. The Zar En people.

Ben.

The people she was connected to now gave her strength and focus. Not wanting to dwell on the sudden weirdness, Rey chided herself to get back on track.

“Sorry, I don’t know what came over me,” she explained.

“It’s okay, Rey. You don’t need to apologize. You can always talk to me…about anything. Especially our scumbag parents.” He made his voice lighthearted.

Rey smiled genuinely, but she was ready to change the subject.

“So, has General Leia told you of her plans for us?”

“You mean about the Kyber crystals? With Kylo Ren? Yeah, I heard.” He didn’t sound too pleased.

“What do you think?” Rey asked, keeping her voice neutral.

Finn laughed like the whole situation was ridiculous. In a way, it was.

“He tried to kill me, you know?”

Rey nodded gravely. She had thought that Finn would veto the idea. Even if he considered allowing Ben to go with them, she couldn’t imagine how they would get along civilly enough to complete the mission.

“So I was thinking, well what if we went out there, got the rocks, and came back and then he showed us how to craft with them back here. Surrounded by the Resistance army.

“But then I was like...I’m not the only person who doesn’t like the guy. And I’m not afraid of him. Maybe it’d be better to get him away from camp for a while, so the other Stormtroopers could have a better chance to…I don’t know, mix with everyone without being under his shadow?

“And if he wanted to hurt someone, or everyone, or even me in particular, the place wouldn’t really matter. So again, it would be best to get him away. Plus, we’ve taken him on before, and I have no doubt we could do it again.”

Rey waited for him to give a definitive answer, and as she did her gut swirled with hope and dread. It sounded like he was okay with the arrangement, and Rey suddenly wasn’t so sure this was a good idea. She hadn’t really ever interacted with Ben in front of others, and she wasn’t sure how she should. She also felt a surge of guilt for she had still yet to tell Finn about the Force bond she and Ben shared. She wanted to tell him before he found out, but she hadn’t made any progress in deciding how to mention that detail.

“So, I told her, ‘Bring it on!’ and so, I guess if you’re okay with it, then we’ll go,” he concluded.

“We make a good team,” she agreed, “By the way, about that thing you said earlier…that I could talk to you about anything…?”

Chapter Text

Rey woke up drenched in sweat from a particularly vivid and lascivious dream that had involved being wholly intimate with Ben. She wrenched herself out of bed, grabbed a handful of clean clothes, and headed for the refresher. Though she knew it had been just a dream, it had seemed so real, and she was considering the possibility that Ben had shared the same dream as her. She wasn’t sure the Force bond could work like that, and she also wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer.

She was so wrapped up in her musings that she entirely did not notice Rose pass by her in the hallway until Rose said something.

“Good morning, Rey!”

Rey yelped and inadvertently tossed the pile of clothes she had been holding. A sock landed on the top of Rose’s head.

“Oh, sorry to startle you!” she apologized, peeling the sock from her hair and holding it out for Rey.

Rey felt her face flush with heat. She could only hope Rose assumed it was due to clumsiness, and nothing else. She forced indecent images of Ben far, far down in her head.

She took the sock and gathered up the rest of her clothes. “No, it’s okay. I guess I was just still half-asleep,” Rey said, “I’m hoping that a nice brisk shower will help wake me up.”

Rose made a face. “Cold showers are the worst.”

Before Rey could make her leave, Rose looked around as if to check that the coast was clear. Then she put a hand to the side of her mouth, as if she didn’t want anyone to read her lips.

“So, Finn told me about the mission with Kylo Ren,” she whispered.

“Ben,” Rey corrected, before she could stop herself.

Rose looked confused.

“Uh, you know, why don’t we talk about this after I wash?” Rey asked quickly.

Rose nodded fiercely, then set her jaw. “Okay, but I just wanted you to know I’m coming with you!”

---

Three days later and Ben was marching through the snow with one of Yevelda’s waifish apprentices by his side. He thought this one was named Dren, but the boy hadn’t spoken since he had said his goodbyes to Yevelda. Ben supposed he could be tired or simply unenthusiastic about escorting someone through piles of snow before dawn. Had he been escorting anyone else, Ben thought those reasons might be the only reasons for the boy’s silence. But, he was escorting Ben Solo, the cold-blooded killer, and even if actions of the First Order hadn’t directly impacted planets so far on the outer rim, rumors did. That, and the other members of the Resistance looked at him in fear and disgust. Ben didn’t blame the boy for being careful with his words.

Earlier last evening, he had been instructed via holo by Leia on where he would meet the rest of his party. He expected her to tell him how to behave on the mission, or at least to emphasize the risk he was, the target she was putting on her back by letting him go, anything. Instead, she only gave brief, mechanical instructions on where they would meet and a rough timeline for the mission.

She had told him of the purpose and the importance of the mission in an earlier communication, but he had been expecting some sort of final advice. When she offered none, he assumed that she thought he wouldn’t listen to her anyway. He didn’t know how he felt about that.

They reached the rendezvous point first, which he came to realize because Dren had stopped walking and leaned against a tree. When Ben inquired if his assumptions were true, the boy nodded sullenly.

Ben clasped his hands together and stood stone still like he were guarding the path they came from. The wind lashed at them with the worst kind of stinging cold that only existed right before dawn. He felt sorry for the young apprentice, even though he was properly dressed for the weather. A half-formed apology was on his lips when he heard the sound of snow crunching.

Figures muddled by the trees and the dark drew closer until he could recognize the one holding their lantern. It was the traitor. He had known that the traitor would be joining them, and he had assured Rey that his presence would be immaterial to him. In fact, he had believed in his own heart that the traitor would be nothing but a nuisance separating him from being alone with Rey.

He was unprepared for the overwhelming surge of rage that ignited the second he saw the traitor’s face. He had not expected to feel the ghost of his father’s limp body weighing down in his arms before he fell. A gust of wind pelted his face with sandy fine particles of snow and ice, and suddenly he was back on Starkiller base.

All the breath left his body, and he could not gasp for more. His blood felt frozen in his veins, and every shadow and movement seemed intensified. His sense of hearing had heightened too, and he could hear the distinct footsteps of the two others behind the traitor. If his body hadn’t locked up, he would have moved into an offensive position. Every one of his muscles felt spring loaded, like if they got any closer he would snap.

A smaller woman appeared from behind the traitor, and it wasn’t Rey. Ben felt his teeth grinding together with apprehension, his jaw tight. He knew this wasn’t a trap, but he felt cornered. The two unfriendly faces drew nearer, and his head started to pound. Black spots began to swim up from the bottom of his eyes. As he leaned into the Dark building within him, a dull buzzing sound began to increase in volume.

Finally, Rey appeared. His feelings didn’t vanish instantly, if anything, they were made even worse. He was panicking, he realized, and this was possibly the worst time for this to happen. The realization seemed to grant him the ability to unfreeze, however, and he leaned against a tree and bent down and was sick.

The crunching sounds stopped, and they did not come any closer.

This would be easier if they had come to fight, he thought. He would have known what to do in that situation.

There were hushed murmurings, and then the traitor called out. “Are you alright?”

He wished it had been Rey to call out to him. He wondered why it hadn’t been her. Everything happening right now was terrifying, and nothing was really even happening.

He cleaned himself up as best he could with some fresh snow, then forced himself to straighten up. He manufactured a calm and nonchalant expression on his face.

“Not used to the food here yet,” he called back.

He could feel Rey’s aura –and the traitor’s– bombarding him with Force energy, and it wasn’t doing him any favors. He painfully dug his nails into the palms of his hands to stop himself from remembering how it was to be in Luke’s camp, surrounded by Force users.

“Excuse me,” he choked, then he swung himself behind the tree and sank to his knees, vomiting again.

In between bouts of retching, he heard Dren ask if he could go home now. The traitor told him that they had the situation under control, and then Ben heard the boy leaving. He wiped the sweat from his brow with a shaking hand. He was shivering.

He heard them talking and coming closer. His stomach was empty, but it kept trying to turn itself inside-out anyway. He didn’t know who he expected to pop around the tree, but it hadn’t been the small one.

“Hi, I’m Rose,” she said, politely but firmly, “I have some ginger root that may help settle your stomach.”

He took it from her, having nothing to lose. She flinched though they didn’t make contact.

“Are you fit to go with us? We can take you to get medical assistance,” she offered.

He chewed the ginger root slowly, not thrilled about its sharp taste. “I’ll be fine. I just need a moment.”

She nodded. “Do you have water?”

He gestured to the canteen slung around his body. It blended in with the rest of his wardrobe, all black. He had been given Resistance issued clothing, and luckily for him it had come in his favorite color.

“Good. That might help too…uh Kylo Ren. Kylo? Ren? What should I call you?”

He took another bite of the ginger. It made him anxious that Rey and the traitor were out of his sight, behind the tree. He wondered why they were hanging back. He wished Rey were the one talking to him instead of Rose.

“Ben,” he said tonelessly, “Or whatever. I don’t care at this point.”

He was beginning to feel less like gravity was pushing in on him from all angles. He started silently counting each of his breaths.

When at last he gathered himself enough to stand, he felt hollow. He shut himself to the Force, and let his face settle into a dead calm expression. He followed Rose back to where Finn and Rey were standing, their heads bowed in hushed discussion. Ben felt a very muted pang of jealously, but it was gone as quick as it came, like any feeling would be pushed through him by the merciless wind.

Rose tossed the remaining ginger root she had been holding to Finn, who returned it to his knapsack. Ben deduced that Finn would most likely be carrying the rest of the medical supplies, and wondered if the basic first-aid training he had received as a Stormtrooper was really what their party was going to rely on for this mission. He let the thought slip through him and drift away with the flurries of snow.

“He says he’s fit to go on,” Rose announced.

At once, Ben felt both Rey and Finn probing him with the Force, trying to determine his constitution. When Rey hit the barrier, she backed away immediately. He couldn’t tell anything else about her feelings towards it, since he had blocked himself off. Finn was more persistent, but ultimately gave up as well. The results of his assessment seemed to be that if Ben could put up and maintain this Force barrier, he would be able to go on.

“Are you sure?” Rey asked, finally speaking to him.

Ben took offense to her question. If she were so concerned, why hadn’t she been the one to bring him the ginger root? Why hadn’t she come over to check on him at all?

“Fine,” he replied tersely. He had tried to put the icy cold of the wind flowing through him into his voice, but hadn’t quite succeeded. He tried not to care.

She looked at him for a long time, not breaking eye contact until Finn piped up, “Well, let’s get going then.”

So, on they went.

Chapter Text

“We’ll need a lot of wood and tinder. Ben, would you care to join me?” Rey asked.

They were setting up camp for the night. Finn was making some progress with the tent, and Rose had gone to fill their canteens at a nearby spring.

Rey noticed how visibly tense Finn was. His shoulders were tight and drawn up, his face was pinched. Even without drawing on the Force, she had been feeling his emotional chaos in light of Ben’s presence all day. As she spoke, he seemed to coil tighter.

“I can go with you in a minute,” he insisted, “I’ve almost got this.”

“It’s fine, Finn. We won’t be long,” she assured him.

Despite his claims, the tent was not any closer to being set up than it had been before Rose had left. Rey had a sneaking suspicion that until Rose returned, the tent wouldn’t be looking anymore shapely.

She looked to Ben, who was sitting on the edge of what could be considered their camp. He had been sitting so still that snow had piled up on his shoulders and in his hair. At the mention of his name, his vacant stare vanished. He looked at her, but she could not read his face. His expression was so blank, it seemed unnatural.

For a moment, she worried that he would pretend that he hadn’t heard her. That he would make this difficult, refuse to go with her, and raise Finn’s defensiveness even more. Instead, after another beat, he stood and moved to join her.

She had trouble staying calm with how close he was, even if he wasn’t standing all that closely. She had trouble not bringing herself even closer to him.

Finn nodded with reluctant acceptance, and Rey felt a familiar buzzing in the back of her mind. She still didn’t know what it was, or if Finn even realized he was doing it. If he was doing it intentionally, he was doing a spectacular job looking nonchalant about it.

Though she was still a little uncertain that he would end up coming after them, she headed off with Ben following. As they made their way farther away from Finn, the buzzing diminished into nothing. She was poised to ask Ben about it, when he interrupted her thoughts.

“Why did Rose help me this morning?”

Rey paused in her stride and looked at him with bemusement.

“Because you needed help,” she answered.

He frowned and gave a huff of annoyance, which irritated her. Why couldn’t he be straightforward and ask what he really wanted to then?

“Do you mean why didn’t Finn help you, since he is carrying the medical supplies?” she tried.

He shook his head, which only confused her further. She looked at him expectantly, her eyebrows pinched together.

She felt something about his presence loosen.

“Why wasn’t it you?”

His voice was cold and accusing, but Rey could feel his hurt behind it. She took a deep breath and tried to be understanding. She tried to imagine things from his point of view. Then, she calmly tried to explain hers.

“You had some sort of barrier up, and I didn’t know how you were feeling. Finn, on the other hand, can’t put up that sort of barrier, and he was having some strong emotions when he saw you. I wanted to make sure he could keep it together. Having him give you the remedy didn’t seem in line with that plan, so it seemed like Rose would be the best candidate. Also, if we’re going to be traveling together, we should all get used to each other, and I had a feeling you would have a better chance with her.”

Ben broke eye contact to look at his feet. He considered her words, and his body relaxed a little more.

“Do you have that strong of a bond in the Force that you can soothe him?” he asked quietly.

Rey felt a weird slippery feeling in her chest that she immediately pushed down. “It’s not a Force bond, not like ours, anyway. I thought that all who are Force sensitive share some kind of…empathy, or intuition with each other? I haven’t met many Force sensitive people. I suspect you would know what I’m trying to describe more than I do.”

He drew in a big breath and let it out slowly. All tension left him, and as a result Rey felt less on edge.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized, his head still bowed.

Rey just nodded, then continued walking. She had her own insecurities that floated to the surface of her mind as if summoned.

You’re nothing. You come from nothing.”

The words haunted her, and she let them pierce through her. Now that he had opened himself to the Force again, she knew he would feel the hurt he had caused her. It wasn’t fair to use this against him, because he hadn’t meant it that way. She was letting her parents have control over her and her emotions, even now.

She cursed herself for their unending influence over her. Why couldn’t she let them go? Clearly they hadn’t given a second thought to her. And she had already talked through this with Felosial, Finn, and Poe. How long would she remain beholden to them, no more free than the small girl waiting on Jakku?

But not to me.”

He wouldn’t understand because his familial situation was completely different. She didn’t want to talk about this now. She wished she would never have to talk about them again.

“Rey?” he asked.

He could feel her pain, but he didn’t know the source. Of course, he wasn’t a mind reader.

“What are we?” she blurted suddenly.

She had plucked the thought from where it had been lurking in the back of her mind. Now that she had said it out loud, she wasn’t sure that this would be any easier of a conversational path.

She heard Ben stop walking behind her. The idea of turning to face him terrified her. She could feel her heart rising to her throat, bringing a strong beat of blood behind her face.

In front of her, the wind whipped snow and sleet into her eyes and across her cheeks. She stood against the freezing precipitation and tried to focus on the feel of the cold slush melting down her skin. She was a candle in her own puddle of wax.

“What’s between us…is it just the Force bond? When this is all over, what…”

She couldn’t finish the thought. She hated the way her voice sounded, how needy and dependent she was being. She hated that the greatest constant in her life was that the people she cared about most tended to leave her.

A heavy silence followed.

“What if the Force bond was created because of what’s between us?” he asked, his voice low.

She heard the shushing of snow as he came closer to her.

“Honestly, Force be damned. I’ve spent my life trying to figure it out. I’ve ignored it, I’ve appealed to the Light side, and then to the Dark. There or not, it can’t change how I feel. And if I haven’t made how I feel clear to you, then I’m sorry.”

He was right behind her. If she leaned back, she would be leaning against him. But she couldn’t do it because he had been making his feelings clear from the very beginning. She could see it in his eyes and feel it every time they touched, ever since the first time she had seen him remove his mask. At first it had sickened her. And now she was still sick because she couldn’t trust him – or anyone – not to leave her eventually.

If anyone was sending mixed signals, it was her. But the shape of her childhood was hard to grow out of. She would push him away again.

“Finn and Rose can’t know,” she whispered.

His hands rested on her shoulders. She felt so weak.

“This can be whatever we want. Whatever you want. What do you want, Rey?”

No words would leave her mouth. No words even formed in her head. All of the sudden, she felt like crying.

“I want you, Rey.”

She couldn’t hold it together anymore. Tears overflowed as she squeezed her eyes shut and gasped for air. It hurt to feel wanted because she was so afraid to be unwanted.

He turned her gently around to face him and pulled her into his chest. She sobbed and sobbed, trying to let everything go. Trying to feel how sturdy he was, and that he was there, and maybe that was all that mattered.

“I’m so scared,” she admitted between gulps of air.

He smoothed his fingers across her hair.

“Me too.”

He held fast, even after her shudders subsided and she stopped choking on her own mucus. He held her, even as she ground the palms of her hands against her eyes and wiped frozen tears from her eyelashes. He held her as her nose dripped on his cloak, and as she bombarded their Force bond with dizzy empty feelings.

He held her, and he was there.

Her breath evened, and she held him back. She let her surroundings come back to her, the crisp bite of the wind, the creaking crunches of the snow under her feet as she shifted her weight. The soft light of the sun muddled through a thick swaddle of clouds. Ben’s warmth.

The firewood they were supposed to be gathering.

“Damn it, we still need kindling,” she pointed out. The triteness of this problem in comparison to what she had just faced made her want to laugh.

“Well, at the rate Finn was putting that tent together, I think we still have plenty of time,” Ben quipped.

She felt so, so much lighter.

---

Somehow, Finn had managed to set up the tent. And somehow, they had all managed to build a fire and eat together in peace. Ben didn’t say much throughout the meal, partially because he was quiet in nature and partially because he had no clue what to say to these people.

The others were quiet too, probably unnerved by his presence. Though, he could tell that Finn and Rose were having a hard time not chattering away. Every time Rey asked one of them a question, about a thousand words fell out of their mouths like they had built up entire soliloquies in the three minutes of silence afforded to them.

After eating, they cleaned up and went about getting ready for the night. Ben tried to stay out of everyone’s way as much as possible, which left him idle and able to consider their sleeping arrangements.

There was only one tent that they were presumably going to share. They hadn’t discussed setting a watch throughout the night, and as far as Ben knew, there was no need to do so. While the tent was big enough for all four of them, space would be tight. Ben let himself wish that he would be shoulder to shoulder with Rey.

His hopes were dashed shortly after. Rey was the first to head to sleep. Ben didn’t want to seem too eager to follow her, so he decided to wait around a few minutes before washing and changing into his sleep clothes. When he returned to camp, Finn was already the second to have disappeared into the tent.

Rose was doing some last minute stretching near the mouth of the tent. As he approached, he noticed that she seemed to be dawdling. Had she been waiting for him?

“Hey, so…time to sleep now. We all gotta get up at the same time so it’s best if we all sleep now. I mean, we’re not keeping watch or anything.”

He nodded dumbly.

“Anyway, I’m kind of a light sleeper sometimes, so…uh. Don’t move around too much, I guess.”

Of course, she didn’t want the big bad Kylo Ren skulking around camp while the rest of them slept. But despite her obvious distrust in him, he didn’t feel offended.

“That all depends if you snore,” he remarked sarcastically.

She looked at him oddly; apparently surprised and suspicious that he was capable of making a joke. Eventually she appeared to decide that he was in fact capable of humor, and she cracked a smile.

“Right. No promises,” she said with a small grin, “Anyway, goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” he repeated, following her into the tent.

Rey was shoulder to shoulder with Finn, and both seemed to be dead asleep. Rose rolled her sleeping bag next to Finn’s other shoulder, which left Ben with the spot next to Rose. As he arranged his own sleeping bag, he counted his blessings that at least his other shoulder was against the tent wall.

Soft snoring filled the tent, but it wasn’t from Rose. Ben suspected it was from Finn, though he wouldn’t put it past Rey either.

He let exhaustion wrap around him like his sleeping bag, and he promptly fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Ben awoke first but pretended to remain asleep until someone else woke up. It would be easier this way, he didn’t want any suspicions about what he’d been doing around camp before anyone else had risen. Light was trickling in through the cracks in the flaps on the tent, and he was surprisingly warm and at peace.

