“How would it be… if all my hate disappeared like my youth, if after all this time his very hatred of me turned out to be something gentle, some kind of love.”
Louise Wareham Leonard, 52 Men
“Rey of Jakku,” the protocol droid says, opening the bronze double doors and ushering them inside. It doesn’t announce him because it doesn’t know his name, and is clearly nervous about the impropriety.
From the dropped jaws and silence at the table, it seems they weren’t expected. The board room is high enough above the bustle and lights of Coruscanti traffic to see the stars. They twinkle behind the crystalline windows.
Rey sits neatly at the head of the table. Ren remains standing.
“We understand,” she begins, “that this meeting has been called to recommend a full boycott of the Tyrius system. I had thought the embargo laws of the New Republic were clear.”
The beings around the table are stricken. They don’t dare to point out that the New Republic is dead. That the man behind her killed it.
Finally the chairman, a Besalisk, seems to recover himself.
“The council does not recognize the Starkiller delegation at this time.”
“Your recognition-” his wattle goes yellow as she turns on him, “is not my concern, chairman.”
Fear and resentment ripple through the room. Behind her, she can feel a black well rising in Ren. It stokes her. The Force-sensitive human in the back must feel it too; he’s shrinking into his chair.
Rey concentrates on him, watching him redden under the attention. “A blockade of this nature will, as you know, cripple the Rodians, making it difficult for them to persist in their independence.”
The Rodian representative doesn’t seem to believe her luck.
“You will end it,” Rey continues. “And you will repay the Rodians for three months of trade interference. In Republic credits,” she clarifies to the secretary, who is already inputting busily on his holopad. “That seems more than fair. Agreed?”
The silence and lack of immediate dismemberment give the Besalisk a false sense of security.
“This is not,” he sputters, “how we are accustomed to being treated!” Seeming to sense he’ll get nothing further from Rey, he looks back to Ren. “This is not how she would have done things!”
The name goes unspoken. But it’s clear who he means.
There’s a moment of silence. Then his gold tie, arranged in a complex knot, extends out in the air. It suddenly yanks down, slamming his face to the table.
“This is how we do things,” Ren says.
The tie is crumpled, but slack now—the chairman’s head stays close to the table all the same. He’s keeping it there himself, his nose leaking sticky blue blood.
“The embargo,” Rey says, standing. When she rises, so do they. “End it.”
It always goes like this. Whenever someone mentions his mother, he has to find something sturdy and crush it.
The longer she knows him, the more complicated the drive seems to be. Half of it is the usual lack of control, lashing out at anything uncomfortable. But the other half, twisted up with the first, is something weaker, or more vulnerable, at least. Love. Or something like it. His desperate love for her, his need to feel that now, in his own way, he’s doing something she might be proud of.
He has a strange way of showing it. The durasteel beam of the platform groans and sags as he whales on it with his saber again and again. Rey leans against the ship, watching him.
Finally he wears himself out. She doesn’t need the Force to read how bone tired he is, that he can barely move for the shake in his muscles, his hair dripping with sweat.
“Better?” she asks.
He says nothing, prowling past her onto the ship. But she can feel that it is.
That night he helps her out of the dress. The material is a heavy brocade, bruise purple. She hates it, hates being contained in finery, but it’s necessary. She rips at her own hair, dragging out hidden pins and tossing them down. His hands are precise, methodical as they unclasp the hooks one by one, the back of his fingers braced against her skin.
It surprises her, somehow, that he has no real ideological beliefs. No code. He’d said they would rule together, but what they did was get on a cruiser and leave, then find another cruiser, unmarked, and leave again. The First Order is in disarray, a Star Destroyer falling from the sky. He doesn’t seem to care.
He seems happy enough to stay in the background. To go where she goes. To be the muscle. It’s like a game they play: that he’s a dog on her leash, captive, somehow, under her sway. That to others, his violence and his fury are hers to hold back, hers unleash at will. It’s a game they play for long enough that sometimes it feels true. That even when they’re alone, when no-one else is watching, he’s waiting for her nod, her approval, to surge forward.
