“All alone, on the edge of sleep
My old familiar friend
Comes and lies down next to me
And I can see it coming from the edge of the room
Smiling in the streetlight
even with my eyes shut tight, I still see it coming now.”
Breaking Down, Florence + The Machine
The buzzing was incessant.
It buried itself in Kylo’s ears, tunneled its way into his brain and made a nest of his memories. A thousand tiny bugs, their dirty feet and gnawing mandibles running over the raw wounds of his mind and infesting the nooks and crannies of his consciousness over and over till Kylo was no longer sure if what remained was still truly himself or simply fragments of the noise. No amount of rumination or self-flagellation could make it stop. It was relentless and unending; the same as the artificial light above him and the unyielding metal of the bench beneath him.
And in some strange way, it was a relief.
Two thousand hours, a hundred days; a prison of minutes measured in more seconds than he would ever feel like contemplating - it had proven both far too much and not enough of a punishment. Day in, day out, it was all the same for him.
Sometimes he was sure he no longer possessed the strength to move. Surely the fortitude for action must have fled his bones along with his control of the Force. Other times, he felt strong enough to pull the universe apart.
Of course, he never did.
His world was this wall, this bench, this light, and this noise - a small number of things that he could expand to include anything he could imagine, anything but that -
So instead he focused on the light, on the noise, on the cold steel of the bench invading his hip-bone and chilling his torso - anything except for the madness that gnawed at him.
A patch of muddy ground managed to break through the wall of static in his brain. Kylo flinched. It was gone in the same heartbeat, a mocking reminder that nothing, not even his mind, was his any longer.
Three heartbeats in a muddy field had doomed him to hell.
On that score, there was no doubt remaining. The moment that played every night behind his eyes ensured it. The memories that roared to life when the light was finally gone only reinforced it - when the buzzing stilled and the meager distractions afforded to him in this sterile cell could no longer keep them at bay.
There was no peace for him. He would trade one torment for another until the day he died.
And it was far, far less than he deserved.
Even without a true sense of the passage of time. Kylo knew the day was waning, as the buzz-filled minutes dwindled to nothingness and the darkness stirred to life. Somewhere in his mind he knew that there were a regimented twelve hours of darkness and twelve hours of light, and neither of them brought him what he truly needed. Both relief and absolution escaped him, and he was in no position to chase after either.
The sense of dread in his chest grew with each heartbeat, each shallow breath taking him a little closer to that darkness he so craved and feared.
Thud, thunk, thud, thunk - the uneven footfalls of one of his jailers blended with the cacophony of insect wings inside his mind. The jarring movements those steps described were easy to identify - a man with a limp. The cocky one, Kylo thought in despair. Not the girl with the soft voice who occasionally spoke to him - the only voice he had heard in so long.
Not her. The pilot.
The footsteps stopped, ended in a shuffle. There was an electronic beep, the same as every night and every morning. Kylo could almost see the pilot’s face in his mind, twisted into a grimace as he performed a duty he regarded as strictly beneath him.
I knew him once.
Kylo had known him, but like so many things in his life it was fleeting and the time of friendly reminiscing long since passed. There was nothing left between them, not even the faint recollections of a boyhood spent in trees and hangar bays. No words were exchanged when the pilot flipped the heavy switch, plunging the cell into darkness as it had every day for months.
Months, stretching into eternity.
Kylo slammed his eyes shut, gritting his teeth and tensing his body as the buzzing left and the silence replaced it, pain flooding the open sores of his mind in anticipation. A heartbeat’s pause and the footfalls moved down the hallway, leaving him alone with his demons.
The door shut with a snick . Kylo resisted the urge to open his eyes and stare into the blankness. Give yourself a little more time , something inside him begged. Give it just a few minutes - perhaps this time, a few minutes of peace.
He struggled to remember the last time he truly slept.