It has been years since he had done something like this. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d shared a room with someone else, let alone the last time he’d gone camping. Flickers of his training as a youngling occupied his closed eyes. He couldn’t say he had felt any more comfortable back then than he did now, what with Luke’s obvious suspicions and the other younglings’ resentment of his heritage. He let the memories die down and focused on the Force around him. He could feel Rose’s energy, Finn’s, energy, and finally Rey’s energy right in a line.

Rose was the first to stir, and he pretended that her movement had woken him. She wasn’t sorry.

He followed her out of the tent and watched her stoke the embers of last night’s fire into a suitable blaze. She then started preparing breakfast, and he surprised both himself and her by asking if he could help. Though she didn’t look grateful about it, she didn’t turn down the free labor.

They were about halfway through cooking when Ben’s irrational fear and jealousy caught up with him and reminded him that Rey was still in the tent – alone – with the traitor. His eyes darted to the tent, and the sudden motion didn’t go unnoticed. Rose followed his gaze to the tent, then stared back at his face.

She narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips as if solving a particularly difficult riddle.

“I see you,” she said mysteriously.

Ben did not understand what she meant, so he didn’t respond. She didn’t pursue the topic, and he was glad. Already he was feeling kind of idiotic for being so insecure and possessive. Also, Finn and Rose weren’t supposed to know, and how could he muck that up already?

Soon, Rey joined them. Finn could only be summoned once the food was fully prepared. He emerged from the tent, shielding his eyes from the harsh glint of sunlight against the snow, and groaned.

“Damn. He’s still here? I was hoping that was just a nightmare,” he muttered, though there was no bite to his words. If Ben didn’t know any better, he might have thought Finn was joking instead of just sleepy.

Surprisingly, Rose came to his defense. “Well unlike someone, he did help me make breakfast!” Then she turned to Ben, her eyes sparkling mischievously. “Don’t worry though. I made sure he didn’t poison anything.”

Finn snorted with laughter while proceeding to stuff his face. Rey was smiling and similarly scarfing down her food. Ben found himself smiling in spite of himself, as he began to neatly eat his meal.

Since Finn was the last to rise, and hadn’t helped make breakfast, he was in charge of cleaning up. Ben did not offer to help.

“Before we pack up all our stuff, we should find a place to train and meditate,” Finn said to Rey, who was in the middle of packing up said stuff.

Ben wondered if he was to be included in this “training and meditating,” after all, he had the most experience out of all of them. The lack of so much as a glance from Finn, however, suggested otherwise. Although Ben didn’t like the idea of the two of them going off together, he kept quiet.

“Why don’t you just do it here?” Rose butted in, “It’s more efficient that way.”

Rey was right, Ben thought to himself, he was really starting to like this Rose.

Finn shrugged. “It needs to be quiet though. No distractions. It’s a Force thing…”

Rose squared her shoulders. “Anyone can meditate. You don’t need to be Force sensitive!”

Ben decided to help her. “She’s right. I’ve seen many younglings snore their way through their morning asanas.”

Rose looked at him with such fierce camaraderie, Ben thought she might march over and give him a high-five.

“Let’s just do it here, I’ve almost got all this packed up anyway,” Rey chimed in, “With more of us focusing on our path to the crystals, the way should become clearer.”

“What about sparring?” Finn challenged, and Ben could tell the haughtiness of his voice hadn’t been meant for Rey but for him.

To be honest, he wouldn’t mind a rematch with the traitor either.

“Not today,” Rey said firmly, for obvious reasons that no one was about to voice.

And that was how they all ended up circled around the ashes of their doused campfire in tranquil reflection. At least, for Ben, he felt at calm. He’d had years of practice of clearing his mind, and he could do it at the drop of a hat, even surrounded by former enemies. To his right, Rose seemed to be daydreaming, and to his left Rey seemed incredibly focused on staying focused. As Ben parsed his way through to Finn’s energy, he felt frustration and a dull buzz or hum that he had heard before. Ben didn’t try to go any deeper or figure out what it was, but he suspected it was some kind of block or mental barrier.

Ben found it comical how seriously Finn and Rey seemed to take all of this Force frippery. Finn, he supposed, had never met Luke Skywalker, and adored the exaggerated legends of the so-called galactic Jedi master. Rey, having not known him very long, was probably under the same impression. Ben was eager to tell them about the time when a certain group of younglings managed to sneak itching powder into their master’s robes, and how loudly he’d been yowling the rest of the day.

Nevertheless, he let these thoughts slip through him and fade. He could feel the presence of the crystals that they were after, even without really trying to seek out their energy. Though they didn’t have the same energy signal as the Kyber crystals he was used to, there was something similar. A powerful essence, dangerous and mystic.

Whatever ore it turned out to be, he was sure they could find some use for it.

---

That night went smoother, not that the first night had been particularly rough. At least this time, Ben knew what to expect. Rose seemed to have given up on refraining from talking during meals, and had no problem conversing with Rey and occasionally eliciting a response from Ben. Finn however was still reluctant to chat.

As the sun was beginning to set, Ben tried to think of some excuse so that he could be with Rey alone. By the time he had rejected his fifth idea, the others were already turning in for the night. Ben followed after, already devising a sixth plan which involved contacting Rey through their dreams. Though he knew it wouldn’t work, he did end up dreaming about her. They were painting a large mural on the side of a high-rise in Coruscant. It was summer, and every time Rey caught him looking at her, she would gently scold and dab paint on his face. His face was nearly a mural of its own when he was jolted awake.

Beside him, Rose had bolted straight upright and was hyperventilating.

“Rose?” he heard Rey call sleepily.

“Rose, are you alright?” Finn was next to ask, sounding more alarmed than asleep.

She took two great gulps of breath before stuttering out, “N-nightmare.”

Ben felt her get up and leave the tent, and then he felt more motion beside him. He pushed himself up, and watched as Finn and Rey were doing the same. Finn glared at him.

“Did you do something?” he snarled furiously.

Rey put her hand on his shoulder. “Finn, she said it was a nightmare. We should go check on her.”

Ben was offended at the accusation, and more annoyed at how quick Rey was to comfort Finn. The glare he was receiving from Finn only incensed him more. He had to get out of this small tent before he lost his cool.

“Well, someone should at least stoke the fire. It’s cold out,” he hissed, crawling out of his sleeping bag and exiting the tent.

The cold hit him like a slap, but he let the chill settle into his bones and quench his irritation. He focused on building up the fire, and the familiar routine allowed him an outlet. While he worked, he sensed Rey and Finn leave the tent and make their way to Rose, who was sitting too far from the fire to be in its glow; her knees curled into her chest and her head on her knees.

They talked in hushed and soothing tones until Ben had raised the fire enough so that its light reached past them. The same buzzing from earlier had begun in his head again, and along with his insufficient sleep, he was developing a headache.

He sat down by the fire and rubbed his eyes with his hands, hoping the pressure would ease some of the pain. It didn’t, and the buzzing only grew stronger and more irritating. After a few minutes, Rey joined him by the fire, leaving Finn to comfort Rose.

In a whisper he was sure that Finn wouldn’t hear, he asked her, “Do you hear that?”

She nodded. “It gets worse the closer you are to--” she flicked her eyes in Finn’s direction. “I don’t know what it is, but sometimes…”

The buzzing grew worse, so much worse that either Rey was unable to continue speaking or Ben was unable to keep listening. The buzzing intensified to a grinding, crushing, crackling, that rattled around inside his skull until at very last there was a slight ‘pop’ and the buzzing was gone entirely. He looked at Rey, who seemed to have experienced the same thing, and then to Finn and Rose who seemed to have experienced none of it.

And then, a wave of relief crashed down on him. He felt comforted and safe and valued. Under the crushing weight all of these warm fuzzy feelings, Ben felt, or rather, reasoned that he should have felt confused at this torrent of reassurance.

As he continued to stare at Finn and Rose, he also noticed that his hatred and jealously towards the man were muted and replaced with respect and some other hideously positive affection. And then it finally clicked. The mental block that Ben had sensed earlier in Finn’s mind was gone. Finn had unlocked a special ability with the Force, and it involved influencing emotions.

Whether Finn was aware of it or not, Ben couldn’t tell. He was definitely unskilled with it, given that his influence was radiating out to Ben and Rey as well as his intended recipient, Rose. But, the fact that Finn could reach them at all showed that he had a significant amount of raw power. Untrained, he could be dangerous.

Ben had only known one other person to use the Force in this way, his mother. Her spheres of influence were not solely based on political agendas, economics, and the usual diplomatic relations. She could read a room as soon as she stepped into it, and she had a mysterious way of charming others and convincing them to see things from her perspective. In the hand of someone immoral, this ability would be catastrophic. Maybe that was why his mother had used this tactic so sparingly.

As the calming warmth spread through him, he felt his eyelids grow heavy. His thoughts became muddled, and he struggled to focus. Beside him, Rey yawned, and Ben shared in her sentiment. He stood from the fire and headed back to the tent. His Resistance issued sleeping bag never looked more appealing.

Rey dropped onto the sleeping bag next to his, which he was fairly certain still belonged to Rose. He wondered if the wave of calmness and safety that they had been swept under was lowering her inhibitions.

“Finn will probably insist that Rose move. Like you gave her nightmares or something. It’s for the best we switch, so he doesn’t bite your head off,” she explained, but her voice sounded far off and dreamy.

Ben smiled stupidly. He should feel insulted that the traitor would be so ridiculous, or he should feel jealous that Rey knew the traitor so well that she could predict how he would act. But, he just felt agreeable, and he settled into his sleeping bag without protest. After all, he could now sleep curled up next to Rey.

Chapter Text

They were close, so close that it was making Ben feel itchy. He wished that they could just push on all day, but Rose had insisted that they stop for lunch. And as soon as Ben had voiced his opinion to forego sustenance, Finn of course doubled down on his decision to support Rose.

Ben hadn’t had the chance to talk to Rey alone since last night, and he really wanted to ask her what she knew of Finn’s abilities. At the present moment, it seemed like he wouldn’t get that chance anytime soon. Apparently Finn and Rey were also feeling fidgety because of their close proximity to the crystals, and they had taken off quickly after eating to stock up on some supply or another. Ben suspected that they might be practicing sparring, but he didn’t feel like investigating the issue.

Instead, he was picking at the remains of his lunch while desperately trying to block out the itch. Across from him, Rose was perched on the branch of a short and stubby tree. She was finishing off some type of purple fruit that exploded with juice and seeds each time she bit into it. Her chin and fingers were purple with flecks of black seeds here and there.

He realized that she was staring at him quite intensely.

“You’re in love with her,” she accused him suddenly, in between bites of purple mush.

“What?!” Ben immediately responded, flustered.

She finished the fruit, spat the remaining seeds on the ground, and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. “With Rey, obviously.” She rolled her eyes, as if it were in fact that obvious.

Finn and Rose can’t know, Rey had told him. Well if Rose already knew, was he supposed to deny it?

“What?” he asked again, unsure of how to react.

“I know a kindred spirit when I see one. You look at her like there’s no one else,” Rose stated matter-of-factly.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ben huffed. It wasn’t exactly a lie. Ben was repulsed at the idea of him floating after Rey like a moony-eyed puppy begging for scraps.

“Finn told me about the Force bond you have with her. You can see each other sometimes, when you’re apart. I’m guessing that had something to do with it.”

“That’s none of your business!” Ben snapped, rising to his feet.

He felt betrayed and humiliated. Why would Rey tell Finn about their Force bond? How much had she told Finn? And why? Finn and Rose weren’t supposed to know about them, but their bond was fair game?

Cold tendrils of fear slithered through his veins. Was she simply playing him?

Darkness pooled around him, and he was irritated at how quickly it came to his comfort.

Rose seemed unaware of the danger she had placed herself in by provoking him. She gave him a look that he came to realize was wistful.

“It’s okay. I like Finn, but obviously he doesn’t have a clue,” she continued.

Ben’s temper died back and was replaced by a clammy awkward feeling. Of the few people he could have considered to be his friends throughout his childhood and adolescence, none of them had ever been the type to talk about positive emotions let alone crushes and romance or whatever this was. Only rage and hatred and resentment. Looking back now, he really had been an insufferable teenager…

“It’s not like that. It’s complicated,” he muttered, looking around as if he could find a physical path to escape this conversation.

He was not that fortunate.

“Yeah, complicated. I know that,” Rose sighed, and she leaped down from the tree.

She started packing away their things, keeping her hands busy. It seemed like she had upset herself, and Ben had no idea what to say, so he just joined her in getting things ready to leave.

She doused the small fire that had been used for cooking, then turned to him again. “You know, thanks for last night. I’m glad someone had the sense to stoke the fire. It was freezing.”

“Not a problem,” he replied cordially. He almost followed up by asking her what Finn had said to her, and if she had noticed anything unusual about the calmness that had settled over her. The words died on his lips. He didn’t want to stay on topics that were upsetting to her.

But she seemed to sense that he was hesitating to ask something. “It was about my sister. She died attacking your dreadnought.”

Ben had killed numerous beings, and if he factored in the number of attacks he’d ordered, the raids he’d led, the temple he burned…he lost the ability to fathom how many lives he was responsible for. It wasn’t as if he was without guilt, but it was never personal. They had been necessary for the cause he so blindly had supported. The worst death had always been his father’s, but even that didn’t have the same impact.

“Her name was Paige,” Rose added, relentless.

Ben bowed his head. “I’m sorry.”

He knew it wasn’t enough, and it never would be. Even now, he knew he couldn’t begin to imagine all of the damage he had done. He would never be able to redeem himself, but that didn’t mean his words and actions now were meaningless.

Though he would usually dwell in the Dark that had manifested from his negative emotions, he now felt irritated by its presence. He pushed it away, feeling restless. Maybe it was the itch of the crystals that were so close, or maybe he was somewhat closer to admitting to himself that he wasn’t simply a creature in a mask.

“Thank you.”

She hugged him.

---

They were so close now, Rey’s skin was tingling. She wanted to break into a run, but she knew the rucksack on her back would hinder her. She’d felt this kind of pull twice before now. Once, with Luke’s saber. The second time had been when she had been drawn to the library on Ahch-To. Now, whatever this was, the Force was undeniably leading them closer.

“This planet is so empty. I know it’s in the Outer Rim and all, but even the native population is limited to one species. It’s so…weird. This place seems to have a lot of resources,” Rose mused.

Rey had wondered something similar before, but she hadn’t ever asked. From what she had learned from Maiathah and Felosial, this planet had been at war with others, even Thyferra. It wasn’t like the planet or its resources were a secret.

Ben spoke up. “Most of the resources this planet has are common and more easily accessible elsewhere. No system is going to make its way all the way out here because it wouldn’t be worth the trip. Though plentiful for the inhabitants here, the amount of resources wouldn’t be significant to any system capable of making the trip.

“There was one specific medicinal plant that was unique to this planet, but a scuffle between a neighboring planet wiped it out. The planet is unremarkable otherwise. As for the small population of the native beings, ancient texts have always described it to be that way.”

Rey was taken aback by his extensive knowledge on this ‘otherwise unremarkable planet.’ Apparently Rose was too.

“How do you know all of that?” she asked incredulously.

“It’s just something I was taught in my lessons,” he replied.

Rey thought about her life on Jakku, and how she had taught herself most things. Reading, building, salvaging. Other languages. Patience. Self-defense. Ben had been taught all of those things by mentors or teachers. His parents were diplomats, and his uncle was a legendary Jedi. He must have grown up with an excellent education.

Yet Rey didn’t feel jealous. Something must have been missing for him to turn so completely to the Dark. She had felt the pain and the torment and the loneliness in his heart.

“We didn’t have history as part of Stormtrooper curriculum,” Finn spat.

Something was off about him. He had been on edge all day. Rey wondered if it was the call of the crystals that had him so keyed up, or if it had something to do with him unlocking his ability to use the Force last night. She’d tried to figure it out all day, she had even sparred with him to burn off some of that nervous energy.

But even now, she still didn’t know.

She wished she could talk to Ben about it alone. In fact, there were a lot of things she wished she could talk to Ben about alone. Now that he was traveling with her, their Force bond had been made redundant. Still, she missed the private moments with him.

Rose and Ben seemed to be getting along well, and Rey was glad for that. However, when she and Finn had returned to camp earlier and found all of their things already packed, there had been a somber tone in the atmosphere. Ben had avoided meeting her eyes, and his mind had been closed to her.

She wanted to manufacture some moment where they could be alone together so that she could ask him about it. However, part of her wondered if he was just jealous that she had been out with Finn for so long. The thought irritated her, but she tried to ignore it.

In any case, the mission had to come first.

When they reached the mouth of the cave, Rey couldn’t stop herself from dropping her pack and running through the dim cavern. Though the mouth of the cave was wide, and the entrance was roomy, the back narrowed to a tunnel. She followed its twisting path through another open chamber to a wall. Here it was completely pitch black, but she didn’t need her vision.

She reached out and touched the wall, which seemed to have a heartbeat of its own. Behind the earth, she could feel the ore singing out to her.

Behind her, the others approached with torches.

“Whoa, it’s here,” Finn said, sounding breathless.

Ben came up next to her, the light from his torch flickering against her. He put his hand to the wall and closed his eyes. Her hand still on the wall, Rey could feel his energy radiating out through the earth. The itch in her mind to find the crystals dissolved, and in its place rose the urge to move closer to him.

She let her hand trail along the wall so that it was just a palm’s difference away from his. He did not move.

“We’ll have to excavate it,” he said to everyone.

Behind them, Rey heard Rose drop her rucksack.

“Guess it’s my time to shine.”

Chapter Text

Rey was wondering how long it would take to sift enough crystal shards from the excavated earth to form any kind of ignitable weapon, when Rose gave an excited squeal and doubled the speed at which she was working her pickaxe.

Looking at the few shards she had accrued so far, Rey was hoping that Rose’s excitement indicated that she had found a bigger deposit of the mysterious gems. Then, out of her peripheral vision, she saw Rose disappear into the wall.

Fully intrigued, she looked over to where Rose had been working. There was a hole in the earth that led to a dimly lit hollow space.

“You have to see this!” Rose exclaimed from inside the cavern.

Rey watched as Finn crammed himself through the rough opening.

“Whoa.”

Rey couldn’t see around him, so she waited for him to get out of the way. She noticed Ben, who seemed to be waiting for her to go in after Finn. The light from the torches they had scattered about cast long shadows across his face. Her body urged her to move towards him instead of the discovery.

“Do you know what this is?” she asked.

“I have a feeling,” he said cryptically.

He was still being distant with her, and she was dying to know why.

“After you,” he prompted, when she still hadn’t moved or stopped staring at him.

She followed the sounds of Rose’s and Finn’s voices and entered the cove. As she squeezed through the gap, an overwhelming feeling of Force energy bombarded her senses. It was as drastic as stepping from inside a shaded underground lookout into the blinding desert sun, and she felt dizzy taking it in all at once.

From where they had entered, the ground sloped down into a small pool that was coated in a thin layer of ice. All around them, the walls of the cave stretched tall until they melded with leaves and foliage that mostly blocked the sky. Beginning in the pool and reaching up along the earthen walls behind them grew several large impossibly clear crystals. Rey might have mistaken them for icicles or huge shards of ice, but they seemed to be emitting a dull glow.

This was what had been calling to Rey. The way the crystals cascaded against each other down the wall reminded her of the waterfall where she had first sensed this place.

She felt Ben enter the space.

“This is a sacred place,” he said lowly, “We should show our respect.”

He walked to the pond’s edge and sat in sukhasana. He began to meditate.

Surprisingly, without argument, Finn joined him.

Rose shared a glance with Rey before they too joined in.

---

Without protest, Ben took the initiative to guide them on choosing which crystal called to them and how to harvest the crystals. Although Rey was ecstatic to finally be doing this – building her very own lightsaber – she also couldn’t help but be hyper-aware of everything Ben was doing.

It was the intensity of this place, she thought to herself. Everything seemed so amplified it was almost surreal. She sat perched on the edge of the pond near the walls coated in crystals, and she smoothed her hand over the thin coating of ice on the water’s surface. She could feel it melting under her touch, and as it did she felt something from under the water tug at her mind. She kept her eyes on Ben, who was explaining something to Rose, but she let the Force guide her.