She usually gives it to him.
Wherever they go they sleep in the same place, like animals do. In the bay of the ship—a tight recess in the hull—in forests and caves and small inns with two small beds, where only one is used.
Lying together makes it clear how much bigger he is than her. The bunks are often too short for his legs and she grows used to accommodating the bend in his knees, his constant shifting in sleep, his nightmares, the slightly dirty smell of his hair, to waking up overheated and thirsty but feeling him there behind her, never touching her with his hands or his mouth but solid and real, heavy against her side.
She comes to look forward to it. To folding in with him in secret places. Idiot delegates scream themselves senseless and she daydreams about when the door will lock behind them, when lights will dim, when the world will fall silent and they’ll go to sleep together.
She doesn’t tend to him. She won’t let him tend to her. Once half her face is smashed in, bruised and blue as a fruit, but it was her mistake, her fault, her stupid decision. He tried to take her chin in his hand then, to look, and she threw him off like a viper. He stalked away, bisecting trees, and left her to clean up on her own.
Once, though, he breaks his leg, a bad step on a slick of black ice, and there’s nothing to be done but haul him up on her side, brace him with the Force, drag him back to the ship.
When the door zips shut behind them and she sets him down, his agony flares white hot. Across the room, a remote droid squeaks and crumples in on itself.
“Stay still,” she snaps, annoyed and worried, and he bares his teeth, more at the ground than at her. But he does.
He processes pain differently than she does. In battle it stokes him. She’s seen him beating the blood out of his own ribs, feeding whatever powers him. She hates it. But when he can’t fight, when there’s nothing to punish, pain overwhelms him, suffocates him in helpless, greasy nausea. He’s like a child.
She ignores the bubbling black around him and lays a hand on his leg, unconcerned with the spike of rage, the way the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She sits with herself and reaches into the light. This is new, but she thinks she can do it.
She stitches the bone together. He keens, a groan so pained it almost sounds like arousal, but he holds still.
When she opens her eyes, her vision is bright on the edges, her ears ringing with the effort. He’s looking down at her, ghoulishly pale, and says nothing.
She gets up and boils a pulpy draught from the roots she keeps in the cupboard, distilling it into a small wooden cup. He drinks it without question. While he’s distracted, coughing at the bitter taste, she ties back his sweaty hair, takes a knee to examine his leg again. He doesn’t start when she firmly grasps his shin, working her hand up to his knee, testing the bone. It will do, until they can find a bacta tank.
When she’s finished he’s already sank back into the bed, the cup empty in his hand. His eyes are closed. The painkiller is powerful; it loosens him. It’s the first time she sees him rest without his brows knit, his shoulders tense, his strange hissing saber within arm’s reach.
For weeks he walks with a limp. He never complains, but she notices more Force chokes, less people lifted bodily and driven into the ground. She enjoys taking up the slack, his family’s saber in her hand, illuminating the dark.
When he recovers, they spar. At first, it’s too competitive and too restrained at the same time. Both of them reminding the other: I could kill you, if this went south. I could kill you if I wanted to.
She’s used to keeping a finger on his feelings, reading his mind in case he’s playing the long game and decides to rip into her after all. She knows he’s doing the same. That even as they’re cleaning sabers, eating dinner, plotting courses—there’s some part of him devoted only to monitoring her, looking for shifts, lies, anything unfamiliar, even as they become more and more familiar to each other.
Today she’s using her staff. They’re rained in on Eadu, the winds too turbulent and electric to take off. He agreed to practice, like always. She suspects there’s always steam, always something dark and coiling needing to be burnt off.
But he’s slow today. Ready to block but rarely for anything else. She knows he’s off because he slept poorly, tossed and turned and in the grey morning light she was the first out of bed, for once. She takes advantage of his eyes following her staff and snaps up a spinning kick, nails him right in the mouth.
