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These feelings are not her own.

They come from far away, a red point of light in the endless void of her awareness.

It comes upon Rey at the worst of times, when she's meditating or practicing her forms, always under the bright all-seeing eyes of Master Luke. Anger so hot it boils her blood. Pain so cold it brings tears to her eyes and she draws blood biting the inside of her cheek to keep from screaming.

She is helpless to these feelings and it is utterly terrifying.

"Master, help me." Rey whispers as her control over her body is broken halfway through the fifth move of her third form, muscles frozen, twitching from a force, perhaps the Force itself, that plays over her nerves like razor blades. Like lightning.

He approaches, her awareness of the sun that is his life dim, a distant blurred light and she is drowning under deep water. Master Luke raises a hand to her temple and the flinch is as much hers as Kylo Ren's this time. She'll never, ever get used to another being performing that gesture on her, however benevolent. "Dear child," His voice is heavy, "I can do nothing."

"Nothing?!" Her voice tears in a shriek as the pain ends as abruptly as it started and Rey collapses, a marionette with cut strings. Tears spill down her cheeks, an extravagant waste on Jakku, here just more mud where they drop to the dirt under her clenched hands. "He is doing this to me and you can do nothing?" Chest heaving, Rey sways where she kneels in the grass and dirt. She can feel him, a mirrored position on cold stone. Kylo Ren does not cry, but she has tears for them both. "Please," She gasps, "I beg of you, Master."

Master Luke sits beside her and rubs her shoulder, dries her tears. As the invasion fades from her mind, he stares out over the ocean, breathing deeply. "Take a day of meditation tomorrow. Strengthen your defenses. Clear your mind."

Slowly Rey unfolds from a feral crouch into lotus position, breathing from her diaphragm and letting the breeze carry the Light back into her mind. He's there, Kylo Ren, somewhere out in the darkness of space and day of meditation or not, Rey has a bad feeling about this.

Master Luke leaves that night. He does that sometimes and Rey never asks where he goes. He has his secrets as she has hers. If he wants to change that, confide in her, he will. She doesn't expect it, though, men with power have never looked at a little sand-rat like her as anything other than a snack. She'd like to think Master Luke is different, but after a month of training under him she's still not certain. Undoubtable that he has his own agenda, of which she is just a piece.

Still, let him have his secrets. The solitude out here is safe and familiar, green and blue instead of yellow, but the same sort of quiet she knew back on Jakku. Or almost the same. Back on Jakku she didn't have this extra-sensory awareness of others, of one in particular. The hut she shares with her Master is stifling, she grabs her staff and slams the door behind her, forcing the intrusive thoughts of haunted dark eyes away, losing herself in the burn of muscles and the raw beauty of the trek.

Rey climbs it to the highest point of the isle in time to sit on a rock worn smooth by generations of Jedi behinds and watch the sun disappear into the ocean. The fading light gentles something deep in her soul and Rey melts into the feeling as a cool winds stirs her sweat-matted hair. It's not just one point of light in the void, there are many; she can feel Master Luke on a nearby islet, motionless and pure like untouched wash water in the basin. Farther out are more, some bright, others dim, a galaxy of life all its own. It's beautiful.

The faint red one always draws her attention, is never lost among the many, like the Warrior Star in the Western sky over her den.

The awareness creeps back slowly, the fear and pain that is synonymous with Kylo Ren, Ben Solo. She can't hate him right now, not in the place her mind occupies balancing in the Force, in the star-lit evening. He's done terrible things, served terrible men, but he's still a part of the Force as much as she is, still a living being that does not deserve to live a tortured existence. The awareness grows, she wonders if he feels her the same way she feels him, if he ever tries to reach for her.

What a stupid thought.

Kylo Ren is evil, Rey reminds herself. Kylo Ren killed Hans Solo, tortured people because it was convenient; signed up to join the First Order under that monster Snoke. She leaps to her feet, forsaking the cooling rock and begins another combat drill. She can't think these thoughts. She cannot hate him, hate leads to darkness, but she cannot, will not forgive him, and apathy? It would be easier to grow gills and live in the sea than to not care.

The drills are simple, intended for young Padawans younger than 10, to be completed with training swords or sticks. Rey uses her staff for convenience, body moving through the patterns. Block, counter, side step, sweep up, sweep down, turn, repeat. It feels wrong. She feels wrong, skin hot and itchy even as evening cools to night, and she can't be sure now if the frustration is hers or someone else's. Deep breathes, finding her center, the sensation she finds is strange and cautiously, scavenger instincts sharp, she pushes out, back against the itchy crawling feeling that makes her want to cross her legs and squirm.

It's instant, a perfect fit as she slides into the not quite unfamiliar conscious, phantoms that aren't quite there dancing before her eyes. The frustration is overwhelming, despair at physical weakness, an aching endless want that Rey is too familiar with. She can't quite see, shades of grey flickering that might be a top down view of a long flat chest, long pale hands flicking a wide leather belt open, opening the button in black wool trousers. Rey feels her lungs force to motion, and knows that it's synchronous with him, her heart picking up speed as Kylo Ren's pulse quickens as he frees himself from the confines of underwear and pants.

Teeth dig into lower lip hard enough to draw blood. The sensation draws a shuddering sigh, hissed between clenched teeth as a thumb alights on the swollen head of Kylo Ren's cock, smearing precum over long elegant fingers and then gliding, oh god, gliding down to the thatch of coarse black hair. Pleasure is a swallowed gasp, motion repeating, variations on the theme, teasing light and then harder faster, hips thrusting into a closed fist.

Kylo Ren comes with a whimper, an image of warm golden skin and sparkling brown eyes flashing in and out of awareness almost too quickly to comprehend.

Rey is shaking with the aftershocks when she comes back to her body, jaw aching from clenching her teeth, drenched in sweat and underwear damp. She feels utterly repulsed, both in her witness to a moment she never wanted to see and her own visceral reaction. She's unclean now, in more than just a physical sense, and she needs a bath.

Her legs are shaking by the time she climbs back down, muscles fatigued to exhaustion from the day's efforts and the idea of taking multiple trips to fill the rusted metal tub is abhorrent. Much easier to strip to breast band and underwear, splash water on the bits that needed it most and drag her pallet and blanket outside to watch the infinity of space beyond the atmosphere.

The stars restore some of the calm she had lost thanks to Kylo Ren's intrusion. It still boggles her mind to think of each point of light being the center of its own system, even though she's visited several now, felt the subtle differentiations in the Force that connect and separate them both. Rey huffs a tiny sigh and rolls on her side to watch the ocean. Right now the stars and their respective systems only make her aware that Kylo Ren is out there, or in transit between them, somewhere, and she doesn't want to think of him, of long elegant fingers, a moment of stolen pleasure whimpered into empty silence.

It doesn't work of course. Dark eyes set over a wide mouth haunts her dreams, sorrow and pain streaking her awareness of the Force in blue and red, soft touches flashing gold behind her eyes, a smell of musk and the press of flesh on flesh, slip-sliding in the sweat of two bodies pressed close.

Rey's heart is in her throat, beating out of her chest as she comes awake with a gasp, sweat sticking the scratchy blanket to her skin. She kicks it off and shivers in the night air. The stars have moved: several hours yet to dawn. She can't sleep, not like this, with her blood up, skin craving contact, release.

It's not the first time she's had these feelings; she knows how to handle this want. Self-satisfaction is safer for a girl all alone, she knows what she likes and she's always been able to provide for herself. If this is the first time she's had a specific face in mind while peeling sticky underwear off and letting the air ruffle the smattering of hair on her pubic mound, well, she won't think about that right now. Deep breathes from her diaphragm; funny how similar masturbation can be to meditation when there's no Master looking over your shoulder. Rey smooths her hands down her breastbone, skating over the swell of her breasts, the hard ridge of her ribcage, the jut of her hips. The feeling tickles, teases, tantalizes and it's a relief to circle a finger around her clit. Her hands are cold against her searing hot sex, she shivers at the contact and drags a calloused fingertip over the hood. Flyaway strands of hair stick to her face, plastered with sweat and her awareness of the Force shifts subtly.

Rey freezes, hand still wedged between legs taunt with coiled energy. Kylo Ren, she knows the feeling of him, and maybe she can disentangle her hand, shut him out before he sees anything humiliating, as she had earlier. Maybe she can pretend none of this is happening. Moving her hand brushes against her clitoris, and light dances behind her eyes. She can't clamp down on the groan that bubbles from her lips into the silent night and what she felt of him before was a shadow to this feeling, curiosity building to crescendo and then exploding into a galaxy of arousal. The warmth, the want, engulfs her and even though she's objectively terrified, the dual rush of neurotransmitters won't let the traitor finger resting on her sensitive flesh be still. The tiniest motions are just on the edge of her control, sending electricity arcing to erogenous zones and she tries to keep silent, to not respond, to try and will Kylo Ren to get bored and go away. Trying to ignore the presence only increases the excitement she senses, a feedback loop that makes it even harder to keep still until she has never wanted, never needed anything, food, water, air, as much as she needs this completion.

With a choked groan she moves her hand, slow and careful and immediately the pressure in her head abates and she can feel the phantom of him in her free hand, hot skin over iron, twitching and thrusting even as she touches herself more urgently. Then it doesn't matter what he sees, doesn't matter what the consequences of this depravity are, there is just need and her own heavy musky scent as the pressure builds in her toes and surges upwards, muscles locking out as she shakes, shouting her orgasm to the empty sky. His presence is still there as she comes down and the solitude is devouring her, no longer a comforting friend but a beast to be kept at bay with human companionship. She reaches towards that feeling, that want, stretching with abilities that she doesn't think her Master really understands towards him, feeling his fatigue, a brief moment of respite.

'Are you there?' She has no idea if this will work, it feels like a waste of energy, a child praying to a god that never was.

There is silence for a very long time and, though she doesn't know quite why, a tear wells in the corner of her eye.

Then a response, not spoken aloud but simply appearing in her head. 'Yes.'

Rey shivers and retrieves her blanket and cocoons herself in the rough wool, curling up on half of the narrow pallet. 'Good.'

Then she sleeps and this time there are no interruptions.

Chapter Text

He sits back, contemplating the witnessed exchange as the disgusting idiot boy cleans semen off his hands several stories above his cavern. How interesting. What he had perceived to be an echo, dismissed as the first fissures in a breaking mind, is another being all together. Whatever it is, he knows it does not exist within his apprentice's head, or did not before the child slew the father in holy rite. Of that he is certain. The lad is an open book of misery, desires, petty slights and an unbelievable level of gullibility. Snoke has taken his leisure to explore those thoughts, perusing the rather dull contents of Kylo Ren's head since taking on the apprentice nearly twenty years ago. It wouldn't do to be caught unawares just because he despised the tedium. Enough history was written in the blood of men who had made that very mistake for him to bear repeating it.

Kylo Ren is the degenerate son of a degenerate line, but he's the best of the available options. To say it makes Snoke's stomach roil at the thought of continuing the miserable reprobate's training is an exaggeration, but still. Apprentices aren't what they used to be. Not only has the boy failed to try to usurp him, carding through dirty little thoughts indicates he's barely considered it. For all his strength the boy lacks the ambition that moves men to passion, to greatness. Not a lord but a follower. A slave. The irony is sweet.

Certainly the boy had no idea of the implications when he made those laughable attempts to bring over some little scrap of scavenging nothing. If there had been any candidates of the appropriate temperament or power, his apprentice would have been nothing but a smear on the temple's cobblestone floor.

Too bad for them both.

The sensation of lassitude as his apprentice drifts to sleep is annoying. 'Come. Attend to me now.' It amuses him to jerk the boy out of sleep so quickly. Life is unpredictable and terrifying, verging on being snuffed out at any moment. Training should reflect that.

 ###

 Coming out of the experience leaves Kylo Ren momentarily confused. Peace lingers, spilled like wine on the purity of his thoughts, seeping into the cracks where it stains. It's a temporary lapse in sanity that prompts him to involve himself in her moment of pathos, that's all, response to a prayer and his insatiable curiosity keeps him there as the girl drifts off, observing, absorbing everything he could about the experience.

He has always wanted to be a god, after all.

Still, the moment passes, sparks of light behind his eyes, the sensation of her orgasm fading away, leaving him with the more practical considerations of cleaning himself. He's spent, mind and body fuzzed with exhaustion from another day survived, and somehow, because of that damned girl, he's losing priceless sleep to bear witness to her thoughts, her basest human needs. He reaches for the darkness that lurks on the edge of awareness, stifling the vision of distant stars and grabs a dirty towel from the laundry pile to wipe sticky white release off his hands. A moment of shame that he can't place, and he tamps down on everything that isn't absolutely critical to sleep and recovery.

Today was bad. It would be foolish to expect tomorrow be any better.

It feels good to shuck off boots and robe, place the helmet in its spot of veneration and throw himself down on the thin mattress, pinch his eyes closed and fall towards an oblivion that feels like a cool night breeze under distant stars and a separate, quiet conscious nearby. Half a cot saved, for him.

Then Supreme Leader Snoke's voice, booming in his head. 'Come. Attend to me now.'

Kylo Ren flinches at the awakening. It's harsh and invasive, yanking him from sleep to the awareness of an uncaring alien mind in the space between heartbeats. 'Yes, my lord.' The muscles in his neck protest as he bows his head, reducing the distance required to grind the palms of his hands against his eyelids. It does not do to dawdle, his master cares nothing for excuses, nor for sloppy appearances before him. Stiff fingers fumble the buckles on his boots and belt, then the mask hisses on and he forces weak legs onward.

The subterranean cathedral where the Supreme Leader resides is icy cold, the door waiting open for him and slamming with an echo of stone on stone behind him. Kylo is too tired to flinch, well beyond caring what happens next to him. Voices whisper in the distance, teasing and tantalizing, false promises of strength and power. They flow over his senses like oil and he kneels in the beacon of light at the base of the dais where his lord lounges. "Supreme Leader."

His master leaves him there a long moment as his legs cramp, contemplating a broken crystalline structure in a bent metal frame. "Rise, Kylo Ren." He acknowledges at long last and the relief burns as Kylo struggles to his feet. Silence stretches, but he's learned that the quiet is not his to break. Behind his mask, he stifles a yawn. Lord Snoke glances up, then holds the device to the light, looking through it at something only he can see. "Am I boring you, my apprentice?"

"No, my lord." A proper display of submission is required; Kylo Ren inclines his head to stare at the hem of his master's robe.

Supreme Leader Snoke hums in response, listing his head lazily to one side on his too skinny neck and then places the device in his lap. He steeples long articulated fingers together and turns the full weight of his stare on the boy. "You have felt it, have you not? The stirrings in the Force?"

"I felt the awakening." Kylo murmurs, "If there is more beyond that, I do not know of it."

The corner of his master's twisted mouth twitches in smile. It is an ugly thing. "The awakening, the girl, yes. You sense her, she has tainted you; you fear to mention her to me."

"It was not my finest moment." The concession is unpleasant, but better than punishment for an outright lie.

"Lies," Supreme Leader Snoke purrs and quirks a finger, dragging Kylo Ren forward until his boots touch the first step of the dais. "You fear it," He repeats himself, leaning forward, balancing elbows on his knees.

"I fear only your wrath, Lord." Kylo's head is tilted back by a presence not his own and he can't look away from the bulbous blue eyes staring into the center of his being. Supreme Leader Snoke's disgust fills his mind, overflowing until Kylo thinks he's going to be sick.

"Pah," Master Snoke waves the words away. "I know you, Kylo Ren. I know your doubts and fears, your pains and wants. You have no secrets from me. There is something stirring between you and that child." Idly he drums fingertips against the armrest of his great chair. "I will ask only once: Can you sense her in this moment?"

The Supreme Leader knows? The taste of blood fills his mouth as Kylo bites the inside of his cheek to stand firm, to stay focused. He can't consider the implications, if Lord Snoke had been watching him… and her. Breathing out slowly, he finds the well of power inside him, around him. The whispers grow around him. Focus. The Force is strong in this place and he can feel much, including a distant point of cool blue, not calling out to him, but there none the less. "Yes, Master." A terrible pressure pulses on his synapses and Kylo Ren staggers as his lord seizes control of his mind, relegating Kylo to passive observation. Gorge rises in his throat as the Supreme Leader studies the star map and the soft glowing blue dot on the very edge of his awareness. He's jerked forward as Lord Snoke studies, probes, rifles casually through Kylo's memories, tests the tiny point of light and then wrenches himself free. Behind the mask, Kylo blinks heavily from his new position on the floor and licks a dribble of blood from his lip. He doesn't remember falling forward. "Master? My Lord?"

"Find her." The Supreme Leader stands, towering over the prone human, commands searing into his will, easing Kylo's fear and banishing his doubts. "Bring her to me." He hinges forward at the waist to place a lethal, light hand on the back of Kylo's covered head. "Your instincts are good, my Padawan."

"I am not strong enough," The confession spills out of his mind into spoken word, bypassing his intent completely as something, though he cannot guess what, withers to nothing under the lord's ministrations. He doesn't dare move his head with his lord touching him, euphoria and strength flowing through the touch. To lose the contact would be worse than death. "She will defeat me."

"Nonsense," His Master, great and strong, tuts at his doubt and increases the pressure of long soft fingers stroking the back of his skull. "You will bring two squads of soldiers. I will be with you, and the darkness of the Force as well." With a caress the lord removes his hand and sits back on his throne. "The girl will become restless if you continue your… distractions. You know her master will not demand she remain with him." His voice is absolute in its command. "Intercept her whence she leaves."

Already prostrate, Kylo touches the forehead of his mask to the stone floor. "I will not fail you, my lord."

"I know." His Master lifts the mystifying contraption again and resumes his study, a wordless dismissal.

Kylo feels strong, powerful; standing is easy, how could he have been so weak before? Turning on his heel, he marches out of the audience chamber, nearly bowling over the guards on duty. He has no time for them, they are of no interest what so ever. All that matters is the plan.

The girl.

His Lord has shown him, more clearly than any blind fumbling he might have wrought on his own, the thin strand of taint leading back to her that he will always be able to find again. It feels different, now that his Master has studied it, tested it, strengthened it. Could he see through her eyes now, he wonders, could he taste through her lips?

The girl will become restless if you continue your… distractions.

The meaning is clear. He will meditate on his strategy while this state of beatification persists, formulate a plan. Execute it. Kylo Ren doesn't remember his feet carrying him to this section of the temple, past the old relics that mean nothing to him. They are crutches for those weaker than he. At the bottom of the great gallery he finds the small pool of black water in a black basin and kneels in a faint hollow worn into the stone. His mask comes off with a pneumatic hiss and he sets it beside him, staring at the reflection of face below him. Closing his eyes, the blessed apprentice breathes deeply and the whispers become distinct, wispy flashes of ultra-violet in his minds eyes that draw closer, twining sensually around his thoughts. They are so close, so wise, these keepers of darkness, he can all but taste them on his lips. They speak of great things, power beyond all comprehension that he has dedicated his life to achieving, not yet his, but soon. Soon. They find his connection to the girl and oh, oh they have the loveliest suggestions for her, for this connection. This persuasion.

The body of Kylo Ren shudders with want; he feels her waking on a distant world, mind thick with sleep and so very suggestible. The whispers recede as he reaches for her; she is too bright for them, creatures pure in their darkness, but he, he is less than they are. Though he shies from her light, he can still reach out, make contact. Hopefully without being destroyed.

Kylo feels her react to his arrival, intrusion, and the path is clear before him. 'Rey'. Her mind is muzzy beneath his inspection, lax, ever so slightly curious. His smile reflects in the pool of black water and he closes his eyes and focuses all his might, all his power on a visualization of the girl. He starts with lips, pink and parted under wide honey-flecked eyes. Dunes and valleys of soft golden skin, bare beneath the sun. It's for her benefit but blood rushes to his groin as he continues picking out the details on this idol of the mind, letting the Force guide it to completion. Clever. Lithe. Strong. Sweet. Something to be teased or worshipped with hands and mouth and cock. Preferably his, but he lets her participate, offer the details of the man beside her: long body of hard planes wrapped around feminine convexities, dark hair that brushes against her shoulder, face frustratingly vague in contrast to hands with long fingers picked out in exquisite detail.

He slips into her mind with barely a ripple, a passive observer, gentle, careful. Her eyes gaze out over the sea, but she's consumed, beautifully so, on the image, the desire he's projecting, a thin calloused finger tracing her lower lip. Together, they shiver at the sensation and the faint residual taste from her climax from hours ago. The exercise is supposed to be for her benefit, but it affects him so strongly, she affects him so strongly, that in the sacred darkness he palms the straining tent in his pants through his outer robe, arching silently into it.

The bloody woman bites down on the thin skin of her fingertip as the sensation of him floods her mind and he would happily die to feel her sigh against his skin. Kylo grinds against his hand, mind whiting out for a moment as the hand not toying with her mouth skims back down to her cunt, warm and wet and just a little bit tender.

Her pleasure crackles across his synapses, and it almost kills him, but he withdraws from their shared moment, letting the visualization fade from his mind's eye. He remembers her embarrassment, her humiliation from their first unintended foray. The purpose behind this is to entice, seduce, exhort her to the long high brink of insanity. If she becomes aware of his intents, becomes cautious or hostile, decides to shut him out, it will take all the longer. That is impermissible.

Chapter Text

The fantasy is wild, she can all but feel hands on her skin and for a very long time it doesn’t really seem to matter if they’re hers or not. Perhaps she should be more concerned, but there’s no room in her head except for the need for more. More contact. More relief. Then it ends and Rey feels strange, almost empty.

The empty, itchy feel builds through the day. It feels like a turning point, as though last night morphed this, whatever it is, from a mental tug of war to a gyroscopic spin. Master Luke had suggested taking today to meditate and reflect, but what was so simple yesterday is nigh on impossible now.

She cannot stack the pebbles.

The quiet point of balance is elusive.

It might have been nice, she reflects with just a trace of bitterness, if her teacher had provided just a little more helpful instruction before taking leave. But when had nicety or convenience ever been her lot? She hadn’t been trained in salvage, in fighting, in survival. She could do this. She would do this.

By the third morning Rey understands why animals bite through their own limbs to escape traps. She’s ready to claw her own skin off if it will only stop this terrible off balance sensation. She’s given up on trying to find relief, release from the dreams, the moments of heightened arousal, wild oscillations between wrath and shame. Meditation only makes it worse, she thinks, spreads her open and vulnerable instead of building her defenses, as Master Luke had suggested.

He still has not returned from wherever he disappeared to.

She shies from reaching into the Force to find him, to do anything that might bring her closer to this terrible overwhelming thing that is happening.

Kylo Ren has been silent since that single brief exchange in the middle of the night. She wonders if she dreamed it, invented it out of thin air. Then again, she has tried to stay away from anything that would bring her closer into contact with him. He is behind this thing. She knows it with the same certainty that she knows her name. That’s not the same thing as knowing what to do about any of it.

Denial is manageable, she’s used to that at least, and while it is misery of its own kind at least it is her own self-imposed misery and something familiar, something she understands while everything else slips under her feet like quick sand.

By the third evening even the denial cannot stop the crawl of claustrophobia on her skin. The sun sets and she is still alone. Enough is enough. Master Luke has never forbidden her anything, certainly not brief ventures off planet; he seems to understand her loathing of being trapped in one place. Chewie has the Falcon, it would be criminal to leave a ship of that majesty in this world of rust and salty air, but there is a rough and ancient shuttle hidden under an overhang just above the tide lines, and the engine starts at her touch.

Space soothes the relentless drive as Rey leaves the blue and green surface behind, planet shrinking as she breaks atmo. It’s not gone, no, she can still feel it lurking in the space behind her eyes, but less overwhelmingly intrusive now. With enough room in her head to think, Rey considers the practical considerations of this trip, namely her destination. The trade world that is her usual stop when running errands is instantly unappealing: too crowded. The next option, running down the very short list of places that she’s visited and would like to visit again is D’Qar and the resistance base. She hasn’t spoken to Finn in the month since she left to seek out Luke and begin her training, it might be nice to see him again and swap stories about their time apart. The Resistance base will be crowded too, but the vast surface jungles are a pleasant enough escape when the bunker becomes stifling and it’s not like she’s planning to stay there very long.

Rey’s setting the controls for her jump to hyperspace when the communications channel crackles with a distress call. She freezes, but it’s no real choice in the end. The message ispre-recorded, a nearly universal call of distress, repeating infinitely into the endless void of space:

This is Captain Wex T-670 of the Zygo Corporation. Stop. Space pirates raided our vessel and crippled our engines. Stop. Have life support in rearmost quad only. Stop. Any assistance rendered will be recompensed by Zygo Corp. Stop. Situation dire. Stop. Please respond if you read us. End Message.

Rey grimaces. Thieves are the worst, especially in deep space. Especially if they target engines. There are some things you just don’t do to your fellow sentient beings. It’s not hard to trace the signal to a floating freighter, and she grimaces at the read-outs on the shuttle’s rudimentary scanners. Dire situation indeed. Opening a radio channel, she hails the crippled freighter. “Zygo Corp, this is Civ Shuttle 11286. Do you copy?” She waits to the count of ten and repeats her hail. Poor bastards, it’s anyone’s guess how long they waited before succumbing.

The radio crackles with an incoming response. “Civ Shuttle, this is First Officer Paraag of Zygo Corp’s Mantrix. Are you local?”

Rey nods, then responds, “I have visual on your ship, Mister Paraag. You folks need a hand?”

“Anything you can spare, Civ.” The voice is heavy with relief. “There’s ten of us on board. Ship’s toast, but if you can give us a lift to the nearest port we’ll make it worth your while.”

“It’ll be tight, man, I’ve only got 5 seats on this thing.” Her shuttle hadn’t been built to transport large numbers of passengers, but the life support could almost certainly handle the strain for a quick trip.

“Tight’s just fine by us, Civ Shuttle. “ The disembodied voice shakes with emotion. “You can dock in the first bay; life support’s still intact there. We’re camped just inside the doors.”

“Understood,” Under her instruction, the shuttle glides into the slitted opening of the huge freighter, unhindered by the atmospheric membrane keeping the ship’s life support where it belongs. The transport makes contact with the deck, jostling its solo passenger slightly and Rey drops out of her shuttle, looking around the empty hangar lit with weak red emergency lights, testing the air, the environment for anything untoward. Her skin prickles, but it doesn’t feel wrong, just creepy, which if her experience as a scavenger is anything to go by, is more or less normal. Still, she grips the hilt of Luke’s, of her, she corrects herself, lightsaber and partially conceals it in her sleeve. Even if it’s a legitimate cry for help, the survivors could be irrational, and they outnumber her. Caution is required, even if everyone has the best intentions at heart it never pays to be stupid.

The blast door opens at her touch and Rey slips through it, flinching just a little as it bangs shut behind her. Slow, careful, she advances through the dimly lit corridor, trying to ignore the little voice in the back of her mind that thinks this rescue ill-advised. There are people on board, people who need help. She can feel them.

Panels concealed in the walls shoot open and blinding white light floods the hall. It gleams off pristine white armor and reflects from the chromo fittings of a terrible, familiar mask.

The lightsaber ignites in her hands before her eyes adjust to the sudden luminosity.

“I would reconsider that course of action if I were you.”

The smug satisfaction she feels coming off Kylo Ren makes her want to puke. Rey swallows tightly and adjusts her grip, holding the glowing beacon of energy higher. “Oh really?” It comes out a snarl.

Kylo nods, arms crossed over his chest, still unarmed, unconcerned. “Orders are to take you alive, not unharmed.” The blast door behind Rey opens again and two more Stormtroopers step through, blasters trained on her back, remaining a safe distance beyond her striking range.

Does she want to be taken alive to wherever Kylo Ren has in mind? Rey isn’t so sure on that one, but she’s pretty sure that she doesn’t want to die, not here, not like this, and she certainly doesn’t want to deal with Kylo Ren in anything less than her best possible state, which precludes letting them maim her.

“You are surrounded, outnumbered fifteen to one, outmaneuvered. Please don’t be foolish about this.”

Kylo Ren’s sincerity disgusts her, after all he’s done he has the gall to feel concern over this? The lightsaber flicks off and she extends the warm piece of metal that’s as much a part of her soul as anything else to the two trooper’s approaching warily. The ones that drew the short straws, she guesses. One snatches the weapon from her grip, the other snaps heavy metal cuffs around her wrists, binding them together in front of her chest. “What did you do to the crew?”

Through the connection resurging through her head, she feels Kylo Ren’s brief flair of surprise, then amusement. “There was no crew,” He shrugs, “Just an opportunity.”

A trap, her mind supplies the translation as Rey resists the gloved hands dragging her forward. She hates being man-handled and jerks out of their grasp, holding herself upright and taking slow dignified steps under her own power, glaring at the flowing material covering Kylo Ren’s back. If it was possible to hate someone to death, she thinks she could just about manage it with the awful piece of shit leading her back through the twisting corridors.

The group escorting her, such as the word applies, emerges in a hangar much like the one she had parked her shuttle and a hard hand nudges her sharply as her feet grind to a drag as the ramp comes closer. It would be nice to remain dignified, but the looming black ship with high angular wings makes the inevitability all too real.

If she gets on that thing, she’s probably never leaving.

The blow echoes in her ears before she feels it, something hard connecting midway down her back, a pain that sends her staggering against a trooper walking close in front of her, and if her hands weren’t pinioned from wrist to elbow she might have had a chance to grapple with him for a blaster. Instead he catches her elbow, rights her and steps quickly away as Kylo Ren freezes at the top of the ramp and turns.

Emotions, flickering, frightening in their complexity wash around her awareness of the man and he looks at her, past her. His hand flashes, a gesture laden with violence, and something makes a faint breeze and a heavy clatter, a muffled groan. Footsteps, a new soldier moving up to fill the gap immediately behind her and Kylo Ren turns back to his ship, moving out of sight.

The pressure on her shoulders is professional, enough to bring motion to her frozen legs and nothing more. The inside of the craft is clean, neat, and shiny with newness; polar opposites of the previous vessels she’s ridden in. The seats are cushioned and the luxury of that strikes her as absurd. The Stormtroopers move around her, taking up stations by the door sliding shut or the cockpit for takeoff. Kylo Ren sits on a bench and Rey copies him, bracing her elbows on her knees in the only way to sit that doesn’t make her arms feel awkward, cuffed as they are. Troopers settle themselves on the long benches, giving the mismatched pair a healthy amount of space and the engines purr to life, bench vibrating subtly beneath her as the landscape blurs and they are space-borne. It takes only seconds for the enormous freighter to disappear from sight.

The pressure in her head shifts, a sudden resurgence and Rey glares death at the unchanging mask across from her. “Stop that!”

Kylo Ren shrugs, a subtle movement of his shoulders, “As you like.”

The pressure recedes abruptly and the void in her head stretches, suddenly achingly empty before her thoughts trickle back into the vacuum. It’s extremely unsettling, equally unpleasant as being grabbed and escorted to parts unknown by the First Order. “Where are you taking me?”

“You’ll see.”

Kylo Ren persists in being an enigmatic pain in her ass as they leap into hyperspace until Rey is rendered speechless with frustration. When the ship lurches as they leave drop below light speed, her attention is captured by the enormous planet consuming the entire view out of the portal. “What is that?”

“Moraband,” Kylo’s voice takes on an odd lilt and Rey shivers at the word, meaningless as it is. “Birthplace of the Sith order, and its graveyard.”

“You don’t look particularly dead to me,” The venom gets lost between her thoughts and tongue, words slipping out quiet and empty. As they draw closer, break into the atmosphere, details of landscape emerge. Towering jagged mountains, black and rust-red, crumbled cities, fire scorched ships. “Does anyone live here?” Jakku is practically a luxury resort by comparison.

“It’s a sacred place.” Kylo Ren’s words don’t actually answer her question, but it doesn’t matter because the shuttle jolts as it lands and the ramp hisses down. He stands and in an almost gentlemanly gesture helps Rey to her feet. She twists away from his touch, rage sparking and holds her head high as she descends into a black world.

The air is sulfurous, vile and choking, it burns and it blinds the delicate membranes around her eyes. The masked uniforms suddenly make a lot more sense and she can’t brush the gloved hands off as they guide her down the runway. Rey catches a brief glimpse of enormous steel towers before she’s ushered through a thick, pitted steel door. The air is sweet inside and she gasps like a fish, briefly overwhelmed by a fit of choking before straightening. The Stormtroopers have dispersed, save for the guards by the heavy door separating the complex from the hell outside, it is just her and the Knight of Ren.

“This way,” Kylo makes no move to touch her, simply sets off down a gleaming white tiled hall. Considering her list of rather short options, Rey elects to follow. The chamber he leads her to is grimly ascetic, grey duracrete walls and wire brushed steel fixtures: bedstead and washbasin. He nods at the later, “You should clean up. There’s a change of clothes on the bed.”

With a disgusted roll of her eyes Rey holds her cuffed hands before the masked man in black. “You mind?”

“Not at all.”

The metal bindings fall away with a rasp and Rey springs at her captor. He hasn’t drawn a weapon on her yet, has gone to lengths to keep her safe and relatively unharmed. The lightsaber is a useful tool, but she can fight with just about anything, fists and feet included. The Force answers her sluggishly, power that should be hers lurking in the distance. Just beyond reach.

Kylo Ren’s hand comes up, freezing her flight towards him, toes just brushing the floor. “Don’t try that again.” His fingers wrap around her closed fist and he sets her back on the floor with the greatest care.

Amusement tinges her awareness of him, makes Rey burn with ire. “What if I do?”

“I think you know,” Kylo removes his hand from his weapon and she can just imagine the task of trying to escape from a place like this even if she could best the older knight with his full complement of powers. An unmapped planet where she can barely see on the surface, much less find a craft and navigate home. “You will feel better if you wash the ash off. The Supreme Leader will be expecting you shortly.”

The room tilts on a dizzying axis and Rey feels a roaring in her ears. “Supreme Leader? Snoke?” The name is poison on her tongue and she needs the edge of the bedframe to steady herself, to keep from doing anything weak and ridiculous in front of this pet monster. “What does he want with me?”

“He has not confided in me,” Kylo’s voice is careful, even less emotion behind the distorter than she’s encountered before. “I believe it is an academic curiosity that motivates him.”

Chapter Text

Kylo is a little surprised that she comes quietly, that this half feral girl manages to conduct herself with quiet dignity up until they are alone in his room. Effectively imprisoned on a planet that is the antithesis of everything she stands for, Rey maintains some level control of herself as the light side of the Force becomes only a whisper at the edge of awareness. Clearly she is ignorant of what is happening, why she has to exert herself that much harder to reach out, to shield herself against the darkness. If she knew, she wouldn’t be trying to fight him at the first opportunity they are alone. Probably.

Stopping the attack is the simplest thing since he received his lord’s enlightenment. Kylo feels everything through her, the moment she commits to the violence, and the Force bends to his will, stopping her cold. Certainly, he doesn’t need to touch her to impose his will on her body, but really, it’s the first time they’ve touched since the encounter on Takadona, and he’s spent so much time thinking of her, her skin, that it seems ridiculous to waste the opportunity just because it’s unnecessary. Her hand is ridiculously small in his, at odds with the titan’s wrath and violence she carries in her delicate frame.

It stings, just a little, when Rey absorbs the grim reality of her situation and takes the cloth from him, scrubbing her soot-streaked face clean. Another little bit of light dead. He should be glad of it, he is glad of it, he reminds himself. This is the Supreme Leader’s wish. Compassion is weakness, and he will be strong.

The kindness is an illusion to wind the girl more tightly in this trap, nothing more.

Then it is time.

The girl rejects the change of clothing and he escorts her out of the dwelling, down into the ancient temple beneath the First Order’s base, white tile giving way to rough carved basalt. She swallows tightly, eyes roving over the twisting stone carvings, flinching from the dark brushes at her mind. Kylo Ren does not need to harden his heart against her innocence. What is this girl to him, really? A tool, a source of power. The Supreme Leader thinks she can be used to make him better, stronger. That is what matters, not the way she holds herself ramrod straight in the long descent, the way she refuses to be cowed, the way she cherishes the tiny spark of brightness inside her even as fear and hate from the very stone wear at her walls.

The door to his master’s room is open, waiting and only there does she hesitate, perhaps sensing the magnitude of evil that awaits her arrival. Kylo places a hand on her back then, she looks strong, indomitable, but she’s shaking like a leaf and it takes next to no effort to nudge her through the archway, escort her through the huge cavern of black stone to the gleaming obsidian chair and his lord.

Supreme Leader Snoke is not distracted this time, as much as the alien visage does, he looks eager, ignoring his apprentice to study the girl Kylo propels before him. “Approach, Kylo Ren.”

The girl struggles against him now as he approaches that column of light, soft boots scrambling against the smooth stone floor. It means nothing, he tells himself, and thinks of the room with the black pool. The moment of shared ecstasy floats to his mind’s eye and he focuses on shoving Rey, the girl, down on the stone and takes a knee beside her. “Master, I have done as you commanded.”

Lord Snoke makes a soft, amused sound through his nose. “It appears you have. Well done, Kylo Ren. Arise.” Silently, Kylo stands, feeling something amiss as his hands leave the prone body beside him and he takes a step back. His master spares a quick glance his way and then stands, looming to his full height and, with the soft rasp of cloth on stone, steps down the dais to stand within arm’s reach of the Jedi apprentice. Elegantly, the Sith Lord arranges himself in a sitting position in front of the girl and extends his hand toward disheveled brown hair. “What is your name, child?” The rasping voice is tender and sweet. Almost parental.

The girl’s head tilts back at a crazy angle, tendons standing out sharply as she gasps for breath, looking up into the face of his Master. “Rey.” Her voice is a hoarse whisper.

“Rey?” His master savors the name and brushes a stray lock of hair out of her eyes. “Appropriate for a little piece of starlight like you, hm?” For a moment he withdraws his hand and then spreads his fingers, pressing his palm against her gleaming forehead, fingers wrapping over the top of her head and tangling in her hair.

Kylo feels the violation, the searing pain of his master bullying his way through Rey’s thoughts and remembrances. It’s somehow not as bad and far, far worse to be the observer in this activity instead of the recipient. It’s not his pain, but she feels everything so differently, so much more intensely. He’s been a Sith’s apprentice for most of his life, pain is just a part of the process and privacy is not even an illusion when his master can move thoughts in or out of his head on a whim.

Rey doesn’t scream, but he’s not sure if she can in this moment. If nothing else, he can feel the casual dismemberment of her dignity, the sullying of her private remembrances, good and bad. Her life is laid bare before Snoke. A flash of devastating loneliness. The exhilaration of her first flight. The terrible pain of removing a piece of shrapnel from her hand and sewing the wound shut. Rage against his first clumsy mental intrusion. The spite when she sees through him for the very first time. Training under Luke Skywalker on a green island. The calm strength of the Force. Lying under the stars, listening to the sea. A shudder of pleasure.

She’s the one on her knees before his lord having her mind teased apart and all Kylo can think is that he’s the one who wants to be sick. Whatever that says about him, it can’t be good.

“Get out of my head.” Her voice is so soft, for a moment Kylo thinks it’s just another memory of their brief, fateful interrogation, but Supreme Leader Snoke sits back and gives her a down-right proud smile and retracts his hand with just the lightest brush of his fingers against her cheek.

“You are a lovely piece of work,” Lord Snoke lifts his hand and strokes his chin. “What wouldn’t I give to know who you were before you became a scavenging piece of trash?” He pauses, reaches for her and then pulls his hand back. “No need to be hasty; we have all the time in the world.” Unfolding, he stands and glides back up to his chair. The lord smooths the front of his robe and regards the pair of humans coolly. “You may stand, my little starlight child. I sense you have a great many questions.” He crooks a finger at Kylo Ren. “Ask them.”

Kylo obeys the implied command, shuffling forward and helping Rey to her feet. It’s probably the single most awkward thing he’s done; he doesn’t know where to put his hands, and his master is watching and somehow that makes it all worse. Is he expected to be rough, unkind in contrast or continue the unbalancing act of gentility? Cupping his hands under sharp elbows he lifts and Rey scrambles to her feet, attention locked on the towering creature before her, digging her fingers into his arm until she finds her balance and takes a discrete step away from him.

“What are you?” Her eyes are wide, spellbound, ensnared and Kylo gets the idea that it’s not the question that she really intended to ask. He winces and waits for his lord’s wrath to fall in a hammer stroke.

Instead his master chuckles, a harsh, ill-used sound. “Surely my apprentice told you? I am Lord Snoke, the master of the First Order.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Rey straightens imperceptibly.

“No, but that is the answer you get.” Lord Snoke’s voice chills and the temperature in the cavern plummets along with it. “What else do you wish to know?”

Rey swallows, Kylo is transfixed by the way the muscles in her throat twitch at the simple motion and with only a moment of hesitation she asks, “Why did you bring me here?”

“I wanted to meet you. My dear boy over there told me so much about you, the little scavenger from Jakku. My curiosity was… piqued.”

Somehow the little scavenger turned kidnapping victim has the wherewithal to turn up her nose and glare at the monstrous creature of darkness. “Are you getting more out of these questions than I’m getting from your answers?” Her voice echoes in the cavern and Kylo has to clamp down on the instinct to run screaming from the room.

Master Snoke looks absolutely delighted. “Of course I am. What would the point be, otherwise?” He taps a long finger against his chin and eyes her speculatively. “One more.”

Rey drops her eyes from Lord Snoke’s face, turning her head so her face falls in shadow under the luminescing halo high above. “Why me?” The whisper sits heavy in the air around them.

“Ask Kylo Ren.” Lord Snoke banishes the pair with a flick of his hand. “I will send a summons when I wish to speak with you again.”

Kylo grits his teeth and takes a step towards the girl when she remains obstinately in place before the dais. She has no idea what she’s dealing with; a little girl with a laser sword trying to challenge the great Sith, Lord Snoke. Keeping his distance, he grabs her hand and tugs sharply. This, apparently, is the wrong thing to do as white hot fire erupts in his arms. Breaking contact with her does nothing to alleviate the sensation.

“Leave me.” Master Snoke’s order makes the flood shake violently under his boots and Kylo grabs for Rey, or maybe she grabs him, and ignoring the spasms twisting his hands up through his shoulders he runs.

It’s impossible to tell who is dragging whom, but the door slams on their heels and the hall is silent except for heavy breathing and a slow hiss of pained breath escaping between clenched teeth. It takes Kylo a moment to identify the sound as his and he drags a heavy leather glove off with his teeth. The white skin protected by black leather is unmarked, no visible damage and the lancing pain begins to recede. Rey, bent double against the rough carved wall, looks up at him with wide eyes. “That’s Lord Snoke,” Kylo’s voice is rough, his throat burns on the words, “Try not to make him angry.”

Rey shudders, brushing her palms together like she expects them to disintegrate on contact. “Angry?” Her voice cracks and she swallows. “That pain-?”

“Let’s go back to the room,” Kylo cuts her off, “We can talk there.” He reaches for her and recoils as the recollection of pain whispers across his mind again. He keeps his hands to himself and retraces their steps from what feels like a lifetime ago.

He secures the door to the grey room with the Force once they’re both inside. There are no locks on the doors. Here even relative privacy is a privilege to be earned through strength of power. As incentives to learn go, Kylo finds that a relatively harmless one. There is time, he thinks, to rest now. Today was only the beginning. He strips his gloves off, sets them in their place on a narrow steel shelf. The mask goes beside them and perspiration on his face cools when it comes in contact with the air. He glances over his shoulder, finds the girl standing in the center of the bare room. “You should get some rest.”

Rey meets his eyes with a proud tilt of her chin. “Why me?” She echoes her earlier question with a chill in her voice.

“You know why.” His hands shake on the buckle of his wide leather belt; it takes multiple attempts to undo it.

“That’s not an answer!” Ice-cold control slips the rein on a rosy warmth of loathing in a heartbeat and her hands curl into fists. “You did something to me. What was it?”

Kylo fumbles the belt off, folds it twice and places it on top of the gloves, eases the heavy black robe off his arms and tosses it over the end of the bedstead. “Me? I did nothing. You forged this connection, without training or finesse, without being able to imagine the possible consequences!” He kicks his boots off, letting them fall in a pile under the narrow shelf and crosses the room.

“You’re lying! What are you doing?”

The thin body tenses as Kylo brushes past it, brief moment of contact flaring something warm in his stomach, and he sits on the edge of the thin mattress, running a hand through his hair. “Going to bed.” To illustrate, he rolls over, swinging his legs up so his feet quite nearly dangle off the edge. Sometimes he thinks whoever picks the furnishings for the First Order does it to spite him. “You should, too.”

“In here?!” Rey’s voice cracks in surprise; he refuses to find it endearing. “With you?! No. Absolutely not.”

The blanket is thin and scratchy, he flicks it over his lower half and props his head on his arm to look at her. The conjunction of these two things, bed and Rey, is doing peculiar things to his mind. Focus. He pushes slippery thoughts away to focus on the discussion at hand. “The doors here don’t lock. Do you really think you can keep them sealed with the Force while you sleep?”

“Do you?” Her scowl is a mask and he thinks he can see right through it.

“I’m not dead yet.” Kylo’s head is too heavy to keep upright, and he lets it thump back down, trying to orient the blanket so it covers both his feet and shoulders. He fails, as he always does, and curls onto his side, his back to her.

“Maybe I’ll change that,” Her footsteps pace the narrow confines of the room, stopping just shy of the bed and she taunts him, here, of all places.

“I’m sure Lord Snoke would enjoy that very much.” Through the Force, the challenge feels hollow, uncertainty in her heart that she hides with her rough tone. He likes it far more than he should.

“Why do you call him your lord?” The footsteps pace away to the most distant corner of the room, a sad attempt to maximize the distance between them.

“That’s what he is; you wouldn’t understand.”

“No, I don’t think I would.” The agreement is thoughtful, a little bit sad and then Rey adds, unnecessarily, “I’m not sharing the bed with you.”

“Your loss,” A smile twitches across his mouth at the surge of righteous indignation his words elicit. It’s almost as warming as the shared body heat would be. Shaking his head to banish the thought, Kylo closes his eyes and sleeps.

Chapter Text

It’s something of a mystery how she manages to drop into sleep so quickly after the sort of day she’s had. The sound of Kylo Ren’s harsh breathing evens out and then dark water is closing over her head, warm and safe and comforting. They sit on a rock overlooking the islet’s bay, sky wide and dark and endless; a warm body propped against her shoulder. Silence and a peace so deep it’s a physical ache; a sense of divinity that brings a tear to her eye. Pressure on her shoulder guides her to a solid wall of rough spun cotton, embracing and surrounding her, the press of lips against her hair. She resists, the comfort, the care, it’s not quite real; not a replacement for what’s been lost.

What’s been lost.

The wall of strength and warmth holding her up wavers, becomes insubstantial and she falls through it with a silent cry that echoes in her head. A blinding light and she hits sand, shielding her eyes and scrambling to her feet. It burns bare toes, shifts treacherously. Turning, an AT-AT looms over her, not sand-scoured and half-rotted, but very much functional. The ground shudders and shakes, she has to scramble to avoid being ground into the sand under its incalculable weight. The transport fades to a blot on the horizon quickly, far too quickly, before she can properly debate the merits of trying to board the thing, see where it goes. Then it disappears and Rey is overcome with a sense of loss. Something’s not here that ought to be, something, someone unfathomably precious just… gone. Heart hammering in her mouth, she tries, will and body straining to feel through the Force where her lost person might be. The Force is gone. She is alone, and seized by panic, begins to dig in the sand at her feet. The odds are beyond impossible, the gesture futile, helpless, but she won’t, or possibly can’t stop, even as the harsh grit wears away the skin on her fingers, gums the bloody abrasions, trickles endlessly back into the hole as she scrapes and suffers under the crimson sun.

The moment stretches into infinity and then a shadow falls over her, a tall masked figure blotting out the sky.

Rey wakes with a crick in her neck and a tailbone sore from being pressed into a hard metal floor. It takes a moment for the dreamscape to fade, to place the smooth grey walls as her new prison instead of the old AT-AT where she had slept back on Jakku. Perhaps she should be surprised that she woke up at all, but apparently there’s something to what Kylo Ren said about keeping the door sealed. Muscles protest as she picks her head up from her arms and black cloth pools around her waist as she shifts. Heavy soft wool, it carries a faint, complex smell that she can’t place right away.

The air is cold where it hits her exposed skin and Rey clambers to her feet, shaking the covering out until it takes the apparent form of a long hooded robe. She glares at the material, weighing the emotional desire to discard it on principle versus the more practical desire not to be cold.

Practicality wins, it always does, so she lets the fabric hang over her shoulders and stands. The hem drags on the ground behind her, the sound is soft but still incredibly distracting. The water in the washbasin is bitter cold and has a strong chemical taste when she washes the feeling of sleep from her mouth. Feeling slightly more human, she casts around for the other occupant of the room and finds him sitting quietly in a corner on the floor, long limbs folded in the familiar lotus position Master Luke was, is so fond of when meditating.

Cautious, Rey curls up a safe distance away, or as safe as anything is right now, and regards her captor sharply. She had been distraught last night, though she thinks that’s excusable, and hadn’t really taken him in. Kylo Ren looks older, more haggard, less kemp, the scar from their first battle a faint stripe of off-colored skin slashed against his face.

“You’re staring.” His eyes are closed, breathing even, as calm and controlled as she’s ever seen him.

She scowls at him, a habit in the making for every time he opens his stupid mouth and doesn’t deign to respond. If Kylo Ren has a problem with being stared at, he can damn well put her on a ship back home.

A faint curl of smirk appears on his wide mouth, “Who said anything about a problem? It’s flattering, if anything.”

“It shouldn’t be,” Rey struggles not to rise to such obvious bait and then fails profoundly. “And stay out of my head!” Taking a deep breath, she tries to focus on the ebb and flow of the Force. It teases her, just on the edge of reach, and she can feel sweat break out on her forehead as she struggles to achieve that position of balance. The disdain and amusement she feels from the other mind in the room is a distraction which keeps her chained to the physical plane.

“How long do you think that’s going to work?” Kylo Ren sounds like he’s making casual conversation, but it’s her turn to feel the full weight of his attention settle on her even as her eyes shut him out.

“It has so far,” Rey grumbles, exhaling her frustration and opening her eyes in surrender to the current impossibility. It’s the scent on the blanket, she decides, it’s irritating, tickling her nose, distracting. Her skin prickles as she shoves the material off and scoots away, using the toe of her boot to nudge it closer to its owner. Better to be discomforted and free, as much as the word applies, than have some implied debt hanging over her head.

Dark eyes glint as Kylo Ren smooths the material over his knees. “And you’re going to continue relying on Master Snoke’s sweet nature to respect your privacy? It’s your choice, I suppose.”

She reciprocates his sneer with one of her own and lets her head thud back against the solid wall. Anger flutters in her chest like a caged bird, knocking against her ribs in pursuit of flight. “I suppose you think I should be begging you to teach me to keep him out?” Finally she finds the cool calm she’d been seeking, the strength to quiet her umbrage.

“An interesting suggestion,” Kylo Ren’s eyes crinkle and his thoughts flash, just for an instant, to an explicit mental picture of what that might entail.

Rey shies away from the image and tries not to let her discomfort manifest as a blush. “You’re disgusting.”

“Who’s peeking in whose head, now, hm?” If anything, he seems even more entertained. “You don’t have to try to fool me,” The levity slips away from his tone and once again they’re conversing, more or less, as equals. “I couldn’t teach you how to keep Lord Snoke out, anyway.”

Rey is pretty sure she’s projecting the rueful tone on his words and bats the thought away to some distant part of her mind where it won’t distract her, won’t build to false hopes. Kylo Ren is an obedient slave, she’s not doing a bit of good by pretending otherwise. “I wasn’t peeking,” She snaps, because that comes easily. “Keep your perverted thoughts to yourself.”

The amused disinterest is back; Kylo Ren stands in a smooth motion and slips the robe over his shoulders, smooths it over his hips. “I could say the same to you. Your dreams are distracting.”

Rey doesn’t have half his elegance as she scrambles to her feet after him, a rare flash of self-consciousness that she does her upmost to ignore. “My dreams aren’t perverted! How dare you? What gives you the right?” Her temper is up and there’s no going back now.

Kylo Ren is quiet as he draws his boots back on, dons his belt and stares at the black slit of his mask. “It was all going so well; I didn’t ask for you to come mess with my head.”

The loathing in his voice draws Rey up short, it washes through her veins like the ocean’s tides and for a dizzying moment she isn’t sure who she is, who she hates, whether it’s Kylo Ren or Snoke, herself or Master Luke. “You brought me here,” She knocks the mask out of his hand with a Force-heavy wave of her hand, stretching on her toes to get in his face.

“Because literally being on the other end of the galaxy wasn’t far enough to block you out!” Kylo Ren snarls, inches away from her face and, turning with a dancer’s grace, slams his fist into the duracrete wall. Pain tingles up and down her arm from the impact as he shakes his fist out. Something shift slightly in her awareness of him as he retrieves his mask from where it fell and seals it over his face, for an instant it seems as though the timbre of his voice behind the scrambler changes subtly. “Come. Breakfast is being served in the refectory.” The door opens at his casual wave and he strides out of the cell.

Rey rubs her thumb over the knuckles of her hand and trots to keep up, mulling over this new bit of insight. “Can I ask a question?”

“No,” Kylo Ren cuts her off curtly and gives the slightest nod to a small panel running along the high wall. “I am not here to satisfy your curiosity.”

It’s just enough of a cue that he’s not merely being an asshole, so Rey shuts her mouth and tries to put her curiosity to a better use than needling the knight of Ren. The complex is truly enormous, she decides, after what feels like miles of trotting after his sweeping black robe and there’s no indication that they’re getting closer to Kylo Ren’s destination. It’s faulty logic, she recognizes it, but it feels like that.

The Force around him twists, and Kylo Ren stops short, reaching back and halting her with a black-gloved hand against her sternum. “Lord Snoke wishes to see us now.”

Rey thinks she feels a brief pang at the sudden contact, but maybe that’s just her stomach talking. She’s gotten too used to regular meals. She knocks his hand away and steels herself. “What does he want with… us?” Her mind rebels against the conjoining of her and Kylo Ren as a unit; there is no possible interpretation for them being considered two parts of a single unit.

Kylo Ren grabs her again, strong fingers boring into her shoulders as he towers over her. “You have to stop asking that question.” The black and chrome mask descends until it fills her entire field of vision, distorted reflections of her wide eyes skittering like sand-striders. “If you cannot figure it out for yourself, you must wait for Lord Snoke to show you.” For a two long heartbeats he’s close enough that her breath fogs the cold metal and his fear nibbles on the edges of her awareness.

Then, just as abruptly, he’s gone, striding away so as to make his robe billow behind him. Annoyance flutters up, chasing the moment away. She wonders instead if he’s practiced that walk in front of a mirror, and jogs to catch up.

The obsidian door is shut when they arrive and Kylo Ren seems absolutely fine with that. Rey runs fingers through her slightly matted hair and tries to stretch her cramping calves. It’s not a question of being in bad shape, she tells herself, it’s that everything here is different, the mismatching height of the steps, the ramps that seem to lead up and down for no purpose what so ever; all seems engineered to be intentionally unpleasant. Perhaps it is. Then a rasp and the door opens with a faint breeze that makes her skin crawl, the fine hairs on her neck stand on end.

Kylo Ren straightens from where he leans against the carved stone wall. “It is time.”

The smartass response dies on her tongue; Rey can feel something singularly awful emanating from the entrance. Kylo Ren is just behind her shoulder, and this time he doesn’t propel her through the high arch of stone, simply stands close enough that she can feel the heat from his body through her thin tunic, that same odd spicy smell that clung to his robe this morning. He’s at the edge of her internal awareness, though the Force and the bond they share and damn him, he’s trying to be comforting. Maybe he feels the pressure, instinct screaming to stay away, too. Maybe he understands, or understood, once, and remembers.

She thinks that’s damned unlikely and gives up the thoughts, burying them under a glacier of stubborn pride. Rey steps into the cavern with her head held high, attention fixed on the alien figure sitting silently on the raised platform.

Snoke meets her eyes, and maybe she ought to, but she won’t look away, won’t bow before this fear that runs to ice in her veins. She is stronger than that, she thinks, she will persevere. The darkness he floods her mind with, the memory of twenty billion lives extinguished in five fingers of glistening red fire and the cool indifference that accompanies it sends her reeling, hands and knees scraping the stone as she stumbles.

“Do not test me, little child. I am not having a particularly pleasant day.” His voice is low and cold, the sound of tombstones grinding together. “Now come, show your respects.”

Rey is scrap metal caught between the revolting hesitation that is Kylo Ren and the despicable creature sitting on the throne before her. Scrambling to her feet, she smears blood on her trousers where she wipes her hands. Jelly legs shake as she approaches the white light before the throne, a fight that she loses against a physical manifestation of Snoke’s power. Her knees fold and pressure bows her forward until all she can see is the shadow of her body on the stone beneath her. Kylo Ren takes a knee beside her without any such melodrama and Rey breathes deeply. Everything can be fought, it’s just a question of learning how. She can learn that; she’s good at fighting.

“Kylo Ren,” Snoke’s words are quiet, tone light, almost conversational.

“Yes, my lord?” Kylo Ren turns his face up towards the alien, motionless like a viper, watching them.

“The girl is disgusting. She will obey the hygienic standards set for all members of the First Order while in my presence. Bring her here clean, next time, or do not bring her at all.”

“Yes, my lord,” Kylo Ren repeats himself like a holo-vid stuck looping and in her peripheral vision she can see him incline his head, obedient, respectful, a good pet for his master.

The insult holds no water with Rey; what does she care for this monster’s discomfort with her presence? It’s a familiar control mechanism, an appeal to her lackluster vanity, a lever twisting towards compliance. Certainly, the overseers have tried it on her before, trying to taunt her into selling things that weren’t to be sold for a little extra water ration, a little bit of scented soap. She knows how to refuse men like that; Snoke is no different. The pressure on the back of her neck abates and as much as she hates her response, Rey lifts her head as it yields so she can, if she strains her neck, look up at the sundered face of her antagonist. Her hands remain pinioned to the ground, despite all her exertions to move them.

If Snoke cares a bit for her helpless rage, he gives no outward indication. “I find myself curious about the bond between you two.” He intones after a moment of pensive quiet. “It spans an insurmountable distance, pierces through impenetrable defenses. And neither of you, little apprentices, understand the magnitude of your actions and use it for the basest exchange of physical desires. How utterly… human of you both.”

It does not sound the least bit complementary. Rey scowls up at the soliloquizing figure. “Maybe you’re just wrong. Maybe your defenses aren’t as good; maybe you’re not as strong as you think you are.”

Snoke sighs and a poisonous sort of joy floods her mind. It almost doesn’t matter when she’s flung face first back to the stone. Blood coats her teeth and she can’t think but for the savage superiority grinding against her will, a scrub brush scouring at her gritty disobedience. “Let me assure you, my little star, I am exactly that good.” Distantly, she’s aware of his intention as she fights, hands and feet scrambling against the stone for purchase, for the strength to push herself up. Only when she’s exhausted herself, perspiration trickling into her eyes, does he turn to the motionless black figure beside her. “Kylo Ren.”

“My lord,” The modulated voice is careful, controlled and Rey can feel the significant effort Kylo Ren expends to ignore her completely.

“Have you noticed any alterations in this connection of yours, since bringing the girl here?”

Kylo Ren is quiet for a moment, considering. “I do not believe so, Master.”

“You are not certain,” Snoke observes and Rey feels her perception of Kylo Ren warp as the master touches the apprentice’s mind, examining the thoughts unspoken. “I see. You feel change, yes, but desire not to ascribe causality to it? A mere change of circumstance, perhaps? Time will tell with that one, my Padawan, but we will continue to monitor it.” The giant lounges back in his chair, fingering the deep groove carved across his face in thought. “I believe, yes, let’s start small today. There is no rush. Open the bond you two share, Kylo Ren. Reach out to the girl, feel her, the Force in her body, the strength in her will. Speak aloud: how does it feel?”

Snoke’s voice rises and falls, a hypnotic melody and she feels the connection between them bloom, can feel Kylo Ren obey as he whispers against her mind, flows through her veins, twines through her awareness; diffusing, spreading.

“It feels,” The Knight of Ren pauses and then bows his head. “I am overwhelmed, my lord. Please, it is more than I can endure.”

“Remove your glove,” Snoke gives the command in that same velvet tone. “Place your hand on the girl. Is it the same thing, you feel?”

The glove seems to echo in Rey’s head as it drops beside her on the stone and she swallows tightly, unable to shy an inch as the masked figure stretches towards her, pale fingers brushing over her wrist. Through the contact, his pulse beats against her skin.

“No,” Kylo Ren forces the syllable out as though it costs him dearly. “It is different, now. I, I think, I can bear this.”

Snoke frowns, “Remove your hand and correct your uniform, Kylo Ren.” The place where skin meets skin burns, a spark of electricity that sends Kylo Ren reeling backward and the sensation pinning Rey down vanishes with the absence of his touch. “You are wrong, boy, grossly misled by your false overconfidence. You will atone for your arrogance in the training yards this afternoon. Bring the girl to me, before you go.”

Her body responds clumsily and Rey stands, wiping a red smear from her mouth. “I am nobody’s toy.” She feels, more than sees, Kylo Ren go for her hand and twists away from him. “Don’t you dare touch me.”

“We’ll see.” Snoke chuckles and the door behind them opens once more. “Goodbye, little starlight child. Don’t forget to wash behind your ears.”

Chapter Text

Master Snoke is going to kill her, or maybe him, or maybe both of them, Kylo thinks as he herds the little hellion out of his master’s chamber. The scent of her blood permeates the air around him, bypassing the filter on his mask completely. It evokes a complicated reaction; blood spilled brings wisdom through discipline, victory through pain, and triumph through suffering. He clenches his hands where the phantoms itch and speeds his step, letting the physical burn of exertion overwrite everything else.

Ragged breathing behind him snaps Kylo back to his senses and he stops, turns, waits for the livid girl to catch up. “You utter bastard.” Her voice is rough, chest heaving from the jog his pace has forced her to.

He doesn’t apologize, he won’t, and he’s not the one who challenged his master in the first place. Actions have consequences: equal and opposite reactions. That’s all this is. “Do you need me to carry you?” He asks instead and resumes a more sedate pace when she rejects him.

“No. Don’t touch me,” The girl reiterates and wraps her arms herself, straining to keep up.

Kylo supposes he can understand that reaction. It never takes long for initiates to associate contact with pain. From what he’s seen in Rey’s mind it’s not a significant jump from where she starts to such a mental state. Letting his legs move on autopilot, he considers the designation he assigned her in his thoughts. She’s not an initiate for his knights, not technically, though there’s no doubt that she’d be an excellent one were the opportunity to arise. Still, there’s a certain truth to the title, for certain what he witnessed, participated in, was the first chapter of some ritual initiation, some rite of breaking. It’s certainly Master Snoke’s style.

So he keeps his hands to himself and, pausing only to issue some rather pointed orders to a passing service droid, leads the girl back to the room he claims as his. Rey stares, unseeing at the plain grey interior, flexing and releasing her hands into fists at her sides. Kylo waves back a curtain that separates the meager living space from an adjoining fresher. “You know how to use one of these, right?” He thinks it’s a fair question.

The flash in her eyes seems to indicate that she disagrees with that assessment. “Yes.”

He really doesn’t have time for this, where’s the damn droid? He finds the catch on his mask and removes it, setting it on its place of veneration in these shabby accommodations and runs his fingers through his hair, studying the girl again with all available senses. “Then use it,” He doesn’t trust the emptiness in her eyes, the brush against his mind. “You heard Lord Snoke’s order.”

Rey snorts and tucks her raw hands under her armpits. “No lord of mine.” Raising her head, the steel settles back over her and Kylo relaxes infinitesimally now that she’s not shamming.

“He’ll kill you.” Kylo weighs the benefits of dumping the girl under the rinser himself and turning the taps on, clothes and all.

“For being a dirty piece of desert trash?” The disgust in her voice scours against his nerves. “Then he’s wasting his time. Doesn’t he have children to murder, or something?” No less put out with him, she begins picking the ties out of her hair and lines them up carefully on his shelf by the door.

Kylo tries not to stare, too bad he’s always been terrible at focusing on the things that matter. The thread of their conversation, if it can be called as such, has quite escaped him. “Has anyone ever tell you to pick your battles?”

“Sure they did,” Rey tilts her head back, exposing a long column of neck and scratches at her scalp as the last bundle of hair tumbles loose. “Usually the ones who wanted me to stop picking fights with them.” Her mouth twists at what he feels to be a bitter-sweet memory. “If you let people think they don’t have to fight over the little things, sooner or later they start thinking they don’t have to fight over the big things either.” She kicks off her boots a little harder than Kylo suspects is strictly necessary.

“We can fight over this if you like.” His mouth moves but Kylo is really only paying attention to the quick casual motions her fingers make on the heavy leather belt around her hips.

The belt hits the floor and Rey shoots him a look that has the same calming effects as a quick dunk in a bucket of ice. “Does it look like I’m fighting? Turn around and don’t peek or I will find some way to make you regret it.”

The command brushes with just a touch of the Force and then he really doesn’t know how to respond. Was the girl even aware what she was dabbling with in that action? Was it even a conscious decision? “At a scrawny desert rat like you? Wasn’t going to.” Still, he turns his back on her, jams his hands into his belt and flatly refuses to do anything as undignified fidget as rough woven cloth whispers against skin and bare feet slap against the floor. She snorts at that and Kylo thinks of the black pool, sucking deep calming breaths as the curtain whisks shut behind her and the sound of the shower comes on.

With an exquisite sense of agony, his calm returns and Kylo can find the space in his head to think again. It’s utterly beyond him, what Lord Snoke is plotting, here. Does his master understand the temptation this proximity leads to?

Yes.

It’s perfectly obvious and perfectly sobering. It almost doesn’t matter if Rey sensed his distraction earlier or not; that’s the entirety of her purpose here, though he’s willing to bet she has no idea. Humor that isn’t his, and isn’t hers either, nudges the back of his mind and experience indicates his master is much closer than the presence in the subterranean cavern would indicate. Kylo wills himself to be smooth and calm, the black pool again with the whispers and the strength. If the girl is useful to his quest to become great he will use her, else he will care nothing for her. A tool, like a lightsaber or a droid. He has done so much to get to where he is now, she will not destroy the things he dedicated his life to building.

Something beeps outside his door and Kylo turns his attention to more pedestrian matters. A casual wave of his hand grants the service droid access and, assured of his position in the world, he relaxes by inches as the mechanical creature putters around the room; setting down a tray of covered dishes and a bundle of clothes, gathering up discarded grey cotton and bundling it away with other items of dirty laundry.

He feels centered and certain, the door and its seals responds easily as he shuts it behind the server and Kylo settles himself in the center of the room, breathing in the distant whispers and exhaling weakness. The dark side of the Force answers to him, eager and ready to be used. Briefly he brushes against Rey’s mind, delicate and subtle, and then moves on to better things. She’s a distraction, tailor made for his personal flaws, but with this knowledge this he can become stronger, avoid the pitfalls of such an obvious problem.

The patter from the shower is silenced the Kylo brings his world to the epicenter of his self, a pair of lungs in the void, expanding and contracting. No distractions, no complications, just breath and darkness. Then there’s the careful shuffling steps of a girl mincing across slick tile and Kylo slits his eyes open, just a little. A lean brown arm appears around the curtain, groping blindly for the desert-style garb that is gone.

The curtain rasps aside and Rey sticks her head through the gap. “What did you do with my clothes?” Her voice cracks like a whip against his senses, demanding, impatient.

Maybe he plays up the opening of his eyes and the examination of the skin on display, hair plastered flat against her skull, water trickling down her arm onto the floor, darkening the towel clutched over her chest a little too much. It is, well, it’s different from their brief encounters through the Force, to put it mildly, but it’s an obvious sort of trap, now that he knows what to look for. “I sent it away to be cleaned.” Leisurely he unfolds, rotates his neck to loosen the muscles and crosses the room, handing her the package of dark cloth the droid deposited during its brief visit.

Rey looks like she wants to say something unpleasant in response to that. Instead she takes the bundle from him and nods tersely, then retracts behind the curtain. While she dresses, Kylo checks over the tray delivered from the kitchens, shrugging the offering off as standard, functional fare, perfectly adequate to meet the physical demands of a knight’s training, but not much more. The curtain flips back and Rey shoulders her way back into the room, finger combing the worst tangles out of her hair. The clothing is functional, sleeveless tunic and long loose trousers in dark greys, not that significant a change from her preferred apparel when all is said and done, he guesses.

Her eyes light up when she spies the tray and Rey doesn’t even ask permission, simply brushes past him and snags one of the plates, retreating to a corner to hunch over the unseasoned proteins, carbohydrates and fats, shoving them in her mouth like she’s afraid the processed edibles will sprout legs and try to escape.

It evokes a complicated feeling, too complicated for Kylo to deal with on an empty stomach, and he takes his own plate, balancing it on his knees as he sits on the edge of the bed, and digs in at a slightly slower rate. A silence settles between them, broken only by the sound of spoons chasing the last vestiges of protein porridge around the edge of the plate and it’s not companionable, they aren’t companions, but it’s a little moment of truce and he appreciates it while it lasts.

Then Rey finishes her meal and fixes him with a piercing look, and Kylo has a sinking feeling of inevitability, that the truce is now officially over. “How is this going to work, then?” She asks after a moment of staring. “Am I going to be stuck following you around like some little Yapi-pup?”

Kylo hadn’t really considered that angle of this arrangement. He buys some time by tossing her a stoppered flask of some kind of juice while he thinks. “I do not know what Lord Snoke has planned for you.” He hedges and then yields, just a little at her unconvinced stare. “I have duties to the Knights of Ren, most days. As far as I’m concerned, you will remain separate from their training facilities.”

That piques her interest, but she has the sense, if not manners, to swallow her juice before speaking. “Knights of Ren?” Her curiosity crawls over the hard edges of his mind, seeking, but Kylo’s pretty sure he’s keeping her out. “Like the Jedi knights?”

He snorts inelegantly, “Nothing of the sort! Don’t be absurd. They utilize the top floors here; stay out of their way.”

“You didn’t seem to mind parading me around earlier.” Rey crumples the empty flask in her fist and studies it as though she’s debating the merits of chucking it at his head.

Kylo keeps a wary eye on the projectile as she tosses it between her hands. “The disciples were engaged in morning meditations. It was a calculated risk.”

“But not you?” For an instant, her mind supplies an amusingly inaccurate portrait of ominous masked figures in black robes sitting in a circle, chanting and holding hands.

“Obviously not,” Kylo stands and tosses the remains of the meal into the platter for disposal.

Rey scrambles to her feet and, to his surprise, helps clean up. “What about the lower levels?” She asks, “You said the knights have the top floor, but that implies there are others.”

Good is not the same as stupid; for all her faults, of which there are many, the girl is sharp. Kylo thinks of the crypts, the galleries, the libraries of ancient secrets. It might be entertaining for him, but no. “That is Lord Snoke’s domain. If he wishes you to wander there, he will make it known.” A quick glance at the chronometer in a high corner of the room indicates that he needs to make haste if he’s to be on time for the afternoon’s training. “Time to go.” The mask slips back on as Rey drags her old boots on, an amusing contrast to her new garb, and she follows him, more or less obediently.

Obedience is okay, he can work with that.

Kylo escorts her to Lord Snoke’s door and then hurries off without a word. It annoys her, he can feel her vexation tugging at his attention like a needy child and she shouts something after his retreating back, but it is lost distorted in echoes. He makes it to the training grounds in what has to be record time, but the Knights of Ren are already immersed in their training by the time he arrives. Late despite his best efforts, all thanks to the girl.

There’s no point cursing his luck when an idle trio breaks off torturing a training droid to confront him. Lord Snoke had as good as promised that this afternoon’s exercises would be as much about shedding blood for his earlier transgression as improving his martial prowess. The three faceless helmets turn to him as he approaches and for an absurd instant, he thinks of Rey and the suffering about to be rained down on her via their connection. Then he lets the thought go; she’s not, can’t be, a factor in his calculations here.

“Running late, Jedi Killer?” The tallest figure with a lilting accent and a heavy pike nods to Kylo.

Kylo nods, leaving the ridiculous nickname aside. That’s not a battle worth fighting with this lot. “Lord Snoke had much to discuss this morning.”

The shortest one barks with laughter, tapping two electrified sticks against each other, sending sparks showering to the training room floor. “Funny, he sent us a message all special-like. Said you asked for us personally this afternoon.”

Their banter is dull, uninspired. Kylo gives it the barest shrug of acknowledgement, “I suppose so,” and steps into the ring. “To first blood?” Somehow he doubts he’ll be so lucky.

The pike wielder thumbs a switch on his weapon and the top half begins to blur in an energy field that allows the Knights of Ren to fight, to kill, Jedi. “No such luck, Killer,” He has the grace to sound half-way apologetic. “The Master’s orders: three on one, to the first touch on each of us.”

Kylo sizes his opponents up, the short fat one with short fat energy swords, the group’s speaker and a middling figure with metallic hand coverings that extend nearly to its shoulders. There’s nothing for it but to draw his lightsaber, exchange meaningless ritual bows and begin the bout.

Chapter Text

Rey thinks of herself as a realist and so tries not to take it Kylo Ren’s behavior towards her as a personal affront. He’s an asshole, he’s been an asshole since before he kidnapped her. Just because they have a connection that Snoke thinks is special, just because of, well everything, it would be stupid to think that makes him any less of a miserable hero-killing piece of shit. He steals her clothes, which is ridiculous bordering on juvenile, but he replaces them and he feeds her, and damn it, but that still counts, maybe more than it ought to, if she’s being objective.

He’s gotten weirder, somehow, in the three minutes it took her to shower, his thoughts jumping around like sand-rabbits on mid-day sand flinching where they come in contact with her conscious. She doesn’t pry; throwing stones in glass houses doesn’t hold much appeal, and it’s almost certainly not worth the effort to try and understand what’s going on in his twisted brain. So she does her best to shut him out, which doesn’t work particularly well, or engage him in conversation, which fares a little better and then just as abruptly he’s herding her back down the long spiral staircase.

Then he leaves her alone in the dark with the whispers and the stone carvings that writhe in her peripheral vision and it’s almost enough to make her want him to come back.

Something nudges her mind, it feels like instinct, but in a place like this it could be just another manifestation of evil. There’s certainly enough of it to go around. The stone door to Snoke’s temple is cracked open, and the thick stone swings opens easily at her touch. The cavern feels different this time as she presses it back into place and advances, feeling one foot in front of the other. It’s the light, she decides, a little more diffused, maybe slightly less blue, small tricks that reduce the menacing aura of the environment without actually changing anything significant. Even the dais seems lower, but that’s almost certainly her imagination going crazy.

The cushion in the small circle of light is not imagined, though, and she stops just short of it, craning her neck to look at the giant surveying a screen balanced on his knees, reclining on his symbol of power.

“Sit,” Snoke flicks a glance up at her and then returns his attention to the screen. “I will attend to you shortly; this just came up.”

There’s no compulsion behind the order and Rey isn’t entirely sure what to make of that. It’s at odds with the evil overlord who had overpowered her effortlessly, who hadn’t thought twice about obliterating the Republic, much less knocking her around a little. She sits because she’s tired from chasing after Kylo Ren and his stupid long legs all morning and because she’s her own person and not a complete contrarian, despite previous accusations. The cushion is a bonus, though, and without anything more pressing to do, Rey slips into the comforting patterns of meditation.

Breath in, think of the stars over the sea, breath out, a green island on a field of blue. The visualizations fade, thoughts and images scattering, washing in and out like the tides. The Light is weak here, but with careful focus she can find something like balance, not the deep divine that brushed her mind on Master Luke’s island, but something.

For a moment, it’s almost enough.

Then pain sears along her arm, a bone deep ache that spreads through her chest, freezes her lungs in shock and her eyes snap open, meeting Snoke’s. He’s watching her, not amused, not gleeful, if he’s in her head she can’t feel it through the rupturing pressure in her chest. It darkens her vision and then Rey releases air in a gasped exhale that empties her lungs and propels her back onto her hands and knees before him, blinking furious tears as she breathes in again. Her pulse thunders in her ears, body protesting this ridiculous experience as the shock fades and the hem of a grey robe floats on the stone just beyond her reach.

Snoke sits across from her, just watching, as Rey regains control of her physical self. She can’t seem to let go of her arm, fingers digging into her flesh as though that will ease the pain. He doesn’t say anything and somehow that’s more disturbing than the velvet commandments he had issued earlier. Even if the function hadn’t been clear, at least the intent was. Silence could be anything; though she won’t make the mistake to hope it will be positive. Right now, she’ll settle for neutral and feel like she’s come out ahead. Anger burns through her mind, rage and impotence, another quick shock to her side and she’s sliding, falling, void rushing up to meet her and that’s bad, wrong, something beyond comprehension reaching up out of a pit to ensnare her and drag her down into the deep dark.

Palms the size of hubcaps, cool and dry, brush over her forehead, down the curve of her cheek and the sensation is gone as abruptly as though it had never been. Opening her eyes is a struggle, too much oscillating between dark and light, pain and relief that the emptiness is a different sort of shock that she’s too numb to process. Snoke’s eyes are very close, a gargoyle with a broken face hovering, for lack of a better word, close enough that she can feel his breath stir the untamed wisps of her hair.

“You feel everything so,” The giant pauses, considers his words, “So completely. Light and Dark, pain and pleasure, strength and weakness. It’s a gift.”

She’d try to scramble away if it wasn’t a completely futile gesture. “What did you to do me?”

“A temporary measure; a relatively benign one,” The timber in his voice makes her instantly distrustful, it’s too rich, too gentle, too convincing for her to reconcile to the aura of evil and perpetually twisted sneer.

“Remove it,” Rey grits her teeth at the scratchy emptiness in her skull. It’s there, the thoughts and feelings that she knows to be hers, but they’re distant, vague, obscured by thick fog. If she could, she’d claw it away with her nails, but that seems more like a poor plan born of frustration in this particular moment than a workable solution to her problems.

Snoke exhales, amusement or frustration or something else she can’t place. “It is not your debt to pay, little star.”

“You can’t possibly care about that,” Rey knocks the hand grazing her cheek away rudely. “Remove it.” Her tongue prickles on the words, a faint taste of ozone with the utterance.

Snoke withdraws his hand, folds it in his lap and regards her, head cocked to the side in study. “That trick only works on the suggestible and weak-willed, child. I hope you are not implying that I am either. That would be, let us say, upsetting.” For a long minute he studies his hand, flexing the inhumanly long fingers. “And you cannot begin to imagine what I might care about.”

“If you cared about life, about people and their suffering, you wouldn’t do the things you do.” Fighting every instinct, Rey tries to settle her mind, let the sense of loss become a passing moment. Mediate and bring openness, clarity to pierce the veil.

“True enough,” Snoke snorts at that, “If life was so valued, why would we be made to die by our creators? My apprentice must learn his place in the universe and pain is the greatest teacher. Still,” He shrugs bony shoulders, “I will do as you ask, as long as it does not overly interrupt our time together. It would seem your master taught you nothing of such protections; an interesting choice for a Jedi.” With another caress against her hair, the barriers drop.

Rey shivers as the awareness returns, the hot anger, the pain and humiliation, the life that is Kylo Ren floods back into the place that he’s carved into her brain. For an instant he falters, gears filled with sand grinding to a halt, and her muscles scream with his as he resists some great force, before throwing it off with a roar of triumph that echoes in her skull. Banishing the moment with a shake of her head, she regards Snoke blankly. “Master Luke does as he thinks best.”

“But you do not agree. No, dear child, do not fight me on this. Your suspicions are writ clear for any to read. You are here, in the heart of your order’s ancient enemy, because he failed you, failed to recognize the powers you touched and the path they led down. You have endured that very thought yourself.” Snoke smooths his long spider-leg fingers over the material covering his thighs, mouth twisting up in satisfaction at the response his words elicit.

She will not succumb to the tiny flair of agreement that flickers in her chest. It is beneath her; Rey refuses it. “It was not Master Luke who failed.” Her tone almost manages to ring with conviction.