Casting his mind to the sensation of cold metal pressed against his body, Kylo tried to stave off the images he knew would be upon him shortly. He silently begged the unfeeling durasteel to ground him, to keep him tethered to reality instead of the hellscape lurking just out of view. Smooth and cold and hard and strong; let it burrow under his skin instead of simply chilling it, let it turn him into a something as incapable of feeling as the three-meter slab jutting out from the stark wall.
But the whispers were coming, his pleas once again ignored.
It would do no good to fight.
Kylo had been fighting all his life, and it never brought him anything but pain. But it was not in his nature to surrender, not with the princess’s resolve and the smuggler’s backbone he begrudgingly inherited. And so he struggled against the intrusion into his mind, against the comforting voice telling him to open his eyes, to reach out his hand. It's a lie , the portion of his soul he still retained snarled at him. A lie, don’t give in to it tonight -
But this night, like all the others, Kylo opened his eyes in the darkness, raised his hand to press it against the wall in front of him.
What greeted him was familiar, a well-worn nightmare.
Hazel eyes stared back into his own, clouded by the grave. A hand touched his, colder than the metal beneath him. Brown hair, matted with blood, stuck to her forehead and cheeks. He only allowed himself to look at her face and no further - to focus on her eyes, her lips, the dirt-stained tip of her nose.
The whispers stopped. A pop and whoosh of air around him spanned the miles from where she lay to where he did.
Ben , she said, her beautiful voice carrying an undercurrent of rot. Don’t leave me.
Don’t leave me.
Don’t leave me.
The same impossible request every night.
“I won’t,” Kylo choked out. You can’t, his mind echoed cruelly.
The same false promise he couldn’t help but give.
A smile, then, cracked and broken. A clammy-wet hand in his hair, his dark strands trapped between fingers coated in blood. She ran her hand along his scalp, down to his jawline, ragged nails scratching along the unshaven growth he had acquired, tracing the planes of his face like she had so many times in life.
If he closed his eyes now, he could almost see her alive. Her skin bronzed instead of blue. Her eyes bright and full of life, her lips pliant and not parched, with freckles dotting her nose instead of grave-dirt.
Her frozen palm rested on his scarred cheek, the puckered skin inexplicably warming.
So cold - let me in. The words barely left her cracked lips, echoing oddly in the durasteel cell Kylo lie inside.
He was helpless to resist. It was never a question when it came to her - not her, never her. Even now.
Kylo pulled her hand to his lips, kissed the deep wound running across her palm. “Of course. Of course, Rey -” The same useless words, hollow entreaties for time to rewind and for a different mistake to be made. Maybe this time it will be different, Kylo thinks, maybe this time I can -
Their bond roared to life, and the white-hot pain of that half-healed wound being ripped apart again caused Kylo to recoil. He lost his grasp on her hand, the vision of her corpse slipped into the ether as wet ground rushed up at him, loamy and dark and reeking of death.
He knew what came next, it had come every night - he was no better than a puppet, dancing to the mercurial hand of fate.
Kylo slid into the muck of a battlefield, the battlefield - blood and gore surrounding him. He staggered to his feet, cape twisting around his ankles in the mire. His eyes rose of their own accord, too slow for action as he watched the red streak of the vibro-blade arching down towards him. A heartbeat, and the shape of an avenging angel and her blue blade glanced it away.
She rolled to the side, dodged the blade again as it came crashing down a hair’s breadth to her left.
Kylo’s gloved hand scrabbled frantically for his saber, meet nothing but the empty latch on his belt. He knew from memory that it lay several meters downfield - too far, too late - he could call it, but Rey needed him now -
He raised his hands and pushed with all the strength of the Force in his bones, sent the vibro-blade away from the left side of Rey’s face and the trooper wielding it down into the mire.
Ducking to dodge a blaster-bolt aimed for his head, Kylo aligned himself and pulled the trooper towards him with a shout - trying desperately to bring the fucking stormtrooper’s attention back to him, only him -
If he could change the focus, he could change the outcome. Kylo began to run, trying to close the two meters left between them -
The soldier stumbled downward, leading Rey to advance -
Too far, too late -
Kylo heard himself screaming - a word, over and over -
Another red bolt zoomed past his head, buried itself in the ground beside Rey’s left leg.
As it always had.
Momentarily distracted, she looked down.
And it’s just a moment, not even a heartbeat, but it’s enough.
A sizzle of atmosphere, and Rey’s body is neatly bisected by the vibro-blade, collarbone to pelvis, a gaping hole that immediately welled red and wet through her stupid fucking sand-rat clothes -
Her name was torn from his throat, an unholy roar.
Rey’s mouth formed a neat circle, her hands grasping the weapon to jerk it away from the soldier before it even left her body.
A stray red bolt ended the life of that fucking stormtrooper, one heartbeat too late -
And Kylo was paralyzed, watching it play out the same way it had every night since the first despite any attempts to change it.
Rey slumped to the ground, wet and muddy and gasping for air.
Kylo had seen her fall a hundred times now.
Numb legs closed the distance between them, the useless appendages giving way before he’d reached her. A frantic scramble brought Kylo beside her, kneeling in muck and blood. Torn between wanting to gather Rey into his arms and the knowledge that moving her body would likely speed her end, his hands hovered over her in fearful indecision.
Rey looked at him with large eyes, mouth opened and panting and grimacing in pain -
Don’t leave me.
Trembling with uncertainty, Kylo moved his large hands to span the wounds on her torso, trying to close them in blind panic. Blood welled between his gloved fingers and Rey cried out in agony.
The noise of the battle fell away, though whether the action subsided or moved elsewhere was not for Kylo to say.
His world condensed to the woman at his knees, dying in the mud.
There was a voice in his ears, and it had taken him longer than he cared to admit that it was his own.
“This wasn't - Rey, this wasn't how it was supposed to end up. This isn't it.”
Her blood-soaked hand clutched his wrist, her grip strong and sure and - damn him, but it gave him hope . Useless hope, as though every word she said in the next hundred seconds hadn’t already been branded onto his skin.
Kylo tried uselessly to conjure the Force to close her chest, her belly - anything; to keep her alive for a few more moments so the medics could reach them. Surely they weren’t far.
Surely he could do this.
The power that leapt so easily when it came to destruction skittered away from him then, shied away from his request in open rebellion.
“Ben,” Rey ground out between gritted teeth, a wet cough spattering bright red over both of them. “Ben, stop.”
Her tone was gentle. Her words were meant to comfort, not wound, however much they cut him to the quick.
Surrender was not an option.
“Never,” he growled, trying to raise his hand again to call upon the power he had harnessed to bring so much destruction -
Now, please now, couldn’t it bring something else - this time, just this one, give me a different end -
“Ben,” Rey wheezed, her breath coming in quick gasps. “Don’t leave me.” Her hands were wet, scrabbling at his chest and neck, leaving trails of blood in their wake. “Don’t leave me.”
Don't leave me.
“Don’t leave me ,” Kylo choked, shedding his gloves with his teeth before finally dropping his hands to hold her wandering ones. He needed to feel her - warm, alive.
“I won’t,” she said, smiling as she told the kindest lie he’d ever heard. “I could… never.”
Her pulse threaded unevenly under his fingers. Time was short, and there was nothing he could do to stop the moments from speeding her away. Kylo dropped her hands, reached under her broken body to cradle her close. Rey threaded her hands into his doublet, leaning her heavy head against his shoulder.
“I’m… sorry. Wasn’t careful,” she wheezed, breath bubbling in her chest. Kylo tightened his grip, burying his nose in her hair and breathing in the scent of her, alive . “There’s so much to do -”
“Stop. I don’t - just stop, Rey, please - if you’re quiet - just wait, they’re - help is coming for you. And we’ll do it. We’ll do it all. I’ll find us a ship -” Words tumbled from his mouth nonsensically, every molecule of his being fighting against the reality they both knew was coming.
“And we’ll see… the moons.” Rey grinned, a chilling flash of white teeth coated in red. “And you said… a waterfall.”