Rey hadn’t thought of what Rose would do during this part of their mission. She wasn’t Force sensitive, so she couldn’t use any of the crystals. She seemed a bit bummed out about it, but Ben was telling her about caretakers or ancient people who had worn the crystals for luck and protection. He seemed to be cheering her up a bit. Rey was happy to see them getting along so well and maybe a tad bit jealous, if she was being honest with herself.

But all of her thoughts were brushed away when she felt that tugging sensation in her mind yank hard. She pushed her hand through the slushy surface of the pond, reaching until her entire forearm was submerged in water. Her hand brushed mossy plant debris and mud. Her fingers were drawn to what felt like a smooth round stone that was wedged in the mud. She pulled it free easily, and withdrew her arm from the icy water.

The clear crystal gleamed at her as she pulled it closer to her face. It was about half the size of her palm, and oblong in shape. As she looked through it, she saw a myriad of colors flow through its glass-like surface as if it were a prism. Though she had just pulled the stone out of the depths of a partially frozen pond, the crystal felt warm in her palm. The longer she held onto it, the more she could feel its warmth slipping into her body and belonging.

---

For the rest of the day, Rey could not stop looking to Ben. As she was helping Rose set up her foundry, Ben was helping Finn to chisel off a chunk of crystal. Finn was quiet, but patiently listening to Ben’s suggestions. For once, they seemed to be getting along.

Rose was whittling down some tree branches into planks, and then notching the planks together by their wooden joints. Somehow she had managed to form several thin rectangular shapes that would be used for casting. She had then tossed Rey her knife and asked her to start designing the hilt of her saber out of another tree branch. Rey hadn’t planned what she wanted to make, but as she worked the wood in her hands, the shape came naturally to her.

When Rey was done, Rose took the shaped object and began preparing to cast Rey’s lightsaber hilt.

Rose was fastidious with each step. Her eyes didn’t move from her work. Her focus remained unbroken, even as Finn finally freed the shard of crystal he’d been chiseling at for the past hour or so and gave an excited whoop.

Finally, Rose took scraps of durasteel and fine slivers of crystal and set them in a crucible which she placed in her foundry. She wiped the sweat from the back of her forehead and smiled at Rey.

“I feel like I haven’t been helping enough,” Rey breathed, astonished at the work Rose had done.

The eagerness to have her saber completed was making her giddy and anxious and impatient. She kept running her thumb over the smooth crystal that she had been holding ever since she first retrieved it.

“It’s fine. I come from a mining planet, so this is all pretty second nature to me,” Rose said as she took a moment to catch her breath while the foundry heated and melted the durasteel.

Rey could see memories swimming across Rose’s eyes. Part of her wanted to ask if Rose would ever go back, but she wasn’t sure it was an appropriate question. She’d never directly spoken to Rose about her system, or her planet, or her family, but she had heard how Rose’s sister had died in the attack on the First Order’s dreadnought. She didn’t want to reopen old wounds.

As if Rose had read her mind, she pulled out a medallion from under her heavy cloak.

“I wish Pae-Pae could see this place. It’s beautiful,” she lamented.

Rey couldn’t agree more. She couldn’t think of a more suited place to find sacred energy crystals. From all her days on Jakku, she had learned that the best treasure could be found in the most unlikely and homely places. But, she was no longer scavenging for leftover trinkets.

“Will you go back after this is all over? To where you and your sister lived, I mean,” Rey inquired finally.

Rose laughed, then when she saw that Rey was serious, she took a moment to think it over. She laughed again, sounding a little bitter.

“Will you?” she countered.

Rey paused. It wasn’t long ago that her immediate answer would have been a resounding yes. Something had changed since she’d met Luke. She had people to protect and a unique ability to actually be able to protect them. She had abandoned her delusions that her parents would ever come back for her. When she thought about it, she really had no more reason to go back to Jakku.

But then, where would she go? If they hypothetically won the war, what would she have to call her own? There would be no need for a Resistance base, and surely those with families or places to return to would go back to them. But what about the war orphans and the former Stormtroopers who had no parents? Where would they go?

“Probably not,” Rey settled.

Jakku was a horrible place, and she couldn’t say she had many fond memories from the several years she’d spent there. Certainly she would have better luck just about anywhere else in the galaxy. Especially if…

She couldn’t help herself from glancing at where Finn and Ben were pointing at rocks and amiably chatting. For a split second, Rey allowed herself to imagine what it would be like to go off somewhere with Ben.

Approximately half a second later, she returned her attention back to Rose. The flight engineer was giving her an odd look.

“Oh. My. God. You too?” Rose muttered.

“Sorry, what?” Rey asked, nonplussed.

Rose shook her head. “Nothing. Never mind. Anyway, I think the metal has had enough time.”

She got up and resumed her casting work, while Rey was left to wonder about her future.

---

The cave provided excellent shelter, so they didn’t need to set up the tent for the night. Rey was certain that Finn would be relieved about that, but before she could tease him, Ben beat her to it. Finn took it in stride, joking back that Ben could set it up if he really wanted to. Rey wasn’t sure if it was an effect of the space they were in, or if it was because they had been spending so much time together, but she was pleased that the group seemed at peace with one another.

Although, she was a little miffed that she had no reason to sleep in close quarters with Ben anymore. They had all stretched out their sleeping bags with ample room from one another. Rey had to admit that the breathing room was nice.

They circled up for dinner, which was livelier than usual.

“I hate to break this to you, Rey, but Ben said he’d teach me to move rocks with my mind. And so, the student surpasses the master,” Finn said dramatically.

Rey laughed and rolled her eyes. Rose and Ben were laughing too.

She savored the easiness of these moments.

After dinner, Rose promptly decided that she and Finn needed to begin working on his molds right away. She assigned Rey and Ben to the duties of cleaning up. Something about the way she said it seemed weird, and a pained expression crossed Ben’s face. Rey wasn’t sure what was up, but she had wanted to speak to Ben alone anyway, so this worked in her favor.

Finn and Rose slipped through the crack in the wall that lead into the cove where Rose had set up her foundry, leaving Rey and Ben in relative privacy. Without the life energy from Rose and Finn, the chaotic roiling that perpetually surrounded Ben filled Rey’s senses.

She had never noticed before, but she felt completely herself around him. There was no image she had to maintain, like being strong or brave or confident. She knew he could pour through her thoughts at any time, and ever since their first Force bond, a part of him was always in the back of her mind.

At that moment, she wanted nothing more but to indulge herself, march up to him and kiss him in what little time they had. She was stopped by her awareness that his mind still wasn’t fully open to hers, and she needed to find out what had caused him to be so standoffish.

“Is something wrong?” she asked him.

She grabbed one of the pans Rose had used to cook dinner and began scrubbing at it with steel wool. She poured a mixture of lye and water over it as she progressed.

“The seemingly unending war that is destroying the galaxy comes to mind,” Ben replied tonelessly.

“I meant, do you have a problem with me? Did I do something wrong?” Rey clarified, slightly irritated with his flippancy. If he wanted her to be direct, she had no problem doing so, but she thought that he might want to try his own advice for a change.

He didn’t acknowledge that he heard her, and this scared Rey. If he refused to talk to her, what could she do? She could ask him again, or probe him with the Force, or maybe she should just give him some time? Though, time wasn’t exactly an abundant resource right now.

“You told Finn about our Force connection,” Ben said quietly, his voice low like Finn and Rose were still in the room and he didn’t want them to hear. There was pain there too, and slowly he peeled back the barrier that had obscured his feelings from her. Once by one she experienced his embarrassment, betrayal, fear, jealousy, rage…

“It felt wrong to keep it from him. And Rose. Either of them would lay down their lives for me, and I…I wasn’t sure how things would be between us…”

Ben looked at her coldly. All of his heat was outside of him, burning the atmosphere around them, and suffocating her with its intensity.

“You said you didn’t want Finn and Rose to know about us. Fair enough. But then, why would you go and reveal this intimate detail? Why tell them something so personal, yet leave your feelings out of it? Unless, you are ashamed of your feelings for me. You’re ashamed of me.”

Guilt crept up her spine and swallowed whatever excuses were on her tongue. Shame came next. Not of him, but of her own actions. She had been worried that Finn would be able to sense the Force bond between them, and she preferred to tell him before he asked about it. But she had rationalized that Finn wouldn’t be able to read her emotions the same way that Ben could. He wouldn’t accidentally see her feelings for him, and he wouldn’t ask about their relationship. She didn’t need to tell him, and she hadn’t wanted to.

She had been insecure of her feelings. She had been worried that things might be different from how they were in their Force bond. She had been so afraid to be rejected. The talk they had while gathering firewood on the first night of their mission had eased her fears somewhat. She had a feeling they would never go away completely. But she was realizing that in order for him to trust her fully, she would need to trust him fully.

“I am not ashamed of you or my feelings for you. I thought he might be able to sense the bond between us, and I wanted to explain some things before he jumped to conclusions. I didn’t think it through all the way, and I’m sorry. I should have asked you first.”

His demeanor warmed a bit, but his expression remained the same. Rey wasn’t sure if that meant he understood where she was coming from, or if his swirling aura of fiery anger was catching up with him. She also briefly wondered if it tired him to carry such vibrant emotions all the time. She thought it would.

“I can tell him, or both of them, right now, about us. Obviously I can’t take back what I’ve already said, but I want to make this right by you.”

She put down the pan she had been scrubbing and allowed herself to get closer to him. She stopped when she felt his defenses begin to rise. They still had a healthy distance between them, and she called upon what little Jedi training she had received in order to accept just how far that was.

“I do have feelings for you,” she admitted. The words seemed to suck all the breath from her. She had never admitted it out loud before, but now she saw that it was important. She pushed her feelings about him to the front of her mind so that he would not be able to ignore them. “Strong feelings. Affection. Admiration. Astonishment. Trust. Gratitude. Irritation. Fear, jealousy, lust…” she named them, one by one as they passed through both of their consciousnesses.

There were some she didn’t have names for and couldn’t describe, and she remained silent for those.

Finally, she asked him. “If I tell them, do you think it will jeopardize this mission? Do you think it will put either of us in danger? Should I do it anyway?”

They were always at a standoff with one another. Daring the other to turn.

This time, he folded.

He came to her and swept her into his arms and kissed her, hard. He kissed her until there was no more oxygen left in the room. He kissed her until her blood was boiling, and she wanted him so bad and she didn’t care who saw. When he broke away to breathe she wanted to take him right back until they were both suffocating in each other.

When she noticed him laughing and grinning wickedly, she wondered if he could tell her thoughts were beginning to dip into lewd territory.

Instead, he surprised her by saying, “No offense, but I’m fairly certain that Rose at least is already aware.”

Chapter Text

By the next day, Rose had cast several more pieces necessary for the lightsabers. Rey seemed to intuitively know how the pieces would fit together and ended up helping Finn to assemble his as well as showing him the basics of welding. While they were occupied, Rose had started her own project.

“You know, I thought you’d make a necklace or bracelet or something,” Ben remarked, watching as she mixed ground up crystal with molten durasteel. It took her several iterations of bringing the molten metal in and out of the foundry and mixing it to get the consistency that she desired.

Rose scoffed. “Ben, please. The pendant I wear is for sentimental reasons, not a fashion statement. Now is the time for something a little more utilitarian.”

He waited for her to fill the molds she had made with the molten mixture. The tops of each mold caught fire as they were filled to the brim, but died out soon enough. As Ben had been watching the entire fabrication process, he knew she was casting twin daggers.

“Have you ever had any sort of hand to hand combat training?” he asked dubiously.

“No,” she chirped without missing a beat, “And I should probably fix that, shouldn’t I?”

He couldn’t disagree with her, but he was surprised when she looked at him with a challenge in her eyes.

“Are you asking me to teach you?” He was surprised and not sure how this would go over with the others. He did, however, feel a sort of sneaking satisfaction that she had asked him instead of Finn.

“Nope! I’m telling you. We start in two days’ time, because that is when I should be completely done with them.”

She beamed at him and he couldn’t help but smile back. She was too clever, and Finn didn’t deserve her.

“By the way, aren’t you going to make anything?” she asked him.

He looked to the saber strapped to his hip. He hadn’t used it in a while, but it was perfectly functional. Whether it be some old Jedi teaching he hadn’t dislodged, or his own personal stance on conservation, he didn’t feel the need to craft an additional weapon.

Rose noticed him eyeing his lightsaber, and she shook her head. “No, I mean, what about a necklace or bracelet or something?”

He wondered if she were teasing him. His face scrunched in confusion, and she sighed.

“Perhaps a ring,” she intoned, as if this would clarify things.

When it was apparent that he still didn’t know what she was getting at, she elaborated. “You know, for Rey?”

His eyes darted to where Rey and Finn were sitting, somewhat panicked that they might have heard her. Not that it was supposed to be a secret, but that didn’t mean he wanted to broadcast everything either.

“Look, I’ve seen the way she looks at you. You’ve got nothing to worry about. The interest, the chemistry, the spark, whatever you want to call it, it’s there,” she whispered excitedly. Then, in a bitter tone she added, “Lucky you.”

“Finn’s an idiot and you could do better,” he said in a low voice so that Finn wouldn’t hear.

She smiled and rolled her eyes. “I know.”

He sneaked another glance at Rey and decided that he would consider Rose’s suggestion.

---

The next morning, Rey awoke from another embarrassingly inappropriate dream about Ben. Looking around nervously, she was glad to see that only Rose was awake, and that she was busy sanding a dagger that she had cast yesterday.

Rey knew she would spend most of her day sanding as well, and if she were lucky, she would be able to completely finish her lightsaber by tomorrow. In the meantime, maybe she could get out of this cave and have some time to herself. She was hoping that it might help ease her nightly fever.

Rey let Rose know that she was going out for a bit to wash. Rose looked at her like she’d grown three heads in her sleep.

“Out there? It’s freezing! Why not bathe in the pond in the cove? It’s warmer down here than it will be outside, and the water will be freezing either way. I’ll keep the boys out if they wake up,” Rose offered logically.

“It’s just—I—Well, I think that water might be holy or something, and I wouldn’t want to defile it. I’ll be fine,” Rey stammered.

Rose looked doubtful, but she let Rey go. It occurred to Rey that she shouldn’t take too long, in case anyone would come looking for her.

However, she hadn’t planned on being out long. She wandered through the cave to its exit. The world outside was blindingly white. She decided to hike up the hill that the cave was set into to see if she could find the opening to the cove. When she didn’t find it, she realized she must have gotten lost among the canopy of trees that covered the mountain.

The belonging you seek is not behind you – it is ahead.

Maz’s words echoed in her head. Then Rose’s.

Where would she go once this was all over?

Coming to a patch of dirt that was completed under the cover of trees, she sat down and removed her canteen and a cloth from her bag. It was as cold and Rose warned, but Rey let it be.

She thought of how Ben had been so sure that she would turn. He was convinced because he said that he had seen her past. But the past…wasn’t that good of an indicator for the future, and she’d seen his.

All along she had known who her parents were, though she hadn’t admitted it to herself. All along she had been so lonely. She wouldn’t let that happen again. Wherever she went from here, she could face it with open arms. There wasn’t just one singular place where she belonged. She would find her belonging time and time again. She didn’t need to be afraid.

With that, she finished her washing and turned her attention to more impertinent things.

---

When Ben woke up, Finn was making breakfast, and Rose and Rey were sanding their respective projects. Ben noticed that Rey’s lightsaber would be double-bladed, and he had to stop himself from laughing. The weapon would suit her, as she was already used to fighting with her staff. However, he assumed she was unaware or unfamiliar with the Sith Lord Darth Maul.

He decided not to bring it up.

Instead, he wandered over to Finn.

“I can take over if you’d rather be working on your saber,” Ben offered, trying to sound kind.

He had to admit, it still felt weird talking to Finn. It felt like the civility between them was a thin string of twine stretched over an open flame, and any minute it would snap. He also wished that Finn would pay more attention to Rose instead of Rey.

Finn looked at him morosely. “Actually, I’m doing this to take a break from all of that.”

Ben nodded, and resigned himself to being idle. He remembered that not all of the Jedi younglings he had known had been excited to create their own lightsaber, and it hadn’t made them any worse in combat or any less in tune with the Force. Some were just less mechanically inclined…

Which reminded Ben of something. “You can use the Force to influence others’ emotions.”

Finn pinched his eyebrows together and cocked his head to the side. “What?”

Ben tried his best to be patient. “It’s not something everyone can do. In fact, most Force sensitive beings can’t do it. But I’ve noticed you can…”

Finn was not absorbing any of this.

“What? Are you trying to use your Jedi mind tricks on me?”

Ben could not tell if Finn was joking or serious.

“No. I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about you. You have an ability…a gift.”

“And you want to take it from me?” Finn guessed, holding a wooden spoon defensively.

Before today, Ben had always somewhat wondered what would have happened if he had never burned down Luke’s temple and started the Knights of Ren. He often imagined that he would have lived a peaceful life, become a Jedi master, and had his own little padawans to teach about the Force. Now, he could clearly see that had never been what the Force had in mind for him.

He was also starting to feel a little worried about agreeing to teach Rose hand to hand combat…

“No. Listen. That night Rose had a nightmare and was upset, you calmed her down, but…you also calmed Rey and me. You used the Force to do it. Do you know what I’m talking about?”

Finn looked utterly baffled. “I did…?”

Ben waited.

“But it wasn’t like when I used a lightsaber,” he protested.

“Well good. You were trying to calm her, not cleave her in two,” Ben remarked dryly.

Finn did not seem to appreciate his humor.

“It’s not always going to be the same. What about when you meditate? What did Rey tell you when you first started training together? The first time you meditated,” Ben insisted.

He considered probing Finn’s mind, maybe looking for a better way to explain it, or maybe triggering the ability. But he was far too unwilling to accidentally set up a permanent Force bond with Finn to risk it.

“She said to focus on my breathing and to stretch out my feelings.”

Ben watched as things clicked together behind Finn’s eyes.

“But—but, if that’s what I did. That kind of seems like a bad thing? Like mind control or something.”

Ben shrugged. “My mother has the same skill. Morality comes from the user, not the ability.”

Then, he was suddenly tired of hearing himself talk. He could hear Luke’s voice echoing behind his words, and he hated it. He felt a headache and a foul mood coming on.

He left Finn abruptly and made his way to the cove where he could clear his mind from his wretched uncle.

---

By nightfall, Rose and Rey had finished their weapons, and Finn only had a little more sanding and assembly to do with his. In the interest of time, everyone started packing up their things so that they could leave sometime tomorrow morning.

Rey felt that their departure was bittersweet. On one hand, she wanted to get back to base as quickly as possible so that they could finally get a plan together to face Ysanne once and for all. On the other hand, this place had called to her for so long that she was reluctant to leave so soon.

There was also the matter that this was probably the last moments of peace they would have together. If Rey had learned anything from the war she’d known all her life, she knew that no battle came without its cost. Her earliest memories were rife with loss, but the bitter sting of the feeling never got any easier. She didn’t want to lose anyone else.

When it was time to sleep, she dragged her sleeping bag closer to Ben’s. Close enough that if they both reached out their arms, they might graze fingertips. Still, it was a significant enough change to warrant a quirked eyebrow from Rose and a frown from Finn.

“I think it’s warmer over here,” she tried.

“We could all just move closer together,” Finn suggested, ever the equal opportunist.

Rose sighed loudly.

“No, it’s fine,” Rey insisted.

She wanted so badly to look at Ben, but her heart was racing and she felt that the sight of him might send her into cardiac arrest.

Luckily, it wasn’t that important of an issue, and also Finn didn’t seem to think that Ben was just waiting for the right moment to kill all of them in their sleep. Everyone continued their nightly rituals, and it wasn’t until the last torch was extinguished that Rey dared to peek at her closest neighbor.

She didn’t know what she expected. The cave was steeped in darkness with the only light coming from the crack in the wall that lead to the cove. The slightest marble of light cut across Ben’s face, its erratic and jagged pattern almost mimicking his scar. Not quite the same shape, it highlighted less prominent features of his face. She had a spectacular view of the freckle above his eyebrow, and the tiny dots scattered across his cheeks.

He was beautiful.

Slowly, his eyes opened and he turned to look at her. He didn’t seem surprised to find her still awake and studying him. He shuffled a bit closer, and snaked his arm across the dirt between them. She reached out too, finding his fingers and tracing them with her own.

It wasn’t long after that she was fast asleep.

Chapter Text

Rey’s lightsaber was impressive, especially for her first build. Double bladed and she the ability to activate only one side if she wanted to use it like a typical saber. She had spent hours sanding and smoothing the hilt, and it gleamed in the sunshine. Ben was impressed.

He was also curious as to what color her blade would end up once the crystal in her saber had attuned to her. He didn’t have to wait very long to find out. He saw her practicing with it while Finn was finishing up his. Purple suited her very well.

It wasn’t long before they were headed back to the Resistance base. Ben wasn’t sure whether he was supposed to drop off from the group and return to Yevelda’s on his own, or whether he was supposed to go with the group and possibly see his mother. He wanted to see her, and so if no one said otherwise, he planned on following them to their destination.

There was a certain tension within the party as they hiked down the snowy slopes. Rey and Finn were both bursting with excitement and eagerness to use their new tools, which gave them endless things to talk about. It was to the point that even Rose seemed to be affected by it. Ben hadn’t wanted to know the reasons behind Rose’s preference for casting over forging, but by the time they stopped for lunch he was well aware.

Rey and Finn stuffed their faces quickly, which wasn’t particularly out of the ordinary, and then they were up and slashing at unsuspecting trees with their new lightsabers. Finn’s saber was a traditional single blade, and the light it emitted was a pale baby blue.

While this was going on, Rose reminded Ben that he was to teach her close range combat. He started by inspecting her daggers. Both were mixtures of crystal and durasteel, though one was primarily durasteel and the other was primarily crystal. This caused each dagger to be weighted differently, though they were both expertly balanced. He thought for a few moments, turning them over in his hands, and then finally returned them to her when he had solidified his plan.

They were halfway through the lesson when Finn seemed to notice.

“Hey! Hey, wait a minute! What’s going on?”

Ben stopped what he was doing, even though lesson one hadn’t involved either of them being armed.

“He’s teaching me self-defense and eventually to use these daggers I made,” Rose called indignantly.

Ben expected Finn to not be okay with this. Apparently Rey thought the same as she jogged up behind Finn and put her hand on his shoulder. Loose strands of her hair were sticking to the sides of her face and she was breathing heavily.She glanced between the two men, looking ready to jump in between them if need be.

No one expected Finn to ask Ben to train him as well.

“Uh…what?” Ben asked, fully sure that he had, in fact, been so absorbed in staring at Rey that he hadn’t heard him correctly.

Finn just grinned. “Come on…Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about a rematch?”

Not recently, Ben hadn’t. This didn’t seem like a good idea.

“Wait your turn!” Rose yelled indignantly.

Finn seemed to accept this. Ben expected that he would lose interest and find something else to do, forgetting his challenge altogether. To his surprise, Finn stayed put and watched them.

Ben felt Rey’s presence on the edge of his consciousness. He didn’t need to look at her to know she was worried and thought this was an awful idea. While Ben agreed that it wasn’t a smart idea on Finn’s part, he didn’t see the harm in sparring unarmed.

Though he was reluctant to admit it, his interest had been piqued when he had heard Finn say rematch. He imagined that under their current circumstances that he would be able to best the former Stormtrooper quite easily. He realized that he was being egotistical, but he tried to rationalize it. Sparring with Finn might be helpful for the future if they were to ever face off against someone or something together. He was also curious to see if Finn could utilize his control of others’ emotions during combat.

The lesson ended, and Rose stepped graciously out of the way. “He’s all yours,” she lilted.

The match began as Ben expected. Finn’s fighting style relied heavily on his Stormtrooper training, and Ben was able to predict most of his moves. When Finn tried to enter his mind, Ben was able to deflect the probe easily.

He needs a lot more practice, Ben thought to himself. Even a youngling would have recognized that probe. In fact, even someone not sensitive to the Force would have probably noticed something!

They continued to trade blows. Finn did manage to get a few decent shots in, but Ben wouldn’t have said that they were evenly matched. He kept waiting for the next mental attack Finn might toss his way, but one after another they were all as weak as the first. Even Rey’s presence in his mind was a greater distraction.

As they continued, he started to notice Rey’s worry more and more. He hated to feel her distress, and his instinct to go to her caused him to be sloppy. Finn got in a few more decent hits and almost pinned him at one point. Finally, Ben could no longer ignore her agony and he called off the match.

“So you’re forfeiting, huh?” Finn asked, sounding pleased.

Ben ignored him and went to Rey.

“Are you alright? I’m done with this foolishness now.”

But, for someone that was supposedly wracked with apprehension over the outcome of the match, she looked fine. If anything, she seemed a bit confused.

At the same time, her presence in his mind seemed to disintegrate until it was akin to a neutral spectator.

Something didn’t add up, and as Ben was trying to figure it out, he saw Finn come up to them.

“The first time I probed your mind was just to get a feel for what was there. It wasn’t actually supposed to do anything. I noticed Rey’s presence there, and how she was mildly concerned about us going at it.

“Then I influenced her to be just a little bit more worried, to see if it would have any effect on you. For some reason, it made you super distracted. Then I realized I could just make you feel that she was getting more anxious by the second, without actually changing her feelings anymore.

“I wouldn’t have known it before, but man, you must really care about people’s opinions of you. As she ‘lost’ confidence in you, you lost focus.

“Anyway, I’d call that a win.” Finn grinned wide.

Ben was mortified. He had to remind himself that Finn couldn’t read his mind or thoughts, just his feelings. Still, he wasn’t sure he wanted Finn to know what other feelings he had for Rey.

He looked at Finn and decided that he didn’t want to know how extensive Finn’s perception of others’ feelings was.

“Well done.” The words fell out of Ben’s mouth, somehow. He still felt shocked and slightly uncomfortable. He threw up a familiar barrier to the Force that would block out both Finn and Rey.

“Anyway, I’m going to go fill my canteen now,” Ben continued, desperately wanting to eject himself from this situation.

If either Rey or Finn had any response to that, Ben didn’t know because he promptly made his leave.

---

He was on his way back when he encountered Rey.

Before he could ask if she had been looking for him, she had rushed over and caught him in her arms. He hugged her back, and they kissed. He released the barrier he had put up earlier and let the Force and her come rushing in. He drew more of her in with each breath, reveling in the feeling of her taking over.

He was reluctant when she finally broke away. He would much rather continue kissing her and thinking of nothing else but her. Already he was feeling embarrassed again.

She brushed her fingers through his hair, her palm grazing the shell of his ear. She looked at him with soft, patient eyes. She wasn’t asking for anything, she was just holding him.

“Snoke always got into my mind so easily, changing my thoughts, turning my feelings against me,” he whispered, his eyes never leaving hers, “The last time was in the throne room. I could feel your pain, your anguish, and still he worked on me…”

Her eyes widened as she put things together that even he hadn’t realized until he had said them. The scuffle with Finn was too close to what had happened. He had been shaken more than he’d thought, and the guilt and the disgust and all the old feelings he had regarding Snoke were resurfacing.

“I haven’t changed. My mind is still weak,” he lamented.

Self-doubt reared in his gut, telling him that no matter with Dark or Light, he would never be enough.

“You endured, and defeated Snoke. You are strong,” Rey stated firmly, “You stopped Finn because you were concerned about me. I don’t see that as weakness…”

It was easy to submit to the tumble of self-hatred that he was so familiar with, but it was even easier to submit to her commanding voice. He fought to believe her words and her confidence in him. He reminded himself that she was strong and brave and intelligent. If she determined that he was too, he should believe her.

“But anyway, you should know I wouldn’t just sit around being worried. If I were really that worked up, I would do something about it,” she added lightly.

Ben knew that to be true. Even with Snoke, she had struggled against his command of the Force. She was a hellion to be reckoned with.

Tension that he hadn’t noticed slipped from his muscles, and he sunk deeper into Rey’s arms. He rested his head on her shoulder and sighed. It felt like thirty pounds dropped from him as he exhaled. He let himself recover from what had just happened. He continued to let himself recover from what had happened long ago.

“Are you ready to go back?” Rey asked.

Ben grimaced. He did not feel like seeing Finn’s smug face back at camp.

Sensing this, Rey added, “Finn fell asleep soon after you left. Using the Force so much exhausted him. When I left, he was still out cold. We might end up spending the night there. Rose was already setting up the tent. Anyway, if that’s true we’re going to need your help to drag him inside it…”

“Alright,” Ben agreed, “But, if we’re done traveling for the day…and there’s still plenty of daylight…we might as well take our time returning…”

Chapter Text

They were in the home stretch, and Rey thought that they would probably get to base sometime at night or tomorrow morning. Their pace so far had been pretty good, even with Finn taking the entire afternoon to rest the day before. At least she felt refreshed and ready to jump back into things if need be when they returned.

When Rose and Ben went off for some training, she assigned herself to building the fire. The thought struck her to try and use her lightsaber to start the fire, but she only managed to slice and char some wood while completely obliterating the brush she had gathered. She decided that she would try again another time and began building the fire in her usual manner.

Just as she had achieved a small flame, Finn approached her. He looked concerned.

“Hey, can I talk to you about something?” he asked.

“Sure, anything,” she replied.

She assumed it had something to do with Ben, but she would have never guessed what. Finn took a seat next to her by the fire and looked around, like he didn’t want even the trees to overhear him.

“I think Ben likes you,” he whispered hurriedly.

The shock that Finn thought this was new information to her was the only thing that kept her from laughing. She also felt a sense of relief that this wasn’t about something unpleasant.

“Oh?” she managed to respond.

“Yeah, it’s just…I felt you in his head yesterday…I know you share that Force bond, and I don’t really understand it, but…and then he got so upset when he thought that you were upset. I got this sense that he cares for you a lot,” he said slowly, as if trying to break the news to her gently.

She felt her heart give a little at his innocence. For an empath, he didn’t really seem to understand most of the feelings he could perceive. Though in his defense, it was a new ability for him. Also, from his point of view, or anyone’s for that matter, it must seem next to impossible that Kylo Ren, former Supreme Leader, would fall for the last Jedi.

She smiled and looked down into her lap, wondering what to say. She felt him brush her consciousness, and she wondered how much he could glean from that.

“You don’t seem surprised,” he noted.

She shook her head and looked up at him, meeting his gaze. “I’ve known,” she admitted in a small voice.

“Oh.” She saw him begin to connect the pieces. “So…you feel the same way for him?”

Though he asked, it sounded like he already knew and was just waiting for her confirmation.

She nodded. “Yes.”

“Well, that explains...I thought you seemed sympathetic towards him back when you asked me about the meeting between him and Leia. And then again when you asked me about this mission…” He seemed a bit dejected. “So this has been going on a while. You didn’t tell me.”

She sensed he was upset that she hadn’t trusted him with this secret of hers. Maybe other things too.

“I didn’t tell anyone. I barely even told him about my feelings. It was only recently…Anyway, you know what it would look like to the rest of the Resistance if they were to know. So, considering the fact that I spent so long denying it myself, there wasn’t any opportunity for me to confide in someone else.”

It was true that she had tried to push back and trivialize her feelings for a long time. She had never even thought about telling Finn about how conflicted she felt. She had sort of accepted her feelings but ignored them because there were so many other things that took priority.

“I’m sorry,” she added.

“Man, this is hard for me to wrap my head around!” he exclaimed, “So you’re a thing now, huh?”

She nodded again.

He looked at a loss for words. “Damn.”

“This doesn’t change anything. You’re the first friend I ever had, and you’re important to me. I should have told you sooner and I’m sorry for keeping this from you. I hope you understand,” Rey said.

Unexpectedly, Finn laughed. “You were my first friend too. We’re a couple of sad bastards, aren’t we?”

Rey couldn’t disagree with him.

---

When Rose and Ben returned, Rey took Ben by the wrist and notified him that they would be going on a walk. She determined that there was no need to be subtle about it anymore, now that Finn knew, and Rose had already known.

Ben looked confused, and she felt his defenses rise. He didn’t like surprises, and he didn’t like not being able to figure out things. She assumed he would not have guessed that she had just talked to Finn about their relationship, and that she was more okay with being open about it now. At least, in front of this group.

But the reason she wanted to go on a walk with him wasn’t just to tell him about how her conversation with Finn had gone. She knew they would likely be returning to the Resistance base camp later tonight, and after that they would be back in the thick of things. This might be their last chance to have a moment to themselves like this.

When they got far enough into the woods so that they were alone, Rey slipped her hand into Ben’s. This action caused him to stop and gawk at her.

“Nothing’s wrong, I just wanted to walk with you,” Rey insisted.

Ben looked from their joined hands to her eyes. His face was blank and unreadable, but she had the sneaking suspicion that he didn’t quite believe her.

“We’ll be back at camp soon, and who knows what will happen after that. This may be our last chance to spend time together like this,” she explained.

He tilted his head to the side, ever so slightly. “Your confidence in the Resistance is exceeding,” he commented wryly.

“I meant, the last time for a while,” she added hastily.

He nodded and looked ahead. They began walking again, this time at a leisurely pace.

“I told Finn about us,” she said carefully. She noticed Ben’s hand grip hers a little more tightly, and she felt a gust of emotions from him. Relief and some contentment that she wasn’t ashamed of him and that she had been open about their relationship. A hint of distrust and bitterness towards Finn in general.

“How’d that go?” Ben asked, his voice even.

Rey thought for a minute before answering. “Pretty well, all things considered.”

They lapsed into a comfortable silence, with the wind brushing through the forest as the only sounds to accompany them. Rey felt Ben’s defenses from before dissolve, and there was a strange ripple in the Force that she only felt right before it would create the connection between them. She wondered if it were possible that the Force could connect them while they were already in each other’s presence, and how that might be different, if at all. She couldn’t tell whether it was happening now, or if she just felt close to him.

As they walked aimlessly, a light snow began to fall. Rey thought of the few bootlegged holos she had watched during her time on Jakku. She had never cared about finding some kind of partner, but she had to admit that the stories were mostly nice. In some ways, she had found it comforting to think that there might be someone out there in the galaxy that would be on her side. Although, even now she couldn’t imagine a time where she would live such an unburdened and free lifestyle as in the holos she had watched or in the stories she had read.

Just walking along like this, with Ben’s hand in hers, felt like an out of body experience.

“We’re going to end this war,” Ben said, his voice full of conviction.

She didn’t doubt him. In fact, she wasn’t worried too much about their inevitable fight with Ysanne and her Imperial army. There was something detached and automatic about the state of mind that Rey slipped into when she was in danger. Making quick judgments and snap decisions were not hard in the heat of the moment. Letting the Force guide her was becoming second nature. What concerned Rey the most was the aftermath.

Where would she go when this was all over? Would she be able to come to terms with the actions she did and the choices she made? And what of all the other Resistance members? What of Ben? These questions had haunted her since the conversation in which she had first brought it up with Rose.

“And what happens when it’s over?” she asked quietly.

He looked at her, once again in puzzlement. “Well, there’s always work to be done. The government will need restructuring. Several systems will need aid in repairing…”

She felt her throat begin to ache. “Where will you go?”

He considered it for a moment, before chuckling. “Probably prison, if I’m lucky.”

Rey…hadn’t thought of that before. She slowed her pace until they stopped. She scanned the area until she found an overturned log that was suitable as a seat after they brushed off some snow.

“Are you okay with that?” she questioned him.

He placed his free hand over top of their joined hands.

“Well, it’s not desirable, but it’s preferable to execution,” he stated, “Switching teams at the last second doesn’t change the fact that I’m an intergalactic war criminal. Prison is almost too lenient, but as Leia’s son I assume I’ll be granted some kind of diplomatic immunity.”

Rey didn’t understand why he seemed so casual about all of this. She also felt unnerved that he seemed to have his future nailed down already, while her plans were nebulous at best.

“If I am locked up, I wish that you would come visit me if you are allowed. Otherwise, I hope that the Force bond continues,” he appended.

Her throat was stinging now. She felt so sad suddenly.

Ben would be incarcerated, Poe could go back to Yavin 4, and judging by the way that Rose looked at Finn they might go off together. Rey would be all alone. Again.

“Rey, what’s wrong?”

She felt stupid for worrying about nothing. Ben did not seem too concerned about his future of being jailed or possibly killed, and yet she was worried about how empty her future was. It seemed like such an insignificant thing to be afraid of, in comparison. She couldn’t stop the dread she felt, and that made her feel worse.

It’s no use in worrying over the unknown.

“I don’t know what I’ll do,” she admitted, “What am I supposed to do? The last Jedi won’t be needed in peacetime.”

“Rey!” he exclaimed, shaking her hand in both of his, entreating her with his voice to look into his eyes. She couldn’t do it, and he continued anyway. “There will be so many opportunities for you! There will be plenty of work to be done, even after the war is over. Even in peacetime there are still injustices. You will still be needed by the entire galaxy, and you will have the choice of what to do about it.”

Rey didn’t find comfort in his words. Instead, the endless options that he spoke about spiraled out in front of her, overwhelming her. She felt as she had when she had jumped down that dark pit on Ahch-To. A sense of falling and a cold splash of water that filled her eyes and her nose and surrounded her. Growing up on a desert planet meant she had never learned how to swim, and if there hadn’t been a shallow bottom of that pool to kick off of, she wasn’t sure she would have made it to the surface.

“It’s up to you,” he murmured. Then, possibly sensing that she was feeling the familiar ache of lonesomeness, he added, “It’s not like we’re going anywhere. The Resistance isn’t going to break down completely. It might be renamed, and people will come and go. I won’t be going anywhere. I’ll stand with you.”

He kept running his thumb over the back of her hand. He kissed her cheek. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him peering at her with soft eyes. She squirmed closer to him until he released her hand and put both of his arms around her, encircling her with warmth.

Together, they listened to the wind singing to the falling snow.

In time, Rey found her way back to the reliable omnipresence of the Force.

“Well,” she said finally, “Of course you won’t be able to go anywhere, what with you being behind bars.”

He smirked. “Now you’re getting it.”

She turned to him, finally. His hair was piled with snow, and she laughed.

“You look like a shrub,” she remarked, brushing the snow out of his hair with her fingers.

He pretended to scoff. “I take offense to that.”

She laughed and rolled her eyes. With the snow gone from his hair, her hand found its way to rest against his cheek. With her thumb, she shooed away some stray snowflakes that had landed in his eyelashes.

“A very handsome shrub,” she reported. “You know, I hadn’t meant for this walk to be so…depressing. I actually intended it to be somewhat romantic.”

His eyebrows raised a bit. “By all means, we shouldn’t let your plans go to waste.”

She closed the distance between them, and kissed him with all her strength. She felt him kissing her back with all of his emotion. Together, they made quite a beacon within the ripples of the Force.

And, not a single plan was wasted.

Chapter Text

As they drew closer to their destination, Ben could feel his mother’s presence in the Force more and more with each step. Though he knew she had been healed before he had left, he couldn’t help but think about the sight of her on Maiathah’s lab table, unconscious and with blood being drawn from her arm. She had looked so frail and finite, and nothing like the fiery world leader he had known as a child. Up until that point, he hadn’t really thought about how in their time apart, he was not the only one to age.

It was strange to feel worry for her after all these years. He supposed it was only fair, after all of the years she probably spent worrying about him. Even now, he knew she still worried for him. He didn’t know how he felt about the fact that his mother still cared for him so much, despite all of the things he had done.

The apprentice was the one to open the door to them.

“Oh! You’re back! I’ll go get everyone together and make some tea! You can leave your packs by the door.” She darted off as quickly as she came, leaving the party standing in the doorway.

Since Rey was the most familiar with the house, she led them to a room where they could all sit. Ben recognized this room from the holo in which his mother had addressed the Resistance after her recovery. He wasn’t sure what to expect. He knew that Ysanne wouldn’t have remained dormant in the time that they were gone, and he wondered if his mother was going to have to make another impassioned speech in this room.

The apprentice came back with the owner of the house and healer, Maiathah. He recognized her from the time they had spent when she was working on some way to heal his mother. He hadn’t known her for long, but he had a good opinion of her.

Next to enter the room was Dameron, followed by another Zar En whom Ben didn’t recognize. Finn and Poe loudly greeted each other and hugged. Ben was glad that Dameron completely ignored him and instead initiated a lively conversation with Finn, Rose, and Rey. Between their chatter and the noisy apprentice, Ben was losing a bit of apprehension at seeing his mother again.

Finally his mother swept into the room, graceful even at this hour of the night. She commanded all attention to her with no more than a quick glance around the room, and the boisterous discussions came to an end as she sat down.