“You blame yourself then?” Reaching into his robe, Snoke removes a delicate web of filaments and crystals, and threads it between his fingers. “I think not. You begged this man on your knees, tears in your eyes, for wisdom, for mercy, and he refused. Without true power, that was all you could do.”

“So what? He didn’t, doesn’t, owe me anything.” Her back burns, nerves crackling with foreign stimulation, pain traversing a direct route to the base of her skull where it throbs in time with her heartbeat. Rey shifts on the cushion and does her upmost to ignore the scorching flesh, tries not to let her temper get the best of her. She can do this. Then she’s toppling forward as something pierces her calf, cramp or another injury inflicted on Kylo Ren. A cool dry hand, soft and worn, catches her elbow before she can collapse on the Sith lord sitting across from her.

“He was your master,” Snoke contradicts her with a murmur, fingers ghosting over the swell of her arm as Rey withdraws from his touch and resettles herself, wrapping her arms around her knees. “One would assume that, as you owed him your study and obedience, he owed wisdom, discipline, and guidance in return, yes? You spoke to him of the occurrence that took place during your last visitation with my apprentice.” He goes back to toying with the device.

“I did not,” She can’t quite understand what he’s doing with the entangled fibers, if Rey concentrates she thinks she can see where the crystals interlock, pass through each other, but the effect is strange, difficult to comprehend. Blinking rapidly, she looks back to the narrow channel of stone between the toes of her boots and his knees.

“Indeed?” His tone is arch; expression bemused. “You did not trust him?”

“I trusted him.” The device tinkles and sings as it lands on her clasped hands, rough crystals strung on the finest silver wire. The crystals chime as she devotes her attention to untangling her fingers. “I just didn’t know how to explain it.”

“Try.”

How can she explain it? She’s never been good with words, not enough practice, maybe. The crystals refract the light in quick dazzling flashes. Somewhere, Rey finds the words. “I didn’t know what was happening. It was, it was the oddest thing, really, like someone was trying to make soup in my brain or something, scraping the bottom of the pot. Except not like that at all?” Languorously, she pauses to unwind a filament from where it had snagged around the joint of her first finger – as thin as the wire is there’s a real risk of cutting through the joint if she’s not careful. “Then, oh, you know how the old mega-class freighters had to use neutron stars to turn around? Or like, when you’re trying to connect the engine in the CR-119 Dewbacks with magnetic locks and you’re trying to put it in backwards? Then you flip it around and the damn thing almost tears your hands off snapping in place?”

“I am familiar with the general properties of slingshot maneuvers and electromagnetism, yes.”

“It was kind of like that. I was just, there, I guess. And it fit?” She tugs too hard, the wire scores the side of her finger, an annoyance that she’s experienced a million times before. It pulls her out of the strange place her mind has wandered, back to her body curled up on the cold stone floor. “That’s stupid. I don’t know why I said any of that.” Balling the crystals and wire back up, she tosses it back to Snoke.

The Sith Lord catches the bauble and tucks it away in his robe again, humming in thought. “It was your first encounter with the Force, correct?” He doesn’t seem to need a response and that annoys her. “A curious circumstance, indeed.”

“How so?” Rey frowns at the alien face. “It could have been anyone there. I’m nobody special; just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Yet here we are,” Snoke shrugs as Rey winces, another shot of sympathetic agony slicing across her chest. “Your stubborn independence does you credit, little star, but it cannot save you here. Ironic, is it not? The Jedi are gifted in evasion and protection yet they take such poor care of their own.”

Rey bites her cheek as another bit of white hot lightning cracks down on her shoulder. “If you’re trying to argue that the First Order’s better, I’m not buying it.”

“We don’t pretend otherwise,” Snoke’s reprimand is mild, his eyes keen on her face. “The way of the Sith is direct, proactive. Violence and pain are tools, nothing more, nothing less.”

It’s utterly repulsive, she hates the way his words crawl over her skin, worm against her ear. “I would like to leave now,” Rey struggles to keep calm as she voices the request. What has she got to lose, after all?

“As you like,” Snoke waves a hand in her direction as he stands and returns to his throne. “You will find Kylo Ren at the training grounds on the highest floor. Do remember, though,” He adds as Rey turns to flee, “In the end all lights fade, little star. Your master, the resistance, no one is coming to save you.”

The words are a death knell in her mind and freeze Rey’s feet in place. How much of her life has she wasted in wait for people who never came? On Jakku, on Master Luke’s island? How much bitter disappointment has she swallowed for days, for years? An ocean’s worth, she’s sure. A tiny voice in the back of her head, lost in the roar, insists that it doesn’t matter, that she’s never needed saving from anything or anyone.

But it would have been nice if, just once, someone had offered to help.

Answering hate surges back through Kylo Ren, a burning sort of intoxication that threatens to tear her apart, a savage brutality that demands release, at Lord Snoke, at the stones underfoot, at any and everything.

A cobblestone cracks under her foot and she’s thrown backwards by a blast of raw power, head cracking against the wall. When her vision clears of starbursts, she’s slumped against the stone door and Snoke is watching her from his throne, that same inquisitive look again. This time Rey turns on her heel and runs, a blind flight that maps to a series of twists and turned burned into her mind’s eye. Muscles burn, then scream, then go numb as she climbs the endless stairs, eyes watering as new hurts flit across her nerves like flies made of fire and blood. At last the stairs end and Rey braces herself against the smooth tile wall catching her breath before her feet drag her onwards through heavy black doors emblazoned with the red markings of the First Order.

The compulsion frees her senses and Rey looks around the enormous stadium, enclosed in a heavy glass dome that shows only the raging darkness beyond. Humanoids in armor are paired off, fighting each other around the room except in the center, where a small crowd gathers. Rey ignores the attention that flicks over her as she weaves around the spectators to the edge of the ring. The floor is a long bloody smear and somehow it’s infinitely worse to watch the duel play out before her eyes instead of experiencing it through their connection.

Two bodies are sprawled on the edge of the ring, alive and in pain, and Kylo Ren fights a stocky creature swinging heavily burdened arms. She doesn’t dare make a sound, but bites her hand to keep quiet as the red blade strikes out, held in his off hand and is caught, blocked, by the equipment strapped to the other knight’s arms, a faint blur of air around the armor the only indicator of any special property. Each wound echoes as Kylo is driven back, right leg giving just a little too much as a weighted fist swings down on his head and sends him to a knee. She can’t watch, can’t look away, as the apprentice strains against the weight bearing down on his blade, takes a crackle of energy to the throat and goes down.

He rolls and the tip of the lightsaber lashes up, licking against the unarmored back of his opponent’s knee.

The brawler goes down and there is silence as the weapons power down.

“Victory conditions met by Kylo, Knight of Ren.” One of the spectators shouts and there’s a smattering of approval before the crowd disperses.

Her tunic is soaked as thoroughly as if she fought the duel herself and Rey slips onto the field where Kylo Ren lies prone, face down on the bloody duracrete floor, thoughts quiet and dark. Exhausted. Her body only protests a little as she squats beside him. Cautious, like stealing eggs from a sleeping Crier, she brushes against his mind. ‘Hey? Anyone home?’ He flinches from the contact, doesn’t move outwardly.

Beyond him, the fallen opponent groans, and Rey only feels the faintest of flicker of forewarning before the knight is rolling over, something metallic and sharp arcing at Kylo Ren’s unprotected back. She gets lucky with the deflecting kick, less so with the disarmament and evasion. A huge heavy mitt fists the front of her tunic and drags her to the ground amidst distant shouts of ‘foul, foul!’ The technicalities escape her; her opponent is beastly strong and heavily armored and she’s unfortunately neither of those things. She just about manages to duck the wild swings with the knife with just a shallow graze on her scalp, but he’s got her by the neck and, in retrospect, this was probably a stupid fight to pick. Her nose crunches under the helmeted head-butt and she feels, more than hears, Kylo Ren’s sympathetic jerk as her vision blurs. The weight is gone suddenly and, shaking her head to clear her vision, Rey watches two other figures in dark armor drag her assailant away. Two dozen eyes bore into her as she sits up slowly, swiping at her nose and glances over at the still motionless Kylo Ren. That really had not gone as she anticipated. “Do you need a hand?”

“I told you not to come here.” With immense effort, Kylo Ren rolls over onto his back and stares at the glass ceiling.

Chapter Text

The loud idiot with two swords is sloppy and goes down as soon as Kylo separates him from the others. It gives them free shots on his back; electricity that stutters his heart in his chest and a slash on his arm from the pike’s cutting edge, but it’s more or less a satisfactory exchange. One opponent of three eliminated in the first sixty seconds of fighting; he’s the First Knight for a reason.

The two remaining opponents aren’t pushovers; he recognizes the slashes of black paint on the piker’s grey armor as the leader of Squad Two. The weapon of choice is another signature, almost too large for the arena they fight in, but he wields it deftly, herding Kylo around the narrow space, making him duck and dodge the energized head. They’ve sparred together before, good, even matches, and the addition of a second forces Kylo to fight defensively, keep his back to the edge of the ring so the nasty piece of shit with his stupid protected electrified arms can’t grab him from behind. They’re toying with him, practically running him in laps around the perimeter and he hates; hates them and hates the originator of this misery.

It’s torture, but Kylo waits patiently and then seizes an opening as the brawler closes in on him. He intercepts the advance with a charge, swinging down at the gap where the helmet and chest armor meet, separated by a narrow gap. His opponent catches the crackling blade on his protective glove, contact throwing up showers of sparks as he wraps a hand around the blade and tugs, yanking Kylo off balance and coming in for a low, open handed blow to the ribs that finds its mark. Fire so hot it burns cold twists around his lungs as the butt of the pike slams into his shoulder and his dominant hand goes numb. He’s trapped, pinned like a bug between two unrelenting oceans of pain and flinching from one just shoves the other deeper and his weapon is trapped and his thoughts have gone dead and silent.

Cold sweat drips into his eyes under the mask, blinding him but he doesn’t need his eyes, doesn’t need his senses as the signature of starlight bursts back into life, self-righteous rage that burns life back into paralyzed limbs, a connection with the Force forged anew. He takes and takes, twisting the power around his misery and rage, his torment, and throws it outwards. Two armored bodies fly back and clang where they hit the floor and Kylo stands again, transferring his lightsaber to his still functioning left hand and charges after the brawler who struggles to stand under the weight of his weapons. If he gets this touch then it’s just one on one and he knows how that will go against the squad leader.

The pike glances down his back, blade whining through the air as it spins through capable hands and scores deep against his calf. His winning strike is foiled, and Kylo bites his tongue to keep silent, tastes blood and reaches out with his free hand for the Force. The butt of the pike smashes his wrist down and the piker herds him away from the brawler as he rises and Kylo retreats, testing his rent leg. His boot slips, leaves a red smear in its wake. There’s no concession in the dueling ring, they’ll keep going until he passes out or meets the winning criteria. It’s a meat grinder, this fight, nothing more or less.

Kylo stands and he fights, because that’s what he is, that’s all he is. The Force sustains him as he blocks and counters, blocks and counters as the chronometer ticks his life away. If there’s a single blessing in today, it’s that neither of his opponents are particularly strong with Force-sensitivity, they cannot tap into it to sustain themselves and the unrelenting physicality of the battle wears them down. On the flip side, they’re not bleeding all over the floor like a rather uninspired water-feature, so it comes more or less out even. Unfortunate for him.

It’s cause for celebration when the pike-wielder follows his feint to the left and then responds, just a half-second too slow, to the sudden reversal and receives a slash to his unarmored bicep. The fighter grunts and with a nod, steps back, out of the ring and powers down his weapon.

One left.

Kylo turns and squares off against the last man standing, lightsaber a little awkward in his non-dominant hand. One left. He can do this. Or he could, if the cowardly idiot would just come a little closer. The brawler seems perfectly content to hang right beyond his edge of striking. Anger rises to his call, always responsive, always there for him. The victory gives him strength, gives him the will to end this and it feels like he’s flying, closing the distance to his target. The lightsaber slams against the energy shield again and again and again, the blows rebounding, sending tremors shaking up his arms and shoulders as, bad arm or not he switches to a two-handed grip and bears down with enough strength, enough rage to decapitate any normal being. The blade screams as it skitters along the armor and a hailstorm of countering blows smash into his unprotected torso, driving him back. The brawler shakes his shoulders and pursues as though Kylo is prey to be hunted.

He yields and gives space, receives no quarter and he could deal with that, he could, except he can feel her, the little distraction, exactly where he told her not to be. Her emotions are volatile, surging at the most inopportune times. A nasty blow against the freely bleeding gouge on his arm helps him focus, brings razor sharp clarity to his enemy and the crackling blade separating them, banishes all else. Kylo fights each step of ground lost, blade licking out against the gauntlets and this asshole would be a little heap of ash if he were fighting with a proper dueling weapon instead of this bullshit. His luck’s always been reliably terrible.

Slipping in his own blood as he blocks a hammer-blow to his crown really just proves the point. The duracrete bites against his knee but Kylo doesn’t collapse and catches the blow just above the crossed hilt, straining against the weight as sparks bounce off his mask. Then a hand reaches around his guard, catches him squarely in the throat and Kylo goes down for real, grunting as his helmet knocks against the floor and he rolls with it, lashing out blindly as he evades the final blow that he knows is coming.

A hiss and a shout of pain, which somehow isn’t his, and an armored body clanging where it hits the floor. Then the announcement: “Victory conditions met by Kylo, Knight of Ren.”

Kylo has just enough wherewithal to remember to power down his lightsaber before it can destroy the floor. Then it feels really, really good to just lie there for five uninterrupted seconds. Of course she has to come over and try to disturb him then, when he’s working through his process, such as it is, press that hesitant query against his mind and he’s just tired; definitely not up to dealing with anything as difficult as this girl. Then his awareness of her blurs, violence surging through his fogged senses as she fights something he can barely bring himself to care about in this moment.

Stupid of her, a tiny scrap of unarmed flesh, but he still feels her absorb the attacks, calm wavering as her nose breaks, still fights back as her throat is squeezed under an iron grip. Then release, and he breathes in with her, opening his eyes to the stained duracrete pressed against his helm.

“Do you need a hand?”

With a conscious effort to ignore all the unspoken things in that query, Kylo rolls over so he’s looking up at the ash-clouds roiling high above the glass dome. It’s not much of an improvement. “I told you not to come here.” Talking hurts, he’s not entirely sure why, but then again the why probably isn’t particularly relevant, all things considered. He can feel the Knights of Ren watching them, this girl, feel their curiosity about the newcomer who interfered with the affairs of one of their own. It does not give him any sort of good feeling.

Rey scowls down at him. “Snoke sent me.”

“Well consider yourself sent back,” Kylo grunts and with a bit of dedicated effort can lift his hand an inch off the floor. The Force responds sluggishly, trickling around the edge of his awareness but not quite responding in the way he directs it.

Rey grabs his wrist, fingers digging into the space between tendons through the thick material of his robe. “Don’t!” She eases her grip and places the limb carefully back on the floor. “I am so sick of you people messing with my head.”

It’s humiliating that he can’t stop her in this moment, can only flinch from the surge, fizzing against burnt out nerve endings that comes with the contact and be relieved that she wills it to be a fleeting thing. “Then leave.”

Her will steels and she frowns at him, a different sort of expression among the taxonomy he’s learning. “You look awful. Can you even walk right now?”

Pretty rich coming from a face where two black eyes are beginning to bloom, lips and chin stained with carmine that’s starting to soak into her collar. “That’s none of your business,” Kylo lets his head thump, very gently, back against the floor. He can walk, or will be able to walk when he’s done lying here. Preemptively, he winces as he feels her intents and sits up slowly. The room spins, floor heaving under him like a living thing, but he’s done this before. “Just go,” He says because she’s still crouching beside him and he has no use for her like this. He works himself to hands and knees by inches, ignoring the stubborn little idiot, cataloguing the injuries as they flicker past his awareness. Not as bad as it could be, but definitely not good. Rey hisses as he moves one knee in front of him, torqueing the new hole in his leg and he glares at her. “Why are you still here?”

Rey responds with a temper that surprises him. She stands, violence barely contained, and it might have been funny if he wasn’t so tired, so spent on demonstrating his obedience to Master Snoke’s will. “If I hadn’t been here you’d be dead.”

Loathing suits her, he thinks. She wears it well. “I’d have been fine.”

“He was going to stab you!”

“I’ve been stabbed before.”

“In the back?” Rey folds her arms over her chest.

“Why are you so upset about it?” Kylo stands, grabbing instinctively for the closest thing when the floor threatens to throw him off. A half second later, his brain processes the solid ridge of muscle under his hand and the power coursing under the skin and he releases her shoulder immediately. Blood roaring in his ears he turns and takes a step towards the doors. His leg crumples and it is only by her interference that he avoids pitching back onto the floor.

“I’m not upset about it.” Rey grits out, straining against his weight on her arms. “Given the circumstances, if someone’s trying to kill you I’d rather they did it painlessly; that’s all.” Grimly she rearranges his arm over her shoulder and moves them forward, more or less ambulatory. They almost make it to the black and red door when an armored figure, helmet tucked under one arm, intercepts them.

“Fair bout, Killer,” The green-skinned Nikto nods at Kylo, who grunts and half shrugs, because that win condition? Against three opponents? You’d have to be stupid to think it was actually fair. “What’s the meat? New initiate for training?” He, or maybe she, eyes Rey with a little more interest than Kylo is comfortable with.

“One of Snoke’s.”

“It fights like it has no brains and it smells like a Jedi.” The Nikto crowds closer and Kylo can feel the effort the girl expends to show nothing on her face as its facial horns graze her temple. “What is Lord Snoke wanting with it?”

Kylo grips the girl’s shoulder, pulling from the spark inside her, and feels slightly more like himself “Ask him yourself the next time you see him,” He pushes an order to get moving directly into her mind and together they maneuver around the knight, push through the doors into the white hall.

“Where’s your medical wing?” Rey adjusts her bruising grip on him as they approach the first flight of stairs. “You’re bleeding absolutely everywhere.”

“There isn’t one,” Kylo grunts, “The Knights of Ren are trained to be self-sufficient in these matters.”

“That’s insane,” Rey scowls as though he’s personally responsible for this state of affairs. “I’m not carrying you back to your room like this.”

He likes it when she’s grouchy, when a crease forms between her eyebrows and she starts looking for a fight. The energy radiating from her is a heady thing and distracts from his current list of woes. “I didn’t ask you to. What does Master Snoke want?”

Her bad temper crackles and snaps against his awareness, his master’s name eliciting an extra bit of miserable, bitter anger. Maybe later he’ll have the energy to delve into the matter, investigate this change in reaction. “Nothing. Maybe he figured someone would need to drag your sorry self back to the room?” Something about that strikes him as odd, but his eyes are heavy and just everything hurts so much that there’s not enough cognitive processing power to figure out exactly what it is. Instead he goes passively where she drags him, a little faster, a little rougher, back to the unremarkable grey door and all but shoves him through it. Somehow she manages the task without actually adding any new holes to his hide or causing excessive amounts of suffering and he lands on the cot instead of the floor, so it’s really, all in all, not so bad. His eyes burn and he’s not entirely sure why.

Kylo fumbles his mask off, lets it droop to the floor along with his gloves and, after an embarrassingly clumsy attempt, his belt. With grim determination he sets his attention to divesting himself of the over robe. Moving the right half of his body shoots blaster bolts through his bones, tunneling into the tormented meat of his head.

Rey twitches as he tries again to move his shoulder, “Stop that,” She orders and then she’s right in his field of vision, frustrated and in pain, just the same as him, leaning over and flicking the ties open, pushing the material off his shoulders with quick jerky movements, doing everything in her power to minimize contact and maximize the distance between them. “Snoke threw me out,” She adds as an afterthought to their earlier conversation, as though it’s of no importance, and crouches by his feet to tug his boots off. “I think I made him angry.” The leather stains her fingers red where she touches it.

“You made him angry,” Kylo echoes, struck dumb for a moment. He doesn’t believe it, doesn’t want to believe it; even for the person he’s coming to think of as his own personal disaster, the idea is just ridiculous. The thoughts overwhelm the oddity of having another person orbiting around him for reasons beyond violence or sycophancy. “You walked out of there alive and uncrippled; he wasn’t angry.”

“He physically threw me out. I’m pretty sure he was angry,” Rey gives no quarter and her certainty is a tangible thing that would contort the universe around it, but still he won’t believe her. With supreme care she rolls up the sodden leg of his trousers, grimacing at the gore below. “Gods above, you really, really should see someone about this.”

“It’s just blood,” Kylo brushes it off automatically, risks a glance, and then revises his opinion. It was damn stupid to have walked back on that; it’s possible, though not likely, that Lord Snoke really did send the girl up make sure he didn’t exsanguinate on his way back. “Med kit’s under the bed.” It’s not a question of trust so much as survival, of going through life with two fully functioning legs instead of just one. Her victory flashes in his mind’s eye, bright and satisfied, as her torso disappears under the bed beside his legs until she’s just a squirming knees and ankles. She’s very, very dusty when she re-emerges and he reminds himself he’s still angry with her, still smarter than Snoke’s plot to use her against him, as she places the white plastic container on the bed beside him.

“So when you said the Knights of Ren were self-sufficient you meant…?” Rey doesn’t meet his eyes but he feels her attention fixed on him as she cards through the sealed compartments of the kit and pulls two out.

“I mean self-sufficient,” Kylo stares grimly at the opposing wall as she tears the foil packet with her teeth and begins dribbling the sterilizer into the gaping maw on his leg. “First aid’s part of a novice’s training; you get hurt, you patch it up.” The goo stings worse than anything he can think to compare it to where it’s applied to broken skin, bubbling and hissing.

“And if you can’t?” Her shoulders flinch and her voice trembles, but Rey’s hands are steady as she continues squeezing the contents of the tube into the gaping flesh of his leg.

Kylo lets out a breath that shakes ever so slightly at the contact. “Members of a unit are expected to aid each other in times of extreme duress.”

“And you don’t have one,” Rey guesses as she drops the empty packet to the ground and she rips open the second tube and floods the contents into the trauma site. “I’m really, really sorry about this,” is the only preface he gets before her hands are tearing his leg off, fingers slipping as they struggle for purchase and Rey hangs on grimly as his leg spasms and the sealant sets, welding flesh back together. Rey’s shaking, eyes cast down, blinking rapidly when she lets go and her hands leave smears of his blood on her cheek when she tries to brush hair out of her eyes. “That really hurt.” She mumbles at last, pushing herself back onto her knees.

Kylo slowly exhales the scream he’d been holding, a nonverbal agreement with that assessment, struggling to think, to feel over the sudden rush of endorphins and the absence of that particular pain, and that’s really the only excuse he has for what he does next. His palms find her neck, ghosting over the pulse hammering like it wants to escape the confines of her skin, smoothing up so the sharp line of her jaw fits snug against his palms. “I don’t play well with others.” Her eyes are wide, a little Orowood deer, and his fingers ghost over the blood smears and bruises spreading over her cheekbones; she doesn’t flinch as he drags the pad of his thumb down the slant of her nose. Sharp pressure, cartilage and bone grating against each other at the forced realignment; a pain that makes his eyes water.

Then her palm connects with his cheek, a resounding slap of skin on skin and she almost seems to teleport away from him, limbs strung with a feral tension on the other side of the room.

“Fair trade,” Kylo tilts his head towards the girl and the emotions that crackle around her like an electrical storm. It gives him pause to feel shame, even for just a fleeting instant, coming from the corner where she’s prodding at the set organ, watching him with damp untrusting eyes. Something about that exchange, he has no idea what, has brought the connection once more to the front and center of his mind, or maybe that’s just the shock wearing off as the very excellent medicine sets to work. He’s not sure that’s a good thing and begins working his shirt off. The complexities of that activity are far preferable to the ones going on in his head.

“What are you doing?”

“Exactly what it looks like,” Kylo mutters as his right arm stubbornly refuses to cooperate.

“Making a fool of yourself?” The acid in her voice could etch steel, a thin veneer over her own internal conflict. Let her keep it to herself, he doesn’t want to deal with it now, or probably ever.

He responds to that loathing with an animal snarl, it’s preferable to regretting having driven her away with his stupid moment of whatever that was. His nerves are flayed by the slow friction of cotton, he has no idea what’s wrong with his right arm, why isn’t it moving, and he wants to hurt something, preferably the three who put him in his position in the first place.

Rey responds to that unspoken, well he doesn’t know how she’s interpreting the instability that rocks through him, but it saves him just a scrap of dignity that she swallows her displeasure with grace and returns to him. There’s no sensation of pity, in this moment he thinks he could kill her if she tried to force that sort of humiliation on him, just a quiet resignation to their joint suffering as she lifts the cloth from where it tears against blistered, bruised, burned skin. The shirt joins the rest of his clothing and she keeps her hands to herself, simply watches as he catalogues the worst injuries: wrist swollen and bruised, slice running across his triceps, unresponsive right arm. The med-setting on his shower should handle the superficial, epidermal damage.

Cautiously, Kylo stands, giving the girl time to retreat, another infinitesimal knot of tension easing, in him or her, he’s not entirely sure, but she responds well to the space and it costs him nothing. His leg is good, better than he could have hoped to accomplish himself; it holds his weight well enough to let him move unhindered across the room towards the fresher, unlacing his pants as he goes and trying not to respond to the feeling of her eyes on his back, that faint hue of discomfort, the effort she needs to drag her eyes away as his trousers slip down his hips.

Her little snort of disgust wouldn’t be amusing if he couldn’t feel the faintest crackle of attraction, a memory flashing in and out of existence; phantom touches, shudders of relief experienced, shared, across lightyears.

Hard to think it’s only been, what, six days since that strange encounter? It had been, well not simple, but easy, as much as the word could ever apply to Kylo’s life, when she was just a tiny point of light in his awareness. It had been easier to ignore her, to focus on what was important. He finishes undressing on autopilot, mind elsewhere occupied, as the curtain falls shut behind him and he absently kicks off his pants and crosses the white tiled room to the metal head and knobs jutting out of the wall over a drain. Cold water laced with disinfectant and regenerative compounds drums against his shoulders, raising gooseflesh and soothing the raw burns, rinsing crusted blood down his legs and swirling down the drain.

The chill helps mitigate some of the tantalizing thoughts that Rey’s unwilling attention has given rise to, but it’s not like he can live in here until this particular trial ends. Still, there’s a seed of an idea that he’s just starting to recognize take root. The girl had made Lord Snoke angry, she said, with implications that he had acted violently against her. Perhaps in there is something he can use, something to turn the girl to his side with Master Snoke set up as their mutual antagonist.

Kylo shakes his head, braces his good arm against the clammy wall and lets his head press into the crook of his elbow. He’s getting ahead of himself. It’s highly unlikely that his master hasn’t already considered this outcome; Lord Snoke is cunning, unfathomably clever, and always playing at least two levels higher. For the moment, it seems like there’s no sense of urgency. If his master’s game was intended to be over quickly, the girl could just as easily be a faint stain on the black stone floor or an empty shell of flesh. No, whatever Lord Snoke’s considering, whatever passing curiosity he has in their connection, Kylo has at least a little bit of time to work towards a proper plan of his own.

Twisting the knobs off, he stands there a moment longer. Making this decision isn’t the same thing as actually devising, much less enacting, a plan but it’s a start. He had offered the girl instruction before. True, she had scarred his face and left him for dead in the snow, but he had felt the lure cleaving to her mind no less clearly for that. Perhaps, given time, she would become amenable; the writings of the masters from time immemorial were excruciatingly clear just how difficult it was to deny the dark side after witnessing its colossal power. There, that’s a little more tangible than the mere notion that a thing ought to be done. He can take some satisfaction in that strategic decision.

His towel is draped over the rack, still clammy from the girl’s use of it this morning. It serves its purpose well enough and he dries himself carefully and digs in the curtained alcove for clean attire, dragging the loose trousers and shirt on, then grabs a spare shirt from the pile of black cloth. The girl is sitting in the middle of the floor meditating, he very nearly trips over her. Thanks to a pair of fully functioning legs, Kylo catches himself and evades, dropping the spare shirt in her lap as he curls up on the bed, grimacing at the pain involved in the simple act of lying down.

Rey cracks an irate eye at his disruption and he notes that she’s taken the time to scrub her face and hands clean. “Didn’t anyone teach you it’s rude to interrupt?”

Kylo pauses, as if considering the query. “No,” If she’s trying to bait him with the burned out cinders of fond familial memories, she’s wasting her time. Rey sighs, a tiny huff of frustration and shakes out the shirt. Fortunately she’s smart enough to make the connection without explicit instruction, angling herself away from him to strip off the blood-crusted tunic and struggling into the over-sized shirt he had dumped on her.

Rey doesn’t look at him as she rolls the sleeves back several times and catches the collar where it threatens to slip off her shoulder. “Thank you,” She says after what feels like an eternal stretch of silence, but by then he’s already unconscious.

Chapter Text

He sits and thinks for a very long time after the girl leaves. She had surprised him, a tiny human not even into her third decade of existence. There was a time, once, where he would have dismissed such an event as impossible, disregarded the occurrence or crushed the source. Foolishness of youth, it had been, the terror of confronting the unknown.

There is always a greater power. One day he will conquer them all.

So he thinks about the girl and her rages in this place of darkness; a child with the strength to crack the very stones over Darth Bane’s tomb, a child who believes she is abandoned in the dark, who has an enchanting air of naïveté, curiosity and intelligence. A child of the Force who sits and opens herself wide in meditation in his presence, who doesn’t shy from pain or righteousness or truth. Young. Untrained. Malleable? Perhaps, under the right circumstances.

She sits on the edge of his consciousness as he runs his shadow empire, compares reports from the First Order fleet and an armada of spies and saboteurs, as he teases divine secrets from tomes of forgotten knowledge. She’s meditating again with a desperate longing, reaching as far as she can stretch through the Force to find a sign of the familiar, the Master who is not coming for her or perhaps seeking alternatives. Among his flaws, and he tries to be objective, accept reality and take steps to control them when they work against his favor, shortness of memory is not one. She had escaped so easily from that young fool; bested a man ten years her senior, a powerful apprentice who had been controlling the Force longer than she had been alive.

Kylo Ren was certainly capable of titanic idiocy, but his strength was true even if his allegiance did not inspire the greatest faith. Still, today’s lesson appears to have taken root in his Padawan’s mind, imperfect, but better, and it had been a singularly unique experience to have the girl sitting with him, so stoic until the end.

An image appears in his mind, fully formed: the girl, older, wiser, stronger, curled by his feet, resting her head against his knee, monitoring his Knights, his generals; bringing perfect instantaneous two-way telepathic communication anywhere in the known universe. Capable of sniffing out signs of treachery or weakness, she is a perfect conduit of control. On his other side, the man, his right hand, stronger, steadied by the constant contact with the girl, no longer limited in his ambitions to that of his grandfather’s tarnished legacy, and perhaps in the dark, out of sight, a raison d’etre, a thing worth accumulating endless power for, worth razing planets for: a continuation of the Skywalker bloodline.

Lord Snoke snorts at the charming tableau, banishing it with a thought. Charming, one might even say quaint, but irrelevant at this time. He will not build castles in the sky; he has objectives and the means to reach them. He does not need to dream, will waste not even a drop in the ocean of time on unfounded speculation. There is nothing yet to indicate that this phenomenon is not a onetime occurrence, an accidental fluke. If the results cannot be replicated, then he cannot use the girl as a communications hub. Perhaps it a sign of things to come for his little star, perhaps someday when she is older, stronger, scarred in the soul and bitter with regrets, she might come into such a thing more easily. If not, well, he will not mourn the loss of such advantage for long. Modern communication channels are sufficient and there are so many other possibilities to explore, so many more discoveries to be made.

The screens he watches are quiet for now, all the orders that need be have been given. Kylo Ren has rested, recovered enough for what will be asked. It is time to summon his apprentice and the little human girl and journey into the land of unknown again.

~

 

The face full of soft cloth, smelling of rough chemical cleaning agents, is like a slap in the face pulling Rey out of her meditation. Growling at the source of the interruption is just reflex, just one more complication she has to deal with because of stupid Kylo Ren. Stupid Kylo Ren who gets his idiot self electrocuted halfway to death and almost gets stabbed and then fixes her nose like he has the right, like he has the capability of caring about things beyond the fragile shell of himself.

She makes sure to turn her back to him before stripping off the gross, blood crusted tunic and wriggling into the clean shirt. It’s improbably large, but it’s warm in this world of stone and steel and that shouldn’t count for anything, but a distant ache in her bones, just another background noise in the cacophony of sensations she’s been dealing with today, fades. She had been cold and now she was not. A simple thing.

Kylo Ren makes the smallest sound of discomfort as he rolls over in his sleep and Rey rubs her shoulder, at the sympathetic twinge she feels. She glares at the sleeping face, which is not an effective gesture but she does still hate him, hates the casual disregard he has for her free will, her private thoughts and the reactions that she can’t hide from him. It’s important to keep the emotion at bay, but never forget it.

Hate will not help her, but after hours spent in meditation today, she’s not sure the training Master Luke will, either. So what? Old Traz always said it was a bad toolbox that only held spanners; she’s quick and clever, better equipped now than ever before to finagle her way out of this mess. Sure, there are some pretty major obstacles before her, but to immediately write everything off as hopeless isn’t the scavenger way. In a complex like this, there have to be ships, some sort of supply line to this dead world of ashes, if Kylo Ren’s brief description is to be believed. A ship had brought her here, anyway, so there has to be some way off planet. There are other people in this complex besides Kylo Ren and Snoke and she is a passable negotiator. Maybe more than passable, if she taps into her abilities. So there are options, she just needs to take the time, preferably unsupervised, and discover what’s available.

It’s an exciting thought and Rey takes conscious effort to tamp it down. Her two greatest enemies here have both proven to be perfectly capable of reading her mind when it suits their purposes, and though they couldn’t possibly be surprised that she’d consider the notion, it’s probably best if she does not give away her intents.

Now if only she had the faintest notion how to accomplish that task.

Kylo Ren jerks violently, jackknifing upright, eyes rolling, wild and violent, stifling sense of terror flooding her senses until he wakes. He doesn’t seem to notice her at first, just grinds the palm of his hand against his forehead and lets out a long breath.

“Nightmare?” It’s a stupid question, Rey’s not sure why she asks except the word seems to drive back some of the unconstrained panic in his eyes.

Kylo Ren grunts, rotates his shoulders and runs a hand through his hair, shoving curls out of his eyes. “Lord Snoke wants us.” He rasps, coughs, winces and adds, “Immediately.” He shoves the blanket off and, with just the slightest hesitation, stands, testing his leg before jamming boots over his bare feet.

Rey stands by awkwardly, trying to keep the ocean-sized tunic over her shoulders, as the dark lord in training clumsily stuffs himself into his over-robe, struggling with the less than responsive limb. She doesn’t try to offer help; what might have been excusable in the aftermath of physical trauma while the man flirts with lucidity is not nearly the same as getting ready to meet the supreme evil in the middle of the night. She stifles a yawn with her fist and feel’s Kylo Ren’s eyes land on her profile as he tightens the wide belt over his waist.

“Hope you slept while you had the chance. It’s going to be a long night.” Kylo Ren opens the door with a wave of his hand and a sleepy glower. He leaves the mask in the room and she has no idea what to make of that change, whether it’s a conscious decision or not. The only sense she gets from him is exhaustion and minor distress, but that’s so typical that it barely merits notice.

Fat lot of good that advice does her now, and Rey makes a note to herself that she needs to start paying attention when he does that door trick, see if she can’t pick it up without being put into a position of needing to actually ask Kylo Ren for help.

The route down to Snoke’s cavern is starting to feel familiar, that’s definitely not a good sign, especially when she still has no idea where the kitchens are in this place. It’s probably her imagination, but it feels like the twisting staircase recognizes her as she is starting to learn it and Rey doesn’t even try to repress the shudder and her palms grow damp. “I hate this place.” She hadn’t quite intended to voice that aloud and she tenses, but Kylo Ren only grunts, steps through the archway and strides to the center of the spot before Snoke.

The feeling increases exponentially as she sidles under the arch, twitching as unseen eyes rake over her from all directions. Looking down, she finds the cracked cobblestone from that embarrassing moment earlier and then takes enormous effort to stay as far away from it as possible. Whatever’s under the stones here is even more unsettling than Lord Snoke. A deep dark voice chuckles in her ear and Rey almost jumps out of her skin. Just Snoke setting her on edge, right? She doesn’t mean to run, but her pace definitely quickens towards the dais and Snoke’s bright unblinking eyes.

Kylo Ren is already on his knees before his master when she stops short just behind him and for the briefest instant Rey considers joining him. He’ll just force her down one way or another, perhaps it would be better to yield gracefully? Save herself the skin on her knees, the subjugation.

Never. Such a thought does not belong to her and she stares up at Snoke in open defiance, ignoring the creep of chill as the tunic slides down her shoulder for what feels like the ten-thousandth time. There is no unrelenting pressure on her shoulders, nothing shoves her face first into the rough stone.

Snoke ignores her in favor of the barefaced man beside her. “Kylo Ren, I understand you undertook the discipline proscribed and carried it out to the fullest extent of my command.”

The dark head just above the height of her elbow in this position, bows. “Yes, my lord.”

“You have learned the lessons we discussed?” Snoke steeples his fingers under his chin and leans forward slightly.

“Yes, lord.”

The wide blue eyes blink once and Snoke sits back, sweeping a long stare over Rey. “We shall see about that. We discussed, did we not, the standards expected for the little star in my presence?”

“I beg your forgiveness, master. The girl was attacked, in the training yard. I thought-” She feels fear then, a moment of mindless terror followed by great wrath that beats against her head like great wings that blot out the sun of her thoughts that wears against her, a sharp pressure against the back of her neck, his hand against her skin. It’s not her fear, Rey reminds herself, but the thought alone is not enough to keep her on her feet before the might of Kylo Ren’s trepidation. Instead she lets her weight settle back, as elegantly as she can manage, so she’s sitting on her knees, hands palm down on her thighs beside him.

Snoke silences the explanation with a raised hand and crooks a finger. He narrows his eyes and Kylo Ren jerks, grimace bare for them both to see. He shakes, just a little, and blinks, dazed when Snoke releases him. “That is unexpected; in the future you are to expend more effort cultivating loyalty among your followers.”

“Yes, my lord.”

Rey shifts uncomfortably on the stone, doing her upmost to ignore the conversation, only partially spoken, filtered through Kylo Ren’s carefully repressed reactions.

Lord Snoke fixes his eyes on her, sharp and dark and crooks a finger at her. “Come here, child.”

The compulsion is mild, an annoyance that she knows is only a shadow of the power Snoke is capable of. It still makes her dig her heels in and scowl up at him on general principle. The feeling lingers, laced through with some very distressing interference from Kylo Ren and she stands, stretching to her entirely unimpressive height as Snoke descends and stops just a hair’s breadth from where she’s glued her feet to the floor and refused to give an inch. He towers over her, seven feet, eight? She’s not entirely sure, but it’s like standing at the base of a crashed Imperial Destroyer and trying to see the top. Eventually you just give up because the neck cramp isn’t worth it. Those inhuman hands wrap around her cheeks and thread through her hair again, tilting her face up and back until she’s forced to stretch on her toes, grabbing the thin white wrists to keep from being lifted up by her head. Rey grits her teeth as the ugly alien face stares silently, finger tips tracing the flesh of her nose, the bruises on her cheeks, rage and disgust swirling behind her eyes. “Let go of me.”

Snoke deigns to hold on for a moment longer, perhaps merely to indicate that he no more follows her orders than she his and then he gently releases the pressure and smooths the tunic back up over her shoulder. “It is a satisfactory fix.”

“Thank you, master,” Kylo grits out as though the words hurt.

Snoke drags bony-sharp knuckles up her neck and then, seeming to shake out of a stupor, returns to his chair. “Now attend,” He says as though they are here for anything other than that. “I have seen the manifestations of physical pain that you two share. I wish to know more of it.”

The feel of his fingers lingers unpleasantly on her skin and Rey takes a calculated step back, wrapping her arms around herself. “We don’t know anything about it.”

The shattered face twists in disdain, “I am not looking for a lecture, little star. Now, you will cooperate with my requests or you will not leave here with a mere knock on the head.” Rey tilts her head back to indicate just what she thinks of that particular threat, but remains silent and Snoke seems to interpret that as a begrudging acquiescence, for he continues, “Kylo Ren. Think back to your duel this afternoon. Do you remember the pain?”

“Yes, master.” Rey isn’t certain, but she thinks there might be just a touch of sardonic amusement hiding under the slavish obedience.

“Close your eyes, apprentice, embrace the memory; let it flow through you.” Snoke drones, eyes roving between the entranced man and Rey. “Do you feel anything, girl?”

She can hear Kylo Ren’s breathing change, ragged deep gasps for air that, a good boy for his lord, she thinks with disgust, so eager to please. It doesn’t hurt, though, and she ignores the wretched storm of misery roiling around him. “No.”

“Really?” Snoke glances between them again, frowning minutely at Kylo. “Curious. Boy, you may stop that.” He sits there in silent contemplation, then shrugs. “Very well, another test.” He turns the full weight of his stare on Rey. “Girl, little star, Rey,” He very nearly purrs out the syllable of her name. “You have no love for us, this I know. Dear Kylo Ren and I have done so much to you; murdered your friends, attempted great harm to you, stolen you from your life and denied you your freedom. We can do what we please with you, and you know, deep down, that you could not stop us if wished otherwise. I know you hate us, my darling girl, how could you not?”

Snoke’s voice is poison, sick and sweet, inveigling her senses and clouding her head. Close your eyes. Focus. Rey knows Kylo Ren is there beside her, but his light is so far away, flickering in and out of her awareness in a foggy night. Her tongue fumbles the words that she can’t deny, but refuses to confess in this pit.

“You may remain silent,” Even with her eyes clenched close she can hear Snoke smile. “It matters not, in the end. Simply ask yourself this: what would you do, were the positions reversed and you held all the power over Kylo Ren.”

Wind roars in her ears and Rey can’t ignore the temptation dangling on a hook before her thoughts. If she held that kind of absolute power that Snoke does? It’s inconceivable, easier to ask where fish would fly if they had wings. “I don’t know.” Opening her eyes is a trial and a half, but she manages it and looks up at Snoke. “Why do you ask?”

He looks disappointed, if anything, as though she’s just let him down terribly, and waves her question away. “It does not matter, then. Think, then, about hurting Kylo Ren, causing him physical anguish as you did when you cut on his face, his arm. Think on those actions, little girl, the hurt you caused. You could do it again, could do worse, to save your own life. Draw on that, if you like, but think hard.”

Her throat is tight at the memory, what an awful day that had been, without bringing that brief, terrifying combat to mind. The fear, the loss, the rage, the all-encompassing desire to hurt Kylo Ren and, through that, right the wrongs done. Snoke grumbles in wordless frustration and suddenly there’s a vision in her head; watching herself move around Kylo, bound, helpless, terrified, and though she’s never seen the glittering metal implements on the table, her other self seems perfectly at ease with their use and Kylo Ren screams under their application. A fierce joy floods her mind and then the vision dissipates. Her knees buckle and Rey retches emptily, shaking. “You’re a monster.”

Snoke hums at that, “Kylo Ren, what did you feel?”

“Nothing.”

Something brushes against Rey’s mind and the feeling of defilement retreats slightly. She doesn’t dare respond or look away from the stone steps of the dais. There will be nightmares for this, she knows, stains on her mind that will never come out.

Snoke frowns at that, “You’re certain?”

“Yes, lord.”

Snoke exhales in frustration. “Well, that’s information, I suppose. On to the next thing, then.”

Chapter Text

He has no idea what his master is playing at and that terrifies Kylo. Lord Snoke is not a stupid man and this level of caprice is unnerving, disorienting. The only thing he knows for sure is that it positively makes his skin crawl to watch those ghost-pale fingers glide over the girl’s face, similar but so different from the way he had fixed her nose. He thinks he’s going to be sick, but even looking away doesn’t completely block out the softest rasp of skin on skin, the quick harsh sounds of Rey’s breathing, and if anything seems to intensify the tension crowding his mind, co-mingling in his thoughts with the familiar razor-edge of stress that Lord Snoke’s presence brings.

Kylo keeps his eyes cast down and his mien neutral as Lord Snoke releases the girl. She’s a tool, she’s a tool and she’s here because Lord Snoke commanded it. He’s not involved, he feels nothing, makes himself think of still water as Snoke passes his approval on the crude corrective job and reiterates his interest in their connection. The bark of his name jerks his attention back to his master and he absorbs Lord Snoke’s question thoughtfully. Remember the excruciating pain he endured not even six hours ago and isn’t done sleeping off? That attitude will get him killed, and he responds with what he prays is his normal level of groveling subservience. “Yes, master.”

Master Snoke’s voice guides him back to that place of pain and helplessness, sweat and blood, each lancing pain scored anew. It lasts, hours or seconds he never knows, but more importantly it ends, leaving him drenched in cold sweat, unable to process the exchange between his master and their captive. The adrenaline fades and his attention returns to the velvet tones, the cadence rising and falling until he’s halfway bespelled, nodding along as the words caress his conscious. Something, very small, very far away protests this agreement, disagrees vehemently with the utterances, but it is weak, stupid; what does it know, anyway?

One question snaps him back to himself in an instant, “What would you do, were the positions reversed, and you held all the power over Kylo Ren?”

He knows what Lord Snoke is doing.

Kylo focuses on meditative breathing, tries not to think about the question and the tainted emotions it elicits. Rey doesn’t see the offer implicit in the question; that makes her either blind or stupid, or, he corrects himself, crippling naïve. Then Master Snoke provokes the girl and it’s a fight to keep track of which thoughts are his as moments flash behind his eyes, dyed in emotions that differ subtly from his recollections. It shifts again, and he doesn’t know what it is, but he’s back in his own head and Rey is collapsing beside him, darkness filming over his perceptions of the girl as she shakes and trembles as violently as he’s even seen of her in his severely limited experience. He feels nothing and it feels wrong, somehow, though he assumes he should be grateful for whatever reprieve ha can get. “Nothing.” Cautious, he touches the soiled mind, light dimmed by whatever his master had done. He recognizes the patina of joyous sadism as his master’s work; a false memory of blood and pain stolen from a body paralyzed with terror. He knows it well enough not to flinch from it, to be surprised only by the location, the source of such a feeling, instead of the intensity that would wreak hell upon him.

Master Snoke frowns at his analysis, the brisk voice pulling Kylo back into the moment. “You’re certain?”

“Yes, lord.”

“Well, that’s information, I suppose. On to the next thing, then.” Master Snoke banishes any sliver of optimism Kylo might have had that this was going to end well. Clearly, whatever his master seeks, they have somehow failed to deliver on. It seems reasonable to assume that, one way or another, they’ll pay for it.

Lord Snoke raises his hand and Rey crumples.

It might have been nice if his body had asked, if there could have been some kind of internal dialogue on the proper course of action, but there isn’t. In his defense, she sags to the side, very nearly toppling onto him, so he’s not left stranded in the position of having done something quite that idiotic in front of his master. It’s not even worth considering how Lord Snoke might respond to that sort of inanity. And once he’s got her insubstantial weight in his arms it’s not like’s going to drop her, either, so with a risky glance up at his lord, he lowers the girl to the stone, mindful of the knot on the back of her head.

“We will begin with dreams,” Master Snoke’s voice is quiet and resonant once more. “You will entertain my curiosity, Kylo Ren, and then I will explain.”

“It is not for you to explain yourself to me, master.” Kylo murmurs, eyes drifting back to the peaceful looking face bathed in the harsh white light and locks his hands together, the better to keep them to himself.

“Thank you, for that reminder as to my place in the natural order of things,” Lord Snoke’s voice stings with reproach. “If you have no other pressing advice to offer? I wish for you to join the girl’s dreams. You have done so before, I have seen it. You will replicate such an occurrence and, once there, I wish to determine if you can manipulate them. You may begin.”

“Yes, my lord,” Kylo inclines his head and settles beside the girl. It’s awkward at first, he has no idea what he’s doing, barely remembers the scattered recollections, wisps of light and sound and feel that had slipped through his fingers the morning after. After a moment of awkwardly kneeling by her shoulder he sits on the stone, lifts her head and eases it onto his knee. Her eyes twitch behind her lids and she curls onto her side, curling away from Master Snoke in her sleep, cheek rubbing ever so slightly against the cloth of his pants and letting out a tiny pathetic sound. It feels like the right thing to do, but he glances up at the silent watcher, his master, and waits for the slightest nod to proceed before resting his hand against her hair. The contact doesn’t spark, but flares like the last light of day and he just thinks the request, permission to enter, and he’s falling into her.

Rey’s dreams are diaphanous things, delicate flashes of color and sound, forming images that disintegrate as soon as he turns to watch them, flickering around a black mist that advances steadily, shot through with the finest threads of crimson lightning. It swirls up around her ankles, twining around hips, over her shoulders until it releases an eerie cackle in her ear. There’s a lightsaber in her hand, hilt cold and dark; it does not respond to her touch and as she drops it the ground falls away and a dart of smoke flicks into her ear, jerking her head to the side violently.

Change it, Snoke had said, and somehow Kylo does.

The darkness fades; the fear abates. The ground reforms, warps and they’re back in his room. She’s looking up at him, or maybe he’s looking down at her, the duality of perspective is confusing. With a little focus he finds he can keep them separate. She’s kneeling between his legs again, a fair facsimile of as they had been after his duel, but the bruises are gone from her skin and in takes only the slightest whim to replace discomfort with anticipation, arrange his fingers on her skin, sliding up her neck, brushing the soft round of her cheek and the corner of her lips. She sighs and he feels the caress of air against his neck, feels her fingers press over his thighs as she raises herself towards him. There’s a flash of bulbous blue eyes that struggle to overwhelm this moment, but he- they control this moment and the instant passes with just a shudder. Rey’s eyes are bright, delicate hooding so her eyelashes sweep the high rise of her cheekbones, tilting her face up, parting her lips ever so slightly-

“An interesting choice.” Then he is back on the stone floor with the girl’s head resting on his lap, the cool, amused eyes of his lord weighting on his shoulders. “That appears to be quite effective, I would say.”

Stupid, stupid of him. Kylo lifts the girl’s head and lays it back on the stones, doing his best not to think of the warmth that comes from the contact or the way the loose tendrils of her hair seem to reach for his hand as he removes it from her scalp. “Master, my lord, I did not mean-“

Supreme Leader Snoke silences the excuse with a Force-heavy wave of his hand that sends Kylo retreating a step and falling back to a knee. “We are not Jedi who deny passion, my apprentice. The things that grant power are never forbidden to us. No, it is the conflict you feel that will be your downfall in this. You fear the light in the girl, fear that the allure of her skin will be counted against you; lead you astray.”

Kylo inclines his head in recognition of the truth. “Please, master, tell me I’m wrong.”

Master Snoke snorts and bowls Kylo over with a casual gesture. “Your doubts are vile little worms. I cannot stop you from thinking them but you will refrain from referencing them in my presence. Ben Solo was a child of light; he died so that Kylo Ren could be born. Does he yet live?”

His injuries protest mightily as they rub against the unyielding stone through his tunic, but hearing the loathsome name is a thousand times worse. “No, lord.”

“Then this girl needs not be any different. She dreams of rescue, of escape, did you know? I will be grievously disappointed if such a thing were to pass.”

Kylo glances at the huddled form on the stone. “That is not unexpected,” He grunts, and then mutters, more softly, “She is an enormously stubborn creature.” She had defied him, resisted at every turn up to this point, it’s only suspected that she continue to do so. Anything else would be downright alarming. Still, it’s something that needs to be monitored more closely going forward. The decision gives him the courage to give voice to the inquiry that has been dancing around his mind since their first meeting with his master. “My lord, are you intending my replacement with this girl?”

The smirk from the lipless mouth sends fingers of ice down his spine. “I have considered it, Kylo Ren, meditated for hours on the proper course of action. You disappoint me often, as I hope I make clear, and yet, approach, child.”

His legs shake with something that doesn’t have anything to do with exhaustion and Kylo mounts the steps, returning to his knees before the hem of his master’s robe. Clearing his mind he braces his weight on his arms and waits for the punishment to fall.

There’s the briefest scent of Rey’s skin before those long thin fingers card through his hair, lifting it from where sweat has plastered it against his neck. “And yet,” His master continues, in that deep, sonorous voice of his, “And yet I have no wish to be rid of you. We have put so much work into your training, yes? Twenty long years; it seems wasteful to discard those efforts. You are not without strength, without the potential for greatness.” The fingers tug lightly on his scalp, nudging his face up. “The girl need not live in your mind as a rival if you continue to meet the lowest of my expectations.”

The pressure on his scalp relaxes and Kylo lowers his head until it hangs between his shoulders, “I will be a worthy apprentice, master.” His shoulders hitch as a long fingertip grazes the back of his neck.

“I certainly hope so,” Lord Snoke nods his agreement and retracts his hand. “Do what needs be done to bind the girl to our power. Teach her, amuse her, whatever it takes.”

“She will resist; she loathes our order on principle.”

“Recanting your promise so soon?” His master sneers, “Walk the galleries with her, I permit it. Let her see the magnificence of what she can achieve if she dares.” His eyes slide into the wide empty black of the cavern overhead. “Think well on how you will accomplish your task, my apprentice. I wish to hear good progress is being made. Now go, back to bed with the both of you.”

Kylo bows again, forehead brushing the stone and then turns his back on his master and jogs down the terraced steps, stopping just short of the sleeping girl. Lord Snoke’s expression brings uncomfortable things to mind and so he nudges her shoulder with the toe of his boot rather than reach into the Force to awaken her. “Time to go.”

The girl comes awake all at once, scrambling into a crouch and groping blindly for a weapon that isn’t there. He watches the cognizance return as she becomes aware of her surroundings and, kneading at sleep crusted eyes, follows him back out of the cavern, sleep wearing away to be replaced with a crackling annoyance. “What happened?”

Chapter Text

The floor is hard and cold under her cheek and the gritty itchy feeling under her skin is back. Something hard prods Rey back to consciousness and she reacts the same was she always has when something startles her awake. It feels like the floor is falling away from under her boots as her fingers touch air before the black stone cavern registers properly. She glances between the two other occupants: Snoke already distracted by something she can’t see and Kylo, well he seems even more scrambled than normal, swishing out of the room with barely a look in her direction. They’re dismissed, then?

It would seem so, neither male indicates otherwise as she stumbles out after the retreating black robe. How long has she been asleep? Her muscles are stiff, perhaps from lying hours on the stone floor of the temple, and she feels too hot and too cold and wrong, wrong, wrong. The sensation builds on the trek back until it’s a relief to be back in the room and able to give voice to her agitation. “What happened? What did you and your master do to me?” Releasing all the anxiety, all the toxicity, into that question helps, if only a little bit.

Kylo Ren glances up at her as he works the belt off slowly, and this time she meets his gaze steadily with no such compunction to help him. Rey decides she owes him nothing; let him struggle. Perhaps he senses something of this, for her gives her a faint humorless smirk, the slightest lift of an eyebrow, stretching out her discomfort like rubber hosing, before deigning to answer. “Lord Snoke was curious about how our connection worked in sleep.” He masters the belt and tosses it down, shakes himself free of the outer robe.

She can’t help but notice the freedom of movement that is returning to him and hates herself a little bit for that observation. “That doesn’t mean anything. What did you do to me?” She snarls, tenses as he sits back on the bed and eases out of his boots. Adding to the rapidly expanding list of things she hates is watching Kylo Ren undress, it gives him an unforgivable veneer of humanity. How can he be a monster from nightmares when she can see there’s a hole in his sock?

“I’m not talking to you until you calm down,” Kylo Ren grits out very, very carefully, as though he’s worried the words are going to twist on his tongue to something other than what he intends to say. “It would be unproductive.”

“You want me to calm down?” Rey laughs at that, the sheer insanity of such a statement, as though Kylo Ren has the right to demand anything of her, as though she could possibly give in to this one if she wanted to. “I think a little agitation is perfectly reasonable when I’m being held prisoner by two monsters who keep messing around with my brain!” There’s a savage sort of satisfaction in feeling the tiny flinch she feels through their connection, though she would have preferred to see it on his face. There’s a little voice in the back of her head protesting this; she ignores it. “Perhaps I should take it out of your head, Kylo Ren.”

He responds with rage at the suggestion, she can feel it licking along her nerves and fanning the heat of her ire, fingers of flame shooting into the night sky, a bonfire doused in accelerant. “If you think you can,” He taunts her, straightening where he sits and gripping the bed on either side of his thighs until his knuckles whiten.

Her hand shoots out of its own accord and she doesn't question the wisdom, the morality behind this particular action, just throws her mind, all her killing intent, all her focus, all her will, through the connection to the being on the other side. There’s no resistance, not even a shadow where there should have been some sort of barrier. A conscious choice perhaps? The lack of defense is, for a moment, disorienting, then Rey pushes on. Kylo Ren’s mind is a field of broken glass and razor wire, infernal heat that absorbs her fury, flares in recognition to her presence, sparks at her poison satisfaction, and helps propel her inwards. The light fades as she progresses, a claustrophobic darkness, the flash of a twisted melted mask, but the heat is still there and she gathers it around herself like a mantle, arms herself with the fierce joy that Lord Snoke touched her mind with, the desire to see, to taste all the suffering this sick twisted killer has to offer. He deserves it, she knows he does, and a faint echo coming from everywhere and nowhere agrees.

Within the darkness is desire, a ravenous hunger that would devour the world. It gorges itself on her rage, luxuriates under her sadism, craves her false memories of pain and blood, crowding against her with a familiar endless want. In the moment, she’s happy to feed into it, channel the frustrations of self-denial, the indignity of her confinement, all the poison in this place she’s been forced to swallow into the feedback loop painted with the imagery Lord Snoke had seared into her brain: the slippery heat of tortured flesh under her hands, the taste of blood smeared lips, pained gasps and shaky cries. He absorbs it, all of it, and the thirst slakes, the rapacious pressure fades, changes to a familiar longing that makes Rey ache, strips away her defenses, and that should terrify her, here in the center-most ring of this internalized hell. It’s the same feeling that crawls under her own skin when she awakes from dreams, the restless need that drove her from the safety of Master Luke’s planet, the phantom sensation of hands on skin, a tantalizing proximity that refuses to bear fruit. Endless denial. Endless want.

A gaping, empty expanse of desert with curling dunes of black sand, a perfect and terrible isolation, and a single distant star in the sky.

Something pops her out of the vision, sets her gently back into her own skin with shaking hands and damp eyes, fingers hovering over the raw burn striping Kylo Ren’s throat under his Adam’s apple. She wants to scream, turn tail, run and never stop running. This isn’t her, she doesn’t act like that, doesn’t do these things or think these thoughts. The Light is withdrawn, shrinking away when she reaches for it; she cannot feel the stars in her head. Limp, her hand drops back to her side and she’s held, rooted in place, by endless black eyes.

“Did you find what you were looking for?” Kylo Ren’s voice is quiet, without rancor or judgment. Only his hands tremble ever so slightly as he folds them over his knee.

“No,” The tear down her cheek is scalding in the icy room. The sudden need to apologize is absurd; words won’t undo her actions, her willingness to descend into depths that shouldn’t be, hers. She drops her eyes from his face, to the blurred grey duracrete beneath her boots. “Please, tell me.”

“It would be better if I showed you.”

Rey stumbles back as his hand moves towards her, jerking herself safely out of touching range. It probably won’t stop him if he decides to push the issue, but contact seems to only make it stronger, and she will deny him that option with all her strength. “No,” She wraps her arms around herself and rocks back on her heels. “Tell me. With words.”

“Do you trust me?”

“Not at all,” The delicate touch of sardonic amusement in his question makes her feel just a little bit better, like finding solid ground under her boots after navigating over quick sand.

“Then there’s no point,” Kylo Ren shrugs, relaxing by the smallest degree as she retreats. “Not if you’ll just think I’m lying anyway.”

“You could lie in your thoughts.”

He shakes his head at that and swats a stray curl out of his eyes. “It doesn’t work like that; you’d be able to sense the intent.”

“You could be lying about that, too.” Rey observes and tries not to squirm under the raking look he gives her.

“Don’t try to be cute; it doesn’t suit you.” Kylo rolls his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose and Rey flat out refuses to unpack that statement and the faint fizz of emotion that flickers across her awareness of him. “Fine, you want to know what happened? Master Snoke knocked you out and told me to go into your dreams. So I did.” He glares at her like this is all somehow Rey’s fault. “You were having a nightmare, I think, so I changed it. That’s all. Do you remember any of it?”

“You changed my dreams?” The nerve of that statement boggles her mind. “You can’t just do that!”

“Obviously I can,” Kylo Ren doesn’t sound quite as smug as she had expected. Almost the opposite, in fact. “It wasn’t my idea. Lord Snoke gave me the objective.”

“Is that supposed to make it better?” Rey narrows her eyes at him, it certainly sounds like he’s trying to excuse his actions and she really, sincerely distrusts that. “You still did it.”

Kylo Ren takes offense at that, shoulders hunching with tension. “I wouldn’t have done it if he hadn’t ordered it.” Something dangerous flashes behind his eyes when he adds, “Or would you have done what you did without a push from him?”

That draws her up short, mind rebelling against the comparison, against the implication of hypocrisy. She’s nothing like him, the very idea of any similarity linking them is repulsive and yet there does seem to be a brutal bit of truth to that statement that cannot be denied. “I hate you,” Rey grumbles, backing up until she feels the unyielding steel wall cold against her shoulders and slides to the floor, pulling her knees snug against her chest.

“I know,” Kylo Ren doesn’t seem particularly surprised or upset by the confession. “Someday, I’d like you to tell me why.”

“What, you’re not going to just wiggle your fingers at me and grab it out of my head?” The taunt only echoes in the emptiness she feels, everything good and bad just drained away to the void. Rey stifles a yawn and props her chin on her arms.

Kylo Ren sniffs at that, “Physical gestures enhance and focus the application of the Force. There is no finger wiggling involved.” He thinks about it for a moment, train of thought derailed. “Unless maybe you’re trying to make the Force do something wiggly? Then it might apply.” With a violent shake of his head that makes Rey’s neck hurt to watch he brings himself back to the discussion at hand. “And no, obviously not. It will mean more when you tell me, yourself. So do you?”

“Do I what?” Rey grunts at that, contemplating the way Kylo Ren’s entire manner, his very being, seemed to have shifted as he lectures her on what had been meant as a passing bit of rudeness. He almost looked, well happy wasn’t the right word for it, but alive, almost excited by the contemplation. She doesn’t want to think about that right now, certainly doesn’t want to give him any more ammunition to use against her, if he thought she was interested, well it’s not worth thinking about. And yet… And yet she needs to learn the trick to the door, unless she intends to sleep on the floor indefinitely; learn whatever she can to help in her evolving escape plan. Kylo Ren might be easier to fool than Snoke, and had, historically, extended her an offer of instruction. She had rejected it immediately, his was a path to darkness. It still is, nothing’s changed. Except her circumstance, of course, and those carried some pretty serious weight in the present moment. She sighs and very, very gingerly touches the swollen skin around her eyes and nose. Pain flares and endorphins tingle in response. It’s not like she has to decide on anything tonight, after all.

“Remember your dream.” Kylo Ren elaborates with a trace of impatience.

“Are you going to tell Snoke?” Rey scowls at him.

“No,” Kylo Ren grimaces, “You know what? Forget I asked.”

There’s probably no other selection of words he could have uttered to make her fixate on the recollection, and Rey wonders for a moment if he phrased it that way on purpose. It tickles on the edge of her mind, now; horror and misery giving way to plummeting through space. A change, some foundational shift in the nature of reality and she’s caught, swung out of that free fall, set down by strong arms that linger, warm, against her skin, leave her wishing for their return in their absence. “I guess a little. What was it supposed to be?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Conversation over, Kylo Ren rolls onto his back and stares up at the ceiling.

“Liar,” Rey keeps her tone equable and refuses to let him dismiss her so easily. “You brought it up twice. It matters.”

Kylo drapes an arm over his eyes and for a single ridiculous moment Rey wonders if he’s embarrassed. She wouldn’t even know what such an expression might look like those saturnine features. “Did the nightmare end?”

“I guess so.” It seems like a reasonable interpretation of the abrupt cessation of terror, the end of the fall.

“That’s all I wanted to know.” He laces his fingers over his stomach and stares at the ceiling for several long minutes before breaking the stretch of silence. “You don’t have to sleep on the floor, you know.”

Rey jerks her head up at that, voice pulling her rudely from the precipice of sleep that she had been creeping towards. “There’s one bed.”

“Yes, I know that.” Kylo Ren doesn’t look at her, almost appears perfectly relaxed by the discussion except where his hands tighten around each other.

“I’m not sharing a bed with you.” Sometimes Kylo Ren is even more alien than actual aliens. She can’t begin to imagine what game he’s playing at now. It sounds a little bit like a proposition, but that doesn’t mesh with the faint, undefined feeling coming from his mind and the very visible exhaustion that radiates off him.

The corner of his mouth twitches, for just a moment, at that. “Suit yourself. Don’t freeze tonight.” He rolls over with his back to her and she waits until she’s absolutely positive that he’s asleep before inching over to where his woolen outer robe lies discarded on the floor and cocooning herself in that. Then she sleeps, too, and her dreams are quiet.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t remember of the specifics of the dream when he wakes up, except he thinks that it was a rare good one. Not a nightmare of things past or yet to come, no hissing red lights or inescapable pains. No terrifying alien eyes watching him sleep, jerking him to his senses unnaturally early.

He wakes and the moment passes, the last remnants of dream fading and Kylo rolls out from under the blanket into the crisp air. Still rubbing sleep out of his eyes, he makes it one and a half steps before his shin collides with something hard and soft and he falls. The obstacle lying in the middle of his floor lets out a pained yelp and he just manages to catch himself on his hands as he goes down, injured shoulder protesting at the strain. He blinks, forces  his eyes open to fulfil their proper purpose and stares at the single visible eye in a crack of tanned skin. “What, exactly, are you doing in the middle of the floor?”

There’s a twitch of dark wool.  A second eye and a swollen nose mottled with bruises pokes out. “Sleeping; get off!” With great deliberation, the eyes snap shut again and the cloth jerks back into place as beneath him the bony pile of wool squirms.

“In the middle of the floor?” He’s not nearly awake enough to deal with this.

Rey’s voice is indistinct under the heavy material of his coat, but he’s pretty sure that she mumbles something about metal walls and heat loss.

“And the center of the floor is that much better?” Carefully, Kylo eases back onto his knees and scrubs a hand through his hair.

“It’s perfectly fine.” The girl seems to give up on sleeping, for the rest of her head emerges in a halo of brown tangles framing  bleary eyes. “You should try it some time.”

“I think I’ll pass.” Still, her sleepy taunting sows the seed of an amusing idea in his mind and he files the thought away for future consideration to revisit  once he’s fully awake and slightly more in control of his senses. He stands, more carefully this time,  mindful of the pull of sore muscles from the previous day’s  exertions, steps over the huddled girl, and heads towards the ‘fresher. The girl doesn’t deign to reply and, after yesterday’s insanity, that’s probably for the best.

The hot water of the shower is bliss; it wakes him up, eases some of the tension in his back, and only stings a little where it flows over the burns and abrasions sustained in combat. The patter of water tile helps him think, filling his senses as simple background noise that frees his thoughts to wander back to the events of the night before.

It had not gone as he expected, not at all.

He’s used to odd conversations with his master; it would be suicide to refer to the Sith Lord as peculiar out loud, but sometimes it’s the only word that applies. Especially when it comes to some of his more unusual projects, like this one. But the girl, her reactions…  Well, he would have thought she’d exhibit a little more compunction about rattling through his mind like that. Whatever Lord Snoke had done, she had felt the effects deeply and responded as such. Not with any skill or artistry.  

It hadn’t been an act of calculation or recovery. She hadn’t known how to really throw the levers that would elicit the reaction he assumed she was looking for. That had not made the experience  any more pleasant; he could  acknowledge it might have been a mistake to make no attempt at  defense or counterattack. A lesson to bear in mind going forward, then, and paid rather cheaply, by his reckoning. Still, it had been something to see her face as she lunged at him, to see her crack along the seams and fall apart afterwards. There was passion there, and darkness, far closer to the surface than he had originally thought.

There had been a moment of vulnerability, too, where he had felt her heart in the palm of his hand; power enough to bring the girl to her knees before him, where her shock gave him opportunity to press his agenda. He could have done anything when her morals caught up to her actions, when she felt small and weak and evil, and she probably would have taken it as her due. Yet he had done none of those things, nothing that would bind her more tightly to him. There were a hundred excuses he could make for why he hadn’t seized the moment before opening his big mouth, when she had tripped over her own feet trying to avoid him. But they were simply  excuses, and he cannot pretend otherwise.

It’s not as though anything has been permanently ruined, either. There had been interest there. He was  quite sure she had reacted positively to his inane ramblings. It had been a weak sensation, but he had felt a sort of reluctant interest. Perhaps... Yes, that’s better than any appeals to the more physical avenues available. There’s less chance of rejection, to start with, and if Master Snoke is correct in his predictions, the girl will be looking to accumulate power to help with her escape. He’s an obvious source for instruction, so it’s just a question of maneuvering Rey into a position to maximize the factors so that she’ll give voice to the want. Then again, Kylo revises, the girl is stubborn enough that they could both easily die of old age before she lowered herself to ask for help. It would be more prudent to take the initiative himself.  

The hot water goes cold abruptly, and Kylo shivers as he cuts the spray and dries quickly, seeking refuge from the chill under layers of clothing before re-emerging into the room. The girl has moved from her position in the middle of the floor to a slightly safer spot on the edge of the room, meditating once again. Her mind is unquiet when he reaches into their connection; her thoughts heavy with melancholy and flashes of his old master’s face. Perhaps she, too, is reflecting on what transpired between them, craving guidance from the only source she knows. Too bad for her. He lets his curiosity go and crosses over until he looms over her. “I need that back now.”  

The girl flicks her eyes up at him and tightens her grip on the material and for an instant there’s fight sparking across her synapses, then she relaxes, lets the material go, and steps out of the covering, boots squeaking against the floor as she shuffles in an unhappy attempt to get the blood flowing again. “Is it always so cold here?” She huddles deeper into her borrowed shirt and huffs on her hands, rubs red fingers together and directs a covetous look at the heavy wool garment as he takes it back from the floor.

“Not always,” Kylo shakes the robe out, tosses it over his shoulders and is, for an instant, engulfed by Rey’s scent. The material is still warm from her body and he forces himself not to dwell on that. She’s not wrong; it is really damn cold in here. He should do something about that or they’ll both be freezing tonight.  “Ash storm is rolling in from the West. It will pass.”

“Are those normal, here?” Rey shivers and scrubs her hands through her hair, combing the snarls out with her fingers and knotting it back up on her head as he finishes dressing.

“Sometimes,” Kylo shrugs the question off, entirely disinclined towards a conversation as dull as the weather, and takes the protections off the door. This time he can feel her interest, feel her observing with all her senses the way the Force responds to his commands. He preens, just a little, at the attention and holds his peace. If the girl was anything like a normal human being, he would have felt confident in offering instruction at this stage. Instead, because she is a vile little contrarian, determined to hold out long past the point of good sense, he lets it go. That he has her interest is enough for the moment. There will be a better time in the future to argue his case for her instruction. Next time she will not deny him.

He can feel her roll her eyes at his back as she follows him out into the hall. “Shockingly helpful, coming from you.”

Kylo tries not to rise to her mocking and fails spectacularly. “Did you expect me to give you a full report on Moraband’s surface conditions? Maybe a list of craft currently docked in the hangar? I know you’re trying to plan an escape, girl.”

“I’m not planning an escape.” Rey mutters, which really just proves his point about the contrarianism.

She thinks he’s stupid and that is intolerable.

Kylo stops short and turns so suddenly that Rey bumps against his chest. He slaps his hands on her shoulders, bearing down with his weight and height over her. “Do you know you have a tell when you lie?”

“I do not. What is it?” Rey straightens under the pressure and glares up at him, her hands balling into fists at her side.

“You open your mouth.”

Her indignation and fury tingles where their minds touch, tension radiating up through his hands. Kylo smirks at her response to the provocation. He loosens his grip on her and is mildly surprised when she doesn’t try to shake him off. “Now, we have two options. We can either continue this mindless escalation until one of us does something regrettable, or you can let this drop and we can get something to eat.”

Rey stretches on her toes, an amusing attempt to close the distance between their heights, and slits her eyes at him. For a wild moment, he’s certain she’s going to take a swing at him, sympathetic connection or not, and then she deflates, shrugging out of his hands and crossing her arms over her chest. “Breakfast.”

Her begrudging acquiescence gives him a moment of pause, then Kylo nods, turns and resumes walking. The refectory is fuller than he’d like, so he leaves her in the hall and grabs an assortment of bread rolls and fruit, a luxury that won’t last if the storm persists, and returns to where Rey waits in the hall. She takes the roll he offers and eats steadily as they walk further down the hall.

“Not going to eat with your friends?” She inhales the bread and takes another without breaking her stride.

“They’re the Knights of Ren, not friends, and no.” Kylo sorts through the assortment of options and takes an apple for himself. “I told you to stay away from them, remember?

“No love lost there, huh? I guess that wasn’t exactly a friendly match. ” Rey shrugs and pinches apart the roll, savoring the second piece of bread.  

“They are followers, they do as they’re told. Friendship doesn’t come into it.” Kylo scowls at the tile beneath his feet.

Rey snorts at that, spraying crumbs and then brushing her tunic clean. “I’m sure you make it real easy for them.” She changes the subject before he can formulate a response to that, “Where are we going?”

Kylo munches on the apple and considers how best to answer the question. Somehow he doesn’t think the whole ‘Lord Snoke asked me to show you around’ thing is going to be particularly well received, and that’s ignoring the all of the context behind the order. “You don’t have to stay locked in the room all day. The parts of the complex that belong to the Knights are off limits, but there are other areas you could explore. Unless you want to go back to the room?”

The flash of expression, he doesn’t try to name it this time, shows he hit closer to home than he had originally thought.  It’s gone as soon as it appears and Rey manages to look more or less indifferent. “I thought you were concerned that I was thinking of escaping.”

“I’m not concerned ,” Every time she opens her mouth he wants to stop and bang his head against the stone wall for several minutes. That it would hurt her only makes it more tempting in moments like these. “I know you’re thinking of escaping, and I have no intention of letting it happen. That doesn’t have to entail keeping you in a cell unless you decide that’s what you want.”

“It would be more honest,” Rey grunts. “I’m a prisoner. You  keep prisoners in cells.”

“Perhaps, but it would not be more honest to claim that you want that existence.” He knows she’s restless, or will be so soon; there’s nothing about the girl’s character that lends itself to idleness. Rey does not argue the point, and Kylo takes it as a reluctant sort of assent. “This way.” He turns down a hall where clean white tiled steps  abruptly give way to a worn grey cobble stone hall.

Chapter Text

It’s not as cold in the grey hall as it is in the higher reaches of the facility and the air changes as Kylo Ren leads Rey deeper into the complex. Everything about this place feels different from both the sterile white modernity of the Knight’s accommodations  and the black stone malevolence of Snoke’s cavern. The hall grows, arches up high above her head, though Rey would swear they haven’t descended half that depth. The stones are worn smooth and the pull of the Force is strong here. She slows as the hall opens into a grand room, echoingly empty, and turns in a slow circle. “What is this place?”

Kylo lingers behind her, gauging her reactions, though she suspects he feels something of it too. “Vestibule of the Knights.”

“The Knights of Ren?”

“Our predecessors.” Kylo moves deliberately around the edge of the circular room.

“They were just called the Knights? That’s not very descriptive.” Rey positions herself in the middle of the circle and tilts her head back to stare up at the distant dome covering them. She thinks she can pick out the obscured source of illumination that casts long shadows underfoot, but she can’t be certain. “Are we really that far underground?”

“It’s built into a mountain,” he shrugs. “The Knights were the first order of their kind; they didn’t need any other distinction. The new facility was built on top of it when Lord Snoke reinstated them as the Knights of Ren.”

“Why didn’t they use the old facility?” Rey’s only half listening to the conversation, spinning slowly on the spot.  This place, it feels like power as strong as anything she’s felt on Master Luke’s island or in Snoke’s cavern. A hand on her shoulder stops the twirling and she scowls, halfheartedly, up at Kylo.

“It’s not a place to live if you’re not Force-sensitive.” There’s that damn smirk again, his amusement coloring her mood, the conflicting signals short-circuiting her brain. “Here, I’ll show you.”

She doesn’t want to leave the hall. She wants to spend eternity studying the faint carvings on the granite walls, trying to pick out details in the high ceiling, but there are three doors of polished grey stone at each cardinal point, plus the hall that had led them here, so there must be more to this place. A professional scavenger would never dream of leaving them unexplored. Kylo Ren leads her to the one on their right, surface polished to a mirror-like sheen and stops a few feet away.

He raises a black-gloved fist and she can feel the power that gathers around his hand as surely as she knows the feel of the Force when she touches it herself.  She feels the way he commands it, molds it, changes it, and then releases it at the barrier. The door shimmers when touched by that power and vanishes. “See?”

It’s utterly mystifying. Rey examines the new hole in the wall. There had been no explosion, there’s no rubble left in it’s place, but the slab of stone was gone as thoroughly as though it had never existed. “How did you do that?” She demands, prodding the doorframe, but she finds no special cracks or crevices that might indicate a hidden compartment. “Some kind of trick?”

“I’ll show you on the way out.” He brushes past her and the movement distracts Rey from her investigations and she jogs to catch up with him.

Down another short hallway paved in the same grey granite and into an even larger room at the end, this one somehow older than the outer room. Though, how would that make sense? It has to have been made about the same time, right? But the outer room, the Vestibule, Kylo Ren had called it, had felt ageless, eternal. This room, tiered with galleries and filled with shelves, cabinets, and containers, feels ancient, almost dusty. A small area in the front and center of the room is uncluttered, tables and chairs lit by warmly glowing crystal lamps. Beyond that,  just…. stuff as far as the eye can see.

For a moment she’s overwhelmed, shocked and awed, processing power working overtime to just try and observe everything all at once. Light gleams along baffling machinery, metal that looks like it’s never been within 100 clicks of a junkyard; she’s obligated to take it apart and fit it back together to see what it does. A pile of dusty looking bins in a shadowy corner; anything could be in them until she opens it up and catalogues their contents. Rey wraps her arms around herself to keep from running over and just start touching things.

The sheer potential of it all takes her breath away; she had never imagined that a place like this existed outside of old pirates’ tales. This is a scavenger’s nirvana and even if she’s not allowed to remove any of the more interesting looking things from this room, just getting to learn all the nooks and crannies, all the secret spaces and treasures of this place, would be reward enough.

Swallowing, she struggles to remind herself that it’s Kylo Ren, Galactic Evil Number Two, here with her. He can’t be doing this out of any sort of intrinsic goodness. He has an angle, there must be an ulterior motive for showing her this. “Why are you doing this?” Her voice is small in this giant space, dampened by all the shelves and books and dust and mysteries.

His eyes tell her he’s not fooled by her query; that he can see right through her walls of suspicion to the eager little girl inside, but she refuses to look away, refuses to be soothed by the gentle brush of… is that supposed to be empathy? “I like it here,” Kylo shrugs as he crosses to the closest table with books stacked high on it. “I thought you might, too.” The legs of the chair rasp on the stones as he pulls it out and settles down.  He kicks back and puts his feet up on the scarred wooden surface of the table before plopping an enormous tome in his lap.

She can feel the sincerity behind the words and that makes it worse somehow. Rey understands the Kylo Ren who rages and threatens, who wears a mask to terrify those around him, who violates her mind because it is convenient. She despises him and it’s easy , it’s right . This young man, sitting here in the worn chair, tilting on the back legs at a crazy angle, lost in thought and verging on relaxed? She has no idea who this person is; if this is even a real facet of his personality or just a mask to lull her into a false sense of comfort, even intimacy. She’s not sure which of those options would be worse and that indecision scares her half to death.