He reels. She pushes her advantage, flowing effortlessly into katas she doesn’t know the names of, extending her whole body and striking low, punching the soft spot just below his ribcage. The contact gives her leverage to push off, jump back, raise her staff again. Defense.
He staggers, hunched over, his saber trailing and whistling in the water. His elbow is braced on his good leg, breath coming in short, painful gasps, but when he looks up at her, his eyes are dark. He spits out a mouthful of blood then he’s stalking forward with all his height and strength, the sheets of rain, his broken crystal sword, and she realizes, belatedly, she has no idea what emotion she’s reading from him right now.
Adrenaline. The energy pours in so fast it seemed to lift her. Block, block, block. The rain is so heavy and he’s attacking so fast that the Force is moving her hands before she can consciously follow what’s happening. Each impact rattles her jaw, jumpstarts her heart. She can feel the sizzling heat of his blade on her face, the weight behind every blow, showers of red sparks and steaming water. She can’t parry. Can’t respond. Her mind is blank.
She finally went too far, she thinks. But then: this doesn’t feel like anger. She’s felt his anger before. This is different. He’s coming at her from something baser, more intense—he whales down on her hard enough to bounce the blade and some animal fear claws its way up her ribs.
She’s felt fear like this before. On Jakku, on Takodana, on Ilum. Not today. She wrangles it down and tightens her grip and roars, smashing forward, pushing him back. But the swing leaves her open and he hooks his arm under hers, straining her shoulder almost to breaking, flexing to lift her off balance—skin-to-skin contact, and she realizes:
Fun. He’s having fun. It’s so unexpected, so ridiculous, that she gapes at him like a fish. A beat passes and he catches her feet, wipes her legs clean out from under her. Slams her to the ground.
She blinks up at him, the air knocked out of her lungs, a puddle soaking through her clothes. She laughs.
He gives her his hand and pulls her to her feet, smiling with blood in his teeth.
“Power is fragile,” he says, slowly. Reasonably. “The strength is in the illusion.”
“The ‘illusion,’” she spits. Rumors of an impending massacre on Byss, slavers killing children, and instead they’re stuck on Csilla for the fifth week of pointless, tedious negotiations.
“The Chiss will see abdication as weakness.”
“So we can’t leave.”
He doesn’t respond. Just sits there, absorbing her rage.
“Or we can,” she suggests. “You could kill them and we could settle it that way.”
She looks out at the crowded market below, stall vendors and old women and running children—everyone a proper, legal deal will lift of poverty.
“Would you kill them?” she asks suddenly, spinning on her heel. “The ruling families? If I told you to?”
“Yes,” he replies, without hesitation.
The deal wraps up, stamped and official. By the time they get to Byss, the corpses are already decaying. She batters the wreckage of a tank and the sheer force of it whips the blade back, scattering angry sparks across the ground. She’s screaming.
If this is the Dark Side, it doesn’t feel dark. It feels hollowing, ascendant, like something heavy shooting out of her to weigh down something else.
The wind howls. The moons start to set.
“Better?” he asks. It could have come out cruel. It doesn’t. She wipes her eyes and nods. He follows.
This is probably wrong too. Side by side on their stomachs in the dewy grass, sniping slavers with blaster rifles. But it feels good. Watching them stumble and panic, trip over their breakfasts in the watery light, trying to hide. How does it feel, she wonders, now that they’re the ones who are helpless? Now that they’re the ones with no-one to protect them?
The electric hum of the scope, lining up the crosshairs and feeling, in the Force, when it’s just right. The resistance in the trigger, the kick of recoil in her shoulder, watching them sprawl and fly and sometimes spin, outrageously, as they fall. Their lives leaving their bodies are pops and fizzes in the Force.
One of them breaks from the treeline a few yards away, charging towards them. His shoulder explodes in a fine mist. Next to her, shuk-tuk, Ren reloads, lines up. Shoots again.
She goes back to picking off the others. He’s a good shot, but she’s better.