The next two hours were a rundown of what they had missed. Ben was grateful for the tea that Felosial had brought them, as it was likely the only thing keeping him awake. The news wasn’t good, but it wasn’t surprising to him either. The Resistance had funneled some members to Coruscant, as Ysanne continued her assault. Coruscant eventually “conceded” to her power, and she had descended from her stolen First Order ship to take up occupancy in the High Council Buildings.

The Resistance thought it best to have her pinned to one location, where she couldn’t easily fast-travel away. It was also in their best interest to keep the virus constrained to only Coruscant, instead of tempting Ysanne to begin its deployment in other systems. For now she had been pacified and busied by her work of implementing the changes of her whims on the Coruscanti citizens.

Ysanne was unaware that the Resistance had a cure to her virus. Maiathah had successfully been able to reverse engineer an antidote from the samples Ben and Rey had delivered to her, and the Resistance members already on Coruscant were doing their best to administer them.

Their next steps would be to seize control of the remaining First Order ships to freeze their operations and prevent an easy escape for Ysanne. Secondly, Ysanne would have to be apprehended.

As this information was coming out, Ben looked at Rey and knew that they were talking about her. She was the last Jedi, the hero, and they all expected her to take down this maniac. If she was feeling the pressure, she didn’t show it.

At the conclusion of their meeting, they all received inoculations of the cure before sluggishly climbing the stairs that lead to the sleeping quarters. Ben was bone tired, and having an actual bed to sleep in instead of the floor was powerfully soporific.

---

Ben woke sometime in the late morning. In the bed next to his, Finn seemed to be stirring. Before he could wake up fully, Ben decided to make his way to the refresher, which was thankfully unoccupied.

Although he had enjoyed his time camping with Rey, Rose, and Finn, he had missed indoor plumbing and the thorough cleanliness he felt after stepping out of the refresher. In fact, he stayed in as long as he could until he heard Finn knocking on the door impatiently.

He dressed, and then wandered back to the room they were sharing. The water had woken him up, but he surprised himself by sinking back onto the bed. Judging by the quietness in the hallway, everyone was already up and about or still asleep. He thought about going downstairs to grab some breakfast, and he tried to convince himself that he wasn’t waiting for Finn to accompany him.

While he totally wasn’t waiting for Finn to get out of the refresher, he let his thoughts meander towards Rey. He thought about how she had kissed him so passionately just the day before, and he thought about that night so long ago when he was in an escape pod headed for Munai. He thought about how hungrily Rey had kissed him and touched him, and how he had been scared not of her ferocity but of her gentleness.

If it wasn’t so damn cold and snowy outside, he wondered if she would have revisited such pastimes yesterday. He didn’t feel afraid like he had been. A generic nervousness ensued if he thought about where the progression might naturally lead them, but it seemed logical given his circumstances. Rey was, after all, the first being he had ever had any sort of romantic or sexual contact with.

Ben smirked to himself as he recalled one of his earliest memories of Hux being scolded by Snoke. It was recently after Ben had fled from his uncle’s Jedi temple to join the Dark side.

Snoke had no biological heir and was training Hux to be his apprentice, much to his dissatisfaction of the boy’s inability to perceive the Force. Ben felt that Hux had only received such a high rank in the First Order because of his father. On the other hand, Snoke had been calling out to Ben for years, and when Ben finally joined him, Hux had been pushed aside. Still, to preserve formalities, the teens often spent much time training together.

Snoke’s preferred method of criticism often took the form of humiliation. One morning, Hux had arrived a few minutes late to training, and Snoke, who also liked to tout his all-seeing scrying, had called the obnoxious weakling out for spending too much time, “with his hands down his pants like a loth-cat in heat.” Hux had never been late to another meeting, and Ben had almost felt sorry for him.

Ben didn’t blame Hux, as he too had felt the call of puberty and hormones. Unlike Hux and the Stormtrooper conversation he overheard, and even some of the of the discussions he had sat through with Jedi acolytes, Ben didn’t seem to care as much as they did about all these ‘urges’ or whatever. Actually, Ben didn’t care at all and he found it a huge logical leap that these people would take their urges and then ascribe that to some other poor unsuspecting being. Even more bizarre was when that unsuspecting being wasn’t unsuspecting at all, and actually reciprocated.

He had watched a few acolytes be dismissed as padawans because they couldn’t resist their carnal desires, or however Luke had phrased it, because Jedi weren’t supposed to have any relationships. Ben also found it odd that both Jedi and the First Order seemed to have that statute in common: no relationships, no sex. As he wholly didn’t feel any sexual pull towards anyone, Ben couldn’t really be bothered to pledge himself to this rule.

As he matured, he supposed that his path was destined to be solitary, and he didn’t question it. He wouldn’t have time for any courtesan anyway, what with his training and being the attack dog of the
First Order. He had been lonely, but he was used to it. The right path wasn’t always the easiest, he had told himself.

And then he had met Rey, and his whole world was scrambled. She had made him feel more weak-kneed and stupid than Snoke ever had, and he had such soft and delicate thoughts for her. The Light crept back in him. He couldn’t bring himself to kill his mother. He killed Snoke to save Rey.

She had meant something to him, and he had no idea what or why, but it had showed him a new realm of possibilities.

He wanted to protect her, to shelter her. To hug and kiss her and to walk through the snow talking about their fears and their joys. He wanted to be bored out of his mind with nothing to do and peace reigning, be able to look at her, and still smile just because she was there. It didn’t make a difference to him whether or not he was sticking it in her.

But when she had kissed him that night, and traced his scar with her mouth, he had experienced her feelings through the Force bond. He witnessed her sexual attraction, something he had never known before, and it had overwhelmed him. He remembered how skittish he had been, and how she had pulled back and respected his limits immediately.

By now, he had acclimated to it. Having Rey around his mind increasingly often had clued him in to that feeling. He wasn’t scared of her hunger anymore, nor her gentleness. If anything he was curious what it would be like to indulge her…

He knew it would have to wait until the war was over. It didn’t bother him, but he felt a little bad for Rey. It must be annoying to have an itch that you just can’t scratch.

At that moment, Finn poked his head into their door.

“What, are you falling back to sleep? It’s time to get up!” he called.

Ben got up from the bed and followed Finn out into the hallway. “I was just waiting for you. I thought you might soften my presence to the others.”

Finn screwed up his face in a disbelieving look. “What? Please, you’re not scary. And I’m not…un-scary. Anyway, it’s time to eat. And also, by the way, you’re totally teaching me how to move rocks with my mind today.”

Chapter Text

Ben didn’t want to talk to his mother, but he knew it was inevitable. He supposed that he should thank her for at least trusting him enough to have allowed him to go with Rey, Rose, and Finn to build their lightsabers. He hadn’t really spoken to her since their meeting on the transports. He didn’t count the holo message where she had assigned him to accompany the trio, because it had been impersonal and she had been flanked with other commanding officers of the Resistance.

There was a chance she would apologize to him, or that she would expect him to apologize to her, and he really wanted to avoid that. She wasn’t a mushy person, and the thought of some touching family forgiveness reunion made him want to gag. So, he was very upset when he noticed that she seemed to be trying to get him alone all day. And to his misfortune, Finn picked up how to move rocks fairly quickly, leaving him with not a lot of excuses to keep avoiding her.

Inevitably she cornered him at the Vakiir henhouse, where he had been certain that she wouldn’t look for him.

“Ben, I’ve been meaning to talk with you,” she said, rounding on him.

He knew she had noticed that he was evading her, so he didn’t try to hide it. “I’ve noticed.”

He felt a twinge of hurt from her, and he was suddenly taken back to when he was a moody teenager telling her how much he hated her. It was funny how after all this time, he could so easily fall back into the same role.

Maybe part of the reason he didn’t want to talk to her was because he didn’t want to hurt her in the same way he always had. He tried to think of something to say to divert her attention elsewhere, but she was too quick for him.

“Well, I’ll get straight to the point then,” she stated, in her classic controlled manner, “We have a favor to ask of you. To help bring down the Imperials.”

Ben noticed how she wasn’t assigning him this mission like he were one of her underlings. She still spoke to him as if he were a leader of something other than the crumbled First Order.

“Yes?” he sighed, knowing full well she was silver-tongued enough to make a wall talk back.

“We need to get ahold of their ships, the Finalizer and the Supremacy. We know that the Finalizer is waiting just in the orbit of Coruscant, but we do not know the location of the Supremacy. We are hoping to assemble a small team to infiltrate the Finalizer in order to not only seize its operations, but to locate the Supremacy and freeze controls of that ship as well.”

“I’m sure they have long since changed the codes since I left--”

She interrupted him. “No, we want you to go with them. The Finalizer was your ship, and no one knows it better than you. It’s a lot to ask of any team, and your knowledge would make things a lot easier.”

He sighed again because he hated when she was right. “So who would be accompanying me?”

Leia hesitated, and Ben took that as a sign that this team didn’t include Rey. On one hand, he hoped that meant she would be safe. On the other hand, he knew that she was too powerful and valuable an asset for his mother to just leave on the sidelines. If she wasn’t going to do this, what other life-threatening task was in store for her?

“I haven’t spoken with the others yet, but it would be Rose and Poe,” she informed him.

Of course. He had to squeeze his hands into fists in order to keep from immediately refusing. Of course it had to be Dameron.

“Surely Finn would be a better choice than a trigger happy pilot,” Ben seethed.

Her response was not unexpected. “He is needed on another assignment.”

The one she would be sending Rey on, no doubt. The thought made him angrier. If she was sending both Force users together, it was definitely going to be more dangerous than hijacking a ship or two. He felt it was unfair that he couldn’t go with her to protect her, not that she needed it.

His brows pinched together as he tried to reason with himself. The Dark came creeping up and igniting all of his incendiary reactions as usual, but he tightened his chest and kept his breathing calm. The Dark wasn’t going to lead him this time, but it could stick around to be his tool if it so pleased.

Logically, he knew he was the best choice to go aboard the ships. And Rose was a flight engineer turned mechanic turned technician, so she was the next logical choice. But why Poe? Perhaps they could just go with his droid instead…not that Ben was any fonder of that rolling metal data bank.

Ben tried to level with himself. He knew he only wanted to go with Rey for the sake of his own peace of mind, and that was selfish. War was not the time to be selfish, especially this close to ending it. But he still saw no reason that he would have to go with Poe!

“You’re going to need transportation to get there, and it’s going to be much more difficult to infiltrate a ship than an entire planet. That is why Poe will be accompanying you and not Finn. I’ve had Threepio run several probability matrices and this had the best--”

Ben held up his hand to stop her. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe her, just that he wasn’t happy about it.

“I’ll go. It should be no problem. But tell me this, Rey is going with Finn, right? What will you have them do?”

The way she looked at him made the hairs on the back of his neck prickle, and he pushed up the walls of his mind. A lesser skilled Jedi might not even know when she was skimming their mind, but he had grown up with her after all.

“You’re fond of her,” she noted, a hint of a smile creeping at her lips.

Ben was appalled at her momentary invasion of his privacy. “Mom!

She chuckled and then regained her businesslike poise. “Rey, Finn, and Arha, one of the Zar En, will be infiltrating Coruscant to take down Ysanne. She doesn’t know about the antidote yet, and we need to strike before she does. So your mission and their mission will be going on concurrently.”

“You think those three will be enough?” Ben asked.

“There are already plenty of Resistance members stationed on Coruscant that can provide reinforcement. This is another reason we are so confident that we can safely transport them from here to there undetected, as we had virtually no issues with the others.

“Rey is strong, not only with the Force but on her own. Finn too, for what it’s worth. I believe in this team, don’t you?”

Of course Ben believed in her, but his mind compelled him to think of worst case scenarios. He had met Ysanne and he knew there were no boundaries to her ruthlessness. He let the silence be his answer.

“Very well, I will go speak to the others now,” she said, turning to go.

“Wait!” he called out, remembering the distraction he had thought of in the beginning of their conversation which he had failed to bring up. Distraction or not, it would be valuable for her to know. “Finn has the same gift as you in the Force. He can influence others’ emotions.”

Her eyebrows rose with her piqued interest. “Really? Well, why didn’t you say so sooner?”

She was teasing him and he both hated and loved her for it.

“I could hardly get a word in with all your geriatric rambling,” he joked.

She rolled her eyes but laughed. “Oh, sure. Anyway, I really better be going now. By the way, that’s a nice ring you have in your pocket.”

Despite her age, she somehow managed to flounce away, leaving Ben feeling both embarrassed and slightly stunned.

Chapter Text

Rey received the news of her assignment in the early afternoon. When she saw Rose wandering around with a hollow expression, Rey assumed the flight engineer had received her assignment as well. There was something extra serious when the General took each member of the team aside individually to tell them of the plans.

“You’ve infiltrated the Supremacy before,” Rey said to her, trying to keep her voice light, “This will be no problem for you.”

Rose shrugged, obviously unconvinced. Her uncharacteristic silence made Rey feel uneasy.

“Hey, what about those new daggers you made? Could you let me see them again?” Rey asked.

Rose unsheathed one from her hip and the other from her thigh. She handed Rey the one primarily made of crystal first, and then the one of metal. Both had intricate symbols etched down the flats of the blades. Rey thought she recognized some symbols from the medallion that Rose wore around her neck.

“You said you were from Hays Minor, right?” Rey asked kindly.

Rose looked at the blades in Rey’s hands and touched her chest, where the medallion was under her clothes.

“I’m surprised you remembered. It was a tiny mining planet. We exported crystalline ore, so, you know, this stuff was right up my alley,” she sighed wistfully.

“I can tell,” Rey said, handing her back the weapons.

Rose holstered her daggers and stared straight into Rey’s eyes. Rey admired how she faced every problem head-on, even if it was intimidating at times.

“I told you I was never going back there after this is all over, and that’s still true. I don’t need to go back there. All I need from there, I keep in here,” Rose said firmly, pounding her fist against her heart, “My planet, my culture, my sister…I take them with me wherever I go.”

Rey considered her words, and as she did, she felt a little more at ease. She did not yet understand why.

“I don’t mean to be all mopey,” Rose added.

Rey shook her head. “I mean, this is it, isn’t it? So I think it’s okay. I feel like it hasn’t really hit me yet, to be honest.”

Rose wandered up to one of the large windows and stared out at the heaps of snow outside.”Well when it does, may the Force be with you.”

There was such gravity in her statement that Rey suddenly needed to evacuate the conversation. “Thank you. Uh, have you seen Finn around?”

“He’s training with Leia to do the whole Jedi mind trick but on steroids thing. She wanted to get a few lessons in before we’re all shipped off in a couple days,” Rose informed her. Then she turned from the window and gave Rey a sort of sad half-smile. “Make sure that dummy doesn’t get hurt, okay?”

Rey swallowed, hard. She was no empath, but she could feel the emotion behind Rose’s plea.

“Of course.” Rey nodded, and when that didn’t seem enough, she went up and hugged Rose.

What Rose lacked in height, she made up for in strength. Rey felt her bones crack and all her breath escape from her body as Rose tried to squeeze as much hope into her as possible. Rey couldn’t deny that it made her feel a little better.

Moments later, Felosial stopped by and asked if they wanted any tea. Both women declined, but Rose asked the girl if there was some chore or task she could help out with to take her mind off things. Felosial seemed a bit taken aback at this request, but happily led Rose towards the lab.

Rey thought about following them, but she wound up making her way to the sitting room where she had first had tea with Poe, Arha, Maiathah, and Felosial. She looked around the room, trying to absorb as much as she could to her memory. What Rose had told her about taking her memories with her rang true in her head. She wondered how much of this place she would take with her as she faced Ysanne. She wondered how many Resistance members had passed through here before being routed to another healing house or to Coruscant, and what memories of this place that they had taken with them.

Before she knew it, afternoon had become later afternoon, and she felt a familiar presence approaching.

“Ben,” she greeted him.

He came up beside where she was sitting. Dark energy pulsed all around him, as usual, but he seemed to be in a neutral mood. Actually, the fact that he was so calm was the unusual part. She looked up at him, and as their eyes met she felt his defenses drop. She felt his anxiety towards their upcoming missions.

“If you have a moment, would you like to train together?” he asked, “I’ve cleared out a space behind the henhouse.”

She stood up and faced him. “Of course.”

Then she raised up onto her tiptoes and delivered a quick kiss on his lips. They walked hand in hand to their makeshift training arena.

With the growing shadows from the setting sun, a sense of finality crept between them as they trained. Rey, never one to hold back, gave it her all. When she felt that Ben was holding back, she doubled her efforts, determined to push him to his limit.

He always restrained himself against her, she could feel it in the tension of his body and in the precision with which he moved. She could see it in the opportunities he didn’t take and the breaths of hesitation that paused him.

She fought until her muscles screamed and they were both disarmed, grappling on the ground like street children. Instead of sand, slush and ice stuck to her clothes. Instead of her survival, there was something else that she was fighting for and this seemed like her last chance to find it.

It wasn’t until a strong wind send chills down her sweat and slush soaked body that she stopped moving. It felt like her senses were catching up to her. She looked to Ben, who seemed to be waiting for her, and then she sat back on her heels. Pinpricks of starlight reflected from his dark eyes, and there was mud or blood or something smeared across his face. She wiped her own hand across her face self consciously, and she felt something smudge.

Ben crawled closer to her, and put a hand on her shoulder, down her arm. She moved to be sitting in his lap, her back to his chest. Both of them were hot from the fight, yet chilled by the cold of the night. It wasn’t particularly comfortable, being hot and cold and damp, but Rey pressed the moment into her memory with all her remaining strength.

Chapter Text

The next few days were a blur of planning, packing, coordinating, training, and reviewing plans. Before she knew it, Rey was standing with a pack in her hand about to board a small nondescript cargo ship headed towards Coruscant. She took one last heaving gulp of fresh air. She and Finn were going to be hidden in crates filled with dried herbs while Arha would pilot the ship and deliver the crates to a Resistance safe house near the capital. There, Finn and Rey would be met with their contact, Iella Wessiri. Assuming all of that went without a flaw, they would go from there.

Rey felt calm. She had prepared as much as she could have, and everything else was left to the Force. She trusted that Arha and Finn felt the same way. She had never met Iella, but they had been shown a holo of the woman so that they would know who to look for.

Everything had been prepared last night, and Arha was already on board the ship sitting in the pilot seat and looking over the controls. Finn was still inside the house, retying his boot laces for the fiftieth time. So maybe he was a bit more nervous than Rey.

Behind her stood everyone else, save for Rose who had gone after Finn to tell him that it was, “Now or never!” Rey turned to look at the small goodbye party.

Maiathah and Felosial stood closest to her. Maiathah had a serene expression on her face, and Felosial looked like she was trying to remember everything that was happening so that she could write it down in her diary later. As Rey approached them to say her goodbyes, they both smiled at her.

“Fetch me a good price for those herbs, okay?” Maiathah teased.

“I’m an expert at haggling,” Rey gibed back, “Seriously though. Thank you for everything.”

Maiathah just laughed and pulled her into a hug. “Oh, it was nothing. Now go save the universe.”

She handed her off to Felosial, who also gave her a hug. “I’ll make you a huge banquet when you get back, with all kinds of desserts!”

Rey felt a little surprise at the invitation to return to the Zar En, but she kept the beaming burst of happiness to herself.

“I’ll be looking forward to it,” she managed, while breaking into a grin.

Next in line to exchange hugs was Poe. “Be careful. I know you will be, but, you know. May the Force be with you. Also, kick some ass.”

“That goes for you too,” Rey replied, “Those ships won’t know what hit them.”

Leia followed Poe. She hugged Rey and gave her a warm smile as she pulled away. “The Force is with you,” she said simply, “May it guide you well.”

Rey didn’t know what to say, and she was starting to feel a bit choked up so she just nodded and swallowed. Just as she was about to turn to Ben, she heard Arha calling from the top of the gangplank.

“We have a schedule to keep, you know?”

Before Rey could respond, Finn dashed past her and sprinted up the gangplank. “Sorry! I’m ready now. Whoo! Yeah, let’s do this!”

Rose, who had been running behind him, stopped when she got to Leia and Rey.

“Stay safe! Don’t do anything stupid, idiot!” she called after him.

He grinned and waved before disappearing into the ship. Arha remained at the entrance to the hatch, tapping her foot impatiently.

“I better get going,” Rey mumbled.

Rose threw her arms around Rey and squeezed until Rey couldn’t breathe. It seemed like she had wanted to say something, but she just ended up making a sort of half yell half sob.

“Ahhhhhh! Just go!”

Finally, after Rose released her, Rey turned to Ben. She had no idea what to say to him. His expression was blank, but she knew he was struggling to keep it together. She’d even put up a barrier so that she wouldn’t psyche herself out by feeling his concern for her.

In the end, they didn’t say anything. They just hugged. She hugged him for longer than she had hugged anyone else, but it still didn’t feel like it was enough time. She broke away and strode up the gangplank and into the ship. She felt his eyes follow her until Arha shut the hatch behind them.

---

Rey forced herself to sleep on their way there. It wasn’t particularly comfortable or quiet, and she wasn’t exactly tired, but she knew she might not get another chance for a while. She only allowed herself to come back to full alertness when they were going through security checkpoints.

There was only one checkpoint that scanned the ship thoroughly enough that Rey had to make an effort to conceal herself and Finn. For this trick, she had to draw in the Dark and wrap it around herself and Finn like a cloak. Finn especially required a lot of effort for Rey to hide, as he only seemed capable of bringing in Light, and his Force signature was bright and jarring like a shooting star.

By the time they actually touched down at their destination, Rey was exhausted again. Luckily, the cargo wasn’t unloaded right away, so she had time to take a quick nap. By the time she felt her crate jostling, and Arha’s voice along with other voices, she stretched and prepared herself to get out of the box.

What seemed like an agonizingly long time later, she heard Arha tap a rhythm into the side of her crate which signified it was okay to come out. Her muscles were not appreciative of all the time she had spent buried under springs of thyme and rosemary and whatever else, and she could feel them protesting as she struggled her way to the surface of the sea of herbs.

She managed to climb out of the crate on her own, though her legs pricked with pins and needles. She tried flexing her limbs as she surveyed her surroundings and watched as Finn toppled out of his own crate.

“I’m okay,” he called reassuringly.

Rey helped him to his feet. It appeared as if they were in the loading dock of some sort of kitchen. Crates marked with other cooking supplies surrounded them, and to her left she saw three large racks filled with empty trays. Behind Arha was an open door that lead to an actual kitchen, though Rey couldn’t see into all of it. She could, however, hear the clanging of pots and pans and the sizzle of something cooking over fire. The smell drifting from the kitchen was tempting.

Next to Arha stood a blonde human woman with unassuming brown robes.

“Iella Wessiri,” the woman introduced herself.

After Rey and Finn had introduced themselves, Iella wasted no time. She led them to a walk in freezer that contained various cuts of hanging meats. Along the back of the freezer there was a nondescript hatch which opened to stairs leading down into a wine cellar. From there, they traveled through a series of damp and dimly lit tunnels until they reached the Resistance hideout. Rey recognized a few faces from her time with the Resistance.

Arha made her way over to where a makeshift lab had been set up in the corner. She pulled out a string of vials from inside her jacket, and handed them over. Rey caught parts of their conversation about distribution schedules for the cure, but ultimately her focus was drawn to Iella.

“I know this is all new to you, and I know you’re gonna have to move around a lot in the next few days. We’ll be transporting you to two more safe houses before we can infiltrate where Ysanne is holed up. Time’s gonna fly, so you should make yourselves at home for now and try and get some rest. We’ll be heading out later this evening.”

Rey looked to Finn, who shrugged.

“I’ve been sitting around under a pile of turnips for most of the day. I’d rather stand,” he said, “If you wouldn’t mind, maybe we could go over our plans in more detail.”

Rey agreed, and Iella was happy to oblige.

---

Ben wasn’t happy about Rey’s departure, and he was even less happy that he was going to have to spend his own foreseeable future crammed in close quarters with Poe Dameron. They were scheduled to leave later that afternoon, and Ben was determined to spend the rest of his free time alone.

This plan might have been successful, if it weren’t for Poe being a reckless hothead with an itchy trigger finger that necessitated Leia to go over their plans with them again and again in thorough detail. Ben did tried not to consider that some of his own past actions might have been described as reckless, hotheaded, or trigger-happy.

When he finally did get a moment to himself, he found that he didn’t want it. He was impatient to leave and set things in motion. Once he was in the thick of things, fighting and taking control of the other ships, he wouldn’t have to think about anything. On the top of his list of things he didn’t want to think about was that Rey was about to fight that merciless bloodthirsty witch doctor with only Finn and the unfriendly alien as her backup.

So, in a way, Ben was almost glad when it was finally time to leave. He ignored the glare that Dameron was throwing his way, and he boarded their ship without saying any goodbyes. When Rose and Poe finally boarded, the tension between the two men hadn’t lessened. Rose seemed to notice this, and their takeoff and subsequent navigating was devoid of any conversation until they were within orbital distance to Coruscant.

The Finalizer was parked within orbital distance as well. Its massive size made it look like a dark lumpy moon, that would be devastating if it were to crash into the planet. Ben regarded his old war ship with about as much affinity as he had regarded Skywalker on Crait. This ship was the new embodiment of everything he hated about his past.

When Poe didn’t advance on the ship, Rose voiced her confusion. Poe got up from the pilot seat and turned to face them.

“What are you doing? This isn’t part of the plan,” Rose contested.

Poe flashed her a charming smile that made Ben want to vaporize him where he stood. Ben knew better than to open his mouth when he had nothing nice to say to this man.

“I know, but I think I’ve got a better idea,” he said arrogantly.

“Why didn’t you bring it up before we left?!” Rose nearly shouted.

“I only just thought of it!” Poe claimed, “Would you just hear me out for two seconds? Please?”

His winning smile faltered, and Rose begrudgingly sighed and nodded. Ben, who was still committed to not saying anything, remained silent.

“What if we contact the ship, tell them we’ve got Kylo Ren, and that he wants to return to his people and free them from Ysanne?”

“You want to tell them basically exactly what we’re doing?” Rose paraphrased, “I don’t see the benefit in that, and it blows our chance of surprise. There are only three of us, and a lot of them. Even if they believe us, they have orders. Our odds aren’t good, and they’re not going to go rogue for a lost cause.”

Ben let Poe and Rose bicker a bit before he voiced his opinion. “Rose is right. Ysanne killed most of the crew on the Finalizer when she hijacked it, and replaced them with her own lackeys from Thyferra. There is likely little allegiance for me on that ship right now. The Supremacy, on the other hand, might be a different story, but we won’t know until we can get more information.

“The Finalizer was my ship, and I know I can get us in undetected. We should go according to the plans we have already made until we are forced to make other arrangements.”

Rose smiled, and Poe just glowered at him.

He couldn’t say it was totally unexpected when Poe punched him in the face.

Chapter Text

“Poe, what the hell?!” Rose screamed.

Ben reeled back, blindly grabbing for something to steady himself. He caught himself against a smooth durasteel support beam that was behind him. He had seen the blow coming, but had done nothing to prepare for its impact. It was obvious that Dameron stilled hated and distrusted him for how he had been treated when Kylo Ren had been looking for the map to Skywalker. Ben agreed that he deserved Poe’s distrust and hatred, but now wasn’t the time to settle the score or talk things out. Every second they wasted was a second more that Ysanne had with backup and a quick escape plan.

Ben couldn’t react to this. He wanted to, but he wouldn’t. And if this made Poe feel better, or at least got him to a point where they could work together for the time being, Ben would take it.

When Ben opened his eyes and focused his vision, he saw that Rose had jumped on Poe to hold him back. The pilot didn’t look like he wanted to make any additional advances, but his eyes were glistening with disdain.

Still clutching at the beam and his jaw, Ben lowered himself to the floor where he assumed a kneeling position. Like so many times before Snoke, and in some of his racier dreams about Rey, Ben bowed his head in submission.

---

Rey had a splitting headache, which was only exacerbated by the pounding of rain against the pavement. Iella was leading them to the second safe house, which was right on the outskirts of the security perimeter that Ysanne had erected to guard herself. As such, they were safe walking out in the open as long as they seemed to have a purpose.

Since Coruscant had become so industrialized and densely populated over the years, there was almost no room for agriculture. Even if there were, the massive amounts of pollution generated by so many people all crammed together would have made the area inhospitable for growing any edible food products. As such, Coruscant was one of the universe’s leading importers of crops, which was how Rey and Finn had been able to sneak their way onto the planet in the first place. Coruscant could never fully close its borders without causing a famine.

Rey hefted a crate of leafy greens out of the small transport unit used for such deliveries and followed Arha to the distribution center. Ysanne’s disease had rocked the citizens of Coruscant, to the point where schools and hospitals had been shut down. People were afraid to leave their houses in fear of catching the mysterious yet deadly disease, and the government had to step in and hand out basic supplies like food and water. Even then, the people of the government had largely recruited volunteers to be running these distribution centers.

The volunteers that met them wore masks. It was still unknown whether the contagion was airborne, water borne, vector borne, or something else entirely. The victim count had climbed so high that every precaution possible was now in place, and bodies were being burned. The Coruscanti thought that allowing Ysanne to set foot on their planet might mean she would stop her attacks. Now, it seemed that no one was sure that the spread of this plague could be stopped at all.

Rey didn’t mind wearing a mask, in fact it made her feel a little more secure to be concealing her identity. After depositing the food, she followed Arha back to the transport unit. There were three more deliveries to be made before they would reach their final destination, and Rey didn’t know what to expect. Iella had been purposely vague, in case any of them were captured. While Rey understood the necessity of keeping Resistance bases secret, she couldn’t help but feel apprehensive with such a lack of knowledge.

Once back in the transport, Rey and Arha peeled off their raingear and joined Finn. He was sitting with his elbows on his knees and his hands steepled. He was tapping his foot like he was impatient. He looked up when they approached.

Rey could feel his nervous energy hit her like a brick wall. At a moment’s notice, Finn would have been ready to scale a building and pull a child from under burning rubble. She couldn’t say that she didn’t feel the same, but she knew they couldn’t afford to get carried away just yet.

“Who knew that this mission would be like just another day on base? Rounding up and handing out provisions,” Rey said lightly, trying to ease some of the tension.

“Yeah.” Finn gave a short laugh. “But this is only the calm before the storm.”

---

Ben was able to get them on board the Finalizer without notice. It felt so surreal to be back on this ship that he felt like he was in a dream. The fact that he was about to make his way into the main control room in stealth seemed so bizarre that if it weren’t for Poe’s consistent aura of hostility, Ben might have been careless and gotten himself spotted.

They had discussed the plan thoroughly before they had even attempted to gain access to the ship, and now they moved silently. Along with conventional methods like listening for footsteps or looking out for security droids, Ben was tapped into the Force in order to detect any life forces that might be coming their way. Droids were harder to discern, but most of them were unconcerned with three extra organics loitering about. Ben also still had the shift schedules of the ship memorized, and though most of his crew was gone, he felt that it wouldn’t hurt to be extra cautious.

It was more exhausting than he expected, but he didn’t dare let his concentration waver. He had been wanting to see the end of this war since he was a teenager, and that end had never seemed as close as it did now. He absolutely did not want to do anything to jeopardize that.

By the time they made it to the main control room, he was sweating. Rose immediately dashed to the panel and started bringing up several different windows on the screen. She frowned and looked up at Ben and Poe.

“This might take a while. In the meantime, I think it would be a good idea to get to the engine room and disable them manually. If the ship is orbiting Coruscant, then it’s not relying on the engines to remain hovering in place, and no one will notice.”

Poe spoke up. “I’ll stay here and make sure no one interferes with you.”

Rose just shook her head. “Only one person can program at a time. Both of you can disable engines at the same time. It will be more efficient that way.”

She waited as if to see whether Poe was going to protest more. When he didn’t, she returned to the screen and began typing something.

Ben looked at Poe, whose face was grim.

“Well, lead the way,” he grunted.

Ben didn’t like the idea of splitting up the party, but he said nothing. Within a few moments, he and Poe were back to creeping down the corridors. Ben tried to imagine that Poe was just a random Resistance member with whom he had no personal history. It was hard to keep up this way of thinking when they were skulking around the same very halls where Stormtroopers had dragged Poe’s unconscious body to be interrogated.

They only encountered one run-in with a Vratix, and Ben sliced them through with his saber in the blink of an eye. They disposed of the body in the nearest trash chute, and Ben couldn’t bring himself to look at Poe. He couldn’t imagine how much more disgusted the man probably felt about him, and he didn’t want to know. He kept moving forward, only sure that Poe was still following because of his Force signal.

When they reached the engine room, Ben felt lightheaded. He pulled back from the Force a little and realized that he was breathing hard. Poe got to work in silence, and Ben made his way to one of the engines. As he stared at the rusted contraption in front of him, he felt his heart seizing, and a cold swell of dread fill him.

No, no, no, not now! Not now!

Anxiety swept over him like merciless tsunami. His bones felt like they were vibrating as panic gripped him, and the more he tried to will it away, the stronger he was caught in its riptide. He knew he was either going to lash out or break down, and the first option would draw too much attention. But the thought of losing it in front of Poe was sickening.

Stop this. Stop this right now! Get it together. You have a job to do.

It wasn’t working, just as it never had in the past. If there were any Force sensitive beings on board, they would have definitely felt his flare of emotions, jumbled and chaotic, like a punch to the face.

He heard Poe moving on to another engine, and he looked to the machine he had yet to touch. His hands were trembling at his sides. Dark goaded him into wiping out a whole row of engines by bending the Force to his will, but he resisted.

We can’t afford drawing that much attention. Focus. Calm down.

Ben lowered himself to the floor and began a breathing exercise.

It’s okay. You’re okay.

When his own self-affirmations weren’t enough, he went over one of the youngling mantras in his head.

At this point, Dameron finished his second engine. Before moving on to the next, he noticed Ben. At first, his footsteps toward Ben were heavy with anger, but as he drew closer, they softened. Poe wasn’t Force sensitive, but he wasn’t completely blind either.

“Are you alright? What happened?” Poe asked awkwardly.

“I just need a moment,” Ben managed to say, though his jaw was clenched. He didn’t let up on the rhythm of his breathing, and he didn’t open his eyes to look at Poe.

Emotion, yet peace.

Ignorance, yet knowledge.

Passion, yet serenity…

Poe went back to his work. After Ben had finally thrown off that spell of terror, he got up to see that only his engine was left.

“Nice work,” he said gruffly.

Poe looked wholly perplexed by the situation, and the compliment did not offer him any enlightenment.

They finished quickly and left. Ben locked the door behind them, breaking the lock from the inside so that it would be impossible to open the door through normal means.

---

They returned to Rose, who seemed to have been undisturbed while they were gone.

“I’ve disabled all of the weapons systems, and reprogrammed some of the droids to start dismantling them and chucking ammo into escape pods bound for deep space. I’ve also found the coordinates for the Supremacy and coordinated a ride for us to get there. The trouble is…I’m going to need to stay here to make sure no one else gets to these controls.”

Ben looked at her blankly, barely comprehending what she was saying. He hadn’t liked splitting the party up while everyone was still aboard the same ship! The idea of leaving Rose behind was abhorrent.

“That doesn’t seem safe. Look, I’m not saying you can’t defend yourself, but against the entire crew of this ship? It’s not likely,” Poe fired off.

Rose didn’t look dissuaded from her decision. “I can put this ship in quarantine mode after you leave. If most of the crew isn’t familiar with this ship – which they aren’t – then they won’t be able to figure out how to disable it. Not in time anyway. And once you get into the control room of the Supremacy, you just need to do a few simple things and then I can control that ship remotely from here.”

Ben remained quiet.

Poe and Rose exchanged words through their stares.

“Remember the risks we took when taking out the Dreadnought? My sister knew what she was getting herself into, and so do I. This is what it all comes down to, and I’m happy to do my part to protect the people I love.”

Poe looked down, and the moment between them was over. Rose had won the argument.

“Go down to the hangar and board the TIE-fighter X16A00017. It will be set on autopilot, but stay alert. The Supremacy is…it’s pretty far away. Even traveling at lightspeed, it may take about a day to get there.”

Ben felt his breath catch. That was too long!

Poe’s eyes flashed like he wanted to object. Instead, he spoke in a controlled tone. “Well, we better get going.”

Chapter Text

There were significantly less Resistance members at the second safe house. Rey wanted to believe it was because less Coruscanti that would need protection had stayed close to Ysanne’s border patrols.

They arrived late at night under the cover of an overcast storming sky that let no moonlight through. Rey was tired from the day she had spent handing out food and covering for Iella, who had administered injections of the cure. Her apprehension for what was to come tomorrow seemed to be causing most of her exhaustion. She couldn’t help but second guess that the four of them would be enough to take on Ysanne.

She didn’t sleep well that night, even though the less crowded base meant more quiet. In the morning, she noticed that Finn looked like he hadn’t slept either. She didn’t know what to say to him, and he seemed equally at a loss for words.

When she went to go wash up, she found Arha leaning into one of the faucets in the refresher. The water was flowing over the back of her smooth blue scalp, down the back of her neck, and dripping into her face. She straightened up when Rey entered.

“I thought the water might help me wake up,” Arha grunted.

Rey wondered if she hadn’t slept well either. Out of the three of them that came to Coruscant together, Arha seemed to be the one taking this the most seriously. She always took everything so seriously. Maybe it was because that Rey knew Arha to have a no nonsense personality that she was so surprised to realize that Arha might be nervous too.

Then, Rey suddenly was hit with the same question that she struggled with regularly. Without thinking, she blurted,“When this is all over, what are you going to do?”

Arha looked at her strangely, and Rey couldn’t blame her. The question had been abrupt.

“Assuming I live, and assuming this ends favorably for our side, I will go back to Zar En and resume my training as a warrior,” she stated.

Rey couldn’t stop her questions from bubbling forward. “But, why do your people need warriors? Only the Zar En people live on Zar En, and if this ends favorably for our side, the universe should be in peace times.”

Arha turned back to the faucet. “There’s more to being a warrior than just fighting,” she said quietly.

---

A few hours later, Rey, Finn, Arha, and Iella were posted up on the roof of an abandoned building right outside Ysanne’s secured perimeter. They overlooked two armed Vratix guards. Due to the layout of the city, these guards were out of the line of vision of any other guards stationed at the perimeter, and so this was their best chance to break through. Iella had warned them, though, that combat might be unavoidable at this point.

They had waited until shift change, so that it wouldn’t be until the following shift change that anyone would discover bodies. Iella and Arha were each equipped with one blaster and one crossbow featuring tranquilizer darts. As soon as the last shift’s previous guards were out of sight, Iella and Arha took aim.

Both Vratix dropped with a resounding thud, but it wasn’t loud enough or distinct enough to draw suspicion. The group hurried down from their position and quickly stepped past the guards. Iella pulled the tranquilizer darts out of their skins as she passed, and crushed them under her feet a few blocks later.

“The less they know, the better,” she had said.

They had to get to the central Senate building, and the streets from this point on were a gamble. Imperials would be free to walk around in this area, and Rey and her group had no chance of blending into a crowd.

They decided to make their way to the roof of the first building they encountered, and then travel from roof to roof to their destination. They ran into trouble only once, and the resulting skirmish did not last long. Iella urged them to keep moving.

The building that the rotating Senate used was taller than most of its surrounding buildings, and they would have no choice but to enter from the ground. This was where combat became inevitable. Iella told them where to meet inside the building, and warned them against attracting any followers that might compromise the third safe house.

They split up to begin their entrance. Rey was immediately spotted by some guards at the door she had tried to enter, but they were no match for her and her lightsaber. She started running as soon as she got through the door, and soon her footsteps were not the only ones echoing behind her.

She darted up a wide ornate staircase that was central to the lobby of the room. She wanted to draw as much attention to herself as possible to take the heat off the others. Unfortunately, as Finn dashed by her on the landing to the first floor, she realized that he had the same idea.

Most of the guards at this level were Vratix with crudely made weapons and armor. They weren’t particularly fast or skilled at fighting, but there were a lot of them. No matter how easily she could cut down one after another, the sheer number of their hoard was overwhelming. After several minutes of nonstop enemies, Rey’s muscles were tiring, and she was beginning to rethink her plan.

She started to cut a path to Finn. She hoped they could cover each other, or fight back to back like how she and Ben had fought the Praetorian Guards. She failed to realize that their current arena was much bigger than Snoke’s throne room, and there would be no way to keep the fight at such an intimate level.

A bolt grazed her arm, and she looked up to see a Vratix with a blaster leaning over a balcony on the third level. Rey knew she would have to change tactics soon. She got back on the staircase and began climbing to the highest floor. She tried to go slowly, even pausing to pick off a few of the Imperials who were getting a little too close to her back. When she got to the top of the staircase, she looked down to see that it was flooded with Vratix, all pushing at each other to get a chance at her.

She then grabbed onto the railing of the staircase and vaulted herself over it. From three flights up, it wouldn’t be a pretty landing, but she had something else in mind. As she leaped off the staircase, she pushed off against the railing hard and propelled herself towards the balcony. She fell one story before reaching out and grabbing onto that railing, then dropping and swinging herself to land neatly on the first floor balcony where she had seen Finn earlier. She also managed to take out a few Vratix with her landing.

Without wasting another second, she spun around and threw out her hand like she was reaching back towards the staircase. She clenched her fist and the entire staircase crumbled and collapsed, taking out not only the Imperials that had been on the stairs, but several that had been waiting on the ground floor. In fact, the extent of the wreckage was so great, that even the entrance of the building was now blocked off with rubble.

The number of attackers was significantly decreased, and some of them even began to run away. Rey took this time to find Finn, who had been doing just fine holding his own.

“Show off,” he called jokingly as he saw her jogging up.

She stuck her tongue out at him as she dropped the Vratix on his left.

---

It was a long and silent ride from the Finalizer to the Supremacy. Ben spent the first half of the journey sleeping. When he awoke, he saw that Poe was still sitting in the pilot’s chair, staring off into the blur of stars and space around them.

By looking at the configuration of the screen, Ben could tell that their ship was still in auto-pilot. Ben thought that this was a good sign. Either no one had found Rose, or no one had been able to figure out her programming.

Ben considered offering to watch the controls in place of Poe in case he wanted to sleep. He thought better before he said anything. He knew that Dameron hated him and that handing over the controls to Kylo Ren was probably the last thing he wanted to do.

Instead, he walked up to one of the screens and opened a map of their coordinates and remaining distance to their destination. He also perused some files that Rose had sent them while he had been asleep, including diagrams of the Supremacy, shift reports, inventory lists…

He became so lost in thought about the files that he missed when Poe asked him a question.

“Ben!” Poe said, more urgently this time.

Ben looked up from the screen in surprise. He saw no reason that Dameron would willingly start a conversation between them, unless he was looking for a fight. And even Dameron had to know that fighting now would be a detriment to their mission.

“Yes?” Ben asked. His finger paused on the screen where he had been inspecting the floor plan of the Supremacy.

Poe looked oddly sheepish. “Your name is Ben, right?”

“It is.”

“And I can call you that?”

“You may.”

“Okay…Well…You alright, Ben?”

Ben didn’t pick up on what the pilot was getting at. “Yes,” he answered firmly. Then, to be somewhat polite, he added, “Are you?”

“Yeah,” Poe replied simply, “Well, yes and no. Not really, because this whole situation kind of sucks, you know?”

Ben nodded slowly, unsure of how to respond.

Poe scratched his head, then finally said what was on his mind, “In the engine room, you…what happened?”

Ben finally saw the point of his questioning, and it made him a little uncomfortable. No one had ever really asked him if he was ‘okay’ after one of his episodes. His whole life had been a constant battle against his emotions, which was hard fought since he seemed to have so many of them. He felt too much.

As a young boy of the poised Senator Leia and the easygoing smooth talking Han Solo, Ben had been expected to be well behaved, intelligent, logical, calm, charming. Many eyes looked down upon him when he had an outburst of some sort, and when he tried to push his feelings down, they would only resurface ten times stronger. He had always been scolded for being misbehaved, too emotional, overdramatic, and even spoiled.

Even his uncle Luke had looked down on his outbursts. Jedi were supposed to be collected and impartial. They were not supposed to react or even regard their emotions. This was a teaching that Ben had desperately tried to adhere to, even when he had turned to Snoke. Even there, his supposed refuge from the misguided ways of all the adults that had surrounded him in childhood, even there he was seen as petulant and of weak character.

So, for Poe to ask him this, in some way it was refreshing. Even if it was Poe, the arrogant flyboy bastard that he was.

“It just happens sometimes,” Ben said vaguely, “A lot is at stake.”

Poe didn’t say anything back, but he gave Ben a long look. Ben felt uncomfortable under his scrutiny and he turned back to the floor plan on the screen in front of him.

“I never realized it before, but…you have a heart too,” Poe said finally, “It’s easy to forget. The people on the other side are people.”

They fell into a silence. It was several moments before Ben broke it.

“I’m sorry for what happened on the Finalizer. I’m sorry for what I did.”

Chapter Text

Rey and Finn arrived at the meeting point after Arha and Iella. They found that all of the troops in the hideout had been rallied and were just waiting for them to begin the final push. There were maybe ten or twelve other Resistance members aside from their group. Rey was glad to see any additions to their team. She may have hoped that there would be more, but she had expected less.

Iella briefed the team on what she knew awaited them. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. The remainder of the climb to Ysanne wouldn’t be filled with the hordes of Vratix that had filled the first few floors. Their new opponents would be Imperial fighters, armed with a slew of Ysanne’s poisons.

Though they were already immune to Ysanne’s death serum, they had no way of knowing if she had changed its formulation since they had created an antidote. There was also the matter of her chemical that blocked a Force user from using the Force, which she had used on Leia. Rey and Finn were the only Force users in their group, but Rey expected that she and Finn would be making up most of the firepower. It was imperative that they didn’t get hit with anything that could be laced with poison.

Iella concluded the briefing, and they were off. Instead of splitting up, they moved as one cohesive unit. Anyone that popped up on their radar was quickly neutralized.

At first, it was just a trickle of enemies here and there. Poorly timed surprise attacks and direct ambushes. As they ascended, the amount of foes they encountered started to increase to the point where they would have to actually stop moving and fight. These encounters seemed designed so that the enemy forces could pick off their team one by one, which was happening. Rey desperately wanted to break away from the pack and charge forward on her own, drawing all of their attention. She also knew she had to stay with the rest of her team.

They finally made it to the top floor, which was an observation lounge. The walls were huge windows that overlooked the rest of the city from every angle. At the far end of the lounge, Ysanne was standing by one of the windows. A few of her loyal followers were scattered between her and them. Rey hated the theatrics of it.

More than half of their party had made it this far, and they could now split up to fight the remaining Imperials while Rey and Finn focused on getting to Ysanne. They advanced together, sidestepping any Imperial officer that tried to get in their way. She turned to face them as they approached her.

Before Rey or Finn could say anything to her, Ysanne brandished a syringe from the inside of her cloak and stabbed it into her leg. Her skin seemed to ripple and her eyes rolled back until only the whites were showing. She lunged at them in a way that was entirely nonhuman.

Rey ignited her saber and bent her knees so that she was ready to dodge. Maybe having sensed her preparation, Ysanne veered towards Finn. Rey sprung towards him, her saber poised to strike at Ysanne. At the same time, Finn ignited his saber and swung at the creature charging towards him.

Ysanne held up her arm to block Finn’s saber, and as she did so, her arm morphed into a spiny dark green appendage that absorbed the blow with no damage. When Finn drew back his saber, there was not even a scorch mark on her new scaly arm.

As Rey advanced, she saw Ysanne’s arm dissolve back into its previous state of being a typical human arm. Her shoulder on Rey’s side, however, took on the green spines just before Rey could slice down. Whatever armor this was, it felt impenetrable as it reduced Rey’s attack to that of hitting a tree trunk with a stick. Before she could fully realize what was happening, Ysanne’s shoulder reformed, and her arm took on the green scales again, which shot out towards Rey.

Rey managed to leap out of the way, but she narrowly avoided a stray blaster bolt in the process. Finn was already going after Ysanne again.

He swung just before Ysanne could transfer her scaly armor from one arm to the other, and she screamed in pain as his blue saber grazed her un-transformed arm. Rey immediately understood that this meant Ysanne was still vulnerable wherever the scales were not.

Rey and Finn both charged. Ysanne switched tactics from defense to offense. She retrieved needles from the inside of her cloak which she flung towards them. Rey swatted the needles away in a streak of purple. She looked over at Finn who had managed to dodge out of the way. They pressed closer.

Ysanne’s head was starting to reform into a ghastly green spiny abomination, when the blue light in Finn’s saber suddenly cut out. Both Ysanne and Rey shifted their focus to the young man, who was shaking the hilt of his saber like he could shake out the remainder of the light inside it. Still keeping one eye on Ysanne, who now had the head of an ugly reptilian creature, Rey watched as Finn pulled a dart from behind his back.

“I can’t feel the Force!” he cried frantically, and Rey could draw the rest of the conclusions herself. She dashed forward to throw herself between him and Ysanne. She slashed wildly, hoping to press Ysanne back even if the blows weren’t causing any damage where they landed.

Without warning, Rey began to feel a familiar woozy feeling. She hadn’t experienced this in quite some time now, but she recognized it right away. She tried her hardest to focus on the fight in front of her and not the connection opening between her and Ben. Now was seriously not the time!

Out of the corner of her eye she saw him, standing tall and holding his own ignited saber. In the blink of an eye, he was gone. She put him out of her mind just as quickly as she searched for a strategy that would help them all.

---

The Supremacy hadn’t changed much from when Ben had last been on it, though coming back on board didn’t feel nostalgic. He had already warned Poe that the main console was on the bridge of the ship, in full view of the rest of the crew. Something about Poe’s expression when he learned this made Ben think that the pilot’s gunner skills didn’t translate so well to his hand-to-hand combat. At any rate, Poe did have a blaster, and so their two man cell was better than nothing.

The ship was surprisingly deserted, and the few crew members they encountered seemed confused as to what was going on. Ben was surprised to see that Stormtroopers in full armor were still patrolling the hallways. He started to get the idea that Ysanne hadn’t known what to do with this ship or the rest of the First Order crew, so she had sequestered them all on the Supremacy and directed the ship far away from the center of action. His theory was bolstered by the fact that every Stormtrooper hesitated before him. None would attack, even with Poe at his side.

Out of pity, Ben knocked them unconscious instead of outright killing them. He and Poe weren’t sneaking around, and it didn’t appear that it was necessary. Despite the trail of incapacitated crew members behind them, no alarms were raised and there was no charge of soldiers. As they drew closer to the bridge, a few Vratix began to pop up, and Ben did not spare them.

The bridge was a different story. The console was entirely manned by Imperials, though Ben noticed that a few of them fled instead of defending their controls. Ben ignited his saber, and called up the Dark inside of him. When he seized its awesome yet cruel power, he set to work on eliminating every living being on the bridge that wasn’t Poe.

Every so often, Ben would glance in the direction of the sound of Poe’s blaster fire to make sure the pilot didn’t need saving. The pilot seemed to be holding his own, although he wasn’t the ideal offensive partner. Ben couldn’t help but think of the seamless way he and Rey had taken down the Praetorian Guard together. In comparison, this was nothing more than a training exercise.

The second reason that Ben kept glancing towards his teammate was one he would never admit to himself. Harnessing the Darkness of the Force was exhausting. It took a lot of restraint to bend that energy to his will without getting drunk on power and taking things too far. As someone who had often purposely lost himself to the Dark side and committed countless atrocities, Ben knew how easy it was to lose control. Seeing Poe fighting with him did wonders in keeping him grounded.

At the same time, he reveled in the rush of Dark energy coursing through him. It gave him an invincible, all-powerful kind of feeling. He held nothing back against his attackers and it felt liberating. He felt like he was ripping down the First Order and Imperial forces piece by piece.

The fight didn’t last too long, and soon Ben and Poe were interacting with the console and following the instructions that Rose had given them. Ben was so focused on establishing the remote connection that he started when out of the corner of his eye he saw Poe turn around suddenly and fire his blaster.

Ben turned around too. Everyone on the bridge was dead except for the man Ben had thought died on the Finalizer.

Armitage Hux was frozen in fear, his face eyes paralyzed looking at his now unarmed hand. Once a coward, always a coward, Ben thought with annoyance. Now that Hux was clearly at a disadvantage, Ben could see the gears turning in his head to quickly switch tactics.

“Supreme Leader,” he cooed.

Ben ignited his saber, but before he could strike this fool dead once and for all, his vision blurred. When he regained focus, he saw Rey. Her face was pinched together in anger, and she was striking out with her purple blade furiously. Her eyes locked to his, and she paused.

He heard a loud bang, and she disappeared from his sight. He prayed that he hadn’t distracted her from deflecting a blaster shot. When he finally composed himself, he realized that the sound of the blaster was from his end, not hers.

Hux was lying dead on the floor. Ben looked incredulously from the dead General to Poe.

Poe shrugged. “Trigger finger slipped. Hope he wasn’t a friend of yours.”

Ben felt like laughing, but he also felt a little like crying. The shock of it all stifled any outward reaction.

“No. Let’s not waste any more time,” he managed to say.

They turned back to the console and continued their work. No one else interrupted them, and finally they were able to patch through Rose.

She appeared as a miniature hologram in front of them. Her hands were wildly swiping at her own console, now that she had remote access to theirs.

“You did it!” she congratulated them, “Great job! I can take it from here.”

“Any trouble after we left?” Poe asked.

Rose paused one of her hands to reach down to the dagger in her left holster. She briefly unsheathed it to show it to them. The blade had traces of blood along it.

“Nothing I couldn’t handle,” she said proudly.

They continued to talk to each other excitedly about how their mission had been a success and how this would turn the tide of the war. Ben spaced out. He thought about his vision of Rey, and he wished he was there with her. He knew there was nothing he could do but wait. Wait, hope, and pray.

He felt a trickle of Light rushing in, and he let it overtake him in the way he could never again allow the Dark. He felt the Light take his well wishes for Rey and bundle them up and send them out. He felt his optimism being directed everywhere, not just towards her. For once, Ben Solo was channeling and radiating Light to the entire galaxy. War could not compete.

Chapter Text

Rey continued to shield Finn from Ysanne. The Imperial leader’s entire head had morphed into something inhuman and serpentine. Her jaws snapped at Rey and deflected any strike from Rey’s lightsaber.

Rey was worried because the Imperial leader didn’t seem to be tiring. Rey would have to be two steps ahead of her at all times if she had any hope of catching her off guard. She also knew she would have to ramp up her speed so that she could get a hit in before Ysanne shifted her protective scales to render the attack useless.

But Rey was getting tired herself. She had fought her way up to this point, and she was expending a lot of effort just to keep Ysanne at bay. She knew this meant that she had to end things soon, otherwise her stamina would deplete, and Ysanne would overtake her.

To her relief, a blaster bolt fired into Ysanne’s abdomen. Rey felt someone run up next to her, and she turned to see Arha. The Zar En villager had several darts in her back and arms, but as someone who was not sensitive to the Force, they had no effect on her.

Ysanne screamed in pain, and her face melted back into its human form as she rushed her protective scales to her abdomen. Rey didn’t know if the scales could also act as a healing agent, and she didn’t want to give Ysanne the opportunity to clarify.

Now that Arha was at her side, firing her blaster, Ysanne seemed cornered. Rey advanced with a backhanded swing of her saber, which Ysanne just barely dodged. Her red and blue eyes gleamed with malice.

“You insolent piece of trash!” she screamed.

Rey ignored the taunt and lunged at the monstrous woman.

Ysanne dropped, tucked into a ball, and rolled away from Rey. As she sprung up, her arms became scaly claws again, and she shielded herself from Arha’s blasts. Rey realized too late that Ysanne had not only moved away from her, but also closer to Arha.

A terrible ripping sound accompanied Arha’s scream as Ysanne’s claws tore into her shoulder. Rey saw a chunk of blue skin go flying as the momentum from Ysanne’s swipe carried it away from Arha’s body. Rey felt sick as she saw what remained of Arha’s arm hanging by a thin web of skin and oozing blood. Arha grabbed her injured arm with her uninjured one as if to keep it from detaching completely before she fell to the floor, unconscious.

Ysanne turned her attention solely back to Rey.

Rey was livid.

As she brought her saber back up, she felt Light fill every part of her being. Her vision became tinted with white, like all of the colors in the world had been suddenly bleached. At the same time, the images sharpened. She could see every edge, every fold, crack, or crevice like they were doubly pronounced. Even minuscule details seemed to pop out. Rey felt as if her whole body was glowing, and Ysanne was caught under her intense luminescence.

Rey was a passenger in her own body as the Force took hold of her and guided her movements. The resulting fury of blows was impossible for Ysanne to avoid or block all at once. She finally seemed to be losing energy when Rey heard Finn cry out behind her.

“Help!”

Too late, she realized, she should have been keeping an eye on him. With half her attention still on Ysanne, she turned to see Finn locked in combat with an Imperial agent. Finn’s hand was holding each of his opponent’s fists, which were clenched around a knife and a blaster. If Finn lost his grip, it would be over for him.

But Rey couldn’t move to save him because at the same moment, Ysanne swung her claw-like arm at Rey. It was all Rey could do but switch her attention back to Ysanne and meet the incoming claw with her saber. They too were locked in a stalemate.

“Help, please!” Finn called again.

Rey felt the Light inside her flickering, but she couldn’t move. Ysanne was looking at her hungrily, like she was daring Rey to move and open herself to a lethal swipe. I can’t help him if I’m dead, Rey thought bitterly, but I can’t help him if he’s dead either.

She reached inside herself and tugged up a bit of Dark. With her free hand, she clenched her fingers, so that she could try and hold Ysanne in place with the Force.

Before she could move, she heard shuffling from where she knew Finn was. Then, the sound of a blaster rang out, and before Rey could even think, she felt a warm spatter across her face and arms. She could smell the blood, and she realized she had shut her eyes.

She didn’t want to open them, but then she felt Ysanne’s body go limp in her Force grasp. When she opened her eyes, she immediately released the hold.

Ysanne’s body fell lifelessly to the floor into a mess of blood and gore from the blaster’s headshot. Rey quickly looked away from the horrible scene over to see Finn, completely intact. His attacker was on the ground, scrambling to get up. It appeared that Finn had pushed him away, onto the floor. When the Imperial looked towards Ysanne’s body and registered what had happened, he screamed and fainted.

Past Finn stood Iella, her arm still extended and her blaster still in the same position as when she had fired the killing shot. Rey pieced it together quickly. Iella had been aiming for Finn’s attacker, and Finn managed to push the attacker away right as Iella fired. With the attacker out of the way, the shot was clear to Ysanne, because she and Rey had been behind Finn and his attacker. Ysanne couldn’t have predicted the shot was meant for her and didn’t have time to move or transfer her scales to her head.

But the fact that they had been lined up so perfectly…and that Finn seemed to know that Iella would take the shot…

Finn suddenly sank to the ground, visibly exhausted. Now that Rey didn’t have a battle to focus on, she realized that Finn’s connection to the Force wasn’t blocked or halted in any way. The dart he had been shot with…

Finn sighed. “Good thing we had those immunity vaccinations,” he breathed.

Then, he passed out; completely drained from the life-sized game of chess he had been playing.

---

Rey felt so blurred in the days following Ysanne’s defeat. Somewhere in those days she heard Finn recount how he had influenced his attacker to come at him at just the right angle for Iella to shoot in his defense. She listened to Rose spew technical jargon about the systems and networks and databases of the First Order ships. She was there to hear Poe boasting about how he had expertly piloted past the two biggest security systems that the First Order had to offer.

She watched as Arha finally came out of the medbay, seemingly unfazed that she would now live with one arm less than she was used to. She saw countless beings swarm Iella, day and night, drowning her with congratulations and tearful words of gratitude. She witnessed Leia give speech after speech that would no doubt find their way into the history books of years to come.

And then, after all the celebrations and revelry, she felt everyone begin to move on. Buildings and roads were patched up or rebuilt entirely. The sick were seen to, and the antidote to Ysanne’s poison was widely distributed. Members of the old Galactic Senate either resurfaced or peacefully stepped aside for new impassioned beings to take their place. Intergalactic laws were being drafted to prevent the galaxy from ever falling into such chaos again.

Yet, Rey did not know where to go from here. She moved mechanically with the others, doing the last of the busy work that needed to be done. Distributing the remaining inoculations on Coruscant, and even helping a bit with the cleanup. Breaking down the Resistance camps.

She didn’t feel any significant change in the Force. She had been expecting some huge revelation, an overwhelming sense of peace and calm. Maybe a sense of pride an accomplishment, even. But she didn’t really feel any of that. The Force largely felt unchanged. The Dark was there, and the Light too. The never ending balance of opposing forces continued in the easy harmony as it always had.

So Rey let herself be guided like a leaf by the wind. Where someone needed her, she went.

And then there was Ben.

His predictions of diplomatic immunity granting him a lenient prison sentence were right on the mark. Though he had thought a prison sentence instead of death was lenient, his trial decided against persecuting him harshly. In what was to be a new era of compassion, Ben would catch a lucky break.

Rey saw him the night before his final sentencing. The trial had taken place on Chandrila, the former capital of the New Republic and Ben’s home planet. She had followed the numerous other Resistance members who were returning to their homes on Chandrila. Rey supposed that it was only logical that a large portion of Resistance members had hailed from Chandrila, considering it had been Leia’s latest home planet.

Because of his mother’s status, Ben wasn’t kept in a cell during the trial. Instead he was put up in a rather large hotel near the courthouse. The hotel was emptied of all other patrons before his arrival, and guards were posted around the building and at Ben’s door.

Because Rey was the last Jedi, none of the guards said a thing when she walked right past them.

Ben was surprisingly calm for someone who might be facing life in prison. He was at the desk, writing something when she walked in.

“Another letter for your mother?” Rey asked.

Ben laughed. “No, I’ll get to hers later. This one will be for you.”

Her curiosity piqued, Rey tried to stealthily shuffle over a bit closer and peek at what he had already written.

“After I’m done, of course,” he added knowingly. He flipped over the page so that the blank side was facing up and grinned evilly.

Rey sat across from him, on the edge of his bed which was covered in fluffy white sheets. She actually sank down into them as she sat.

“Shouldn’t you be on Yavin 4 with Poe and the others? I know he invited all of you to his childhood home so you could shower him in praise for his promotion to Admiral while simultaneously marveling at the Dameron estate.”

Rey rolled her eyes. “It’s not an estate, and I told them I’d be there by the end of the week. This is our time to debrief from everything. They’ll still be there by the time I arrive.”

“Send him my sincerest regards,” Ben said, his voice saturated with sarcasm.

Rey just laughed. She had seen the way they had interacted after returning from the Supremacy, and she knew that something between them had changed. They would probably never refer to each other as friends, but their hatred for each other was now nothing more than a joke.

“Well, I’ll tell Rose you say hi,” Rey compromised.

Ben got up from the desk and joined Rey on the bed. He wrapped his arms around her, and she relaxed into his chest.

“Tell her to forget that braindead idiot, Finn,” he retorted.

Rey felt her eyebrows arch in surprise as she remembered something that had happened only a few days ago. “You’ll never believe it, but a few days ago, Finn was telling me about how impressed he was by all of Rose’s programming and how she managed to control both of the First Order’s largest ships. He even asked me if he thought she would agree to go on a date with him!”

Ben stifled a laugh, which ended up sounding like a snort. “You’re right, I don’t believe it.”

“I don’t understand how he can be so smart and strategic and an empath, but still be clueless about his own emotions and the emotions of his friends for that matter!” Rey exclaimed, exaggerating her exasperation, “And then a few hours later, Poe came up to me and…”

“Also wants to date Rose,” Ben guessed.

“No! He wanted to ask Finn on a date! I was floored!” Rey corrected him, her voice high with disbelief.

“Oh yeah, that’s right. I forgot about that,” Ben mused.

Rey twisted her way out of his arms and gaped at him.

“You knew?”

Ben shrugged and looked sheepish. “I did invade the guy’s mind that one time…”

Rey hung her head and sighed.

“It’s only been a few weeks since the fall of the Imperials and already everyone is running around like a Vakiir with its head chopped off,” she lamented.

Ben scooped her back into his arms, pulled her into his lap, and kissed the top of her head. “Is this the real reason you didn’t want to go to Yavin 4? To avoid this inevitable love triangle time bomb?”

Rey nuzzled her face against his chest, hard. “Of course not. I wanted to see you…” she paused, “Avoiding that mess just happened to be an added benefit.”

Chapter Text

“Aren’t you worried about tomorrow?” Rey asked him.

They were now lying face to face on the bed. Ben was twirling loose strands of her hair around his fingers, and trying to burn every part of this moment into his memory. He wished they never had to leave this room.

“It’s out of my hands now,” he said, sounding much more calm than he felt.

Of course he was nervous, but not as much as she probably expected. Like he said, there was nothing he could do about it now. His own actions had brought him to this point, and no punishment could ever come close to rectifying the war crimes he had committed.

For now, he didn’t want to think about what his sentence would be. He was here, with Rey, and that was enough. He didn’t want to spoil this moment with anything else. If this was the last time he got to spend with her…

“What about you? I’m sure my mother has offered you a government position at this point. Will you take it? What lies ahead for the last Jedi, Rey?” he asked gently.

He knew of her fears of the future and the unknown. The wide expanse of endless choices and paths overwhelmed her to think about. He wanted to know if she had yet given any thought to what came next for her, or if she was still going with the flow.

“Finn wants to build a Temple, and I said I’d help. Mainly I think I’m going to be traveling around looking for other Force sensitive beings. I don’t think I’m quite ready to be part of the Senate just yet,” she murmured, her eyes far away, “I guess I’d like to go back to scavenging and bartering on my own for a little while. I’ll be seeing the galaxy as I look for recruits.”

Ben felt a tugging sadness that he wouldn’t be able to go with her. He had no doubt that she would be safe, and that wasn’t what bothered him. To be able to travel with her, and have those experiences, was something he would regret missing.

“Although Poe suggested that I take Beebee-Ate with me so I don’t get lonely. I’m still considering it,” she added, and then she yawned.

Their time together was coming to an end. Soon Rey would have to go. Ben would be woken in the morning by soldiers who were scared of him but dutiful enough to escort him to his sentencing.

This was the last time he would see Rey for a good long while, and like every other time before, the clock was steadily counting down. Ben longed for a day when they wouldn’t have such constraints on the time they spent together. This was the first time that they were actually so intimately close in person, and not through the Force bond. Sure, there were some stolen kisses here and there, but it was nothing like this.

He tangled his legs with hers and kissed her gently on the mouth. They could pretend that they didn’t have to rush, that they had all the time in the world.

Rey burrowed into him more, squeezing the breath out of him.

“May the Force be with you,” she murmured.

He smiled at her, wistfully, and kissed her again. “I’ll come back, sweetheart. I promise.”

---

Rey ended up watching the trial with Leia. Ten years sounded like a long time, but Leia seemed relieved. Rey had to admit that she knew very little about the criminal justice system, and she was thrilled to learn that Ben would be eligible for parole after three years.

She eventually made her way to Poe’s home and was able to join in some of the celebrations. If Leia hadn’t been worried, then Rey would try not to be either. She still had hope that the Force bond would continue…

Poe was thrilled to become an admiral, and he took his new position extremely seriously. As Rey was traveling through the galaxy, she was able to meet up with him a few times. They traded Beebee-Ate back and forth like separated parents, and they would spend a few hours chatting over lunch or something and catching up. Finn and Rose would gripe that Rey actually got to see him more than they did these days.

Rose took to designing ships. At first, she was always in her studio which had been set up on Chandrila. Later, she would have various studios in several systems including on Coruscant and Zar En. She spent so much time holed up in there, pulling all nighters, and revising drawing after drawing until she finally was satisfied with her designs. After about a year and a half of no sleep, Rose decided to take her enthusiasm down a notch, at least to a healthier level. She branched out into security systems, and eventually landed the role as head systems engineer for the New Senate.

Finn was set on building a Jedi Temple, but he had a bit of trouble deciding where he wanted it. He thought it would be best if it was away from major cities or systems that might inadvertently become a target if the Jedi were ever under threat again. He came to the conclusion that Tuanul was the perfect place.

Tuanul had been the first village where Finn had landed on Jakku, along with the rest of the Stormtroopers on the Finalizer, and Kylo Ren himself. Tuanul was where he had first realized that he absolutely did not want any part of the First Order, and he would rather risk everything to get away from his upbringing.

Jakku was already a desert wasteland in the middle of nowhere, and Tuanul had been completely wiped out by Kylo Ren and his troops. Bringing life back there felt like some kind of poetic justice to Finn, who hadn’t been able to save anyone back then. The harsh climate of the planet would be good for strengthening the tenacity of his acolytes.

Rey was dumbfounded when Finn told her of his plans. She never thought she would be returning to Jakku, and now she knew she certainly would be. Then, with bitter resolve, Rey took some time out of her traveling to work with Leia on how to help the citizens of Jakku. A food program was started, and moisture farming was implemented a little ways off from Niima Outpost. Rey and Leia even worked with Maiathah during several conference calls via holo on researching the best species of air plants to introduce to the villagers.

Helping those on Jakku may have been the closure Rey needed. Her parents didn’t matter any longer, and even finding their graves wouldn’t have given her as much satisfaction as it did to see Unkar Plutt lose his power over the impoverished. She helped Finn build the Temple, and it made her feel strong. She wasn’t the same girl who had left Jakku so long ago. She was free, and she was happy.

---

The Force connection never spontaneously appeared again. Ben waited every day hoping for a glimpse of Rey, only to be disappointed when the guards yelled, “Lights out!” and his cell went pitch dark. Of course, he could write her letters. Occasionally he even had permission to contact someone via holo. Both of these methods of communication didn’t compare to seeing Rey through the Force bond though.

Eventually, Ben became so impatient waiting for the Force bond to suddenly appear, that he tried to conjure the connection on his own. Though he had tried this previously with no luck, he felt as though he was out of options. So, one night, in his cell, he sat meditating and sifting through the Force all around him. He called out to the Light and asked to be guided to her.

The next time he opened his eyes, he was shocked to see an equally surprised Rey in front of him. Unlike the Force bond that they previously shared, this time he could see a little bit of Rey’s surroundings. She was sitting on a stump, devouring a skewered fish. The scales glinted as she tore the fish away from her mouth, never breaking eye contact with him.

“Ben!” she exclaimed, leaving the fish on the stump behind her and flinging herself towards him. She wiped her hands on her pants before throwing her arms around him.

“I can see where you are, kind of,” she added, “This feels different than the Force bond. Is this you?”

“Just me,” he responded, crushing their bodies together. She smelled like a campfire, and he never wanted to let go.

“So that means I can do it too? Whenever I want?” she asked excitedly, pulling back and searching his face for answers.

He wanted to tease her, and tell her that he would dispel the connection and see if she could conjure it again. At the same time, he didn’t dare take that risk. Suppose this was just a fluke, and neither of them could open the communication again?

“I guess you’ll have to find out,” he settled on saying.

His hands found hers, and he let himself believe that it wasn’t just a fluke.

---

It was a particularly scorching day at the Temple, and Rey was packing her bag lighter than usual. She didn’t expect much trouble where she was going. Inside the Temple, all was quiet. The long summer days were too hot and the sun so fierce that the younglings had taken to sleeping during the day.

Finn, however, hardly slept. He claimed that he got enough rest during his meditations, but Rey had her doubts. Secretly, she and Poe had planned a vacation for him, so that he could take some time off from chasing Force-sensitive powerhouses around and trying to keep them out of trouble. Rose would be the distraction to get him off Jakku for once.

But before all of that, Rey had one last mission to complete. Going outside meant facing that head pounding heat, and Rey wasn’t looking forward to it. On the other hand, she didn’t want to waste any time. Finn deserved a break, and after she completed this trip, surely it would be a piece of cake to look after the Temple and all its inhabitants…

She tried very hard not to think about the Caretakers on Ahch-To and all the trouble she had caused them.

Finally, with everything packed up, she made her way to say goodbye to Finn. She found him where she expected, in the center of the Temple, which was something of a greenhouse. The air was still hot and unforgiving in here, but at least it was controlled by several temperature regulators that Rey had rigged together.

Finn was harvesting some type of succulent when she approached him.

“Heading out?” he asked.

She nodded and waited for him to stand up and give her a hug. He was super sweaty, but she didn’t mention it. If she stayed out here any longer, she would be too.

“You didn’t forget anything, did you? Did you remember to pack extra food?”

Rey tried not to laugh. “I’ve got everything, even extra instant bread.”

Finn shook his head disapprovingly, and this time Rey did laugh. She knew instant bread wasn’t the healthiest of options, but it was still one of her favorite snacks. She had grown up eating it, and she planned to continue eating it until the day she died, nutrition be damned!

Finn rolled his eyes. “Alright, alright. Well, be careful anyway. He’s a hardened criminal, I hear.”

---

Three years.

Ben had been waiting three years, give or take a few months and some days. He had been counting, but he would never admit it. It still didn’t feel real to him that he wouldn’t be returning to his cell tonight.

He was met in the lobby by his mother and a sleeping Rey.

His mother nodded at him – they weren’t on hugging terms yet – and gave a laugh as they both looked at Rey. She was sprawled in a seemingly uncomfortable folding chair, her mouth slightly open and snoring. Her hair had grown longer and was down to her waist. Two small braids wrapped around her head, securing her hair back. At the top of her head, some of her hair was gathered in a small bun.

Though Ben had been able to communicate with Rey through the Force, seeing her in person was always so much more intense. He already was having trouble believing that today was really happening. Now, he was sure that all of this was a strange dream. There was no way he was being released from prison on parole to go live with his mother. There was no way Rey was right there, waiting to see him.

“Those bureaucrats took their time signing all those papers before letting you out,” Leia said glibly, “As one myself, I kind of expected that, but I should have warned Rey. She got here exactly on time, poor soul.”

Ben knelt in front of her, and took one of her hands in both of his. He ran his thumb over the back of her hand, and just marveled at her. That she was here. That he was holding her hand.

He called to her softly. “Rey, sweetheart, wake up, please. It’s me.”

Her eyes slowly opened, and she smiled. “It is you!”

Ben felt a rush of emotions at once. His face felt hot, and he had to rub at it with one of his hands. His eyes burned and his throat felt raw.

“Did you have a nice nap?” he managed.

She leaned forward and placed her free hand on top of his. “Actually I was having a bit of a nightmare, but I’m awake now, and it’s gone. Oh, Ben – am I still dreaming?”

He kissed both of her hands, and she rose to her feet. They embraced.

“You’re not dreaming,” he replied. “I’m back.”

Chapter Text

Rey walked along the loamy shore of a small pool filled with crystal clear water. Scattered throughout the silt, and along the bottom of the pool, were specks of color from the small rounded pebbles embedded in the dirt. She stopped at the edge where the water lapped at the dry land and stared at the small waterfall that emptied into the pool. This would always be her favorite spot on Zar En.

The sound of boots crunching against sand and rock came closer until they were right behind her. She felt Ben’s arms slip around her waist, and she leaned back into his tall figure. They had been picnicking on the banks, which was not too far from a small cabin that Rey had built over the years. Her work of finding other Force sensitive beings made it so that she was on the move most of the time, and she had set up similar shelters all over the galaxy. This particular shelter, however, was the most developed and also her favorite. It was where she came to relax and enjoy her life. It was her base of operation and her home. She spent more time here than anywhere else, although Finn’s Temple was a close second.

Rey had often considered building a Temple of her own here, but at the same time, she didn’t want to breach the simple tranquility of the planet. She and Rose had a few designs in mind for a potential Temple, but they were still in the process of pouring over maps of the galaxy to find a suitable place for it. Rey was leaning towards Crait, because it was mostly uninhabited and she was used to desert landscapes. Rose, on the other hand, was pushing for Devaron because it already housed an ancient Jedi Temple that they could work to refurbish. Rose made the point that they already had a Jedi Temple on a desert planet, Jakku, and so they might as well start to branch off into different biomes. Rey was coming around, but they didn’t need to make any decisions just yet.

“Leaving me with all the cleanup, I see,” Ben lilted in good humor.

Rey laughed. “Where are Gen and Kira when you need them?”

“With all the other Jedi younglings, probably irritating Finn,” Ben replied. She felt him rest his chin on the top of her head, ostensibly admiring the waterfall just as she was. Rey’s thoughts of the padawans slowly drifted away.

“How about a swim?” she suggested.

Ben readily agreed, and they both stripped and submerged themselves in the water. Rey dove down and swam towards the waterfall. She kept her eyes open, although the water stung a bit, and she saw a few fish and other sea critters. She opened herself to the Force and felt the overwhelming life force that was teeming within the pool. When she could no longer hold her breath, she surfaced with a new sense of tranquility about her.

She pushed some wet hair out of her face and noticed Ben staring at the way the ring on her hand glinted in the light. When he’d first given it to her, it had been completely translucent. Gradually, as she wore it and it became attuned to her, it had taken on a brilliant violet hue. She was planning on making a quick trip up to the crystal caves where she would find something for him to match.

She hadn’t yet decided whether to make an event of it for the both of them, or if she wanted to surprise him with it.

Ben floated lazily by her, pushed by the swirling current from the waterfall. He looked so peaceful and content, and Rey swam up to him and splashed him. They grappled a bit, each trying to dunk each other under the water, before settling back into treading water.

It had taken five years of parole before Ben had been released early. Now that he was completely free, he no longer had to live with his mother, or check in with an intergalactic officer every so often. He did keep in contact with Leia quite regularly though. Rey had noticed how their relationship had changed over the years that he lived with her, and she was glad that they were able to work things out.

Once Ben was free, he had begun traveling a lot with Rey. Quickly, he realized that the public still despised and mistrusted him, and that he was actually hindering Rey’s searches. At this point, he changed tactics. Poe had risen through the ranks and was set to take over for Leia when she retired. He was well-known, respected, and popular among the public. Ben started accompanying Poe on his diplomatic engagements, and he saw that his reputation was improved bit by bit.

As the sun started to set, they climbed out, dried off, and dressed. They gathered their belongings and started to head home. On their way back, Rey stopped by a particular berry bush to harvest some.

“Felosial keeps asking me to get some of these for her, and I keep forgetting! Better do it now, and I can run them up to her tomorrow,” Rey explained.

Felosial had since completed her training and moved out to a cottage of her own, as a full-fledged healer. Since the Zar En people had resumed their nomadic ways, and healers were once again thriving, there had been a need for healers to fill in the old abandoned cottages from the healers of previous decades. Now the Healing Village was running at full capacity again, and Felosial even had apprentices of her own. Rey stopped by to visit her every now and then.

Maiathah was also still doing well. She had taken on two new apprentices, one of whom was the son of Arha. Speaking of Arha, she had come to lead her own group of warriors. Though there was nothing to really dispute or defend, she helped keep the Zar En traditions alive along with the rest of her troupe. Rey had also heard that Arha had made up with not only Maiathah, but also Felosial. Evidently, another child from Arha’s group was one of Felosial’s apprentices.

When Ben and Rey returned home, Ben got a message from Rose. He called her back through his holo, and they became engrossed in a conversation of gossip about Rose’s coworkers. Rey always found this hilarious because most of Rose’s coworkers these days were droids.

As they chatted, Rey put their things away and straightened up a few things while she was at it. This really was her favorite home. On some planets, she had nothing more than a hut made of mud and sticks. Here, things were vastly more hospitable, though still rustic. The walls were of stone, clay, and wood. There were wooden floors and a slate roof that had taken back-breaking labor to assemble. Large glass windows adorned every room. Though small, her home had a kitchen, bedroom, refresher, and den. It was cozy and small and Rey loved it.

She also had a few high tech items that she had picked up here and there. Most times it was some junk or rubbish that she had been able to restore, but sometimes, she would receive gifts from grateful citizens of systems that she managed to help in some way.

She sat down at the virtual chess board in her room, which was very similar to the one in the Millennium Falcon. Unlike the Falcon’s, this board could link with other boards all across the galaxy. As she sat down, she noticed that Poe was signed into his board, and she began a match with him. They had a pretty even win to loss ratio, but today she scored another win against him.

Ben finally came into the room and started getting ready to sleep. Rose and Iella signed on their chess boards, and Rey challenged Iella. Rose was way too difficult a challenger, and Rey was starting to feel sleepy. By the time she finished her game with Iella, she was ready for bed.

She got up, turned off the lights, and joined Ben.

“Goodnight, Ben,” she whispered. She kissed him in the dark, one last time before sleep overwhelmed her.

“Goodnight, sweetheart.”