“Stop that.” The front legs of the chair thump down as he twists the top half of his body to turn and face her without having to upset his book. “Just go… do something. Whatever you want. You’re distracting.” His spine clicks as he turns back and resumes reading.

Her nails dig into her arms as Rey fights a dozen competing instincts and then gives in to the allure of exploration. “This doesn’t change anything,” she grumbles. “I still hate you.” Turning tail, she zigzags through the towering shelves until she’s thoroughly disoriented.

“Don’t get lost!” His voice drifts back over the high shelves.

Rey snorts at that. She doesn’t get lost, not while exploring decrepit old battle stations half buried in sand, not in the shifting desert dunes, and certainly not in a sealed room like this. Then she puts Kylo Ren’s entire existence from her mind because otherwise this whole moment is really just too weird , and instead focuses on the contents of the shelves she’s passing.

There are books, first and foremost. Great heavy things that should have been converted to data or holos years ago, bound with cloth or leather with titles engraved on the spines. Some of the inscriptions are in Basic but many are not, and thus are not interesting to her. She strolls past the books to the end of the shelf and pauses to study the high enclosed case at the end. This is more up her alley - twisted metal widgets and dusky cracked crystals, faded hand crafted images, ink on paper, a crude figure captured mid-swing with a sword, and underneath each a small card, dark with complicated-looking text identifying each item. She doesn’t understand the significance but clearly someone had, and had gone through great pains to ensure that the knowledge would be preserved.

Drifting onwards, Rey moves through the endless ranks of shelving units, all jammed to capacity. Nothing about them calls to her. The territory feels picked over, catalogued by the thousands who walked these aisles before her. It’s not barren in the same way that the first ten decks of the half buried Dreadnought Ravager had been on Jakku, but the feeling is similar. Nothing new to discover in these shelves, but then again, the really good stuff is always hidden, always worth the effort of acquisition.

Her thoughts drift as her feet wander aimlessly. The Force is strong here. It’s not quite the perfect point of balance she had wanted to subsume herself in in the grey stone chamber, but close. There’s so much fluctuation around this area, strong and weak or lighter and darker, without any particular rhyme or reason that she can see. Is it internally or externally caused? Does Kylo sense it the same way? Sometimes she thinks he does. There’s always that half-stutter of hesitation before entering Snoke’s cavern, and Rey knows she’s felt a variance in the vileness there. She recoils from thinking further about that specific area; that misery doesn’t belong in a place like this. And perhaps buried under all of that is the reason why she can’t feel beyond the limits of the current system through the Force to Master Luke. It’s an unsettling new limitation to her abilities. She doesn’t care for it one bit.

A few more aimless turns and she’s at the edge of the room, her gaze landing upon another high shelf that extends high against the rough stone wall and, above it, the railing separating the upper floor from empty space. Her fingers drift over the wall as she stares up at the elegant iron curls high above her, searching for handholds and feeling out the sturdiness before she’s fully able to articulate the thought, the need , to climb. The cobbles lend themselves to her use, rough and uneven, mortar holding strong as she hops up, her soft boots finding purchase in the cracks of the stone and begins her ascent. It’s a meditative process, and it strips reality to the bare bones of stone, flesh, and gravity as she hauls herself upward. The struggle feels good, her muscles remembering their use after too much idleness, the sudden smoothing of the stones a challenge to be overcome. With a quick switch of her feet, she hooks two fingers into a crack in the stone and twists, straining for a distant protrusion integral to her climb.

“What are you doing?”

“What you told me to.” She doesn’t need their connection to interpret the tone of exasperation coming from Ren. It takes a little bit of contortion to turn and face him without risking any slippage, but Rey manages and finds his poleaxed expression a suitable reward for her efforts.

The legs of his chair bang down again and Kylo Ren puts his book down with a sigh as he stands to face her from the center of the room. “I told you to do no such thing.”  His eyebrows knit together as he watches her balance precariously on an almost invisible jut of stone. “Get down from there.”

“Whatever I wanted, you said.” As much fun as it is to look down on him from this angle, her senses itch to get moving again, so Rey reorients herself to the wall and goes on, snickering quietly to the stone as he protests her interpretation of that statement.

“If you fall on your head I’m not carrying you back,”  he manages after a moment.

“If I fall on my head there won’t be anything to carry back,” Rey retorts and then feels just the tiniest flicker of guilt. This high up, falling is a real possibility and though the general rule of climbing is don’t think about the fall, it’s an awareness that never really goes away. But he’s quiet after that and she appreciates it for the final stretch.  She’s feeling the fatigue of her efforts by the time she draws abreast with the metal railing and her palms sweat, just a little, as the iron bites into her flesh and she wriggles over it. It feels good to lie on the smooth wood floor and stare up at the ceiling; lets her heart calm and she smiles, just a little.

It’s not freedom. It’s nothing of the kind.  But it is an escape of some sort, albeit a fleeting one. For all his protesting, she’s fairly certain Kylo Ren could come up here if he wanted to. The thought propels her to feet and she paces the short length of hall, poking her head through the doors she finds at regular intervals along the wall.

Books in one. Data banks in another. Piles of old dusty crates that completely fail to capture her attention in a third. Peripherally, she’s aware of Kylo pacing the floor below her, keeping more or less in line with her progress. “What are you doing?” He asks ominously as she disappears and reappears for the fourth time in yet another fruitless exploration.

“I’m not going to give you a different answer just because you asked twice.” She tosses the retort over the balcony, letting him do with that what he will, and heads to the next door. This one sticks a little, until she puts her weight behind it and drags it open before popping into the dark interior.

“Rey!” The growled exclamation sounds like it’s coming from very far away as she wades through the tangled sea of scrap metal, any art or order long since lost to rummaging hands. Assuming there was any to begin with.

“Shush! There’s something here,” she calls over her shoulder as she forges on, brushing off the pokes and scrapes, easing herself around a particularly high pile of detritus. It calls to her, in the shadowed half-light from the distant door. Funny how the room hadn’t looked half this size from back there. The feeling is palpable, she can taste it on her tongue, sharp and metallic, an overwhelming need to be discovered. The long whispering halls of Maz Kanata’s castle come to mind, something too long forgotten demanding to be used. Sharp bits of metal prick her shins as she kneels on the shifting pile, rolls up the sleeves of the too long tunic and begins to dig.

It’s as careful an extraction as she’s ever done and Rey thinks that she’d trade several full portions for her toolkit, or at least for her goggles with their little lantern, to help with this. It’s worth it in the end. There are no visions this time, no whispers, but her skin hums when she brushes the thing calling her for the first time. It sings up her arm in welcome, a recognition that she doesn't understand but feels so happy and warm that Rey can’t help but respond in kind. Whatever this thing is, it is unquestionably hers.

Digging her fingers around the edges, she pulls until it comes free all at once. Rey topples backward on the heap, sharp bits jabbing into her back as she studies the glossy metal bar snug in her hand. It’s too dark to make out the raised patterns on the surface, so she stands, her balance precarious on the shifting heap, and shuffles back into the light in the main room.

The box isn’t quite metal and isn’t quite glass. It’s dinged, dented, and scratched; there’s some weird oxide crusted to most of the surface. Absolutely everything about it makes her want to take it to a scouring station and give it a good hard scrub.

It’s a wrench to let the device go, but she can’t climb down with it in her hand so Rey strips off the tunic and cocoons the little enigma in the cloth, cinching the long sleeves around her waist and checking the sling before sticking her head over the railing to where Kylo Ren sits in rigid meditating. “I found it; coming down now.”

“Don’t fall.” Some of the tension diffuses from her awareness of his mental state, but then she has no attention to waste on him and his useless advice.  

“I’m not going to.” Easing back over the balcony to the wall is a tricky bit of business - her fingers are slippery, dozens of small nicks pebbling with blood that force her to use utmost caution. She doesn’t fall. She’s never fallen before, and it would be an awful habit to start now, especially in front of her audience.  His attention is distracting. He’s staring and it makes her exposed back itch. “Stop looking at me like that,” Rey grumbles, pausing her descent to scrub her hands dry on her trousers before stretching for the next ledge, testing her grip and letting the momentum of the swing carry her to the next toe hold.

“Like what?”

He’s being intentionally obtuse and she doesn’t have the capacity to enlighten him. “You know what I mean.” The climb gets easier when she reaches the rough cobbles again, they are practically a ladder after traversing the solid stone. Rey skims down the last fifteen feet, jumping back to the floor and turning to face him as she unknots the shirt-turned-sling and shakes the artifact free.

Kylo Ren draws closer, the appearance of the block stealing his attention from her bare skin. It takes him an instant to fixate on the device. “Let me see that.”

Rey keeps her fingers tight around the item, offering it up for inspection as she pulls the shirt back over her head and tries not to protest as he plucks it from her grip and holds it up to the light, turning it between his hands. “What is it?”

“A puzzle box of some kind?” He doesn’t sound certain. “You’d need to solve it to see what’s inside.” He tosses it back to Rey.

She catches it out of the air, testing the mucked up grooves with her fingers. “Could you cut it open?” It seems a shame, but if the box is just a container…

“Not without destroying whatever’s inside,” Kylo Ren seems sure of this and she’s content to take his word as fact. Things never work out that easily, anyway. He returns to the table with his book and she follows, mulling over the device in her hands.

Chapter Text

The scraping of boots on stone pulls Kylo’s attention from the text weighing down his lap, a treatise on the martial strategies of the first Force Knights. The sound persists, crawls through his ears and drills into his brain, tied inexplicably to a wild sort of glee that certainly isn’t his. Safe to infer, then, that Rey is doing something ridiculous.

Twisting around in his chair, his suspicions are confirmed as he watches the skinny little scrap of nothing scale a sheer rock wall with all the ease walking up stairs. He’s never seen anything like it. There’s no real Force power involved in her antics, she’s just hanging there by her fingers as she searches out the next foothold.  Reactions ranging from awe to irritation fight for supremacy  on his tongue. For better or worse, the one that wins is, “What are you doing?” in probably the single most accusatory tone he’s capable of, as if that phrase hasn’t already started a dozen lost fights.

“What you told me to.” Rey’s twenty feet in the air if she’s an inch and she actually turns her back to the stone so she can bestow an unreasonable, smug look on him.

Kylo is on his feet in an instant, book slamming down on the table as the chair falls forward, turning to face her so he can confront her face to face.

“I told you no such thing!” He protests. “Get down from there!” As if that’s got a chance at working with this little lunatic. He’d have better luck persuading the sun to rise in the West.

“Whatever I wanted, you said.” The saucy little smirk she sends him takes most of the sting out of the words that might have otherwise moved him to rage.

His pride won’t let her get the last word. “If you fall on your head I’m not carrying you back.” For just an instant he remembers the weight of her falling into his arms during their  first encounter in the woods of Takodana. She had weighed next to nothing and she scowled in her sleep. Does she still do that? He hadn’t noticed it this morning and that rankles.

“If I fall on my head there won’t be anything to carry back.” The quip, tossed casually off the cuff stops him cold. The Force reacts to his sudden overwhelming need, bunching in anticipation for the inevitable. He can see exactly how it will play out, too. A momentary loss of contact with the wall, nothing between her and the unyielding floor below but his quick reflexes. He’s quite sure at this point that she won’t be the type to scream as she falls, but she might be a little weak at the knees after a brush with death like that, might need to lean on his arm for a moment before regaining her composure and brushing him off.  She’d probably hate that, suffering the indignity of being rescued, maybe owing a life debt. He’d have to try not to be too smug about it.

An undignified thump pulls Kylo from that juvenile fantasy and he looks up to where the worn grey boots disappear over the railing. She’s silent, but the little flare of triumph is a warm delight where he touches her mind. She explores and he lets her do so without any particular interference. It’s a large area, but as long as she doesn’t venture too far into any of the storage units up there she shouldn’t get lost for more than an hour. Or maybe four, tops. Still, he finds himself getting nervous as she spends more and more time up there.  He tries to trace her progress deeper into each room. “What are you doing?”

“I’m not going to give you a different answer just because you asked twice.” He catches a flash of her legs through the railing as the girl needles him and then disappears from sight again. There’s a moment of what he thinks is ominous silence paired with a tang of frustration in her thoughts, and then a kind of banging-crunch that he knows with certain dread is the sound of a locked door being broken open.

“Rey!” He can feel her moving into a room that is full of things that cause her to flinch every few steps. It’s unforgivable, stupid of him to worry like this. When Lord Snoke gave his orders to bring the girl around to their side, they in no way had encompassed feeling this sort of strain over her well being. That said, Lord Snoke probably hadn’t meant to include giving the girl this bit of freedom, either.

There’s a valuable life lesson in there, if he cares to look for it.

Knowing he ought not to be so concerned isn’t the same as not being concerned, and he can’t ignore the feeling any more than he can block out the little jabs of phantom sensation he gets from her. Kylo can’t bring himself to shut her out either, so he just gives in, sitting on the floor and breathing in for meditation. The conscious emptying of his thoughts floods the mental vacuum with her. Flashes of color, a mental tug that pulls her inexorably onwards, heedless of the minor damages sustained to her body. It makes a little more sense when he feels the frisson ripple through her, that moment of recognition that flares along her thoughts and marks a claim to whatever it is that she’s found.

It’s an odd thing, that’s for certain. Kylo’s encountered a small handful of Sith artifacts in the galleries deep below their feet. He can recognize the compulsion that some of the not-quite-sentient constructs of metal and crystal project into the darkness and their call for a master or a slave. Whatever Rey’s unearthing is different, or perhaps she’s just the first candidate to come along in however many thousands of years since this place was abandoned. Kylo stands as her footsteps return to the walkway and Rey sticks her head out over the balcony, “I found it; coming down now.”

Craning his neck he can just make out a the canister that she juggles between her battered hands. “Don’t fall.”  Even from here he can see the damage sustained and winces in sympathy.

Rey is slower descending than she was ascending.  She balances carefully on the thin metal railing before swinging out on a hand hold, shoulders, arms, back flexing as she stops the swing at a crazy angle with the toe of her boot in a crevice.  She holds herself there, groping with her free hand for the next handhold. Her back arches as she reaches down, and he can clearly see the vertebrates protruding under her skin. Then his brain catches up to what his eyes are looking at, parses the stretch of skin and muscle. Rey isn’t wearing a shirt.  His entire thought process stutters to a halt.

“I’m not going to.” Her sharp denial pulls him back to his senses. She’s not naked, there’s some sort of off-white undergarment that cuts a straight line under the jut of her shoulders and terminates midway down her ribs, but it’s still an eyeful that steals the moisture from his mouth. “Stop looking at me like that.” She adds, her voice tart.

“Like what?” Kylo glances away, swallowing, but finds himself drawn back to her magnetically. The back of her neck and the small of her back gleam with the physical signs of her exertion and he jams his hands in his belt, taking deep, meditative breaths to keep his thoughts from becoming even more distracted.

“You know what I mean.”

Of course he knows what she means, but he’s not going to confess to that.

The desire to sigh in relief when her feet kiss ground again is murdered upon its manifestation and he edges closer as she unwinds the tunic from where it’s rolled around her waist, sorting through the folds until the dirty, battered source of her interest is revealed.

The box is almost as interesting to look at as she is, and Kylo plucks it from her hand as her smooth  twisting torso disappears back under his shirt. “Let me see that.”

He turns it in his hands, and there’s a faint feeling of something there, some intelligence and recognition, but nothing on the scale of what had drawn Rey to it. It’s not dark, he feels quite confident in that assessment. The shape is wrong, and the faint etchings underneath the thick layer of crust don’t align with any of the Sith iconography he knows, though his knowledge is not comprehensive. It’s not light either, whatever it is.  There is just a very dense, very neutral well of power inside the container.

“What is it?” Rey crowds his space, looking up at the artifact as he holds it to the light, her hair brushing  against his shoulder as she cocks her head to look at it from a different angle.

The box does not respond when he touches it with the Force. If there are any moving parts, they’re either welded shut by intention or by time or the seams are more cleverly hidden than he can sense. Still, it’s a container of some kind, with the real source of interest hidden within. “A puzzle box of some kind? Solve it and see what’s inside.” He drops the box into her hands and she holds it outstretched between them.  He tries not to think about how she smells like sweat and blood, metal and oil.

“Could you cut it open?” She’s poking and prodding the corners, scratching at the flaked edge of rust, holding it up by her ear and giving it a rattle, then turning it in her hands, iterating on different possibilities faster than he can follow.

Kylo winces at the thought. “Not without destroying whatever’s inside.” Assuming, of course, that the box hadn’t been constructed to repel or turn any destructive force applied to it back on the user. There are always risks with these sorts of things; Force heavy artifacts can be downright unintuitive when it comes to the laws of physics.

Rey hums at that and follows him back to the table he thinks of as his. The book is still good, still worth his attentions, but his concentration keeps flicking back to the girl every few minutes as she angles the reading lamp towards the artifact, immersing herself in study.

He makes it through several pages heavy with reference and implication to an ancient battle-meditation trance the knights had used but devoid of useful instruction before Rey’s chair scrapes against the ground and she flits off without a word. There’s a distant thudding, something heavy hitting the ground, and excessive rustling. He weighs the benefits of chasing after her, pinches the bridge of his nose and then decides against it. Her fixation still burns brightly in his awareness and the little grimy box is sitting there directly across from him; it’s a safe bet that she’s not going far.

He’s vindicated, for after a long quiet and some more rustling, Rey trots back to the table, her arms full of what looks like garbage. She lays each item out in a row before her: a long dull letter opener, a handful of copper filament, another handful of tangled steel wire, a few flat pieces of metal with varying widths and thicknesses, and a scrap of cloth.

“What are you doing?” He leans forward to watch her sort through the collection, roll the ball of wire between her fingers and re-order the metal pieces to her satisfaction.

Rey takes a perch on the stool across from him, picks up the long dull knife and begins chipping away at the skin fused to the outside of the box. “Cleaning it off.” Wrinkling her nose, she tosses the blade down and selects a handful of the steel wire and begins chafing at the surface. “It won’t open if it’s got all this gunk on it.” She slouches, comfortable over her work and braces a foot against the rungs of the stool, balancing the artifact on her knee. Looking up from where her hands move with quick confident motions over her task, she asks, “What’re you reading?”

“A book.” The retort pops out before he can stop it, but Kylo continues before it can be misconstrued as an attempt to close the conversation down. “I keep coming across these references on an old form of battle meditation. Everyone wants to talk about it, but no one seems to have a solid grasp of what it entails or how one might go about mastering it.” He glowers at the dense black print in front of him. “Iit was integral to how the Knights achieved victory against overwhelming opposition.”

She makes a careful, neutral hum at that, “And you want that advantage for yourself against the Resistance?” Rey tosses the wire down and picks at the flecks with a fingernail. “What is this crap, anyway?”

“Don’t bring politics into this.” Kylo shrugs at the accusation. “If the rebels happened upon a military advantage, they’d take it just the same. That’s war.” All things considered, this is probably the best place and the best time to have this discussion. They are far from Lord Snoke’s cavern and the ominous presences there, these serene surroundings lend themselves to thoughtful inquiry, and  Rey’s already worn herself out with ridiculous exertions.

Her snort of disbelief is far less neutral now, and her hands shake as she picks up another tool to scrape  a long line of something out of a crack on the box. “The Resistance didn’t feel the need to atomize five planets.”

“No, just the one.” Kylo tries not to think on that day; the way the Force had gone numb in shock, the void that had roared out of that absence had been an evil beyond mere darkness. He was, he is , loyal to his master. It had been Lord Snoke’s judgement that such a display of power was necessary and it wasn’t, isn’t , his place to disagree. Treasonous thoughts like those need to be burned out with pain and blood . Still, what good is all the power in the universe if he’s left ruling over a world of ash at the end?

“That’s different,” Rey growls, but something about her is off, a snag in the flow of her thoughts that he can’t quite define, a flare of comprehension that shines in her eyes and then gone so abruptly that he’s certain that he imagined it.

“Perhaps.” Kylo grants that it’s a poor equivocation. “All the more reason to explore alternate options. Anyway, I might simply seek knowledge for its own sake. You never know.”

Rey huffs a small humorless laugh at that. “You’re not going to convince me you signed on with Snoke for his library.” The corner of her eyes crinkle, just a little bit. It’s far more endearing than he’d like.

He can do this , Kylo assures himself, reminded of the end game once more. The girl is far more dangerous than she knows. He stretches his arms over his head, rotates his shoulders and cracks his neck, a quick inventory of yesterday’s hurts that comes back better than expected, then he takes a moment to absorb the golden tranquility of the Archive, to fortify himself against his weakness. “I’m getting the feeling I won’t convince you much of anything.”

“You’re learning.” Rey sets a shim down and dusts off the surface off the box. “Much better,” she approves as light glints off the brass and titanium etchings raised against the glass walls. Gently she sets the box down, dusts her hands off on her trousers and immerses herself exploring the intricate surface once more.

Kylo goes back to reading, marking the passing of time by the turn of pages. He finishes his current volume without learning anything valuable beyond the inane speculations of what the masters of battle meditation might have used to focus their techniques, the author rambling on without substance in an irksome waste of ink. He tosses the tome aside and pulls the next one on the pile forward, sparing a glance at Rey.  She has somehow gone from sitting like a normal person to sprawling across her half of the table, reduced by her frustrations to pressing her cheek against it and tapping the edge of the box against the wooden surface.

“Problem?” Kylo arches an eyebrow at the top of her head.

“I’m working on it,” Rey mumbles. The box makes a couple more solid thunks before she adds, petulant, “Why make me go through all that hassle if it doesn’t want to open up?”

Kylo snorts at that. “Have you tried asking it nicely? Maybe it doesn’t like your attitude.”

“I don’t like your attitude,” Rey snips back without any energy behind her words and picks her head up off the table to look at the box. “Does that work? Talking to it?”

“I have no idea,” he shrugs. It hadn’t called to him and therefore it’s not his problem. “Artifacts of power are generally not well understood. Some of them respond only to certain people or places. Some of them require keys, or a particular touch of power, or a certain state of mind or circumstance. Without knowing exactly what you’ve got there, it’s anyone’s guess.”

Rey huffs a tiny sigh and flicks him a quick, indecipherable glance before peeling herself off the table. Cradling the box in her hands she brings it up before her nose and murmurs, “Uh, hello, box? If you want to be opened up, please give me a sign, or something? I’m not really sure what it is I’m supposed to do with you, or even what you are, really.”  

“Did it work?” Listening through their connection, he feels the faintest ripple of response.

Rey blinks, shaking her head as though to clear it. “I don’t think so.” She squeezes it between her hands, running the pad of her thumb along one of the raised carvings. “I’m not giving up, though.”

“That’s a shock.” Kylo discards the book scarcely two pages into the introduction and stands, stiff from sitting too long in one place. “We should head back, it’s getting late. Your little mystery’s survived undiscovered for this long. Another day won’t make a difference.”

Rey hums and pets the smooth glass surface again. “Can I bring it with me?”

Kylo shrugs, watching the way her hands linger on its surface coils something deep in his gut.  It doesn’t matter to him. “Suit yourself.” His eyes catch on a sliver of skin as Rey hitches the tunic up to wedge the narrow box into the waistband of her pants and he’s staring again and he almost doesn’t care that she catches him this time. Her discomfort prickles against his mind, and he turns on his heel and heads back towards the exit. Rey dogs his heels, bumping his shoulder when he stops a few feet from the door. “Open it,” he instructs her.

Rey glances at the mirror smooth stone, then back up at him. “How?”

“Try.” He steps back with a crooked grins as her thin shoulders square, rising and falling as she slips into her meditative trance. Through her senses, he feels the Force as a living friend, an ally, feels her request and the quick curious response it elicits. She coaxes and cajoles, wraps the energy of this place in her warm good nature and shoos it towards the barrier.

The stone ripples, but stays strong. Rey cranes her neck to look at him over her shoulder, eyebrows wrinkling in displeasure. “What did I do wrong?”

She’s hooked. The instant response, the desire for feedback, for improvement, sends a delicate ripple of pleasure down his back. It takes a half step to close the distance between them, an inch of air separating her back from his chest, and he places his gloved hands on the exposed slant of her trapezius. “This is an old place,” Kylo murmurs against her ear. He watches  gooseflesh prickle along her neck, feels her freeze at the proximity. She isn’t afraid this time; he can feel the anticipation that holds her rigid, feel her breath bated as she waits for his guidance. “Old power.  Don’t ask. Tell it what to do.” Breathing in tandem, he brushes his hand down her arm, raising it before her and curling her much smaller hand into a fist inside of his as the Force crackles around her. He can feel the conviction in her mind, her force of will zeroing in on her goal, fueled by the desire to return to this place, to let nothing as inconsequential as a door keep her away.

The door vanishes and they breathe out together before he steps away and leads her back out. She’s quiet on the walk back, frowning thoughtfully at some internal process he doesn’t try to understand. If it distracts her from the mess that’s in his own head, then it can only be a good thing.

“You know you might actually die if you sleep on the floor tonight.” His breath smokes in the air as he divests himself of outerwear and tosses the heavy robe on the bed. They’ll want the extra insulation tonight.

“Do you use that line on every girl you bed?” She fishes the mystery box out from where she had stowed it and places it on the shelf by the door.

“Don’t be obscene, Rey.” He likes the way her name sounds when he says it almost as much as he likes her reaction to it, a faint hunch of her shoulders and the slightest pinking of her cheeks. He doesn’t wait for a response, just reclines on the mattress and tosses the blanket over his legs. It really is cold. First thing in the morning, he’s going to figure out who’s responsible for this particular atmospheric screw up and take it out of their hide. The sheets are icy through his clothes and the cold hurts.

She hesitates for a moment, and then he feels her accept the inevitability of it all. Rey is, at her core,  a pragmatic creature after all.  She sits on the edge of the mattress to pull off her boots and let her hair loose. With a last rebellious look over her shoulder at him, she slides under the blanket, huddling on the edge of the bed with her back to him. “This doesn’t change anything.”

He’s not sure who she’s trying to convince at this stage. Kylo tugs the blanket up higher, willing the air around them to warm faster. “Of course not,” he agrees, in part because he knows she’s expecting some sort of fight over it. “Come here.” Even through layers of clothing he can feel the flux of energy between them. She’s so close, their thoughts swirling and eddying on the same tides; it's somehow both too much to bear and not nearly enough at all.

Rey picks her head up just enough to look at him and then shuffles a few inches closer. He figures that level of acquiescence makes it acceptable to put a hand on her shoulder and tugs her, unprotesting, the rest of the way to the center of the mattress.

“Keep your freezing cold hands to yourself,” Rey grumbles but doesn’t pull away. He snorts at the weakness of that protest and nudges her head until it rests, more or less comfortably, in the hollow under his clavicle, and he tucks his arm around her shoulders. She relaxes by inches as the warmth grows, as physical and emotional discomfort subsides, as the freakish circumstances become normal. He almost thinks she’s fallen asleep when she speaks.

“Hey, Kylo? Will you show me the thing with the door?”

The sound of his name, spoken aloud, makes his pulse spike and he smoothes his palm down the harsh protrusions of her back down to the soft concavity of her waist. She hesitates at the touch, and then, after a protracted pause, nestles closer and rests her palm on his chest.

He just about jumps out of his skin at the butterfly touch and digs his free hand into the mattress by his leg to keep still. “Tomorrow.” He falls asleep with her hair tickling his cheek and he dreams of a green island and skin glowing golden under the sun, the brush of soft lips and muted gasps of pleasure.

Chapter Text

Rey’s not entirely sure how she let the situation escalate to this point, what could have gone so wrong in the universe that she was now, begrudgingly climbing into bed with Kylo Ren. She’s cold, colder than she’s ever been before. Not even Starkiller Base had been this frigid, and frozen water had fallen from the sky there.  Her teeth are clenched to keep them from chattering and she’s hoping against hope that there’s something to this ‘huddling for warmth’ insanity.

Then his hand wraps around her shoulder and he slides her to him, away from the edge of the bed.  She’s only half aware of what she grumbles at him, letting him lift her head and rest it back down on something firm and warm and her shoulder’s pretty much tucked into his armpit and is that weird ? This whole thing is weird and she’s not sure what he’s doing with his arm, or what she should do with her limbs and this is Kylo Ren and, well, that argument is never going to hold any water at this rate. He can be evil and antagonistic tomorrow, after she gets through tonight.

She didn’t know a person could be this warm, or that such warmth could be so very important. As she lies there with her head on his shoulder, listening to the thrum of his pulse, the tension eases away and eventually even her toes stop aching with cold. The relief is profound, a sweet lazy feeling that flows through her veins like syrup. All things considered, today wasn’t without its own small victories. Those memories prompt her to lift her chin just enough to look up at him through her eyelashes and ask, “Hey, Kylo? Will you show me the thing with the door?” Her voice shakes, just a little, with nervousness. She doesn’t want to, she won’t , give in to the dark side. But she must be free.

His reaction grips her senses, magnified hundredfold by their contact, by the sheer physicality of feeling his pulse accelerate under her cheek. It’s a heady brew of want and gratification, pride and nervousness that bleeds through all points of contact. His hand spans down her back, curling just under her ribs. The touch elicits a strange, fluttering sort of sensation in her chest and, well, she’s already decided to pay these debts tomorrow, right? In for a quarter portion, in for the full. She scoots just a little bit closer, pressing her chest to his side and resting her hand over his heart.

Kylo flinches under her hand, overwhelming their shared awareness with adrenaline and ecstasy before fighting back to his senses. “Tomorrow.” His voice is thick with promise.

Eventually his breathing evens and she feels him succumb to sleep, connection fuzzing over as lucidity slips away. She gets one last good look at his face, so much less severe in sleep, hair falling over his eyes, and then she slips into his dreams.

It’s impossible to tell which bits are hers and which are his. There are endless fields of green grass tickling her bare back as he blocks her view of the sun, light haloing through his dark curls as he towers over her. Touching him creates a wild, giddy feeling in the pit of her stomach and she explores his body at leisure, dragging the pads of her fingers down the edge of his cheekbone, lingering over the corner of his mouth. Kylo tilts his head back and sighs as she explores the protruding jaw, the shell of his ear, and threads her fingers through his hair, nails grazing his scalp.

Kylo mirrors her motions, bracing his weight on one arm to explore her just as thoroughly. His touch leaves trails of fire burning into her skin as he cups her jaw, smooths down the curve of her cheek, traces her lips and lets out a shaky breath as she takes his thumb into her mouth and brushes against it with her tongue, tasting the salt of his skin.

His eyes are dark and he’s smiling and a voice ripples across the fabric of their reality- Where is Luke Skywalker? - She doesn’t understand. The voice is wrong for this place. It is not Kylo’s voice, and it certainly isn’t her own.

A frown draws down the sharp edges of Kylo’s face and he shakes his head at the intrusion. Ignore it. It doesn’t mean anything here. She doesn’t know what that means, either, but the sensation passes and it’s just them again.

He takes the initiative this time, nudging her head back and teasing down her neck as she digs her fingers into the hard planes of his back. She feels him smirk against her skin before he nips at her pulse, cradling her head as she arches up and into the sensation, holding her still as he drags his mouth to her clavicle and sucks a mark there.

It’s not enough, not even close , and she hooks her ankles around the small of his back to extinguish the distance between them with a breathy sigh. He laughs at that, rich and dark and warm; she never imagined him capable of such a thing, much less imagined the way it makes her toes curl and sends her desire spiraling beyond control. Kylo.

He smooths his palm up her sides, outlining the swell of her breast and looking up at her through his long eyelashes. Her hand fists in his hair as he flicks his tongue against her nipple and she gasps aloud,  pulling him closer and then back up, off her chest so she can pay the torture back in kind, nipping and soothing her way down the stark tendons around his throat, greedy for the filthy sounds of need  that pour forth. He rolls them over, taking her position on the grass and dragging his nails down her shoulders as she straddles his stomach, marking him, shoulders and chest, with her mouth.

He grinds against her, hips canting to meet hers, and then Rey opens her eyes with a grimace of instantaneous disappointment.

She’s disoriented and  for a moment, up too high, the floor too far away. The blankets are heavy and there’s a weight pressing against her skull and she doesn’t seem to be able to move her limbs. Blinking, trying to  clear the fuzz of sleep from her brain, she finds herself wrapped in Kylo Ren’s arms. At some point during the night they had progressed  from lying next to each other to fully embracing, chest to chest and hip to hip, her face buried into his shoulder as his encircling arms hold her close. Something hard and hot digs against her hip.

Rey freezes at that realization and so does he, fighting against the firestorm of emotion that rages where skin meets skin, a savage rapture and insatiable need that she flat out refuses to name. A slow, shaky breath stirs through her hair and she glances, wary at Kylo Ren’s face. He’s absolutely disheveled, all tangled cloud of hair and too big too dark eyes, irises all but invisible.

Kylo flushes under her observation, a bright stain high on his cheekbones, but meets her gaze, tongue flicking out to wet his lips, then blinks, breaking the stare.

“Your nose looks better today,” he offers, regarding her with perfect seriousness. Then he pauses, shakes off that mood, and then seems to come to his senses. “Get up, we need to get more blankets from Supply.”

“Then let go of me!” Rey wriggles against his arms, still pinning her in place. He snorts at that and pushes her away and, just like that, they’re back to normal plus or minus the brush of his skin against her palm as she scrambles out of the bed into the chilly air. She takes her time in the ’fresher, pushing herself to try and focus on anything except the feel of his body under her hands. It’s hard to tell which makes her feel worse, the waking press of her palm against his skin or the imagined caresses and tastes.  It had been a onetime thing, it will never happen again;  they both know it doesn’t mean anything, how could it?

So who is she trying to convince?

Rey leaves the ’fresher cleaner but equally disgruntled as when she went in and does her utmost not to look in Kylo Ren’s direction as she jams on her boots and sorts out her damp hair. Her breath steams in the cold room and she rubs her arms through the too big shirt as Ren disappears into his mask and opens the door. For a moment she thinks of her request to learn the door trick last night- she had practically begged him to teach her - and immediately shies from the thought.

She finds her clothes, her real clothes, buried in a pile of scraps while Kylo makes arrangements with the serving droid in the laundry room and steals them back while they’re both distracted. Even if they’re not sufficient for the temperatures in the complex, they’re still hers . The First Order doesn’t get to strip that part of her away. The droid gives her several sets warm clothes, too, as well as extra blankets as they are projecting several days until the necessary repairs could be made to the climate control center.

With their new acquisitions deposited back in their room and after she’s changed into something that fits and almost manages to keep the chill out, Rey’s enjoying the experience of a standard issue comb, a novelty in its own right, as she fights the tangles out of her hair. Suddenly, she feels Kylo Ren tense where he’s meditating.

“Lord Snoke requests our presence.” There’s resignation in his voice, even distorted as it is by the mask.

She feels like telling him where he can shove the word “request,” but she refrains. It won’t change anything. He is too much Snoke’s lackey to be bothered by having to answer  to the Sith’s every beck and call. Instead, she clings to the memory of yesterday, the perfection of the grey temple and the golden warmth of the library. They’re still there, she reminds herself, cleaving to the memories as they descend into Snoke’s world of black stone, and unless she’s extremely lucky, or unlucky, as the case may be, there will be time to go back.

The door is open for them and Rey jams her hands into her pockets as they cross under that arch, shoulder to shoulder, digging her nails into her palms to keep from doing anything stupid. Like, for instance, giving into the utterly foolish desire to reach for Kylo Ren’s hand. He’s still a part of this, still as much to blame for her captivity as Snoke is, and she will find no comfort with him. She doesn’t need anyone else to get through this ordeal. She’ll manage it on her own.

That thought warms her as she keeps pace with Ren to the pool of white light before the dais and waits for a long deliberate beat before taking a knee beside the knight. She might kneel, but she’ll never bow, and she fixes her fiercest glare on the ruined face.

The cold blue eyes pass over her without a care for her vitriol and Kylo bends his head lower in response. “I have felt things evolving between the two of you.” Snoke intones, eyes traveling between their faces.

“Really?” Rey pushes back, refusing to be intimidated. It disgusts and embarasses her to think that this monster might have some inkling of what happened last night. Through the Force she finds the strength and serenity to fortify herself against such feelings.

Snoke snorts. “Yes, really. Do you think I am unaware that something has passed between you? All that touch, all that warmth.” His voice takes on a deep, velvety timbre. “That connection you share, has it changed?”

Kylo Ren is a statue beside her. “I could not say, my lord.”

“Couldn’t you?” Snoke gives the masked man a cool look. “Fortunate that you need not opine on such things. There are tests that will present sufficient evidence to sate my curiosity for the time being.”

“Wait!” Rey twitches forward as the long spidery hand raises in Kylo’s direction. “There’s been no change.” She’s flummoxed as to what prompted such an outburst, but Snoke’s attention, detached and amused, is back on her, and that feels like some kind of victory. “It’s just the same thing as that first test you did with the contact, that’s all.” Clenching her jaw, she endures Snoke’s examination with what she hopes is impassioned confidence.

“Thank you for your input, little star.” Snoke taps a long thin finger against his cheek. “How can you be certain without proper investigation? I could hardly call either of you impartial observers in this. Have no fear,” he cuts her off as Rey opens her mouth again. “I will not hurt you.”

From the way Kylo stiffens, a flash of panic followed by resignation, Rey knows he’s caught the threatening inference there, too. “What do you command, my master?” His voice is steady, almost disinterested as Snoke leans forwards, elbows on his knees to watch.

“Open the bond you share, Kylo Ren. Welcome the girl into you. Girl, put your barriers up,” Snoke barks at her as she feels Kylo comply with the order. “Do you feel her? Her thoughts?”

Rey struggles with the command.  The tonality used leaves no room to disobey and that is as terrifying as any of Snoke’s physical manifestations of power. She’s never understood the mental defenses that meditation was supposed to build, it’s either there or it isn’t. He’s not trying to push anything into her thoughts, so there is nothing to fight against and she has no idea if it’s working or not.

Kylo Ren is quiet for a minute and she thinks maybe she feels something tickling in the back of her head, some tertiary awareness, but then it’s gone and he speaks, “Yes, lord.”

“Do you feel any resistance?”

“No, lord.”

Snoke grunts at that and in a single smooth motion stands and descends to where Rey kneels. “One would expect a Jedi padawan to have some sort of capacity to resist.” He seems too amused by this. “What your master expected to achieve by leaving you this open to nefarious influences, I can’t begin to imagine. You are weak, my dear.” He waves two fingers over her brow.

The claustrophobic feeling returns, and Rey struggles against it the pincer sensation that drops like stifling black tarp over her mind. She fights to speak against him, but something seals her jaw shut, holding back any tirade.

“No, little star. That is the exact opposite of what I asked you to do,” Snoke reprimands her. “Kylo Ren, describe the change you feel.”

He’s blurred in her sense of constant awareness, unhappy in a carefully controlled, austere way, but he is there and she fixates on that as he speaks. “I feel her. She doesn’t care for what you’re doing.” His words are calculated, free of reproach.

“I am well aware of that, my apprentice. What else?”

Another moment of analysis, while Rey strains to make sense of the obscure flashes of feeling and sensation that flicker, weak, between them, then Kylo shakes his head. “It feels no different.”

Abruptly, something burns across her arm and she hears him exhale with a careful control that contains the full sum of his pain.

“You felt that, girl? Nod or shake your head.”

Rey bows her head in a faint nod.

Snoke hums at that and then rests his palm against her hair. The sensation of being trapped in her own head increases a hundredfold, not a cloth covering but a metal vise sealing her away from the rest of the world. Panic rattles around her head, trapped with escape route available. “Now?”   

She doesn’t know what Kylo is thinking.  He’s an empty mask with no thoughts to color her awareness. “Quieter,” Ren declares. “Master, what-?” He hisses in pain and there’s a whisper of the stinging burn along her arm.

“Did you feel that, little star?” Snokes voice slips into the void of her thoughts from somewhere high above her head.

The pressure on her face eases just enough to move her lips. “I hate you. ,

She’s on her hands and knees again, the floor much closer than it was the last time she checked. It seems like the inevitable conclusion to each of their meetings.

“Is that a yes?” Snoke doesn’t seem to mind her hatred at all.

“Yes.” Rey chokes on the word, spilling like an unwilling surrender onto the stone before her.

The next surge of pressure nearly snuffs out her consciousness with the roaring of an electrical storm. She registers the distant grunt from Ren, cannot follow the exchange between master and apprentice.

Then all at once it’s gone. Her senses flood back as Snoke removes his hand from her brow and Rey can think again as the pressure is ripped away and connection springs back twice as vibrant as before.

“Interesting.” Snoke contemplates his hand, rubs his fingers together, but does not deign to explain what he finds interesting. “Just one more, children. This one will not be half so unpleasant.” He places a hand on Kylo Ren’s helmet and this time Rey can feel the heavy aura of deprivation drop over the man beside her. “Not so bad from this side of things, is it?”

Snoke droops one eyelid towards her in the barest suggestion of wink when she snarls wordlessly back.

“No, I know you’re capable of being much more civil than that. Besides, I said I wasn’t going to hurt you.”

He waves his hand and this time its pleasure, not pain, that springs forth deep in her gut, a dizzying facsimile of the flash she got from Kylo this morning.  It makes her itch and want to rub her thighs together to relieve the ache .

It’s revolting, terrifying , that this creature can do such things to her on a whim. She will not be his, or anyone’s, play thing. The thought does little to ease the pebbling of her nipples, does nothing to reduce her desperation for a little bit of friction. Rey swears to herself that she will find a way to overcome this weakness, to learn whatever it takes to be stronger. She bites the inside of her cheek, battling the impulse to stare at the man frozen beside her and crawl into his lap, devour his mouth, seek out and draw forth every sound he made in her dream.

Under Snoke’s oppressive hand, Kylo tilts his mask back and groans, a soft, helpless sound. The master chuckles. “Even now he can feel you. Yes, it would appear things are changing indeed.” Abruptly he pulls his power away from Kylo Ren. Feeling floods back between them, every pain, every humiliation, every want and every need exposed and bleeding to be inflicted in equal measure on the other.

Lord Snoke swirls back up the steps with a flutter of his robe. “You may go, child. There are things I must discuss with my apprentice, in peace.”  The mask bows forward, in defeat or resignation, and the wide shoulders rise and fall with labored breathing as Rey stands.

It feels wrong, somehow, to leave them like this, when she can feel his eyes burning with disgrace behind the mask, the sick conflict of craving and defilement. It’s a ridiculous thought, she has no desire to spend more time in front of Snoke. It’s not her concern what happens to Kylo Ren and its not her place to intervene between a master and apprentice.  Especially not these particular ones. Still, her senses strain back towards the silent man in black, kneeling broken before Snoke’s feet, as she exits the cavern and the heavy door booms shut behind her.

Chapter Text

Master Snoke’s power is asphyxiating, trapping him in his head with nothing but the feeling of being crushed to death. No Force. No Rey. If not for the slow agonizing breaths, the blood pounding in his head, Kylo Ren wouldn’t even know if he were still alive.

A white hot flare of arousal ignites in his veins, a savage ache that shoots straight to his groin as he feels the girl concentrate on him. The vision, pushing him over, straddling his lap, tearing his helmet off, tasting her mouth against his as her fingers thread through his hair shears through the imposed deprivation as though it’s gossamer and he can’t strangle a soft, tortured groan.

His master pulls back the darkness and Kylo slumps under the weight of their connection crashing back into his mind. Every pain, every humiliation, every bit of yearning and denial is up for display, raw and exposed to Rey’s examination. She feels the same, he can tell. He can taste the blood on her tongue and he gulps, trying not to vomit.

Lord Snoke dismisses the girl and Kylo sighs, focuses on the herculean task of breathing, and he listens to the sounds of Rey rise and slowly walk away. Her eyes burn where they linger on him and he wants her gone . From this room, this world, this galaxy, if that’s what it takes to be rid of her. What will happen to the bond if one of them dies? Will it terminate, a clean separation? Leave something aching, hollow empty behind in his head? Will it end them both together?

He doesn’t care.

His lord sits silent on his throne as Kylo masters himself, emptying his mind, centering himself on the physicality of the sensations around him. He feels the sweat dripping into his eyes beneath the mask, feels the hard, cold basalt slab under his knees, feels the power of the supreme leader’s voice rooting him in place. These awarenesses are all that keep him together. He cannot let his mind wander to the girl waiting outside, cannot reflect on the trial endured. If he does he will simply shatter.

“The girl certainly has a peculiar skill set, wouldn’t you agree, my apprentice?” Lord Snoke’s eyes are fixed on the sealed door behind him.

He doesn’t dare unpack that time bomb, so he kneels and tries to think only of his complete and total commitment to success in their endeavor. No conflict, no independent thought, just the Order and his subservience. “As you say, my lord.”

Lord Snoke taps a finger against his scarred lips, still staring into the gloom behind Kylo. “A Jedi apprentice without even the barest training in mental defenses. Tell me: Why would Luke Skywalker refuse to teach the girl such a thing, one who has fought the darkness hand to hand?”

“I cannot understand why Luke Skywalker does anything, master.” He doesn’t understand this line of questioning either, but keeps that thought hidden.

“Perhaps he thought she had sufficient abilities to defend herself against you without training.” The twisted mouth curves in mockery.

“Evidently he was wrong,” Kylo grits out with bitter spite. “If we fought again, there would be no question.”

Lord Snoke snorts. “That will be an amusing day, I have no doubt. Skywalker is no chessmaster, but even he would not risk his last piece on the board without a reason. He would know what the death of Han Solo meant. He would expect you to only grow in strength while he taught our little star naught but meditation and the forms you learned as a sprout. To what end? That is my question.” The long pale fingers tap a slow rhythm against the stone arm of his chair, then the contemplative musing is replaced with iron command. “Report to me on your progress with the girl.”

Kylo jerks his head up at that despite himself. “You appear to be perfectly informed on my progress.” He grates out, wondering how badly the last twenty minutes had ruined that progress.

Snoke gives him a disgusted look. “You sat in a library. You slept in a bed. You had a messy human dream.”

“That’s a gross over simplification,” Kylo objects, propelled to his feet by his outrage “The girl was beginning to trust my guidance. I showed her the power of command, of exerting her will over the Force.” He struggles with how to explain the edge on which they had balanced. “After what we have subjected her to, that she was willing to let her guard down at all is significant. She has not been here a week and yet she is bending.” In a careful show of subservience he clasps his hands and bows his head. “It took Darth Sidious years to turn Darth Vader, and he was all the mightier for it.”

“You feel compassion for her.” Master Snoke frowns, voice heavy with distaste. “We have reviewed this particular weakness of yours at great length, my apprentice. Will you insist we revisit it again?”

Kylo grimaces at the recollection of those punishing  lessons. The torment had gone on for days after he recovered from the duel on Starkiller to endure it. “It is an objective analysis, my lord. Her suffering is nothing to me.” He fights to keep his voice neutral, to give no voice to his rising temper.

Master Snoke gives him a skeptical look at that claim, but does not question it aloud. “Yet your suffering is something to her. She thought to save you pain with her interference. There are many who would let themselves be swayed by that kindness. Or,” he pauses, tiling his head to the side and narrowing his eyes in suspicion, “by a soft touch.”

“I am stronger than that, lord!” He is, he has to be , has to hold tight to that unconditional conviction, or all is lost.

“You had better be.” Lord Snoke says, voice flat. “We are at war, Kylo Ren, and I must have a strong right hand.” For a moment it looks like he’s going to continue, but with a quick shake of his head he returns to their earlier conversation.

“I appreciate the subtle arts of seduction, as you well know, but years are a luxury we cannot afford. With the droid firmly in the hands of the Resistance, the girl is our only lead on Skywalker’s whereabouts. By the time the week is out, I will have Skywalker’s location from her. Whether she’s in any form to be converted to our cause afterwards is entirely up to you.”

The remembrance of his past failure stings and provokes Kylo’s already seething temper to eruption. “That conversion would have been easier without involving her in this exercise.”

He can recognize, as the words leave his tongue, a moment too late, that he’s reached the end of Snoke’s patience. A vise squeezes tight around his throat. Force choking is its own unique pain, distinct from the more plebian methods of hand or garrote. He accepts it, powerless to resist, and lets the lightheadedness carry him until his master decides to desist.

“I am not here to ease your way,” Lord Snoke drawls and releases the hold with the smallest roll of his eyes. “You are not a babe, to have your hand held through the most elementary stratagems, but I will put to rest the fear you hold that what I have done today will sabotage our mutual agenda in the culmination of victory.” He gives Kylo an amused look. “Of course, if you have any other plots involving my little star, I can make no promises to their integrity.”

Any reaction to that would be a sign for Snoke to pounce, so Kylo simply nods and continues his careful physical assessment. Breathing, sweating, aching; those are the safest thoughts. “Thank you, master.” Another safe bet. Questioning Lord Snoke about the mutual benefit of the day's activities is unwise, even if would be more interesting and certainly more relevant than any thanks he can offer.

Lord Snoke scoffs at that. “Save your thanks, boy. False deference means nothing to me.  Better that you spend your energy swaying the girl if you wish to make some use of her down the line.”

The dismissal is clear in Snoke’s tone of voice and Kylo is relieved to be excused. Blood pounds a pulsing headache behind his eyes as he strides out of the cavern, arousal yielding to ire, frustration, and disgrace.

The task before him is insurmountable; he doesn’t believe Lord Snoke’s comment about it being a clever bit of engineering towards his end game. It’s possible that he’s being set up to fail, that Snoke’s true goal is for Kylo to fall, to break Rey apart, to rebuild her for his own nefarious purposes.

The idea is intolerable.

Kylo feeds on the fury that speculation gives as he nears the door to Snoke’ chamber. She’s on the other side, waiting for him. Her mind seethes in turmoil; a thousand different shades of pain, rage, shame, and concern roiling around, flowing into his conscious and subsuming his own thoughts as he draws close. The door slides open on his approach and then slams shut behind him. She stands a few feet down the hall from him, knees and elbows locked, trembling with barely contained energy as the Force swirls around her.

“Rey-”

Her eyes are too big, too bright, red rimmed in her pale face, and she holds herself as though she’s inches from falling apart. The look she shoots him is pure poison. “Don’t call me that! Don’t you dare! This is your fault!”

He won’t be hurt, can’t be, when his rage is energized by hers, makes him stronger. “You created this connection! You opened your mouth in there!” His voice rises uncontrollably and it feels euphoric to bleed this out in front of her. “You gave Snoke every single reason he needed to do what he did. You can’t pin that on me.”

Rey slashes out a hand at that, power ripping down her arm and chipping stone from the wall beside his head. He knows intimately that reckless, helpless need to lash out and hurt something. “You started this! There was no connection, no Force, until you dragged me back to your stupid ship and tried to force that stupid map out of my head!” Fisting her hands in her hair she tugs in frustration. “I didn’t ask for any of this!”

The chips of rock clatter against his mask and Kylo shields himself from the next crackle of energy that spikes towards him, deflects it at and sends it sizzling down the hall. “Next you’re going to tell me that life’s not fair.” He sneers at her, power gathering around his clenched fist, screaming at him for an outlet. “Grow up!”

Rey balls her hands into fists by her side and throws back her shoulders, exposing herself to any attack he might dare. Baring her teeth at him in a grimace of animal rage, she taunt him, “What, like you did? Go through the motions, licking the shoes of a piece of shit monster that you hate? You’re hardly an example worth emulating. Or did killing Han Solo work out that well for you?”

He doesn’t think.  He acts. Lashing out with his hand, he throws her back several feet into the dark hallway. She lands hard on her back, and his aches where she absorbs the impact with a grunt before she bounds back toward him. He throws her again, pinning her in place as his whole body shakes from her verbal onslaught. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Her eyes are bright and savage as she batters back against the restraining force. “You’re sure about that? It feels like I touched a nerve there. Are you going to tell me it was necessary to kill your father ? That Han Solo was weak and foolish, and you are so much better?” Her voice drips with sick loathing.

“You certainly seemed to think so.” Kylo doesn’t remember crossing the floor or grabbing her around her scrawny neck, but the touch ignites their connection, skittering on the edge of some terrible new insanity. “I felt it,” He growls, hands clasped firmly at her throat, bending closer to her ear. “You liked it. You liked digging around in my head like the little scavenger you are.” He drags her chin up, forcing her to meet his eyes as the words force themselves out in short harsh pants. “You liked the power I showed you, and you loved that dream last night.” Her pupils dilate at the mention and he feels their connection thrum at the remembrance.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Rey breathes, sliding her eyes shut as she seeks out that perfect calm center of the emotional storm. She relaxes and for a ridiculous, fool moment he thinks it is surrender and the triumph of a conqueror sings in his head.

He should have known better. The Force erupts from under her skin, shredding his control and throwing him back. The air whooshes from his lungs as he crashes to the stone floor and she’s on him, pinning his arms under her knees and pummeling him with her fists. “It was nothing! You are nothing!” Her hands scrabble against his mask until she finds the catch, tears it off him, and flings it aside. “I didn’t kill you the last time we fought, but I can change that now.” Her eyes are wild, burning with resolve as she makes the declaration in a quiet steady voice.

Her hands are small but strong as they clench at Kylo’s windpipe, and though she’s got his biceps under her knees he can just reach her skinny wrists to ease the pressure before it engulfs him. “Then what will you do? Spend the rest of your miserable existence under Snoke’s thumb?” He snarls the question, biting off the last two syllables.

“I will never work for that… that thing. ” Rey shifts her weight, struggling to break his hold on her arms and it gives him a sliver of opportunity. He jerks forward and off balances her so they’re nearly nose to nose once more.

“Then you’ll die here.” Kylo gives her a nasty grin, but it’s an empty gesture. “Sooner or later, he’ll get tired of playing with you, or one of the Knights will get you. There’s only one thing the Knights of Ren do with Light users. Care to guess what it is?”

“I am not going to die here,” Rey snarls, hiking her knee up. SHe grinds it into his diaphragm and is rewarded with a pained grunt.

“Right, that escape plan that you totally don’t have.” He’s tired of this fight, and flips her off of him with a jerk of his hips and an extension of his arms. Scrambling to his feet, he turns and faces her again.  Heavy boots clatter against stone in the distance, approaching, and he whips his head in the direction of the sound.

A lone Knight of Ren rounds the corner, helmeted head glancing between the two and lingering on Rey. “Everything all right, ‘Killer?” The Knight’s tone is heavy with irony on the nickname, pausing in mock deference before continuing, “I heard shouting.”

“Everything’s fine.” Kylo responds with a terse nod, not liking the attention the Knight pays to the girl standing at odds to him. “Go back to your rounds.”

“That’s the little Force user who stopped Gehanna from murdering your sorry ass in the arena, isn’t it?” He takes a step towards Rey. “What’s she doing here?”

Kylo takes moves in front of her to intercept the Knight, looming to his full height over the shorter man. “Audience with Master Snoke.”

The Knight glances at the fallen mask, up at Kylo, and then back to Rey. “Are you sure about that, brother? I think I should check in with Master Snoke. Just to be sure, you understand.”

“Perfectly.” He feels for the edges of the Knight's mind, finds it brittle but not sharp. Kylo tries to pad each word in a thick layer of Force, impress upon the Knight the importance of each syllable. "You will not go to Snoke. You will return to your rounds. You will forget you saw us. " He meets an unexpected resistance.

"Huh?" The Knight tilts his head to the side and turns towards him. It's not taking. Kylo has never been very good at this trick. His pulse spikes as he begins to lower himself into a fighting crouch.

Rey steps around him, her spine straight, her shoulders relaxed. "You will not go to Snoke," she says, and the Force rolls off her tongue, bends the Knight to her control. Her eyes are focused with bright, cold loathing on the man in gray armor. "You will return to your rounds."

Kylo joins his voice with hers to finish the order, powers harmonizing to seal the commands to the Knight's will. "You will forget you saw us.”

The Knight straightens and stares straight ahead. “I will not go to Snoke. I will return to my rounds. I will forget I saw you.” He pivots and walks off in a trance.

Kylo watches the retreat until the Knight is out of sight and then turns back to Rey.  He sighs. “So which part of the conversation were we on? Were you still threatening to kill me?”

Rey tilts her chin back and gives him a cold, regal look. “You were trying to convince me that I needed you to survive here. Obviously, I do not.”

Kylo leans to pick up his mask from the floor and tucks it under his arm. Rage still burns under his skin. He’s a pawn in this. He has never been anything but a toy for Snoke, who never planned for him to become strong, become great. Kylo sees this so clearly when he looks at her.

He reaches for the Darkness and it’s there, waiting. He was weak before, waiting to be shown the path to power, following where his master led, obeying without a thought in the stupid, pathetic hope that someday everything he’s given would be paid back in full as promised. The Dark Side has always known the path that needs to be walked and it opens before him, a simple, elegant route to power. To freedom . It’s the same path all Masters of his order have walked since the beginning, from the moment they became the Sith.

Nothing says he has to walk it alone.

Kill Snoke for twenty barren years of humiliation and pain, for endless sacrifices that bore him nothing but more sacrifice, more subjugation. Kill his master for having the audacity to bring this girl in as his replacement, to offer her nothing beyond that same eternal emptiness, and would break her apart because it’s convenient.

Kill Snoke for this girl who sometimes looks at him as though he’s more than nothing . The girl with what feels like infinite potential in Darkness and Light, a girl who responds to him, who is worthy of standing beside him as a conqueror.

Kill Snoke .

Her eyes widen. She meets his stare. Do you mean that?

It takes him a moment to realize she’s not speaking aloud. Mean what?

Kill Snoke.

Blood roars in his ears and Kylo flicks a glance to the closed door. “Come with me. You don’t have to trust me. You don’t have to like me, but, please.  Come with me.”

Chapter Text

Rey thought she had understood where the conversation was going as tempers dwindled from exhaustion, from throwing each other around like ragdolls, as bruises bloom and the most imminent danger passes. She had braced herself for a return to the easy isolation that she had grown up with, brutal independence cultivated by long years alone in a savage, loveless environment. She could do it, she would do it. There are no other options.

Then something trickles through their connection - a fierce conviction that resonates with her own need to be free. The feel of his thoughts harmonizes with her weary determination to struggle onwards, galvanizes her, feeds her desire for liberation. It’s all that matters and it's worth any price.

A thought falls through her mind like a stone cast into a deep pool of still water. Kill Snoke.

Kylo’s voice sounds in her head, ringing with a determination that freezes her in place with the sheer will behind it. Jerking her head around, she stares up into his face, all grim lines and deep shadows. Do you mean that?

He stares back blankly, then recognition, exhilaration dawns on his strong features. Mean what?  

Kill Snoke. Her heart is in her mouth, it’s choking her, and she doesn’t dare hope because hope leads to disappointment and wants are left rotting by the wayside. But it’s a new option, a new chance . If he’s sincere. If this isn’t some sort of trap.

It could be.

Kylo Ren shoots a cursory glance at the sealed stone door beside them and shakes his head. “Come with me. You don’t have to trust me. You don’t have to like me, but, please .” His eyes scan her face, searching for something she can't name. When he speaks again, it is urgent, excited.  ”Come with me.” His eyes are fever bright and the connection between them crackles with a wild electrical energy.

He wants to kill Snoke. They can talk telepathically. She’s not sure which of those two things is a bigger shock. It doesn’t matter. She meets his eyes and nods, then has to jog to keep up as he strides down the hall. Her mind whirls. The electricity of his thoughts is contagious. She had thought small by necessity as an unarmed woman alone in hostile territory, focusing on escape, on saving herself. Tearing the heart out of the First Order hadn’t been a blip on her radar until the thought had dropped from Ren’s head directly into hers.

If she could do it, if there’s even the slightest chance of success, she has to kill Snoke. The war, as she understands it, ends with the death of the First Order leader. That presumes that Kylo Ren isn’t angling for position as Supreme Leader. That might be exactly where he’s going with this; she can guess how succession among Sith lords works. She’s heard the stories, dismissed them as too horrific to be true, but that was before she’d seen Starkiller.

She’s certainly in no position to judge whether a Supreme Leader Kylo would be an improvement over Snoke. A moment of kindness doesn’t make him a good person, but would he want to continue the war? That seems to be the most important consideration, at least in the moment. Once the war is over, perhaps then it will make sense to deal with him as a person. If he still counts as a person at that point.  

On an impulse, she checks the connection between them and finds it focused to a razor’s edge on what’s before them. Whatever happened in that audience after she left, whatever their fight had stirred, it had shifted something deep inside him. Whether it’s a good change or not remains to be seen.

Kylo leads her back to the grey Vestibule of the Knights, lit in that same unchanging pearly white light. The balance in the Force is unfamiliar, too bright for a moment. For an instant, she recoils, and then opens herself to the cleansing fire. The light seems to heal something cracked in her where it falls upon her skin, where the brightness of the Force shines in her mind. “Can Snoke hear us here?”

“What? No! Absolutely not!” He looks repulsed by the thought. “He could pick it out of one of our heads, if he was close enough to touch, but he doesn’t leave his cavern.”

“He’ll call us back.” Rey can’t repress a shudder at the thought of having to go in front of the monster again. “What will we do?”

“He will,” Kylo nods in agreement, and, closing the distance between them with long strides, turns her towards the library door. “There are a few things we can do. None of them are foolproof, but they’ve worked in the past. He’s a Sith, not a god.” The corner of his mouth twists in smile as Rey snorts at that. “There may be other, better techniques mentioned in the archives.”  The door pops out of existence at the impatient slash of his hand and she jogs to keep up.

Rey’s chest seems like it's about to burst, and she can't tell if the emotion welling up inside her is hope or dread. She blinks up at him, fighting to keep her voice even. “You’re serious about this, then.” He nods, pulls up the corners of his mouth in a savage smirk, and their bond pulses with a venomous anticipation. She lets out a long breath, tries to separate out his roiling emotions from her own feelings. “Why? Why now , after you’ve been bound to him for twenty years?”

“You feel it. You know why.” His Adam’s apple bobs when he swallows, and she fights to keep her eyes on his and on not the pink lines where she had scratched him with her nails.

“Feeling your crazy thoughts in my head doesn’t explain anything.” She raises an eyebrow in challenge and forcibly tamps down the bubble of protective feeling that springs forth from the connection. It shouldn’t have mattered that Snoke hurt him, or that without her interference there might have been blood shed with the passing Knight. She doesn’t know how she feels about that, either, and grimaces at the thought as she pushes a stack of books to the side. She hops up onto the table and lets her legs dangle off the edge, glad of the brief rest after straining to keep up with the mania that grips this man.

“Twenty years,” Kylo Ren snarls, the Force convulsing around him at the words. “Twenty years of eating shit and getting nothing for it. It’s impossible to beat him in a fair fight and there was no one who could, who would, think to stand against him. But you-!” He bounds across the room, the table jolting where he bangs against it and grasps her face, his gloved hands rough against the purpling bruises on her neck. “You- We could do it! You’re not afraid of him. You hate him too. We could do this!”

This close, the elation surging through the connection sweeps her away. The Archive’s lamps cut deep shadows around his eyes and the hollow of his throat, traces golden lines over the tendons in his neck that disappear into the high collar of his shirt, gleams in the depths of his pupils. “You’re hurting me.” She grits out, fighting to keep her head above the tide that is desperate, absolute in its need to go along with this.  

He drops his hands from her face and steps back, an instant of regret flaring across their connection before being consumed by the overwhelming rage.  He digs his fingers into the twin burns along his arm, his most recent gift from Snoke. The pain dances behind her eyes through their connection and she brushes her fingers over the afflicted area on her own arm.

“So what’s your plan?”

“The connection is key,” he thinks aloud, directing the pain and anger to stimulate his thought process. “Snoke was furious that he couldn’t cut it off. He can’t control it. We need to learn to master that.” He releases the murderous grip on his arm and paces an frenetic circuit round the table where she sits.

It takes her a moment, but then a realization dawns in her mind. How strange, to have forgotten in the short time she’s been here, but it has been a mind-meltingly busy few days.  

“Snoke’s tried that trick on me before. Cutting the connection between us, I mean.” Rey doesn’t even try to introduce the topic delicately.  

Kylo stops pacing at that, whips his head up to stare at her with a flinty expression. “What? When?!”

The violence of those exclamations reverberates through their connection with enough Force to make her wince. “That first time you left me alone with him, while you went and got your ass kicked.”

“It was three on one, and I was holding my own just fine.” He bridles at her word choice before leaping back to curiosity. “What did he do to you?”

Rey chews her lower lip and draws the memory out of the dark corner into which she had shoved it to forget. “It was that same squeezing, blocking, blinding.” She sorts through her vocabulary for the right descriptor and then waves her hand in frustration when each word fails to encompass exactly what means. “You know. It was the same feeling as today. It cut out the pain you were feeling.”

“It didn’t work this time, though.” Kylo’s eyes widen; he can draw the conclusion himself. “The connection’s getting stronger .”

The words make her stomach twist, she’s not sure how she feels about that. “Is that a good thing?”

Kylo circles back to stand before her, his thighs inches from her knees. “Strength is key. Something we did enhanced it, then, if we can keep finding ways to strengthen it further, we should. Snoke will keep poking at it now, that’s certain. It’s the way he is: he takes things apart to see how they work.”

“I’ll kill him before he gets that chance,” she snarls up at him, lashing out and clamping  her fingers onto his bicep like a vise, pulling him down to her level. “No one is going to take me apart. ” She hisses and feels him react to the words brushing his cheek. She’s fought all her life to survive, stay whole and healthy and content, with no one to watch her back and she’s thrived. No cave dwelling monster is going to change that now.

He grips her shoulder with his free hand, breathing in as her ferocity rips across his mind. “You’re not doing this alone.” His eyes are bright and hard on her face. Their connection is so strong , and there’s a warmth, a strength that he’d let her glimpse.

No secrets, then.

“Snoke wants me to get Luke Skywalker’s location from you.” He clenches his fingers into her shoulder and meets her eyes, connection spiking with an instant of fear before his fixation tamps down on the emotion and he loosens his grip.

“What?” Rey’s voice cracks in shock and outrage. “He’s still after the damn map?! Why?”

“The complete elimination of the Jedi order.” Kylo Ren’s voice is steady but she can feel his hands shaking. It’s costing him to tell her this. Knowledge is a currency, and secrets are the key to surviving among hostile neighbors. She’s intimately familiar with the need to distrust, to conceal even the most cursory information. Be he had said no secrets and he seems to mean it. “We can use this, convince Snoke that you’re capable of being at least somewhat compliant.”

“I will not betray my teacher.” She straightens her back, drawing from his endless supply of energy, fueling herself for a fight.

“I don’t give a shit about your teacher.” Kylo Ren’s voice is unsteady as he lowers his hand. “Snoke gave me three days to get Skywalker’s location out of you or he’s going to do it himself. You get close to Snoke with your sanity intact and we have a far better chance of making this work. It can’t be your problem if Skywalker doesn’t have the sense to move, to save himself. We cannot do this if Snoke decides to break you apart, tear the Light out of your heart, and leave only scraps behind. Do not give him an excuse.”

She takes a deep breath, reaching for the Force, for the calm balance she desperately needs right now to balance the cocktail of fear and righteous anger that his words evoke. “Three days?”

“Three days,” Kylo Ren nods.

“I need to think about this.” She grits out.  He’s making a certain amount of sense and she hates that, hates the threat of Snoke turning her even more from what she currently is.  Even more, she hates the thought of letting wise, sad Master Luke down even more than she already has, of standing by and watching these bastards kill another person she cares for.  She just won’t stand for it. Inspiration strikes, sending her own exhilaration spiking. “We could kill him before those three days are up.”

That thought had apparently not occurred to Kylo at all. She feels the stutter of surprise through their connection and the small ‘o’ his mouth makes as he processes the concept.

Chapter Text

A new vibration thrums across their bond. He hears her breathe in and she straightens her back. “We could kill him before those three days are up.”

For half a moment, he doesn’t understand those words in that particular order, can’t parse them into sensible meaning. She’s still sitting on the desk like a little savage, her chin tilted up in defiance. He meets her suddenly bright eyes and reality moves several inches to the left. He’s uncomfortably aware that he’s left his mouth hanging open like a lackwit, just a little, and shuts it. “What?” His ears are ringing, and he shakes his head a bit to jolt the world back into place.

“We kill him before the three days are up,” Rey repeats, enunciating each word deliberately.

The room stops spinning underfoot as he ruffles his bare hands through his hair. He needs to think, needs to get a grip on all the factors that must be considered for a plot of this magnitude to work. Three days is nothing . Seventy-two hours can pass in the space between heartbeats while lost in a fugue of duty or pain, in the mindless tedium where minutes blend into days. But is that necessarily not enough time? Will conditions be better after three days? Will that give them a better chance of success? Could they arrange the situation to their advantage in just three days?

He considers her proposal seriously, pushing mussed hair out of his eyes and trying to master his racing heart. “You don’t have the training to kill someone like Snoke.” There’s the crux of the problem. They get one chance to do this and the girl is quick and smart and fierce, but she’s raw and three days is not enough time to refine her. On the other side of things, the longer they postpone it, the more likely it is that Snoke will do away with one of them. Neither of them can stand alone against his master.

“So train me!” Her hand flies up, snake-quick, and she jabs her finger against his sternum, the connection sparking at the contact. “I will do whatever needs to be done to accomplish this. I’m going to kill Snoke. You said I won't be doing this alone. Are you with me, or not?”

It has to be while they’re both sound of mind and body, and that means soon. He can see it, the path lit in the murk between the Light and Dark. It’s a hard path, risky, with nothing but suffering and a very slow death at the end if they fail. But it’s there, and that’s enough. He won’t be a slave anymore, not to Snoke, not to indecision, not to anything or anyone. He will be a ruler and she will stand beside him, share in his power as an equal.

She’s still looking up at him, half afraid, half defiant, waiting for a response.

He wants to laugh, or break something, release some of the crazed energy zipping through his chest for even considering this insane scheme. “Yes,” he says, because that’s the start and end of it in this moment. He hears her quick inhalation, sees her pupils widen in surprise.

“Okay, so how do we do it?” He feels her heart thud beneath her expanding ribs as she speaks, her lungs inflating with hope. It’s terrifying, exhilarating. It feels a little bit like being alive. It’s preposterous and amazing and if it works he will be free.

If it works.

That’s the trick, then. Kylo reaches for the Force, pulling in that steady strength, feels it temper his molten fury into iron will, and turns to the actual planning aspect. “Supreme Leader Snoke is the strongest fighter I’ve ever encountered. He commands great and terrible power. We won’t be the first ones to try something like this.”

“You’ve seen him fight before?” She leans in towards him, eyes hungry on his face. “What’s it like?”

Kylo sighs heavily at the memory. “It was… one sided.” It takes a moment to sort through the horror and revulsion of the experience, to separate the facts from the viscera in his mind’s eye. “I’ve never seen him draw a weapon. Not once .” His pulse quickens and he feels a cold pit of dread opening in his stomach as he remembers. “But he can use the Force to throw his enemies against things, drop them from great heights, crush them.” He gulps. “And once he’s close enough to touch you, he’s in your head and you can’t fight him off.”

“You make it sound like he can only do the one thing.” Rey taps her fingers against the edge of the table in thought. She looks almost pleased, which is not a good thing.

“Then I’m explaining it badly.” Kylo grimaces and grinds his knuckles against his forehead. “Rey, there’s nothing trivial about what Snoke can do.”

She looks up at the sound of her name. “I don’t think it sounds trivial. I mean it sounds like he only has one tactic for fighting.” She cocks her head to the side inquisitively. “Have you ever seen him do anything else? Like, tear someone’s head off or stop their heart, or something?”

He shudders at the question, crossing his arms across his chest protectively. “Why would you say something like that aloud?” As if their prospects aren’t daunting enough already.

“Because you know him!” Rey’s voice rises as her temper threatens to slip her control. He feels the effort it takes her to modulate her tone again. “What else could he do to us?”

His skin crawls at the question, but after racking his brain for a long minute, he thinks that very short list is just about exhaustive. “The only other thing I’ve seen him do is use the Force to deflect attacks back at his opponents. He has an incredible amount of control over the Dark Side. If you go to hit him with something, make sure it doesn’t bounce back in your face.”

Rey lets out a rough little chuckle, her face softening into a small smile. “That’s a start, then.” She scrubs her hands over her face. “I can work with this.” More softly, she murmurs, as if to herself, “We can do this.”

The play of emotions over her face is nothing compared to the deluge he feels through their connection. The intensity of it takes his breath away. Apprehension, hope, desire, fear, excitement, relief, and fear swirl together into a discordant symphony in his mind. She looks at him, her eyes almost wild, and for an instant, it looks like she’s going to punch him. A tiny voice in the back of his head wonders if it might be a hug she’s thinking of instead, and he wonders, briefly, how long it’s been since anyone has hugged him. He discards that as just another sign of the lunacy that’s gripped him since her arrival.

“Okay,” her voice trembles and she focuses on centering herself. He can almost see it, a delicate oscillation between light and dark, peace and conflict that comes under her conscious control as she concentrates. “I’ll need a weapon. What did you do with my lightsaber?”

“He’s going to see that coming a mile away.” Kylo shakes his head, following her lead and trying to consciously calm the jangling he feels inside.

“Well, I’m not going to sneak up on him and brain him with a rock,” Rey shoots back, leaning her hip against the desk. She folds her arms over her chest again. “What are the other options? Blasters?” She wrinkles her nose at the notion. “Somehow I can’t see that working very well.”

Kylo scoffs at that. He can stop a blaster bolt even on a bad day, and his powers are nothing compared to Snoke’s. “Blasters would be worse than useless. There’s no time to get you proficient with anything new, either.”

“What would that ‘anything new’ be?” Rey frowns; he’s insulted her in some way, but he has no idea how. Every conversation with her is a balancing act, and he doesn’t think he’ll ever get the hang of it.

“I don’t know.” He shakes his head, the pressure of time suddenly weighing down his shoulders. “There’s an armory located in the temple. There might be something there that could help, but it’s not certain and we don’t have time to waste.”

“Lightsabers then.” She holds out her hand expectantly, as if he’s been carrying it around under his tunic this whole time and was just waiting for her to ask for it back.

He glances between her small pink palm and her bright impatient stare, lifts his eyebrow and smiles, just a little. “It’s in the Knights of Ren trophy room.”

Her mouth falls open at that, a white hot stab of annoyance piercing their connection. “You took my lightsaber as a trophy?”

“Yes,” he smirks, not particularly bothered by her upset. “Retrieving it should be a simple matter. In the meantime, there are other things I can teach you that may help.”

“Like what?” She’s not so quick to forgive the trophy comment, still isn’t willing to trust him completely. He supposes that’s fair, if inconvenient.

“The Force is a powerful tool in combat, offensively and defensively. It’s Snoke’s prefered weapon, so you need to know how to recognize the attacks and defend against them. ”

“Okay. Show me.” She hops up and gives him an expectant look.

“There are training rooms in the barracks that are more suitable.” Kylo scoops up his helmet and side by side they walk back towards the Vestibule.

Chapter Text

The door to the Vestibule responds easily to her command this time, a susurration of power that ripples from her fingers to the barrier, flowing not from a closed fist this time but from a wave of her open hand. It feels right, it feel easy . She shoots Kylo a quick sideways glance, gauging his reaction to her performance, and he nods in approval, a hint of pride tingling their connection.

Kylo Ren hurries them back across the Vestibule to the door on the opposite side of the wide empty chamber. It’s the same grey stone burnished to a mirror sheen and it opens to the same gesture of power. Side by side, they enter the hall. The ceiling is lower here, the stone thick jointed slabs, scuffed and chipped from eons of wear. The feel of this place is different too, not the cool ethereal resonance of the main temple room or the warm whimsy of the Archive, but something more tangible, more practical. "What did you say this place was?”

“Barracks for the Knights. This is where they lived day to day.” He nudges her shoulder as she slows to peer through an empty doorframe, catching a glimpse of ranks of bunk beds. “There’s nothing useful in there. Come on.”

“I’ll bet I could find something,” she snips back as he herds her further down the featureless stone hall. She thinks the twitch around his eyes and mouth might be amusement, but she wouldn’t bet on that. She follows him onward until the hall opens up into a high ceilinged room. The air smells odd and she sniffs, curious, as she steps out into the center of the room. The floor isn’t stone. It has a little bit of give - some kind of wood, maybe? She wouldn’t know - there’s not much wood on Jakku, but it’s nothing like she’s ever encountered and it adds a little extra spring to her step as she crosses it to look at the walls.

They are decorated with cloth hangings, and she’s never seen anything like that, either. She puts her face up close to marvel at the tiny designs in thread and ink picked out in greys, blues, reds, and greens in the finest detail. It’s the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen and it’s just hanging on the walls with no purpose except to be looked at. Very, very carefully, she steps back from it; she never wants to risk hurting something that magnificent.

Kylo joins her, glancing around the room as though it’s nothing special. “I think this was a training room of some kind. The really interesting things are through the door over there.” Despite the low rumble of urgency radiating off him, she doesn’t want to leave the astonishing room.

Rey could spend hours here trying to learn all the details of the pictures and still want more. Even as she turns away, she burns small scenes into her memory: an unrecognizable humanoid species dual wielding swords against something with too many heads to count, a pack of canids running through a river. She drags her eyes away from the hangings, fixes them on Kylo’s face. “Can we come back here sometime? Before…”

His Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows and nods, the quiet chill of resignation passing between them unmentioned.   “You like it that much?” He looks back to the tapestries, nodding. “If we have time, we can certainly come back.”

Rey curves a corner of her mouth up in a sad little smile. “Thanks.” The small wave of pleasure he feels at her thanks flows over his buzzing impatience. She turns her back to the wall hangings and starts towards the door Kylo indicated. “What’s the floor for?”

“Standing on?” He challenges her with a raised eyebrow and a smug look.

“Funny,” Rey says dryly. “You should have your own cantina act.” She rolls her eyes, but some of the tension in her shoulders eases.

“Do you really want to know about the floor?” There’s something lighter to his tone. It tickles at the back of her mind as she moves towards the door.

“Yes!” Suddenly, something snags her ankle, sends her pitching forward. Rey tucks her head as she goes sprawling. The floor flexes, just a little, where her shoulder hits and there’s no savage impact as her weight comes down. She rolls out of the fall, scrambling back to her feet and spinning to face Kylo.

“All this just to fall without it hurting? I guess things were different back in the day.”

He snorts. “You could say that. Do you understand what I did there?”

“The ankle snare with the Force?” Frowning at the springy stretch of floor in front of her, she tries to capture the moment in her mind again. He had distracted her with something, an intonation in his voice she hadn’t heard before, and then there had been resistance against her foot where she hadn’t expected it. “No.”

“Okay.” His footsteps creak on the wood behind her. “Don’t move. Close your eyes. Feel with the Force, now.”

The back of her neck prickles as Rey complies. It’s still odd, it doesn’t feel right, to let her guard down even this little. Her ears strain towards him until she finds the Force, can feel through it all the ages of trainees who had taken falls here, submitted to instruction, searched the same feelings, walked the same paths. The Force guides her as it always has, and through it she senses a thick serpentine coil as it loops around her ankle, an extension of Kylo’s will made manifest. “I feel it.”

“I know.” She feels him smile through the Force, a strange new harmonization within their connection, an added layer of meaning. “Can you get out of it?”

Rey scrunches her nose and, balancing her weight on the free leg, works to extract the ensnared limb. It moves with her, a few inches off the ground, and then snaps her foot back down. Furrowing her brow, she tries again, but stepping forward or back, it’s the same.

“It’s not a physical thing. Stop treating it like one.” His voice is much closer now, quiet and heated against her ear.  She takes a tense deep breath and sinks deeper into the embrace of the Force. “Think, Rey.”

Use the Force. All at once, the thought is simply there, as though it’s always been there. Instinct prickles, or maybe it’s the phantom touch at her ankle; this far into the center of herself she’s no longer certain. Then again, advice like that should have been useless, should have prompted the question ‘ Use it how? ’ But she understands, for the Force is hers just as much as it’s his, or anyone else’s, or perhaps that’s backwards and they belong to it . Either way, after a false start she wedges her own will against the restraint and pushes back, slipping out and opening her eyes. Her heart hammers in her chest and sweat itches around her nose, but she did it. She can do it. She feels it in her bones, in her blood. This power is hers.