They spend three days on Prakith, searching for kyber crystals. The days are orange and blazing, the nights are icy cold. Even with her goggles and her old linen scarf, dust gets in her eyes, settles in her lungs. Half of the time she feel crazy with thirst. She sees things that aren’t real.
They find yellow-blue pools in the canyons, deep and salty and warm. They strip and scrub off the grime, not looking at each other.
She’s up to her elbows in grease and wires, repairing the power damper, when he comes back with supplies.
The wires spark and sizzle in the humid air and she coughs, wiping her nose on her sleeve. The fumes make her lightheaded. His hand appears under the deck, in front of her mouth.
“Open,” he says, and drops a small, very sweet candy inside. It almost stings; the flavor is so wonderful, so strong.
At a coronation she’s in the back row, draped in a soft grey dress. She prefers it to the rest for its clean lines, its muted color. The beadwork on the sleeves is set in chiffon so sheer it’s almost invisible. Her hair is arranged simply above the high, severe collar, softened by gathered velvet. Her face is painted luminous white.
She smiles at him from the dais. He blinks like a fawn.
On a backwater planet in the Outer Rim he’s on a perimeter check and some local kids abduct her. Well, she lets them lead her off, their shaky blasters pointed at her head, lets them take her to their camp on the edge of the wood and blindfold her, tie her to a pole. It’s all very performative, like they’ve only seen this kind of thing in holos. They must be very afraid.
She can’t speak their language, only hear the strain in their voices, the tent flapping in the cool night wind. They hadn’t seen Ren, luckily, but they think she’s with the First Order all the same. They’re scared. They’re only a few years younger than she is. Maybe tomorrow, when they’ve eaten the rations they stole and have clearer heads, she can find a way to talk them out of it.
She’s dozing, meditating, when she hears blaster shots, and she knows. She rips the blindfold off and he’s already inside, already has the guard on his knees—his name is Drek, Rey thinks—his head wrenched back and a red lightsaber at his neck and-
“Don’t!” she yells.
Ren pauses, a smudge of darkness in the morning gloom. Tall, all in black. He doesn’t look at her, but his head angles back. Listening.
“Don’t,” she presses.
His gloves creak, his grip tightening on the hilt. The saber thrums wildly in his hands. After a long moment, he switches it off.
The kid stumbles to his feet, tripping over himself, and bolts.
She lets herself out of the bonds and stretches. Her legs are stiff and sore. She feels the weight of his attention sliding against every inch of her, feeling if she’s all right. She lets him. He’s just standing there, his hair obscuring his face, breathing hard.
She reaches out and touches his cheek.
He’s not much of a conversationalist. But then again, neither is she.
They often chose small places to eat, out of the way, though they’re rarely recognized. A local festival is lighting up the sky, fireworks and low-hanging smoke and the smell of sulphur.
She orders a soup flowered with egg and squash. He has some kind of meat, grilled, on a stack of fried things. He likes spicy things, greasy things, anything with salt and crunch and crust.
“You should eat more greens,” she observes over the music. She’s had a few loud-colored drinks and is curious to tease him. To see what will happen.
“You should mind your business,” he says darkly, stabbing at his food.
That’s an expression she hasn’t seen on his face before. Sour but almost… petulant? She grins and watches it soften.
She swirls noodles around her fork. He bites into something vaguely plant-shaped and fried.
“Green” he says, showing her.
She laughs. He warms to it, watching her as he chews.
The popping fireworks mask the blaster but she feels the shot in the Force, is on her feet in a second. Ren is already there. He’s stopped the beam, somehow, with his upraised hand. The plasma hovers in midair, trembling madly with energy, and ricochets into the wall, scorching it. The bar clears out.
Over his shoulder she can see a man rising in the air, rifle still smoking. She takes in his dress and gear. A bounty hunter.
He lurches forward, back unnaturally stiff, the toes of his boots stuttering across the floor, dragged forward where she can see him better. His eyes are wild and afraid.
Ren is shielding her with his body, facing her. His cowl is warm against her mouth. He turns his face into her, his nose brushing her hair. She understands. He’s asking what he can do.
The man was aiming for her, but what if he hit-
She blinks rapidly, her heart thudding in her chest. She says nothing.
Slowly, Ren clenches his fist.
In the Force she can feel the press in the man’s neck. Light at first, then steady, tighter, pressure on the wall of the artery feeding his head. He gurgles. His eyes bulge. He tries to scream.
She could say something. But she doesn’t. She just watches. The leather of Ren’s glove creaks and she feels it then, the crunch of spine and the pop of the artery, a torrent of blood and a black wave, Ren’s fierce, feral hatred, hatred for no reason except that this man tried to hurt her. And there, between her hips—a deep pulsing twitch.
Her lips part.
Ren says nothing. He opens his hand; the man drops to the floor.
Most of their time is spent traveling. Space is huge and cold and boring. For weeks their world pinholes to the ship’s dim cabin, ambient beeps, edging past each other in narrow hallways. Days meld into nights meld into days. They could keep more careful track of time, but they’re compatible in how little they care about that sort of thing. They eat when they’re hungry, sleep when they’re tired, usually at the same time.
Once she wakes from a nightmare. She was back on Jakku again, a child, screaming. It felt real enough for her to be disoriented, to take a moment to come back to herself, to the cool recycled air and the familiar whirs of the ship.
She wishes she could get out, run it off like she used to, but there’s nowhere to go.
She moves to climb over him in the bunk—he shifts in sleep, not quite awake. Neither is she. She grabs a low bar overhead to pull herself over him, bracing the other on a sliver of bare stomach beneath her.
Suddenly she’s in his mind, yanked in deep and fast.
His dreaming thoughts are broken, erratic, but the theme is clear. Pulled hair. Bared teeth. The heavy thud of flesh. Pain. Pain inflicted, pain suffered. She can’t tell which he wants more.
His eyes fly open just when hers do and for a moment, he looks just like he did as a kid in the Force vision, lit in lightsaber green.
He thinks she’ll kill him. And he’d let her.
There’s no thought in it, really. No plan. She just reaches down and touches him again, unafraid, pushing up his sweater to spread her fingers on the warm plane of muscle beneath. When he doesn’t stop her, she trails her hand lower, following the rough line of hair down between his legs.
She’s flushed at her own forwardness, but she was right: he’s hard. Harder still, under the firm squeezing press of her palm, even as he draws away. He stops, though, when he notices her bare thighs. His eyes follow the hem of her tunic higher, higher as she lifts it. They darken when he sees her naked underneath, when she takes his heavy leaking cock in her hand and guides it up against her.
She knows what to do in theory, sliding him through the wetness her body is making. Maybe he can help. Maybe he’s done this before. But when she checks his face he seems untethered, stunned, completely out of his depth.
The intrusion sends a hot flush all over her body. It doesn’t hurt, not exactly, but sweat prickles her hairline. He’s big. She’s wet but not warmed up and it feels impossible to take him further now, more impossible still to climb off. She wonders if she made a mistake.
He touches her sleeve with maybe concern and she throws him off, twisting her fists in his sweater, angling down with determination. Her knee digs into the mattress. She scowls, breathes, tightens her core, wills herself to open up. She rocks down slow, works herself onto him, taking him in inch by inch.
When she bottoms out she fumbles for the bar above her. She can feel him inside her when she breathes. Beneath her, his jaw is slack. The hand that touched her opens in the air, closes again. He seems equally compelled to watch and look away. Strange, to see him so helpless. Weak with want, a pillow crease next to the jagged scar on his cheek.
It’s only at times like this, when she’s half stupid with sleep and lust, that she wishes he was her brother. That they could have grown up together, figured this out together, all of it, only them. Just the two of them, close like this always, secret, no one else.
He can’t know exactly what she’s thinking but the way his brows draw together, the broken groan from deep in his chest—he gets the gist of it. The muscles in his abs clench, desperate to fuck her. But he steadies. He looks driven now. Distantly she feels him testing, not quite sure at first, then more confident, his fingers moving in little twitches in the air. All of her attention is centered on getting used to him inside her but she feels it, the exact moment he figures out something—a nudging, curling press.
“Ben,” she says, her brain shorting out.
His hips push up helplessly. It’s only a few inches, but the grind of it. Her eyelids flutter even as she grimaces.
“Wait-” she says.
He does, muscles tense and trembling. But she didn’t mean it.
“Don’t-” she says. Then, “Please.”
A pause, and that feeling again, the coaxing curl inside her, almost ticklish. She wants to rub into it and clench, and she does. She feels her body pulse on its own, feels herself get wetter. It would be embarrassing but it helps, helps more when she’s turned on enough not to care if he sees her grope her breasts over her shirt. He squeezes his eyes shut when he sees it, seethes, wills himself to stillness.
She starts working at a rhythm. It’s clumsy and ragged but he doesn’t seem to mind. She doesn’t think she can come like this—it’s too different than what she’s used to, too nerve-wracking—but then she sees how ruined he looks, how completely out of control, and realizes, suddenly, that she will. It’s almost scary, feeling it bear down on her—he’ll feel it, he’ll know—but when she seizes up, too close to keep moving, he takes over thrusting, grabs her hips and matches the rhythm that got her there: stutter-stop-hit stutter-stop-hit. He rubs her clit with his thumb, roughshod, and her body pulls like a strung bow.
Her orgasm crests screaming white hot. She's clenching down on him so tight and god, it feels different to come like this, it almost hurts but it feels good, she hits her head on the ceiling and doesn’t care.
She’s still sucking in air, the muscles in her thighs shaking, when he starts coming too. He tries to pull out even as his hands grip her hips like a vice, half out and still sloppy fucking her; instinctively she slides back and takes him all the way down, milks him with her body, her knees locked around his torso. His head falls back then, cock helplessly kicking come inside of her. His hips rock powerfully off the bed, jerking against her thighs.
He doesn’t make a sound, even as he comes. His face screws up, then, as she rides him out, goes blissfully unfocused. Content.
She breathes in huge, purifying breaths. Feels bright, glowing, out of her mind, watching him come for her. The bare arch of his throat. The beating heart in his neck.
The ship is dark and cool. Lights blink sluggishly. She rolls her stiff shoulder, replotting their course. His come is dripping down her leg. It’s not entirely unpleasant. Behind her, he’s already switched the shower from sonic to hydro.
He lets her duck her head under the spray before wetting his own. They have maybe ten minutes of warm water, but she washes her hair for the first time in a week, scrubbing black soap deep in the roots. It feels good. He finishes washing up and she braces for the draft when he leaves—and jolts when his big hands slide on her instead, through suds and soap and water. She stands still, her heart rabbiting, and he washes the rest of her. Her belly, her thighs, the sticky come between. Higher. Her breath catches. Her clit aches at the heel of his hand.
He touches her like he doesn’t need to ask permission. Like this is how it’s always been.
Even as the water starts to cool, she doesn’t move. Just leans back against him, the heavy sweep of his hands. He cleans every part of her.
There must have been a warning about this, she thinks, in the Jedi texts on the island. Some warning against this aching obsession with him, the slouch in his stance, the way he handles her, the way his dreams bleed into hers, or maybe it’s the other way around.
There must be a warning against the narrowing focus on his mood, his wants, his needs, and the intoxicating pressure of feeling the attention returned. Of being with him and feeling the universe dim. She tugs him down and even when he’s tired, he bends to her so easily, to kiss her, to put his mouth where she wants it.
There must be a warning about the way they fuck themselves out. The way she’ll roll over on her stomach and raise her hips and let him fuck her again, even when she’s hurting, because his hands grip so tightly, his sounds are so desperate, so grateful.
“Let me,” he says, pounding her fast and hard, his teeth bared. “Hold still. Let me.”
There’s probably reasons not to do any of this. But the books are burned, the Jedi are dead, and they have work to do.