“All of them. Every single one, in the entire galaxy, Rey, I promise -”
“I don’t want to leave you,” Rey whispered against his neck, the words barely ghosting across his skin before disappearing. “I don’t -”
“Then don’t. Be with me always - take any form - you’ll never be far enough away from me where I could not find you. I’ll come for you,” he murmured the words against her temple, against warm blood-streaked skin. “And I’ll never let you go.”
“Promise,” she whispered, and Kylo felt her smile against his neck.
“Promise,” he choked, bending his head down to press his forehead against hers.
Rey turned, letting their lips brush in the faintest of kisses. “You’re so... warm.”
Her hands were blocks of ice against his chest, his clothes rapidly becoming soaked in the blood she continued to lose. Kylo bit back the sob that threatened to shake his body. Rey’s breaths were a phlegmy rattle, shallow and short, accompanied by a tiny trail of blood winding its way from the corner of her joined lips. A thousand empty words filled his mouth, vanishing even before he had the chance to set them free.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered instead, holding her lolling head closer. “I’m so sorry.”
If he had his saber, if he had more time to react, he could have ended this before it even began. She never should have -
Kylo felt the soft brush of Rey in his mind, the blue-light presence he craved like a drug.
“My choice. Mine. You’re… mine.” Rey smiled, her eyes locking with Kylo’s for the last time. “You’re mine.”
The indelible lightness of Rey’s spirit fled her body, leaving her bones heavy in Kylo’s arms.
There was a monstrous howl; a keening sound more far fitting a wounded animal than a man. It accompanied the searing agony of the Force being ripped from his head, his chest, his bones.
The Force, and Rey.
He struggled to compose himself. Orienting to the empty husk he'd become was a nearly impossible task. All his senses were misaligned - no riotous river of Force, no tranquil lake that had been his sense of Rey. He was unmoored and adrift, dangerously lost in the waves of a life he no longer recognized.
He should run - he should take her, and run, and hide somewhere the First Order or the Resistance could never find them. But there was no them , it was only him , and Kylo found himself incapable of caring about what happened to himself.
Kylo ran his fingers down the hollow of her cheek, smoothed away strands of hair stuck to her clammy skin. His bloodstained fingers slid Rey’s eyelids closed as they skimmed the planes of her face, a whispered entreaty for her to forgive him dissolving into a sob.
He was unable to stare into the shallow darkness of Rey’s lifeless eyes any longer. But his grip on her body - that he could not relinquish. Kylo’s fingers dug into her skin hard enough to bruise, his chest rising and falling frantically because her chest would never again -
The edges of his vision blurred and swam. Kylo was unable to focus on anything more than her bloodied skin, the muck matting her soft hair to her forehead. How she’d never raise a hand to brush it away. How her bloodless lips would never curve into a smile, her teeth would never flash in a wide laugh.
How the first time he’d been able to hold her while in the light, her body was slack in death.
And he thought he had been alone before.
Kylo struggled to master himself, willed his muscles to respond, his breathing to unstick - anything , he had to do something -
But he was still as a statue in the ruins of the battlefield, frozen in body and soul.
How long Kylo remained in place was beyond his reckoning. Too long - but not long enough before the outside world came flooding back. A heavy hand appeared seemingly from nowhere and grasped his shoulder, dragged him backwards and nearly caused him to lose his hold on Rey’s body.
Kylo reacted on instinct alone, used the last tiny fragments of Force he possessed to crush the leg of his would-be assailant. A dark-haired man - the pilot, that pilot - fell to the ground in agony.
Too late, Kylo realized the man had been calling Rey’s name.
He tried to force the words that described this awful tableau from his chest, an explanation, an apology - but nothing emerged. He gaped like a fish, watching in horror as others stumbled closer.
They’d take her away.
He wanted - needed - to run, and glanced around wildly looking for an opportunity. Before he could stagger to his feet, another hand landed on his shoulder - gentle this time - and stilled him. A dark-haired woman appeared on his left, crouched before slumping to her knees in the mud. She gasped softly and said something too quiet for Kylo to hear, sliding her hand from his shoulder to rest on Rey’s calf.
The woman looked directly at him then, deep brown eyes full of regret and pain, but slowly mixing with something else - recognition.
“It was you. It was you all along.” Her eyes filled with tears, threatening to overspill any moment.
Kylo found himself unable to break her gaze, even as Rey was removed from his grasp and his hands were shoved roughly into binders. He was stone-still, paralyzed. When unseen hands hauled him to his feet, he allowed himself to be led away without resistance.
There was no more need for action. The only thing keeping him alive in the two years since usurping his abuser was gone.
The last spark of hope he clung to had been extinguished. There was nothing left for him now.
Kylo slammed back into his body with a jolt, the lights above him snapping to life as the buzzing filled his ears once again. He rolled over slowly, stretched his stiff unused joints before hesitantly swinging his legs over the side of the slab to stand. Pins-and-needles vibrated through his calves, reluctantly reminding him that he was still alive.
The scent of his once-daily meal already filled the cell, and he knew from experience that it was no good cold. It was exactly in its expected place, the small square of floor where the durasteel door had been modified to fit a small sliding panel with an automatic release.
What was not in its expected place was the round face peering at him through the door’s lone barred window. Kylo stopped short and only just avoided slamming himself back down to his steel bench. It was strange to see her in this reality, having just left her in the last.
“Kylo,” she said simply, cocking her head to the side in a way that made her seem much younger than he supposed she actually was. “I was… do you need anything?”
He stared at her dumbly, unwilling and unable to form the words to reply to such a ridiculous question. There was nothing he needed in this maker-forsaken galaxy that she could give him.
“I just want to help.” she adds.
Again, Kylo maintained his steady gaze but refused to conjure an answer. When a few moments passed with nothing said, she nodded her head sharply and turned to leave.
Shuffle-tap, shuffle tap - a creak of a door - and she was gone.
Kylo ate the provided slop in silence, focused on scraping the bowl so that nothing remained of the horrific substance. Absently he wondered why it mattered. Keeping himself alive was hardly a priority.
After depositing the tray back in its designated place, Kylo stumbled from the door to the open privy and finally slumped back down on his slab, his muscles shaking with the effort of these few steps.
He lay on his back as the room spun. The great crackling tubes above him that generated the strange light in his cell blurred and swam together. Kylo closed his eyes, fighting against the rising bile.
The buzzing gradually grew louder, and the insects resumed their tunneling in his brain. As conscious thought slipped away, a misfire of some synapse reminded him that her name was Rose. Kylo worried the word around in his brain, tried to commit it to his addled memory as the light and noise took him away from himself.
Poe and Rose.
“This cannot continue, Poe.”
“Well, good morning to you too, Rose. And may I say, what a ray of sunshine you are today.”
“Shut up. Just - shut up, Poe. He’s sick .”
“No, not - and fuck your deliberate obtuseness, you know I mean Kylo Ren.”
“Why should anyone give half a bantha shit what happens to that fucker?”
“You know damn well why -”
“You have no proof that was him, Rose. Idle speculation and a gut feeling will not convince the galaxy and it’s sure as shit not convincing me.”
“If I could get him to talk to me - which, by the way, would probably be easier if he got more than one meal a day - I bet he’d tell a different tale.”
“He’d say anything to save his skin.”
“...You haven’t actually looked at him recently, have you? You march yourself down there, you shut off the light, and you don’t even bother to look at him, which is ostensibly the entire point of that exercise -”
“Why should I?”
“Fuck you, Poe. This conversation isn’t over. I’m not going to let us stoop to the level of the First Order when it comes to the treatment of prisoners.”
“War criminals, Ms. Tico. And don’t you have something mechanical to go fix, somewhere? You’ve still got an oil stain on that fancy robe. Your true colors are showing.”
“... Fuck you, Poe Dameron.”