His hand grips her shoulder, warm through her tunic, and there’s a surge of approval through the bond. “Next time, don’t take five minutes to get out of it.”

She huffs at the admonition, but it’s easier the second time, and the third. As she learns the holds, she learns to feel his intent as it forms and react to that instead of waiting until her motion is restricted. The annoyance that creases his features the first time she preempts him is something she’ll treasure forever. Her successes encourage her to push harder, to send her own short bursts of power after him. She can’t convince them to stretch and ensnare the way he can, but she feels the sting where they connect against his body on her own skin.

Such prolonged use of the Force wears her down faster than she’d like. The next successful binding he throws around her legs sends her crashing to the floor, rolling and coming to a rest on her back, chest heaving and sweat cooling on her skin. She closes her eyes and rests for a moment as his footsteps draw near.

“Are you planning on lying there all afternoon?” He nudges her with the toe of his boot. “Get up.”

The smile she feels tugging at her cheeks is an unfamiliar gesture after so little use these last days. Working with Kylo is very different from Master Luke’s lectures, endless rounds of meditation, and combat drills. But she doesn’t want to think about that right now. Whatever it takes to get out of here, she had promised herself. She’d deal with any Dark Side contamination afterwards. Survival comes first.

The thought sobers her, wipes the smile off her face as she opens her eyes. He extends his bare hand to her and she grasps it, skin against skin.  Energy floods her body through their connected palms, a surprise rejuvenation. She hops back to her feet and drops his palm but the strength remains coursing hot in her limbs. “What now?”

She feels good, she wants to get back to training. “What’s interesting? What’s next?”

“You need to get better at the bindings. The projectiles are a start, but you need to be able to root an opponent in place.”

“Why? Is Snoke going to try and run away?” She can’t see the Supreme Leader doing that.

Kylo grimaces, “He didn’t get old by standing and dying nobly. More to the point, if he gets into my head while we’re fighting him, I would like you to have a non-lethal way to keep me from killing you.”

“Oh,” The consideration sends a chill down her back, she hadn’t been thinking in those lines when Kylo had mentioned Snoke messing with their heads in combat. “That seems sensible.”

He narrows his eyes at her, through the bond she finds him as disturbed by the idea as she is. “Begin.”

The Force answers her thoughts and gestures, quick and easy, but refuses to wrap around his legs. “Are you doing something to counter this?” Rey wipes sweat out of her eyes and scowls in frustration.

“You tell me.” Kylo’s look of calm shoots a little frisson of irritation down her spine.

Another deep breath; she centers herself, pushing frustration aside, and tries again. It’s not a physical thing, it doesn’t move like a coil of wire or rope and her familiarity with the physical comparisons is almost a hindrance.

Will it to be so.

Kylo’s voice murmurs inside her mind and it feels like cheating, to just want something and have it manifest It goes against everything she’s experienced, but he’s the instructor, so there must be something to that advice.

She wants this, needs this power to destroy Snoke, to escape .

Something clamps over his foot for an instant before he steps easily out of it, and she doesn’t need to be told to try again. Standing quietly in the center of the floor, she fights with her mind, learning to weaponize concentration. Her legs slowly go numb with the lack of motion and, in time, just give up, dumping her without ceremony onto her backside. Rey makes a disgusted sound as she sits back up and begins massaging life back into her legs.

Kylo pushes hair away from where it’s plastered to his forehead. “That was good. You learn quickly and you have natural instincts for letting the Force guide your movements. Tomorrow we’ll work on mixing that with hand to hand combat. That will give you a working foundation.”

She stands cautiously, stamping her tingling feet against the floor and covering a yawn with her fist. “What next?”

“Rest,” he declares. “There’s nothing to be gained burning out on the first day.”

Chapter Text

Rey stands, each motion cautious and controlled as she negotiates numb limbs. “What next?” She asks around a stifled yawn as she stamps her feet to regain circulation.

He finds her tenacity admirable when it isn’t aimed at him. She’s exhausted. He feels it in their connection, in the way she leans on the Force, in the way she moves as though she doesn’t trust her muscles to keep her upright.

“Rest,” he declares. “There’s nothing to be gained burning out on the first day.” It’s a risk, a balancing act that he’s never encountered before. Go too hard and be too worn to put up their best fight. Not go hard enough and short themselves the skill, the time spent working together that could make a critical difference.

Rey nods at that, accepting his decision without question. It’s the most compliant he’s ever seen her; a mystery for another time. He collects his mask and gloves from where they lie and fits them back on as Rey wobbles after him.

Kylo slows his pace to match Rey’s and somehow they make it back to the room without incident, despite her lagging steps. A blast of cold air hits him as he opens the door and Rey recoils before following him inside.

“The barracks were warmer than this,” she grumbles as he shuts the door behind them. “Why don’t we just sleep there?”

“There’s no ‘fresher down there, and it’s not exactly private.” The mask hisses as he removes it and places it on the shelf beside Rey’s rescued box.

“I’ll bet you just couldn’t find it.” Rey shakes her head and rubs her arms. “I don’t care how ancient your order is, they still had to use the facilities.”

She has a point and he turns his back so she can’t see his unwilling amusement. Kylo strips off his gloves, boots, and robe, before crossing to the bed to toss Rey one of the extra blankets. Ignoring her logic, he sits on the edge of the bed and studies her as she wraps the scratchy grey wool around her shoulders and sheds her boots.

“We should work on developing our... bond,” he stumbles over the word before continuing. “But there’s one thing I want to agree on first: When are we going to attack? We don’t have to settle on a strategy tonight, but that could impact our timetable over the next few days.” He’s babbling; he takes a moment to gather his thoughts, then nods at the foot of the bed. “Why don’t you sit?”

Rey glances between him and the space he indicated, then shuffles over and climbs up. “What were you thinking?” She arranges the blanket to cover herself more completely and settles against the footboard.

Scooting back to give her more space, Kylo swings his legs up and props himself against the wall. “Snoke is going to call you in on the third day for his ultimatum. That’s probably the best time to act, when he’s distracted by thoughts of what he’ll be doing to you. It could be an extra edge against him.”

“Will he expect you to be there with me?”

“Absolutely,” Kylo grimaces. “Snoke loves an audience. You haven’t seen that side of him, but…”

She raises a distasteful eyebrow at that. “Do we need to worry about anyone else being there? Would he call in the Knights of Ren?”

A flare of worry arcs from her mind as he considers the question. “No, at least not at first. He won’t start with them there, but once we attack, it’s a risk we need to account for. It’s not a two-way connection, but he can send orders telepathically which could include a call for assistance against us.”

“Euh.” Rey pulls a disgusted face. “Can we do anything about that?”

“There must be something.” Kylo massages his temples, mind racing. “This won’t work if we’re trying to fight Snoke and a bunch of Knights. He’s far too strong for that to work out for us.”  

Rey shifts and the mattress flexes below them as she turns a piercing look on the wall behind Kylo's head. A flash of insight widens her eyes and she drops her gaze to where her clasped hands stick out of the blanket. “Could we distract them, somehow? Before going in to see Snoke?”

“What kind of distraction were you thinking?” Kylo rests his elbows on his knees and leans towards her.

Drumming her fingers against her legs, eyes skating up and around the room, Rey searches for inspiration. “We could set a fire, if worst comes to worst.” Her eyes meet his. “An electrical fire in the walls, maybe? It would depend on your wiring.”

“Droids would respond to that, and duracrete isn’t flammable.”

“I said distracting, not destructive,” she mutters, glowering at him. . “Do you have any better ideas? Flood their sleeping quarters with poisonous gas, maybe?”

“You are disturbingly imaginative when it comes to destroying things,” Kylo observes, his tone sardonic. Rey snorts. “The distraction is a good idea. Keep thinking about it.”  He feels something ease in his chest. They’re not rushing in blind. They’re thinking this through. They can make this work.

Rey nods. “How are we going to strengthen the bond, then? I guess last night had something to do with it, maybe.” Pink spreads across her cheeks, up to her ears at the oblique reference.

The bond hums as she remembers, a gentle warmth smoothing the rough edges of nervousness. Kylo nods, forces himself to focus on the practical aspect and not on how he had woken up, just this morning, tangled around her. “Skin to skin contact does seem to help.” He drops his eyes to his fists, clenches them until his knuckles whiten. Could this be more awkward? “We could try meditating together?” It comes out as a question rather than a suggestion.

Rey exhales, her relief palpable through the bond. This discussion, this proximity, however detached and rational, is still uncomfortable. “Meditation is good.” She nods and wriggles around in the blanket until she sorts herself into the standard meditation position. “Should we touch for this, too?”

“Yeah.” His heart is in his mouth as he draws his legs in and scoots gracelessly closer. He settles his hands on his knees, palms up, and closes his eyes, breathing too hard.

The bedframe squeaks and he feels Rey move closer. Her knees brush against his, and her hands are warm against his. The connection gives him unrestricted access to her surface thoughts: She doesn’t like that his hands are cold. She’s nervous. So is he. She’s inside his mind, too, and she can feel him, feeling her, feeling him.

It’s difficult, being this open.  He wants to close off, to hide, but he can do this . Meditation is meditation. As he forces his breathing to match hers, it gets easier. He lets the sense of strangeness go. That awareness becomes background noise, present but unimportant, like the feel of his pounding heart, like the delicate press of her hands on his, like the currents Force around them.

Her experience, her sense of the Force, is so different from his. The Light and the Dark sit on either side of her, a gentle, comfortable balance, a reassurance. There’s no pulling, no pain, no being torn apart. Jealousy surges within him and she clenches on his hands, digging her nails into his flesh until he releases that feeling, too.

The bond quiets, but becomes no less profound as the black pool forms in the center of his thoughts. It is no longer in a dark stone cavern, as it exists beneath the temple, but out in cool air, reflecting distant stars. He feels them through her, can almost pick out the constellations she recognizes. The Force is balanced here, not walking some razor fine line of dogma, it is steady on some cosmic level so much greater than he is, than they are. Here, users of the Light Side or the Dark are ripples so small as to be invisible. The magnitude of this, their belonging in the wholeness of the Force, is a revelation that fills him with a deep, newfound, calm.

They stay like that for a long time.

Eventually, though, his back cramps. The discomfort nudges both of them out of the vision and back into their separate bodies.

Kylo runs his thumb over her knuckles, an instinctual gesture, before he catches himself and releases her hands. He tries to translate the experience to words, wants to describe, at least to himself, how that felt, how he feels. Every phrase rings hollow, fails to capture the intensity of the moment. “That was-” His voice catches when she leaves her hands where they are. He starts again. “That was a good idea.”

Her eyes are bright, pupils dark and liquid, and she doesn’t break his gaze. “I hope so.” Her voice is rough and she lifts her hands only to cover another jaw-cracking yawn. “Can we sleep now?”

His hands feel empty without hers. Kylo nods, stretching out his legs, and slides under the blankets. Rey slips out of her blanket and tosses it over him and his feet seek out the spot of warmth she leaves behind as she climbs in beside him.

It’s strange how this pact to murder Snoke has changed things in twenty-four hours. Tonight, there’s no posturing, no staying as far apart as possible.  She just nestles in beside him, tugging her hair loose from its ties. There’s a trace of tension in the bond, in the stiffness of her shoulders, but after a moment to gather her courage, Rey lifts her head up and settles it over his heart.

Kylo smooths a wild tendril of her hair away from where it tickles him and wraps his arm around her shoulder. She shuffles closer, mirroring the gesture, and tucks her arm over his shoulder. Her slim fingers dig into the slant of muscle at his neck before relaxing. She fits so well beside him, small and strong.  Rey relaxes into the contact as their link warms to a glow when he runs his hand down her back. He finds the hem of her shirt and slips his hand underneath, fingers brushing the soft skin of her hip.

Rey flinches from the contact, pressing against him to try and escape the chill. “Why are your hands so cold ?”

“Skin to skin, remember?” His lips tease against her hair as he speaks, and he nudges her hand higher so her palm brushes his neck. “Yours are no better.”

Rey lets out a short chuckle, her breath warm through his shirt, and slides her fingers higher. She curls them into the hair at the nape of his neck, her nails teasing against his scalp. Her chest rises and falls and he matches her cadence, falling back into the meditative pattern. Memories of the day whirl through her head and then settle down as she slips into sleep.

Kylo stays awake for a long white after, his cheek against her hair, rubbing lazy circles against her skin until he drifts off. His dreams are quiet, a vision of a black pool under stars, and the two of them reclining beside it.

Chapter Text

There is something unsettling about the ink-black pool.  She tries to ignore it, keep her mind on the deep night sky, the warmth of Kylo's chest at her back, the press of his chin in her hair.  A balance exists in this place - Kylo's dream? - that subdues the malevolence radiating from the water.  His fingers dance down her back, tracing patterns on her skin in the half-light cast by distant stars.  Something shifts, wrenches, and his lazy caresses cease, his easy calm replaced by roiling, churning fear.

His hands fall to his sides but his thoughts still reach for her. Where are you? Where did you go?

I’m right here , she tries to say, tries to push the words into his mind, but they stick, refuse to leave her head.

Rey? Rey!

Kylo scrambles to his hands and knees, moving through her without sensing her as he passes. He scrabbles, frantic, fingers skittering along the featureless black ground. The pool gurgles and boils up from stygian depths to burst its banks. The darkness seeps across the ground, over his hands, erasing him to the elbow.  

It seethes around her ankles, rising to her knees. Stand up! She tries to say, tries to scream, but nothing happens.  She grabs at  him as he fumbles in the flood, but her hand passes through him.  Panic enfolds her as the darkness laps at his biceps, sweeps in a jet wave over his back before rising past his shoulders to lick wetly at his neck.

He can sense that something is wrong now and he rises to his knees but he still won’t stand and she can do nothing but watch in terror as he is swallowed by the blackness.  He struggles, strains to keep his face above the surface, but she feels him going numb as it reaches the corners of his mouth, his ears.  His eyes, wide with horror, are still searching for her and she’s right here! She screams, mute, as the water courses over his nose, submerging him completely.  Her lungs burn as he struggles for breath, darkness dancing on the edge of her vision, spreading raggedly until his face is blotted out entirely.

The ground falls away and when her vision clears, the scene has changed. Everything is sterile white, cold under fluorescent lights. Kylo Ren stares, unseeing.  Black hair, black eyes, black bruises, red wounds are the only variation in the colorless room.  The open gash across his face oozes weakly, half healed and raw.  It’s such a part of who he is now that she barely notices it in life.  Seeing it so fresh makes her sick. She had done that to him. He jerks to his feet and she moves instinctively to catch him but he falls through her outstretched arms, staggering blindly into the hall, barefoot and shirtless. She follows him, unsure of what would happen if they separated in a dream, unwilling to leave him in this state. The hall warps.

He’s huddled at the foot of the dais, hands braced on  knees, head bowed so low his dark curls brush the stone floor. From this angle she can see the raw carmine mess where the bowcaster bolt pierced his side, an ugly tangle of burns spanning from ribs to hip, a stitched gash the size of her clenched fist in his side.

“You failed ,” Snoke’s voice carves agony  across her awareness. “Against an untrained runt and a defective trooper.”

His head lowers to the stone and Kylo Ren says nothing in his defense.

Snoke flicks a hand and Kylo arches back and then slams face first into the stone with a sick thud. “I did not tell you to fail, to lose the girl, the droid, and the primary weapon.”

Pain blinds her, a broken nose, split lips, burning side  all vie for her attention over the laceration of Snoke’s wrath.

“Look at me, Kylo Ren.”

Kylo’s arms shake as he lifts his head, every muscle screaming as he stares up at the alien face Blood trickles  down his chin, splattering the floor  out as he pants for breath.

“I have never been as disappointed in an apprentice as I am in you now, Kylo Ren.  I am, in fact, at a loss as to how to properly convey my displeasure.  I could kill you, quite slowly, of course, but I do not think that would be enough.  Had you anything, anyone in this galaxy left to love, I would hunt it down. I would have you rip it apart, piece by piece, and offer me it's heart. But you do not, and so here we are.” Snoke drawls as tongues of white lightning flicker around his raised hand and he turns from the prostate man to study the play of Force.

“I will do better next time, Master.” Kylo spits scarlet.

“You assume there will be a next time, boy.” The lightning sprouts branches and grows. It reaches towards Kylo, electric shadows cavorting along the high walls until it hovers before his eyes. The fingers twitch with want and Snoke sighs. “I suppose even broken things have their uses. The hand comes down on his shoulder and the world rips in half. Rey falls to her knees, helpless and shaking as the pain wracks her body. Long seconds of his raw screaming and convulsions pass as an eternity.

It ends. Rey can barely see through the tears as Snoke stands and descends from his seat. Kylo gasps, deep ragged sounds, as the spasms taper off. The monster kneels before his apprentice, long white fingers fisting in lank black hair, yanks the man up so Kylo Ren hangs limp, a puppet on a fraying string.

She doesn’t want to see what happens next.

The world spins and Snoke looks up, at her. “A visitor?” Kylo Ren turns to her with another flare of agony, eyes like empty pits going wide with terror. They can see her They can see her.

Snoke glances down into the face of his apprentice, then back up at Rey before he drops Kylo to the floor. “How convenient.” He smiles, crooks a finger, and Rey is dragged forward by her throat, toes dangling inches above the floor. He strolls a slow circle around her as she fights to breathe, to feel for the Force. “Get up, Kylo Ren. It appears there will be a next time, after all.”

He stands, his eyes empty, and wipes blood away with the back of his hand as he crosses to stand beside Snoke. “What do you wish, Master?”

Snoke grins, “Piece by piece.”

The Force knows this isn’t real, that dreams aren’t real in the same way waking life is. It doesn’t stop the terror and disgust that rises in her throat, doesn’t stop the searing torment when it starts.

It’s a dream.  She binds herself to that thought, the last point of light in this realm of darkness, and it grows brighter. This is  a dream.

WAKE UP.

Rey’s eyes fly open and she’s back in the bed, warm under all the blankets, snug beside a frozen Kylo. She sits up, twisting to look at him, bracing her weight on the pillow beside his head and rises onto her knees. A thin sheen of sweat gleams on his face and she can see his teeth clench, tendons standing out from his neck. She has no idea if he’s awake or not.

His eyes spring open, the same haunted emptiness from the dream staring back her without recognition. There’s motion in her peripheral vision and Rey gets her arms up in time to block a wild punch to the jaw, knocks his arm away and straddles his stomach, pinning his arms under her knees when he struggles to unseat her.

“Kylo! Wake up!” She bears down with her weight on his chest and the Force surges through her, through their connection at the command. She won’t allow him to stay trapped in that dream, not when she knows she can influence it. Wake up!

The vacant stare snaps up to her face at the sound of his name, and he turns his head away, pants rapid, weak breaths, and shakes, silent. His hands clench and unclench by her ankles.  Fear and pain scream in her mind and her ears ring with his unuttered howls.

“Kylo, look at me.” She takes his jaw in her hand, brings his eyes to hers. “It was a dream. It doesn’t mean anything.” With her other hand, she strokes his cheek, trying to bridge the chasm of terror in his mind.

“You were there.” Kylo’s voice is deeper, more ragged than she’s ever heard it. “He- I-” He tries to flinch away from her touch.

“I’m fine,” Rey says sharply, increasing the pressure of the grip on his jaw, pushing back as he shakes under her hand. He doesn’t get to hide from this. “You didn’t hurt me. It was a dream .”

“You screamed.” There’s an ugly twist in his voice, loathing and longing blended together. “You will scream. For days .” There’s a sick certainty in his mind, a poison belief that they will fail and this will be their future.

Rey curls her lip at that, leaning over him until the world narrows to just the two of them, nose to nose.  “That’s not going to happen. We are going to kill Snoke, remember? He can’t do anything to me, to either of us, when he’s rotting in the ground.” She relaxes her hold on him and pushes the hair out of his eyes, smooths her thumb down the side of his face. “Breathe,” she murmurs. “Fear is clouding your mind. It’s going to kill you, kill both of us, if you let it. Don’t let him win.”

“Are you telling me there’s no emotion, there is only peace?” He tries to laugh but it comes out a shaky groan and he reaches for her, clutching at her thin shoulder until she feels the pain echo in his head. “I’ve heard that one before, and I still don’t buy it.”

Rey breathes slowly, reaching for her elusive point of balance to guide him, both of them, out of the darkness. “Being afraid won’t make it hurt any less if something happens. You only die once, however fearful you are.” She eases off of him and into a meditative position as their link warms, terror abating. He runs his hands down her back. It’s a gentle, trusting gesture, a step back from the edge of an abyss. The contact enhances her sense the Force around them, rich and strong.

She feels him sit up beside her, his knee warm and solid against hers.  When it comes, the shared visualization is as natural as breathing. The center is there, the Force is around them, and it feels right . Rey opens her eyes and glances up at his face. Open your eyes if you can hear me.

Dark eyes flick open and Kylo nods, the practical applications of this communication materializing in her head as the thought forms in his. Think of a number.

Rey rolls her eyes and complies.

Six. Through the bond, his certainty is absolute. The less attention we need for this the more useful it will be in combat.

This is going take all the fun out of arguing. A rusty laugh echoes in her head as she switches back to speaking aloud. “What else can we try?”

The bond darkens with his disapproval at her switch. Have you tried any Force levitation? Calling things to you?

Rey shakes her head and, and, anticipating the command, turns her focus on the items arranged on the shelf by the door. The box catches her attention, light sliding on the polished surfaces and she gathers the Force to her, wills the box to rise up into the air. There’s a faint clunk as the box rolls over in a halfhearted response. Pressing her lips into a thin line, pushing Kylo’s sudden amusement to the back of her mind, she tries again. “I can do this.” She pre-empts the suggestion coalescing in their connection. “Don’t rush me.”

Don’t be so stubborn . Resignation, recognition of the futility of such instruction, drifts through their connection as Kylo adjusts his position and rests his hand against hers.

The contact prickles, but there’s strength in the touch and just a whisper of experience. It flicks a switch in her head that she didn’t know was there and this time, the box rises steadily into the air.

There is a click, a hum, and a bright lavender light fills the room, leaking out from under the raised designs.

Her fingers tighten around his and Kylo grips back, excitement bouncing between them as together they hold the box aloft with the Force. “Call it to you,” he rumbles.

She calls on more of his strength and lets her want for the beautiful mysterious thing guide the Force. It rockets towards them faster than her eye can follow, smacking into her hand hard enough to sting. The box thrums as she cradles it, and she turns to Kylo so he can see as she lifts the lid where it hangs half-open.

The light blinds them both for a moment and Rey blinks spots out of her vision. The violet light merges into a small, wizened alien woman with wide eyes and ears on a head too large for her delicate body.

She sits, legs crossed in meditation, and gives Rey a raking look. “So someone finally figured it out. Don’t make them like they used to, eh? Who are you then, little Force user? Who found my holochron?”

“A holochron,” Kylo murmurs, a feverish awe flaring in his mind. “You are the guardian, then?”

“Guardian, creator,” the woman swishes her hand impatiently, “that’s just taxonomy.” She glares at Kylo for a moment. “And I’m not talking to you , Mister Dark Side. The girl heard my call, shed her blood, and guided the power you share. You’re just along for the ride, pal.” She cranes her head up at Rey. “Girl! Do you have a name?”

Swallowing, Rey nods. “Rey. My name is Rey. And he’s Kylo.”

“Rey? That’s a good name for a youngster. Quick on the tongue, easy to shout.” She nods in satisfaction. “They called me Yali, back when I was a sprout. That name will do as well as any other.” The projection climbs to her feet and dusts off her simple belted robe. “Now, where to begin with you, child?”

She’s not sure if it’s a question that need an answer. “At the beginning?”

Yali cackles, rubs her hands together until her knuckles crack. “Oh, we’re going to get along like a house on fire, girl of mine! Rey. Yes. The beginning. Where everything starts. I was a Knight here once, what is probably quite a long time ago. Do not tell me the date!” She jabs a finger at Kylo without taking her eyes off Rey. “It doesn’t matter and it would just depress me. The ones who say time means nothing to the dead should just try it .” Snorting, the projection shakes her head and then continues. “You have a knack with the Force, girl. I can teach you mastery. Him too,” She begrudges Kylo the acknowledgement. “Not my first choice of a partner - the only way to make dark-siders go forwards is by pushing them backwards - but,” she shrugs, “That’s your problem, not mine.”

“What can you teach us?” Kylo interjects, prickling at the casual dismissal.

“Battle meditation,” Yali snips. “The two of you have an excellent bond; there is much I can teach you about that too, but you’ll figure it out eventually. No,” she nods to herself. “It must be battle meditation. It was a dying art when I was a Master, and it must be forgotten by now.”

“Battle meditation?” The words spark a memory, swords of red and blue crossed at the mouth of a chasm, a scene lit in shades of lavender, a deep quiet and an extrasensory understanding of unfamiliar combat.

“You have felt it.” Yali nods with a smile that stretches her face. “Yes! It is a powerful trance that provides insight into the moves of your opponents and companions. It can fuel or diminish the will to battle on an enormous scale.” Her eyes shine with the memory. “I commanded thousands from a flagship, my children. Through the Force, I was with every pilot, every soldier, and I let them to victories beyond imagining.”

“You bonded with thousands ?” Rey can’t imagine around what that must have been like.

Yali dismisses the question with a derisive shake of her head. “Not a chance, kid. You don’t need to link with someone to guide them in battle meditation. Wouldn’t work on opponents otherwise, right? They don’t need to be Force sensitive either, though it helps. No.” She takes the comfortable stance of one prepared to stand and lecture for hours. “No, working with a bond partner gives you a head start, but it’s no limitation once you achieve some level of competency. Now, attend…”

Chapter Text

Kylo wonders, a passing fancy, what would happen if he closed the lid of the holochron on Yali and weighed it down with a book. He smiles at the thought as they walk back through the Barracks to the training room.  He hadn't known what to expect from the box, but he was reluctantly pleased with what they'd found. An ancient guardian of lost lore would be useful in the fight against Snoke. He just wished she didn't come with a sassy mouth and a petulant temper.

The old lady is quiet for a beat as they enter the training room, head turning and eyes darting as Rey bears the holochron in her hands, emotions flashing over her small wrinkled features too quickly for Kylo to process before she rallies and gives a sniff of disdain.

“This place is filthy! Girl, set me down on that shelf, over yonder! Boy, there are brooms behind the curtain on the back wall! I don’t care what has happened in the last however many years, this is one tradition that will be preserved!” She crosses her arms over her translucent chest and glares at Kylo as though he is responsible for the dust.

A prickle of anxiety that has nothing to do with sweeping flashes from his mind to Rey’s. Tell her we don’t have time for this. She might listen to you .

Rey shoots him a sharp look. Be nice! Then, aloud, she addresses the hologram. “Master Yali? We need to be able to use this technique two days from now. Will you be able to help us?”

Yali narrows her eyes and the tips of her ears twitch as she stares, long and hard, up at Rey. “Hold me up so I can look down on you properly, girl.” Her expression gentles as Rey complies. “Two days? I could make you full practitioners in two years, perhaps adequate in two months of hard study. Two days? Tell me your rush.” She flicks an impatient gesture at Kylo but keeps her eyes on Rey. “You can move a broom and your mouth at the same time, can’t you, boy?”

Grumbling under his breath, he hasn’t had to clean the training rooms in over a decade, he finds the brooms more or less where Yali said they would be, work worn and covered in thick dust. He tosses one to Rey before setting to work himself.

Rey catches the broom and begins the story in her easy lilt. She tells it quickly and well, a clear, concise narrative of their encounter and how events had spiraled out of control. He’ll admit that she has a certain knack for storytelling. “So, we have two days.” She finishes and leans the broom against the wall, turns to face the old master. “Can you, will you, help us?”

Yali is quiet, tapping her chin and staring at the ceiling. “Two days to train you sufficiently so that you’re not turned into mindless toys for some half-rate Dark-Sider who let my order’s temple decay like this?” Her face splits in another devilish grin and she lets out a whoop. “I knew I liked you! You kids have got some guts. Yes, I’ll help.” She presses her palms together in front of her mouth and patters her feet gleefully against the floor and nods with a decisiveness that could bend the world around it. “We’d better start now, then. Take me to the armory. You’ll need weapons for this.”   

The tops of the high shelves and racks are lost in the gloom as they make their way through the abandoned armory, illuminated only by the bright lavender glow from the box. The air is still here, musty from neglect. Kylo had poked his head in here on his first excursion to the Barracks, but as Yali directs them to a back wall, he regrets his quick dismissal of the space. Rows upon rows of lightsaber hilts glint in the purple light. He's never seen so many in one place or so many different styles. His breath catches in his chest; it's a treasure trove.

Rey sets the holochron down gently and looks around. “What is all this stuff?” He sees through her eyes for a moment, feels her itchy-fingered need to start digging.

Yali shrugs. “A Knight’s weapon belongs to the order. Hilts get handed down. Crystals get repurposed. You do have a sword, right, girl? Hey! Boy! You are standing in front of the training weapons, get them down.”

“In theory. Someone took it as a trophy.” Her tone leaves no doubt that she’s still salty over that.

Kylo smiles to himself as he grabs an armful of what he assumes are training weapons and is rewarded with a jab of annoyance through their connection.“I know where her saber is. We’re going to get it this afternoon. It’s not an issue.” He can feel Rey ruffle at his dismissal, but ignores it.

“Dark-Siders!” Yali huffs, “No respect for anyone’s things.” She nods a dismissal to Kylo. “That’s quite enough out of you, boy. Rey, dear, see if you can find something in that mess that suits. You too, my lad.”

“I’m not your lad, lady,” Kylo grouches. He picks up a hilt and then tosses it aside. “None of these have exhaust ports. I’ve got my own weapon.”

“I’m no lady, pal. You’ll just have to make do with what’s there. I won’t have you slicing up my training droids like some kind of savage!”

“Training droids?” Rey’s eyes shine as she nudges Kylo aside to sort through the selection. Her analysis whispers against his mind, too curved, too heavy, too light, too short, not right .

Kylo turns a hilt over saber in his hands, pausing. It’s not quite right for him, but... He taps it against Rey’s shoulder, offers it to her. “This one.”

Her fingers brush his as she takes the hilt and inspects it. Rey nods and the feeling of rightness, of comfort, warms him through their link as she turns to the side and tests it out. “Yeah, this one will do.”

He takes the one Rey discards -  it’ll do well enough for now - and grabs Yali’s box off the countertop. Ignoring her demands to be given to Rey, he strides back into the training room. He sets the holochron back on the shelf and begins loosening up in the center of the room.

The rich bloom of Rey's amusement at his contortions balances the indignant shouting from the box as she joins him on the springy floor. She rotates her shoulders, stretches her hamstrings, bounces on the balls of her feet. Kylo cracks his neck, rolling his head on his shoulders, and adjusts his grip on the training hilt as Rey takes a few practice swings with her own.

“Turn it on, girl.” Yali settles herself on the edge of her box, short legs dangling off the edge. “There’s a switch on the butt; you too, boy.” The dull metal tubes hum, but otherwise do not change appearance. “Touch the edge, just so you know what to expect. It won’t hurt, much.”

There is a pop and a faint hiss; Rey sticks her scorched finger in her mouth and scowls at her instructor. Kylo feels a minor ache, but it’s definitely preferable to dealing with the carbon burns of a live weapon. Surly, Rey adjusts her grip on the weapon and squares off against him.

“I want to see how you fence. No tricks, kids. Keep it clean.” Yali claps her hands together, a brisk ringing sound. “Begin!”

They lock eyes and freeze. He can feel her thoughts, a quick, half-intuited analysis. There’s an instant where she readies to swing at him and he shifts his feet in preparation to counter it. As he sets himself up to slash at her she responds in kind. It’s like trying to play holochess against himself.

“Any day, my babies! I haven’t waited an eternity for such grandstanding. Attack!” Yali shouts and shakes her fist at them.

It’s a good enough distraction. He takes the initiative to capitalize on Rey’s lapse of attention, committing to the initial attack, flicking the blade down, changing trajectory as she moves to block his first attack. She responds well to the shift, a hard parry followed by a slash upwards.

Rey fights like she’s trying to break him apart, basic strokes delivered in steady succession, given strength by the Force. She blocks the same way, absorbing the energy of his attacks with a terrible sort of stoicism even as her arms shake with the effort as he wears down her resistance with Force and superior physical strength.

His major problem, it seems, is that she’s not fooled by any of his misdirections. The mirror of his thoughts in her mind gives her a perfect understanding of his intent so she doesn’t waste time or energy following feints. The mismatch of the training weapon to his own lightsaber doesn’t help either. The exhaust vents make his weapon of choice unwieldy but the offer tactical advantages over the single bladed style. They trade strikes and superficial touches for what feels like hours until Yali shouts for them to cease.

“Enough!” Yali claps her hands again and climbs to her feet as they turn to face her. “That’s a place to start, if nothing else.” She shakes her head. “For the next round, Rey, adopt the trance as I told you. Your focus should be on attacking your opponent’s will to fight, his very mindset . The attacks against his body are just an extension of that intent. Let the Force guide your defenses.” She glances over at Kylo. “Speak your piece, boy. You’re her teacher, too.”

Kylo decides to take the compliment, such as it is, at face value. “You can be faster than that. You can’t out muscle me in this, so don’t try.”

Wrinkling her nose at that, Rey mops her forehead with her sleeve as she squares up again. The wheels of her mind turn, thoughts churning the criticism and instructions into fuel for her endless determination. Yali claps for them to begin and Rey attacks.

He can feel the struggle in her blows now. They’re not as heavy as before and he can bat them aside with little effort, but her focus isn’t on the physical. If there’s a mental impact Kylo’s not feeling it yet, so he gets a handful of hits on her, the shock tingling against his leg through their connection. It’s not a pleasant experience. He hesitates for just a half-breath before attacking the next gap in her defenses, failing to exploit the distraction.  She blocks his slow attack and flicks the tip of her weapon up, smacking him firmly in the side of the neck.

She crows her triumph in his head as she steps back and rubs the smarting side of her throat, eyes bright as they turn to Yali. “Is that it?”

Yali nods. “More or less. Very sneaky, girl. You’ll have an easier time fortifying your comrades, but offensive use is important to understand, and your boy is a stubborn fellow.”

“He’s not my boy,” Rey mutters and glares daggers at the floor. “What now?”

Next on Yali’s agenda is fighting training droids, hulking plastoid things with too many arms and painted targets on their bulbous bodies. The Force flows strongly through their link as they fight shoulder to shoulder, thoughts intermingling as he blocks two arms, locking them in place as Rey darts underneath to strike at the smallest circle. The plastoid arms skitter off his blade, darting at her unprotected back and Kylo doesn’t think, he just pulls as she parries the blow and zooms back out of the droid’s encircling arms.  She laughs, a golden sound. He’s never heard her laugh before and it pushes him, pushes them both further, adding the Force to their attacks and tricks, until the victory conditions are met and the droids power down.

Kylo braces his hands on his knees for a moment to catch his breath, shaking hair out of his eyes as lets out a short huff that could, maybe, have been a laugh of his own.  How long has it been since he last laughed?  He can’t remember.  He meets Rey’s eyes and she smiles.

The applause coming from the holochron is quiet, not a single clap of command but a gentle patter of satisfaction. “That was a worthy first attempt. Impressive understanding of the mind meld; it will take you far. There is still much for the two of you to learn, but the aptitude is there to seize on.” Yali rolls over so she’s lying on her stomach, propping her wide chin in her hands as she watches. “Rest and then practice dueling each other some more. The girl’s raw. She needs more time with a sword in her hand. Boy, this is your area, don’t mess it up.” Kylo gives the master a sharp look and Yali snickers, “Just cause you’ve kept all your fingers while running with exhaust ports doesn’t mean squat to me, kid. Now scoot!”

Rey’s voice touches his mind, amused and resigned. Just let her be .

Kylo sends back an inarticulate grumble of emotion but decides that there is nothing to be gained by encouraging the crazy old bat. He bumps his arm against her shoulder, brushes his knuckles against the back of her hand and she leans against him as energy surges up their arms at the contact, burning away his fatigue and returning sharp alacrity to her eyes as she gives him a quick sidelong look.

Kylo masters the ridiculous impulse to tuck an errant strand of hair behind her ear and steps back, bringing his training sword up between them. It strains against his hand and he gives Rey a dirty look. Stop that!

She crinkles her eyes at him, bringing her own weapon up, and doesn’t ease the pressure, so he follows it, adding his push to her pull for an extra burst of speed.  Surprise flashes across her face, through their connection, and then she parries, ducks and slams her shoulder hard into his diaphragm. Air whooshes out of his lungs on the impact as Yali hollers in the background.

Cheater! He calls her through their mental link and urges his lungs to inflate  again. That’s not fencing. He snares her ankle as she shakes out her shoulder.

Rey snorts, an unnecessary indication of her thoughts on dueling etiquette, and focuses on extracting her foot from the trap. And this is?

I always cheat . He tugs on the power entangling her legs and snakes around her guard to tap her leg with his sword. Don’t be so distractible.

The little jab of pain focuses her, or maybe it’s his criticism; he’s only aware of the crystallizing of her will in response to his. She shears through the restraint like it's gauze and rattles off a barrage of strikes against him. Kylo yields ground, drawing her around in a circle, makes her chase him, foiling her blows with quick little snags of the Force around her arms and legs.

Quit messing around and fight me!”  Rey fights for breath as she twists around another extension of his power.

“Make me!” Kylo dodges as her training sword hisses through the air inches from his nose, a flash of blinding light offsetting his balance.  The power answers her call and for a moment he’s frozen in place before shaking it off, crossing blades with her and bearing down with the full brunt of his strength.

She strains against him with gritted teeth and then kicks at his leg. A risky move - it might have paid off had she connected with his knee, but her foot gets caught in the long folds of his robe so the blow glances off his calf and she gives way, rolling out from under their crossed blades, getting a lucky jab on his side as she scrambles back up.

“You’re not gonna kick a Sith to death!” Yali screeches, “Fight him, girl!”

The swords crackle against each other, hissing as a touch is scored against skin or cloth. Kylo picks up the pace and pushes the tide of the fight against her. Now Rey gives ground, but she makes him earn every inch as he herds towards a wall. He feels her sense his intent, the shift where she stops retreating and stars looking for ways to circle around. Her thoughts dart and flicker as she tries to counter his offense, tries to dodge away from the trap he’s guiding her into. A foot away from the wall he catches her blade against his and gives her a smug, triumphant grin.

“You think you’re so smooth, don’t you?” Rey hisses. He can feel her arms tremble.

Kylo tilts his head to the side, pretends to consider the question, “I’m not the one pinned against the wall, here.”

Rey jabs out with the Force, a blunt extension of her will, exactly as he taught her, and hits him in the throat. It snaps his head back, drives him back a step, but he can still feel her move, throwing herself away from the wall, and he doesn’t need to look to slash down across her back. It stings across his shoulders and she grabs his wrist, twists and pulls, drags him down as she falls. She grunts as they collapse in a tangle of limbs, duel devolving into a juvenile tussle replete with half-hearted punches.

In the distance, he hears Yali cackle. He catches Rey’s slim ankle when she kicks out at him again, hauls himself up to his knees and captures her jab against his palm, wraps his fingers around her fist. “Do not try that against Snoke.” Her hand flexes in his, their bond humming with energy, a steady, reassuring awareness, and when he’s confident she won’t take another swing at him, he lets go of her hand.

Hitching her shoulders, Rey rubs the back of her neck. “If Snoke’s got me up against a wall like that, you had better be stabbing him in back.” She grimaces as her stomach gurgles and clambers to her feet, offers Kylo her hand. “Can we grab a bite?” She gives him a sly look. “And perhaps my sword?”

Kylo’s stomach rumbles in response as he grips her hand and regains his feet. “Sure.”

Picking each up in turn, he powers down the training swords and tosses them into a corner as Rey crosses back to the holochron. “Yali? We’re going to break for a little while. Do you want me to leave you here?”

“No, no, I’ll go back in the box.” The master gripes. “You should be able to open it whenever you want now. And I’ll be keeping an eye on you two, so no funny business!” Her small purple face wrinkles into a feigned scowl and she waggles a finger at them as the lid clicks shut.

Chapter Text

Lunch is protein porridge and a bread roll stuffed into her pocket for later. Rey is sure Kylo notices -  as closely connected as they are at this point, how could he not? But he doesn’t say anything as they leave the empty cafeteria and she stretches her legs to keep up with him. So what’s the plan?

We go to the Knight’s training room. We get your saber. We leave. Through the link she feels his cool assurance, though he’s donned the mask again, hiding his expression.

What if there are knights in the training room? Rey presses. Their last encounter with a weak-minded Knight of Ren had gone well enough. The one before that had ended with a foiled assassination attempt and her covered in Kylo’s blood. If they get pulled into any major conflict with the Knights, Snoke will know they’re planning something and they won’t have time to recover before facing him.

There won’t be. They have more important things to do than to stand around, waiting to annoy me. He disguises a light touch on her arm in the flow of his robe and leads her back up the endless white tile stairs to the red and black door emblazoned with the sigil of the First Order.

After the relative comfort of Yali’s training room, the Knight’s of Ren’s facilities is downright barbaric. Cold light falls on gray duracrete, picking out the scorches and scars within the white painted circles.  Splashes of old blood splatter the floor and walls. The room is nearly as empty as Kylo had suspected. A single unarmored Knight stands in a corner wearing a heavy helmet, a sort of simulator, perhaps? He swipes at enemies she can’t see with an electrified staff.

Kylo leads her around the perimeter of the room, steps quiet, staying well away from the distracted practitioner, to a discreet alcove between weapon racks. Here. He takes a position at her back as she steps forward, a barrier between her and anyone who might glance over.

Rey studies the jumble of hilts and rifles through it until she brushes her hand against the one that calls to her. These are your trophies? There’s no order or arrangement. It could be just another pile of equipment for the Knights of Ren to pull from.

What were you expecting? A shrine? His voice in her head finds such pageantry distasteful. Tomorrow’s battles are of greater significance than yesterday’s victories.

Rey sighs, unwilling to admit that she’d expected much worse than this, and slips the saber under her tunic where it clinks against the holochron. The metal is cold against her skin, but it feels like a part of her that had been missing has come home. I guess you were right about the Knights , she begrudges him and turns to go while their good luck holds.

They make it halfway to the door before the Knight removes his helmet, rakes a clawed hand over his bare scalp and glances around the room, slitted eyes landing on Kylo for a moment before returning to his equipment.

Keep walking . Kylo’s voice in her head is a careful study of control and Rey keeps her eyes on the floor as they make their exit.

Rey lets out a heavy breath once they’re back in the relative safety of the room and the door is sealed behind her. “I can’t believe that worked.” She lets out a shaky laugh and removes the holochron from under her shirt and sets it reverently on the shelf by the door.

Kylo removes his mask, sets it beside the holochron, and frowns. “You still don’t trust me.” Melancholy flares against her mind, a blend of anger, resignation, and a trace of honest disappointment. The resentful, bitter flavor echoes on her tongue.

“It’s not that. Things just don’t go right for me.” Rey clasps his arm, the wool of his sleeve rough under her fingers, before pulling out her lightsaber and curling her fingers around the textured grip. She feels, for the first time in days, truly powerful. She lets her mind fill with the relief of it, the sense of strength, of possibility, that flows from holding the weapon. She is whole again.  

As she runs her thumb over the switch that would ignite the blade, a twinge of tension, anticipation, tinges their connection. She feels him twitch towards his lightsaber hilt where it hangs on his belt. “Now who lacks trust?”

“What do you mean?” His eyes are glued to the lazy exploration of her fingers over the dull metal, and she feels his spine curling into a fighting crouch.

Rey lets out a small humorless laugh. “I can feel your thoughts, Kylo. You’re wondering if I’m going to try and kill you, now that I have my saber.”

The tension leaves his shoulders, taut muscles relaxing as Kylo straightens his back and moves his hand away from the hilt at his side, wrapping his gloved hand over hers on the saber. “It’s a calculated risk.”

Heat radiates through the leather glove, equilibrium reestablishing itself  as the moment of doubt passes. “Very calculated, when you know exactly what I’m thinking.” Rey rolls her eyes and takes refuge in scathing words.

“I never know exactly what you’re thinking.” Kylo shakes his head and gives a small shrug, his dark eyes on hers.

His fatigue hits her like the floor after a long fall and she sags with it as she places her lightsaber on the shelf beside the holochron.  It’s still early afternoon, but his nightmare had pulled them out of sleep long before the night cycle ended, and they’d been training with Yali since she’d emerged. Rey feels for the Force, tries to draw that energy back into herself, recapture the feeling of endless motivation, endless strength. It sticks around her fingers, refuses to sink under her skin. She trudges over to the bed and plops down onto the mattress. “Don’t worry.  All I’m thinking about is a nap.”

Kylo snorts and nods his rueful agreement. “We need to rest while we can.” He kicks off his boots casts himself down on the bed next to her. “Maybe we’ll get a bit of peace this afternoon.”

She doubts they will, but Rey nevertheless toes off her boots and swings her legs up to lay beside him. His arm wraps around her waist as he pulls her back against him, and she allows herself to curl against his chest.

Her eyes fly open hours later.

Rey knows what they can do, what they need to do, to distract the Knights of Ren, what will buy them the time to kill Snoke. She squirms under the weight of Kylo’s arm, mind still bleary with sleep but now fixated on the flash of inspiration that could save them. “Kylo. Kylo, wake up!” Rolling over, she raises herself onto an elbow and shakes his shoulder.

His face pulls into a grimace of pained displeasure as he mumbles something and tightens his grip on her waist.

“No, wake up! This is important.” She shakes him again, practically pouncing on him, and he cracks a sleepy eye up at her. “I know how we can distract the Knights!”

That gets his attention and he comes awake in an instant. “What are you thinking?”

“A Resistance air strike.” An animal snarl rips through their connection at the word ‘Resistance’, but she’s not done and this far superior to their half-hatched plan of arson. She’s got to make him understand. “I know they’re the enemies of the First Order, but they could help.”

“That’s your idea?” His tone drips scorn and revulsion as Kylo sits up, eyes narrowing. “The best thing you can think of is to call in the fucking Resitance?”

“Do you have a better idea?” Rey can feel his thoughts churn as he gears up for a fight. She will give him one if he insists. “You said it yourself, if the Knights of Ren get involved while we’re fighting Snoke, we can’t win! We need something huge.”

“How do you see that playing out?” Kylo shoves himself to his feet and begins pacing the room, working himself into a fit, voice rising. “Do you seriously think the Resistance will want to shake hands with me, will thank me for doing their job, and just fly off into the fucking sunset to live happily ever after?” His face twists. “With you flying off after them? Is that what this is all about? Using me to get back to them? Back to Skywalker?

His rage tears into her mind, trying to draw her into the building tumult. Rey breathes, reaches for calm. The black pool sits heavy in her mind, radiating its malevolence. “Of course it is.” She fights to keep her voice quiet, collected, easy, and her sanity sheltered from the brewing storm. She sits up, throws her legs over the edge of the bed to face him as he seethes. “That’s the plan, right? You use me to kill your master, you seize control, or whatever your goal is here.” Her stomach curdles at the thought. She doesn’t want that ending, doesn’t want to leave this obstinate, sharp-tongued, hot tempered, confusing man as an enemy. “I can’t be a part of that endgame, Kylo.”

“Because you’re so committed to their cause?” He strides over until he looms over her, catches her chin in his fingers, tilts her face up.  His hands are tender, at odds with his tone. He knows what’s she’s thinking, and she hates the way his satisfaction shimmers with a poisonous glee at what he finds. He gentles his voice now, imbuing it with the thrumming persuasion of the Force as he leans down to her. “You knew those people for hours, days at most. You don’t owe them your loyalty.  You don’t owe them anything, Rey.”

His thumb smooths along her cheek, words threading through her mind. She stands, it feels weak to sit here like she’s some helpless waif, and though he rises with her, at least she’s on her feet.

“Don’t use that voice on me.” Rey catches his hand against her face, refuses to give into the urge to lean into the touch and instead pulls away. “I’m not going to stay on as your prisoner.” Frustration fizzles under her skin, how can he see into her mind and not understand her? “What happened to being free, Kylo? Becoming the new Snoke is just another form of captivity.  You hate it here.  You HATE it here!  You don't have to go with the Resistance, and you don't have to stay here.  You don't have to be the First Knight of Ren anymore."

“You’re out of your mind if you think the Resistance is just going to let me go.” His voice hardens back to it’s natural roughness. “You call them here and there's only one way this ends: My execution. Maybe here, maybe after they get me back to their base and torture me for a few weeks. They will not forgive what I’ve done.”  He pre-empts the rejection forming on her lips. “Democracy, remember? If the leaders, your leaders , want it, they’ll get it.” His mouth twitches as her anger at the prospect floods their connection and she growls aloud. “You don’t have to follow them. You don’t have to follow anyone. You’re strong; you could be so much more than just the last of a dying order.”

Even without the special inflection, his words offer a tantalizing glimpse of the future. Power to protect those she cares for. Respect for her accomplishments. To never be alone again. “I want to kill Snoke. That’s all this is about. The Resistance is just a way to ensure our success.” Rey shakes her head slowly, crosses her arms over her chest. “Do you have any better ideas? I swear that I will do everything in my power to keep you safe from them.” His doubt ripples through her mind, still questioning her convictions as if standing up to the leaders of the Resistance is somehow a greater undertaking than standing up to Snoke. “Look into my mind, if you want. I won’t let them hurt you.”  She holds out her hand to him, palm up, and their eyes meet.

Chapter Text

Rey growls, a throaty, feral sound, at the prospect of his execution. It makes Kylo’s head spin. Her will is an anvil and her ire the hammer she could use to reshape the world. And she would reshape it for him.

He almost pleads with her. “You don’t have to follow them. You don’t have to follow anyone. You’re strong; you could be so much more than just the last of a dying order.” She has to believe in this the same way she believes in killing Snoke, in doing what she thinks is right.

She needs little encouragement to imagine the alternatives.  He feels little flashes of her desires - a vision of her standing tall and proud between the people she cares for and the evils that would threaten them. Respect, being treated with as an equal, free from the tyrants of her youth. A family, friends, a home. She’s so close to saying yes, he can see it in her eyes, the yearning in her mind. She teeters on the brink of it and then that stupid stubbornness pulls her back.

He’s not sure whose disappointment he’s feeling when she draws away.

“I want to kill Snoke. That’s all this is about.” It costs her to keep her voice steady, focused on what she’s saying and not the dreams that dance before her eyes. “The Resistance is just a way to ensure our success.” Rey shakes her head slowly, crosses her arms over her chest and looks up at him. “Do you have any better ideas?” When he doesn’t say anything, a sharpened urgency ripples through their connection. She needs so badly for him to believe what she says. “I swear that I will do everything in my power to keep you safe from them.”

Her eyes bore into his, her gaze and her words rich with conviction.  It would be so easy to believe her, to succumb to her beguiling stare and passionate speech, let them drug him to dull complacency, but he can’t do it. She wants to leave. Some part of her, the part that thinks the right thing to do is go back the Skywalkers and their Resistance, yearns to go back to them. She’ll have a different life there, something he can’t touch, can’t be a part of. He knows it won’t last, that she’ll outgrow the teachings of self-denial and neutrality, but by that point it will be too late for her to influence his fate at the hands of her so-called friends.

Rey swallows and his eyes flick to the base of her throat, the way the muscles work as she speaks. “Look into my mind, if you want. I won’t let them hurt you.”  She holds out her hand to him and their eyes meet.

His heart stutters before resuming in double time. The bond is a silence so deep it's profound.  There are no echoes of anger, no flashes of fear, nothing but an endless well of trust that she extends with an open palm. He’s never experienced anything so tempting.  A desire he hadn’t known until it was offered flares in his chest.

He couldn’t have resisted if he wanted to.

He doesn't try to still his shaking fingers as he reaches out and takes her small hand in his.  She interlaces their fingers and he sinks into the connection, into the bright, glowing truth of her mind.  The light of it blinds him, enfolds him, encourages him inward.  Fear is just a whisper here, an echo of his own useless emotion. Her belief is ironclad certainty here and it burns, the molten heart of a star.  She will protect him - against Snoke, against the faceless threat of Resistance leaders, against anyone who dares to harm him. The blazing sincerity brands itself into his soul, searing away his doubts.  

Rey speaks as she means. She knows what she's asking of him.  She knows that she will hold his life in her hands, alone against an army that has every reason to want him destroyed.  She had sworn to kill Snoke, and she will do whatever it takes to succeed.  She will do no less if he'd go with her to the Resistance, accept the danger, the ostracism, and bear the weight of his trust his life.

The feeling of welcome, of rightness, overwhelms him, and he hesitates for a moment - an eternity - as she moves towards his mind. His mind is not like hers. She will turn and run, know that he is just broken glass and bloodied hands where she is fire and steel.

Let her see what he is.

Peeling back the defensive wrappings, layer by layer, Rey flinches at what she finds. It's a deep chasm, a place of pain, fear, and rage. A raw, red thing. An open wound, that gapes and oozes, glistens wetly under her light. She recoils and he feels her shock and anger before he feels the sorrow. She doesn’t look away, doesn’t try to excuse or ignore what he is. She doesn’t pretend that he can be fixed or cleaned up with a little spit and polish. There’s a grim acceptance as she explores deeper, opens every door and faces what’s inside. There are truly vile things hidden behind some of the doors: bodies dead and cold, burned out husks of dreams, thoughts that writhe and pull back from the sudden exposure, try to escape her examination. Rey doesn’t flinch, her light undimmed, but she doesn’t linger, either, and he takes that as a mercy.

There are bits of decency buried in there too, things that glitter when she looks at them:  a promise to destroy those who would dare to hurt her, to oppose her, to stand in their way, visions that shimmer with color and want: The two of them towering among the stars, having cast down their masters, beyond the control or censure of old men, or anything else .  Able to do as they like, to stand above the games of the Light and the Dark. Free. Unafraid.

He doesn’t know how long they stay like that, marveling at their shared potential.

Rey withdraws first, guiding them back into their own separate bodies. They've sunk to the rough floor and her knees rest between his, one hand on the nape of his neck, pulling them together. He cradles her other hand in his, their fingers still entwined.  Her nose brushes his, her eyes wide and dark, and he tastes her breath on his lips. Kylo feels his vision calling to her, just as hers called to him, but she is still bound by superficial ties. Her gentle refusal skims against his thoughts, rueful but resolute.  She won't admit that, in the end, they want the same damn thing.   

“I’m not going anywhere with the fucking Resistance,” Kylo murmurs, freeing his hand from where it’s tangled in hers. He reaches up to smooth the hair away from her face, then following the curve of her ear back to her jaw, cups it in his palm. She shivers, twists her fingers in his hair. “But call your friends if you think they’ll come.”

He can’t look away from her lips, and his thumb follows the path of his eyes, grazes the corner of her mouth.  She sighs, hot on his fingers.  Resignation and disappointment whisper through their connection.

“Okay.” Her fingers flex and she tightens her grip in his hair, holding him in place for an extra heartbeat before she uncurls and stands. “Is there a comms station here? On a shuttle, maybe?”

“You’re just going to start broadcasting on public channels?” The feeling of her hands on him lingers. Kylo climbs to his feet, rubbing the back of his neck. “Sending anything from a shuttle is a terrible idea. They monitor communication here. Anything you send over Standard Clear’s going to be snapped right up, especially if it’s being broadcast from a grounded craft.”

“Where is it being monitored from?” She picks up on his thoughts immediately, eyes bright and sharp.

“Surveillance is overseen in a tower by the training room.” Kylo glances at the chronometer. “There will be a guard, but they should be getting lax in an hour or so.” He grimaces, turning away from her, and hopes it isn’t too obvious. “Do you have a way of contacting them?” He doesn’t want the details, doesn’t want to think about under what circumstances she might have traded contact information with those criminals; but there has to be something, someone, she thought of that prompted this lunacy in the first place.

Rey nods, “Yes, a private call code. He’ll help us.”

He ignores everything after the affirmative. “Okay. I’m going to hit the ‘fresher while we wait.” He hears her, feels her, stretching out tired muscles behind him as he drops his belt and outer robe on the bed, stripping off his shirt as he elbows by the curtain. He can sense her eyes on him, feels the spark of interest she takes in the strip of skin she had seen before he disappeared. Then her thoughts shift, reaching for meditation.

Kylo finishes undressing in the cold tile room and turns the shower on and steps under the spray. His hands move on autopilot and his mind wanders, skirting the no longer solitary edges of his mind. He needs this moment to get his feet back underneath him, to decompress and come to terms with what is going to happen next. He’s really going to do this. He’s really agreeing to let the Resistance bomb the shit out of the ancient temple and the home of his order, just so he can kill his master.

How does he get out, afterwards? How does he keep Rey with him? Can he? Would they leave without her? Would retrieving her be mission critical for them? She’ll follow them, he’s certain of that now. Snoke had been wrong - about the best way to deal with her, about so many things. Once Snoke’s gone, he’ll be the head of the First Order, and with that rotten heart torn out, he can do what needs to be done to complete his family’s legacy.

Yes, that’s what he’ll do. Rey can feed those idiots some story about a fight, his fall in battle, some lie to ensure that the Resistance never comes back, never thinks to look for him. She can go back to whatever calls to her for now. Their bond was strong enough to bridge the galaxy before all this started, and it is infinitely stronger now. He’ll always be able to find her, and she him. He’ll always be a touch against her mind, a face in her dreams.

Forcing her to stay with him now would gain him nothing.  She wants to be free, and will fight tooth and nail against any restrictions.  It will be better to let her go on her own terms.  He knows she’ll get bored, grow tired of Skywalker’s trifling inadequacies. She’ll reject the archaic nonsense he spouts, all of the rules dictating how to act, how to think.  He knows her now, and she knows there are alternatives. Once they are through the next two days, he will be subtle and wait until her desires and her dreams guide her back to him.

Sticking his head under the spray, Kylo lets the water drum against his skull for a moment before cutting the flow. He listens to the slow drip of water on tile, the gurgle of the drains. He’s confident in his plan. She will come back to him. He can do this.

They can do this.

He dries himself, dresses, and pushes out past the curtain. “It’s all yours.”

Rey cracks an eye at him from where she’s meditating on the bed and then nods. She repays him in kind for his teasing earlier, mind all smooth satisfaction as she walks away from him and tugs her shirt over her head, showing off an expanse of tanned skin that makes his mouth go dry before she disappears from sight.

Chapter Text

It is gratifying that Kylo is even more distracted by a bit of skin than she is. The smug glow carries her into the ‘fresher and over the slick tiles, buoying her mood. His focus lingers on her, on the curve of her spine and the slide of the shirt over her head, until she steps under the water.  Then it pulls back to tickle the edge of her awareness, and then she’s more or less alone again. Rey is  glad of this moment of almost-solitude, needs it to pull herself back together. She leans her forehead against the cool tile and breathes in hot, cleansing steam.

Opening herself to him had been difficult, frightening. Seeing inside his mind had hurt . The screaming vulnerability, the horrors he kept hidden, the grudges he nurtured and called his friends, cut into her like knives. For a moment, she'd regretted extending that trust, had considered turning tail and running - a scared child waking from a bad dream. But that would have destroyed what little was left of the angry, shattered man, so she'd steeled herself, let his suffering crash around her in waves, kept her eyes wide open.  She had looked on his crimes, his nightmares, his weaknesses, all the broken bits and jagged edges that he'd built into a fortress to protect himself from a lifetime of disappointment and pain.

But there is light, too.  Light that wants to strike out in her defense, light that craves strength so it doesn’t have to hurt or hide anymore. She wants to reach inside of him, cradle that spark in her hands, nurse it back to health.  She wants to see it grow and glow and burn through the mangled scarred skin he’s grown over it.

Rey thumps her head gently against the side of the shower and then sets to scrubbing herself down. She can’t change what’s in Kylo Ren’s head. It would be stupid, wrong, to try, and he seems, more or less, to have a handle on it for the time being. That has to be enough. She has other things to worry about. Call Poe Dameron. Arrange a Resistance airstrike. Kill Snoke. Everything else just has to wait until she finishes those tasks.

Step one: Call Poe. She has his public call code. He gave it to her as she boarded the Millennium Falcon, beginning her journey to Master Luke. For when he wakes up , he had said, and then he’d given her his reassuring smile. Finn had awoken, but she hasn’t forgotten the code.

She rinses off and shuts down the ‘fresher, mulling over how to move the conversation to its conclusion with all due haste. She doubts they’ll get more than a few minutes, lazy guards or not.  She has to convince him to get General Organa on the call. The general is first among equals. Master Luke’s sister. Ben Solo’s mother. Rey has to find the words to sway the general to pursue an attack against this facility, to convince her that this isn’t a trick or a trap.

Shivering, she dries herself and pulls on a clean set of clothes, tabling pointless worrying until she has Poe on the line. She will find the words to persuade them. She has to. Kylo looks up from the edge of the bed as she pushes out of the curtain, turning the holochron over in his hands. Rey raises an eyebrow at him as she tidies her hair. “Talking to Yali behind my back?”

“What? No!” Kylo tosses the box to the foot of the bed and stands. “I was looking at the designs on the box. The patterns on holochrons usually mean something, but I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

Rey hums at that and pulls on her boots. “Did you try asking her?”

“No.” Kylo shakes his head and joins her in dressing, pulling on the uniform that will turn him back into the First Knight of Ren: boots, surcoat, belt, mask. “She’s your teacher. I don’t think she’d tell me anything.”

“I think she likes you.”  

He pauses putting the mask on long enough to roll his eyes at her and then he’s gone behind the helm. “It’s time.”

She flicks a bit of exasperation through their connection. He’s not the only one who knows how to read a chronometer.  “Do we need sabers for this?”

“No,” Kylo shakes his head, “Non-lethal means only. Snoke will know if a Knight dies.”

“I understand.” Rey’s not sure if the emotion tying knots around her brain is relief or something more insidious. She can work within the instructions given.  Any tip off to Snoke off would be catastrophic.

The halls are empty as they retrace their steps from this morning. She reaches through the Force to sense for anyone approaching as they climb the endless white stairs. There’s a moment or two where boots ring through the hallways and she stills behind Kylo, but they encounter no one.

Kylo veers away from the door to the training room. Brushing his mind, she finds it quiet, serious, focused. He doesn’t like the plan, but he recognizes it as their best shot and that’s all she can ask for. Around a curve in the hall, they encounter their first guard, leaning against the wall. Kylo lifts his hand, and for a ridiculous instant she thinks it’s in greeting. Then the guard crumples where he stands.

When he'd done that to her, back on Takodana, flipped her conscious off like a light, she'd not sensed the tremendous extension of power it took.  She knows what to look for now. She knows his mind, the way the Force surges around him when he calls for it.  He can be so powerful, so smooth in his control.  It makes the hair on her arms prickle.  She'll have to ask him to teach her how to do that.

The pride radiating off him, kindled by her obvious interest, dances across her mind. Don't get too excited. It won't help against Snoke. He doesn’t turn back to her, just steps over the guard's limp body and jabs at the sensor embedded in the door frame.

If only it was that easy. How long does that last?

Two, maybe three hours. There’s another set of stairs, another door at the top. There’s someone inside. Be ready with your mind tricks.

Rey nods. Reaching for the Force, she floods herself with its power as Kylo punches in the keycode  and the door hisses open.

A Knight sits inside, unhelmeted and relaxed, watching a wall full of surveillance screens. “We’re not scheduled to switch for another hour, you know.” He doesn’t turn around. “Get back to your post.”

Kylo waves, willing the Knight into slumber, but she can feel it slide off the man’s mind without taking root. Stepping forward, Rey speaks, wraps the man’s mind in heavy folds of suggestion. “You are not surprised to see us. You are relieved of your duties. You will forget you saw us.”

The Knight whips his head around and stands without hesitation.  She pushes harder, but his thoughts are slippery and she can't hold them tight enough to bind him to her will. He draws a blaster from his hip with one hand, the other reaching out for a button on the console behind him. Kylo, It's not working!

MOVE. Kylo’s voice rips through her consciousness and Rey obeys, throwing herself to the side as a blaster bolt flashes through the air. It freezes inches before his outstretched hand. His other comes up, Force fumbling the Knight’s grip on his weapon.

Rey doesn’t waste any more time. The effort it takes for Kylo to balance the two extensions of power, to hold the bright slug of plasma and to fight their enemy’s will, is tremendous.  She feels him slip into anger, reaching for the well of rage and strength that’s never very far away from his thoughts. It warms their connection with a surge of power as he slams his will against the Knight’s mind again and again.

The feeling buzzes in her veins as she slips around the side of the room, strengthens her limbs as she leaps up on the distracted Knight’s back. She wraps her arm around his throat, squeezes his neck between her forearm and bicep. He drops the blaster, struggles against her grip as he falls to his knees, dragging Rey down with him. When he goes limp, keeling over, she pulls her knee up into the small of his back.  Mindful of the warning not to kill, she loosens the grip on his throat by a fraction. Beside her, Kylo steps to the side and lets the bolt of energy shoot harmlessly into the wall, where it leaves a small burn that almost blends into the dark duracrete. What do we do now? He’s seen them, will remember the fight.

Kylo raises a hand to his mask, releasing the clasps,  and then drops it to the ground.  He wipes the sweat out of his eyes as he kneels beside her. Help me with this. His gloved fingers press against the unconscious Knight’s forehead.

Balancing precariously on the fallen guard’s back, she covers Kylo’s hands with hers and follows the instructions in his head. They fall back into the vision of the black pool under the night sky and she lets him guide their shared power, light and dark, anger and calm.  It mixes in her blood and bones, then flows through them and into the Knight’s mind.

Through the movement of their shared Force, she feels him begin to erase, to replace, the Knight’s memories. Neurons shimmer and darken as Kylo’s will rewrites reality. It’s an awesome, intimidating, terrifying power.  Her fingers tingle where they press against the black leather gloves, as though they would start smoking had they been pressed to his skin.

He will remember none of this. Kylo’s voice shines in her head, warm and satisfied as he retracts his hands and stands. That was excellent work. You did well.

Rey scowls and climbs to her feet, suspicious of the compliment, uneasy at being used like that. She pushes the feeling down. It’s another thing to deal with once she’s free of this place, one more smudge of darkness to wash out. The idea that anyone could have the power to alter, destroy and rebuild memories like that is downright creepy. How can she know, truly, if her memories are her own or just someone’s idea of a sick joke?

Don’t think about that, Rey. You’ll drive yourself mad. His voice is a gentle comfort against her thoughts. She gets the sense that it’s a topic he’s spent time chewing over with his books, away from Snoke and the other Knights. Come on. We have work to do.

Joining him at the console, she ignores the video screens showing the endless empty halls and grounds outside.  Some of the technology is familiar to her - a radio is a radio - though most of it is much more advanced than anything she’s handled.

Hang on. Kylo hunches over the controls. We don’t want any logs of this. He taps in a few commands and straightens up. Okay, that should be a bit more secure. Go ahead.

Swallowing, her mouth suddenly dry, Rey hesitates. She looks up at Kylo, who, after a moment, nods down at her, resignation etched into his bare face, before turning away from the console. She leans down and punches in the call code with trembling fingers. There’s a hiss of static that goes on for a very long time.

Then a familiar voice, scratchy with sleep, cracks over the radio “Yeah, Dameron here. Who is this?”

Rey lets out a shaky breath, ignores the twitch of displeasure from Kylo Ren. “Poe! This is Rey. I need your help.”

“Rey? Rey! Shit, hang on…” There’s more static, a muffled thumping. “Okay. Rey! Hell, we’ve been so worried about you! Are you alright? What happened?”

Rey smiles despite herself. There’s just something about Poe that makes the universe seem a little less bleak, a little less lonely.  “I’m okay, really. Thank you. I know it’s late, but I really, desperately, need to talk to General Organa. Immediately.” Beside her, Kylo stiffens at the name. She holds her breath and hopes.

“General Organa?” His voice changes, and for an absurd moment, she hates not having a mental link with him. She doesn’t know what he’s thinking and that’s frustrating. “Absolutely. Hang on.”

Time passes. Each second that scrolls past on the surveillance camera readouts adds to the tension in the room.  Finally, the General’s voice cuts through the static. “Rey? Is that you?”

Kylo’s pulse spikes. Their connection slices through her awareness. Fear - fear always comes first, with anger hot on it’s heels - rips through his heart. Rey tastes the bile in his throat, sees the red flashing behind his eyes, feels the vertiginous shift as his stomach falls. He’s never been good at controlling his reactions and he’s trying so hard to keep himself together but his emotions shift like sand in a desert storm. She makes a wild grab for his hand and, catching it, pushes as much calm into him as she can. She fights to make out Leia’s words over the blood roaring in his ears. “It is, General-”

“Luke told me you left with no explanation, and we’ve heard nothing from you for days. Now you need my help. Where the hell have you been? What is going on?” The General’s sharp voice is modulated, betraying just a trace of weariness, of suspicion.

“I was kidnapped by the First Order.” Rey gulps. Kylo’s hand is shaking in hers. She pushes the mad-dog fury that rages just beneath his skin as far to the back of her mind as she can while trying to radiate serenity. “I’ve been trapped in their headquarters since I left Master Luke.” Rey follows up on that declaration. “Snoke is here, General. I can kill him. I can end this.”

“Snoke?!” General Organa is too dignified to screech, but it's a close-run thing. Her knuckles pop as Kylo’s hand clenches. It hurts, but nothing’s broken. “Where are you, Rey?”

Give me the coordinates. Kylo tightens his grip on her until pain shoots up her arm. He’s trying, holding desperately to the images of cool and starry skies she pours into his mind like the last drops of water under the desert sun. His head bows in a submission she hates, his shoulders shudder, and then she knows where they are. “I’m on Moraband, on the edge of the Outer Rim.” She reads out the coordinates Kylo had dumped in her head. “I need a major distraction for this. Something like an airstrike would be an enormous help.”

“Forgive me for speaking plainly, Rey.” The stern, controlled voice is back. Whatever composure that had slipped has returned to the General. “But how do I know this isn’t a First Order trap? Killing Snoke would be a coup. It could end the whole war.  You’re telling me that you have been allowed to learn your location and you’ve been given the means to communicate it to me.  I find that highly suspicious.” Now it’s Rey’s hand that clenches around Kylo’s fingers. “The Resistance will not give the lives of its fighters wastefully.”

“I’m sorry, General. I don’t have any way to prove my story. All I can say is that I’m telling you truth, and that I know you’ll do what is right. But I can't give up this chance.  I’m doing this whether you’ll help me or not. ” She swallows again, words choking in her throat, and clings to the faint points of light flickering in her mind.

“Rey!” Two voices crack over the connection. Her heart leaps into her mouth. She hadn’t realized Poe was still on the line.

“I can’t keep talking. It’s not safe.” Rey shakes her head, fights to keep her control. She’s so tired.  Kylo’s tenuously caged fury is grating, rough against her mind, and her hold on her composure is slipping.  “Just, if you can help, please try to leave the hangar intact.”

“Answer me one question.” The General’s voice is hard and brittle. “Have you seen Kylo Ren at the base?”

The urge to laugh is completely inappropriate and almost impossible to resist. Rey wrestles it down, breathes through her nose until the shaking stops. Kylo drops her hand and digs his fingers instead into the edge of the control panel, crumpling the metal shelf. His voice cracks in her head, desperate and fierce. Don’t you DARE.

The pressure of his thoughts behind her eyes pulls her back from the hysterical edge.  “Yes, ma’am. I’ve seen him.” Beside her, Kylo bends the shelf into a jagged L.

General Organa is silent for a long, long time. If not for the light indicating an open channel Rey would have thought the General had hung up on her. Then a sigh huffs across the channel. “I will see what can be done.”

“Best luck in battle, Rey.” Poe’s voice is rough, but it still brings a small smile to her face.

“Thank you.” Rey cuts the connection and rubs her temples. Either they’ll help or they won’t. Is there anything more she could have done to influence the conversation? She doesn’t think so, but still takes a few precious seconds to stare at the silent transmitter. She knew from the beginning that there were going to be risks involved. This doesn’t change anything, not really.

Kylo silently turns away from the mangled edge of the desk but his eyes are wet as he slots helm over his face. Their connection is quiet as he bends over the fallen Knight but she can feel the tumult raging in his mind. She helps him drag the guard onto the chair - his hands are still shaking. He manages to keep up the facade of calm as they make their escape out of the tower. It lasts until they’re back in the room.

“Kylo.” He doesn’t respond, his shoulders trembling as he removes his mask and drops it by the door.  He doesn’t look at her as he mechanically strips off his outer clothes, down to just his shirt and pants.  He’s on guard, raw and rough, using his strength to keep his mind hidden from her. The distance between them echoes in her head. Still avoiding her eyes, he collapses on the bed and rolls to face the wall.

I’m here. Rey casts the thought out to him as she kicks off her boots and shakes out her hair. Closing the physical distance, she climbs into bed behind him, resting her head on one arm and laying her other palm against his arm. We’re in this together.

“I know. ” His voice is heavy, uneven, but  he folds her hand in his and tucks it around his chest, scoots back until her cheek rests against his shoulder.

His broad back heaves once and he blows out a sigh as she curls around him. She smooths down his side with her free hand, letting it trail up his back and neck, into his hair. Her fingernails scratch lightly across his scalp and he sighs again, but it’s an expression of pleasure, not distress.  Their breaths sync as he slips into sleep, dozing off long before she does.

Chapter Text

Rey’s breath sighs through his shirt, her nose burrowing against his shoulder. His eyes sting with unshed tears and he can't tell if they're of rage or sorrow.  He squeezes them shut. Rey's hand sweeps from his shoulder to his hip, gentle and smooth, drifts back up to the curls at his nape. He lets out the breath he didn't know he was holding and forces himself to narrow his world down to the easy brush of her fingers along his scalp. She's soft and warm behind him, and her chest moves against his back in a meditative pattern he can't resist joining. He falls asleep tucked into the curve of her body and doesn't dream at all, an unexpected blessing.

When he wakes, dry eyed and well rested, she’s still twined around him, snug against his back, her hand fisted in the front of his shirt. He flexes his fingers and toes experimentally, not wanting to wake her yet, and spends a moment listening to her breathing. He feels strong, sharp, alive, as if the fires of the previous night had tempered him into a steel point.  

One day left.

Rey mumbles into his shoulder and tries to burrow deeper under the blankets when he rolls over to face her. She does still scowl in her sleep. He smiles at having that question answered, and the expression doesn’t feel out of place here. Her thoughts are thick with sleep, sweet and lazy as she rouses, and they slow the anxious pacing of his mind down to something that feels almost stable.

She blinks up at him, places her hands against his chest and returns his smile with one of her own. Time to get up? The smile is a little bit tender and a little bit resigned. She sits, rubs her eyes, ruffles her hair, and yawns hugely.

“We should get some more training in while we can.” His hand lingers against her back before he nudges her away.

“Right.” Rey stretches up and back, then gets up, hopping from foot to foot as she drags her boots on and crosses to the ‘fresher.

The walk to the Yali’s training room is quiet. The doors all answer to Rey’s commands, the holochron goes on its shelf, and he removes his helmet, gloves, and outer clothes before they warm up on the springy wood floor.  It’s a bittersweet illusion of what normalcy could be. He’ll take it while it lasts.

There’s a grumbled expletive when Rey opens the box, lavender light flooding the room. The light coalesces into the guardian and Yali stands before them once more. “You’re waking me up because it went well, I hope.”

Rey nods. “We recovered the saber. Tomorrow we kill Snoke.” Her certainty straightens Kylo’s spine as he joins her before the holochron.

Yali hums in thought. “You are both stronger today than you were yesterday. This is good. You know how to fight, how to use battle meditation, how to enter a mind meld. You are no masters yet, either of you, but we don’t have the time to worry about that. There’s very little left I can say that you don’t already know, deep down in your tiny brains. Yadda yadda, you know the deal: Trust each other. Be strong for each other. Don’t let that Dark Lord tear apart what you have made together. There is no one of you without the other, now. Ask of me whatever you like, and I will answer.”

“How do we handle sharing pain? Is there any way to turn that off? Techniques to deal with it?” Kylo asks, voice rough.

The old master’s chuckle is devoid of amusement, a sad, brittle sound. “You just… handle it, boy.” It almost sounds like an endearment this time. “It is the biggest downside of a bond, and it doesn’t just turn off. As you see through her eyes and think with her thoughts, so you feel with her body, and she with yours. When she hurts, you hurt. You know this already, I think.”

“Yes,” Rey answers for both of them, pulling up a memory of her first experience with the shared sensation, back when she had still been with Skywalker. “How can we manage it, though?”

Yali huffs, folds her arms over her chest. “The Force is what binds you together, girl. You cannot turn the connection off merely because part of it is inconvenient. However, there is a little trick that can make dealing with shared pain slightly less onerous: compartmentalization. It doesn’t stop the pain, doesn’t make it go away, but it can help keep you focused in the heat of battle, and, hopefully, let you live long enough to deal with the aftereffects.”

Her eyes flick to Kylo. He makes himself hold her gaze. “You know it well already, don’t you? Yes, I see it in your eyes, in your movements. You put everything that isn’t anger or fear into tiny little boxes. You bury them so deep inside that you forget they’re still there, waiting to be opened.”

Rey tenses beside him.“Can you teach me?”

Yali sniffs. “Of course I can, child, and I will. What kind of teacher do you think I am? Move my holochron to the floor and we will sit together and practice. All three of us.”

Practicing is guided meditation, followed by more fighting, a distraction as well as practical necessity, and then meditation with her palms against his. Melding their minds and breaths comes almost naturally now. He’s lost, deep in that cool, quiet space under the wide star-strewn sky that Rey loves when Snoke’s voice saws against his thoughts, yanking him back into his own body.

Attend to me now, Kylo Ren. I wish to know of your progress on our little star.

Rey hears it, too. Her eyes snap open a moment after his, wide and dark with fear. Their connection shivers. “Kylo.” She reaches for him, anxiety rolling off her like steam.

“Don’t!” He pulls away, scalded, scrambles gracelessly to his feet, almost falls as he strides over to the gear he had discarded.  She’s nervous, jumpy, and it saws at his fraying nerves.  Kylo doesn’t turn back  to her. He can’t.  Not now. He shakes his head. “Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.” She draws back from his mind and it’s like walking away from a fire into a cold night. Good.

Snoke will eat him alive if he’s not prepared.

He knows how to do this, how to disassemble himself into bite sized chunks, cut away the things Snoke would kill him for. He’s good at it. He’s done it a thousand, a million times. He starts with the good things, the golden moments. The first time he heard her laugh. Her vision of the stars in that cool, dark sky. The moment of trust when she lay beside him for the first time. The simple, unfeigned delight in a new discovery.  Her unbendable defiance in the face of overwhelming adversary. Her constant pushing, constant challenge and the brilliant spark of her mind that calls to something deep inside him.

They are nothing to him.

A sliver of his self, the part that can still feel Rey watching him, objects to this, senses her agony as he rips away what they’ve built, burns down the  mutual trust and admiration that was coming to bridge their divides.  He destroys that part, eviscerates it and abandons it, bleeding out, where she can see.  It is weak, stupid, foolish.  He has no use for it and he leaves it to rot.

The surcoat is heavy black wool and he dons it like armor. It falls to his ankles, swathing him in the comforting resentments of a hundred wounds nursed alone. He basks in that feeling, the violence and rage surging back into his mind.  It returns so easily, his first and only friend.

The bond tugs at him, a weak, distant sensation. He throws it away, slams the walls of his mind up, lets the emptiness echo through his being. It’s a perfect agony, hard and icy. It makes him sharp. It makes him strong.

His gloves are shiny with wear, scarred over the first two knuckles on his right hand. They are his true skin, covering weak flesh that hints at humanity, vulnerability.

He is not human. He is not vulnerable. He is power, dark and terrible, a perfect extension of Lord Snoke’s will.

The mask is last.  It always is.  It’s heavy, and that is as it should be.  The mask carries the glorious burden of promise, of duty, of destiny.  He cradles it, staring into the empty eye slit, eyes chasing the glints of silver around the edges, then glances up at the girl. His eyes burn.

She stands across the room, afraid, defiant, and oh so beautifully breakable.  A useful tool, an amusement, a weapon to wield against his enemies. Nothing more. Nothing more.

He lifts the helm over his head and is engulfed, seals hissing as they clamp shut around his face.

He is reborn.

Kylo, First Knight of Ren.

He stares at the girl a moment longer and then dismisses her. She is irrelevant. His Lord has called him, and that is all that matters. Her anguish is nothing to him, and it fades to a dim memory as he strides towards his Master.

Each step rings with cold fury, the beat to a mantra that turns in his head, a prayer wheel spinning. I am Kylo Ren, First of the Knights of Ren. The blood of Darth Vader flows in my veins. The blood of the Jedi is shed by my hands. I walk the path of the Sith Lords. I serve Lord Snoke in all things.

The door to his Master’s seat is open for him. The gloom slithers through his mind as he enters, approaches the column of blinding light and kneels in obeisance. This is where he belongs. This is what he is.

Lord Snoke’s gaze weighs on his shoulders, and Kylo genuflects further, lowering his head by inches.  “You have had two uninterrupted days, my apprentice. Tell me: what progress you have made on Skywalker’s location?”

The terror washing over Kylo is unfeigned. His Master will be furious with another display of incompetence. “She resists, my Lord, but she is bending to me…”

He silences himself as Lord Snoke raises a hand. “Approach.” The word is heavy with compulsion.  It hauls Kylo up as he staggers up the high steps and falls at Snoke’s feet. His Master leans forward, staring deep into his face, gaze unimpeded by the mask. “You should have pushed harder.” Snoke’s voice is oily smooth, almost seductive. “After all, if you cannot do this, well, it will hardly matter after tomorrow.” He rests his palm against the back of Kylo’s head, a sick mockery of comfort, stroking a thumb against the thick wool hood as he digs into Kylo’s thoughts.

The touch to his head is gentle, but Snoke ransacks Kylo’s mind with a brutal efficiency that leaves the apprentice in awe.  His Master’s control is absolute and he can do nothing as Snoke sifts through the leaves of Kylo’s sanity, lingering on a choice selection of pages. The memory of his nightmare brings a distorted laugh and a thoughtful hum to Snoke’s lips. Kylo’s guts wrench in agony as Snoke delves into memories of meditation, training, sleeping.

“My little star has become so very fond of you, my apprentice. I can hardly believe it.” His Lord’s soft voice muses, a predator toying with it’s prey.  “She thinks she knows you. She is mistaken.”  The fingers on the back of Kylo’s head hold him rigid, still stroking gently. “Such trust, such kindness, wasted on a broken, ravaged thing. How foolish she is.” Snoke leans forward, jerks Kylo’s masked face up to his own. “How foolish you are, Kylo Ren.”

Blunt nails dig into his scalp as Kylo attempts to sit up and he surrenders, rests his head against the stone between his Master’s feet. Terror blacks out his mind at the secret’s discovery. “She means nothing to me, Lord.”

Snoke yanks him up as though he’s a ragdoll, switches his grip from the back of Kylo’s head to his throat, long fingers curling around his neck.  “I see it in your head. She was soft under your hands, was she not? You know the smell of her hair like you know the taste of blood.  Do not lie to me.  Your thoughts reek of her.  You ache for her touch.  You have never wanted anything the way you want her.  How... pathetically predictable.”

He cannot deny the truth, not here. His head pounds as the pressure of Snoke’s grip increases. “I will do whatever pleases you best, Master.” It comes out barely a whisper.

Lord Snoke relaxes his grip at last, rasps his thumb down the side of Kylo’s mask. “I have no doubt of that.” The pale tongue flicks over the scarred lips. “Would you like to know what would please me best?”

His Master does not give him the time to respond before dropping the images into his mind, shrapnel bombs that tear into his soul.

Her face streaked with tears, dirt, dark bruises around her eyes, a mottling ring around her throat. Screams that go on for days. Blood on his hands, hot and slick and crimson. Her limp body shuddering, naked and small. That defiant spark in her eyes guttering out, her independence ripped up by the roots. Their bond severed with surgical precision, the last of his weakness destroyed. Her head in his lap, her grudging warmth transformed into slavish devotion. Soft brown hair wrapped around his fist.  Hazel eyes, feverish, fanatical, turning up to him, to Snoke. Childish delight as they annihilate the Resistance together, hand in hand. Her mouth eager, warm, desperate to please him. A smile, wide and vacant, spreading as he ruts into her on the stone floor before the throne, her flesh unresisting beneath him.

The hand around his neck disappears and Kylo falls heavily on his hands, fighting to keep control of of his stomach as bile rises in the back of his throat. The light in the chamber is different and his legs are numb - how long was he trapped in the vision? “Whatever pleases you best, my Lord.”

“That is your future, boy.” Snoke props his chin on his palm and looks down at the shaking man. “Everything you ever wanted, right at your very fingertips.” He smiles. “Built by your own two hands.” Kylo bites his tongue, hard, to keep himself from screaming. “We’ll be such a beautiful family, the three of us.” Then he flicks his hand, an easy, lazy gesture, and bowls Kylo backwards down the steps into a heap on the basalt slabs. Blood fills his mouth. Snoke continues, “You are, of course, welcome to continue your feeble attempts at persuading the girl to submit of her own accord. I will have Skywalker’s location from her tomorrow either way.”

“Thank you, my Lord.” Kylo’s voice is thick, his mouth coppery and sharp.  “I will not fail you.”

“You have already failed me, but I am certain you will spend the rest of your time with the girl being appropriately… persuasive, so as to not disappoint me further.” Snoke considers his apprentice and dread grips at Kylo’s insides as his Lord’s fingers tap the arms of his chair. “Perhaps I should demonstrate my meaning.”

Kylo swallows and grits his teeth as his Master’s power lifts him off the floor. As he rises into the air, a deep neural pain spiders across his chest, up his neck and down his back. The agony cuts away at him until he’s just raw nerves. Snoke turns his attention to a data pad on his lap, getting on with other things.  

Kylo’s screams last for hours.

He’s only superficially aware when he crashes back to the ground, twitching feebly as the torment fades and Snoke turns his attention to him once more. “Do we understand each other?”

Kylo moves his mouth, blood dribbling over his lips, but makes no intelligible sound. He nods, helpless to stop the low moan that escapes.

“Then we are done for the moment. ”  As Kylo crawls to his feet, Snoke adds, “You know, your grandfather spent days breaking your mother. I wonder how long it will take you with our sweet little star. Care to wager, Kylo Ren?”

His legs spasm and shake as he stands, scarcely capable of bearing their own weight. His pulse roars in his ears at Lord Snoke’s words, rage burning back to life, cauterizing the broken, flayed parts of his mind. “Two days,” he grits, licks at the blood that drips from his nose.

“Such confidence,” Snoke chuckles. “You are an artist, my boy, and great works must not be rushed.” He flicks a hand at the door, “Sleep well, Kylo Ren. We’ve got an early morning tomorrow, the three of us.”

He’s alive, more or less.  Kylo drags himself out of the hall. Every false memory, every promise of pain and terror and pleasure screams in the void between his ears. It echoes and reverberates until he burns with fury, lashes out with his fist against the carved stone, mouthing a silent scream that is swallowed by his mask. The stone cracks, pain shooting up his arm and the leather stretched over his knuckles darkens as his skin splits. He does it again because it feels so good to hit something, to give suffering meaning through action. He breathes, blood mists the inside of his mask as wrath brings the strength he needs to climb the stairs leading out of Snoke’s cave.

A trio of Knights pass him on the way down, giving him a wide berth. The rage in his head screams for release, begs to unleash itself on them. He denies it, trudges onwards, through an eternity of black stone.

He reels as sanity, conscious thought begins to bubble back to the surface.  

He’s going to kill Snoke. That comes back first, burning through his brain like a wildfire. He’s going to kill Snoke and become Supreme Leader. He’s going to tear Snoke apart and laugh as he does it, rip out the shriveled black heart and hold it beating in his hands, offer it up to Her. A gift, an offering. It will be beautiful, a great work of art, just as Snoke declared. In taking it, She will embrace the darkness in her soul and Her rightful place by his side. Her first taste of conquest will be sweet. She will adore it, hunger for more, and he will provide. Together they will devour galaxies. Nothing will stand in their way.

Her. The Girl. Rey.

Kylo stops in his tracks. The doors of his mind all fly open at once and the memories, the self he’d built with her over the past two days, the self he’d bound and gagged, discarded to hide from Snoke, comes rushing back.  Tears blind him and he almost collapses to the ground outside his room.  

The door opens before he can raise his hand.

Rey stands just beyond it, swimming in one of his spare shirts. Her eyes are wide, defiant and she catches him as his legs give out and he pitches forward.

Chapter Text

He devolves before her eyes, calling up a tidal wave of his endless hate.  It slams over him, washes away the man she’s coming to know.  Suddenly, she’s afraid of him again.  Kylo’s face is stone, his lips are ash, his eyes are fire.  He seizes his tabard with unconstrained violence, and he pulls his gloves on like he’s striking at soft flesh.  Rey snatches the holochron and scrambles to the farthest side of the room.  Yali is silent and drawn in her hands, gazing, wary, at the man Kylo’s becoming again.  Like his face and bearing, his mind has transformed.  It’s all twisting, glinting metal, warping and writhing against her awareness, a nightmare vision of hot blood and fury.  

Rey throws walls up around her mind in response to his, no longer trusting him to remember that they’re on the same side.  He looks at her once, cursory, dismissive.  Then he puts the helmet on, erasing the man who sneaks into the archive to read philosophy texts, who laughs when she fights dirty, who sighs when she slides her hands through his hair.  A monster glowers from behind the visor, weighing her value, considering how she’d taste as a meal, before turning on his heel and storming away.

The beautiful hangings whip in the wind kicked up by Kylo’s furious departure.  Rey tries to focus on them, on the dancing images of ink and thread, and works to regain her composure.  Yali speaks, her voice piping up from Rey’s hands, but the words flutter past her ears like the hangings before her eyes, devoid of meaning or comfort.  

Kylo Ren is with Snoke, bound and gagged in a prison of his own making, a prison in his mind.  She knows he’s locked that self down to protect himself, to protect her, at all costs, but his ease in transition turns her stomach.  She swallows thickly as the holochron powers off.  The room is too quiet now, too empty without Kylo or Yali, and her thoughts are too loud here.  She tidies away the discarded training equipment, sneaks to the cafeteria to steal two bread rolls, and returns to the empty bedroom.

The door opens and then slides shut with only a brush of her will to direct the Force.  Rey places Yali’s box on the shelf by the door and eats half of a roll before her stomach begins to rebel, nerves overpowering appetite.  She decides to take another shower - a novel luxury - before trying to meditate.

The pain blossoms in her mind as she’s rinsing the soap out of her hair, an anguish that brings her to her knees on the wet tile.  She curls in on herself, hugging her scraped knees to her chest under the rapidly cooling spray, reaching, desperate, for the training Yali had introduced this morning.  She tries to focus on little boxes full of emotion and pain sliding away into place in her head.  When that fails, she tries to meditate, to do anything that might ease her suffering, might give Kylo Ren the will to resist, to survive.

The water has slowed to a frigid trickle by the time the pain subsides.  It takes a moment to regain her feet, to slam off the sluggish flow, stagger to the pile of dark clothes behind the curtain.  She rubs herself dry with what speed her frozen fingers can manage, pulls on a pair of pants and a shirt that swamps her and smells of Kylo’s skin.  Rey pulls the collar up over her nose, fills her lungs with the Kylo she knows, lets it engulf her.  Hugging her arms over her chest again, she sinks onto the bed and slips into meditation, kneeling again before that black pool.  She waits, quiet and not-quite-calm, watching the surface simmer and seethe.

She’s pulled back from the cool, dark place when he leaves Snoke’s chamber. Rey cries out when he hits something, hard. Her hand aches, a cracked knuckle crunching, and she cradles it in her lap. A firewall of rage and pain slams in her chest as his wrath redoubles a thousand-fold, burning the last vestiges of her trance away. Hot tears slide down her cheeks with each of his thudding footsteps. She scrambles from the bed, sensing his approach. She needs him back, needs her Kylo back, not the beast he’d reverted to.

The door opens at her thought, and she catches the flash of motion as he raises a black gloved hand, stares into the empty mask.

Kylo Ren takes a step towards her and crumples. She catches him under his arms, hands locking around his back and slowing his descent to the floor. He brings her down with him, hard edges of the mask cutting into her stomach as the door slams shut behind him.

“Kylo?” The connection is numb - anesthetized, not dead, never dead. He’s in shock. Kylo’s chest rises and falls twice, then his arms lock around her, crushing her body to his. He clings to her, a drowning man tossed a rope. He flinches, shivers, as she pushes the hood back from his mask, fingers fumbling to find the clasps that will release it.  The helmet hisses, falls from his face, lands with a heavy thud on the duracrete floor.  

He’s so pale under the blood.  His face is a mess, scarlet at the temple and from the nose down, eyes wet and burning.  He blinks at her, a tear running down to mingle with the blood on his lips, and for an instant the nightmare he’s lived is hers. It rips through her and is gone as he closes his eyes and deflates.

“He doesn’t know.” The words cost him. His throat is raw from screaming, his voice cracked and broken. He doesn’t know repeats softly in her mind over and over and there’s such relief in their connection that she has to blink back tears herself.  Using the sleeve of his stolen shirt, she works to get the worst of the blood of of his face.

Thank you,” she says aloud and then again through their connection. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Something breaks in him, a dam bursting open, and her mind floods with his anguish. She pulls him higher on her chest so that his head weighs against her shoulder and strokes his sweat and blood-matted hair back from his eyes, his ears, his neck.

He groans, leans into her touch, pins her in place against him.  Rey slips her free hand down between their bodies, works at the clasp of his wide belt, pushes the robe off his broad shoulders so it pools on the floor.  He’d barricaded himself inside his clothing, his armor, and she hates it, hates the way he surrendered himself without a second thought.  It was the only way to save them both, and she hates that too, with a passion she didn’t know she had.   The long column of his neck is beaded with sweat and streaks of red, but she doesn’t care. She buries her face into the curve where his shoulder and neck meet, breathing him in. He peels off his gloves and pushes his bare hands up under her shirt, spreading his fingers across the skin of her back.

There’s nothing to say, nothing that can’t be more perfectly expressed in the surging bond between them.  She takes everything; pain, terror, rage; and gives back all she has; comfort, strength, gentleness.  They ache together, kneeling, wrapped around each other, silent.  He isn’t okay.  How could he be? But as she gives and gives, he begins to take and to rebuild his sanity, brick by brick. She scavenges through the ruins of his mind, helping him to find the small, shiny treasures he’d slashed out of his heart before going to Snoke. They polish them together, buffing out dents and scratches, until they’re as whole as they were before.

Minutes, hours pass like that, a vigil shared in silence as he sews himself back together, patchwork.

Then he sags back on his heels, hands sliding to her hips before ghosting up to the sides of her face. She reaches to hold his hands in place, feeling the sting where her fingers meet the open flesh of his knuckles. “You scared the shit out of me, Kylo.” Her voice breaks, comes out a sob. “How can you live like this?” Seeing him sick, broken, twisted and lashing out makes a part of her bellow in anger, in a fury to match Kylo’s own. That part of her rears up and screams in savage joy that they’re going to kill Snoke tomorrow, put him down like an animal.

He gives a tiny shake of his head that flicks the hair out of his eyes, ignores her question. “You should be fucking petrified.” His eyes darken, his words hot against her skin.  He straightens himself, sits up so he looks at her from above.  He strokes her cheek with a thumb and it lingers by the corner of her mouth before he slides his hands down her neck to rest, heavy, on her shoulders.  His grip digs into her, hard . “If Snoke lays a finger on me, if he gets into my head… I’m not going to be able to stop him.” His eyes burn into hers. She wants to look away, to make a joke, to stop him from saying what she knows is coming, but she doesn’t. “You have to kill me if that happens, Rey.” She opens her mouth to say something but he just speaks louder. “Don’t fuck around with the Force tricks. Don’t leave a damn thing to chance. You know what will happen if you lose.”

“Would you kill me?” Rey lifts her chin, defiant to the last. Her gaze doesn’t waver, its force undiminished by the tears stinging the corners of her eyes. “If Snoke gets into my head, turns me against you, will you be able to take me down?  Put a sword through my heart and finish the fucking job?”

His stomach drops and his vision goes cloudy for a moment. The terror is a roaring void, sucking and stretching him into an endless cycle of agony.  He’s drowning in an ocean of dread but her words strike a match and the ocean ignites, not water but starship fuel, and it blazes in unquenchable, voracious rage.  His grip tightens on her again before he lets her go, leaning to snatch up the mask. The crown begins to cave beneath his long fingers. The bedframe behind them shudders against the floor, and Yali’s box jumps on its shelf as Kylo’s control wavers.  “If Snoke gets you…” He won’t look at her, turns to hurl the mask against the wall.  It connects with a sharp crack and crashes to the floor, visor shattered in its frame. “If Snoke gets you, it’s over.”

“Don’t you dare!” Her voice cracks and her fingernails dig crescents into her palms as she fists her hands at her sides. He can’t ask it of her without promising to follow through himself. “Don’t you fucking dare say that, Kylo. We’re in this together , remember? Whatever it takes.”

“Rey-” He turns back to her, face setting.

She sees the argument forming in his mind and she’s having none of it.  It’s pure instinct, what she does next.  Grabbing the front of his bloodied tunic, she jerks him forward, swings her other hand up to fist in his hair, and presses her mouth hard to his.

His lips are soft against her rigid grimace. Her hurried considerations of lips, of kissing, never really got this far, and her imagination had not hinted at the response a kiss could get. Kylo exhales and then reinflates, a moment of blank shock ringing through their connection before he opens his mouth to hers, an invitation.

He cradles her face again, and his other arm wraps around her shoulders, urgently pressing her body to his.  She is suddenly aflame with curiosity - she’s swallowed that burning ocean of rage and is set alight in turn.  She tastes him, licks cautiously into his mouth, finds blood and something deeper, something she wants to chase. His thumb teases the corner of her mouth and he deepens the kiss, making her fingers flex against his scalp.  Rey presses up and into him, a shaky need vibrating between them that makes her head buzz.

Her hand slides up, releasing the front of his shirt to run appreciatively over the thick cords of his neck. She mirrors the splay of his fingers across her jaw, holding his face still as she turns her head to explore depths of his mouth.  He pulls back, nips at her lower lip, sending lightning through her veins to gather, hot, at the small of her back.  She gasps at the sensation and he swallows it greedily. The arm around her shoulder lowers his hand curling under her shirt to dig into her hip.

Kylo sits back and she must follow him or break their kiss, and that’s no choice at all.  She climbs onto his lap, a thrill shooting up her spine when she finds him already hard. She licks into his mouth again, and he moans at the unexpected friction of her hips. She shudders with pleasure, pulling back to bite gently at his lips. He positively growls , and the filthy sound shoots another spike of lightning down to her core.

She wants more of that feeling and he knows without being asked.  His chuckle is dark, sinful, perfect against her throat and he bites down there, hard enough to make her gasp again.  He scoots them so his back rests against the bedframe and she grins down at him, catching her breath. She can’t stop touching him, she never wants to stop touching him. She smooths an errant lock of hair off his forehead and traces the scar that slashes from eyebrow to cheek, and drops a kiss on it’s terminus by the corner of his mouth as she runs her hands down his neck, across his shoulders, along the hard definition of his arms. She bows over him, barely brushing his lips with hers.

“Kylo.” She relishes the taste of the word, the way her tongue rolls with it, the way whispering it against his lips makes him shudder.  He pulls her to him and she grinds down as they kiss, heat pooling between them. He tips her head back and kisses her neck, biting and sucking until the stars in her head are swirling constellations of bliss.

She’s always been a quick study.  She rolls her hips, regaining the high ground as his head falls back on his shoulders with a rumbling cry.  His hands skate under her shirt, up her back, short nails dragging and driving every thought from her head as she arches into him.  She wants more and more and more - this is better, more necessary now than rations or sleep or water in the desert.  She grabs at the hem of the borrowed shirt and yanks it over her head.  He looks up, stares at her, open mouthed, like a blind man given sight. The heat between her legs is overwhelming now, and she rubs herself against his obvious erection.

“Rey.” She’s never heard that tone before, his ragged voice catching, but it’s full of liquid heat and she wants nothing more than to hear her name tumbling from his lips again.

Chapter Text

Rey settles her weight over his lap, her knees framing his hips, and Kylo has to tilt his face up to look at her.  He doesn’t mind.  He would stop time if he could, stay like this forever. She’s looking down at him with an exquisite longing, reverential and awe-struck. Her eyes are wide and dark as she draws her fingertips over the scar slashing his face but there’s no sorrow when she presses her mouth to it.  An acknowledgement, not an apology.  She dances her hands down his neck, drags her palms across his shoulders, traces the lines of his arms.

She bends forward and her hair brushes his cheek.  It smells like his soap, like her. He leans up, desperate to close even this small distance, and then she says his name. The way she murmurs the syllables against his mouth is obscene and he wants her to say it again, over and over, just like that. She keeps herself just out of the reach of his lips so that only the ghost of her breath caresses him.  He would have never imagined that she’d be such a fucking tease. He surges forward, thrusts his hands up into her hair and pulls her to him. She responds in kind, grinding down on him experimentally.  He tightens his hands in her hair, tipping her head back, kisses down her throat, all lips and teeth and tongue.  Her skin is salty and hot, her pulse hammering against his lips.

She rolls her hips again and his brain short circuits, leaves him seeing stars as his head falls back, a feral moan ripping up from his chest.  His hands move, almost without thought, under the hem of her shirt, his shirt . He drags his nails up her back, knows he’s leaving marks across her skin, and the feeling of the tingling sensation across his own back makes him harder still.  She wants to lose control, is desperate for more and more and more. She snatches her hands off of him and for the briefest moment he thinks she’s going to stop and his world is about to end but instead she grabs at the hem of the shirt and tears it over her head in a quick, impatient movement.

His mouth falls open and he’s gaping at her like an idiot, hands still on her back, but she remembers how to move even if he’s forgotten. Rey arches her back, rubs herself against his erection again and, fuck, she’s so hot there. He can feel her even through all these layers of cloth. He whispers her name through split lips, a groan, a plea, a prayer. “Rey.”

The bond between them blooms at her name, her face bursting into a brilliant smile as he memorizes the swell of her ass, the curve of her hips, the soft plane of her stomach, the hard ridges of her ribs.  She meets his eyes when his fingers hesitate at the edge of her breast band. The smile only grows when he dips briefly, teasingly, underneath the fabric and she lets out a soft, high sigh, moves against his hand.  He reaches behind her, urging her body forward to his mouth, presses a long kiss to her sternum.  Electricity crackles between her fingers and his scalp as she clings to him, electricity that collects and pools in his stomach when she pulls him up to kiss her mouth.  She doesn't let him linger there, and he’d be disappointed at that, but her clever mouth skips down, sucks a mark on his neck, stops to tongue at the hollows of his clavicle before biting just hard enough into the meat of his shoulder.

Peeking up around his neck, she notes the bed behind him.  The thought zips from her mind to his before he can voice it aloud.  Rey laughs, shivering, delighted, when he rises with her still in his arms.  It takes no effort, but he’d stand here all night with her ankles locked behind his back and his arms under her thighs, kissing her senseless, if it would make her laugh like that again.  It seems a shame to drop her onto the bed, to break this connection, but he does it just to hear her indignant squeak of surprise and to see the cross look flash in her hazel eyes. He grins down at her and it feels almost as good to smile as it does to kiss her.

She sits, surprise at the falling fading back into desire , pushes his shirt up his torso.  He takes the hint, pulls it over his head, lets it fall to the floor. The desire flowing through their connection is heady, intoxicating, and her eyes burn as she places a hand over his heart.  She begins mapping the scars on his body, sketching over wounds long healed. There’s a rushing in his head as she runs her palms over his chest and down to the puckered mess of his side. The scar is still pink, still shiny, and Rey leans to inspect it, the tip of her nose brushing his ribs.  Her breath tickles the hair below his navel, sends a shock straight to his groin.  She looks up at him from under her eyelashes, snags him by the belt loops and presses a lingering, searing kiss over the bowcaster scar. Her thoughts brush against his, admiration at his strength, respect for his resilience, sorrow for his pain.

His mind races with all the other things she could do with her mouth, what he could do with his . Her eyebrow quirks at him and she sends a staggering array of suggestions to him through their connection.  His cock jumps in anticipation and she huffs out a breathy laugh against his side. He cups the curve of her jaw in his palm, lifts her gently until she stretches up, flush against him. She kisses like a woman starved, hard and insistent, then hooks a leg behind his knees and falls back, pulling him down on top of her.

Kylo catches himself before he crushes her and adjusts his weight onto his elbows, hands framing her face, and shakes his head to flick the hair out of his eyes.  She curves her spine, nudging her breasts up against his chest through the fabric of her underwear, tangling her legs with his.  He kisses her into the pillow and she wants him closer, begging through the connection for more.

They always want the same damn thing.

Rey grunts, frustrated, as he pulls away, raises himself up on one arm. He wants to say something, but saying nothing feels even better. With his free hand he strokes across her brow, over the shell of her ear, across the swell of her cheek and nose.  She nips at his fingers, her hands flying to the back of his neck, trying to pull him down to her mouth. He presses a kiss to the inside of her elbow and slides a hand down her shoulders to her back, searching for the end of the cloth binding.  He finds it and she nods, her thrill shooting through their connection as she trembles beneath him.  Kylo unwraps it with adrenaline-shaky fingers, releasing her breasts to the cold air of the room.  Her nipples, dusty rose and perfect , pebble in the chill and he throws the cloth artlessly aside to free his hands.  She preempts him, pushes away his palms when he tries to cover her again.  She rolls her shoulders, gives an imperious lift of her chin, and leans back on her elbows, proud, on display. For him.

He flashes back through his dreams, his imaginings, and none of them compare to her reality.  He lowers himself, licks down her neck to the space between her breasts, brushes the impossibly soft skin with his lips and his hands.  A harsh flare of want shoots through their connection, burns from his mind through his veins to his aching erection.  She presses into the contact, pulling him with her down onto the mattress, holding him in place.  Her sharp gasp, the way she moans his name - “Kylo!” - both aloud and in his head when he takes a nipple into his mouth is utter, encompassing bliss.  She needs this, needs him . It’s a revelation and it blinds him, blots out all other dreams or desires.

He crawls up her body to recapture her mouth and she rakes his back with her nails.  His own need wraps around hers through their connection, twisting and dancing, escalating, always drawing closer together until they merge into a single indistinguishable demand. He is insatiable and his thirst is a visceral thing in his head that shreds his self-control. He pulls away, rests his head against her shoulder, watches her chest heave in time with his own, trying to cool his blood so as not to end this all before it really begins.

Rey cards her fingers through his hair again and Kylo pushes himself up to his knees.  There are no questions between them now, no anger, no fear.  Her pleasure streams through the bond as he slides his hands over her hipbones, down under the waistband of her trousers.  She squirms, cooing and mewling, arching and caving as he curls his fingers into the damp of her underwear.  His cock throbs he strangles another filthy groan.  She is so wet and he’s never seen anything as beautiful as she is now, wriggling beneath his hands in frenzy, ecstatic.

She’s struggling with the cord that holds up her pants, pushing the trousers over her hips and down her thighs when the first subsonic boom rips over their breathless gasping.  A second later the room shakes and she clutches at him as the holochron rattles on the shelf.  Their eyes meet, noses almost touching, and they know.

The Resistance has arrived.

“Fuck !” She says it out loud and he thinks it, sharp and violent, at the same time. He disentangles his hand from her underwear and leaps off the bed, mind whiting out in panic.  Tossing Rey her breast band, he shrugs his shirt back on, emerging to see her re-wrapping her chest with brutal, efficient twists.  She curses violently as she struggles into her borrowed tunic, her hair a mess around her face.

“I fucking hate your friends,” he snarls, glancing at the chronometer that flips from 04:00 to 04:01. He tries to focus on the swirl of stars in her head, reaches deep into their connection as they dress and arm themselves: pants, tunic, belt, boots, lightsaber. Rey spares a moment to wedge Yali’s box under her belt as he pulls on his gloves.

This is all happening too fast, spiraling out of his grasp, and he takes a precious second to grab her by the shoulders as she raises a hand to the door.  There’s no time for declarations or speeches, so he just takes her face in his hands once more and kisses her roughly, one last time.  She stands on tip-toe, returning the kiss, ferocious, desperate. He sears the feeling into his heart as her fear and rage thrum in his veins, crystallizing into heavy, sharp things to throw against the world. He would rip apart the galaxy for her.  She would put it back together, more perfect than before, for him. She looks him in the eye and he nods, just once.

Then she’s waving the door open and they’re running, feet hammering against the tile as they retrace the familiar path back to Snoke’s cavern. A plan forms as they careen down the twisting stairs. Their best chance is to surprise the old monster, attack while his guard is down, depend on distractions to break his focus. Not having to speak aloud to hammer out the details of the plan is a huge boon - it saves their breath, conserves their strength. They slow to a jog as they approach the passage down to the cave.

It’s an odd thing to go before the Snoke as something both more and less than the First Knight of Ren. The Supreme Leader is sitting on his dais, datapad in hand, working. Kylo’s never known him to sleep.  Rey jogs beside him to keep up as they approach the platform. “My lord, we were on our way here when the rebel attack began!”

The broken face jerks up at the statement, nostrils flaring. “What? A Resistance attack? Why are you not leading the Knights against this assault, Kylo Ren?”

He raises an invisible eyebrow and Kylo nods. “The girl, my Lord-”

His eyes flick over Rey and he leans forward, eager, distracted. “Have you have done it then, my apprentice? Swayed her to our will? Let me see for myself.” Snoke cuts him off, crooks a finger at Rey.

Her boots scrabble against the tile as she’s dragged forward. Snoke means to touch her now. This isn’t what they had planned, but Rey seizes the opportunity, always looking for openings. A fierce joy, a silent clarion call to battle, an inescapable eagerness to fight surges through him. Rey’s battle meditation is far stronger now than in practice, and it surges through his mind. She’s accelerating as she skims up the dais, drawing in Snoke’s power to enhance her speed, lightsaber igniting as she swings down at the hand outstretched to reach into her mind.

Snoke's power flares as her lightsaber comes up, an ultraviolet strike flashing where the burning blue blade connects with his defenses before the saber bounces back.  Rey twists away from the snatching fingers, tucks into a tumble down the stairs. The scrape of stone against her shoulders barely registers, and Kylo ignites the beams of his lightsaber as she rolls up to her feet, back on guard.

There’s a moment of surprise on Snoke’s face and then he laughs, thick and gravelly. It echoes in the chamber as he stands before his throne. “So this is your game? Usurpation under the guise of an attack on my temple? You don’t have the nerve, boy.”

Rey circles to the side as Kylo whirls his sword through the air, big flashy movements intended to keep Snoke’s attention on him. He swallows hard, trying to get his heart out of his mouth. Despite his nerves, it feels good to be here, to be acting. Even if he is killed here, he will die defiant, no longer a puppet.

He snarls at his old master, lets the anger flow hot and bright in his mind. “Don’t I?” He rushes at Snoke, Rey darting in from the back, lightsabers humming through the air.

Snoke deflects his strike and Kylo strains against the carmine heat, too close to his face. Snoke comes up to grab him and Kylo blocks with his blade. The beam shrieking against the power from Snoke’s palms, he digs his boots into the stone and shoves . Snoke skitters back under the assault, bowing under a blue flash as Rey’s leaps. The distraction works for a moment before Rey is bowled back, crushed under an invisible weight. She grunts and Kylo exploits Snoke’s distraction for all it’s worth, carving dark slashes into the shielded, skeletal back.

Snoke spins back with an animal snarl, traps his blade, leers down at him through froth flecked lips, forces Kylo off balance. “In all our years together, you never once tried to raise a hand against me. This is no courage of yours, boy. One soft touch from a kind hand and you were seduced, Kylo Ren. I wish I was surprised. Do you think she will be impressed by this little display?”

Rey opens their connection, pulls in their separate pains and rages, cold tempering hot, forging a well of power to cut through the weight crushing against her chest. She frees herself enough to deflect Snoke’s reaching fingers with needle jabs of Force at his face and neck. Kylo seizes the opportunity to twist is weapon free from where it steams, mere inches from Snoke’s fist, and endures a harsh swat of power that sends him skidding away as Snoke turns his attention back to Rey.

“No, I believe this is the design of our dear sweet Rey.” Snoke waves the stinging power away, reaches out to her. Rey falls to her knees, tears at the pressure against her throat. “You had so much promise, girl, and you’ve wasted it on him.” Dark bruises bloom on her throat and Kylo feels her righteous indignation burn through the helpless choking panic and the poison rolling off Snoke’s tongue.  “He will turn on you in the end. You think you can use him? That is a delusion, you little idiot. You don’t even know what he is.”

Kylo pours his strength into her and with his help she is able to fight off the stranglehold, but something wrenches, pops, deep in her throat. He grunts, coughs in response, his own throat constricting.   Staggering, she charges back at Snoke, drawing his attention away as Kylo raises his sword and charges at the newly exposed side.

The Supreme Leader twists like a worm, limbs twitching just beyond the range of their saber strokes and then lunging after them as they wind up for the next attack. Long arms whirl and the broken face doesn’t change expression as an  arm flings out at Rey.  She flies forward with a snarl, skimming past Snoke and only a hard fall down those goddamned stairs saves them from being impaled on the other’s saber. The cut in his mouth breaks open again and he flinches as her forehead collides with the stone. Her skin splits, blood  sheeting into her eye. It’s a dizzying impact, and blood flicks from his mouth as he shakes his head to clear it. She pulls herself up the wall, blinking and wiping at her eye, growling low in her ruined throat as she turns back to Snoke, the blue glow of her saber unwavering before her.

The bond crackles with frost, an anger so cold it burns, and she charges. Snoke laughs, opens his arms as if to welcome her, and the floor beneath his boots ripples, a deafening explosion booming high above their heads. It shakes pebbles loose from the ceiling, sends shards hailing treacherously down onto their heads. It’s a necessary instant of distraction and her saber ejects a cascading  shower of violet sparks as it drags against the Supreme Leader’s side. Snoke’s eyes flick up to her and Kylo opens himself to the endless void of this place, channels every bit of power he has to slow his master, to weaken the lashing limbs as Rey batters at Snoke’s Force shields, blade hissing as it breaks through his shields, sizzles where it finds flesh.

Get away from him! Kylo screams into her head around the ringing in his ears, flinching as a cobble comes loose from the ceiling and shatters a few feet away from him. She complies, leaps back from Snoke, and for a moment he’s weak with relief as Snoke tears at the restraining tendrils of Force and turns his fury to Kylo. Dancing blue-white lightning zigzags across the open space and strikes his chest, setting his nerves alight with blinding pain.

Chapter Text

They are outclassed and she knows it from the start.  Fighting Snoke is like trying to take on a Star Destroyer with a speeder and a wrench.  Her strikes bounce off him in showers of sparks and steam.  Kylo’s voice roars in her head and darkness tears at their souls as he opens himself to the tainted power of this place, uses it to slow Snoke as she hacks at his sides.  The floor shakes under them and she stumbles, a corpse-cold finger grazing her cheek. Snoke’s power screams in her head for one blood-curdling moment.  It twists inside her and she almost loses contact with Kylo’s mind, becoming something great, terrible, monstrous.  Then it’s gone and the connection races back.  She trips over the heaving stones, falls hard.  Her head connects with the sharp corner of a stair and blood gushes down her face, into her eye, over her chin.  

She’s sent to her knees before she can fully rise by the pain that shoots through her chest.  She fights for breath, looking for Kylo with her unbloodied eye.  He sways, convulsing, writhing, trying so fucking hard to keep the pain to himself, to contain it within his own head. She hates Snoke more now than she ever has, wants nothing so much as to to plunge her saber into that hollow chest and burn out his heart.  Her legs shake as she drinks in the darkness of that hate, bathes herself in the black pool that boils inside Kylo’s mind.

The strength she gains is terrifying and she revels in it, uses it to power her leap. Rey flies over the cracking floor, slices down with her saber in a brilliant blue arc.  There’s almost no resistance as her blade connects with a spray of sparks, a sizzle of cauterized flesh.  Snoke lets loose a howl, wordless and agonized, as the lightning dies. His hand, severed at the wrist, spins to the ground where it lands with a gristly flop.  Another round of pounding explosions from above makes her duck, tucking into a roll past the still twitching hand, heedless of the stones digging into her back as Snoke turns the full brunt of his attentions to her.

Her hand twinges as Kylo pitches forward, catches himself oddly, and something in his hand snaps.  Snoke is still roaring and despite the pain, Kylo is able to gasp in a full breath, eyes going wide as they land on the severed gray hand.  His reprieve is short lived.  Snoke lifts his arms and lightning, dark and red as blood, pumps out of the stump of his wrist, shoots into Rey’s chest, flinging her across the room twenty feet or more.  The ache in her hand is forgotten as she hits the wall with a crunch.  The lightning rips into her and there’s no room in her head for anything but the agony.  She had thought that Snoke had been angry when he’d thrown her out of his chamber for a bit of impudence, but that was nothing compared to this towering rage. She falls, crumbling to the jagged stone and something at her hip cracks, crumples.

Yali!

Rey stops trying to comprehend the pain that wracks her body.  There is nothing to use as a comparison.  It is absolute.

The blasts barely register as the cavern shakes above, around, beneath her. Then Kylo’s voice slides through her mind, creating a defensive perimeter that gives her the strength to separate herself from the torment. He’s standing now, and Snoke turns back to him, attention diverted from Rey’s torture.   Get up, Rey! The cave is collapsing! We have to go, NOW!

She struggles to find her feet but her head feels so heavy and she almost falls again. Snoke is poised on the dais, one twisted hand raised to the ceiling, the stump of his wrist outstretched to Kylo.  Kylo has one long hand thrown out at Snoke, the muscles in his neck straining as he uses all of his strength to hold off his old master, but his attention flicks to her for a moment as she stands.  

“Look out!” Her voice is a weak croak that tears at her broken and bruised throat as Snoke moves to exploit Kylo’s lapse, now pointing both long arms at his apprentice. Rey sucks in a deep breath, pulling in the darkness and the light as a cadmium orange bloom of fire bursts through the cracks in the ceiling.  Both sides of the Force lick along her arm, speed out from her hand, following their connection as Snoke gestures to Kylo and pulls .

Digging her teeth into ruined lips, swollen from kissing, broken from the fight, she reaches for his power, his mind, his heart, everything that he is and calls it to her.  She winds a rope of Force around his essence and binds it to hers.  The stone buckles at his feet, wrinkling and bunching like a run in cloth as he is pulled between the two of them.  Kylo’s face distorts in a rictus of agony, every muscle straining as he tries to lash himself to Rey in return.

No longer supported by Snoke’s attentions, the roof begins to give way in earnest as another boom resounds through the cave. A massive chunk of stone smashes down between Kylo and Snoke, a boulder that splits into slabs the size of the bed they shared.  The impact throws both Rey and Snoke off and, for a moment, Kylo starts to fly back towards her, but another section of ceiling crashes down onto one of his legs, pinning him to the broken ground.

His scream reverberates in her mind and ears and something dark and terrible shifts in his mind.  A gale of Force power, wild and just past the edge of control, ripples out of him, ripping the broken paving slabs from the floor. The whirlwind sweeps up the broken pieces from the ceiling, the walls, lifts the boulder off of his ruined leg, and flings them at Snoke.

Heedless of the onslaught of falling stones, she runs to Kylo.  Rey tries not to look at the twisted mess of his leg, trains her eyes up on his face instead. She wipes more of the blinding blood out of her eye - her hands are slippery with scarlet now. Kylo, you have to get up. We have to get out of here! She doesn’t pause to speak aloud, just moves to heave him up.  He grimaces, cries out in pain, and she wants to scream at the agony in her back, the numb terror of his leg.  He struggles to stand and leans, heavy, on her shoulders.

“You cut off his fucking hand, Rey.” His breath is hot against her ear and blood bubbles over his lips as they struggle towards the stairs out of the cave as fast as she can hobble.  He’s in shock.

Yeah, I know . She doesn’t have the energy for speech, focuses her attention only on creating a dome of protection around them to deflect the sharp edges of stone that plummet around them.  They both glance over her shoulder at the deafening impacts as his whirlwind breaks apart against itself, tearing chunks from the black stone throne.  Snoke is nowhere to be seen.  Rey swallows the blood in her mouth, adjusts her grip on Kylo’s waist, and together they stagger out of the crumbling temple.

Explosions ahead and above them reverberate through her bones.  Now she’s relying just as heavily on the Force for support as he is relying on her physical strength.  His weight on her shoulder is excruciating, but he’s working hard to keep up with her as they ascend, so she doesn’t flinch when he looks down at her.  She’s alive, he’s alive. They can still make it out of this.

Of course, Snoke is still alive, too.

She redoubles her pace, soothing his hurts as much as she can through their mental link.  The floor buckles as they reach the top of the stairs.  She thinks of Yali, of the crushed holochron in her belt, and tucks as much of her pain as she can into a box in her mind.

Kylo directs them towards the hangar, giving her sight through his eyes when the blood obscures her vision again.  He takes the burden of the shield from her as a spray of glass and duracrete bursts from above them. Thick ashy smoke burns their lungs, clings to the gore around their mouths as the planet’s toxic atmosphere flows through the holes punched in the structure around them.

The entrance to the hangar is a heavy blast door reinforced with steel, but together they crumple it inward with a burst of power that makes her ears ring.  They lurch, off balance, into the intact building, Kylo’s intent guiding them down the rows of craft to his personal shuttle. The Force alerts her an instant before a cluster of Knights emerge from behind the closest ship. Kylo’s bloody hand clenches around her arm, the grinding of his shattered bones just more noise in their shared symphony of agonies.

“Kylo Ren-”

He pulls power from deep within himself, from within her, and raises his other hand, still holding his saber in a death-grip.  The knights stagger, and then two fly back, smashing head first into the side of the ship hard enough to dent its exterior.  Rey feels them die, and Kylo ignites his saber. I wish that had worked better flits through her mind and he sounds exhausted . The remaining knights ignite their weapons, electricity crackling as they drop into fighting stances.

She feels him dismiss some of the pain in his leg, washing away his weakness and hers with another sip from the pool in his mind.  The darkness burns along her veins, and though he can’t stand on his own, can’t put any weight on his broken leg, he gives her some space as the knights advance.  Information on their opponents drops into her thoughts: their fighting styles, their skills, all the ugly, bloody history they have with Kylo.  The tallest, armed with a long pike, holds the center.  The one to Rey’s right has heavy metal gloves covering his arms to the shoulder.  The other swings two short blades in lazy arcs as he moves to flank them.

The knight with the gloves is familiar.  She recognizes him as the fucker who tried to kill Kylo on her first day here.  He’d also broken her nose, which had not endeared him to her.  Rey spits blood, splattering the floor between them, grins up at him and winks.  She keeps Kylo at her back, one arm thrown out to support him, steps forward, igniting her own saber, and engages the closest knight, the littler one with the two blades.  He moves to strike at her, rains little blows, tiny slices, all around her.  She hates him, this short-assed speck of nothing.  She hates that he tripped Kylo in the hall once.  She hates that he laughed when Gloves had broken her nose.  She hates that he’s fast, so fast she has to defend rather than attack.  She hates that he’s standing here, one more layer of shit between them and safety.

Blood roars in her head as she pulls the Force around her, catches the knight’s foot with the snare Kylo taught her.  This underling is no Snoke - he trips, is pulled forward by her trap, and she doesn’t even care when he lands a glancing blow on her forearm as he flails.  Kylo’s blade swings down, engages the knight now that he’s in range.  Rey slips out from under his arms, slamming her saber up in time to parry a heavy punch thrown from the bastard with the gloves, who had circled around Kylo’s back to exploit his limited mobility.

Gloves is strong and Rey grits her teeth, shoving back against that with the Force against his muscle. He bears down, pushing the blade of her saber towards her face, too close, almost scorching her skin. Her boots slip against the duracrete and she can feel Kylo’s labored breathing, his back heaving against  hers as he fends off Two-Swords and Pike.  

Rey and Kylo  can’t win like this and she refuses to let them lose. Baring her teeth, she spits blood at Gloves, splattering his mask with crimson as she kicks down at the knee joint  in his armor. Pain shoots up her leg as it connects and Kylo falters, but it’s worth it to feel the bones crunching under her boot. The knight goes down with a low grunt, rolling to get away from her but she doesn’t let him get far - she can’t leave Kylo on one leg.  She stomps again, fast and hard, on his other knee, and it shatters, too. He screams and it feels perfect, profound, to shove her saber through his chest as he sits up to grab at the wound. She snuffs his life out like a candle and it feels so good .  Then a panic that isn’t hers flares and she turns back to Kylo, tearing the lightsaber free.

Something hard and cold pierces through the meat of her shoulder. There’s a sick, dull ache and then the barbed head of the pike scrapes against something deep in her back. The electrical current hisses and sizzles, burns her skin, burns her bones. She sees Kylo yelling but she can’t hear him, can’t tell if it’s a scream of pain, anger, or fear. It doesn’t make any sense, the numbness in her chest. Her eyes trace the jut of metal embedded above her right breast but she can’t process it. She’ll worry about it later. She follows the haft to the armored gloves holding it, then up to the visor of the grey helmet. She tries to speak, but all that comes out of her mouth is another trickle of blood.

“REY!”

A vise of black rage clamps around her head, darkens the edges of her vision. The Knight’s head jerks, neck cracking, vertebra slamming together and he collapses, limp and lifeless. She watches him fall, but she’s too cold to feel glad about his death.  The metal buried in her chest jerks and she tries to scream as the knight falls. It comes out weak, a whisper. There’s a clatter beside her and Two Swords crumples, cut down at last.

Kylo’s face swims before her eyes - is she crying? He’s dragged himself to her, looming high above her and the sudden movement makes her stomach lurch but he’s so beautiful to behold that she almost doesn’t mind. He wrenches the pike out of her chest, and she does mind that because fuck fuck fuck that HURTS . He presses down on the wound and blood gushes up over his hands.

“Fuck, Rey! We’re almost out! Fuck. Get up, Rey. You have to get up!” Kylo doesn’t wait for her to respond. He stuffs the hilt of his saber into his belt, grabs the blood-slick pike and hauls himself upright, using the staff as a crutch.  

Still alive.

The Force is shy of her now, as if she’s offended it. There’s so much darkness, so much void echoing around her head. Everything hurts. Kylo’s hand, hot and heavy with life, with power, brushes across her cheek and a night sky burning with a million stars floods her mind. Light . The Force. Hope. She struggles up, her chest no longer numb but now a tattered minefield of pure, savage pain. The stars grow in her mind, burning back the emptiness, filling her with a final push of strength.

The butt of the pike taps in time with the patter of droplets against the duracrete floor as they stumble down the hangar and into the shuttle, the ramp lowering with a hiss at their approach. His weight is nothing against her shoulder as she helps him on. She smacks the button to close the ramp behind them and together they shuffle into the cockpit. There seems to be an awful lot of blood on the floor behind them.

Kylo grunts as he falls into the captain's chair, and begins flipping switches. The shuttle shivers as it rises, glides towards the mouth of the hangar and the smoky dawn beyond. Med kit’s under the seat. Get a bacta patch on your chest right fucking now. He saves his breath, his energy, hands shaking over the controls as begin to climb into the atmosphere.

It takes several attempts to get a grip on the the kit. Her hands are clumsy, slippery with someone’s blood - hers? - , and she almost drops the plastic shell several times as she sags back against the wall. Her eyes want to close but she forces them open wide, fights the urge to just sleep , as they soar up beyond the smoke and ash storms that blot out the sky.

She can’t get the film off the back of the bacta patch so she just holds it, still in its wrapper, watching the stars around them. They’re bright, as wild and beautiful as the ones Kylo had shown her. They whisper comforts against her mind, sing to her in sweet, high voices, and she nudges the song to him.

I hear it. He gives her a wan smile. She wants to kiss him again, but she can’t make herself move anymore. She’s getting truly cold. She wishes, almost laughing, that they were back in his room in the now destroyed base, snuggled close under heavy blankets. Then his face freezes as something beeps on the console. We’re being hailed.

Her head weighs a thousand pounds, and, even propped up by the strength of the Force, it takes huge effort to hold herself upright, to fight off the exhaustion that drags at her. She’s sticky, wet and so cold, colder than she’s ever been in her life. Who is it?

He’s gone white under the blood, the dirt, the bruises and he punches the switch to open video communications, tilting the transmitter so it picks her up in the background.

Poe Dameron’s face is bright, flushed with victory, but his wide grin transforms into a look of utter horror when he registers what he’s seeing. “Rey, what the hell? What happened?!”

“Hey Poe,” Rey croaks, and succumbs to the heaviness of her eyelids, lets them shut. “This is Kylo.  Kylo… be nice.  Poe blew up Snoke’s base for you.” Darkness overwhelms her, her knees buckle, and she slides to the floor.

Chapter Text

They’re being hailed. Rey is bleeding out behind him and they’re being hailed.

Kylo’s stomach drops as they hit low space and are surrounded by X-wings painted with the orange of the Resistance. They circle the shuttle, locking him in their fields of fire. The comm light blinks at him and he slams his fist against it because what else is he going to do? Not answer and get shot out of the sky? He tilts the eye of the transmitter towards Rey. She’s going to need to talk fast if they want to live through this.

A face appears on the screen and he doesn’t recognize it at first, without the arrogant defiance it held on Jakku. The man is grinning, ebullient, until he catches sight of Rey.  The voice doesn’t match with the tortured screams he’d incited on Star Killer, but as the face falls and the man cries out, he knows it’s Poe Dameron, Rey’s Resistance contact.

“Rey, what the hell?  What happened?”

“Hey, Poe.” Rey sounds awful, feels worse.  She’s throbbing in his mind, more wound than intact body, and her throat gurgles as she speaks.  “This is Kylo.”  He feels her eyes on him and he glances up at her.  His stomach heaves and there’s bile in his throat again. Her eyes are closing and there’s too much blood pooling at her feet. “Kylo,” she says, voice almost gone, “Be nice.  Poe blew up Snoke’s base for you.” The words flutter weakly and a whisper of a thought, please , brushes his mind before she slumps over.

“Shit!” Kylo leaps out of the chair, adrenaline and panic overpowering his better judgment. He is reminded a moment later that his leg is fucked from the knee down but he catches himself on the unyielding floor with a bang. He pulls himself to hands and knees and scrambles to where she’s slipping down.

“Kylo? Kylo Ren ? As in the First Order?” Dameron’s voice cracks in disbelief. “You have got to be shitting me.”

Her skin is ashen beneath the golden tan and her breath bubbles up, weak, through a mouth and nose crusted in blood. “Rey?” He catches her head before it can hit the ground, pulls it onto his lap. “Rey!” He pats roughly at her cheeks, not wanting to hurt her but needing to get her eyes open again. “Shit!” The front of her borrowed shirt is a mess, soaked through with rapidly cooling blood. “Rey, open your eyes!”

Her eyes are flickering, darting behind closed lids.  Their connection is weak, fading, and something huge and empty is roaring up from the pit of his stomach to devour the little hope he has left.  He shoves it down, tears his gaze from her face, fumbles with the med kit, each slow beat of her heart echoing in his mind. She’s still alive still alive still alive. For now.

The plastic of the case splinters under his hands as the shuttle speeds on, aimless. He paws through the scattered contents, broken hand forgotten in his haste, grabs at the open pack of bacta patches.  Not enough, not nearly enough, but they’ll help. One is missing - did she get it on herself? Kylo looks back to her chest, then down to her limp hands, where the largest patch rests, unopened.  He snatches it and begins to work the shirt up her chest.  She whimpers as he jostles her, pain sparking in all the half-forgotten injuries.

He tears the flimsy wrapper off the bacta patch with his teeth and presses it against the dark blood oozing out of the hole in her chest, just above her breast band.

“Did you do it? Is Snoke dead?” Dameron’s voice crackles over the comm, too calm, too fucking calm . The idiot is just watching as Kylo holds Rey’s life together with both hands. Maybe he wants Rey to die - that way he could just blast the shuttle into oblivion and fly off into the sunset, a hero.

“No.” Even in her semi-conscious state, Rey grits her teeth and winces as he lifts her back from the floor. He feels along her shoulders and spine for an exit wound and is sick with relief when he doesn’t find any.  Kylo gets another patch open, rips it in half, seals it over the ugly gash at her hairline.  Her skin is gritty, caked in soot, drenched in blood. He tries to wipe the worst of it away from her face, but he’s so covered in gore himself that it does no good.

“Is she dead?” There’s a harshness to the pilot’s voice. Kylo senses something there -  a pain where practicality demands to be heard over sentiment. His growing hatred for the man slows.

“Not yet.”  He pulls the backing off of the last patch and smooths it over the slice across her bicep, continues the motion to slide down  her wrist to hold her hand.  Her fingers are cold.  His pulse spikes.  Her skin is always so warm, sunlight and fire when she touches him. She’s dying by inches, by drops and pints, and he can do nothing.  His eyes swim and he combs through the med-kit again, but it’s just the same useless shit.  There’s nothing to replenish what she’s lost.  This is a transport shuttle meant to be part of a flotilla. No need to carry medical supplies when there’s a fully stocked armada at your back.

Dameron’s hands move off screen and the audio cuts out. He’s muted himself as conferences with his fellow pilots. He stares at something beyond the input transmitter and shakes his head, an emphatic negative. The image is too small for Kylo to read his lips, but what would it matter, anyway?

What does any of this matter if Rey dies?

The audio cuts back in and Dameron stares down at Kylo. “Okay, bud. Here’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to escort you via low space into a neutral territory. You’re going to land, nice and easy. We’re going to secure your vessel.  Then we’re going to take Rey back. You come peaceably and everyone gets out of this in one piece. Understand?”

“Get fucked, flyboy!” Kylo snarls, enraged and helpless. He smashes his fist into the wall behind him and the plate metal buckles. He has no choice. He never had a choice. “There’s no time!  She’s dying on the fucking floor! Give me the damned coordinates to your base and I’ll jump it.” Rey makes a tiny noise and he whips back to her, hunches down, holds her face in his hands. Her nose wrinkles almost imperceptibly and she makes that same pained whimper.  His heart hammers in his battered chest.

The comm is quiet for a very long time. Maybe Dameron is busy, distracted, but Kylo can’t imagine what could be more important than this conversation. Poe’s voice snaps through the speakers, now careful and controlled. “I’m forwarding you the jump coordinates. We have every goddamn rocket left aimed at your ass, Ren. Don’t do anything stupid.”

“Try me!” Kylo growls and the link goes dead. A light indicating a new message blinks on the console. The coordinates.  Kylo pulls himself up enough to slam the destination into the autopilot before falling back to the floor. He braces himself on the dented wall and pulls Rey over to him, lifting her head into his lap and cradling it as the ship launches into hyperspace. She hisses, wincing at the jolt. He runs his unbroken fingers through her matted hair and their bond flares.  His mind is racing and he tries to quiet it, pulling in long, meditative breaths.  He can’t manage a full trance, wouldn’t want to, but he uses the calm he finds to center himself and pour his remaining power into her.

The Force streams from him, smoothing the harshest edges off of his mind as it goes, aided in that by the slow steadying of her breath, the strengthening of her pulse.  The shock is wearing off now and the pain throughout his body is returning, but he ignores it, shoves it back into those boxes. He turns his mind instead to the contemplation of the rekindling of some warmth in her skin, to ghosting his fingertips across her lips, her eyelids.  The power between them strengthens, coursing like a river.

As the ship shakes, returning them to low space, he pulls back from the torrent, siphoning it to a steady continuous flow.  She’s stabilized, he thinks, though he has no experience in field medicine. She hasn’t gotten any worse, and that’s something.

As they descend over a planet scattered with clouds over earth and sea, Rey’s fingers dig into the ruin of Kylo’s leg and he chokes on a scream.  Her eyes fly open, shared agony dragging her fully awake.  Her thoughts are still disoriented, dizzy, consumed by pain and apology - I’m sorry!

He doesn’t care about his leg. She opened her eyes. Words fail him. He runs a thumb along her cheek. She’s alive and nothing else matters.

She returns the thought, wondering at it as she gazes up into his face. We’re alive.

He bends over her, presses his torn lips to hers, broken fingers tangling in her hair.  He ignores the pain.  It is irrelevant. She tastes like blood and so does he and he doesn’t care. His tears streak through the grime on her face.

Dameron’s voice crackles over the comm again. “Okay, Ren. Bring it down slow. No funny business. We’re almost there.”

Rey draws the Force around her for strength and crawls through the mess of her own blood to the console, waving at Kylo to stay seated. She’s a natural pilot and, after a moment of fumbling, encourages the craft into its descent, leaving gory handprints all over the gleaming chrome controls. She pokes at the bacta patch on her chest, winces but doesn’t cry out, before grabbing  the pike from where he had dropped. She uses it to drag herself back, propping her weight heavily on the long shaft and reaches down to brush his cheek. The stars whirl back to life in his head, calm and bright and singing. I won’t let anything happen to you.

The smile stretches his face, cracks his lips open again, and he kisses her knuckles when they move to wipe the blood away. He knows she’ll try. She knows she’s all he has.

Her face twists, sorrow and fear battling with something more tender, and she draws back from him as they land.  He can feel a crowd gathering outside the ship, anxious, jumpy. Rey offers him her hand, sucking in borrowed strength.  She helps him balance when he stands and then moves to place herself between him and the opening doors, throwing up the strongest Force barrier she can. She raises her free hand, the one not supporting her weight on the staff, into the air, urges him to do the same. Reluctant, he raises the hand that isn’t clenched on her shoulder.

A wave of armored men and women crashes up the ramp, surges in to circle them.  They all have blasters, muzzles pointed at his head. His heart clenches with fear as he realizes that the blasters aren’t just for him - they’re trained on Rey, too.   So much for a friendly welcome.

She scowls at that, at the small army standing between them and the exit. The Force shimmers blue around them as she adjusts her grip on the pike. It’s too large, too unwieldy to be used effectively in this small space.

“Stand down, lady.” A voice rings out, distorted and amplified in the tiny interior of the shuttle. He can only guess which member of the crowd it’s coming from. They won’t last long if these assholes start shooting.  He lets his power stream through the hand resting on her shoulder, strengthening the shield.

“We’re coming to you peacefully.” The shield shimmers again as she diverts the flow of his power from the shield, using it to steady her voice instead. Rey drops the pike and raises both hands now, legs trembling as she stands between him and them. “We are not here to fight. I’m going to lower the shield.” She pauses before doing so, glancing into the helmeted faces of the Resistance. “Don’t shoot us, please.”

It hurts her to move the injured shoulder and that pain cuts into him, but she holds her empty hands high.  Blood seeps from under the patch on her chest as her arms tremble, streams in rivulets down her breast, soaking into her belt and pants.  A sharp stab of anger flashes across his mind but she lashes out at it, tamps it down. Stay calm. Don’t give them a reason.

The shield winks out.

The muzzles stay pointed at them and the armored bodies close in. Rough hands clamp down on her arms, jerking her away. He stumbles as she’s pulled from him, trying to hold himself up with one good leg. Rey yelps, pain flaring up her shoulder as they hustle her down the ramp, lancing across her chest as blunt fingers dig into her wounded arm.

Rey is crying out, yelling for him to be calm. He tries to move to catch sight of her again but strange, hard hands grab him.  They snatch away his saber, shove his head down, and red starts to creep into his vision.  She’s panicking now, enveloped by the press of bodies, and her fear burns away the last of his control.  He roars, erupts, lashing out with power.  The explosion of Force throws the closest assailants back and he uses the gap created to lunge for her.  Their fingers brush and she screams his name, high and terrified, but then his leg gives way and she’s torn from him again, beyond his reach.

Bodies pile onto him, holding him down, smacking his head against the floor.  Kylo’s arms are yanked behind his back and he struggles to rise, but someone stomps down on his bad leg.  He bellows in pain, almost tears his own shoulder out of its socket as he struggles against the cold metal clicking around his wrists, his ankles.  She screams again and it’s cut off.  He calls for her with his torn voice and his mind, and she responds but it’s weak in his head. I’m here. It’s going to be okay. I’m going to make this-

Then something cracks against the back of his skull and everything goes dark.

Chapter Text

Rey opens her eyes and looks up at an unfamiliar white ceiling.  She’s laying on something soft and she’s warm in a muzzy sort of way, which is nice.  Her eyes close again and it could be a blink or a lifetime before she opens them again.  

Cognition comes back slowly and then all at once, and with it comes pain.  Rey tries to take a full breath but gags on something in her throat. Panic twists in her stomach and as she reaches up to her face, she finds that her arms are bound at the wrists. Scrabbling with both hands, fingers sliding over the slick plastic that covers her from nose to chin, she finds a loop in the tubing and pulls.  She sits up, ribs protesting, using what strength she has to rip the mask off.  The thick tube slides up and out of her mouth and she wretches, a full body convulsion, vomiting clear fluid and blood onto the white floor beside the bed.

Her eyes follow the hose that leads from the mask, now dangling, wet and glistening, around her neck, to a glowing tank on the wall. She’s in a small room: white, sterile, full of instruments she’s never seen before.  She’s naked beneath a sheet, and when she bolted upright she jostled the apparatuses suctioned to her chest and sides. There’s a bandage wrapped around her arm and something warm and moist stuck above her eye.

Blinking away tears from the vomiting makes her eyes hurt, and that small, specific pain sparks the memories.  The fight. The escape. The blood. The landing. The Resistance. Kylo. They took him somewhere, away from her, and she can barely feel him now. She calls out in her mind, almost hysterical, and finds him on the edge of her awareness.  There are no thoughts, just a dim presence, a deep discontent that stirs beneath the surface of his unconsciousness.  

An erratic beeping and a shuffling, clanking step sound from the corner of the room.  Her head whips to the sound and she regrets that - her head spins with the quick motion.  A droid ambles towards her, silver pincers gleaming in the soft light. Rey shrinks back into the softness of the bed. “Please remain calm. You have sustained severe injuries to the head, throat, and chest. You are in a medical facility. You require an additional one hundred and twenty nine minutes of bacta treatment for adequate physical optimization. Please remain calm.” The droid sounds put out in the only way a computer generated voice can.

A medical facility.  A Resistance medical facility.  Rey heaves a sigh, coughs up some more fluid, winces at the taste.  She gestures to the mask around her neck as best she can with bound hands. “Get this thing off me!” She means to yell but it comes out a croaking gurgle.

"You require another one hundred twenty nine minutes of bacta treatment for adequate physical optimization," the droid drones again. A panel at the base of it’s arm retracts and a glinting hypodermic needle slides out. “If you cannot control your behaviour within the prescribed parameters, sedatives will be administered.”

Panic flares again at the threat and Rey shakes her head, fighting for calm. She doesn’t want to be drugged. She’ll be good, despite a whispering in the back of her head that urges her to smash the droid, rip herself free of the medical tangle and blast through the door. It might work, but it feels wrong.  She tries for a mild tone when she speaks again, but the effect is lessened by her rasp. “How long have I been here?”

The droid catches her hands in its claw with surprising delicacy and lowers them. “You were admitted four hours and fifty-two minutes ago. Please do not attempt to remove the bacta-capsules. I will remove them according to the proper medical procedure once initial healing is complete.”  The pincers nudge her forehead back and Rey allows herself to be settled, allows the sheet to be draped over her again.  The droid buzzes and hums and warm, sticky liquid trickles over her skin as the treatment continues.

One hundred twenty-nine minutes later, the sheet flies off. The plungers are retracted from her chest and sides, the patches on her arm and head are replaced and covered with a clean gauze wrapping, and she’s subjected to a quick chemical rinse from a nozzle released from the med-droid’s chest. For a moment she shivers, then a thin gown is thrown over her shoulders.  The droid manages the ties to secure it with surprising ease. The droid checks her over once more, pronounces her stable, and then tromps back to a corner. Rey calls to it, asks about the cuffs on her wrists, but it lapses into standby mode without answering.

There’s not much in the room to look at - the bed, a small ‘fresher in a corner, a plastic chair, the droid, an array of medical equipment, a door in the wall. No windows.  Rey turns her attention to the thick padded cuffs.  They’re bound tight around her wrists, so her finger-prod examination of her injuries is clumsy and fumbling.  She pulls the neck of the gown away from her chest and looks down.  The puncture where the spear pierced her is skinned over but still angry, and her torso is corded with red, shiny slashes.  If that’s all the damage Snoke’s lightning did, she reckons she got off easy.

Rey folds her hands in her lap and considers meditation, but there are too many thoughts vying for dominance in her mind, too many worries.  Where is Kylo?  What did the Resistance do to him after they knocked him out? Is he alright? How long can they keep her here? How can she convince them to spare his life?  Her descent into true anxiety is halted by a murmuring of low voices at the door, the clattering of key cards.

The door slides open and she winces away, but it’s Poe Dameron and he’s beaming with all his might.  His smile is a sunrise after a sandstorm and it burns away the chill of the room.  Rey stumbles to her feet as her own smile dawns. He shouts her name, tosses away the bundle he’d been carrying, and then he’s hugging her, lifting her off her feet, crushing her to him with an urgency that knocks the wind out of her chest but she doesn’t care. BB-8 rolls around Poe’s feet, chirping in greeting and whistling in concern.

Rey’s grin stretches her cheeks, tugs at the new skin above her eyebrow. She can’t hug back, not with her hands bound, but she nestles her head into the crook of his neck and pulls him to her with her chin. “Poe!  You did it! You were so brilliant!” He laughs, joyful, and gives her a squeeze as she pulls back to look at him.  Seeing her flinch at the extra pressure, he sets her down as if she is made of glass. He holds her at arm's length for a moment, but she’s still smiling and he laughs again and pulls her in for another quick hug before releasing her.

BB-8 beeps expectantly at her feet and Rey crouches to the little astro-mech, leans over to kiss its domed head. “You did splendidly as well, BB-8. Thank you both so much.” She looks back up to Poe. “You saved my life.”

BB-8 whistles, smug and satisfied with the praise. Poe clasps her shoulder as she stands, Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallows. “Just barely. You looked pretty rough when I saw you last. That scared the shit out of me. What the hell happened? ”

The smile falls from her face. Her head aches again, and she shuffles back to sit on the bed, scrubbing her hands over her face before she begins. “Snoke happened.” The name feels slick and slimy on her tongue. “Not the best host, that guy. Though,” her voice hardens, “This isn’t quite the welcome I was expecting, either. What was with the strike team?”

He grimaces, runs a hand through his hair, then squares his shoulders and lifts his chin, the Resistance hero again. “That was about Kylo Ren, Rey.  I would have, by the way, loved a little heads up on that one.” He snorts. “If we’d known you were going to bring a war criminal home with you, we’d have set up a guest room for him.  As it is, we just had to shove him into a storage unit.”

Rey jumps to her feet, indignant and furious, and BB-8 scoots out of her way as she almost trips. She regrets the move instantly and leans back on the bed for support. “You put him in a storage unit?!”

Poe shrugs. “This is technically the first time the Resistance has had any prisoners.  We’re not really set up to house them.”

She stares at him, wooden, and raises her cuffed hands. “This is a pretty well equipped storage unit.  How long am I going to be kept in here?”

BB-8 whistles and turns its sensor to Poe, who backpedals fast. “Not you, Rey. You’re not a prisoner. This is just the medical ward.”

She nods, feigning agreeability. “Oh, good. So that’s not a guard outside? I can just stroll out of here when I feel like it?  These are just pretty bracelets that someone thought I'd like to wear? I don't think so. I know I'm new to this whole game, but I'm pretty sure that when you slap a pair of cuffs on someone and lock them in a room, they're considered a prisoner."

Poe glances from her eyes to her wrists a few times, working his jaw. “Excuse me.” He holds up a finger as BB-8 starts to follow him. “I’ll be right back, buddy.” He ducks out of the room. Rey crouches down as BB-8 rolls back to her, running her hands over its dome. Moments later, raised voices float through the door, someone shouting. BB-8 bobs its head at her and lets out a proud, bright whistle that makes her smile. Then Poe steps back in and she stands. He twirls a swipe card around his fingers, gives her a smug grin, and passes it over the cuffs binding her wrists. The locks open with a click and he catches them before they can fall to the floor. “That was... a misunderstanding. I’m sorry.” BB-8 beeps in agreement.

“Thanks, Poe.” Rey massages her wrists.

He stows the card in the back pocket of his pants and sighs, drags the plastic chair over and flops down in it, tossing the cuffs into a corner. He rests his elbows on his knees and drops his head to his hands. BB-8 rolls to rest between his feet.

“Look, Rey, no one knows what’s going on. People are scared.” Poe looks up at her, tone almost pleading. “You disappeared. No one survives with the First Order for long. We thought you were dead, or worse. Then, a week later, you’re calling me in the middle of the night and demanding to speak to the General. You call in an air strike out of nowhere.” His mouth quirks up again and she thinks he should be on recruitment posters. “That was the easiest run I’ve ever done, by the way. Thanks for that.” The grin fades. “But then you show up mostly-dead with a mad dog Sith in tow. Not as a prisoner, nope. He’s your pal now, right? You were standing in front of him as the doors opened. When the team came in, you were screaming for him. They were trying to save your life and you made them drag you away from this guy.” He shakes his head. “You have to understand how that looks.”

“That wasn’t supposed to happen,” Rey mumbles, unable to meet his gaze.

“Which part?” Poe folds his arms over his chest. “Accidentally picking up a Dark Lord on your trip? Bleeding out all over that gorgeous Upsilon-class transport?” BB-8 beeps appreciatively. Poe shushes the droid and continues. “Using yourself as a meat shield between him and half of Ary’s squad?” He stands, walks to her. When she looks up at him, he’s smiling, but it’s almost sad. He holds his arms out. “I’m on your side here, but I need you to help me understand.”

She steps into his embrace. He’s warm, and he rests one hand between her shoulder blades.  The other cups her elbow, and something about his gentleness makes her want to cry. “We didn’t kill him, Poe.  We couldn’t. Snoke was too strong. We barely got out.” Rey shudders, thinks of the boxes Yali told her about, and shoves her sorrow, her fear into the biggest one she can find.  She pulls back from him, and he gives her another one of his smiles.

“Maybe you should start from the beginning.” He steps away to grab a bottle of water from the pile of things he’d dropped on the floor, hands it to her, and sits next to her on the bed as she gulps it down.  The movement of her throat hurts but cool water is cool water and she’s never been able to drink delicately. She finishes the bottle, sets it to the side, and adjusts herself so she can look him in the eye.

“We were going to kill Snoke. That was the plan. Kill Snoke and then go our separate ways. But we failed, and I couldn’t leave him there to die. I wouldn’t be here if not for Kylo. He protected me from Snoke, helped me stay alive, helped me stay me .” She she shakes her head and even that small motion hurts. “I couldn’t just abandon him.”

“He’s a bad person, Rey.” Poe reaches out to touch her wrist, voice is heavy with compassion. “Bad people can do good things but that doesn’t make them good people. He’s done terrible, terrible things in this war. You know that.”

“I know.” She takes Poe’s hand, squeezes it, remembering not for the first time that he’d suffered torture at Kylo’s hand. “I know.  But no one in the universe could deserve the fate he’d have suffered if I’d left him behind.” She pauses, looks at him from under her eyelashes, and asks, in a small voice, “Is he alright? Can I see him?”

Poe twitches at that, unclasps his hand from hers. “See him? Don’t you want to see Finn? General Organa? Your friends?” His face clouds.

She blanches, a sick misery settling on the back of her tongue. “That’s not fair, Poe. Of course I want to see Finn and the General,” she whispers, closes her eyes tight.

“I’m sorry,” Poe sighs. “No. You can’t see him. The leaders are still debating what they’re going to do with him. Your visitors are being screened, but if I can come and see you, I’m sure I can get Finn in here. He’s so excited to see you!” He grins and she offers a weak smile for a moment before Poe continues. “Messengers have been sent to Master Skywalker-”

Her eyes fly open and she stands, interrupting him. “Master Skywalker is coming?” Her stomach lurches and she doesn’t know what that means. She can’t sort out the emotions bubbling in her chest.

Poe nods and BB-8 mimics the movement with a bob of its dome. “He should be here in a few days. He’ll know what to do.” He looks around the room, then back to her face. “Just, you need to sit tight until then.”

Rey stretches for the elusive calm again. She doubts, somehow, that it will be that easy. At least Poe didn’t try to promise her that everything would be okay.  

Chapter Text

The first time Kylo wakes, he doesn’t open his eyes before slipping back into unconsciousness.  He reaches out, instinctively looking for something, and when he finds it his mind quiets and he is swallowed by the blackness again.

The second time he wakes, opening his eyes gets him nothing but a vertiginous shift in perspective and rolling nausea in his stomach. His mind quests out again, finds that same softness, and curls back in on itself.

The third time he wakes, there’s something rough between his teeth that he hadn’t noticed before.  It cuts into the torn corners of his mouth, splitting his face in a grimace.

Kylo’s eyes spring open and he roars, blood-flecked spittle spraying as he bites down hard on the gag. He tries to lift a hand to tear the thing from his face but he can’t - something is pinning him.  He can move his head but it hurts , everything hurts .  His mind seems slow, sluggish, and that scares him more than the gag or the restraints.  He’s been drugged.  His vision spins when he looks down at his body.  He’s strapped to a bed, each of his wrists cuffed twice.  His ankles are the same, and there are thick leather straps across his shoulders, chest, hips, and knees.

He glances around the room, eyeballs the only part of his body not in agony. It’s dim, the only light coming from a tiny window in the barred door, empty apart from the bed, but “Storage Unit 7” is painted in bright Resistance orange across the wall to his left. Something flares in his head but it’s hard to piece thoughts together, hard to move from one to the next without getting distracted. The Resistance. Rey.

Kylo slams his head back and screams again, louder than before. He calls for her around the gag, gnawing and gnashing his teeth to bite through the fabric, and he calls for her in his mind, panic slicing through the drugged haze. Rey! REY!

There’s no answer. He gropes for their connection, finds it slippery and hard to hold. The bond is cool, quiet, dark. A memory swims to the forefront of his mind - Rey’s hand, cold and pale, held in his. Is she still unconscious? No, she had woken up.  She had stood between him and the… He shakes his head, trying to escape the sedative fog. She’d landed the transport, and then she’d stood between him and the Resistance as they boarded the craft. “Don’t shoot us, please.” They’d grabbed her, dragged her away from him. She’d screamed and then the scream had stopped and his world had exploded. He blinks twice, trying to remember. They’d hit him, hadn’t they? He’d thrown them back to get to her and they hit him in the head with something. Now he’s strapped down in a storage unit, but where is she? There had been so many guns, so many people. What did they do to her?

He struggles against the straps holding him down, bruised muscles tensing, broken bones grinding together in his desperate struggle to free himself, to find her. After agonizing minutes of thrashing and wordless, broken shouts, he stills. Kylo breathes hard through his nose in short stabbing puffs, spits as much blood and saliva around the gag as he can. He pulls at the Force and at first it seems to resist him, but he focuses his muddled attentions on mastering it and it succumbs to his will.  He floods the connection with as much power as he can, as much need, as much fear, as much anger as he can manage, and calls for her again.

Then she’s there, like a light flicking on in a dark room.  She fills his consciousness as she awakens, flowing strong into his mind, her panic beating back against his terror.   Kylo! Relief streams through the connection. He sags, exhausted and in so much pain , but he doesn’t care.  She’s alive. They didn’t kill her. Rey shakes off the panic she’d felt when she awoke and tries to calm him, to impress upon him her wholeness, her safety.  His thoughts are thick, syrupy, and her words surface like popping bubbles. Kylo, I’m here. I’m alright!  It’s okay, I’m alright!

The connection brings clarity, helps him pierce the veil cast by the drugs. What happened? What did they do to you?

They took me to a med-bay. I’m fine! She reasserts as his panic flares again. They pumped me full of bacta. I’m all shiny and new. They even fixed my nose! She extends a tendril through the connection, brushing back against his mind. Poe came to see me. He told me you’re being held in a closet. Are you okay?

He welcomes her touch.   I’m still alive.

Rey pushes further into his mind, searching for the words he hasn’t said and recoils from what she finds. She sees through his eyes the leather straps, feels the weight of the cuffs at his ankles and wrists, the scrape of the gag on his tongue. She is repulsed; revulsion, betrayal, anger roil through their connection.   I can’t believe this. They didn’t even give you a proper bacta treatment!  I’ll work on it.  I’ll do whatever I can. I promise, you won’t be left like this.

The fog in his head is fading, and words come easier now. You said you’re in a med-bay, that Dameron came to see you.  Have you spoken to any of the leaders? To anyone in power?

Rey’s response is reluctant. Her hesitation makes him nervous, but she quells the feeling with another mental caress. No. They’re screening my visitors. I woke up in cuffs- She speaks louder now, raising her voice in his head before his rage at the image of her bound and gagged like he is now can overpower their link. But Poe got them removed! He says I’m not a prisoner, that this is just a temporary thing until-

He cuts her off. And you trust him? He’s Resistance through and through. He’ll say whatever they tell him to say.  Rey, if they had you in cuffs it means they don’t trust you. It means they think you’re a threat.

Poe and I talked about that. She’s trying to stay calm, modulating her breathing and pulling on the Force for strength . Everything’s going to be okay. Master Luke’s on his way here-

Rage twists deep in his guts at the mention of his old master’s name, the old betrayals reopening.

She fights back, forcing calm and serenity into his mind where they don’t belong. Poe said that once he’s here, I can leave this room. Once I can leave this room, I can talk to people, convince them to let you out.

Skywalker will not want me released. Kylo takes the calm and uses the Force to burn away the last of the drugs from his system. He can just about make out the shape of their plan now.

He will help. She says it like she has any idea about what Skywalker might deign to do. Master Luke won’t just stand by and let you be executed by the Resistance.

No, he’ll probably do it himself. Skywalker is coming here to kill him. Nothing kills a Sith better than a Jedi. Once he’s dead, of course they’ll let Rey go.  She’ll be free of his bad influence, welcomed back as their prodigal child.

Maybe it’s better this way. He’s careful to shield the thought from Rey. What’s left in the galaxy for him? If the Resistance doesn’t kill him, the First Order will. He’s betrayed everything he he stood for, everything he ever wanted. He’s not Darth Vader, not even close. Rey was right all along.

He feels her denial before she forms it into a refusal. Master Luke will listen to me, I know he will! I have friends here. They can help!

You don’t know Luke Skywalker or the General like I do. He spits the words out. He’s dead. He’s fucked everything up and now the Resistance is going to kill him. Maybe they’ll have the decency to give him a quick death. They’re going to make sure you stay right where you are until they’re done with me.

That is NOT going to happen . Her conviction is palpable, almost a living thing in its own right. I didn’t come this far to sit quietly while they kill you. That won’t happen. I won’t let them.

You can’t stop them. He rejects her with equal certainty. Rey’s crazy if she thinks she can stand alone between him and the Resistance. Don’t forget what I am. These people wouldn’t think twice about cutting through you to get to me.

That doesn’t scare her half as much as it should. He feels her looking around, analyzing her surroundings. I could probably get out of this room in less than a minute, if I really wanted to. You can’t be too far from here. I could get you out. Then something eases in her, banishes the idea to the back of her mind. But I don’t think that will be be necessary. I think they’ll listen.

He groans, shakes his head. You’re going to get yourself killed over this! Don’t be stupid.

I am not ! Her voice in his head is scathing, offended at how little faith he puts in her, before she softens. We need to calm down, both of us. There’s nothing we can do right now, and my head still hurts. She pauses, and then the stars are back, dancing above him. Will you meditate with me?

He feels the cadence of her breath change and slips into the rhythm. If he’s only got a few days left, it’s better to spend them in the quiet place they share than in furious rumination over his failings. The meditation pulls him somewhere the pain can’t penetrate, a place where their argument is silly and meaningless. He’s doing all he can for her. Whatever happens next is beyond his control.

They’re scared of you. You have to be careful. You can’t do anything that will make them distrust you more. You have to be good. Her voice echoes in the sky.

Kylo snorts.   Be good?  I haven’t been good in years. He almost feels her roll her eyes.

I’m serious. No trying to break out. No making threats. No hurting anyone, no matter what happens. Just stay calm and stay quiet. She needles him with her thoughts, small lances of concern and whispered pleas, until he relents.

I’ll try. He will try, for whatever good it will do. The Resistance doesn’t need a reason to do whatever they want to him, but maybe she can still survive this if they both play their parts.

They sit together in that shared space and he is so grateful for this connection, for this bond he had once considered a weakness. They are separated by who knows how many walls, how many guards, but they are still together here. Her mind nuzzles closer to his, returns his appreciation, and he falls into the warmth and light of her. He doesn’t know how long they stay like that, wrapped up and safe, if only in their minds.  

Rey pulls away first. Renewed hope flares in her breast and Kylo wishes it had kindled in his as well. Try to rest now. I’ll talk someone into getting you a med-droid .

He winces, returns his attention to his physical state, twitches his broken hand. A med-droid would be nice. Opening his eyes, he looks back down at the straps across his chest. Not being tied down like a piece of cargo would be better.

Rest isn’t a bad idea, given that his current options are to sleep or to drive himself crazy with worry. He tries to hold on to her calm, her conviction, and he’s just approaching a doze when a light flicks on outside the door of the storage unit. There are footsteps, indistinct voices. Then he feels the unmistakable Force signature of Leia Organa approaching from down the hall.

He throws up every mental defense he has, everything Snoke had drilled into him and every trick he’d taught himself, as a lock clicks and the door cracks open. The glare from the hall blinds him and he clenches his eyes tight. Heedless of the way they dig into his arms, he struggles against the restraints, trying to shield himself from the light.

Blood roars in his ears, blotting out the footsteps. Rey’s whispers in his mind. Kylo? What’s going on?

I’m trying , he thinks. I’m trying, I’m trying, over and over until it garbles, becomes meaningless noise, but he clings to it as he grinds his teeth into the gag, digs his nails into his palms. He has to try. He promised her. There’s nothing left for him but he can’t make things worse for Rey. If he fights, if he lashes out, they’ll trust her even less than they do now, think she’s been even more corrupted.

A light clicks on overhead, burns red through his eyelids and he clings to the brush of her mind against his. Rey presses back, warm and solid in his thoughts, a defensive perimeter between the need to fight  and the little control he has left. His eyes adjust until he can slit them up at the row of blasters pointed at his head.

General Leia Organa stands in the center of that half circle, her hands steady on the weapon she holds. She stares down at him and he can’t meet her gaze. Rage, loathing, fear, abject hopelessness fight for control in his head and he almost sets them loose on the woman.  

I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying. It’s a mantra, a prayer.  He tastes blood, heavy and familiar in the back of his throat. He shakes so hard his cuffs rattle against the bedframe, panic and fury obscuring his vision but he’s trying as two guards break off from the cluster and loom, silhouettes against the light embedded in the ceiling.

Something stings his neck, burns cold as it spreads through his chest. Rey is screaming in his mind as he struggles, blood hot and slick on his wrists, and then darkness roars back over his head.

Chapter Text

Rey stays in that room for two days.

There are no windows, no sense of time passing. She sleeps a lot, the clothes Poe brought serving better as pajamas than the flimsy gown. The med-droid subjects her to another round of bacta, though she is able to talk her way out of the tube down the throat. They’re drugging Kylo with something. She’s pleased to feel his bones and skin knitting back together, but the chemicals give her a constant headache, make her drowsy. Her sleep is plagued with nightmares of their fight with Snoke, with the Knights of Ren.

The sedatives wreak havoc with Kylo’s focus and makes conversation damn near impossible. She meditates, and he joins her when his mind steadies for the brief hours between doses. In moments of lucidity, he goads her into practicing her Force levitation. She starts with an empty food tray and then moves to larger things until the med-droid complains and is taken away. She paces the confines of her cell, eight steps by five steps, eats the food that’s delivered, uses the ‘fresher, and thinks, practicing conversations with the leaders in her head while Kylo sleeps.

During one of his sensible patches, they devise a game, though Kylo insists on calling it ‘Force-bond sensitivity training.’ She strains to make out the texture under his hands, to guess the item he’s touching, as he keeps his eyes shut. She’s sure he’s cheating. Kylo has been quite insistent that his supply closet is empty and the items is a lightly textured plane, little specks digging into his fingers as he runs them along the surface. She’s going through the possibilities in her mind: floor, walls, supply crates, bed; when something sparks in her awareness of the Force, a blaze that she recognizes. Master Luke.

Kylo flinches, pulls back from her mind as he feels the last Jedi’s arrival. She feels his sick certainty as to why Skywalker has come, and that makes her fume. She is not going to let anything happen to him. She had promised. What was it?

What was what? Kylo’s distracted, thoughts darting around his head like sand-gnats.

The thing you were touching!

She feels him smirk, the moment of victory distracting from his melancholy. The ceiling.

She gives an indignant gasp, appalled at missing such an obvious answer. He’s so smug about his victory and that dispels her outrage. For just that second, he’s back to his old self, arrogant and pleased, no longer the martyr he’s building himself up to be.

The feeling fades too soon. Rey- he starts, but she quiets him with a brisk shake of her head and he pulls back to a disquiet meditation as Master Luke draws closer. Raised voices call down the hall as he approaches, and he lingers outside the door to her cell for a moment before it clicks open.

Rey stands and faces Master Luke, muscles tense as if she has anywhere to run. His light eyes pierce through her like she’s nothing and she stares back, strong and unafraid. She doesn’t know what to say and, for a moment, neither does he.

“May I sit?” His voice is quiet, rough, and low, teetering on the edge of calm.

It takes a moment to process the question. She isn't sure what she had expected, but it was not that. “Yes, of course.”

The Jedi turns to the plastic chair, pulls it away from the wall, nudges it out so he can sit across from the bed. The implication is clear. Rey sits and dangles her feet off the bed. Master Luke sits and says nothing, just stares at her, and for a moment she’s transported back to the island, that month of almost silence. He’s not a man of many words but the Force haloing around him calls to her, and she has enough words for both of them. His gaze breaks something in her loose and before she can stop herself, she’s speaking.

She had thought she would want to keep it to herself. It’s still so fresh and raw in her mind that it oozes. The story is not all hers to tell and Master Luke must know more than he’s letting on, but his presence is warm and gentle. It helps that Skywalker is a patient listener, not given to interrupting her flow of words with his thoughts.

Rey tells him about her first contact with Kylo on Takodana, the awakening of her powers, the sparking of their connection.  She tells him about the dreams, the unrelenting frustration that had driven her from his hidden island.  She tells him about the kidnapping, about meeting Snoke, about the twisted interest he’d taken in her and the bond with Kylo. Master Luke’s eyebrows raise a fraction of an inch when she explains that it was Kylo who had suggested killing Snoke, but he is otherwise as cool and as calm as still water.  She tells him about how Kylo protected her, helped her to stay sane and to stay herself when everything else was falling apart, and how she had done the same for him.  Her stomach squirms when she skims over their training, how they’d worked to strengthen their connection, and Luke nods kindly when she hesitates on the battle with Snoke.

Describing the Supreme Leader’s savage power, the absolute brutality of his will, and the things he could do with that will, almost makes Rey sick.  She chokes when she talks about their battle, about their ultimate failure to kill Snoke, and tears sting her eyes. When she regains her composure, the Jedi holds his mismatched hands clasped on his lap, still gazing at her with a softness she isn’t sure she deserves.  She tells him about the confrontation with the Knights of Ren and she refuses to shirk from detailing just how good it had felt to dip into the Dark Side, how right it had felt to end their lives, how it had been Kylo himself who had pulled her back from the brink of that Darkness.  

“And I still feel it, Master. All those feelings, all that anger and pain. When we arrived here, they locked me away like this. They were so scared of me. They’re still scared of me, and maybe they should be! Everything’s still there, all that fury, all that darkness, right there in my head and,” her voice breaks, and she drops her head into her hands. “And I’m scared, too.” Her throat is burning and she feels empty, hollowed out. There’s nothing more for her to say.

The Master stands, fishes an empty cup from her tray by the bed, crosses the room to a tap and refills it.  He returns to his chair and offers it to her as he struggles to find the right words.

“Evil does not worry about what it is, Rey. It just acts. That you can even think to ask the question is sign enough that you are not evil.” He gives her a small smile as she finishes the water. “The Dark Side is addictive. It’s the nature of things. Who doesn’t want the strength, the power it can give?” He stares into the distance behind her, smile slipping. Something flickers across his face, a pain that pulls at his eyes before he contains it. Then he shakes himself, comes back to the present. “Being tempted does not make person good or bad. The actions one takes in the face of such temptation are what’s important.”

Rey’s hands shake as she places the empty cup on the floor by her feet. Blood roars in her ears and she feels Kylo’s attention swing back to her.   Stay out of this.  “So…” she says aloud, “Our choices define us?”

Master Luke narrows his eyes ever so slightly at her question. “Yes, I suppose that’s true.” He gives the answer grudgingly.

“What about Kylo’s choices?” Kylo himself freezes in her head, shocked at being brought up so soon.

“The choice to join the First Order, an organization with a death toll in the billions?” Luke’s eyes are cold. “Please don’t suggest that whatever kindness he showed you during your captivity can balance the devastation he’s caused. Human lives aren’t debits and credits.”

I told you. Kylo’s voice is flat with resignation, tinted with a dull hate.

Shut up and let me work. Kylo prickles at that before reluctantly retreating from her mind.  “You can’t possibly pin all of that destruction on him alone, that’s insane!  The First Order will continue on as long as Snoke’s alive - Your nephew was just a pawn in Snoke’s schemes!”

“Ben Solo was my family! My sister’s son!” Luke stands and the chair clatters to the floor behind him. “You cannot imagine what it was like to live through that!” His breath is still even, his posture still easy, but it costs him. “To see a beautiful little boy, so gifted, so strong with the Force, turn away from all the goodness and Light in his heart.” The pain stays on his face now. “To see him try to tear it out like a weed instead of cultivating it like the most precious of gifts!” All of a sudden, Luke is older than his years.  His face crumples. “To forgive again and again as the galaxy falls apart… To feel his hatred, his fear, his fury… To know that you’ve failed… ”  Skywalker’s gaze is now as hot as his nephew’s ever was, but he keeps his emotions in check - a deep current under an ocean, not a raging tsunami. “Do not think you can speak to me of him. You haven’t the right.”

She’s not afraid of Master Luke, and she had promised to protect Kylo. Skywalker sees Kylo Ren as the monster who ate his nephew, who terrorized star systems and hid behind a mask. “Maybe he needed saving more than he needed forgiveness.” She knows that he’s not a good person, that he has done terrible things, but she’s seen the Light flickering inside him, has touched and tasted it and that has to be worth something. “Snoke is still alive. You know that this war will not end with Kylo’s death.” It tears at her to speak those words aloud, to give voice to the thought.

At those words, Luke seems to deflate. He leans down, rights the chair, but does not sit, just rises and looks her in the eyes. The tears are gone, replaced with an aching fatigue. “I am not a good Jedi Master, Rey.” The admission troubles him. She senses an old doubt, long buried, never forgotten. “I have failed you, both of you, just as terribly as my father failed his order.”

Rey tries to speak, though she doesn’t know what she’d say, but Luke cuts her off with a gentle wave. The conversation is finished. “I will speak to the Resistance leaders on his behalf. I can promise no more than that.” He hesitates, glances around the room. “You are free to come and go as you please. No one will keep you here any longer. You can gather your things and someone will take you to your new quarters.” He turns to the door and then looks back at her, sad and old and kind again. “Whatever little it may be worth, I am sorry that you have suffered.” Then he pulls the door open and gestures for her to exit.

Poe comes running up as they step into the hall, hair wild and face flushed with exertion. His eyes flash to Rey and he gives her a dazzling grin before throwing Master Luke a parade ground perfect salute. “Master Skywalker, sir. The General requests your presence in the Blue Room as soon as you’re done here.” His eyes flick to Rey. “Are you done here, sir?”

Luke’s eyes crinkle at the corners as he studies the pilot. “We were just wrapping up, Mister Dameron, thank you.” He nods to Rey. “Be well.” Then he walks off with a swirl of tan robe.

“Luke Skywalker.” Poe sounds faintly awestruck and shakes his head. “The legend himself. What a time to be alive, eh?” He nudges Rey as she grunts and turns to her. “See? I told you everything would work out! Come on, I’ve got a surprise for you.” His hand finds hers. Rey trots beside him as he practically drags her through halls she half-remembers.

She is free and Kylo is still alive. Master Luke is going to help them. So far, so good. Kylo broods at that in the back of her mind. He’s pleased she’s free, though her freedom only throws his continued captivity into harsher contrast, and he’s unhappy with what he heard of her conversation with Luke.  She soothes him through their connection. I’m here with you. I won’t forget about you. It will all be okay. He doesn’t believe  that, and withdraws as she’s waved through a checkpoint with Poe.

Outside, sunlight breaks through the soft rustle of green leaves above her. The gentle wind is a shock of bliss against her skin, warm and sweet and fresh. She slows, savoring the light on her face, and only Poe’s insistent tug on her wrist keeps her from rooting herself to the spot. “Come on, we’re almost there!”

The sky is so blue through the trees, and D’Qar is so green, so lush and vital. The air swirls through her hair, soft against her skin, sweet in her lungs. It throws open the curtains in her mind and blows away the soot and ashes from Moraband, sweeps clean the sad, mouldering pains. The connection hums with her luxuriations and she pushes the feeling to Kylo, hoping he’ll accept a bit of her joy even in his cell.

Poe leads her off the paved pathway that leads from the main entrance to the base. Walking on the springy grass is a delight in itself, turf squishing under her boots as they round a corner. Rey stops in her tracks as her gaze falls on Poe’s surprise, and her hands fly to cover her mouth. There’s a blanket spread out under a tree, an old beautiful thing with branches jutting out at all angles that just begs to be climbed. Climbing will have to wait because on the blanket is a basket full of food, but even her excitement at the food is overshadowed. Finn is standing with his back to them, craning to look up into the branches of the tree, BB-8 at his feet. Poe calls out and Finn turns, his face bursting into an ecstatic smile, starts running to them at full tilt.

“Finn!” It comes out a squeal as she launches herself into his arms.  

He catches her, swings her around in a circle while BB-8 bobbles and trills around his ankles. “Rey! I’ve missed you so much!” He sets her down and crushes her in a hug, dragging a beaming Poe over so that for a moment she’s pressed between them, surrounded by laughter and joy, whole and uncompromising. Her friends . She has her friends as well as her freedom.

Everything’s going to be okay . She imbues the thought with the feeling of the sun on her skin, the affection in her heart, the wind through her hair, and sends it to Kylo. She feels him smile.  

“Are you hungry? Of course you are.” Finn doesn’t wait for an answer, setting her down and taking her hand as he weaves around BB-8 to escort her to the thick blanket. “Here, sit down! We have warra nut cookies and some sandwiches, and you’ve got to try this pie that was left over from dinner last night…” He goes on, pointing out all of the food they’d stolen from the cafeteria. She lets him babble. He’s so excited, it would be a crime to stop him.

The blanket is sun-warmed against her palms as Rey sits and tilts her face up to where the light filters through above their heads. Finn sits down beside her and Poe lounges on his other side. Something cool and metal brushes her shoulder, she tilts her head to smile at BB-8’s photo-receptor. “Was this your idea, BB-8?”

The astro-droid whistles a denial and turns it’s sensor to the two men sorting through the items in the basket, setting out an arrangement of plates and bowls, splitting their attention between their tasks, each other, and her. Her chest aches with something good this time, something wonderful. She takes the small plate Finn passes her and pops a wedge of something red and juicy-sweet into her mouth, opens the link in her mind as she savors the treat. Kylo tenses and then takes what she offers with a silent sigh of relief. I wish you were here.

He mulls that over, taking in the scene, her friends laughing teasing each other, the sweet on her tongue, the breeze kissing her cheeks. He doesn’t say anything for long minutes, is silent as the three friends share out the bounty in the picnic basket, just a soft presence in her mind as the sun moves across the sky and the conversation rolls in and around the trio like tides. When the food is gone and her stomach is full for the first time in ages, she flops back on the blanket and closes her eyes. Then there’s a stirring in her head and Kylo whispers, Me too.

Chapter Text

Kylo lives through Rey’s senses for the rest of the afternoon. Fresh air ghosts against her skin and a faint taste of something sweet and fruity lingers on her tongue as she basks in the attention of her friends. Secondhand experiences are a weak shadow of reality, but he is moved all the same. There’s an instant where she’s swamped between them, caught up in a joyful hug, and jealousy scourges his mind. He holds it tight, keeps it to himself, shoves it down to where she won’t find it.

He’s not tied down anymore, which is an improvement, but the guards come in to drug him again, hard hands and stinging needles, while she’s retrieving her belongings from storage. The sedative is heavy in his veins and his mind starts to dim as she finds the smashed holochron. Her tears are hot in his eyes, a fresh round of mourning for the sharp-tongued master rolling across their connection.  He wanders in and out of awareness after that, haunted by half formed dreams, unarticulated thoughts that always fall back into orbit around the need to try .

He banishes them with a lazy wave and drifts, aimless, between a wavering meditative trance and consciousness. Then, some time later, Rey brushes his mind to send him the comfort of a real bed, real blankets, an actual pillow under her head, and his sleep is untroubled.

He wakes as her excitement shoots across his mind and combusts into a sparkling shower of elation. They’re letting me come see you! Rey’s voice zaps him back to wakefulness. The energy crackling along their connection banishes some of the drugged haze. They’re letting me bring you breakfast! What should I bring? What do you like? There’s a microscopic pause before she decides. I’ll just bring everything!

Knuckling his eyes, he tries to follow her train of thought, but it moves like a TIE fighter in low space, utterly indifferent to the constraints of physics or causality, and his head is still sluggish with sleep and drugs. She drags him along in a stream of excited babble as she hurtles through the door of her new room while pulling on her boots. He lets his heavy head fall back as she makes her way through the complex, elation burbling through her mind and splashing against his thoughts.

He feels her getting closer and his heart starts to pound in his chest, her excitement taking hold in his mind. The last time he saw her she was being dragged away by Resistance soldiers, dying. His guts twist at the memory, her blood on his hands, streaking the console of his shuttle. He had kissed her and tasted blood, certain it would be their last moment of life before an inevitable end.

He pushes himself to his feet when she enters the hallway where the guards stand before his storage closet, bracing himself against the wall as the vertigo passes. She pauses for a long time, too long, just outside the door. Are the guards giving her trouble? He said he’d be good, and he’s tried , but if the guards stop her from coming in, what would that mean? He’s not sure.  

She bats at the troubles swarming his thoughts like gnats, firm and patient. They’re checking to make sure I’m not smuggling a saber or anything dangerous in there. It’s just a search. I’ll be right there.

The several locks on the door click and whir as it slides open.  Two blasters flash in the sudden light from the hall, held tight by the guards outside.  They are staunch, loyal fighters with tight minds and strong stomachs. They don’t crowd the door, letting him see down the hall.  The corridor should represent freedom, and that should hold some sort of allure, but it feels like bait. He’s being good.  If he’s lucky, the opening of the door means a tray full of protein porridge. If he’s unlucky, it’s another squad of guards armed with hypodermics and firearms.

This time, he’s very lucky.

Rey walks through the interlocking fields of fire as if the blasters weren’t there.  Her proximity sparks their connection and it grows stronger as she moves towards him.  She drops the basket she carries at as the door slides shut behind her without breaking stride.  Kylo stands, mouth dry, heart hammering, takes a step forward and then she’s in his arms again.

She clings to the back of the grey shirt they gave him to replace his bloody tunic and she presses her face into his chest and heaves a sigh.  Everywhere they touch tingles with relief, comfort, and a sense of utter completeness.  He runs his hands down the back of her neck, her spine, pulling her to him before leaning his head down to breathe her in. They hold each other for a handful of perfect moments and his heart is just starting to slow when she speaks.  

She mumbles something into his chest and her’s is the first human voice he’s heard in days.  It was the last thing he’d heard before they knocked him out, when she’d screamed his name as the Resistance dragged her away.  Suddenly, everything is too full, his head and his heart, and it’s too much.  He starts to unwrap his arms from around her but she looks up at him, raises a hand to his face, brushes her thumb across the bottom edge of his scar.

“Don’t push me away,” she whispers, so he doesn’t. Instead, he pulls her to him, kisses her soft and slow. He lets her in, lets her see his fear, how his life has changed forever, and how he doesn’t know where he fits now. She glows in his mind, kisses him back before pulling away to nestle her head under his chin. They fit together and that’s enough for now. Being separated from her, even for three days after the week of constant proximity, felt like a part of him was withering.  The closeness of her body, her mind, helps tamp down on whatever it is that’s been taking root in his chest - the sorrow, the confusion. It’s better to be here, holding her, than dying by inches at Snoke’s hand. He should savor it for however long it lasts.

“It’s okay.” She nuzzles her cheek against his shoulder, rests her hand against his hip, and he manages a smile against her hair. They stay like that, wrapped around each other in silence, until her stomach rumbles and his answers.

Rey lifts her head, runs her nose along his jaw, and smiles up at him. “We should eat.” He nods, loosens his grip as she wriggles in his arms. She scoops up the basket and plonks it on one of the empty crates. She grins at him as she begins to unpack the bounty.  “They have so many different kinds of food here.  More than I’ve ever seen! I didn’t know what you would want - honestly, I don’t even know if any of this is supposed to be eaten for breakfast - so I just got two of everything. Oh!” She pauses, holds up a fruit with spiny pink skin, beams. “This is amazing .”

She tosses it to him and he catches it as crosses to watch her pull dish after dish out of the basket.  She glances at the fruit in his hand. “That is for eating, not for holding.  Here,” Rey takes it from him, peels back the spines.  The fruit divides into deep red wedges and she offers one to him, holding it between her forefinger and thumb.  He ducks his head to eat it from her hand and the tingle of pleasure that runs up her arm dances across their bond.  It’s heavy and sweet, with a strange texture that doesn’t feel quite right on his tongue, but he licks the juice from her fingers because it makes her laugh. Her mind lights up with adoration as she pops a section of the fruit into her mouth and chews, makes a small happy sound at the flavor.

He paws through the feast, finds a small plate with several slices of cured meat. The First Order’s rations were basic at best, and protein porridge just can’t compare. He chews thoughtfully, smoky-salt flavor bringing back the ghosts of old memories, long forgotten. He pushes them back down as he swallows and unscrews the top from a thermos.

The earthy smell of caf fills the enclosed space and Rey pulls a face at the dark, rich aroma. “You don’t have to drink that. There’s juice, too!”

Kylo hides his smile behind the thermos, takes a deep pull. “It’s fine. This is… fine. You could have brought bread, you could have brought nothing, and that would have been fine.”

“I did bring bread!” Rey’s pride puffs at having anticipated this request and she unknots a napkin from around a stack of what bread might look like in the afterlife if it had been very good. “I don’t know what they are, but they looked so pretty.” She breaks something shiny with a sticky glaze in half and passes it to him. “Oh, there’s fruit in the middle!”

They are about halfway through the food when there are two sharp raps on the door.  Rey pauses her attack on another of those red fruits and a ripple of anxiety upsets the still contentedness they share before she pushes it away and rallies. “I need to go now.” She replaces the morsel she had just taken and stands. He follows her to his feet, and her hands shake in his. “Be good,” she murmurs in a voice that breaks his heart. She squeezes his hand in both of her before she disappears back out the door.

Kylo breathes out in a long stream, opens and closes his hands as he stares out the tiny window in the door, trying to get a hold of the delicate strings of his control. She left far too quickly. Voices murmur outside his door: Rey and another woman. The General. His blood freezes in his veins.

So this is how it ends.

Rey should have told him. He should have kissed her again before she left, one last time. Said goodbye.

Frustration, helpless and angry, pounds at his temples before he feels for the stars in her mind, still so close, buries his emotions down under the surface of that borrowed calm. He knew this was coming. He always knew.  Raging against his death is useless at this stage.

They probably hadn’t told her the significance of this act, this last meal. She had been so excited to see him. No, the General would have painted herself in the best possible light for Rey. He can’t blame Rey for her prevarication. It had been good of her to keep it to herself so that it hadn’t hung over them like an axe. It was a kind deception, and he’d thank her for it if he could see her again. Their time together had been precious. He thinks of the way her nose had brushed along his jaw, tries to hold that memory in the front of his mind. Then Kylo Ren squares his shoulders and straightens his spine as the door cracks open and the General of the Resistance walks into the cell, pulls the door shut behind her.

She’s smaller than he remembers. Still proud, still strong, but small. Her hair has grayed, her face has lined. He hadn’t noticed the first time she had come to look in on him, hadn’t noticed anything beyond the haze of rage and pain, but she’s old now. The rage and pain is muted now, and even the drugs are burning away under her stare.

She studies him, attention flicking to the once broken hand, the now healed leg. She can't seem to linger too long on the details of his face, his nose, his mouth, but she locks him in her gaze and doesn't flinch from his eyes. He’s surprised at how calm he is.  None of this really matters. He’ll be dead soon, and that knowledge is freeing.

The silence stretches and he wishes she’d just get on with it. There’s no one here to posture for. “A last meal?” Kylo gestures to the feast Rey had laid out for him. He thinks of the juice from the fruit on her fingers and draws on more of the calm that sits quiet and restful in the back of his head. “Did you tell her?”

“The Resistance leadership is still discussing your fate.”  The General doesn’t flinch, hand steady on the blaster at her hip, but he hadn’t expected much of a reaction. Had she wavered when she made the decision to destroy Starkiller? He doubts it.

“Then why are you here?” He drawls, feigning boredom. “Surely General Organa has more important things to do than stop in and gloat over a prisoner.”

“I’m here to see my son.” The General all but snarls the words, knuckles white.

She’s trying to get under his skin as certainly as he’s trying to get under hers. It isn’t hard for either to succeed. His control wavers, weaknesses and failures tearing at the filaments that hold them back. He curls his lip and keeps his voice steady. “He’s dead, General. I killed your son, just like I killed your husband.” Blood roars in his ears at the memory, the sizzle as he had run Solo through, the silence when he had cut the beam and watched him fall. Kylo Ren burns it all away, cuts out the emotions surging through his chest. This is just like dealing with Snoke. He knows what to do. “I admit to all my crimes. Why pretend that there is anything left to decide?”

“Snoke killed Han.” Two points of color flame high on the General’s cheeks and the bare lightbulb above them shines on an unshed tear.

Kylo sneers, cold and hollow. “Is that what you tell yourself so you can sleep at night? Your fool husband went like a lamb to slaughter, General. I stabbed him in the heart and then I threw his body in a pit.”

“Han was no lamb.” the General has the audacity to smile for an instant, some precious, treasured memory flickering across her face.  That makes the rage shred through his veneer of control.“You should know. You’re the spitting image of him.” Her voice hardens, an accusation, a judgement. “You’re Ben Solo, you piece of shit, and you’ll always be my son.”

His keeps his tone steady but the name, anathema, is shattering his control. “You should go now.” Darkness screams along his nerves but he holds it in, holds it in because he won’t let her win like this, won’t be weak in front of this bitch, and he has to try . The effort of keeping the power under his skin, contained and controlled, is titanic. Blood dribbles out his nose as the General stares at him a moment longer, stubborn to the end, and then turns and walks out, slamming the door shut behind her.

Kylo erupts with a scream, power burning off his skin. The storage crates shatter into plastic shards and his wrath shreds through their contents, rends the thin mattress and pulls chunks from the wall. The rubble smashes against itself as it whips in a frenzy around him, filling the cell, a shrapnel storm with a man at its eye.

Chapter Text

General Organa gives her a nod and a tight, grim smile as Rey slips out. Rey tries to smile back but the General looks away before she can manage it, giving a sharp look to the squad of eight soldiers who arrived with her, all armed with heavy plasma rifles. They train their guns on the door and the General squares her shoulders, holds her head up high, and pulls open the door, marching in to confront Kylo.

Kylo’s anxiety and anger grate in her head, and Rey pulls as far back from him as she can so as not to eavesdrop.  She counts her breaths, focuses on them to keep herself calm and centered. Ten. Twenty. Forty. Eighty. More than she’d expected, fewer than she’d hoped. The door slams open and then crashes back shut. General Organa has tears in her eyes but she is otherwise stone, face set and posture erect.  A scream rips the air as Kylo’s rage breaks through the dam in his head. Eight rifles come back up instinctively, aimed at the door as unearthly sounds of destruction filter into the hall.

“Stand down.” General Organa waves an imperious hand at the guards, absolute in her control even as she raises her voice to be heard over the din. They relax by only a hair, fingers still on triggers, stances ready to fight. The General motions to Rey. “Give her an hour with him. Absolutely no one else is allowed in that cell. That’s an order.”  

Rey moves to the quaking door and the General catches her hand as she passes, gives it a squeeze, quick and urgent. “Please,” Leia whispers, so low she almost misses it. Then she’s gone, prowling down the hall after a sharp gesture to the guards to remain.

The bond is razorwire and acid, undulating, flailing, cutting into her. Rey takes several deep breaths, trying to find tranquility while preparing herself for the worst.  She’s done this before.  She’s seen what’s inside him. She can do this. She pushes open the door.

The room inside is chaos. Savage wind rips through her hair, tearing it out of its loose knot. A light fixture shatters above her and she throws up a Force shield before the glass can cut her or the cyclone can slam debris into her body. As the shield solidifies around her and the maelstrom rages, she catches sight of him, the still center of the whirling hurricane.  He’s howling and she can feel the pain, even if she can’t hear him over the roaring around her. For a moment she is afraid of him, but she throws that part of herself away, dismisses it, and walks through the storm to him.

It parts around her as the shield holds strong against the onslaught. A hunk of masonry crashes into the barrier and explodes in a rain of stones that pit the walls. The basket she’d carried their breakfast in speeds past, food disgorged and smashes against the ceiling. Stuffing from the shredded mattress eddies around where the shield meets the floor.  One long spear of wood pinwheels up from a torn storage crate, inches from her nose, and imbeds itself in the ceiling. She ignores it all, focuses only on calm, on the stars steady in her head, on the man before her. Rey pushes through the barrage and into the stillness at its center.

Kylo has stopped screaming and the quiet is almost eerie.  He’s still tense and the muscles of his neck and jaw are twitching as he grinds his teeth.  His eyes are open, burning and unfocused. He doesn’t see her.  She can’t get too close to his mind without her own catching fire or sinking down into his pit of misery, so instead she drops her shield and raises her hands to cup his face. The touch stirs something in him and his eyes shift to hers before he closes them and silent tears course down his face.  

Breathing in, letting his terrible misery wrack her bones, Rey opens the floodgates of their connection. She knows what to expect this time and she’s learning more control over what they share. She rides the the bleeding torrent of dark power, uses it to pull them up into the space they’ve built together.  She makes the night sky darker, the stars brighter. The black pool floods, swamping their feet, reflecting the endless sky in all directions. She holds it down, filters it into the sky and the stars. His hands are cold when he lifts them to cradle her face and they stand until his hot tears have dried on her fingers and the trance is broken.

Rey lets out a shaky sigh as her physical eyes slide open and meet his, sunken, red, and haunted. The storm is frozen around them, hundreds of jagged fragments suspended erratically in the air. Kylo drags his thumb along her cheek and the debris clatters to the ground. He falls with it, folding  around her shoulders, legs giving out under him.

She lowers him to the floor, supports his weight with her back and shoulders, arms resting around his chest as his head sags forward. “So,” she begins, hesitant. “How was your talk with the General?” She can’t imagine hating anyone like he seems to hate Leia Organa.

His shoulders twitch around her, his intent to push her away failing in the face of his complete breakdown.

Rey slides one hand under his shirt, across his back, up his neck. Through the contact she pushes all her concern, all her affection into the empty void inside him. She nudges against the last walls, digs down as deep as she’s ever explored. These boxes are old, stuffed full to bursting, untouched for years. Let me help you.

He squeezes his eyes tight and slides his hand up to her arm, long fingers circling her bicep. His other hand slips under her shirt, digs into her hip as he bows forward, presses his forehead against hers.

The boxes open and the memories seep out, sticky oozes of darkness that bleed into the clear water of her thoughts and diffuse, spreading until it’s all she sees.

 

Ben Solo is four years old, and there’s a voice in his head, high and curious. Who are you? He looks around, searching for the speaker. He’s playing in the room he shares with Mama when Dad and Uncle Chewie are away. He can’t see anyone. He looks under the big bed, in the closet where Mama’s clothes hang, where he likes to hide sometimes. No one’s there.  The voice pokes him again, a strange, half-realized feeling that he doesn’t understand. I’m Ben, he says, before the door opens and he runs, laughing, into Mama’s skirts.

He’s five, and the voice has become his constant companion. It talks to him when he’s left all alone with books and toys that are for babies, and he’s not a baby any more. No, you’re not , His Friend agrees, serious and grown up, just like Ben is. His Friend keeps him company when Mama is working, in the long boring meetings where he sits under the tables by himself, when Dad and Uncle Chewie are off wherever they go. It seems like their trips last longer and longer, their visits home more infrequent, each year. The other kids on the compound don’t like him anymore, not after he broke Jori’s arm that one time. He doesn’t know how it happened - they were playing Rebels and Empire and Jori said something that had made Ben angry, and then Jori was crying and everyone was yelling. Ben apologized even though he couldn’t have done it - the other kids are all older, so much bigger than he is. Mama says it wasn’t his fault, but that he has to be careful, and Ben doesn’t know what that means. Don’t worry about it. His Friend consoles him. They weren’t very good friends anyway. They go get cookies from the cafeteria and His Friend makes Ben laugh until he forgets all about Jori.

His Friend leaves when he turns six and Uncle Luke comes to visit. Ben’s head feels too big, echoing empty, and he wants to tell someone about it but His Friend said they wouldn’t understand and he’d get in trouble, so he doesn’t say anything.  He asks Uncle Luke about the Force, about being a Jedi, about his adventures.  He laughs, pulls Ben up onto his lap, and says he’ll tell him all about it when he’s older.

Ben can’t wait to get off base. He’s left by himself more often than not now. Seven years old is too big to go to meetings with Mom, but somehow not big enough to go flying with Dad. He mostly reads, alone in his room. The school on the base isn’t bad. The teachers talk about the war, about battles and heroes, the Empire and the Republic, and Ben drinks it all in. Uncle Luke is a hero, and Ben wants to be just like him.  Soon, but not soon enough, he’ll get to go train to be a Jedi. For now, he practices with His Friend in secret.  Uncle Luke will be so excited, so proud when Ben shows him how easily he can levitate books, how long he can stand on his hands, how well he can meditate. Meditation is fun, especially with His Friend telling him stories, whispering secrets that make Ben’s head spin.

Mom and Dad are shouting in the other room. Dad came back late with another model ship for Ben’s shelf and stories about another daring escape. Ben tried to show him the book Uncle Luke gave him, but Dad didn’t want to see it, didn’t care at all about the cool pictures of the Jedi Masters of the past. It’s the day after his eighth birthday and Ben cries and cries but he can’t fall asleep.

Ben is nine and Uncle Luke won’t tell him about Darth Vader.  He says that the Jedi value knowledge over ignorance, but that can’t be true because Ben is always asking questions and no one ever tells him anything. Mom and Dad just look at each other when he asks, quick and nervous. Dad ruffles his hair and tells him it isn’t important. Ben hates that. Mom doesn’t say anything, just goes into the other room to work, and he hates that more. The voice in his head whispers that they are hiding something important, that they don’t trust him , and Ben is pretty sure His Friend is right. His Friend always answers his questions.

Ben hadn’t cried when he’d left the base, when Dad ruffled his hair and told him to be good, when Mom kissed his cheek, when Uncle Chewie picked him up and given him one last piggy back ride around the Falcon . Sometimes he cries when he thinks about them, though, and that’s bad. Ten year old boys who are going to be heroes aren’t supposed to cry. Jedi aren’t supposed to have emotional attachments.  The other initiates at the temple like him because he’s strong. They ask for his advice about meditation - how does it come so easily to you?  He lies, makes something up about clearing his mind. His Friend is shy, and Ben doesn’t want Uncle Luke, who he’s supposed to call Master Skywalker, to think he’s meditating incorrectly.  The Force is strong here and His Friend seems to be stronger, too.  He talks all the time now and that’s good because sometimes Ben is so nervous it scares him and he hates being scared. He misses his Mom but she said he had to go, that it was time to become a hero, but the voice is soothing, kind in her absence. His Friend tells him stories about his grandfather when he can’t sleep, which is almost every night, stories that make his head hurt a little because they’re different than the ones his teachers told him.  His Friend says that Darth Vader was a hero, and that someday Ben will be a hero just like his grandfather. That makes Ben feel good, proud, brave.

At eleven years old, he’s the best initiate at the temple, better than the older kids who have been there longer than he has. Master Skywalker keeps telling him that he needs to be less prideful, less arrogant.  His Friend disagrees and Ben believes His Friend when he says that Ben is destined for greatness.  Master Skywalker just doesn’t see it yet. His Friend says he should leave Master Skywalker, come back when he’s too powerful to be ignored.  Ben wonders if His Friend is really his friend, and that thought gives him such a headache his nose bleeds. His Friend gets mad and leaves him alone, all alone, for five days as punishment. Ben doesn’t sleep a wink.

Ben is twelve and is sitting alone, Force-flicking rocks at a tree while the other initiates practice their footwork.  He’s being punished. It’s not fair, it’s not his fault that Pidra fell when they were fencing. If she was focused, if she was strong enough, she’d have been able to escape his trick, but she wasn’t, and that’s not his problem.  Master Skywalker takes his training saber away and sends him into the forest to ‘meditate on his choices.’ Ben hates Master Skywalker and he can’t tell if that thought is his own or someone else's. It doesn’t go away.

No one understands him. His mother says this is normal for thirteen year old boys when he mentions it on their monthly holo-call. Dad shrugs, gives that dumb smirk, and says, “Kid, what the hell do I know about that Jedi stuff?” The other initiates don’t like him anymore. No one wants to train with him, so Master Skywalker always has to assign someone and his partner comes to practice sighing, rolling their eyes, wincing when he looks at them. They are weak , His Friend says, and Ben agrees.  Everyone he knows is weak, foolish.  His Friend says there are other ways to become a hero.

His Friend offers to be his new master, to train him properly, like Darth Vader was trained, when he turns fourteen. No more lifting rocks, no more morning meditation, no more bland food and scratchy blankets.  No more Uncle Luke avoiding his questions, waving them away, telling him about the stupid Jedi Code. Ben asks where His Friend is, how he can get there. His Friend tells him what to do.

Ben is fifteen and there’s blood on his hands, on his face.

Ben Solo is dead. Kylo Ren laughs.

 

Rey recoils and when the vision fades, she is crying so hard her chest aches. Kylo’s eyes are dry and he moves away from her, pulls back from their connection, but she reaches out to him, climbs into his lap, kisses him hard through the tears. She’s never felt so angry, so helpless, so desperate and empty, and even that is just a shadow of what he’s felt every second of every day for most of his life. She can’t stay this hollow shell, needs something to fill the chasm his memories have opened within her.

Kylo is slow to respond, but he warms under her, begins to come back to life as she threads her hands into his hair.  He reaches up to cup the back of her head in his hand, holding her to him.  Rey opens her lips and he flows into her, heaving a broken sob as she licks into his mouth.  This is not the gentle kiss he’d given her before breakfast. This is hungry, raw, demanding. She’s never seen him this wrecked, this broken before, and that scares her even as sparks flit behind her eyes as his kisses deepen. It’s the first time she’s tasted him without blood in his mouth and the bitter self-loathing is so much worse than that metallic tang.  She wants to burn the memories away, cut them out and cauterize the wound. She knows that she can’t, and even if she could, she wouldn’t. This is who he is. This is what he’s done. This is what’s been done to him. He moves from her mouth, palming her breasts through her shirt, to bite down her neck.

The door rattles in its frame and a booming fist knocks. “Hour’s up!”

Rey jerks her head up, startled. It can’t have been an hour yet. She’s not ready to leave. There’s still so much that needs to be done, to be said. She can’t leave with this agonizing hunger tearing her apart.

Ignore them.  Kylo slides a hand up her neck, tilts her chin back, and sucks a bruising kiss under her ear. His nails rake her back under her shirt and he groans, hot on her skin, as she arches against him. She wants to stay, to pant and sigh into his mouth, to taste his tears and his skin, to knit their bodies together and stitch up their ripped souls.

It takes all the willpower she has to pull away from him, but she has to play by the rules. “Be good,” Rey growls, pressing her palms against his shoulders and rising.

“No.” Kylo reaches up, grabs her by the hips as she stands. His hands are hard on her and he pulls her back down onto him, climbing up from her hips to lace his hands behind her neck. His kiss is crushing now, unyielding, and she wants to fall into him, to let him pull her under. She fights back against it, digging her fingers into his shoulders, biting at his lips.  Rey opens her eyes when he pulls back a breath to murmur her name. His voice has dropped to a husky rasp and his eyes are completely dark.  

“You have to be good,” she whispers. This time she stands and his hands fall away.   Her boots crunch over the broken glass on her way out and she doesn’t look back.

Chapter Text

He is powerful beyond measure. All bow to him, just as destiny has decreed. Luke Skywalker falls under the scarlet of his saber with a hoarse cry and the Jedi are vanquished. With his death, the Resistance shatters. The Republic crumbles. His rule is absolute. None are left to challenge him, no being left alive his equal.

Grandfather would be pleased.

Something raspy and low chuckles in his head, a laugh out of nightmares long forgotten. Snoke, his old master, the worm, is driven to the dirt but still lives. He feels the old devil burrowing around the edges of reality, a festering sore on the perfection of his world. He will burn that infection out permanently. He’s on the ruins of Moraband at a thought, ash-flecked air whipping against his helmet, harmless, tasteless through the filters. The rubble of the destroyed base grinds beneath his boots as he sweeps away the wreckage blocking the tunnel to the throne room.

The darkness sings to him here, power recognizing at last the one with the strength and will to wield it. Snoke sat on it like a hen hatching an egg, but he will take the darkness here and use it, not hoard it away. There are other galaxies, other dimensions. He will find them all, bring them under his sway. The door is open to him and the black throne gleams under that pale white light where he had knelt, a slave for so many years.

Snoke’s presence is imprinted in the stone itself here, but he will scourge this place clean of that taint. He will build upon these foundations a fortress to best any palace, a seat for his undisputed power. He approaches the throne and for a moment, it ripples like water and he’s confused, disoriented. His head spins. Why is he here? Then it’s gone, certainty returning, strong and fierce and pure, as he mounts the high steps of the dais. He sits on the throne and it is as though it was carved just for him, obsidian morphing under his legs, against his back, cradling him as a spring of darkness bubbles to life filtering in through a crack in the walls, pooling on the floor.

Enthroned at last, his deification is at hand.

The vanquished crawl before him, winding into the chamber like a sleen with a thousand legs, kneeling in tight ranks before him, senators and petty kings and viceroys disappearing into the darkness. All is as it should be. Something in the crowd catches his attention and he lifts a hand, summons one of the many forward.

The Force writhes around him as the figure climbs over the other bodies to approach, crushing fingers, shoving forward, the scuffle of motion deafening in the silence. The light from above washes away all distinguishing features, and that anonymity grates on his nerves. He beckons again, more impatient, and the figure mounts the dais. A lightsaber blazes to life, white and blue piercing the darkness before slamming through his chest, melting into the stone behind him. Skywalker’s face is grim and mournful as the heart burns out of Kylo Ren.

It doesn’t hurt. Should it? He sucks in breath and chokes, panics, grabs at the blade as though he could tear it out free. His flesh cracks, sizzles, but he doesn’t feel it fall away.  He looks up from the harsh shadows cast by his burning hands make into Rey’s snarl of triumph, lit from below as the light breaks through his skin, throwing harsh shadows around her eyes. She twists the blade free, swings it level with his neck as though he’s not already dead and just waiting for his mind to catch up.

A hand, cold and dry, smooths the hair out of his eyes as he dies on the throne and Snoke laughs, breath icy cold against his ear.

Kylo wakes strangling the scream in his throat. He tries to scramble backward, as if the movement could push him further from the dream, and succeeds only in cracking his head against the broken masonry. He closes his eyes again, clenches them so tight he sees white, and leans his head back against the wall, trying to regain control over his racing heart and erratic breath.

Rey sweeps into his mind, warmth and light burning back the darkness of the dream. What happened? She sounds worried.

Lifting his trembling hands to his face, he rubs at his eyes.   A nightmare.

Are you okay? She brushes against him and pulls comfort and serenity over him like a heavy blanket.

I’m fine. His hands stop shaking and he takes several deep breaths before pushing back into her mind with as much humor as he can muster. It’s not much. Where’s my breakfast?

There’s too much going on in her head for him to understand. She’s moving and she’s anxious, but she’s trying to hide that anxiety from him. I’m sure someone brought you something. I’m busy. Before he can ask for more details, she cuts him off. I have to go now, but I’ll see you soon. She pulls back from him and that makes him nervous, but she’s right. There’s a tray on the floor by the door.  He stands carefully, gritting his teeth as splinters and shards dig into his bare feet. He cricks his head to one side and then to the other, trying to loosen muscles gone stiff, and looks around at the devastation his power created.

The tray means that the General hadn’t lied about that not being his last meal, it would seem. He’s not sure how he feels about the implied chance of survival. He pushes the thought away. It’s safer not to hope. The tray contains protein porridge again, but it goes down easily, helping to slake some of his thirst as it takes the edge off his hunger. It’s something, he supposes.

Not wanting to risk more damage to his already bloodied feet, Kylo shuffles along the wall a safe distance and sits, eyes on the door. Rey is moving through the compound, talking to someone, distracted, but coming closer. She’s got the stars in her head, shining as tiny pinpricks of light in the darkness across their bond. Her outward calm is  affected, a defense mechanism. He doesn’t like that, but she ignores his harsh demand for answers, instead calling forth the song that whispers from that place of quiet tranquility.

The sound of boots in the hallway accompanies her approach. He rises moments before the door bursts open and a wall of armored muscle bristling with plasma rifles fills the frame.

He catches himself before he drops into a fighting stance. He’s being good. Instead, he just looks at them, passive and expectant, until Rey elbows her way through the crowd to stand before him.

“Let’s get you out of here.” Her eyes are bright and hopeful and he doubts she’d look like that if she knew she’d be escorting him to his execution. Her brow furrows at that thought and the stars re-assert themselves behind his eyes as she beckons to him. “Come on.”

The plasma rifles track him as he walks to her and the guards split to the sides as they pass. There is a second and then a third rank of armed guards, and they form a square around him and Rey as they begin to walk. Rey sticks close enough to his side that her shoulder brushes his arm as he’s escorted across the compound. The silence is deafening, and they pass almost no one, only pairs of guards every fifty steps.

It’s an impressive display of security. “I hope you didn’t go to all this trouble just for me.” Where are we going?

Rey frowns at him, brushes her knuckles against his hand in a way that might have looked casual if she didn’t keep doing it with every step. This isn’t bad. It’ll be okay.

I wish you’d stop saying that.

The compound is larger than he had thought and creepy in its emptiness.

Rey flicks a look at him. “Everyone is on lockdown. You’ve got a reputation . ” A little surge of twisted pride straightens his spine, lifts his head. Rey scoffs.

The guards in front of them stop in front of a door that looks identical to all the others. The ones on his flank turn and bring up their rifles as though whatever’s on the other side of the door might set him off again. Maybe it will.

“In here.” The guards blocking his way part at Rey’s words and she places her hand on the flat of his back, ushering him inside.

The door slams shut behind him and a bolt rattles home. Locked in, then. He takes the room in at a glance: empty white walls on three sides, one huge mirror bracketed by speakers on the fourth. A metal table is bolted to the floor, and two chairs set before a pair of microphones face the mirror. He looks up to the mirror and senses a cluster of life forms settling behind it, the General among them. His heart thumps.  “What is this? A… Is this a trial?”

Rey nods, a quick tense gesture, and she nudges him over to the chairs, taking hers once he’s seated. “Let’s get started.”

A voice, old and gruff, crackles through the speakers. “Ladies and gentlemen of the Resistance, we have organized this meeting to decide the matter of one Ben Solo, alias Kylo Ren.”

Kylo breathes through his nose. A trial. He’s dead. Under the table, Rey grabs his hand and squeezes hard.

The same voice continues, tinny through the speakers. “After much deliberation, the leaders have come to an agreement. Admiral Statura will convey the decision to the guilty party.”

Even better.  They’ve held the trial without him and are ready to hand down judgment. At least they saved him the trouble of giving testimony.

A different voice comes on, crisp with a light Core accent. “Thank you, Major Ematt. Kylo Ren, you are found guilty of the crimes against sentient beings as exemplified by the destruction of the Hosnian system. You are found guilty of gross violations of the rights laid down by the New Republic, including but not limited to the massacre of civilians beyond counting, torture of prisoners, and the cold-blooded murder of Han Solo.” There’s a pause and Rey’s breath catches in her chest, but she doesn’t let go of him. Kylo’s gorge rises and he swallows hard on the sharp taste.

Statura’s voice lilts in a sick, cool amusement. “There were those among us who believed that your deeds ought to be listed in full, as is prescribed in our charter of justice. However, as that would take weeks to detail, we have elected to abridge the accusations Do you dispute any of the charges as laid down?”

“Well,” Kylo says with a sigh, “I technically didn’t have much to do with the Hosnian system, but other than that, no. I dispute nothing. You’ve just about got it.” Kylo shrugs. Rey shoots him a look of disgust and digs her nails into his hand. He lets it roll off his shoulders. Quibbling further on the nuances of this matter is beneath him. He will not grovel.

The moment of silence stretches then the Admiral’s voice returns. “Very well. The leaders who guide the Resistance have discussed at length the merits of a full public inquiry into the depths of your actions. Such an event will be ugly, undignified, and slow. It will, without doubt, end with your execution, to the delight of millions. You are not a popular man, Ren, as I’m sure your representative has explained.”

Representative? He turns to Rey. You’re working for them?  It’s not a surprise. It makes sense that Rey would align herself with his captors, but it still stings.

Rey gives the smallest affirmative nod. I’m protecting you. She smooths her thumb over his knuckles where their watchers can’t see. “I have, Admiral.”

“As I was saying,” the Admiral continues via the speakers, “Many are demanding a public trial. A grand spectacle. The death of a monster.” Statura pauses, lets that last comment hang heavy in the air before going on. “However, the Resistance prides itself on justice, and will not yield to the mob just because the rabble clamors for blood. There are those among us who think long term, those who look for what is most advantageous to furthering our Cause. They have put forth the following proposition: You will tell us all you know of the First Order. Its resources, its strategy, its locations, everything. From the weapon installations on major bases down to the brand of polish Captain Phasma uses on her armor.” The Admiral enunciates each syllable of the next word. “Everything.” He pauses again and Kylo’s breath sticks in his lungs. “In exchange for this information, you will be allowed to keep your life.”

Kylo draws all the control, all the strength Rey offers through their connection, keeps his reaction locked deep in the pit of his stomach, far from where it might show on his traitorous face. He breathes out, long and shaky, before he can trust his voice. “And then what happens? We shake hands and I go on my merry way?” His lip curls as Rey squeezes his hand, shocked at his flippant tone. “I don’t think you’re that stupid. What are the conditions of this generous offer?”

The first voice, the Major’s, takes over again. “Pending your agreement to turn informant, you will be implanted with an XT-0325 Tracker Chip with a maximum range of one half mile past the Base walls. Any further movement will require explicit pre-approval from the Council of Leaders. Even then, you will be accompanied by a responsible party at all times. Unauthorized movement will result in the release of a  neurotoxin which will incapacitate you until you can be collected and the antidote administered.” Beside him, Rey stiffens. She didn’t know about the tracker, the toxins.  It doesn’t surprise Kylo - they’d never let him off the leash once they had the collar around his throat. The Major is still speaking. “You will advise the Resistance leadership on an as needed basis. Your activities will be constrained to your personal quarters and other approved areas while within the compound.”

Rey twitches, a small spasm of shock and outrage twisting their connection, mingling with his displeasure. They had lured her over to their side without disclosing their full plan. How very Sith of them. Does Rey understand the implications of their offer? He doubts it. “For how long?”

“Until your death.” The Major’s voice is flat, unamused. “This is a life sentence, Kylo Ren. Even this is more lenience than you deserve. We will give you a moment to consider your choices.”

“The choice to live a traitor or die a martyr?” Kylo snorts, clenches his hand around Rey’s. The connection flutters with a moment of her anxiety. She can’t stop him from making this choice.

But it’s no choice at all, really. Death gains him nothing. After his failed attempt on Snoke’s life, after cutting his way through his Brother Knights, he knows exactly how he’d be welcomed back there if he were somehow able to escape the Resistance base. Even by Snoke’s standards, it would be a slow and terrible end.  Kylo releases Rey’s hand, places both of his firmly on the table before him, and stares straight into the mirror.

“Traitor it is, then. Let’s talk about the First Order.”

Rey’s relief sparkles through her lingering frustration, cresting over their connection to engulf him. Thank you. She takes a deep breath and gives him a small smile. He wants to kiss her. He almost does, almost gives in, but remembers the people behind the mirror just in time.

The Major speaks again. “Very well. We will begin after a recess of fifteen minutes.” The Major’s voice is flat. Was he hoping for a different outcome? “This meeting will recommence at fourteen hundred hours.”

His mouth struggles to smile back at Rey and then he gives up. He turns from her, leans back in his chair, and lets the numb acceptance wash around him. There’s still a chance that this deal isn’t being made in good faith, that after selling out the First Order, his life will end with the execution so lovingly described by the Admiral. He glances back to Rey.

Thanks for what? Are they still being watched? He doesn’t dare show weakness in front of his captors, and he doesn’t know how the leaders would respond to the true nature of their relationship, whatever that is. He doesn’t want to think about that now.

Rey stands, stretching until her back cracks and paces around the room. She ponders her response a moment. For trying. Her desire to reach out and touch him sits heavy in her thoughts, but she keeps her hands to herself. She’s trying, too. I can’t believe they’ve attached all those stipulations! She glares at the wall like it’s responsible for the current state of affairs.

Kylo shrugs a shoulder at that, letting her anger twine around his thoughts. Even her anger is more controlled than his, more likely to end in action than destruction. It would be unrealistic to expect anything else. It’s surprising they trust me enough to take intel. They must be desperate.  With a grunt, he tips his head back and lets it rest against the back of the chair, closes his eyes and lets the time pass.

Rey takes a seat beside him and sits, quiet and patient, until the speaker by the mirror crackles back to life. “The session is reconvened at this time. Droids are in place for taking all dictations and recordings. Begin.”

Kylo sits up, opens his eyes and runs his hand through his hair. “Let’s start with Hux.”

Chapter Text

Kylo talks about General Hux for hours. It’s the most she’s ever heard him speak. He waxes rhapsodic about the man and has to be brought back on topic several times by the Major. “We’re looking for useful, tactical information, Ren. We do not require a list of times the General annoyed you.”

The bond between them is steady, if a bit frenetic, as he speaks, his eyes bright and fixed on their invisible audience. Once he moves on from Hux, there are moments where his hand drops out of sight to dig into her knee, drawing on her strength when the information triggers something dark and angry in his gut. He always withdraws from the contact soon enough, moving to lace his fingers together in front of him or gesticulate in demonstration.

His voice is growing hoarse when the Major adjourns the session for the day and announces recommence the following morning. Rey stands as the door flies open and the ranks of soldiers chivvy them into the hall. She squeezes Kylo’s shoulder as he rises and sticks close by his side as he’s escorted back towards his cell. Her heart pounds when they turn down an unfamiliar hall. “Where are we going?”

“Shower block, ma’am.” The guard doesn’t turn his head or move his weapon away from her as he answers. “General’s orders.”

Rey raises an eyebrow at that, but Kylo is almost pleased. She nudges him with an uncertain, wordless query.

I haven’t had a shower in days, and they’re not going to shoot me in the ‘fresher. Blood doesn’t scrub out of grout.

Rolling her eyes, Rey slips out when the guards part in front of the ‘fresher door. I’ll be nearby. She dawdles until he’s clean and dry. As he exits the ‘fresher dressed in soft pants, hair still damp, he is stopped from pulling the shirt over his head by a guard. There’s a moment of tension, then Kylo shrugs and drapes the shirt over his shoulder.  

A dark haired doctor appears at Rey’s shoulder and turns to her. “You’re the prisoner’s handler?” The doctor’s voice is firm, her eyes hard.

“Yes, I suppose. I’m Rey.” Rey shakes the Doctor’s proffered hand. “What’s going on?”

The doctor smiles, cool and professional. “Doctor Kalonia. I’m here to insert the tracker.”

Kylo stiffens. Already? That was fast. The guard beside him reaches out to take his arm but Kylo moves away, walks through the tangle of guns to where Rey and the doctor stand. “Where is it going?”

Kalonia removes a large needle from the bag at her side.  “It’s a subdermal implant. I’ll place it in your left forearm.” She takes his unresisting arm and looks up at him, stern. “Please do not try to remove it.  Any tampering will trigger the toxins, as will any unauthorized movements.” She plunges the needle into his arm, depresses the plunger. Kylo winces, clenches his fist, but is otherwise silent. The doctor removes the needle, drops it back into her bag. “That’s it. We’re done.”  Then she turns on her heel and is gone.

Flexing his arm, Kylo grimaces. “It stings.” He doesn’t comment on it further, but she can feel the annoyance prowling around his mind like a caged animal.  Rey leaves him eating his dinner on the new mattress in his cell, now clean of debris, and slips back to the residential section. She makes her excuses for her lateness when she meets Poe and Finn in the cafeteria.

She sleeps without dreaming and wakes again as the day cycle begins. She reaches for Kylo with a thought, but he’s still sleeping and his dreams are quiet, impenetrable since their separation. Rey’s not sure what to think about that, so she doesn’t, just kicks off her blankets, uses the ‘fresher, and dresses.

It’s still early enough for the compound to be quiet, other residents sleeping in while they can. Following the route Finn had showed her yesterday morning, Rey traces her way out into the crisp morning air. The sky is still dark, and the damp ground squelches under her boots as she trots around the main building to the tree they had picnicked under.

Master Luke looks up from where he sits among the thick roots and raises his eyes to hers in silent welcome before slipping back into meditation. There’s dew twinkling on his robes, on his hair, and on his metal hand, tiny droplets rippling down his sleeve to bead into small lakes in the folds of his clothes. He’s been there for some time. Rey smiles and gives him a wide berth, climbing the low branches from the other side of the tree. She’s never climbed a tree before but it’s not all that different than climbing anything else. The air is cool and fragrant around the trunk, spiced with the deep scent of the leaves. The bark is rough under her hands but it’s alive and growing . The faint life inside the trunk thrums under her hands and she wonders at the sensation.

Finding herself a comfortable perch several feet off the ground, Rey wedges into the fork of a large branch. She meditates there, feeling as the Force pulsates with life and energy on this planet. It flows through the jungle flora, little pinpoints of light for the animals rustling through the leaves, stronger illuminations for the sentient beings. Master Luke shines brightest of them all, a small sun radiating quiet serenity.

She opens her eyes as the sun rise over the Base and considers staying there, basking in the twin glows of the sun and Master Luke’s presence, but her stomach rumbles and she won’t ignore it. She leaves Master Luke meditating undisturbed. He steams gently as the dew evaporates, and the vapor catches the light of the sun, shimmers golden around him. She thinks, maybe, she understands him a bit more now. He needs the quiet solitude of meditation and his island, but it isn’t for her.   

The clamor of the cafeteria is more her speed, alive with fighters, pilots, and workers, all chattering to each other as they end or begin their days. Nobody pays her any mind as Rey slips over to the long table of food, feeling almost guilty as she sneaks several pieces of the sticky-bread into a napkin with another red fruit. She shoves them into her pocket for later. She knows, she knows that it is okay to take food from the cafeteria. Poe and Finn, even General Organa, had impressed upon her that it was always alright to help herself to whatever she wanted, that she doesn’t owe anyone anything for it, but after a lifetime of barter and hunger, it feels like stealing. Grabbing a plate and a glass of juice, she wonders if that will ever change.

“Morning, Rey.” Finn nudges her shoulder as she’s deciding on protein and she looks up at his tired smile. He reaches around her to snag some strange orange meat cubes for himself, piling them on top of his already full plate. “Sleep well?”

She considers the question and then nods. “Yeah.” A beat of hesitation. “You?”

“Yeah. Having a bed is pretty great, right?” He grins and grabs some more food, then steers her through the crowd toward a table in the back.

Snatches of conversation slip through the hubbub, catching her attention as they negotiate through the press.

“-A full pardon, I heard!”

“They wouldn’t dare, not for a monster like that!”

“I talked to Sal who was assigned to guard him the other day! She said-”

“Used some of these weird Force tricks on the leaders, that’s how he did it-”

“Shredded the inside of his cell, I tell you. Huge chunks of steel - thrown around like they were paper!”

"He’s First Order, right? Those guys blew up the Hosnian system!  Weren’t Telab’s parents-"

"Yeah. His whole family. Dead."

"Hey! Dameron! Did you hear? That asshole's getting a-"

Poe’s voice pipes out of the crowd as they get closer. "Guys, come on. Let’s calm down, alright? I'm sure the leaders know what they're doing."

"Didn’t he torture you, man? The hell are you doing defending him?" Poe’s mouth opens, closes, then opens again. He’s saved from speaking by Finn, who slams his tray down at the empty spot beside him, right across from the heckler.

“Hey man. What’s going on?” Finn’s voice is hard and he stares directly at the man in front of him.

Poe glances up at the pointed look Finn is giving the soldier with and his face breaks into a winning smile. “Morning, buddy.” He claps Finn on the shoulder, rocks him from side to side, releasing the tension in his back. “Just breakfast as usual.” He cranes around Finn’s tray to beam up at Rey. “Have a seat, yeah?”

The man across from Poe grinds his teeth, glances between the three of them and stands, knocking his chair back. “Take mine. I was just leaving.” He grabs his breakfast tray and stomps off, leaving the chair on the floor. There’s a hush in the cafeteria, and then the gossip resumes, albeit more quietly.

Rey edges around the table and rights the vacant chair, setting her plate and cup down in the open space. Finn settles beside Poe and digs into his food with fervor. She looks around the cafeteria, eyes settling on a huddle of maintenance workers.  “News travels fast,” she mumbles, tearing a roll in half.

“Yeah, well.” Poe spears a slice of something blue and veiny with his fork and studies it before taking a bite. “They’re scared and angry. The First Order has hurt a lot of people here.” He rubs his jaw, expression unreadable, and then his eyes flick to Finn, who ducks his head to slurp something gelatinous off of his plate.

“I do not need to be reminded of that.” Rey attacks the half-roll, disembowels it of the soft doughy insides. The sweetness of the bread feels wrong on her tongue and she doesn’t get much of it down. She forms it into a little pile instead.

Finn looks up from the orange cubes and puts down his fork with a click. He turns his gaze on Rey, still hard, still sharp. “Do you need to be reminded of  the part where he tried to kill us? ‘Cause it seems like you’ve forgotten.”

Her fingers move with care and precision to gather every shred of roll into another napkin. She can hear the hissing gossip, the vicious whispering, can feel the low level hatred radiating around her.

Finn’s tone cuts her, makes her uncomfortable, angry. They’re friends. He had come back for her, and she had fought to save his life on Starkiller. She cares about him. Why is he talking to her like this?

It’s too crowded in here. The once pleasant noise is too much. She grabs her breakfast and stands, slips around the crowd, pausing to gasp for breath in the hallway before looking for the exit.

Kylo pushes into her thoughts as she paces away from the cafeteria. What’s going on? What’s wrong?

“Rey? Rey!” Finn’s voice carries over the crowds and he shoves out into the hall after her. “Wait up!”

Nothing is wrong. This is a private conversation. Butt out. He does, flicks his attention away without comment, and she’s glad of that. How could she explain this to him? Her mind babbles, her thoughts teetering on the edge of sense as Finn catches up to her. She doesn’t want to do this here, where anyone could listen in. “I’m going outside.”

Nodding, quick and curt, Finn moves to give her space as they pass through the checkpoint by the doors. He motions her to a bench a discrete distance from the door, a question. She sits and he joins her. He doesn’t speak for a moment, just looks at her, and she doesn’t know what to do with his gaze. “Are you okay?”

This is not the quiet she was seeking, but the sun is warm and the air is clean and there are no venomous insinuations dragging at her ears. Rey closes her eyes and inhales, pulling in strength and blowing out doubt, just like Master Skywalker taught her. “I’m working on it.”

Finn grunts at that, draws a knee up and angles himself on the bench to face her. “You freaked out in there, man. What’s going on?”

“I didn’t freak out.” Rey shakes her head. “I didn’t like what people were saying so I left. That’s not freaking out.”

“No way.” Finn shakes his head and doesn’t back down. “I brought up Kylo Ren trying to kill us on Starkiller and you freaked. I don’t get it.” He shakes his head again, runs a hand over his face, back heaving as he sighs and raises his eyes to hers. “I know there’s something going on between you two, and that freaks me out.  He’s a murderer. He killed Han! He kidnapped you! He put me in a coma!”

Rey’s hands twist in her lap.  She knows.  Everyone keeps telling her that he’s a bad person, and she knows .  “I haven’t forgotten what he’s done, but I’m trying to… Move forward from where we are now, I guess.” Finn tries to say something, but she interrupts. “He betrayed Snoke to save me, to save himself! He was just as much a prisoner there as I was.” Finn tries to speak again, reaching out to touch her hand. Rey preempts him. “It’s not an excuse.  It’s not a trade, my life for all those hundreds, but it’s an explanation. It’s the only one that I have. I trust him. He saved my life, and I saved his, and I trust him.”  

“Poe told me what happened.” Finn folds his hands over the top of his knee and rests his chin there, looking out over the grassy terraces in front of the base that fall away into a wide plain strewn with trees. “He said that you were dying on the floor in that creepy black shuttle.” He glances at her, looking for something in her face. “He said he saw Kylo Ren, the Jedi Killer, the First Order’s Poster Boy, my old boss, losing his damned mind, flailing around in your blood, tears pouring down his face, trying to keep you alive.”

She doesn’t respond and he shakes his head, thumps his forehead twice against his folded hands. “I don’t understand! I served under him during the massacre at Jakku! He’s a killer, nothing more! Maybe you’re right,” he acquiesces when she tries to cut him off, “Maybe you’re right.  Maybe he was nothing more than Snoke’s rabid dog, but he had one hell of a long leash. He scared the shit out of all of us, all of the Stormtroopers.” He drops his knee, turns to face her again. “I hear he had another one of his little tantrums after the General came to see him.  He’s not stable, Rey.”  

“He’s trying to be good,” Rey whispers. Her eyes burn.

“Trying to be good? Listen to yourself! He’s a bad guy !” Finn’s fingers dig into his hair, exasperated and confused. “And now you’re his best friend!  Even Poe is defending him, and Kylo Ren tortured Poe! You don’t even know what Poe’s-” He scrubs his hands over his face again, holds them out to her, pleading. “I asked him about it. About Ren in the shuttle, about him keeping you alive. He said I had to be there, but that’s not very helpful right now! I don’t get it!” He takes several deep breaths. “I don’t get it,” he says again, trying to get ahold of his temper before it explodes, “And I really, really need to get it so that we can go back to being friends, because I don’t know who you are right now.”

Rey does cry, then. Finn is her first friend, the first person to ever come back for her. She can’t lose him, doesn’t want to, won’t let that happen.  She utters a low sob, trying to gather herself back into some semblance of calm, and looks up at him. His eyes shine and he opens his arms to her, giving her ample opportunity to deny him, but she doesn’t want to.  She leans into him and he hugs her, pulling her into the leather of Poe’s old jacket.  She hugs him back and sniffles.

“If I tell you what happened,” she murmurs into his neck, “Will you promise not to hate me?”

There’s a smile, a small one, in his voice. “I’ll never hate you, Rey.”

So she tells him.  Finn is not as good a listener as Master Luke and often interrupts for clarification or to ask for more details, but he gasps in all the right places and even cheers when she tells him about cutting off Snoke’s hand. “Attagirl!”  She doesn’t tell him about the sleeping together, about the kissing, and she feels like that’s the wrong thing to do because friends shouldn’t keep secrets, but he hasn’t yelled at her or called Kylo a monster in almost twenty minutes, and she doesn’t want to break that streak.

“Okay,” he sighs, standing up and stretching out his back, “Let me make sure I have this straight.  You and Kylo share some sort of magic Force connection.  You can see inside each other’s minds?” Rey nods. “So he actually cannot lie to you, because you can read his mind?” Rey shrugs, gives a half nod. He could probably lie to her if he put his mind to it, but she’s not going to tell Finn that. Finn rolls his shoulders and blows air out through his lips. “Well, I guess that has to be good enough for me, then. I sure as hell don’t like him, but you’re not a liar.  Poe’s not a liar. I guess we’ll...” His shoulders rise and fall with a heavy sigh. “We’ll make it work.”

Rey gets up and takes his hands in hers. “Thanks, Finn.”

There’s an unmistakable roar above them and they both look up as a ship blots out the sun overhead.  The Girodyne engines are burning hot on the approach and Rey shields her eyes against the glare to look up as the Millennium Falcon swoops low for a screaming landing. She looks back to Finn. He grins and they jog down the landing strip.

The ramp squeals open and they clatter up, racing to throw their arms around Chewbacca’s waist. The Wookiee lets out a roar of welcome and pulls them closer.

Chewbacca crushes Finn to his chest, his face pressed into the bandolier, but Rey can make out the strangled mumble. “Yeah, man, it’s good to see you too!” Chewbacca lets out another yodel of delight.

Rey snickers, pulling back just enough to crane her neck up at the toothy smile. “I missed you too! How’s the Falcon ? Where have you been?”

An enormous hand pats her hair tenderly and Chewie ululates, soft and low.

“Out looking for me?” Rey blinks, clamping down on the desire to burst into tears once more. She swallows a sudden lump in her throat and burrows her face into his fur again, knotting her fingers into his back. “Thank you. Thank you.”

A shout carries - someone looking for Finn. He steps back from Chewie, glancing between the two of them and rubbing the back of his neck. “I gotta go. They’re giving me jobs around the base now. You’re sticking around, right, Chewie?” Chewbacca roars, nods and Finn glances back to Rey, whispers out of the side of his mouth. “What’d he say?”

She wrinkles her nose, laughing as Chewie shrugs, exasperated. “He’s staying the night and won’t leave without saying goodbye, so don’t worry.”

“Great! Catch you later, buddy!” Finn claps Chewie’s arm and then ambles down the ramp as the voice shouts for him again.

Rey watches him go, smiling, before turning back to Chewie, all business. “So! What’s wrong with your baby this time?” He growls, deep and offended, and she laughs. “I didn’t mean it like that! Of course she’s beautiful, but that landing looked a little wobbly.” Chewie groans and ruffles her hair. “ Of course I can tell. Let’s take a look at the compression coils.” Chewie rolls his eyes at that and leads her into the Falcon ’s engine room.

Hours later, her back aches from folding herself to fit around the durasteel fixtures in the engine. She’s splattered from forehead to ankles in engine grease and grime, but the compression coil is clean and secured back to its contact points. She’s glowing with pride when Chewie helps her down from her perch. It’s been too long since she fixed something. The breeze carries a hint of evening cool as Rey stretches, pacing around in front of the lowered ramp.

“I should go wash some of this off,” she says, grimacing at her tacky, stained hands, “Can I come back after dinner?” Chewie gives her a withering look and whuffs. She smiles. “See you soon!”

The highest setting on the ‘fresher and several applications of military-grade soap cut through the grease and what feels like a layer of skin. She slips into a clean shirt and a new pair of pants, runs her fingers through her drying hair and ties it back out of her face and then hurries to walk back with Kylo. He’s been quiet, in the background of her thoughts, occupied with his own business. She nods a the guards who let her through as they open the door.

Kylo looks up at her, tired, but their link hums with a moment of pleasure. He nods to the guard behind her. “Not part of the honor guard anymore?”

Rey hunches at the question, a little bit teasing and a little bit concerned. “Sorry about that. The morning kind of got away from me.” I don’t want to talk about it.   He doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t pry either, and his fingers brush against hers as they walk back to his cell. His mind is dry, wrung out. How did today go?

Kylo raises one shoulder in the barest suggestion of a shrug. Fine. Long. He emphatically does not want to continue the conversation. Rey resists the urge to pry.

“You still smell like a Wookiee.” There’s something she can’t place in Kylo’s eyes when he turns his head to face her, breaking the silence they’d shared as they walked back to his cell. “I felt him arrive.”

She doesn’t break her stride. “We worked on the compression coils this afternoon.” That unnamable emotion flutters in Kylo’s chest, and they don’t speak again until they reach the door to his cell, separating as the guards fill in around them.

I’ll see you tomorrow , she promises and he responds with a neutral hum, squeezing her hand for a moment before brushing past her. The door clicks shut behind him and she stands there as the escort disperses. She’s being foolish. They’re both doing the best they can. Everything is going to be okay. Letting small worries nibble around the edges of her mind won’t help either of them. Rey turns on her heel and leaves, grabbing a quick bite to quiet her rumbling stomach before heading back towards the Falcon .

Rey dashes up the ramp and Chewie yodels a greeting, gestures behind him to the galley. He’s managed to strip most of the grit and oil out of his fur. “No, I’m fine. I ate before coming. Thank you, though.” He’s sitting hunched over the holochess board, too large for the bench, and he beckons her over with a low roar. Rey shakes her head as she joins him. “I don’t know how to play.”

He teaches her the pieces, the rules, and she loses several games before she starts to get the hang of it. He’s taking it easy on her and he lets out a shouting laugh when she accuses him of such. When the sun goes down, he ducks into the galley and returns with two chipped mugs full of something hot and herbal. It’s delicious, sweet and spicy, new to her palate. Chewie warns her not to drink it too quickly, saving her from a burned tongue.

They talk late into the night about his search for her, his work smuggling supplies for the Resistance, his visits with Maz as she rebuilds her world, the new enhancements he’s added to his bowcaster. These modifications spark another round of discussion. Rey’s seen the weapon’s power, remembers too well the damage it had done to Kylo. Holding it in her hands, she tries not to let that dampen her appreciation for the ingenious workmanship, but she’s more than happy to give it back.

The story is getting easier to tell now. She knows what people want to hear, what they’d rather ignore. Chewbacca wants the whole thing, from start to finish, so she tells him everything, even the things she kept from Master Luke.  She answers his rumbled questions, blushes when he sees through her allusions, and swears him to absolute secrecy.  He roars, excited, but relents after some pleading.  She is surprised at how accepting he is about the whole thing.  

“So, that’s it.  He’s technically been pardoned, and is being kept here as an advisor.” Chewbacca lets out a long guttural bellow and pulls her around the curve of the bench to smother her in another rib-cracking hug. Rey leans against him, exhausted.  He murmurs above her, the softest noises he can make. “You’re not mad? The last time you saw him you shot him.” He growls, long and emphatic. “I know, Chewie.” He rumbles, quiet and caring. Then he taps her side with a blunt finger, moans again.  She understands. “You didn’t want him to die.  Even after he killed Han. You didn’t want to do it.” Tears prickle her eyes again, and she’s tired of crying so she smiles instead, wrapping her arms around the Wookiee’s chest before scooting back to her side of the chessboard.  “Want to play again?”

He beats her twice more before she throws up her hands in concession. She’s not going to master this tonight.  She’s about to tell Chewie goodnight when something grates against the back of her mind, some sensation she can’t shake. It isn't quite her connection with Kylo, and it isn’t quite her instincts, but it’s important and it’s urgent . Shaking her head, she focuses , ignoring Chewie’s inquiring grunt, drawing on the Force to bring the thought into clarity.

Boots in the hall, not the clomp of an escort marching in synchrony, but dozens of feet trying to be quiet, trying to sneak. A sick, angry malevolence. A thirst for blood. Rey stands, quick and clumsy, banging into the holochess table hard enough to rattle the mugs balanced on it. Chewie follows her to his feet with a inquiring yodel.

She’s already turned to slam open the ramp, scuttling down it at a full run. “They’re trying to get to Kylo!”

Chewie lets out a roar and gallops after her, scooping Rey up and tossing her onto his back as he catches up.

Chapter Text

Dinner’s waiting for him when Kylo gets back to his cell, and he eats the porridge without tasting it. Rey lingers outside, but he’s so wrung out from today’s deposition that he’s having trouble keeping his eyes open. After she leaves with a soft Sweet dreams, he sits on the mattress on the floor, rolling onto his back to stare at the ceiling. Something slimy-hot writhes in his stomach, and for an instant his head spins and he’s falling.  

Rey’s voice clamors in his head, an incomprehensible, savage noise that tears him out of sleep.  His stomach aches and his head is too heavy as he sits upright, thoughts racing, skittering around his mind without traction. “What?” He’s not sure if he’s speaking aloud or through the connection that wobbles between them.

There are people who want to hurt you. This is not an authorized execution. He’s nauseous and wretches but nothing comes up . I am on my way. I will keep you safe. His brain feels like it’s liquified. It sloshes around his head when he shakes it, trying to understand what she is saying. Don’t hurt anybody!  

Her words cut into him, confused but dancing on the edge of comprehension. Kylo blinks, tries to stand but overshoots, falls flat. What? People…? Are you okay? His thoughts are slow, oozing, sludge in his head.

The door to his cell bangs open and Kylo tries to rise, to move, to do something as shapes swarm in from the hall. It does not go as planned. His torso twists, his legs jerk and twitch, but his body isn’t answering like it should. He just about manages to sit up, arms thrown out for balance, but then they’re on him.

Hands clamp down like they mean to tear him in half. He is jerked off the bed and his knees crunch against the floor as something dark and reeking of laundry soap drops over his head. There’s a pressure around his neck and it tightens .  He struggles, looking for something, reaching, but what is he reaching for? He knows there is something, something he can do, but he can’t think. He can’t breathe. He flails, tries to tear at the binding around his throat, but it’s a weak motion, his limbs sluggish and stiff. Someone grabs his wrists, wrenches his arms behind his back. A circle of cold metal digs into his temple.

I’m almost there! I’m almost there! Don’t hurt anyone! I’m coming!

The voice hurts, fingers of terror scraping against the grain of his thoughts, but it’s not half as painful as the hard blow to his gut that knocks him forward, sends him slumping against the pressure on his arms. Something cracks against his jaw, snaps his head back and forces him upright again. There’s something he should be doing, some way he should be able to protect himself, but he can’t do it, can’t do anything. He grunts, gagging as more blows rain down on him. They seem cautious at first, a fist to his torso, a boot in the back, but they grow stronger, more vicious. People are shouting around him but he can’t make out any words. He sways as the pressure at his temple returns.

He ought to feel something more than pain and nausea. Maybe he should worry about puking into the bag on his head?  It all feels surreal, almost funny. Something thuds against the side of his head and his vision whites out and then pops back in little points of light. Somewhere above him raised voices ring out, followed by senseless shouting. Should he care? Something in his mind shifts, like a wave lapping at a shore. He knows that feeling and cannot place it, but it’s a good sensation, so he lets it wash over him.

There’s a ripple, a change in the voices, then screaming. A thundering roar. There’s something familiar there, too. He turns his face in the direction of the thuds, roars, and shrieks.

He wants to see what’s happening but there’s only the endless black of stifling cloth. The pressure on his arms is released and something slams into the back of his neck. He teeters and falls, arms knocked away as he tries to catch himself. He lands hard. There’s a crushing pressure on his shoulders,  metal digging into the base of his skull as the sounds of chaos – a battle? -  make his ears ring.

The voice, Rey’s voice, pushes into his head again, high and frightened. Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic! I’m here! We’ll take care of you!

I’m not panicking. Something hard grinds between his shoulders and he grunts, air wheezing out of crushed lungs.

Her adrenaline bumps up against the soft thick walls around his thoughts and he feels, dim and distant, the burn of her arms and the sting of her knuckles. Something hits her leg and she kicks out, fierce and savage. Rey is close and her proximity jumpstarts part of his brain, helping him take stock of what is happening. The food. There was something in the food. He reaches for the Force but can’t hold it, can’t bend it to his shaky will.

Someone grabs at his head, ripping at his hair through the bag, and the pressure around his throat increases as his head is yanked up.  He struggles, thoughts beginning to flow again, but still too slow.

A voice near his ear screams and Rey’s presence in his mind stills. “Stay the fuck out of this, girl! The things he’s done - a bolt to the head is the least he deserves.”

That’s not quite as funny, but he chuckles because it’s true. Rey’s yelling and there’s a bellow that he knows. His head swims. What a way to go, gunned down by a mob after agreeing to sell out the First Order. Admiral Statura won’t be happy. That thought is funny, and he wheezes out a broken laugh, pulse pounding as he closes his eyes and tries to focus, concentrate, breathe, anything.

“You think this is a joke?” The hand gripping his hair shakes him hard enough to make his teeth rattle.  The metal at his temple presses hard. “I’ll give you something to laugh at, you fucking assho-”

There’s a scream, a crunch of bone, and the grip slackens. He flinches as something heavy lands across his back and shoulders, knocking him flat again.

He gets his hands beneath him, tries to push himself up, and then the weight on his back disappears and the bag is ripped away. Kylo lifts his hands to his face, trying to shield his eyes from the sudden brightness. A large furry face leans down, very close to his.

“...Uncle Chewie?”

A roar of delighted Shyriiwook shakes his bones and Kylo is squeezed into a wide, furry chest. “What… How did… What?” Chewie lifts him up, holding him tight as his feet dangle inches from the floor, and then sets him down as if he might break. Kylo glances around the room, squinting in the light, then blinks down at the man by his feet. There’s an unnatural bend to his neck. Heads shouldn’t point that way. Forms lay scattered around the room, some struggling to move, others are still, but all are alive, as far as he can tell.

Rey is nowhere to be seen.   Where are you?  

She’s running, breathing hard, but her mind is clear and focused. I’m getting the leaders. This was an assassination attempt. I killed someone. They need to know, now, and they need to hear it from me.

Kylo looks up to Chewie, who reaches over to brush some of Kylo’s hair out of his face before starting a thorough check for wounds. He yodels at the bruises blooming on Kylo’s face, at the raw, rough line around his neck, and wipes away a trickle of blood from his temple. Kylo breathes out another laugh, winces.  This is all so bizarre.

“You shot me with the bowcaster, Uncle Chewie. I’ll make it through a little roughing up.”

The Wookiee chuffs, groans, roars, differentiating himself from these attackers, and pulls Kylo in for another hug. He pokes Kylo in the side, right in the center of the scar, before he releases him.

Kylo flushes at that, bats at the prodding fingers, a little too slow, a little too clumsy. “Well thanks for that, I guess.” Chewie murmurs an inquiry. “Yeah, it’s all healed. Don’t worry about it.”  A sudden wave of dizziness rolls over him, and he staggers, hinging forward at the waist until his head is almost between his knees. Chewie catches him, rubs his back. “I’m okay,” he says, and sits on the mattress, head in his hands. The springs complain as Chewie sits down beside him, warm and solid by his shoulder.

He stays like that, occupied with the precarious task of keeping his head on his shoulders until there are footsteps in the hall. Rey has returned with a crowd in tow. He can’t tell them all apart through the fuzz in his head and the ache in his stomach, but the General is here. He’d recognize her Force signature anywhere.

With a groan, he tilts his head up as a half-dozen figures come into the cell. Rey’s speaking, looking between the General, the doctor who had injected him yesterday, and a tall heavy-set man in yellow, muttering about Master Skywalker waking him up. The man scowls at the figures groaning on the floor. Behind the doctor is a squad of soldiers, and overhead, a small droid hovers, sensor panning to record the scene.  Kylo tries to look up, to listen more acutely, but his head is pounding and he can’t focus.

“General?” The Doctor jerks her head in Kylo’s direction.

“If you would, Kalonia.” The General’s face gives nothing away as she stands by the man in yellow, though her eyes linger on the dead attacker, neck twisted, blaster still clenched in his hand. She gestures to the gun, directs a pointed look at the man in yellow. “Mob justice, Major. Active dissent right under our noses!” She snaps at the guards, points to the prone figures, and the squad moves in, clapping cuffs on each of the attackers.  The General moves around the cell, examining everything with a gimlet eye. The Major and the droid trail in her wake. Watching them makes his head spin, so he looks back down at the floor.

The snap of a disposable glove jerks him up again and he almost vomits as the world shifts sideways. Rey brushes, soothing, around the edges of his mind. She’s going to help. You did so well. You didn’t hurt anyone. No one can be angry at you for this.

Doctor Kalonia nods to Chewbacca as she pulls on her other glove, he rumbles an acknowledgement back at her. Then she turns her attention to Kylo. “I am going to examine you now. Can you speak?”

“Yeah.” His throat is raw, sore where the bag cut into his windpipe.

Her fingers are cold through the glove as she takes his pulse, holds his eyelids up and shines a penlight into them. “Are you experiencing any nausea? Any stomach pain? A headache?”

Kylo says that he is, and then recites what he can remember about the several hours before the attack. His story is halting and rambling as Kalonia narrows her eyes, shines the light over his neck, tugs up the sleeves of his shirt and repeats her examination on the insides of his elbows.

Doctor Kalonia listens to his chest, has him follow her pen light with his eyes, sniffs at his mouth, and then stands, “General, he’s in stable condition, but he should be monitored through the night in case he has a concussion. I’ll run a full toxicology screen. He’s been drugged, that’s obvious from his response time, pupil dilation, and cognitive impairment, but I can’t say what, exactly, they gave him without a blood sample. I could probably infer the substance and dosage from what will be missing from the pharmacy, but-”

“Do it,” The General snaps. “There is going to be a full investigation into what happened tonight. I want everything to be comprehensively evidenced. No screw ups.” Her eyes flash as she turns to the Major. “Ematt, take all of the attackers into custody. Get their statements and put them… somewhere.” The General flicks her eyes around the cell, and she mutters under her breath, “We’re going to need an actual jail if this shit keeps happening.” Chewie yodels at that, placing a protective hand on Kylo’s shoulder. The General nods, the tightness around her eyes relaxing. “Yes, thank you, Chewie. I’d love for you to stay with him tonight. You’ll need to give your report first thing in the morning.”

Kalonia pulls an empty syringe from a pocket in her coat and removes the protective cap. Kylo watches, detached, as it slides into a vein in the crook of his arm. Once she’s collected enough blood, she caps the hypodermic and stows it in another pocket. She turns to  Chewbacca, voice firm. “He is not to be left alone tonight. Contact me if symptoms persist beyond four hours, or if he develops a fever, encounters any respiratory issues, or begins hallucinating.” Chewbacca growls and Kalonia nods. “Very good. General, I will take my leave. I’ll get the results of the analysis to you as soon as it’s done.”

“Please do.” The General works her way around the cell as Kalonia departs, coming around to stand before Kylo. “Major, we’re not keeping my son in this damned cell another night.” His stomach twists, tries to escape out his mouth. “It’s not safe to keep him here and there’s no salvaging that door. Get someone from logistics to arrange it. There must be a spare room in the barracks.”

The Major frowns, but nods. “Yes Ma’am, but the increased proximity may be viewed as a provocative action-”

“A provocative action?” The General snorts. “This assault was a provocative action. We’re fighting a war, and I do not have the time or the energy to be worrying about attacks from my own side.  I’ll assign a guard rota myself since it has come to this.” She shakes her head, and when she speaks it’s just a touch softer. “These are my men too, Caluan. We’ll do this by the book and we’ll make it right.”

Major Ematt looks around the cell again, sighing. “New quarters will be arranged for tonight. I will see to it myself.” He salutes and leaves the cell, muttering into a wrist-comm.

Rey’s tentative anxiety flutters against Kylo’s consciousness as she eases forward. “General Organa-”

“You did the right thing, Rey.” The General’s voice is quiet and hard, but her eyes soften as she looks at Rey.  “It’s never easy, taking a life, but from what you’ve told me, it was your best option.” She sighs. “Regardless of circumstance, a soldier died at your hand tonight.  We all answer to the laws of the New Republic here, and that means that you’ll need to be party to the inquiry into his death and the attack itself.” Kylo feels her gaze drop to where he leans against Chewie. “Get some rest, all of you.” She reaches up to touch Rey’s shoulder for a brief moment, and then marches off, issuing orders to the soldier trailing behind her.

Are you alright? Rey stands by the door, on guard with a solid looking length of pipe taken from one of the mob.

Kylo gives her a mental shrug. My head hurts.  She wants to comfort him, to run her hands through his hair and kiss the bruises on his jaw, but someone is coming down the hall and her mind is dark with suspicion, wary of the newcomers.

It’s a runner from the Major. It’s time to move.  Chewie helps him to his feet, steadying him when he wavers, and Rey moves to his side. They flank him as they’re escorted to a tiny room with a bed and ‘fresher attached.

Chewie ushers them inside and then takes his position outside the door with a soft grumble, tugging the door shut behind him. The pipe clatters to the ground and Rey’s arms slide around him before the door closes.  She pulls him down to her shoulder and he nestles into the crook of her neck. Her hands smooth against the side of his face, through his hair. I’m so sorry. I had no idea this would happen! You were so good! You didn’t hurt anyone! Thank you. Thank you.

Her skin against his pierces the thickness left from the drugs and he runs his hands down her back. Everything comes into focus all at once. He recoils from the undeserved  praise. I would have killed them if I’d been able. She twitches under his hand as he finds a fresh bruise on her hip. His temper flares. He should have killed them. They dared to drug him, to touch him, to try to kill him. They hurt Rey. A slow death at his hands seems like fair repayment.

Stop it! She pushes back against his thoughts and tugs his face up from where it's pressed into her shoulder, giving him an uncompromising glare. You didn’t hurt anyone. No one can possibly say that tonight was your fault.

No, she feels that the blame lies on her shoulders, as if she could have done anything to prevent what happened. He doesn’t look away from her glower, catches her chin between his fingers and returns her severe expression with a frown. “There was nothing you could have done.”

“I promised to protect you!”

You did. The frown eases and he tucks her head under his chin and closes his eyes as her breath whispers against his skin. He thinks of the crunch of the man’s neck  and holds her tight as Rey flinches away from the memory.

I didn’t even think. It was him or you, and it couldn’t be you. Rey shudders, swallows, and then straightens up, nudging his chin with her nose as she pulls herself to her full height. I’ll deal with it. We’ll be okay.   She squeezes him again as a low bellow filters through the door, rising and falling in response to men's’ voices. I’ll see you tomorrow. She stretches up on her toes and kisses him, quick and quiet.

He kisses her back, but it’s over too soon and she slips out of his arms, ducking around Chewie and disappearing from sight through the opened door. Kylo sags onto the bed as the Wookiee enters, almost too large for the low ceiling, and yodels a question. “That’s none of your business.”

He swings his legs up onto the bed as Chewie sits on the edge. “What, you’re just gonna sit here all night?” Chewie moans and nods. “Suit yourself.”  He rolls away so he doesn’t have to look at the wise, kind expression. He doesn’t want it. He doesn't deserve it. But he can’t escape it, not even behind his closed eyelids.

Chewie settles himself, rumbling, and begins to croon, soft and low.

Kylo’s breath catches in his throat. He’s known this song all his life. He learned the tune before he learned to  speak, before he knew the difference between Shyriiwook and Basic, before he knew his own name.

Ben Solo is five years old in his bunk on the Falcon and his dad is reading aloud from the story book while Uncle Chewie sings the sleeping song. There’s no voice in his head tonight. It’s just Dad and Chewie and Ben, and he feels important, loved, safe. His father’s hand is on his cheek, calloused and strong.

Kylo Ren stands over the chasm over the oscillator on Starkiller.  He removes his helmet, tosses it aside. His father’s hand is on his cheek, steady and tender. He has no choice. He’s never had any choices. A hiss of ignition. Thank you. His father’s eyes flicker, the life gutters out. Then a great and terrible silence broken by an agonized bellow, a scream of anguish. His father’s hand slips and he falls away.

Kylo curls into a ball and sobs.   A warm, heavy palm rests against his head, smooths down his hair before moving to sweep a soothing path, back and forth, over his shoulder blades. The lilting song surrounds him, swaddles him, and rocks him to sleep.

Chapter Text

Rey wakes late the next day, sleeping in until the sun streaming through the window hits her eyes and she rolls over, grumbling. The need for breakfast competes with the desire to see Kylo as she uses the ‘fresher and dresses.  Finn is leaning against her doorframe when she leaves her room and she almost smacks into him. He catches her elbow, holds her upright as she stumbles. “Finn, good morning! I didn’t expect you!”

Finn nods, ensuring she’s got her balance before he releases his grip. “I heard about what happened last night. When the idea was floated to give you a guard, I volunteered. Thought you’d rather have me than some random soldier.”

“That’s kind.” She squeezes his elbow. “Thank you.”

His posture shifts as he straightens up, shoulders loose, smile easy as a cluster of workers walk past. ”I brought you breakfast!” He pulls a squashed napkin-wrapped parcel out of his pocket. “I figured we could do without a replay of yesterday.”

Catching the bundle in her hands, Rey falls into step beside Finn. “People already know about the attack? About what happened?” Her stomach flips.

“General Organa was pissed,” Finn confides in her. “Nobody is happy, but no one blames you for what happened. The investigation is going to be open to everyone. They’ll all know the real story soon enough.”

Rey grimaces at the reminder of her deposition. “Do you know when it’s going to start?”

“You’re supposed to go in at the turn of the hour. They started first thing this morning with the General.” He nudges her with his shoulder. “Open it! I only got the good stuff.”

Peeling back the napkin as they walk, her eyes widen at the roll bursting with a riot of colors. “You’re the best! This looks fantastic!” She throws her arms around his neck, juggling the oversized sandwich to keep it intact. The sandwich is too wide for an easy bite and pressing it between her hands makes the fillings ooze out. She rescues a stray blue noodle as it slides down the side of her hand and pops it into her mouth, licks some tangy sauce off her fingers and tries for another bite. Finn laughs at her struggle.

There are unfamiliar guards in front of the door. They have blazes of color on their armor, blasters holstered at their sides, and riot-sticks in their hands. They smile at Finn under their half-helmets and nod at Rey. She half listens to their greetings, working her way through the sandwich and feeling for Kylo through the door. Good morning, she brushes his mind with hers. How are you feeling?

He touches her mind, curls around her, warm and attentive.  I’m alive. That doctor came back this morning with something to counteract the after-effects of whatever they slipped me. That was… decent, I guess.  He reaches out to her, mind questioning. Are they taking your statement today?

Yeah. Her nerves grate with anxiety and Kylo lets the matter drop without comment, pulling back a respectful distance after another sweep of softness.

The escort arrives and the guards push the door open. Kylo steps out, meeting her eyes briefly before raising an eyebrow at the sandwich held in her hands. His eyes widen she polishes off the meal in two huge bites and steps into place beside him, but doesn’t comment. She brushes Kylo’s hand as they separate and stares at the sealed door for a moment. The connection glows despite his mental protests at the leftover sandwich-stickiness of her hand.

Finn glances at his chrono and taps her shoulder. “Time to go. It’s down this way.” His hand is warm on her elbow as he guides her further down the hall.

Rey gives her statement to one of Major Ematt’s aides, a Nautolan man named Etvi, who asks quiet questions, nodding while a droid records Rey’s words, facial expressions, heart rate, and pupil movement.  Finn sits in the other chair as she speaks and he is a comforting presence.  He’s not like Kylo, who sits in her mind like a weapon, ready to lash out with her, for her.  Finn is a shield, a warm fire on a cold night, food stored away for later.

She talks about the whispers at breakfast, the tension in the air. She picks her words with care to explain the intuition that moved her to run to Kylo’s cell. “I felt… a disturbance, I suppose, in the Force. People were so angry about his pardon.  I was worried for him. Admiral Statuna gave me partial responsible for Kylo, and I couldn’t ignore that.”  It’s not entirely a lie.

Etvi looks down, checks something off on the tablet before him. “Alright. We have corroborated your prior whereabouts and your arrival on the scene with other residents of the base who saw, according to my notes, a ‘girl carried by a giant screaming wall of fur’ running through the hallways.  Now,” he looks up at Rey, “Please tell me about the events leading to the death of Serrin Tiyu.”

Rey gulps.  She hadn’t known his name before.  Serrin Tiyu.  She tries to describe the scene with as little emotion as she can, then worries that she will come off as casual, cold, callous.  That wasn’t how she felt when she’d killed him.  She was scared, so scared, that he was going to kill Kylo. He’d had the blaster at Kylo’s head, kept jamming it into Kylo’s temple.  She could feel the cold metal on her skin, even through Kylo’s drugged stupor. She hadn’t paused to think. She reached out for the Force and it came. The power was electric and it made her strong. She killed him and he was no longer a threat. She’d turned, thrown two attackers into a wall, and watched as Chewbacca knocked the last three out.  Chewbacca had bellowed that he had things under control and Rey spared one last glance to Kylo’s hooded form as he struggled under the weight of the man she killed before running out the door to find the General.  

It wasn’t quite like killing the Knights of Ren. She’d wanted them to die, wanted to be the one to end their lives. She doesn’t regret their deaths.  When she’d killed Serrin, she wasn’t angry. Ending his life seemed like the only available course of action.  It was him or Kylo, and that wasn’t a choice at all. Now, though… Could she have saved Kylo without killing the man? She feels sick and something inside her crows.  She tucks the feeling away to examine later.

Etvi releases her after they review everything twice.  Kylo pokes her as she leaves the room, walking with Finn to see what’s left of lunch. What’s the verdict?

For me? There isn’t one yet.  There’s still more investigating to do before they decide. The aide had been clear that she would not be charged with murder, but that justifiable homicide still requires an inquiry. Rey worries that they’re wrong, that she’s a murderer. She had meant to kill Serrin Tiyu. She hides that from Kylo as best she can. They say the attackers are going to be court martialed, but it will take some time to process it all. They haven’t had to court martial anyone in years.

He sees through the feeble attempt to distract him from her guilt. You’re the Jedi golden girl. You’ll be fine.  You killed him to save my life, which I’m sure annoyed people, but you did not murder him. You’ll get a stern talking to about the use of lethal force and maybe a slap on the wrist. He pauses, rubs against her mind, sensuous and satisfied through their connection.  I’m proud of you, you know. You picked up that trick after only seeing it once.

She pushes back at his mind, trying to take his praise as he means it, playful and lighthearted, but she can’t banish the sound of bones crunching. How’s the Major today?

I’ve got the Admiral - the Major is busy.  Statura is… surprisingly chipper. Chewie seems to have that effect on people. Or maybe he’s just excited about First Order military installations. Either way, I need to get back to it, our recess is over.  Will you come to escort me back tonight?

She promises that she’ll try, and he retreats  as she and Finn enter the cafeteria.

Master Luke finds them as they pillage the leftovers. Rey’s heart leaps into her throat when he touches her on the arm, his eyes sharp and searching. He doesn’t say anything, but the silent, kind smile that softens his eyes calms her, helps her to swallow her heart and choke down some food. Sitting with them as they eat, Luke helps himself to some of the red fruit and chats, more amiable than she’s seen him before, with Finn. Rey forces herself to finish her plate of food. Nourishment cannot be wasted.

When they’ve finished eating, Luke stands and they all walk out to the wide, grassy lawn in front of the base. Shading his eyes from the sun, Luke turns back to Finn. “Would you mind giving us some time alone?”

Finn looks away, over his shoulder, before answering. “Technically, I’m supposed to be Rey’s supervisor, but you outrank me by, like, a hundred levels, so I guess you can do whatever you want.” Is he teasing Master Luke? She can’t tell.  Finn squeezes Rey’s upper arm. “You okay?” She nods, he smiles. “I’ll be nearby if you need me.” He moves off towards the tree line, pulling a notebook from his back pocket as he looks up.

“I met him soon after he awoke from his coma. Finn is an extraordinary young man. He’s taken up bird watching,” Luke tells her, looking over to where he’s standing, scribbling into the notebook. “He said he’d never seen one before coming here.  He likes the way they move, their songs.  It’s,” he pauses, smiles. “It’s good for him.  Small joys to accompany the big ones.”  He turns back to Rey.  “Your return is a great joy, Rey.”

Rey shuffles her feet.  “Can we walk while we talk? Or maybe practice some forms? I don’t feel like being still right now.”  

Master Luke nods, understanding. “Of course.”  He leads her down a gravel path that cuts through the lawn and then they turn off the trail, passing Finn, who gives Rey a little wave, and into the trees.  Moving feels good.  Rey wants to run, to climb something, to fly, to become one of Finn’s birds and build herself a nest in these trees.  She misses the simplicity and solitude of the desert for a moment before remembering exactly what that solitude meant, what it felt like year after year.  She shakes that nostalgia off. There was nothing for her in the desert. Here, there is so much more.

They stop in a little glade where the light dapples on a low streambed. Noticing the stream, Luke pulls off his boots, rolls up his pants, and hops down to put his bare feet in the clear water.  

Rey hesitates before following his lead. “Are you sure it’s alright to just… get in the water?” He assures her that it is. It’s the first time she’s touched flowing water like this and it’s cool on her skin, tickling as it rolls past, unhurried and unconcerned for where it’s headed. Little stones massage the balls of her feet and  silt squishes up through her toes as she wiggles them into the mud.  She reaches down, cups the water in her hands, and drinks from her palms.

“I grew up in the desert, too.” Can he hear her thoughts or is he just that good at reading people? “I was a moisture farmer before I was a Jedi.” Luke watches her splash in the stream, a grin bending the corner of his mouth.

“Really?” She remembers the moisture farmers on Jakku who came to Niima to trade. They didn’t take much interest in the scavengers, but no one ever did. “Do you miss it?” She sits on a large flat stone, submerged to her calves, and trails her fingers in the flowing eddies of the water as it breaks around the rock.

“Moisture farming? Sometimes. There was something to the stability of it. Knowing exactly what you’ll be doing tomorrow. Going out every morning before the suns rise to check on the vaporators, repairing the droids, maintaining the machinery. There was a rhythm to that life. Mostly though,” Luke runs a hand through his graying hair, “I miss my aunt and uncle, and my friends.”

“And the desert?”

His smile is melancholic, and she sees the blowing winds of a sandstorm in his eyes. “Sometimes, yes. I thought, when I left Tatooine, that I’d never want to return. I thought that I hated the sand, the blistering days and the freezing nights, but I didn’t really hate any of it. I was young and I wanted to do something important, go somewhere new. I thought that moisture farming didn’t matter, which was extraordinarily selfish of me. I needed distance to appreciate what I had, I suppose. That is often the way of things, especially for impetuous young men who think they know best.”  He splashes over to sit beside her on the sun warmed rock. “We need to talk about Serrin Tiyu.”

Trailing her fingers in the water, Rey doesn’t look up at him.  “Okay.”

Luke’s voice is soft, calm. “Leia told me Serrin had a gun to my nephew’s head, with his finger on the trigger. He broke in to carry out an execution. People have given statements that he told them about the attack.  He knew what he was doing when he went into that cell.” He pauses, and Rey looks up then. “Did you know what you were doing when you went in?”

She shakes her head, not denial but as a way to clear her thoughts. “I was protecting Kylo. I promised. I screamed at the people beating him, but they didn’t stop.  They barely looked at me. When I saw,” she gulps before saying his name, “Serrin with the blaster, I didn’t think.  He was shouting at me to stay back, about how Kylo deserved worse than a bolt to the head.  Kylo wasn’t fighting back - they’d drugged him, I don’t even think he could get a proper handle on the Force.  Then Serrin looked down at Kylo and I knew he was going to do it. He was going to kill him.” Rey’s heart thuds in her chest so loud she’s sure Luke can hear it. “I couldn’t let that happen.”

Luke nods. “You saved my nephew’s life, but at the cost of another.  How did that make you feel?  We spoke before about your fears of the Dark Side.  Did you feel that anger when you killed Tiyu?”

“No,” Rey says. It’s true.  She hadn’t been angry her when she’d snapped his neck. There was power, deep and dark, that had called to her, and she’d used it.  It had been reflexive, like blinking, like breathing.  There was a problem and she had removed it. She keeps that thought to herself. “But I didn’t feel sad, either, when I knew he was dead.  I don’t know if I feel sad now.  I… there should have been another way, right?” She glances at his contemplative expression.  

Master Luke drops his head back and looks up to where the blue sky cuts through the trees over the stream. “Perhaps.  A Jedi must consider all possibilities before resorting to violence.  Life is precious and taking it is a grave thing that can’t be undone. Talking may have worked, but it’s far from certain. Perhaps Tiyu would have lived and my nephew would have died. You tried to speak to them, but their rage had overpowered their senses.” He looks back to her, eyes sharp again. “You know that feeling. You know what it can do to a person. Even those who do not know the Force can be overcome by their passions and those passions can lead them to do terrible things. That is another thing we must address.” Her stomach drops.

Luke shifts on the stone, pulling his feet up into a meditative position.  “A Jedi sets aside personal attachments so that they do not succumb to their passions.  Ours is the way of moderation and of serenity.” How could she have been moderate or serene in the face of Kylo’s imminent death?  “Through moderation and serenity, you may have been able to chart a course last night that would not have ended in death.  Your passion, your personal attachment to my nephew, was a key factor in the death of that man.”

Luke is right and that fills her with dread. There’s no way to deny it. Had she not been so terrified of losing Kylo, of failing to protect him, she might not have killed Serrin. How could she set their connection aside? She hangs her head and nods, her heart joining her stomach somewhere around her ankles. “As you say, Master Luke.”

“It is something you must consider as you move forward.” He stands, wet feet staining the stone.  “Mourn for Serrin Tiyu. Use his death to guide your judgements in the future. There was no malice in what you did, though it is clear that we need to move forward in your training. We must focus most on self-control and patience, I believe.” Luke extends a hand to her, helps her to her feet.  “Hand stands are an excellent starting point.”

Finn laughs when he finds them up to their forearms in the stream, balance tenuous as the water tumbles past.  Luke invites him to join in and Finn gleefully agrees, folding Poe’s jacket into a neat square and resting his notebook atop it before rolling up his pants and sleeves and wading in to them.  Rey is soaked through from her failed first attempts at inverted stability and her ego is soothed when Finn tumbles a few minutes after beginning, but he is strong and capable and is soon back upside down with his eyes closed.  

“Did you find any good birds today?” Rey asks before Master Luke shoots her a look. Finn is so eager to talk about his new hobby that even the Jedi can’t bear to reprimand him for talking through what is supposed to be a meditative exercise.

“I did!  There’s a blue one with a song like this -” he whistles a few trilling notes, “but I don’t know it’s name.  Usually BB-8 comes with me and records the songs so we can look them up on the HoloNet when we’re back in the barracks.  I’ll whistle it later and we’ll see what it can find.”  He flexes his arms, sinks so his nose almost touches the water, and then pushes himself back up. “Poe knows a lot about birds, too. I think he likes them because, you know, they fly.”

They lapse back into quiet again after that.  Rey’s not sure if Finn is meditating or just enjoying the quiet company, but the Force around  him burns strong and clear, happy.

Rey walks back to the compound with Finn after Master Luke told them he wanted to meditate in solitude, her clothes drying on her back in the sun.  “So, you’re my supervisor now? Not just a guard?”

Shrugging, Finn says, “It’ll just be for a few days. They keep giving me odd jobs, but they’ll find something steady for me soon. The leaders wanted someone to keep an eye on you, keep you out of trouble for a little while.  I volunteered.  It means I can keep you safe.  We can hang out and no one can give me shit for slacking off or give you trouble about your dumb Bad Guy boyfriend.”

Rey  shoves him and he laughs. “I’m glad you’re keeping me safe, but who will keep you safe?  I’m not exactly popular at the moment, and after that mob came for Kylo… How can you be sure you won’t be targeted for helping us?”

“Poe’s got my back.” Finn smiles, warm and sweet. “It’s weird having someone care about you, isn’t it? Not because they’re in your unit or because you’re wearing the same uniform but just… because they do.” He blushes, looks down at his boots. “Sorry, that sounded lame, right?”

Rey puts her arm around Finn’s shoulder and nods. The thought of Poe and Finn caring about each other fills her with happiness, but the topic gives her pause.  She does care about Kylo, beyond her promise to protect him, and she knows he cares about her - he’s trying so hard to be good just because she’s asked him to.  Finn had called him her boyfriend and that isn’t right; the title feels wrong, insincere, too weighted with meanings she doesn’t understand. Does that make it wrong? Between the kissing and the unspoken pledges of loyalty, the promise to die for each other… Her head spins.

Before Finn, she’d only ever had to care about herself.  Before Kylo, she’d only ever cared about Finn, but they are different feelings.  Finn makes her feel soft, safe and comfortable.  Kylo makes her want . She wants to kiss him again.  She wants his hands on her face, his body under hers.  She wants to feel the pride he takes in teaching. She wants to keep him whole and healthy, to never feel his blood on her hands again. And now Master Luke is saying she will have to put that all aside if she wants to follow the path of the Jedi. She doesn’t know what to do, but she knows what she wants .  She’s never been good at introspection, has never had the time or the inclination to pick each thought and emotion apart and label it, so she decides on action rather than stasis.  

“What time is it, Finn?”

He checks the chrono on his wrist.  “Six hours past mid-day.  Almost time for dinner.”

She reaches out to Kylo as they walk through the doors to the base. Any food requests? I’ll bring you something good and we can eat together in your room.

He’s excited to see her, and asks for whatever looks best.  Thanks to Chewbacca’s insistent howling at the other guards, Rey is allowed to sit with him at the small table in his new room.  The food all smells delicious, but Rey kisses him before they take a bite.  They spend more time wrapped around each other than they do eating.

Chapter Text

Admiral Statura and Major Ematt wring him out over the next six days, exploring the full depth and breadth of his knowledge into the First Order’s staggering complexity. Some of the questions make sense: they want personal details on the officers, the locations of military installations, purpose and hierarchies within the Knights of Ren, alliances, strategy, preferred negotiation tactics, and so on. Some of it is beyond his knowledge, and though he answers what he can, a lot of it was never his focus. No, he doesn’t know anything about a scouting expedition to Lasan or the construction of a new outpost on Umgul. No, recruiting’s not his area of expertise. No, he’s never heard of that ship.

Some of the questions on the last day seem almost absurd and, for a moment, he wonders if Statura’s making jokes just to see him squirm. What other reason would the Admiral have for asking about the plumbing facilities on Capza? Or the preferred leisure activities of rank and file Stormtroopers? Kylo tells what he knows, which isn’t much.

Then there’s silence in the room, Statura’s voice cracking through the speakers one last time. “This brings the deposition to a close. The informant is dismissed.”

Kylo scoots back, plunks his heels on the table before him, and tilts to balance on the chair’s back legs. He’s about to close his eyes and try to nap before the guards arrive and escort him out, but the bolt scrapes on the door and Admiral Statura himself walks into the room. He is trailed by a Togruta woman in a grey captain’s uniform who holds a shiny black case under her arm. “Admiral!” He gives a little mock salute. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Statura is taller than his soft voice had led Kylo to believe. He shuts the door behind the Captain, narrowing his eyes at Kylo’s insolence. The Captain crosses the room with long, purposeful strides and shoves his crossed ankles off the table before he can move. “Don’t get up on my account, Ren.” Statura drawls, a grin crooking the corner of his mouth as he looks down at Kylo, who tries to glower while his stomach resettles from the vertigo. “Cheer up. Captain Kess brought you a present.” On cue the Captain sets the case down with a thump before him.

Kylo leans forward and flips open the case with a suspicious side-glance at Statura. “What’s this?”

“Resistance procedures for strategic consultants.” The Captain’s smile is pointy in a way that human smiles aren’t. “Congratulations on your promotion.”

“To consultant?” Kylo tries the word out and grimaces as he thumbs through what looks like at least a thousand pages of rules and regulations bound in volumes with colored covers. “Sounds like a step down, if you ask me.”

“I didn’t.” Statura holds out his hand. Kess drops a small cuff into his palm and he lays it on the topmost document. “The position grants you the use of a wrist-comm. Don’t get too excited, it’s tuned only to my and Captain Kess’s frequencies.” He nods to the Captain who does not waver from her perfect posture. “Captain Zesha Kess will be your primary contact going forward. She or I will notify you when your input or advice is required. While I am certain it is within your myriad capabilities to unlock the comm, all transmissions will be monitored around the clock starting,” he checks the display on his wrist, “fifteen minutes ago, so please refrain from attempting any off-world contact. I don’t want to waste my time thinking up an adequate penalty for such an infraction.” Captain Kess smiles again, the markings above her eyes raising as though she has some ideas about prospective punishments.

Kylo studies the comm’s latch and slides it over his hand to secure it around his wrist. "Where's the trust, Admiral? We got on so well when you were on the other side of that mirror."

Statura rolls his eyes, thoroughly unamused.  "Shut up and keep your head down, Ren.  I do not want to think about you until I call for you again. You’re dismissed. Get out of my conference room."

Kylo stands and stretches until his back clicks, then tucks the case under his arm. “Whatever you say, Admiral.”

The Captain’s face is impassive as she escorts him to the door but she curls her lip, showing those sharp, pointed teeth again as it slides open. “Don’t screw this up. You put one toe out of line...” She licks her tongue across her canines and lets the threat hang.

The woman knows how to intimidate. He gives her his best, most serious salute and glances around as the Captain turns on her heel and disappears back into the conference room. There are no guards, but Rey is walking down the hall towards him. He hasn’t seen her in two days and part of him wonders if Skywalker is scheduling her training to separate them.

The door shuts behind him and her hands are on him, pulling him down by his shoulders and her lips crash into his. Her tongue flicks against his lower lip and he almost drops the damn case as he wraps his arms around her. The bond ignites and he wants , but he remembers Statura, Kess’s teeth, right behind the door. He collects enough of his wits to end the kiss, soft and sweet. Sighing against her mouth, he holds her a moment longer and then lets her go. “So… no honor guard today?” His voice is almost steady.

Rey shivers, touching her lower lip. It tingles where her fingers brush. Then she blinks, swallows and nods. “You’re done with the leaders.” Her voice is a little rough. “They’re still working through the court martial for the people who attacked you, but it’s old news now.” Her eyes crinkle as she smiles. “You get to move out of your cell. No more guards.” She takes his hand, drags her thumb over his knuckles and the bond pulses with her quiet exaltation in having gotten them both this far.

Kylo nods in acknowledgement, warm and grateful. “Where are they moving me?”

Dropping his hand, Rey walks with him. They make a quick detour to his cell, now unguarded, where she helps gather up the few items he’s accumulated in his stay: two sets of clothes, a small stack of worn books she had slipped him during her brief visits. It fits into a small laundry bag and she carries it under her arm, happiness flaring under her skin as he closes the door behind them. The click of the lock stirs something in his gut as Kylo walks away from imprisonment. He wishes he wasn’t nervous. Being a captive had been intolerable, but the cell had been a haven of a sort. Uncle Chewie sang the sleeping song there. He had books. It almost felt comfortable.  He can just imagine how well he’ll fit in the common barracks.

“Like they’d let you loose on all the good little worker-bees.” Rey snorts at his thought and jabs a finger into his ribs, voice dropping as they climb a flight of stairs.

A cluster of pilots in garish uniforms clatter down in the opposite direction, dropping their eyes at the sight of him. They remain silent until he and Rey are out of earshot. Kylo raises an eyebrow at Rey. “My reputation precedes me, I see.”

Rey shrugs and speeds her pace to a door at the end of the wing. She balances the bag in her arms and nudges it open with her hip, standing back and letting Kylo enter the new space first.

The room is tiny, smaller than the storage locker he’d been shoved into when they first arrived. There’s just enough space between the two tall bunk beds for one person to walk through to the small square window at the end, looking out on a treelined path. Four lockers are wedged in between the door to the hall and the door to a minuscule ‘fresher. Kylo grimaces, eyeing the four bunks. Roommates. They’re going to give him roommates, and that will end in an inevitable catastrophe. Maybe he can petition the leaders to put him back in the locker. He drops the case by one of the beds as Rey sets his bag of clothes on top of one of the lockers.

“Welcome home.” Excitement and warm satisfied, roll off her as she shuts the door with a click and eases back into his personal space, cupping his cheek in her palm when he turns to her.

Kylo buries the part of him that wants to snap at that, insist that he’s still a prisoner, declare that he has no home. Instead, he takes her chin between his fingers, tilts her face up and kisses her. He kisses her for all the times they’ve been interrupted or scared, for all the times one of them tasted like blood or terror.  Rey opens to him with a happy sigh and digs her fingers into his shoulders to close the distance between their heights.

He delves into her mouth, shivering as she responds, the bond thrumming with their combined arousal. Kylo gropes behind him for the bunk, sits hard on the mattress, tangles his hands in her hair as he guides her under the ledge of the overhead bunk. A flashed worry about bumped heads filters into his mind as she hooks a leg around his hip to roll them so she’s pressed between him and the wall, tiny and sheltered in his arms with her eyes shining like stars.

Kylo raises himself on an elbow, his other hand carding through her hair as he drags his mouth down her neck. Rey whimpers and her excitement floods his veins with adrenaline and so much need he’s going to drown. Her nails rake up his back through his shirt, fingers fisting in his hair as she pulls him back up into another kiss. He’s not drowning, he’s flying. The thrill that surges through him when he looks down at her nest of hair, swollen lips, his doing , is profound and unrestrained. He slips his hand under her shirt, clenching his fingers into her skin as she rolls her hips against his erection.

Then slow heavy footfalls echo outside the door. Kylo wants to scream, to tear chunks from the walls and barricade the door. The steps draw closer as Rey scrambles off of him. Kylo can’t look away from the curve of her ass. He chews on the inside of his cheek to keep himself from yelling at whoever is jangling keys outside to fuck directly off .

There’s a muffled curse from the door and Kylo tries to arrange his clothes to hide his erection. Rey shoves her hair up into a single knot on top of her head, grabs a handful of papers from the black case on the floor, then returns to the foot of the bed, flings a manual at him, and pretends to read. Look like you’re doing something!

Poe Dameron backs into the room, holding the door ajar with his back, arms full of boxes. That stupid, troublesome astromech rolls at his heels, chirping a wary greeting.

Rey scrambles over Kylo’s lap to take some of the boxes from Dameron and Kylo stands, not out of respect but because it would be moderately harder to kill the pilot while seated. “Oh, hey, Poe! Hi BB-8!” Be nice! Rey whispers in his mind. He pushes the murderous intent down.

Kylo grinds his teeth. Their conversation swims, meaningless, between his ears, and instincts rage against each other in his head. I hate your friends so much.

Poe dumps his stuff on the bunk across from him and turns to Kylo, gives him a gruff nod of acknowledgement. Narrowing his eyes, Kylo waits a beat and then returns the nod with one of his own.

Her voice, colored with her own frustration at the interruption echoes in his head as she chatters with the pilot and leaves with a hasty wave to them both. Kylo looks around the room as she trots off, leaving him in silence with Dameron, his new roommate. Even the word grates at him. He hasn’t had a roommate in years.

Deciding that the pilot poses no immediate threat, he sits back on the bed, skimming the manual  Rey threw at him, Policies and Procedures for Generating Strategic Advisory Reports, as Dameron moves around the room, unpacking his belongings.

Kylo is about twenty pages into the dense manual when more footsteps sound in the hall. Kylo looks up  as Dameron hops up from where loading things from a crate into one of the lockers, holding the door open as FN-2187 walks in.

“Whoa,” FN-2187 marvels at the space. “This is so nice!”

Kylo wants to think of him as a traitor, but that thought sticks like a bone between his teeth. They’re both traitors now.

The man narrows his eyes when he glances at Kylo, then he shoves past him, dropping a crate on the bunk above Dameron’s. He crosses to the window, feels around the frame for a latch. “Oh, man, look! There’s a nest out there!” The pilot joins him by the window for a minute and smiles, and then flops back onto his bunk. Dameron pulls out some flyboy data-mag and immerses himself in that as FN - Finn , Kylo corrects himself - bustles around unpacking and settling in.

An hour passes in relative quiet. Kylo reads the manual. It beats sitting there staring up at the scratched underside of the bunk. He’s starting to think that maybe they’ll all survive the night if they can each keep their mouths shut when Dameron pipes up.

“So, uh,” he glances at Kylo from over his data-mag, “That Upsilon-class transport, man.” Dameron purses his lips and nods, approving, and looks back to his mag.  “Pretty sweet.” BB-8 whistles an agreement, rolling past Kylo to settle by the pilot’s head.

Kylo freezes. Neither of the other men is looking at him. The room is silent beyond the sound of sketching and the rustle of Dameron shifting onto his side, but he can feel that the remark is pointed at him, and that something is expected in return. “Uh. Yeah. It’s… it’s nice.” He hadn’t thought of his shuttle since it landed on the Resistance air strip. He doubts he’ll get to take it out again. Just like that, the magnitude of being shackled planetside for the rest of his life, stuck in this stupid compound with no way out hits, him like a landslide.

Rey’s thoughts brush against his, steady and present, alerted by his rapid descent into self-pity. We’ll make this work . She promises him. This is only the first day.

He leans against that hope, her stupid relentless optimism, opens himself to it so she can weave through his thoughts, a protective lattice that holds strong against the gloom.

Kylo rolls onto his back and drops the manual. He stares at the scarred underside of the bunk above him, still and silent, as the light coming in from the window fades.

It’s late when Dameron tosses his mag aside and stands, stretching and yawning, smiling up to where Finn reclines on the top bunk still sketching. “Want to grab some dinner?”

“Yeah!” Finn closes his notebook and wedges the pencil between the pages, places it under his pillow and slides down to the floor. His eyes flick to Kylo, then back to Dameron, who nods and smiles. Finn sits on the lower bunk to pull on his boots and then stands, looming over Kylo. “We’re going to the cafeteria now.”

His eyes flick up to the quiet, serious expression before Kylo can control the glance. “...Okay.” Does he think Kylo cares?

“Come with us.” The smile is tight around Finn’s eyes, but otherwise Kylo has to admit it looks convincing.

Dameron grins, bright and unrepentant, around Finn’s shoulder. “We’re meeting Rey there.”

Kylo grunts at that. “Oh.” He sits up, fishing his own boots on from where he had stowed them under his bunk. “Alright.” He ignores the way Finn’s smile eases and Dameron’s shines at his acquiescence. They are not his friends. They are here to keep an eye on him. These two are a great choice for surveillance duty; the leaders know he won’t hurt them because they matter to Rey. They are her friends, and he hates them.

Finn and Dameron keep the conversation flowing around him during the walk to the almost empty cafeteria, joking and teasing each other as they pick through the remains of the night’s dinner. Finn assures Kylo that the food here is “way better” than the food on Starkiller, and Kylo nods in noncommittal agreement. Kylo grabs a little bit of everything and the duo leads him over to a small table in the back where Rey sits, waiting.

Her eyes find his as he approaches and her smile is so bright, so pleased to see them together that even listening to these two idiots chatter is almost tolerable.

Chapter Text

Dinner goes better than she anticipated. The conversation is somewhat stilted, but no one shouts and no one bleeds, so Rey counts that as a success.  She finishes her meal first and rests her chin in her hands, watches Kylo poke at his food, laughs when Finn’s slurping splashes sauce onto Poe’s shirt.  Once Poe and Finn are done eating, they stand and make some excuse about wanting to get to bed early, clearing their places before disappearing down the hall.

She turns to Kylo, still chasing a bit of purple vegetable around his plate with his fork. Master Skywalker keeps lecturing the importance of eschewing personal attachments, and his voice in her head warns that she is turning down a path she cannot retread, but she ignores it and reaches for his hand. He drops his fork and turns his palm up, catching her fingers in his. The contact makes her light-headed, her heart fluttering against her ribs. He’s as close to freedom as he’s been in decades, even if that freedom comes with stipulations and restrictions. Excitement and uncertainty swirl through his head.

She smiles at him and his pulse spikes. “I have a surprise for you.”

“I’ve had a few surprises already today. A new job, a new room, roommates.” He makes a face and she laughs, too giddy to play along with his half-feigned exasperation.  “I’m not sure I can handle any more.”

“You’ll like it.” Rey squeezes his hand, sending some of her elation at his freedom, at being together, down their connection. She feels it glow inside him and he smiles back at her, eyebrow quirking. “Let’s go.”

A few mechanics make their way in for an after-shift snack as they speak. The mechanics shoot Kylo and Rey wary glances, but make no move to approach.  They clear their plates and Kylo rests his hand against her lower back as they exit. The light pressure sparks something low in her stomach and she takes deep breaths to keep from trembling.

Where are we going? He rumbles across her mind when they turn away from the barracks.  He pauses at the fork in the hallway, turns to her.

Rey doesn’t respond, just tugs him forward to the base’s front doors.

“Wait,” he says, pulling back. His stomach flips and he looks between her and the door twice before pushing his hair off his forehead, a nervous gesture.  “Outside?”

“Outside,” Rey nods, palming the mechanism that opens the doors and stepping into the cool night. His eyes widen, sweeping from the dark sky slashed by D’Qar’s bright asteroid ring down to the swathes of grass as a fresh breeze caresses his skin.  The hair on his neck stands up, and it prickles. When was the last time you went out without that mask?

A long time ago. He breathes in deep lungfuls of sweet air, and then steps forward onto the gravel path.  

She leads him across the lawn, back to the tree where she’d sat with Finn and Poe and sent him tastes of fruit and friendship. Her shoulder brushes his arm as they face away from the base, looking out across the terraces and up into the sky. I thought you might like to see some real stars, feel the wind, smell the grass for yourself.

He tilts his head back to the unfamiliar constellations, thoughts perfect in their stillness, mirroring the sky. He doesn’t try to put the feeling into words, trusting their connection to speak for him. They stand together, marveling at the stars until he looks down at her, his eyes dark and wide.  

Something like dread trickles down her spine, a whispered caution. She’s not supposed to be doing this. Rey she shoves that away and reaches out for him. He slides his hand down to rest at the small of her back again, lifts the other to the back of her head.  

The brush of their lips makes their connection thrum like a plucked string.  Rey takes her time for once, explores his mouth, his jaw, his neck at her leisure. There’s no impending doom hanging over them tonight, no desperate battle to wage, no one to break them apart, no blood or pain. She takes full advantage of that while it lasts, peppering kisses along his cheeks, his nose, his eyelids when he tilts his head down for her attentions. The Force burns strong inside him, feeds off the touch of skin on skin. She pushes into their bond as she presses into his mouth, feels the thump of his heart, tastes herself on his tongue, hears her sigh through his ears.  Her pulse quickens and the warmth of his hand on her back flares.

She pulls him down so her heels rest on the soft ground again. He smooths under her shirt and across to her hip, floods her veins with molten gold and she wants more, closer, now .  He groans, other hand tangling in her hair as she sucks on his lower lip before kissing, licking, biting, teasing down to the divot of his clavicle. He swallows under her tongue, his throat moving against her lips as he pants. Grinning against him, she nips the fragile skin and sends him a thought wrapped in red-hot desire. He gasps and presses his hips into her, needy, insistent. He’s hard, hot through the layers of cloth, and her smile turns wicked as she leans back.  

Rey doesn’t need to ask and he doesn’t need to answer. The stars spin above her, in her head, and her skin crackles with electricity where he touches her. She catches her swollen lip between her teeth, looks up at him through her lashes. He takes her proffered hand, smiles, and they turn back to the base.

He slows as they approach the doors, adjusting his pants to hide his arousal.  Rey snorts as he shoots her a sharp look. Your hair is no better . There’s no venom behind the look;  it’s taking all his control not to burst out laughing and pull her back in his arms. Rey removes the ties, shakes her head like a Wookiee drying itself, finger-combing her hair as they enter the base. The tips of their fingers just touch as they make their way to her room on the second floor of the barracks.  

Kylo stops her in the stairwell, grabs her hips as she climbs the stairs in front of him, spins her around so they stand face to face, almost the same height. Reaching up, he kisses her hard and hungry. She gathers a fistful of his shirt and leads him by the collar until her back thuds into the wall by the stairwell door. He catches both of her wrists in one large hand, pins them to the wall above her head. Maybe she should feel vulnerable here, crowded against a wall and restrained, but she doesn’t. She just wants more . Pulling their bodies together, her hardening nipples brush against his chest through their clothes, and she frees a hand from his loose grip and curls her fingers around his jaw. Holding him in place, Rey chases his tongue with hers and savors the filthy groans she finds in his mouth. Desperate for more as her back scrapes against the wall and his mouth works along her neck, she pants, hot and ragged, grateful it’s late. No quick words could talk a passerby out of filing an indecency complaint.

It’s torture to disentangle themselves, but they’re almost to her quarters and they race down the hallway. She rubs her thumb across his knuckles as she opens her door with its code and they trip over each other in their haste to get inside and shut the door behind them.

Flicking on the small lamp by the desk, for a moment Rey thinks she should have cleaned.  She turns to say something, but he’s not paying attention to the clothes strewn over the bed frame, the neat stack of field rations under the desk, the stolen cafeteria cups full of soil and seedlings by the window. His eyes blaze, heedless of anything but her. He slams the door shut and steps forward, catches her face in his hands, and surges into her mouth. No questions, no doubts, no hesitations.

A heel hooked behind his knee pulls him down to the haphazard pile of mattresses and blankets she arranged on the floor her first night here. Kylo grunts, surprised, as they land but he doesn’t break the kiss. He settles over her, a leg between her thighs, kissing her into the softness of her nest. She toes off her boots and socks and presses into him, scrapes her nails over his scalp.  She wants him, has wanted him for so long, and he’s here. He’s hers . He growls at the thought, kisses her harder. The bond is on fire and so is she, burning bright, ecstatic, fierce.  

He strokes up under her shirt again and she releases him so he can whip it over her head, catching the band underneath with nimble fingers. Her breasts bounce once as they’re freed and she feels his brain stutter. He tosses the shirt aside and swoops down to catch a nipple in his mouth. She keens as he rolls it over his tongue and arches up into him as electricity spears from his mouth to her core. Gliding her hands over the hard lines of his shoulders, down the slope of his strong back, she uses her nails to drag him from her chest to her mouth. As he moves up, she dips under the waist of his pants, skims her fingers along the band of his underwear. He drops his head to her shoulder, gasps her name, the syllable echoing inside her head, and grinds his hips into her.

Kylo kisses her, rough and possessive, their bond rippling with how much he wants her, needs her, as he wriggles to kick off his boots and socks. They clatter against the wall and something falls to the floor, but neither of them care. His desire shoots a coil of heat to her cunt and she clenches, empty and wanting. She pushes him upright, following close behind, catching his lips with her own for another searing kiss before seizing the hem of his shirt.  

Rey ducks her head down, kissing and licking up his torso as he tears the shirt over his head. “ Pants,” she breathes, hears it echo in his head. Foreheads pressed together, they stand struggling with belts and laces in their haste to disrobe. She pushes his underwear down his thighs, flicks them to the floor, fingers fumbling when his cock springs free, hard and proud. She takes him in both of her hands and the bond resounds with the sudden friction.

Kylo chokes, hisses, stutters unintelligible sounds as she strokes down the length of him, and he grabs her wrist after a strangled expletive. “ Too much, too soon ,” he says in her head and into her hair, leaning on her and panting between the words. He kicks off the cloth pooled around his ankles and drops to his knees before her. His lips skim up and across her thighs to suck a bruise at her hip as he hooks his fingers into the band of her underwear and pull it down. She shivers when the cool air hits her. She’s wet, so wet , and his enthralled wonder at her obvious arousal narrows the whirlwind of of his lust into focus.  She digs into his hair and he shudders, showing her through the connection what he wants. She moans,  sighs as she nods, eager and aflame.

He kisses her, hot and wet and perfect , nose pressing into the hair between her thighs, sweeping his tongue over her folds. She can taste herself through his senses, obscene and ambrosial and mine. The Force around them expands and contracts, hot then cold, overwhelming through the bond they share. Stars pop behind her eyelids and she isn’t sure if it’s the space they share or how he’s moving his mouth. She cries out as he flicks over her clit and her knees shake. He tugs her down by her hips, wraps an arm around her waist and twists so she’s on top, straddling him as he reclines.  

Rey runs her palm up his right bicep as she grinds down, gasping at the friction, slick and sliding over his leaking cock. He recognizes the gesture and, groaning through gritted teeth, mirrors the movement, eyes glittering and erection pulsing torturously against her.  She feels for the contraceptive and immuno-implant and finds it, a tiny ridge under the skin of his arm.  She hadn’t thought to check before, back in his room on Moraband.  Now, though, with the thought of death pushed far away, when they are both whole and healthy and half-gone from rutting through their clothes, the practicalities must be considered.  It’s a common check between couples throughout the galaxy, and it feels strange, a normal moment in their abnormal  relationship.

With his hands on her hips, Kylo hikes her an inch higher so she hovers over him, the head of his cock brushing against her clit and she moves against it, shuddering.  Rey repeats the move and his eyes flutter shut. The link scorches white as she drinks in his rapturous expression. Kylo’s shoulders tremble under her hands as she balances, tilting her hips with another perfect, dizzying drag He is slick with her arousal and his mind is ablaze with her scent, her touch, her taste still on his lips. Rey pauses above him, drinking in the flush across his nose, the heaving chest, and then she slips down, freezing midway as her cunt clenches and stretches around him.  

The connection ignites in a new curtain of flame that overtakes them, envelopes them, melts their selves together. For a moment, there is no separation between their bodies, their minds, their souls. Then they slide apart, back into their own selves, connected and whole.

Kylo groans a wrenching oh! that wells up from the bottom of his soul, and loosens something tight in her belly. She sinks lower with small rolls of her hips, breathing his name as she bottoms out against him. Bracing her hands on his chest as she adjusts to his girth, shifting her weight in tiny controlled undulations. Kylo’s fingers tighten around her thighs and he looks up at her as if she were divine.

There’s no separating words, thoughts, emotions. They merge into eternity under her skin. She shivers, memorizing this moment: his solidity under her, inside her, the complete entwining of their minds, the rumbling vibrations along the bond, the way his mouth works, wordless, as she moves.

Rey rolls her hips back, sliding up, and Kylo gasps, rakes her back with his nails, digs trails of fire into her skin. She can feel, as though it were a memory, the sensations he experiences as she moves, and it’s almost too much to bear. She finds a pace that works , rolling against Kylo as he snaps his hips up to meet hers, steady thrusts quickening as he blazes under her. He growls as she slows the pace, too soon, need more , and she laces her fingers through his, pulls his hand up the curve of her stomach, drags it over her breast and up her neck. She drops hot kisses into his palm, sucks the tips of his fingers into her mouth.

The hand gripping her thigh slips over her pubic bone so his thumb can brush her clit as Kylo slips his fingers from her mouth. He pulls her forward and her hands sink into the softness behind him as he kisses her, hot and wet and tasting of sex as he circles her clit and fucks up into her from a new angle. The taste of herself in his mouth is overwhelming and he pours that sensation into her mind, incinerating him from the inside out as she kisses back. Licking into his mouth as she grinds her hips back to meet his, Rey is unable to keep her eyes open as he drowns her in their shared ecstasy. This pressure, this tension, has been building for months, since he first entered her mind, and the sudden immediacy of it is all-encompassing. His cock bumps something deep in her and the fire spreads up her chest and down her legs, and she’s so close so close so close if he’ll just keep going.

He does, driving up over and over as she comes apart above him. The fuse they lit burns down and she explodes, is remade, and explodes again as her orgasm rips through her. She convulses, cries his name as her skin flushes and smoulders. His control starts to slip as the aftershocks quiver through her thighs and Rey opens her eyes, stares into his exaltation as she shakes. Rey says his name, a plea and a command, and he comes, head tipping back, muscles under her straining all at once, body arching, his mouth rounding in rapture as his hips slam into hers hard enough to hurt.  Kylo’s climax is a tidal wave of euphoric, riotous pleasure that bowls her over and sweeps her away with him. He empties into her as she flutters and pulses around him, gasping, and then the tension drains away to be replaced by a deep, warm, profound satisfaction.

Once Rey gathers her wits, she raises her hips and eases his softening cock out of her. He sprawls, boneless beneath her and she lowers herself on shaking arms, lying flush against him. They lay together, fingers knitting over his chest, taking long meditative breaths as the connection stabilizes, dims from incandescent desperation to a soft glow. The fingers of his other hand card, slow and soft, through her hair where it sticks to the back of her sweat-soaked neck. She angles her face up to his, tugs herself higher to press a lazy kiss onto his mouth. This is new, this quiet comfortable meeting of lips.  There’s still so much to explore, to find, but this is a pleasure all it’s own.

Kylo’s chest rises and falls as he chuckles. She’s never heard him laugh like that before, and it makes her heart leap. He twists and they twine their legs together as she rests her head against his chest, runs a hand along his arm.

He gives her room a drowsy glance as she nestles closer, curling around him as she tugs a blanket up her shoulder.  “This place really is a mess.”

“I like it.  It’s my mess.  My space, my things, my mess.”  She kisses the muscle beneath her cheek. He draws circles and spirals over her back with light touches. After a few moments of silence, Rey huffs a resigned sigh.  “You’ll have to go back to your room soon.  I’m surprised Poe hasn’t already burst in here looking for you.”

Kylo snorts at that, rolls over to face her so that she rests on his arm before he pulls her in for another languorous, kiss.  He’s tender now, the happiest she’s seen him, warm and fucked out. She adores this Kylo, with his swollen lips and mussed hair, the way his fingertips trail over her breasts, her side, her ass. “Can’t I stay here?” he murmurs against her cheek, holding her to him and burrowing his face into her hair.

She smiles into his neck, kisses his pulse. Not tonight. What happened to being good?

He moves to look at her, face full of feigned offense. “Are you saying that wasn’t good? I’m hurt, Rey.” She chuckles again and his pleasure at the that hums through her as he sits, pulling her up into another flurry of kisses.

They squeeze into the ‘fresher together and Kylo spends each second under the water cataloguing the things he wants to do to her the next time they’re in a shower together. She’s more than agreeable, eager to spend more time alone with him, delighted at the ideas he shows her. She scrubs his back, his chest, and then smacks his hands away when he tries to spend three minutes soaping only her breasts.  When they’re rinsed and clean, she grabs her one towel and dries herself with quick efficiency.

She moves to sit on the edge of her desk once she’s dressed and fiddles with his shirt as he dries himself with the damp towel. Watching him lean over to dry his hair is entertainment fit for gods. His muscles work as he scrubs and ruffles, shifting beneath the skin of his back, his arms. When he’s satisfied, he flips his head back so his hair frames his face like a mane. She makes sure he notes her appreciation, sending her gratitude for the show through their connection as she bites her lip.  He glances over to her, smiles, and winks . She throws the shirt at him and it hits his smug face.

He dresses after he’s dry and she stands from her perch, walks into his open arms. I wish you could stay.

He kisses the top of her ear and her heart flips. I know.

She toys with his damp hair, runs her fingers up and down the ridge of his skull. Master Skywalker must be mistaken. How could anything this good be bad? Kylo holds her, one hand at the flat of her back as  the other tilts her chin up. Rey opens beneath him and his adoration, his devotion, his desire, cascades through the kiss. There is power in this, different from the Light or the Dark, and it feels right.

They fall back into their connection and the stars ignite overhead, singing and blazing bright. She holds his heart in her hands, broken and bleeding and far too small but pumping hard, beating for her. He’s not good, will never be good, but he’ll try for her , and she’ll keep him safe, protect him. She’s not alone.  He’s not afraid.  It’s enough.  It’s everything.

When she opens her eyes, he’s looking down at her with a tenderness that she doesn’t recognize. He looks younger, softer. She doesn’t know what to say, so she stays quiet, kisses him again, quick and closed lipped, and moves to open the door.

They walk back to in silence, fingertips just brushing again. When they reach the door to his room, she glances up and down the hall before bouncing up on the balls of her feet to kiss him one last time. He runs his thumb across her jaw, along the line of her lower lip, and sighs.

“I’ll see you in a few hours for breakfast.  Be nice to Poe and Finn, please.”

“I’ll try.”

He slips through the door, quick and quiet, trying not to rouse his new roommates. He fails. Rey can hear Poe’s voice rise in inquiry, but can’t make out Kylo’s grumbled response.  She smiles and heads back to her quarters.

Chapter Text

He does try.  It doesn’t get easier.

The first week is boring. He reads the manuals Kess gave him and is almost disappointed when she doesn’t have any more for him to work through.  She calls him in for a meeting with herself and Major Ematt to review several discrepancies between his testimony and information from other sources.  He wonders about that in his many hours of free time.  How many spies and informants does the Resistance have in the First Order?  Who are they?  Where are they?  No one answers his questions.

Dameron and Finn stay out of his way, more or less. They don’t have much to say to him and he has nothing at all to say to them. The silence between them settles into something like comfort. Almost. They chatter to each other, always chipper, always smiling, sharing little jokes or looks when they think he’s not paying attention. It makes his jaw clench.

They meet Rey for dinner every night and he joins them. Their easy friendship is less grating when she’s a part of it, and it’s always better to be with her than without her. Rey trains with Skywalker from sunrise to sunset, and she’s always tired and thoughtful as she slumps over her food at the end of each day. Her friends reinvigorate her.  She rallies, blooming like a flower in the sun, to ask Finn about his new position, to talk flying with Poe.  Kylo eats in silence, answering questions if asked, but he prefers watching her than engaging himself.

Finn and Poe always leave the table first, and that’s another blessing.  He and Rey trace the now familiar path back to her chaotic little sanctuary to have sex if she has the energy, or to just kiss and hold each other if she doesn’t. It’s the best part of his days, the only thing worth waking up for. Sometimes, she tinkers with the crushed holochron after they finish, but he takes over that job at the beginning of the second week. Her longing for the little old master nags in the back of his mind and he resolves to get the box working again. Skywalker is working her so hard that she falls asleep on his shoulder one night at dinner, spilling a cup of cooling caf all over the table as she drowses. He offers to carry her back to her room and she demurs, but he ends up supporting her weight anyway. At lights out he disentangles himself from her arms and trudges back to his room, the comm-link on his wrist whistling a shrill warning when he stays out too late.

Every night, he feels Snoke’s eyes on him, hears the rasping laugh as phantom pains and punishments from long ago tear him apart. Kylo wakes, panting, and Finn and Dameron never mention it. He tries staying awake but that just makes things worse. Snoke haunts the waking hallucinations he fails to hide from Rey. On his third day without sleep, she makes him skip dinner and he passes out curled around her until curfew. Those are the only dreamless hours he gets, and the feeling of being watched from the edge of his awareness persists after that brief reprieve.

It’s aggravating, a frustrating regression to the life he lived on Resistance bases as a child. He is unable to go anywhere or do anything without permission. Every day, he runs into new limits or restrictions that make the compound feel smaller, tightening the invisible collar around his neck until he chokes. He paces the hallways, prowling between his ‘designated areas,’ restless. He never sees the General, but he feels her, and that makes him more uncomfortable than the comm on his wrist or the tracker in his arm ever could.

The second week is bearable. Captain Kess summons him into her office and grants him permission to leave the compound for ‘exercise,’ which is limited to running and calisthenics.  They won’t trust him with weights or weapons under any circumstances. The Captain tells him, as she grins her sharp grin, that the exercise regimen has been recommended by Master Skywalker himself for calming the temper and focusing the mind.  If he weren’t so desperate for entertainment or distraction, that alone would have made him reject the offer.  She hands him a pamphlet detailing the recommended routine and he shreds it outside her door, leaving the scraps on the floor of the hallway.

They set a schedule for him and he follows it to the minute.  What other choice does he have? The tracking chip sits heavy in his arm, an unwanted companion everywhere he goes.  Mornings are spent exercising.  He wakes at six hundred hours, eats what he can, and goes outside. He runs the perimeter of the compound until his legs shake, tracing a larger and larger circumferences each day, testing his new boundaries. He practices old forms, fights with imagined enemies, thrusts with an imaginary saber. It isn’t any good, but it’s something.

Between ten and twelve hundred hours, he uses the ‘fresher, dresses, and is allowed to go to the Resistance library, provided he has a chaperone. No one volunteers, so Kylo sits in his room and reads whatever he can find until lunch. Afternoons are spent sorting through data provided from surveillance teams and external operatives.  Lieutenant Thorne, a small man hardly older than Kylo, hands him a stack of flimsies at thirteen hundred hours and comes back six hours later to collect them. He eats dinner with Dameron, Finn, and Rey, and is then allowed what he’s sure Kess considers ample leisure time. He is in bed by twenty three hundred.

By the final day of the second week, the tedium of his days overwhelms Kylo and he breaks. He lowers himself to asking Dameron, in short, terse sentences, to accompany him to the library.  As always, the pilot is graceful and kind, agreeing with unbearable good humor.  He works on a report as Kylo skulks around the shelves, pulling out a dozen volumes on the history of the Resistance before bringing them to the front. Dameron checks the books out for him. Kylo is not an enlisted member of the Resistance and therefore does not merit a library card of his own. Even with a chaperone, he is not allowed the use of anything that connects to the HoloNet or has comm capabilities. That night, Rey tells him between kisses that she is proud of him for asking for help. He asks if there’s anything she wants to know about the Resistance’s past, and she tells him about Dosmit Ræh. He spends the next morning searching for any mention of her and finds a whole paragraph detailing one of  Ræh’s missions. It so delights Rey that she sends him back to his bunk wobbly-legged and grinning.

The investigation into the attempt on his life ends with an understated announcement, just a memo circulated around the base.  The death of Serrin Tiyu is ruled a justifiable homicide and Rey is absolved of any wrongdoing.  The  assailants are charged with aggravated assault, penalized by demotions, reassignments off-world, and heavy fines. A slap on the wrist, considering what the laws of the New Republic allow. The guards who drugged his food are charged with attempt to conspire in addition to the assault. They are stripped of their ranks and all duties, and Kylo doesn’t know or care if they are exiled or imprisoned.  The excitement and outrage fades after a brief resurgence where people mutter where he can hear them, but even that subsides within a week. People tend to ignore him in the common spaces, and that’s just how he wants it.

Rey just picks at her food that night, quiet and self-contained. Dameron and Finn ask what the matter is and she tells them  that the verdict doesn’t sit right with her. They are good friends. They comfort her, support her, and tell her she did the right thing.  Kylo even chimes in, blending his voice with theirs.  It helps, but her guilt doesn’t go away.  She tries to hide it from him and she does an admirable job. He’s proud of her. She’s learning.  Even days later, the feeling creeps into his mind from hers as he’s falling asleep - a cold dread that stinks of Moraband’s smoke.  He bats it away as best he can and doesn’t say a word about it.  If that’s what having a conscience is like, he’ll pass.

In her room, he asks about her training but her answers are evasive.  Her mind is uneasy and he understands that feeling all too well. There’s the tiniest hesitation when she kisses him after a day with Skywalker, a constant hint of worry until she pushes it away.  He knows the Jedi Code, knows that what they do in the darkness after dinner isn’t exactly in the rulebook. He doesn’t care, but he almost wishes he did.  He just wants her to be happy, and she’s happy when she’s beneath him, on top of him, in his arms.

The third week is a tedious return to frustration.  His new freedoms start to lose the shine of privilege and become restrictions themselves. Nothing changes, except some mornings Finn comes out to practice old First Order training drills with him. He wonders if Rey put the ex-Trooper up to it or if the man really misses Phasma’s grueling workouts. Finn was an exceptional Stormtrooper, his compassion for others aside, and Kylo comes to value his presence in those morning hours.  It pushes him to train harder, which means less energy for brooding until Rey comes back from Skywalker.

Two days after Finn starts training with him, Kylo asks if he wants to spar.  Finn hesitates, then shrugs and says, “Sure, but don’t dick around with the Force. Fight fair.” Other than that, they don’t speak except to confirm a drill or to propose a bout. Kylo does laugh, once, short and sharp, when Finn manages to flip him over his shoulder and he lands so hard his back pops.

Kylo tries not to hate it here. He really does. But in that, as in so many other things, he fails.

Rey remains the only thing he never hates. He will grudgingly agree that Finn and Dameron are the best men on the base, but never aloud. Dameron is confident and competent, trustworthy in a way that Kylo doesn’t understand. They never speak about the torture. What is there to say? There’s a switch somewhere in Finn that turns him from the gifted, brutal fighter Kylo sees in the mornings into a kind man who draws birds in his notebook and cries at HoloVids. Everyone loves both of those Finns, Dameron most of all. They’re rarely apart when not on duty, lounging in casual disarray around the room when Kylo gets back from his assigned duties.

Uncle Chewie returns at the end of the third week and Kylo asks for a day off from work to spend time with the Wookiee.  The markings above Captain Kess’s eyes lift as she appraises his official leave request. Kylo resists the urge to shuffle his feet as he stands before her desk.  He always feels somehow rumpled around her, the crispness of her uniform an unspoken judgement on any wrinkle or out of place crease.  

She looks up at him, drums her fingers against her desk, and sits back. “You’ve been doing good work, and have provided us with valuable information and analysis. The Admiral and other leaders have noted your cooperation. So, fine, take the afternoon off.” She gives him a look as pointed as her teeth. “ Believe that someone will be monitoring your location and that I will personally check in with Chewbacca to make sure you were in his company at all times.” She turns her attention back to the stack of flimsies on her desk, squares the corner of an errant report. “Enjoy it. If your behavior continues to be exemplary, we can discuss further leniency.” She looks up at him and there’s a gleam in her eye that he doesn’t like. “I don’t want you burning out yet, we’ve got years ahead of us yet, you and I.” His stomach twists at the thought.

Kess dismisses him and Kylo sprints back to his room before heading to the landing strip where the Falcon sits. Chewie yodels at him from the bottom of the ramp and grabs Kylo in a back-cracking hug.

Kylo rubs his ribs. “It’s good to see you, too. Where have you been?” Chewie grumbles and moans in explanation, then cocks his head and yodels. “They don’t like me doing any unchaperoned exploration, but if I’m with you it will be okay.”  They turn away from the Falcon and walk to the gravel path he’s run a hundred times.  

As Chewie fills him in on the galactic news, Kylo realizes just how much his handlers are keeping from him.  The lines shift but the war stays the same. Maz Kanata is rebuilding her little world on Takodana. The First Order’s recruiting campaign is getting aggressive, especially on the core worlds.  Resistance negotiations with the Slime Lords fell through again. There’s no sign of Snoke. That doesn’t surprise Kylo. His old master is not going to rear his head again any time soon.  He’ll bide his time and grow ever more powerful, nurturing his grudges like a shepherd tending to his flock.

A yodeled question from Chewbacca pulls Kylo back from his dark broodings. “Oh, it’s not so bad. They keep me busy and they let me work out now.  They’ve got me on this great agility routine where I jump through all their hoops.” He grimaces at Chewie’s growl. “It’s fine .” The Wookiee doesn’t believe him and says so. “It’s not like I have a whole lot of other options.”

With a quick glance around the grounds he turns and veers off the path towards the treeline. They sit on a  fallen log that rests farther from the base than he’s gone before.  It won’t set off any alarms, but Kylo likes pushing the boundaries and it hides them  from unwanted observation.

Chewie gives a quiet ululation and clasps Kylo’s shoulder, staring into his face with earnest concern. “Come with you?” The suggestion sits like lead in his stomach. He has an acute awareness of the tracker chip under his skin and tries to ignore its infinitesimal weight in his arm. Sometimes he rubs at it in the dark of his room, sure he can feel the it through the muscle.  Even if he could leave with Chewbacca, would he? Spend all his time stuck on the Falcon with its ghosts? Something clenches in his gut at the thought and Kylo shakes his head, fighting the panic down. “I’m chipped and tagged now, Uncle Chewie. I’m a useful pet. They wouldn’t let me go.” The words make his stomach roil. There’s a gentle touch, Rey’s warmth, in his mind, but he shoves her away. I’m talking to Chewie. Go back to your training. She recoils, stung, and he throws up the walls in his mind. He doesn’t want her to see this.

Chewie roars, indignant and angry, slamming his fist down on the log so hard the bark splits.

“What did you expect them to do? Give me a medal?” Kylo leaps off the log and begins pacing in agitation. Chewie roars again, points a finger at him. “Saying that now doesn’t help, Chew!” He raises his voice to shout over the bellowed response. “I’m a murderer.  The things I’ve done...” He buries his hands in his hair. “I can’t just apologize and make it all better!”

Chewbacca’s growl makes Kylo’s chest quake  and a huge furry hand lifts him by the front of his shirt, shoves him into the tree with enough force to shake birds into flight.

Kylo snarls back into the thunderous face. “That’s a lie and you know it! I killed him!  I did that, not Snoke! It was me. ” He feels his father’s hand on his cheek again and something in him cracks. “You shouldn’t have shot wide, you stupid fucking carpet.”

For a wild moment, he thinks Chewie might just put him through the tree and be done with it, but then the world is blotted out by dark fur and he’s crushed into an agonizing hug.

Kylo digs his hands into the heavy muscle of Chewie’s back, crying so hard he wretches and has to gulp back  bile. The following moan is much quieter, a tear-choked question. It shakes him just as violently. “I couldn’t go with you, Chew.” He hiccups, chokes. “Snoke would have come after me, and there was no home for me to come back to, not on the Falcon, not anywhere.” He drops his head to Chewbacca’s shoulder, sobs harder still. “Even now, Snoke’s still alive, still in my head, and I’m here doing paperwork for the damned Resistance. It was all for nothing.” His sobs hurt, jostling something painful in his side. “I’m still trapped.”

There’s a  mournful groan and Chewbacca loosens his crushing grip, lowers him to the forest floor. Chewie rubs his back as Kylo gasps for breath, and the tears subside. Each movement is it’s own acute ache. He’ll have to ask Kalonia to check for a bruised or broken rib.

“Don’t give me that. It would have been the same outcome even if Rey had called you in, or would you have disobeyed the General? She would never let me go, not again.” His voice is harsh, words tearing out of his throat as he tries to shake off the Wookiee’s too-kind ministrations. Chewbacca steps back and Kylo scrubs a hand over his eyes. This kind of wondering is pointless.  Even if the Falcon alone could have given them enough of a distraction on Moraband, Rey likely would have died from her injuries while they tried to escape.

Chewbacca’s patient silence allows Kylo to gather the shards of his shattered self then the Wookiee rumbles and Kylo reaches towards the huge shoulder and clasps it. “You have nothing to apologize for. Not a damn thing.” Kylo looks up into the soft, furry face. Chewbacca is still crying. “I won’t hear that shit from you. You always did the best you could for me.” Chewie snuffles, nods, and lets out another small yodel. Kylo smiles and it feels strange on his face. “Just, come back and visit as much as you can, okay Uncle Chewie?”

Whuffing  at that, Chewie rolls his eyes and nods as Kylo casts around for a different topic, something that won’t make him want to die and won’t make Chewie crack another of his ribs.  His side protests as he shifts to pull the broken holochron from his pocket, hoping that none of the afternoon’s violence damaged the box further. Chewbacca wipes his eyes with the back of a hairy hand and bends down to examine the device. “Think you could help take me get this thing working again?”

Uncle Chewie ‘s face stretches in a toothy grin as he shouts with excitement.

Chapter Text

Master Luke works her like he’s trying to make up for decades of lost time.  

She wakes up before the cafeteria opens and staggers back in the middle of dinner, almost collapsing into her chair across from Finn and Poe each night. She falls asleep on the table one night and Kylo offers to carry her back to her room. She’s tempted to let him, but it wouldn’t look good, so she shambles upstairs and is asleep before her head hits the pillow. Maybe she wouldn’t notice if it was she and Skywalker were back on the island, but they’re not, so she listens to Master Luke lecture on proper Jedi behavior, meditation, and peaceful detachment while her friends live their lives.  

She can’t always follow the conversation at dinner, is unable to opine on Poe’s X-Wing maintenance or on Finn’s new boss.  Talking with Kylo is easier because she doesn’t actually have to speak, and he’s so good at picking up on her meanings through inference. It takes five days before she realises that Finn and Kylo are training together in the mornings. When she scolds Kylo for not sharing that information, he reminds her that he did, in fact, tell her, she’d just been more asleep than awake, snuggled naked against him in her nest.   She’s missing so much, trapped in the endless cycle of training and exhaustion.

Skywalker provides practical advice among the endless drills to hone her focus, show her the path to serenity, and separate her from attachments. Master Luke is no slouch. He is demanding and capable and so powerful it feels good, sometimes, to have him as her teacher.  It’s almost enough to make her wish that she could have been a proper Jedi initiate, free of the questions and doubts that plague her.  She tries to fight the uncertainty down, to shove it away in the boxes Yali helped her build in the back of her mind, but it’s always there.

There’s sorrow when she thinks of  Master Yali, a longing that is probably another sign of attachment.

She tries so hard to be a good Jedi apprentice that it hurts. Being good shouldn’t be so desperate. In the fleeting moments when she finds that warm, quiet in the presence of the Light, compassion for all without attachment, she’s terrified. She feels it in Master Skywalker, the almost perfect emptiness, a staggering loss of subjectivity, that when he meditates, it is as if he has left his body behind.

They talk about that void, the loss of self,  and Master Luke glows when he speaks of the bliss, the power, attained by ‘letting go,’ but she doesn’t want to let go. All her life has been about holding on to things, to hope and small joys and most of all to her self .  The thought of giving it all up, to let it be washed away in the ocean of the Force, horrifies her, gives rise to that same surging feeling as when she opened herself to the darkness back on Moraband.  So she always retreats, throws up her defenses against full submersion, and shrinks away.

Talking to Master Luke about what she feels, what she thinks, what she fears from the Light as well as the Dark, doesn’t help. He listens and tries to explain the difference between attachment and compassion, tries to explain that severing attachments to things and people will strengthen her attachment to the universe as a whole. She shudders when she thinks of becoming like that, perfectly empty and at peace. It would be a whole new level of isolation.  

The evenings with Kylo aren’t helping her confusion, but Rey lives for those hours nonetheless.  She knows that the sex and the soft words shared in the dark go against what Master Luke is trying to teach her, but she brings him back to her room every night just the same.  Sometimes, as they lay sweaty and sated in each other’s arms he asks about her training with Skywalker. She deflects the questions with kisses that leave them both unsatisfied and the agitation creeps back into his mind.  What can she say? He knows her mind, knows what she’s supposed to be and do. In those moments, she does her best to pack the guilt, the worry, and the uncertainty into the boxes, but he can still feel it all, and so can she.

He’s still restless, and it rasps against her mind during training, meditation, conversations with her Master, making her impetuous and testy. Rey pushes Master Luke to focus on the physical aspects of their training and he assents. Kylo was a more effective fighting master, but Rey throws herself into the drills, practices forms until her arms and thighs burn. It helps, but not much.  They are both trapped, he by the chip in his arm, her by the weight of expectation on her shoulders.

She is in the middle of one of Master Luke's interminable morning meditation sessions when Kylo slides into her mind.   What am I touching?

Rey smiles, nudges him back, teasing. Go away. I'm meditating. I don't have time for games.

He wraps around her thoughts with a sensuous caress. It's not a game, he pouts. It's Force-bond sensitivity training. Come on. What am I touching?

Whatever is beneath his hand is  warm, and smooth.  It feels suspiciously like skin. Kylo! She stifles a physical gasp and pushes a wave of false shock at him.

What am I touching, Rey? He is unrepentant as his fingers slide down across his chest to his stomach.

Master Luke clears his throat and Rey's eyes snap open.  Kylo retreats from her mind with a startled apology.

"Rey, is your mind clear and focused, or is it with my nephew?" Luke's voice is calm and controlled, if peeved.

All at once, Rey is done. She's done meditating, she's done lifting rocks. She's done feeling guilty every time she kisses Kylo, every time her heart thrills for Finn or Poe, every time she gets angry or sad or scared. She's done training to be a Jedi. Her heart pounds. "I can't do this anymore, Master Skywalker."

The Master blinks at her and uncrosses his legs, rearranging himself into a more comfortable position. "We aren't talking about meditation, are we?"

Following suit, Rey uncurls. "No. We're not just talking about meditation. I can't be a Jedi, not the way you are. There's... there's too much more to life, and I..." Her words are heavy, and each one costs her. "I never wanted this, any of this. I never wanted to be a hero." Luke doesn't say anything and she fills the silence with babbling. "I can't set aside my emotional attachments. I don't want to.  For so long, I had nothing but what I could find for myself. Now, I have people who love me, and people whom I love, and I cannot, will not give that up or cut them off.  You talked about seeing Kylo cut the light out of his heart like a weed rather than treating it like a precious gift. That's what cutting the passion from my life would be like and I don’t want that.  I want to tend to it and watch it grow.  You talk about the importance of selflessness, but I want to be selfish.  I want to be happy, not serene, and you always seem so sad, Master Luke, and I don’t-"

With a gasp, she slaps her hand over her mouth before apologizing. "I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have - I didn't mean -"

Skywalker smiles without mirth and waves a hand to dismiss her apologies. "You have not offended me, and you have said nothing untrue.  Your mind is not unknown to me. You've been dissatisfied with your training, with the life of a Jedi, since you arrived on the island. Your time away only increased your restlessness."

That startles her. He knew? Then why did he allow her to continue the training?

"Your awakening shook me, Rey.  I was neither prepared for, nor happy about, a young woman arriving on my island." Luke's eyes sparkle, and there's no malice in his words. "I had sequestered myself away to 'meditate on my choices,' something I used to make my nephew do at length. He always saw it as a punishment, and maybe that's how I was using it for myself. Then you arrived, and I could hide no longer.  You are right about many things, but about this in particular:  You cannot become a Jedi as you are now.

Her heart still hammering, Rey cocks her head and asks, “What do you mean, as I am now?”

“I could, if you asked, teach you to loosen, perhaps even sever, the connection that binds you and my nephew.  That would be a first and necessary step towards your Knighthood.  You cannot continue down this path bound to him as you are, nor can he begin it again tied to you.”

Rey recoils at the thought, begins to stumble to her feet. “Master Luke, I would never-”

He reaches out and places his hand over hers, metal over flesh, stilling her flight. “I was not suggesting it, Rey, I was not offering. Had you asked me to teach you, I would have warned you against it. No,” he says, folding his hands in his lap, “I know that pain too well to encourage others to seek it out.”

“What do you mean?” Rey resettles herself.

"I am the last of the Jedi, and I will be the first to admit that I am woefully underqualified to hold that title.  I was nineteen when I started, and I was never properly trained.  Traditionally, younglings were separated from their families and put into temples before they turned eight. My father began his training at nine, and the Council of the time thought he was too old.  I tried to be more lenient with my students.  My nephew came to me when he was ten. The Council was right. Jedi must be trained from an early age." He muses on that for a moment before speaking again.

"You are older than I was when I began my training. Your life before coming to me was dangerous, lonely, and full of pain. Your feet knew the path they wanted before the Force awoke within you. That was never the path of the Jedi. You wanted a family, people who loved you, safety and security. You are passionate and strong-minded, and passion gives you courage, strength, and confidence. We cannot end this war without those things, but passion has no place in a Jedi’s heart.”

"As the last Jedi, I must uphold the Code that governs my order.  For decades, I thought that meant I had to follow the Code to the letter.   There is no emotion, there is only peace. I had to empty myself of all emotion, become a vessel for the Force. To do that, I cut myself off from those I loved. Or, at least, I tried." Skywalker's face crinkles in an expression that pretends to be a smile. "General Organa is my twin, did you know that?"

Rey shakes her head.

"She's as sensitive to the Force as I am, but she had no interest in becoming a Jedi.  She grew up as the Princess of Alderaan, chose the Rebellion, and then the Resistance, over the Force, and she has never regretted it.  But we're linked, Leia and I." He sighs, runs his hand through his hair. "I loved her more than anything in the whole galaxy, but that emotion kept me from walking the path of the Jedi, so I tried to overcome it.”

“You cut yourself off from her?” The idea of cutting herself off from Kylo, even from Finn or Poe, makes Rey’s heart ache. After so many years of solitude, she cannot imagine choosing exile. “How could you do that?”

"At the time, I thought of it as accepting the truth that every being is equally valuable, equally important, equally connected to the Force. By removing myself from personal attachments, I could more fully abide by the Code. I needed to be the best Jedi I could if I wanted to take on students and rebuild the order."

The aching in her chest flares into anger. "That wasn't fair."

He doesn't hide the pain in his face now. "It wasn't. I was a bad brother, a bad uncle, and a bad friend. At least you're honest with yourself about being selfish, Rey. That's a far more admirable than the ability to delude yourself. I was never able to cut myself off from her entirely, and I think my drive for solitude and striving for perfection impacted her relationship with her husband, her son, more than she realizes, and that eats at me every day.”

That statement hits Rey like a blaster bolt.  Kylo’s restlessness has her fidgeting through training, his frustration makes her grit her teeth, and his anxiety makes her skin crawl. How would it have felt to have that void echoing in her head, that total rejection of human connection all day, every day, for decades?

Luke looks away from her, off into the distance. “I have tried to connect more over these past few weeks.” He glances back to her, a sad hint of a smile in his eyes.  “I’ve tried to be a  better master, too, though I think we can agree that I still need some work.” His solemn tone returns as he looks away again. “The woes of my sister weigh on my heart, and her hurts cut me as if they are my own. But I choose not to be consumed by my concern or love for her, or for her son.”

This is the most open Master Skywalker has ever been with her, and she can’t miss the opportunity to ask a question that has plagued her since his arrival. “Why haven’t you gone to see him, tried to talk to him?”

Luke rolls his shoulders and looks her in the face. “Because he doesn’t want me to, and because I’m not sure I could bear it.  He is not the boy I knew, not anymore.  He has shown more restraint than I expected, being confined here, and I hope that means he is changing, but…” He shakes his head. “If I were to go to him, he would not accept my help or my love. That he accepts both from you is more than I would have dared hope even a month ago.”

Master Skywalker stands and helps Rey to her feet as his words swim through her mind.  “I know what it is to distance yourself from those you love, what it is to live a life that is never truly yours, and I would not ask that of you.  It is a kind of death, a necessary removal of self, and it cannot be asked of others.  It can only be chosen. You will not choose it now, but that path will never be closed to you.”

There’s a sick sort of relief in her stomach, and it mixes with a sadness she didn’t expect.  She wishes she had a hundred lives to live, a million years to explore every world and every path. Rey doesn’t want to be a Jedi, but the melancholy that comes with that admission lingers.  Tears sting her eyes and she isn’t sure if they are from the joy of freedom or the pain of loss. “Thank you for understanding, Master Luke.”

The last Jedi embraces her, pats her back with his flesh hand. “I will always be your friend, to the best of my admittedly feeble abilities. Never doubt that.” The Force surges around them, warm like a desert sunrise. His hand rasps along her tunic, careworn and rough.  When he steps back, the comfort of his embrace and the warmth it brought remains. “The question is, what do you want to do?”

She knows her answer at once. “I want to kill Snoke and end this war. I want a life of my own.” Kylo’s presence stirs when she mentions his old master, but she can’t juggle him and his uncle, so she waves him away and he retreats to the back of her mind.

Luke taps his chin and hums to himself. “A worthy goal, if perhaps somewhat bloodthirsty.” She opens her mouth to protest but he’s laughing. “No one but Chewie gets my jokes these days! That’s the price you pay for too many years with no audience, I guess.” He turns and beckons her to follow.  “Come on, let’s go talk to my sister.”

Shaking her head, she trails Luke to the General’s office, the same quiet, cramped room she’d found  instinctively the night Kylo was attacked. Skywalker doesn’t knock, just pauses with his hand on the door before entering the room.

General Organa looks up over a pair of tiny spectacles perched low on her nose, fingers continuing to fly over a Holo-Pad. “Breaking for lunch today?”

“Something like that. Rey has something she’d like to discuss.” Luke lifts a teetering stack of flimsies from a chair and sets them on the floor by the wall. He sits, makes himself comfortable, and nods at Rey.

Rey perches on the edge of the other chair, glancing between the sharp stare of the General and Luke’s profile as he watches his sister. Confessing to Luke had opened a dam and the words he had held back for years had spilled forth.  She doubts it will be like that with Leia. The thought of disappointing the woman stabs at her, and Rey gulps. Get it over with. Once it’s done, it’s done. “General, I’m not going to be a Jedi. I’m sorry.”

General Organa removes her spectacles, sets them down on her desk, and leans forward. She doesn’t look surprised, but there’s power in her eyes. “Whatever for?”

Rey’s mind blanks under the scrutiny and her tongue wags of its own accord, “For disappointing you! For letting Master Luke down! For - ”

The General raises a hand. “Stop.” Her voice is soft and absolute in its command. “You do not owe it to me, to him,” She flicks a sharp glance at Luke, “Or to the Resistance to become a Jedi. You don’t owe anyone anything .” Her lips thin at a thought. “Are you unhappy here? If you wish to leave, Chewie would be delighted to take you on the Falcon. If not the Falcon, I can speak to someone about putting you in touch with one of our other contractors.”

“No!” Rey shakes her head. She considers Kylo’s treatment and then adds again, more quietly. “No. My friends are here, and I won’t leave them. But what else can I do?” First she had been a scavenger, then she had been a Padawan. There had never been any other choice, no forks in the road leading her to this point. “There must be something for -”

“A brave young woman with a good heart and Force sensitivity like yours?” General Organa rolls her eyes and Rey’s jaw drops. She’s seen that gesture so many times on Kylo. It is, for a moment, disorienting. “I’m sure we can find you something to do.” She pushes her chair back and stands, pacing leisurely behind her desk. “You could work maintenance, and they’d be happy to have you. You could be a pilot, like your friend Poe. You could join Finn in the infantry.” Her smile quirks when Rey doesn’t jump at any of the options. “You could be an officer’s aid.”

Rey’s not sure if she could just pick one of those at random. What would it be like to fight beside Finn, or to take orders from Poe on a mission? Her stomach jitters at the prospect. What if something went wrong? What if one of them died because of something she did? Who would take care of Kylo if something happened to her?  She could be a mechanic, but would that be enough? She loves being up to her elbows in an engine, but does she want to do that every day for the rest of her life?

“What does an officer’s aide do?”

General Organa crinkles her eyes and Master Skywalker smiles. “A bit of everything. Aides need to assist their commanding officer in whatever official business requires. You’d be a personal secretary and help with everything from diplomacy to negotiations to making sure the officer eats regularly. If the officer isn’t able to attend a meeting, you would be sent in their place.” Rey’s stomach lurches. She can’t be qualified for that position. “Aides are expected to be fully combat ready and they must be adequate pilots. They need to be calm, professional, and able to take orders.” The General waves her hand, batting away Rey’s half-formed questions, but she’s smiling now, her grin matching her brother’s.  “Everything will vary depending on who you’re assigned to.”

Rey’s scavenger instincts kick in.  There’s something there, some treasure that the twins are concealing. “If I was to say yes, who would I be working under?” She shudders at the thought of doing  paperwork under Major Ematt or planning attack strategies under Admiral Ackbar, and Statura already has the intimidating Captain Kess.

“Me, obviously.” General Organa doesn’t mess around. “I’ve had aides before and they’ve all been worse than useless, but I could work with you. An extra pair of hands and eyes, an extra mind, would be a great help to me. Your Force Sensitivity is an enormous asset, as well. Everyone always gets hung up on the Jedi thing.” Leia gives her brother a withering look. “They aren’t the be all and end all of the Force.”

Luke raises his hands in mock surrender. “That’s why I brought her to you!”

Leia returns her stern gaze to Rey.  “All jokes aside, it’s not an easy position. The hours are shit, and the pay is worse.” Luke moves as if to speak but Leia flaps him back into silence. “I’ll make sure you have time for training with Luke and for... leisure, in whatever form that manifests.” Rey tries very hard not to blush and doesn’t quite manage it.

When Rey goes to speak, the General holds up a hand. “You do not have to give me an answer right now. Ask your friends about what they do. Go bug the mechanic crew. Take a day to sort out your thoughts and then decide.” She crosses to the front of the desk and takes Rey’s in both of hers. “I would love to have you as my aide, and it’s not just because I like having you around. I think you could excel in the position. But regardless of what I want, you must choose what’s right for you. I promise, you have done more than enough for me already.”

The General’s hands are calloused from blaster and stylus. Her skin is warm and there’s something so familiar about her presence that Rey wonders how Kylo keeps his mother away from his heart, his mind. The Force around her shines just like it does around Luke, though her power is more like the sun shining through leaves than Luke’s full noon heat. Rey takes a moment to acknowledge the choice and consider her options, but she knows that she wants this. “I would be honored to assist you, General Organa.”

Master Skywalker grins, satisfied. The General’s smile lights up her whole face and peels back the years to reveal the luminous princess she was. “Good! Would you be willing to start this afternoon?” She gestures around the room, to the piles of paperwork and heaps of dossiers. “No time like the present.”

“Yes, General,” Rey nods.

“Very good. First things first: cut that ‘General’ crap. Call me Leia when it’s just us.” She hooks a thumb at her brother. “Call him Luke. He’s not your master anymore and it does him good to be reminded that he’s really just a too-short hick farmer in a bathrobe.” Luke splutters and this is the most Rey has ever liked the Jedi. He seems more real here, more human with his sister. The General, Leia , pats her arm and ignores Luke’s offence. “Go get some lunch in you, then bring my son and Finn up to the Blue Room when you’re finished. I have something to discuss with the two of you.”

Rey’s face twists and her stomach flips. “Bring Kylo… to you? Today?”

Leia nods. “Right after lunch.  Don’t worry - it’s a good thing, I promise. We probably won’t even have to file any maintenance requests. That’s another one of your jobs, by the way.”

Rey tries not to frown at that vague information, and nods before slipping out the door as General Organa takes her vacated seat and Luke reaches for her hand.

The cafeteria is noisy and crowded as she negotiates through the line. She’d forgotten how busy it could get - her meals have mostly been snatched in the mornings or late in the evenings when most people are already in bed. She fills her tray and finds  Kylo, Finn and Poe sitting in a corner.  Kylo sees her first, meeting her eyes with a flicker of surprise before smoothing it over, murmuring a soft greeting as she slides in beside him.

Finn looks up from blowing on his soup. “Hey, Rey! Master Luke is letting you eat lunch today?”

“I’m not training with Master Luke anymore.” Rey focuses on the food in front of her, chasing a blue noodle around her plate. Better to tell them and get it over with.

Excitement spikes through their connection, but Kylo quickly tamps it down. Is it because of this morning?

Finn and Poe exchange a quick look between bites of food. Poe smiles his confident, winning, ‘I believe in you’ smile. “We’re happy to have you, but… what does that mean?”

Rey pours her relief back at Kylo, reaches under the table to brush her fingers against his as she chews on her lunch. Don’t be silly. You know it wasn’t a good fit for me. “It never really felt right, and I couldn’t keep pretending that it did. Master Luke was very understanding.”

Nuzzling against her mind, radiating warmth and pleasure and reassurance, Kylo bumps his knee against hers. You couldn’t have figured that out a month ago?

Shut up. She smiles at him under her eyelashes and goes back to shoveling noodles in her mouth. She shares in the joy of the bond as Finn and Poe flick crumbs at each other and squabble about whether the bird nesting outside the window is a tit or a swallow. It’s comforting, it’s normal. These three are her family and she’s missed them. Now more than ever she feels confident in her decision. She could never cut them out or leave them behind, and now she won’t have to.

The argument ends in a stalemate. BB-8 can’t see out the window to scan the bird and definitively categorize it and her friends turn their attention back to Rey. “So,” Finn asks, “If you’re not training with Luke all day, what are you going to do?”

“General Organa offered me a position as her aide.”

Kylo chokes on a mouthful of caf as Finn and Poe goggle. “General Organa?” Her two friends exclaim at once, exchanging another of those quick glances.

“That’s awesome!” Poe declares, raising his cup of caf in her direction. Finn nods in agreement and gives her two thumbs up. They all turn to Kylo, who wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Con-” He grits the syllable out like it hurts, knuckles white on his tray. The bond twists under the force of his thoughts as the plastic flexes under his hands. He breathes out, loosens his fingers and stands, careful and controlled. He takes another deep breath, lets it out and tries again. “Congratulations, Rey.” His tone is perfectly neutral. “You will be a great help to… her. When do you start?”.

“I’ve already started.” Rey stands as well. “My first job is to bring you and Finn up to the Blue Room. The General wants to talk to us.”

Now it’s Finn’s turn to choke.  “Me? What did I do?”

Rey sooths Kylo’s sudden anxiety through their connection as she speaks aloud. “Nothing, I’m sure.  The General said that it’s good news.”

His lip twists at that, bond prickling. “You know how much I’d love to chat with you two and the General, but I have to work this afternoon. And every other afternoon.  Forever.”  

“Are you really refusing a chance to get out of reading more scouting reports and comms transcriptions?” She catches an eye and lifts a challenging eyebrow at him as they all clear their places.

Kylo breaks her gaze and frowns, thinking as they exit the cafeteria. I’ll need to check in with Kess. Lieutenant Thorne will run to her like a kicked puppy if I’m even a minute late. He raises the comm on his wrist. “Kess, the General wants to see me in the Blue Room.”

There’s a touch of static and then Captain Kess’s voice answers. “Yes she does, Ren. Look at you, checking in before deviating from your schedule.  Someone’s getting a gold star today.” Kylo grits his teeth and a stab of annoyance flashes through Rey’s mind as he tightens his hand on hers. “I’ll see you there in five minutes.” The comm darkens as the transmission ends.

Kylo drops his wrist. “She really has a way with people, doesn’t she?”

Rey pushes the hair out of his eyes and mirrors the caress through the connection.  “She was praising you. Checking in with her was the right thing to do, even if she is… difficult.”

Finn stands to the side and pretends to be interested in his shoes.

They take their time walking to the base’s non-combat meeting room. Kylo hesitates before the blue door, teetering on the edge of something painful.

Rey smiles up at him.   You’ve come this far already. What’s one more step?

Kylo glances at Finn, who turns his eyes up and spins on his heel to examine a safety poster tacked to the wall across the hall, whistling tunelessly. Rey leans up to plant a quick kiss at the corner of Kylo’s mouth. Let’s see what they want. She pushes through the door and  the men  follow her, taking seats together on one side of the table.

Admiral Statura and Captain Kess enter a few minutes later with General Organa. Kylo’s hands tighten on the arms of his chair but he keeps himself in check. Rey brushes against his mind.

After everyone has settled themselves and grudging pleasantries and terse nods have been exchanged, the General gets down to business. “We’ve been keeping you in the dark about most of what has been going on in the war. You know what matters, which is that the Resistance is making progress against the First Order.” Something like annoyance ripples from Kylo but at a glance from Rey, he tamps it down as Finn fidgets on her other side. “That being said,” the General continues, ignoring her son’s controlled anger,  “We will lose any extended war against the First Order. We simply can’t beat them when it comes down to recruiting efforts or military expenditures-”

“I’ve told you what I know about their financiers,” Kylo grits out, bending the edges of his chair where his fingers clench as he struggles to speak in a steady voice. “They’re in deep with the Moneylenders Guild. I don’t know what the First Order has over their heads but-”

“Thank you.” General Organa cuts him off and Rey can only think that this is the first time they’ve spoken since he was freed. “The information on the Guild has been useful. However, we have not brought you here for more insight on the First Order. We have something different in mind.” Kylo subsides and she gives him a short nod of acknowledgment. “As I said, we’re holding our own for the time being, but it won’t last. Given the destruction of the Hosnian system, we cannot depend on support from the Republic as it attempts to rebuild. We need to start considering tactical options. From the reports we’ve received, it appears that the Knights of Ren have all but pulled back from the fighting. None of the sortees have seen them anywhere. Snoke’s relying on a conventional military, and there’s all sorts of ways to handle that, be they traditional or more unconventional.”

“Unconventional?” Finn tastes the word, trying it on for size.

Leia clasps her hands together in front of her chest. “We discussed this plan when Finn here came to us a few months ago, but his ideological dissatisfaction was considered to be an aberration, not the rule. We’ve had a few more First Order personnel defect since then, in ones and twos.”

Rey’s heart leaps as Kylo starts and Finn gasps. “Really? How many? Who is it? Where are they?” Finn leans forward, desperate for more information.

Eyes twinkling, the General gives him a small smile. “There are about twenty, Finn. We're holding them off-world for now.” Finn takes a sharp breath in through his nose and looks down.

Kylo lets out a sharp, barked laugh. “That many? Good. It’ll annoy Hux,” he spits. Rey reaches under the table to stroke his hand and he settles.

Startled by her son’s outburst, the General glances at Kess and Statura before continuing. “We picked up a half-squad of troopers and their sergeant a few days after you two joined us.” She looks to Rey and Kylo. “They say they had been trying to leave since hearing about Finn’s escape, but that your, uh, departure, really stirred the pot.” She sticks her hands in her belt and leans back in her chair with a self-satisfied expression. “These guys are full of interesting information about what the rank and file think.”

The General looks Kylo straight in the eye and he holds her gaze, running his thumb in nervous circles over Rey’s hand.  “People know that you attacked Snoke and left with another Force user, and everyone assumes, correctly, that you’ve come to us. There are all sorts of rumors flying around. If the Resistance will welcome a Stormtrooper,” she looks to Finn, “and forgive the First Knight,” she looks back to Kylo, “it’ll probably accept intelligence agents, pilots, officers. It sounds like there’s a vein to be tapped here.”  She smirks. “It’s time to address that.”

Statura turns to Kylo. “You have been exemplary in your work and behavior since your arrival. We will be working with General Organa and her people so that you can be of greater help to the Resistance.”

“What would I be doing?” Kylo looks at his mother and Rey feels panic fluttering in his chest.

The General slides a folder across the table, but Kylo doesn’t open it. “We want to show the First Order that you are working with us. We want to showcase you and Finn, make it absolutely clear that the Resistance will embrace all who want to join our cause.  If what we’re hearing from these defectors is true, and we have very good reasons to believe that it is, this could be a major battle that we can win.”

Statura glowers. “The limitations on your movement and access to weaponry must be relaxed for this to succeed, but please do not delude yourself that we need your cooperation so badly that we will overlook misdemeanors going forward.”

Kylo scrubs a hand over his eyes, shaking his head. “So you want to send me to kill First Order guys because you think it’ll, what, inspire people to join the Resistance? You want me to be an attack dog for the good guys this time, is that it?”

The link boils between them, thoughts popping in and out faster than Rey can follow. Anger, eagerness, suspicion, fear, disgust. They’re all but demanding he go back to being a human weapon. Even if they disagree on the reasoning, they both want the war to be over, and they still need to kill Snoke. There’s a flickering of cold rage, mindless fear, when Kylo thinks of his old master. Rey recalls the plop of Snoke’s hand as it hit the floor and her need to finish him off flares. Only after Snoke is dead will the people she cares about be safe to have lives of their own.

“You are not a dog. The Resistance will-” General Organa’s face twists around the words, her professional exterior cracking around the edges, and Kylo cuts over her.

“I’m not objecting to the description. If you want a killer, I’m the best one you’ve got, and it's not like I can say no. And, honestly,” he gives Statura and Kess a glance, “I’ll take murder over intelligence analysis with Thorne any day.”

Kess rolls her eyes and the Admiral nods, looking bored. “I’m delighted that you’re ready to apply yourself to the cause.” Statura looks to Rey and to Finn. “We can’t force you to do anything, but your cooperation and participation in these missions is critical to their success.  What do you say?”

Squeezing Kylo’s hand under the table again, Rey straightens herself in her chair. “If this is the best way to get at Snoke, I’m in.”

Leia smiles at her and then wags a finger. “You’re still my aide. Every minute you’re on the clock and not training or out on missions, you’re with me.”

Rey nods as Finn speaks. “Anything that weakens the First Order and get some guys out alive, I’m in.  I had no idea anyone else wanted to leave.  This is huge.” He’s beaming, happier than when talking about his birds or when Poe smiles at him.

“You all begin preparations starting tomorrow morning, with the intent of flying your first mission in two week’s time. Captain Kess will be working with you and reporting back to me and the General every day.” Statura talks them through the general mission parameters as well as the limitations on Kylo’s freedom, the surveillance he’ll be under while operating pretending to be a happy, well-adjusted member of the Resistance.

“So remember,” Kess grins says as Statura dismisses them. “We’re all a big happy family now, alright?”

Kylo groans.

Chapter Text

When they are dismissed, Finn heads off to find Dameron as Kylo walks with Rey back to her room. He clears a space on the stripped bunk and sits across from her nest. First he was killing Resistance idiots and now he’s going to be killing First Order lackeys. There’s a part of him that is excited at the prospect of fighting against Snoke and Hux, even if that means helping the Resistance. Maybe there’s something to be said for that old ‘enemy of my enemy’ adage. The larger part of his mind knows it’s just the illusion of freedom. He’s still a dog on a chain, no matter what the General says to make herself feel better. He’ll always be a prisoner, a tool, a weapon. He just belongs to someone else now.  

Rey closes the door and locks it behind her, meeting his gaze as she crosses the room to check on her seedlings.

“Good news, huh?” He glowers at her back as she picks up one of the stolen cups and turns it in her hands.

Rey sets the cup down on the desk with a heavy click and turns to face him, shoulders tensing. Frustration warms her mind against his. “If you want fight, we should go outside. I don’t want you breaking things in my room.” Her words are quiet, contained, but there’s anger under the surface.

“I don’t want to fight with you,” Kylo grumbles and holds his hand out to her. She pauses just beyond his reach and he sighs, beckons her closer. When she does, he draws her between his knees, resting his cheek against her the soft curve of her stomach as she plays with his hair. “I’ve spent my whole life learning how to be a killer. That’s what I am and I’m good at it. I’m not ashamed of that.”

Rey flicks his ear hard enough to sting, then drops a kiss where it smarts. “Then you’re the right man for the job. We’ll all be better off with Snoke gone.”

“I know.” Kylo tugs her down onto his knee, wraps his arms around her as she cuddles up against him. “Killing Snoke is the only thing that matters. If we’re going to do it by annoying him until he crawls out of hiding, then I guess that’s how we do it.” Saying the words aloud makes the feelings racing under his skin shift, solidify. This is a means to an end.

Twisting in his lap, Rey looks him in the face and the bond twinges with her uncertainty. “Do you think it will work? Attacking morale? Trying to encourage defection?”

“I have no idea. Finn can’t have been the only dissatisfied ‘Trooper, and we have proof of that now, but the conditioning they do to the Stormtroopers is intense. They’re fed First Order propaganda with every meal, and any deviation from procedures or ideology is punished. But Statura, for all of his faults, is not an idiot.” He sighs again and looks down, grits out, “Neither is the General. Maybe they really think this is the best option they have, though if that’s the case I don’t care much for our chances at success.  Using me to inspire anyone to anything reeks of desperation.”

Rey grabs two fistfulls of his shirt and yanks him so he looks up at her. “Stop that.” She kisses him, mouth soft against his, her eyelashes fluttering against his cheek as she pulls away. “You already have inspired people. That squad they picked up after we escaped, that was because of you. Finn started this, and you made it real.”

“Don’t pretend I’m the hero. Finn can have that. He left because he couldn’t fight for a cause he didn’t believe in. I just wanted to kill Snoke, and look how well that worked out.” He laughs, bitter.

“I said, stop that.” Rey uncurls her hands from his shirt and takes his chin in her fingers. “You don’t have to be a hero. You give others the courage to fight. You’re a killer and that’s good, because we’ll kill Snoke or die trying. That’s what we agreed before, and that’s what we’ll do now.”

He doesn’t believe her, but he cranes his neck to kiss her anyway. Kissing is preferable to talking, which will just sink him back down into that pit of despair. He’s kidding himself if he thinks he won’t take this chance. At the very least, it will get him off world and he can concoct some illusion of freedom. She’ll be with him. The leaders won’t send him anywhere without her. They know better than that. He and Rey will take care of each other. It’ll be almost like living again. Rey kisses him back until their link is radiant with shared desire and he tips her down into the pile of blankets.

Two weeks pass in a blur. To his surprise, Kess updates Kylo’s security clearance, allowing him access to an equipped training facility.  She even gets him his own library card, telling him that it is to be used for mission appropriate research only.  Before he can thank her, stunned into gratitude by the unexpected privilege, she’s waving his words away and walking down the hall with a scoff.

Rey and Finn come to train with him most mornings, mixing weights and combat drills in the gym with long runs around the compound.  When he has time, Dameron joins them, but his other duties interfere more often than not. Rey laughs often, keeps conversation flowing in a way neither Kylo nor Finn can without her.  Through her, he learns that Finn is funny.  He and Kylo rarely speak when Rey is not with them, but the silence become companionable as trust grows.  Dameron is just as charming and kind as he seems, but he fights like a street kid, vicious and dirty. Kylo almost wants to like him for it.

A week in, Rey gets permission from their superiors to work on deflecting blaster bolts.  She’d wanted to try it from the beginning, but both Kylo and Skywalker had cautioned against it.  She still trains with the Jedi when she’s not with the General. Kylo would rather be allowed to train her himself, but Skywalker is, if nothing else, excellent at staying alive. If he can impart that skill to Rey, Kylo will be satisfied. Kylo spends the morning of the actual blaster tests with his guts in knots.  It’s too valuable of a trick for her not to know, but it goes against every instinct he has to sit on his hands as Finn takes careful, measured shots at Rey, each aimed to go wide in the event of her failure. She blocks every shot and that night he praises her prowess as she luxuriates beneath him.

In the afternoons, Kylo goes back to Kess while Rey works with the General or with Skywalker.  He was wrong to think that the library card was a good faith gesture.  Kess sits him down with a team of Resistance psychologists, researchers, and diplomatic specialists.  Kylo refuses to talk to them at first, telling Kess in no uncertain terms that if anyone tries to ‘analyze’ him or to get him to ‘talk about his problems,’ he will break protocol and an undetermined number of necks.  The psychologists are more than happy to sit at the back of the room after that.  The researchers and specialists lecture Kylo on his role in the upcoming missions and he tries to give them what they want:  a tough (not angry), strong (not intimidating), reformed (not imprisoned) beacon of rebellion against tyranny. He feels silly and out of his depth, but it could be worse. The could be trying to get him to joke around with the hoi polloi. That’s Finn’s job, though Kylo notes that he doesn’t seem to need any extra training.

Then two weeks are over and they are called back in for a mission briefing.

There are more people in the Blue Room this time, and Kylo takes a seat beside Finn and Dameron.  Across the table is Uncle Chewie, back from another smuggling run, and a man he doesn’t recognize. Captain Kess, Admiral Statura and the General round out the company.

Rey stands next to the General with a pile of folders in her arms, which she distributes to the attendees as they settle.  The General clears her throat and the murmurs die as a holo springs up from the projector on the table.  

“Alright. Tomorrow’s the day. The mission’s the same as usual,” she nods to the stranger on the other side of the table, “with a small variation.”

The man snorts. “Small?  We usually do our damnedest to stay low profile and this time around we’re trying to get noticed.  It’s a huge ‘variation.’ ”

“Enough, Coyle.  You knew what you were signing up for when you volunteered.” Kylo is comforted by Captain Kess’s sharp tone.  He likes her more when she’s snapping those teeth at someone else.

The General continues as if there had been no interruption. “Beyond our standard intel gathering, the mission team will be seeding rumors about our two primary First Order defectors.” She gestures to Finn and Kylo. “The mission has three stages: First,” the holo projects a green and blue globe, “You’ll be hitting Takodana.” Kylo’s stomach twists. No one on Takodana is going to be excited to see him. “Then you’ll head to Bespin,” the projection changes, “And on to Coruscant over a thirty hour cycle.” The Core world’s orange light casts a glow across Rey’s face where she hovers beside the General.

Statura takes over. “You will meet for departure tomorrow at six hundred hours in Hangar One to gear up. Captain Kess and Coyle will take point for this. You two know the routine.”

Kess nods and the man blinks in what the Admiral takes as acknowledgement.

“Finn, you and Kylo are going out to have a great time with your Resistance buddies. Drink, chat, tell stories, and act like the big damn heroes we want everyone to believe you are.” Kylo blanches, and the Admiral seems to understand. “Finn, you do most of the talking. Kylo, just… don’t insult anyone and try to look happy or proud once in awhile.” Rey gives him a small smile and rubs against his mind like a cat, soothing and warm.

“Don’t start any fights,” the General says, looking around the table and lingering on Kylo’s face. He doesn’t react, and he counts that as a success. “Make this a clean run. The other three, Rey, Dameron, and Chewie, will be your new Rebel friends. Rey’s already being talked about, and Poe’s too pretty to go unnoticed.” Dameron shrugs in agreement as Chewbacca roars in indignation. The General ignores them both. “Review the briefings tonight. Be on time tomorrow, ready to burn atmo at eight.” She glances around the room, looking for questions and finding none, and then dismisses them.

Tucking the folder labeled with his name and a serial number under his arm, he follows Finn and Dameron out the door as the pilot chatters with the man, Coyle. Rey lingers a moment with the General before joining them in the hall. They walk back to the barracks together and Kylo listens with half an ear to the pilot and Coyle while Rey peppers them with questions about previous missions until they reach the hall that leads to Rey’s room.

“Hey man,” Dameron’s voice makes him pause as Rey slips to his side from where she’s teasing Finn about some half-believable adventure, “Before missions, we usually all go over the briefing documents together.” His smile is earnest, inviting. “No pressure, but you’d be welcome. You too, Rey, obviously.”

Rey’s excitement dances across their bond at the offer and he’s not going to deny her this, not when they’d be doing the same thing down the hall. Kylo glances down at her anyway, gives the barest hint of acquiescence and she grins, at him, at Dameron, at the whole damn world.

“Yeah,” Rey speaks for both of them, “Thanks, Poe.”

The next morning, there’s caf in Hangar One, which is good, because no one’s awake yet. Rey’s cup looks to be full of more blue milk than caf and she takes small, cautious sips as Kess leads them to a side room stuffed with equipment in the giant hangar.

“The word of the day is ‘casual’, boys and girls.” Captain Kess is the most dressed down he’s ever seen her, rigid grey uniform replaced by practical street clothes under a black jacket emblazoned with the Starbird of the Resistance. “Grab a jacket and arm up.”

The jackets are mostly leather or wool in varying cuts and states of wear, but they’re all stamped, painted, or patched with the Resistance logo, and they are all too small for him. “Understated, Kess. I like it.” He rolls his eyes.

“Did you skip out on your homework?” Kess frowns, scrunching the marks over her eyes. “You’re our new face! Which means we need people to know that face. No masks, just a nice costume and saying your lines. Convincingly.” She shoulders past him and digs in the pile, pulls out a bundle of black cloth and tosses it at him. “Put it on.”

Kylo rolls his eyes and obeys.

“Hmm,” Kess looks at Finn, who is wearing the jacket he got from Dameron, and the pilot himself, admiring the emblazoned Starbird on the back of his new jacket in the reflection of a ship windscreen. “No, that’s not quite right.” She paws through the pile again and comes up with another bundle. “There.”

Shucking the first jacket, Kylo pulls on the leather she hands him.  It fits better and something about the hood reminds him of his the robes he wore as a Knight of Ren. He’d like it if not for the huge orange emblem on the shoulder.  

“Much better!” Kess grins and turns away to talk to Chewie as the Wookie lumbers into the room with a yodel of greeting.

It’s going to be a long thirty hours if he’s stuck in close quarters with Captain Kess and her chipper mood. Kylo decides to take the respite while he can and watches, drinking his cooling caf, as Rey struggles into a grey jacket, insignia embroidered at the collar. She checks the pockets with professional interest and seems disappointed when they come up empty. It does not, he has to concede, look terrible on her.

I could say the same about you . Very slick. Her appraisal is warm and her eyes crinkle as she looks up at him.

Kess comes back with Chewie in tow. “Weapons are laid out in the next room, so if you want one, go get it. You all know the rules: keep everything under wraps unless shit goes south or I give the sign. Otherwise, you’ll be writing reports until your fingers fall off.” She steps aside, watches as Dameron and Finn enter the small cage behind her and clamps an almost-friendly hand on Kylo’s shoulder as he moves to follow. “Not you, Ren. You two,” she nods at Rey, “Get your sabers back for this when we land.”

Kylo shakes off her hand as she brushes past him into the armory to bother Finn and Dameron, he hopes. Kess probably has his saber right now. He could Force-pull from her, but what would that accomplish except pissing her off? He grumbles and walks to talk to  Chewie, waiting with his bowcaster slung over his back by the door leading back to the main hangar.

“No one ever died from having too many blasters, Captain.” Finn protests a moment later, the end of an argument Kylo didn’t hear as he trails Kess out of the armory.

The Captain reaches behind Finn and snatches a tiny blaster from where it’s lodged in his belt.

“I don’t want you to be the first. Blasters go in holsters, not in your pants.” Kess waves Kylo and Chewie back over, dismissing Finn’s continued protests. “Alright, that’s that. Use the ‘fresher if you need it, have some more caf, do whatever you like, but do not leave this hangar. Twenty minutes til we’re on board that bad boy.” She jerks her thumb at the ship warming up in the front bay, one of the millions that come out of Corellia every year: a small personnel transport, lightly armed and lightly armored, indistinct and boring.

Kylo tosses his empty mug into a collection tub, stomping up the ramp to stake out a seat as far from Kess as he can get. There aren’t many options, but he takes one on the end and Rey curls up beside him, pulling her legs up to her chest and drowsing on his shoulder.

The flight to Takodana is quiet. Kess sits up in front with the pilot, whom Kylo assumes to be Coyle, even if Kylo hasn’t seen the man since boarding. Dameron seems to be enjoying the ride; how often do pilots get to fly when they aren’t working? There’s a small holo screen on board that plays news from around the sector as the ship streaks through hyperspace and he and Finn watch it with interest. They all bounce as the ship breaks into low space, entering orbit and landing on the empty stretch of ground in front of the half-built castle.

The ramp hisses as it’s lowered and Kess edges out from the cockpit, taking point as they disembark, stretching limbs stiff from sitting. “We’re doing a supply drop for Kanata. First things first, go inside chow down. Don’t be shy - get yourselves seen. There are always people looking for gossip at Maz’s. We’ll unload afterwards.” She taps the saber hilt against Kylo’s chest as he disembarks and gives him a warning look. “Don’t fuck this up, Ren.”

The saber feels good, the familiar jangling energy of the cracked crystal hums in his hand,  an old friend if not a trustworthy one.  He clips it onto his belt and jams his hands into the jacket pockets, nods once. “Yeah.” There’s no threats now. Kess is dead serious out in the field.

Rey sticks close by his shoulder, her saber poking out from under the hem of her jacket as they cross under the scaffolding around the half-built castle and Chewie leads the way into the cantina.

Having her castle destroyed hasn’t slowed Maz’s business down. The half-built cantina is full, noisy, and bustling. Their group doesn’t create a stir until the proprietress climbs up on a stool and hollers, voice pitched to carry, “Chewbacca! Get your furry butt over here!”

Chewie yodels a greeting and the crowd scrambles to get out of his way as he strides across the stone floor. He takes Maz’s delicate hand in his own, wuffing as he leans over to kiss it. Maz smiles, delighted.

“Glad to see you’re taking your promise more seriously this time.” She extracts her hand and adjusts the lenses over her eyes as she studies the cluster of people, nodding an acknowledgement to Kess. “We’re a bit full today, Captain, but there’s always room at the bar for your crew.”

Kess shrugs and edges around Chewie and takes a seat on one of the stools, leaning in on her elbows to speak to the bartender. Finn and Dameron sit with her, ordering food and drinks.  Kylo wavers, unsure if he should sit or keep standing, until a pair of magnified dark eyes freeze him in place. Rey nudges him forward and perches on the edge of the stool, picking at a basket of something green and deep fried, feigning nonchalance.

Maz lifts her voice again and speaks so the whole bar can hear. “Kylo Ren!” The cantina goes silent at the name and Kylo has to remind himself to stand straight and proud, to keep his expression amiable and not defiant. “What are you doing in my cantina?”

Eyes burn into from all directions, but he focuses on Rey’s, wondering how much the canny bar owner knows about the plan. “Supply drop from the Resistance, courtesy of the General. Thought I could help out.”

“That’s kind of you, especially since we’re still rebuilding from your last visit.” Maz snorts and leaps down from the stool to strut over to him. There doesn’t seem to be any rancor behind it, but he always found her hard to read, even when he was a child. “What have you got to say for yourself about all that?” She stands on her toes to poke him in the chest.

Clearing his throat, Kylo shoots a glance at Rey, who lifts her eyebrows. Go ahead.

“I apologize for what hardships you have suffered at the hands at the First Order, and for my actions as a member of that group.” He knows the script the psychologists and specialists laid out for him by heart. “I have renounced the First Order and allied myself with the Resistance to see my wrongs righted and to bring an end to this conflict.” Kylo bows his head and manages to get the words out without gritting his teeth.  It’s too stilted, but he doesn’t mean most of it, so he’s not going to the trouble of making it sound extemporaneous. The speech does it’s job, igniting little whispers around the cantina. People turn away, talking behind their hands.

The finger jabs at him again and his head snaps back to Maz’s undiminished glower. “Well recited, little droid. Now, let’s hear something that comes from the heart. Ignore the rabble,” Maz advises as he glances around. “They won’t shut up about that little piece of theater for a few days at least, and believe me,” she assures him with another glare, “you will be out of my bar and off my planet before anyone can come looking for you here.” She steps behind the bar, clambers up onto something behind it, and pours two small glasses of vivid purple, passing one over to him.

Kylo scowls and takes the offering, considers knocking it back and decides against it. “I am… sorry about calling an airstrike on your castle. And for killing... your friend.”

Maz empties her glass in one professional swallow. “Your father knew his path, even when he was just a two-cred spice smuggler.” She sighs. “He didn’t know where it would lead him, but who does? I accept your apology, Kylo Ren. I’ll even use that stupid name, since you seem to like it more than the one your parents gave you.” Maz looks down to the cup in his hand. “Drink your drink.” He sips at it and that mollifies her. It tastes like motor oil.  “Excuse me.” She sets her empty glass behind bar and hops down, disappearing into the crowd.

She might even like you someday . Rey presses her shoulder into his as Kylo takes the empty seat beside her and helps himself to some of her fried vegetables. He listens as she spins the tale of their escape from the First Order to Kess and a small cluster of strangers, all eager to hear what the two pretty Resistance girls have to say. He likes the way she talks to other people, but is glad the majority of his part is over. Now he just has to nod, throw in an odd comment, smile once or twice.

“You’ve seen the Supreme Leader?”

“You fought him alone? Little thing like you?”

That seems like as good a cue as any. Kylo leans in, slinging an arm around Rey’s shoulders and giving what Dameron agreed was the best of his attempts at a charming smile. “Fought him? She cut off his hand ! It was...” he gropes for the right word for the company, “awesome.” It feels awkward to be touching her like this in public, to be using false charm and words to draw attention instead of ominous silence and the hiss of a lightsaber, but it seems to be working.

“Kylo!” Rey turns to smile up at him, bond warm and safe in this press of strangeness. “I wondered when you’d want in on the attention. He fought the Supreme Leader as well. We escaped together - he saved my life!”

Kess raises her stein in his direction. “Thanks for that, Ren. We’re lucky to have you both. It sounds like a glorious battle and a great triumph for the Resistance.”

Kylo raises an eyebrow at that. She’s laying it on a little thick.

It’s working. Can’t you feel their excitement? They’re so eager for good news! Her own eagerness flows across their bond and he lets it in. She’s right; the bar is full of excited chatter and everyone keeps darting looks at them.

Kess raises her glass and their audience responds in kind. “Long live the Resistance!” Kylo clinks the glass Maz gave him against her much larger one and everyone takes a swig.

Whatever Maz gave him leaves a strange residue on his teeth and he licks at them before speaking.  “Want me to start unloading those supplies?”

“Absolutely.” Kess drains her mug, “I’ll have FN-218-,” The Captain stops herself, fakes a high, girlish laugh that makes one of the civilians blush, “I’m sorry, I mean I’ll have Finn join you in just a minute.” Kylo stands as the crowd grows around the Captain at the mention of a Stormtrooper designation. Kess takes over the tale of Finn’s defection as Kylo beats a hasty retreat. He can hear the clamor, a few shouts of “Finn!” as he walks through the door.

The air outside, the quiet of the afternoon feels good after the press of the cantina as he heads to where  Chewie is guarding their transport. It takes a minute to find the cargo hold on the unfamiliar ship, but then he works at the simple mindless task of unloading the crates, smiling when Rey joins him.

The work goes quickly once the rest of their team, with the notable exception of  Coyle, whom Kylo still hasn’t seen, comes to help. Maz watches, whooping with approval when Chewbacca hefts two of the biggest crates at the same time. Their drop completed, a serving girl brings out a tray of drinks for the thirsty workers and Kess declares their work here done.

The girl nods and tosses her tray aside, pushes past Chewie, ignoring his growl and disappears into the cockpit. Kylo blinks after the server and turns to Kess. “Who the hell is that?”

The Captain snorts, “Coyle’s a Clawdite, and he’s kind of an ass.” She stands aside to watch Finn and Dameron board, allowing Chewie a moment with Maz before hustling him back onto the ship. “Two more to go, folks. Let’s hope they’re all this easy.”

It’s a short hop to Bespin, and Kess splits her time between the cockpit and the sitting area. They’re just breaking atmo when it all goes to shit.

“Captain, we’re being hailed.” Coyle’s voice hollers from the cockpit and Kess stands.

“Patch them in over speakers.” She slips back into the cockpit and Kylo follows, watching over the her shoulder as she takes the co-pilot’s seat and fires up the comms display.

The image flickers for a moment to a small starship orbiting Bespin, then cuts to the familiar helmet of a First Order Commander. “This airspace is under First Order control. All traffic is now required to identify itself and its purpose prior to landing.”

“Shit. Get us out of here, Coyle.” Kess hisses and kills the connection without responding.

Coyle grumbles, fingers flying over the controls as the craft jerks. “Real subtle, Captain. Think they’re just going to let us fly after that?”

“It depends on their orders.” Kess glares at the display as though the hardware is responsible for the unpleasant welcome. “We’ll go straight to Coruscant. You couldn’t smuggle us all down there with the First Order watching the skies.”

Coyle nods in agreement and punches in course correction.

“Hey,” Kylo touches Kess on the shoulder, an idea springing to life. “Can this thing transmit visual?”

“Of course it can. Why?” She twists in her seat to look at him.

“You want them to see my face, right?”

“Tell me what you’re thinking.” Kylo does. Kess grins her sharpest grin and lets out a laugh. “Get Finn in here. He should be a part of this. Hey Finn!”

The other man clambers into the cockpit and nods, a big goofy smile distorting his features when the idea is put forward. “Yeah, totally. What do you want me to say?”

The four of them watch the displays as Coyle hits low space and opens the comms channel.

Finn leans up close to the transmitter and waves, beaming with unrestrained glee. “Hey guys! It’s FN-2187 and Kylo Ren.” Kylo waves from behind Finn’s shoulder. “We just wanted to pop in and give a big hello to all our old First Order buddies down on Bespin! We hope you’re having a great time shining up Captain Phasma’s armor.”

“And licking General Hux’s boots.” Kylo says, nodding.

Laughing, Finn throws his arm over Kylo’s shoulder and adds, “I gotta tell you, that’s a taste I don’t miss.”

Kylo returns the gesture, and it doesn’t feel odd. “When you all get tired of it, the Resistance will be glad to have you along.”

They lift their free hands, waving at the receptor. “See you soon!” Finn turns his wave into a downward gesture to slam the comms off.

The ship jolts into hyperspace acceleration right on cue and Kess shakes her head at them. “I can’t believe I let you two loose on the comms. You should have your own holo show. Now get the hell out of my cockpit.”

The leg to Coruscant is calm once the initial thrill of sending that transmission has worn off. Dameron and Rey laugh and Chewie roars at their audacity. Finn gives Kylo a high five that makes his palm sting and Chewie ruffles his hair. The camaraderie not unpleasant, and he wonders how long it will last. That thought darkens his mood. It’s a relief when they shudder, dropping out of hyperspace into a brief orbit around the metropolis before descending to a landing dock.

It’s evening, smog and light pollution blotting out the stars. Rey’s eyes are enormous as she disembarks, lurking between him and Kess, goggling at everything she sees.

Coyle emerges from the ship as an androgynous Nikto and nods at Kess. “I’ll meet you back here in four hours.”

“How will we know it’s you when you come back? Will you still look like that?” Dameron raises an eyebrow.

“Probably not.” The shapechanger shrugs. “I’ll be the one sitting in the cockpit.”

Kess snort as he departs. “He’s always like that.  I just don’t ask anymore.” She turns her attention to the remaining team. “We’re going to Coco Town; surface levels.” Chewie growls and she nods, “Yeah, we’re heading to Triga’s.”

Rey folds her fingers around his as they follow Kess to an elevator connecting the landing site to the rest of Galactic City. She’s all nerves and wonder, drinking in everything she sees. “This city is… very large.”

“It’s overwhelming the first time you see it,” Dameron nods and smiles, “But you’ll get used to it.”

Rey lets out a little laugh of disbelief as Kylo’s ears pop at the changing pressure as the elevator carries them to the lower levels. They exit the elevator to the street. The perpetual dusk is lit with neon from the storefronts and the light bounces off the haze of smoke. He pushes away thoughts of walking the city with his father, holding onto thick fingers with tiny hands.

He holds Rey’s hand a little tighter, urging her along when she slows to try and take everything in. Is it really that different from Niima?

Niima wasn’t this big, this bright, this loud! It smells different. There are so many people here!

There’s nowhere in the galaxy quite like Coruscant.  Kylo kisses her hair, drapes a possessive arm around her shoulders as he scowls at a cluster of men looking at their group with a little too much interest. It’s a short walk to Triga’s. The bar is large, nice for the area, with screens mounted on all the walls broadcasting some sport.

Kess smiles, all charm, as the noise and cool air engulfs them, tucking her hand into Chewie’s elbow and drawing him off towards the bar. Finn catches his eye and Kylo shakes his head. He’s not doing that again while the fuzz from Maz’s purple poison clings to his teeth. They fight through the press of bodies to claim four empty seats at a table in the middle of the press. The back of his neck prickles and he looks around for danger. A crowd this size could hide anything. He checks his saber and is comforted by its heft at his hip.

Dameron makes friends without trying. He and Finn take up the tale of their daring escape from the Finalizer loudly enough for their neighbors and eavesdroppers nearby to enjoy. They tell it well, and even though he knew of the events from Hux’s ranting, hearing it again from the perpetrators is good entertainment. He laughs when Finn mentions the tethering cable and Dameron shrugs, chagrinned. “How was I to know? And we got out of there either way, so it was fine!”

The crowd around them is enthralled, and  a cluster forms around the storytellers as Rey leans forward and asks all the right questions. The gossip spreads, pulling the immediate crowd closer and pushing others to the walls. Kylo senses something there, stewing in the dark at the edges of the room. His skin crawls as Rey shifts closer, she feels the tension in the room, too. Maybe we should...

Finn turns to him before he can finish. “You must have heard something about this.” The crowd’s attention turns to Kylo as Finn claps him on the shoulder. “Weren’t you on board when all that went down, Kylo?”

The crowd murmurs at his name.  Part of him wants to feel pride at the notoriety, but he pushes it away. “I didn’t see it, but Hux just about broke down my door to bring me the report.” Kylo smiles with satisfaction. “He was very… upset about the whole thing. You know how he gets when he’s agitated.” Kylo gestures to his face. “All purple. The two of you made it past nearly 100 men and no one saw anything irregular about it until you got caught on that tether.”

“General Hux reported to you?”

The question comes out of the crowd and Kylo doesn’t see the speaker so he shrugs as Rey leans into him, pressing close.  “He did.”

“That’s bantha fodder, man! What did you say your name was?” The crowd shifts, separating into groups: those who agree with the angry speaker and those who believe the stories being told around the table. It’s not quite an even divide, but it’s closer than he’d expected.

Stay calm. Rey finds his knee and squeezes.

There’s a knot of people behind the crowd, a few dozen men and women in black clothing stamped with the red hexagonal sun of the First Order. He takes in their shaved heads, crude tattoos half hidden under pseudo-military jackets, scuffed boots. Wannabes. Supporters, not enlisted. “I’m Kylo Ren.”

The spokesperson spits on the floor. “You expect us to believe that?” He throws a rude gesture at the table. “That’s an insult to the First Order and all who believe in its cause.”

Finn shoots the cluster of thugs a disbelieving look. “People joke about us ‘Troopers being dumb, but you’re something else, man. I guess the recruiting officers have some standards after all.”

Every hand in the room twitches towards a weapon. “Guess you learn something new every day.” Kylo drawls, eyes fixed on his tablemates. None of them are happy about this development, but they’re all ready. He feels through the Force, sees through Rey’s eyes fixed on the mob, waiting for the spark to ignite the room.

From behind him someone throws a half empty bottle of liquor at the leader of the First Order crew. The room erupts and Kylo stands with Rey, Dameron, and Finn as the fight breaks out. Chewbacca howls from the bar and it takes seconds for the floor to clear of those who don’t wish to brawl. Everyone else jumps in with fists, bottles, or chairs.

Sparring with Dameron was better practice for this than I thought. Kylo is pushed up against the wall of paramilitary gangsters with Rey on his flank. He could draw his saber and the fight would be over in seconds, but he doubts that would make the right impression.

Rey agrees, keeping her own saber holstered. The mission isn’t supposed to have a body count . She ducks under a flying hook and kicks someone’s shin as Kylo dodges a wild haymaker. He floors one of the goons attacking Rey with a hit to the floating rib, and pivots to kick another in the chest, sending them crashing over the table. Finn is shouting and Chewie bellows an encouragement. He’s not sure where Dameron is and tries to feel for him but a moron charges with something glinting and he has more pressing concerns than the flyboy’s safety.  

He’s hemmed in by the crowd and there isn’t enough space to dodge the flying blows and that is unacceptable. He reaches out for the Force and Rey moves with him, sensing his intention. Together, they release a controlled blast that pushes the assailants away by a few feet, knocks some to the ground. That scares a few enough to send them running.  As they retain their feet or find their balance, the most determined of the fascists reach for weapons. A knife whistles through the air and he knocks it away with ease, smirking as the woman who threw it sprints at him. Rey snags her feet with a well timed heel-snare and she hits the floor with a satisfying crunch.

Then some idiot pulls a blaster, firing up at the ceiling where the plasma sizzles against the sheet metal.

The onlookers scramble backwards, leaving Kylo, Rey, Finn, and Dameron, plus a handful of less skitterish Resistance supporters against the dozen First Order supports still on their feet. Everyone in his line of sight has a  blaster drawn, and they edge around the smaller group, encircling them.

Kess catches his eye from across the room and gives the barest hint of a nod as she lounges against the bar, the hand not wrapped around her beer resting on one of her hand-cannons.  Chewbacca holds his bowcaster in loose hands, almost casual, but Kylo knows he’s ready to fire if he needs to.

Kess’s nod is all he needs, and Rey moves with him as Kylo frees his saber from his hip. The beam crackles to bloody life as Rey’s glows blue.  The gloating vanishes from the gang’s face all at once. There’s no doubt now who he is, who they are.

“Run.” Kylo growls and there’s a stampede for the door. He waits a beat before killing the beam and turns with Rey as a camera flashes.

Chapter Text

They receive a transmission from General Organa as they break atmo on D’Qar, ordering them to report to the Blue Room for a debriefing as soon as they land.  Admiral Statura is waiting with Leia and a number of other officers when they arrive. Kess chivies the crew into their seats and begins the report after a nod from Statura.  

“General, Admiral,” Kess nods back to the leaders. “Overall, I can  report that the mission was successful in that it got us seen and it advertised the stories we wanted. The cantina on Takodana was receptive to our presence and message. The supply drop was completed without complication, though Maz Kanata did express some concern over the likelihood of a future First Order raid if we continue using her base of operations for stirring dissent.”

“She doesn’t need to worry.  We won’t bother her there again.” General Organa shakes her head as Chewie opens his mouth to comment. “We’ll send her a message of thanks and maybe a few more blasters.”

Rey nods, snagging a stylus to jot down notes as Coyle, now looking like the man they’d first met, speaks up. “From what I’ve heard, such an attack is unlikely, General. Maz’s cantina is a good source of intel for the other side, just as it is for us.”

Kess shrugs, swirls the caf in her mug. “I forwarded you the details of our welcome on Bespin. The First Order patrols did not make any significant attempt to pursue. I made the call to go onto Coruscant ahead of schedule.”

Admiral Statura opens his mouth, but the General shakes her head at him and he changes course. “Were you able to determine the nature of the First Order’s business on Bespin?”

“No, sir.” Coyle taps his fingers on the table. “Couldn’t get close enough to pick up any communications without drawing more attention.”

Nodding, Kess adds, “We got visual on a single Marauder-class starship in low orbit. It didn’t look like a blockade or siege. They might have been running surveillance and we just got unlucky.”  

“I have a rendezvous scheduled with a contact on Bespin in three days.” Coyle frowns, fidgeting. “A different,” he glares at Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo, “crew should be able to infiltrate, even after we,” he shoots Kess a dirty look, “tipped them off.”

“You are, of course, referring to the transmission that went out over public comms channels for the whole galaxy to see.” General Organa fights down a smile, pulling up a grainy image on the display hovering over the table. “We’re pleased with what you accomplished here. Whose idea was it?”

Finn hooks a thumb at Kylo.  “All him, General.” Rey feels Kylo’s agitation at the sudden attention from everyone in the room.  

“Good thinking,” the General smiles.  

Kylo grabs Rey’s thigh under the table and squeezes just hard enough to sting. She soothes him through their connection. She’s praising you. It’s okay. He doesn’t respond but his grip eases.  

Leia continues.“The news networks loved it, put it on every feed they could.  We wanted your faces out there, and now everyone’s talking about them.” Kess, Poe, Finn, and Kylo all straighten in their seats as Rey opens her mouth to ask what the General means, but Leia preempts her. “We’ll get to that later.  Captain, please continue.”

“We weren’t going to hang around to chat after that, so we hit Coruscant after receiving approval from Admiral Statura. We stayed within CoCo Town; the timing was wrong to go to the mid-level districts and given what happened at Triga’s, I thought it prudent to get off world rather than cause more of a ruckus. The agitators weren’t actually First Order, just some crazies looking to start trouble. The fight was unexpected, but no casualties can be attributed to our crew. Everyone on our side showed remarkable restraint and professionalism.”

General Organa’s eyes twinkle. “The fight also made the HoloNet. You’re quite the celebrities now. I appreciate everyone’s self-control and diplomacy, given the circumstances.  You came off looking as heroic as anyone can in a trashed bar.” She taps on the table and the projection changes.

It’s a video, quick snippets from their time at Triga’s patchworked together from personal recording devices and local surveillance. Rey has never seen herself on a holo like this and it’s disconcerting to watch herself laugh, to see the way her hair moves as she walks. There’s a long recording of Finn and Poe laughing over their escape as Rey, leaning her head against Kylo’s shoulder, listens with the crowd in the bar.  Then it cuts to Kylo stating his name and the challenge from the First Order skinheads and ends with a shaky clip with bad audio that just catches the ignition of the lightsabers and Kylo’s growled advice for the punks to run.

“When we first got wind of this video, we were expecting a disaster, but…” The General shakes her head, smiling. “Look at this.” She gestures at the view counter in the corner of the display. “Thirty million views in under twenty four hours.  This… There’s something here. People are talking about this and sending it to their friends. We’ve received several requests for comments from various news sources and have, so far, declined them all. We may need to rethink that.” She pulls the comms feed back up, tapping a finger against her chin. “This, too, has gotten a lot of attention.”

“Excuse me, General?” Finn raises his hand as though he’s not sure for the proper protocol in the situation. Leia nods to him, still contemplative, and he continues, “Is there any way you can access the First Order intranet from here?”

General Organa raises an eyebrow at the request. “It’s possible. Why, Finn?”

“It just reminded me, you know, of the First Order films they made us watch. Sometimes other videos would get on the intranet, things from outside, and everyone would share them before they got taken down. They were really popular. Everyone got so excited when a new video was put up because, well… We weren’t given access to the regular HoloNet, so it was sort of like,” he looks down before finishing, quietly, “seeing the outside world.”

Rey finds Finn’s hand and threads her fingers through his. On her other side, Kylo slides his hand into hers, and she can see Poe reaching for Finn beneath the table. Her palms tingle as their combined energies flow together.  Finn’s affinity for the Force is stronger than Poe’s, and he lifts his chin after a moment to look back up at the General, strengthened by his friends. “Maybe someone put this up on the ‘Trooper ‘net.”

General Organa understands, better than most, the words that people don’t say. “Statura, would you call in one of your specialists?”

Statura nods to Kess, who speaks into her wrist comm. “Thorne, get two specialists from Foley’s team to the Blue Room immediately with whatever slicer droid they have on hand.”

Did you know anything about the intranet videos? She asks Kylo. The the vids loop, painting the side of his face with the blue and red of their sabers.

He shrugs in her mind. It was below my attention. My access to the ‘Net was never restricted, but Hux and the other officers were fanatical about controlling the ‘Troopers. She feels him grappling with something that feels like sympathy for the man on her other side. Anyone found responsible for that sort of insubordination would be sent for reconditioning.

Rey rubs her thumb over Finn’s knuckles as they wait, brooding over the word ‘reconditioning.’

It doesn’t take long for two sleepy-eyed specialists to arrive in rumpled uniforms, toting holopads under their arms. A hovering droid with two long arms and spidery fingers trails behind them. The specialists grab mugs of caf as Statura outlines the order and begin setting up the slicer.

“What exactly are we looking for?” One of the technicians asks as the screen of her holopad flickers to life over the table. The slicer droid inserts a finger into a port on the holopad and whirrs..

Everyone turns to look at Finn who swallows under the scrutiny and nods. “Can you access the First Order intra? I’ve got credentials that should still work.”

“Just get to an access point?” The second tech blinks and the two lean together, conferencing in hushed whispers in the light of the projection before nodding as they straighten. “Yeah. The real trick is making sure they can’t trace it back to us, but this guy,” he pats the droid on what could be called it’s head,  “is pretty good at covering it’s tracks.”

Rey watches the screen flicker as they work. She doesn’t follow what’s happening. She’s never had a holopad of her own, and has used them only rarely, but Kylo is transfixed. His interest flows through the link, pulling her along for the ride.

Then they’re looking up at a login screen hanging in the air above the table. Kylo’s eyebrows raise. That was fast.

Finn drops Rey’s hand and walks over to the technicians, tapping out a username and password. A hexagonal sun rotates until a navigation page loads. Everyone lets out a collective breath of relief. Under Finn’s direction the technicians pull up the entertainment board. The holos from their adventure are at the two top spots on the page.

“Yeah!” Finn cries, clapping his hands and smiling. “Some genius managed to rip it from the unsanctioned transmissions.”

Rey  glances down the number three through eight spots, frowning at the appearance of Kylo’s name followed by things like ‘temper tantrum’ and ‘destroys everything.’  

Kess snickers as she skims down the list of the titles. “You’re a popular guy, Ren.”

Following her gaze, Finn rubs the back of his neck. “There’s not a whole lot of entertainment options for ‘Troopers. We take what we can get.”

Kylo glares, breathes out through his nose, and shrugs. His annoyance prickles along her thoughts, but he’s trying not to show it.

General Organa braces her hands on the table and leans in, pointing at a link on the projection “There’s a comments section.” She observes. “And view counters. That’s… a lot of hits.”

Finn nods. “You can only watch Order from Chaos or Birth of the Empire so many times before you get desperate for anything else.”

General Organa smiles, and her expression is mirrored by the officers around the room. “We can work with this. We’ll need a few days to get everything in order, but we can build on this. We didn’t expect this sort of a jumpstart, so be proud of yourselves. You all did exceptionally well. You’re dismissed. Catch some shut-eye while you can ”

Everyone is too tired to talk much after the meeting, and Rey staggers to her room alone after a quick farewell to her friends and a kiss from Kylo stolen in an alcove.

She is awoken by a sharp knock at her door the next morning.  She’s still laying down, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, when the door slides open and Kylo enters. “There’s a code on that door.”

“I know. I memorized it ages ago.” He’s awake and energetic.  

How late is it? She squints in the light filtering in from her window and groans as she flips the covers back for him. “Get in if you’re getting in.  Go away if you’re not.  We don’t have to train today and I want to take full advantage of the-”

He pounces on her, holding her face in his hands as he kisses her into wakefulness.  He smells like soap and tastes of caf, so he’s already gone for his run, taken a shower, and had his breakfast. His excitement sparks through their connection and it tickles her mind like the bubbles in Poe’s beer on Coruscant. She pulls him down on top of her but he stops her hands when they try to pull his shirt off. “I have a surprise for you, and I’d rather be fully clothed when you open it.”

Kylo rolls off of her and she sits up, running a hand through her sleep-knotted hair to gather it into a braid.  “A surprise? Is it breakfast? Because I wouldn’t -”

Something small and square rests on his open palms when he turns back to her.  The holochron, still dented and battered but whole, covered now in a lighter material that knits through the sleek glass and metal.

“Oh, Kylo. Does it- How did you-?!”

“Uncle Chewie helped.” He places it in her outstretched hands and she cradles it to her chest. “Dameron, too.” She gets glimpses of long, frustrated hours, tastes a memory of the delighted glee Kylo shared with Poe and Finn when the holochron finally lit up. “It works.” The pride he feels radiates through the bond and its like the sun on a clear day, warm and satisfied and happy.

She’s can’t speak, can barely breathe. Thank you doesn’t seem like enough, but it carries everything she feels through the bond.  He smiles at her, pleased at her reaction, and she sets the little box aside to kiss him again.  He runs his hands down her back as she laces her fingers behind his neck, pulling herself up into his lap. No one has ever done anything like this for her, spent this much time or effort on something just to make her happy.  When he breaks the kiss, she strokes her fingers through his hair. “Have you talked with her yet?”  

“Yes,” he rumbles, kissing her with soft lips. “She’s still an insulting pain in the ass, so the damage didn’t change her personality.” Rey laughs and he basks in the sound. “You can start training with her today if you want.” Kylo stands, dumping her out of his lap, “But that means you need to get out of bed. Maybe try working on that mastery she wouldn’t shut up about before everything went to shit.”

It isn’t hard to convince Kylo to take a second shower, and after they’re dry again Rey dresses, stowing the holochron in her pocket before trotting to the cafeteria. Too impatient to fill a plate and sit, she grabs whatever she sees first and eats as they make their way to the training room.

It’s empty save for Finn at the weight rack. He finishes his set and lopes over as Rey dusts the crumbs from her hands. “Hey!” He hails them. “I wasn’t sure if you two were coming today. I spoke to General Organa this morning and she gave me some great news!” He beams, wiping his forehead with the hem of his shirt. “They’re bringing the Stormtroopers that want to enlist planet-side this afternoon! They’re being assigned under me!”

“That’s wonderful!” Rey agrees and he pulls her in for a quick, sweaty hug.

“Do you think, I mean, would it be okay if I brought them here and they trained with us? If the General okays it?”

Kylo shrugs as Rey nods, discomfort at the thought showing through the bond and in his terse expression. “It’s a public space.”

After working off  some of his exuberance by talking, Finn heads back to his training, and Rey and Kylo withdraw to a corner to open the holochron. Rey calls forth the glowing violet light with the lightest touch of power as the figure of Master Yali materializes.

“There you are, my girl!” Master Yali jabs a finger up at Rey. “It was something of a surprise waking up to your young man’s mug instead of yours!”

Kylo rolls his eyes. “This is the thanks I get. I could have left you crumpled, Yali.”

Rey smiles and speaks before Yali can begin arguing. “It’s so good to have you back, Master.”

“Master, eh?” Yali steeples her fingers under her pointed chin. “This one told me about what happened with your other master. It almost made me think you might not want to learn any more of my tricks.”

Rey lifts an eyebrow. “You have more tricks to teach me?”

“We’ve got enough jokers in this cantina, girl. Of course I’ve got more to teach you! First, however, you must tell me what happened with that Snoke monster, how you got here.” She points to Kylo. “He says you cut off the beast's hand ?” Yali howls with laughter. “Tell me everything!”

Finn drifts over as Rey finishes up her tale and is introduced to the little master. He is polite, deferential,  and when Yali directs them to begin practicing, he is eager to participate.

“It’s different with someone you’re not bonded with, and you, Finn, you looks like a nice, helpful young man. Isn’t that right, boy?” She jabs a tiny finger in his direction.

“Yes ma’am!” Finn salutes as a reflex and then grins.

Yali taps a finger against her chin. “I like him. He’ll do just fine.”

She explains what will happen, and Finn is game to try it out once the exercise is explained to him. “So you’ll be in my head?” He asks Rey. “Guiding me against him?” He jerks his chin at Kylo.

Rey shrugs. “Not in your head. It’s more like using the Force to power up what’s already there.” Nibbling at her bottom lip, she adds, “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. I can ask someone else-”

“No, I’ll do it. I trust you.  It’s just… weird, you know?” Finn scratches the back of his neck, looks to Yali. “It’ll help?”

“It will,” Yali confirms with a sharp nod. “Thank you, Finn.”

Sectioning off the bond with Kylo takes all her concentration. She focuses only on the meditative trance, finding Finn and holding him in her mind. It’s difficult where the bond is easy, slippery where Kylo’s thoughts try to enfold her, warm and secure. She has to bat Kylo away, scold him for cheating and distracting her.  She gets it after a few false starts once he relents.

“I feel it,” Finn announces with unfeigned wonder. “That’s you, right? Second pair of eyeballs staring out the back of my head?”

“That’s it. Now, see what you can do.” Yali orders.

The Force guides her, and guides Finn through her. It knows how it wants to be used and the more she empties herself, the less she thinks about each action, the easier it flows. It’s uncomfortable to stretch past the single point of focus that is the two of them. Adding Kylo as an opponent almost overwhelms her.  She has to wear him down, trip up his will to fight, even as he snares Finn’s arm and she is forced to undo the binding before Kylo can exploit the weakness.

It’s not an even match, the two of them against Kylo, not even close. His years of training outweigh their combined efforts. She raises a question when she and Finn are out of breath and drenched in sweat. “Are you accessing my trance through our connection? That’s cheating!” He smirks, smug with his satisfaction, not even winded, and she thumps his shoulder.

Soon after that, training is interrupted by a whistle from Finn’s comm that alerts him to the arrival of the newly enlisted ‘Troopers. He bids Kylo, Rey, and Yali a hurried farewell and runs off to meet them.

Rey meets the squad herself a few hours later with General Organa and the Resistance leaders. The men and women stand at perfect attention as they run through the expectations and assignments of the new arrivals, only relaxing when Finn tells them they can. Then they shuffle their feet and don’t meet anyone’s eyes but Finn’s. Rey notes their identifications and nicknames, their assignments and direct reports. The General welcomes them with warmth, addressing several by name and recounting the ways that they were able to escape from the First Order. At first, none will speak without direct permission, and Finn has to explain again that things work differently here.

After a pep talk from Finn, whom the other ‘Troopers regard with awe, they loosen up a bit.  Statura explains the idea for the propaganda campaign, citing the success of Finn and Kylo’s transmission on the ‘Trooper intraweb.  Some of the new recruits had defected before the video went up, and one woman asks if they can see the vid before giving their opinions, so Statura pulls it up on a datapad. The ‘Troopers react to the insults thrown at Hux and Phasma with more emotion and enthusiasm as they’d shown before, some whooping with laughter, others clapping at the end.  For the first time, Rey thinks this plan might work.

After the vid finishes and the ‘Troopers move back from where they had crowded around the pad, Statura asks if they have any suggestions for the holos being planned.  Finn reminds them that all they have to do is raise their hands to have their opinions heard.  There are a few ideas, and a few stories are shared of how they were inspired to leave the First Order.  The general consensus, however, is that anything will work.

“Really,” a man with light hair named Teek says, “Any kind of entertainment is popular, and something controversial like this will really kill. Everyone will want to see it, either to talk shit or to get excited.” The others agree with this assessment and General Organa just smirks.

Scripts are provided the following morning and they practice until she can say her lines in her sleep. Rey understands the idea, look good, sound good, say the right thing, but it all seems abstract.

Yali explains it best. “Think of it as a passive form of battle meditation. That Finn boy and your man Kylo are planting a seed in the minds of the people who see those holos.  They understand what it is to be those people. At least, Finn does, and Kylo has a better idea than you or I. The ‘Troopers who watch the videos will see themselves in Kylo and Finn, in those little ducklings who follow Finn around like he’s their mother. Then, you, my lovely girl, and that very handsome Poe fellow, will water the seed with your words of encouragement and solidarity. When you use battle meditation, you are urging others to do what you want them to do by bolstering or suppressing the thoughts they already have. This is much the same.”

The little master insists on coming with her to the filming, both to see what the fuss is all about and to “get a better look at the behind on Finn’s pilot.”

They put Rey into the nicest tunic she’s ever seen, made from a gray cloth that runs through her hands like water. She tries to explain to an insistent woman that she can wash and cut her own hair, but they override her protests, so she submits to the most exquisite hour of her life. Her head is massaged, lathered, and washed. Then her hair is pulled into the most perfect version of the buns she’s worn since childhood, every hair in place. A man dusts her face with sweet smelling powders, sweeps something soft onto her eyelids and something smooth over her lips.

Finn whistles when he sees her, low and appreciative. She laughs to see him looking dapper in a Resistance uniform, his hair cut and his skin glowing. Poe twirls her around, gaping with mock amazement, and calls her a vision of beauty, which makes her blush. When she asks why he looks the same as he always does, Finn jokes that the man with the powders and the woman who cut their hair took one glance at Poe, fresh out of bed, and declared him perfect as is. Poe shrugs and bends Rey back in his arms so her buns almost brush the floor.

She doesn’t see Kylo until they’re all but done with her, though his restless energy fizzes in her mind all day. She stands in the bright lights and says the words the specialists taught her, talks about cutting off Snoke’s hand and how together, she and the Resistance will end this war for good. Then there’s a moment where people are looking at something on a screen and she catches him out of the corner of her eye. Her heart jumps. He’s dressed in a jacket and pants of a gray wool so dark it's almost black. The cut of the jacket is aggressive, militaristic, and it suits him. His hair is shorter, and her fingers ache to comb through it. You look quite handsome.

I do, don't I? His smugness is fake. She can feel his discomfort, the way his eyes flick around the room. You look... polished. I've never seen you this clean before.

She gives him a gentle shove with her mind and returns to the task at hand.  They only need her for a few minutes more and then call Kylo over to replace her in front of the camera. Rey catches his hand as they switch places, halting him as he moves to take her spot. She looks him over in appraisal, tucks a bit of hair behind his ear. "You'll do fine."

Kylo's eyes flash with annoyance and anxiety. "I'm not in this for the damned revolution, and everyone here knows it. I just want Snoke gone. I hate all of this propaganda shit."

"Pretend. It won't be that bad." She sends him as much assurance and conviction as she has, and it calms him somewhat.

Rey wants to stay and watch him give his speech, but she’s called away by the General, who needs her help, so she doesn’t see Kylo again until that evening.  She’s eaten and bathed, wearing her sleeping clothes when he comes to her room with only minutes left before his curfew. They kiss in her doorway before the comm on his wrist emits its shrill alarm and he turns to leave. How did it go?

He backpedals down the corridor, looking at her as he goes. I’m a good liar. You’ll see in the morning .

The briefing the next day has to be moved from the Blue Room to a meeting room laid out in tiered rings of desks and chairs all facing an open space in front of an enormous screen. It’s the largest room Rey has been in on the base and it’s full when she and the General arrive after a quick breakfast eaten over reports in Leia’s office.  Finn and the other former ‘Troopers are sitting dead center, and Finn is smiling.  Poe is off to the side chatting with a few pilots. The dark haired woman to his left makes an obscene gesture and they all burst into stifled laughter.  The crew from the holovids are there, as are Statura and Kess. Kylo is deep in conversation with the Admiral and the Captain, but their eyes meet as she speaks with the General. Pressing against her mind, he greets her with a gentle caress through their bond and she gives him a minute nod of greeting, reciprocating his mental gesture. After being dismissed by Leia, Rey finds a seat on the edge of the crowd of ‘Troopers.  Kylo opts for a position at the back of the room.  

The General stands in front of the large projector and everyone falls silent to listen.  “Great work over the past few days, everyone. You’ve cranked out some impressive stuff in a very short time.  Thank you.” People start clapping, but Leia waves a hand and silence returns. “We have the first cuts of two holos to show today and we’d like to get them up on the wide ‘Net and the ‘Trooper intra as soon as possible.  The editing crew worked on these all night, and they’d like to get a bit of shut-eye, so let’s get to it.”

People shift in their seats as the projector fires up.

The vid opens on Finn, standing alone by the front of the Resistance base. He’s wearing a dark shirt and pants under Poe’s jacket, the same clothing he was wearing when he confronted Phasma and when he taunted the First Order over the public comms channel.  He speaks about his life as a ‘Trooper, of having nothing but a call sign and no memories of life before the First Order.  As he talks, even Rey, who knows him well, is pulled in.  He’s magnetic.  He references his escape from Finalizer , how Poe gave him a name and how Finn chose to keep it. “The Resistance gave me a chance at a life the First Order stole.” He’s joined by another former ‘Trooper, dressed in her armor but without a helmet, and then another and another, until he’s surrounded by people in white plastoid.  He speaks about teamwork, about being valued for more than your ability to hold a blaster and recite doctrine.  

The camera pulls tight in on Finn’s face as he finishes his speech. “Phasma, Hux, and Snoke want you to believe that your worth comes only from the First Order, but they’re wrong.  You are stronger than they let you believe, and that strength comes not from them, but from inside yourself, and from your friends.  When you get out, and you can get out, come find me. I’ll be waiting for you.” The shot switches to encompass the whole crowd, now dressed in Resistance uniforms and civilian clothes. Their expressions are firm, calm, and smiling. “We all will.”

The holo ends with the Resistance’s orange starbird emblem, which fades to enthusiastic applause from the crowd and some hooting from the ‘Troopers around Finn.

Kylo nudges her through their bond. That wasn’t half bad. He sounds surprised.

Leia lets everyone clap for a moment before she speaks again. “So, what do you think? We have their attention, that’s clear from the view counts. Will this help?”

The following discussion runs in circles for a few minutes before everyone agrees that it will.  The former ‘Troopers are confident that it will fuel to the fires lit by Kylo and Finn’s recorded transmission and that the direct call to ‘come find’ the Resistance will entice common Stormtroopers and infuriate the upper levels of governance in the First Order.

What’s to stop them coming with a bombing crew and taking out the base here on D’Qar? Kylo asks as the crowd resettles to watch the next holo.

Rey had worried about that earlier in the week, and had asked the General the same question. There are decoy bases on a few other planets, and misinformation campaigns have been in place for months. There’s even been some discussion about moving the base, but I don’t know what that will come to. The General says that, given the information we have, a major attack is unlikely. Now hush, I want to see your big debut.

It’s all bantha fodder. I just said the words they put in front of me. Don’t believe anything you hear.

Kylo’s face materializes on the projection, solemn, resolute, determined.

He cringes behind her. This is so stupid .

Rey shushes him as the Kylo on the holo begins to speak. He talks about power, of his need to bring order and end the chaos that has plagued the galaxy for generations. He speaks in a clear, strong voice, saying that he was mistaken in his belief that this could only be achieved by allying himself with Supreme Leader Snoke. “I joined with him to become powerful, but all I became a was a slave.  A slave to that power, a slave to Snoke, a slave to my own anger.” The General shifts in her chair at the front of the auditorium, covers her mouth with her hand. Through their bond, she can feel Kylo gritting his teeth.

The projection continues. “You were taken from your families, turned into weapons, never given a choice. I understand how that feels.” He pauses and looks straight into the camera, his dark eyes flashing. “You aren’t powerless, and neither was I. I fought Snoke and I escaped. