The shuttle came out of hyperspace at D’Qar just as Ben Solo snapped awake from his nightmare. He had thought that driving that presence out of his head — the strange presence that called itself Snoke. What kind of presence called themselves Snoke anyway? — would stop the nightmares. He supposed that it didn’t entirely. At least the shielding techniques that Uncle Luke had taught him were working.
Count the hyperspace routes, one by one...
That was his goal. Count the hyperspace routes, count the ticks in the power coupling, anything like that. One, two, three...
”You seem nervous,” Luke said.
“Do I? I guess I do,” Ben said. He sighed. “Just a bad dream. And people wonder why I don’t like to sleep.”
”You’re far from the only one,” Luke said. “I have a feeling that Snoke...whoever he is, he’s far from done with either one of us, actually.”
Ben could figure that. After all, he had seen visions of the Jedi Temple on fire. He had seen things like a strange figure in a sort of beast-like mask, another figure in an almost avian mask. Standing side by side...and then the laughter. The sinister chuckle that Ben kept waking to in his nightmares.
Luke placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “You’re not as alone as you think, Ben.”
Despite himself, Ben smiled at his uncle. “I know.”
They landed on D’Qar, and it was there that Ben disembarked, looking around at the people gathered on the base — people just landing, people talking, things of that nature. They definitely weren’t alone in this fight.
It was just then that Ben heard a familiar voice. Poe’s voice, obviously talking to BB-8. “...hold on, buddy, who is it?” Then, Poe emerged from the crowd in that moment and it was there that his face brightened — honest to stars brightened. “Ben!” he practically shouted. “Ben Solo, is that you?”
Poe ran towards him and they hugged tightly. Even the feeling of Poe all but crushed against him...Ben was going to be honest; he wanted as much of that scent as possible. He wanted that warmth, that feeling of safety — after the worry about his nightmares, stars willing he needed it.
Poe broke away after a while, and grinned at Ben. “It’s so good to see you!”
”Yeah.” Ben bit his lip. “You look...good. Very Resistance.”
Poe laughed, but there was nothing mocking about it, not really. Stars bless him. "Thank you. You look good too.” Then, “Your mother’s waiting for you. She’s a General now.”
”Really?” Somehow, it fit her.
Ben’s uncle hung back a bit even as Ben and Poe talked on the way to the base. Somehow, it just felt good talking to Poe. It really did.
The command center was mostly empty, except for Ben’s mother and a young woman, a Miraluka, sitting at the conference table. The Miraluka was dressed in black, the customary veil of the Miraluka covering her eyes. She turned towards Ben and Poe even as they walked in, BB-8 and Luke at their heels, lips slightly parted in what Ben could only assume was curiosity.
”Hello,” Ben said.
The woman spoke. Her voice was low, almost gravelly in nature. “Snoke spoke much about you,” she said. “Jedi.”
”I can imagine,” Ben said. Beside him, Poe’s hand was on his shoulder, trying to calm him. Besides being welcome, the touch made Ben’s heart skip a beat.
Leia spoke. “This is Lyra,” she said. “She’s a defected Knight of Ren — servants of this Supreme Leader Snoke. She’s come with intelligence on the First Order.” A beat. “I will say, Lyra, it was very noble of you,” Leia said as she turned to the former Knight. “Renouncing the First Order like that.”
Lyra chuckled bitterly. “Snoke is a buffoon. Anyone would renounce him, really.” A beat. “If it were at all possible, I would have killed him myself. He disgraces the very concept of ren. Not to mention his species.”
”Still,” Leia said, “It wasn’t a decision you made lightly, Lyra.”
Lyra looked thoughtful. “I suppose not. You’re too kind to your enemies, General. I’d say that they would use that against you in the future.”
”Better kind than cruel.”
”I’ve never had the luxury of that.” Lyra turned towards Ben again. “This one’s soul is splintered. Belonging to neither the Light nor the Dark. Snoke wanted him for that. For his power in the Dark and Light. The balance. Energy.”
Ben could swear that his skin prickled in unease. “How do you know that?”
”I may be blind, Ben Solo, but I see much,” Lyra said. “Perhaps too much.”
Leia actually looked taken aback. “Did he tell you anything?”
”He gloated,” Lyra said. “Extensively, at that. Talked about how I was good as expendable, just like his previous apprentices.”
”Sounds like a winner,” Poe said sarcastically, and Ben could have sworn the corners of Lyra’s lips actually twitched.
“That,” Lyra said, “Is unfortunately nothing new in the realm of the Dark Side. The strongest must rule if we are to survive. But Snoke...when he taught me, he promised a galaxy free of corruption. He lied. I doubt I can completely stop my hands from gushing red...but I can try.”
”That’s what matters,” Poe said. “If anyone in the Resistance tries to start a fight, we’ll stop them.”
“Thank you,” Lyra said. “Truly.”
It was in a private room in the command center that Leia spoke with Ben. She sighed. “Ben,” she said, “There’s a lot I need to explain...”
”There is,” Ben said. He sighed. “Did you know that Snoke was after me?”
Leia looked pained. Then, “I suspected it. I suppose there was a part of me that didn’t want to believe it. I thought after the Emperor and Vader had died, the war was over. I didn’t know it had just begun, in its way.”
Ben nodded, listening.
Leia continued. “He did many things to mess with my head. Make me think I was hallucinating. I thought sending you away to your uncle would keep you safe from him. I didn’t know how far he could reach...”
”I thought I wasn’t enough,” Ben said, his voice cracking. “Do you know how much that can mess with a kid’s head?”
”You were more than enough, Ben. It was my fault.”
That...hurt as much. Parents were supposed to be invincible, Ben thought. They weren’t supposed to blame themselves.
“No. No, it wasn’t.” Ben sighed as he spoke. “What Snoke did to me wasn’t your fault. And...I don’t agree, but I can understand. A little. Really.”
His mother smiled. For a moment, it seemed, they were mother and son, the way it should have been.
”So, how was the meeting with the General?” Poe said.
Ben sighed. “Better than I thought.” He’d been used to thinking that his mother didn’t want him. He couldn’t be more relieved to find it wasn’t the case. That had been a fear of Ben’s, being unwanted somehow.
“That’s great news!” Poe said. “Really, I’m happy for you.” He squeezed Ben’s shoulder, and Ben couldn’t help but feel a flutter in him at the touch.
It shouldn’t have been that way. But ever since Ben had gotten older and realized his feelings for Poe were more than just one friend to another...well, he was effectively kriffed for this wonderful man, he truly was.
”Thanks,” Ben said.
Poe beamed. “Hey. What are friends for?”
”Yeah.” Somehow, Ben wanted more than that, and yet he was grateful Poe couldn’t read minds. “What are friends for?”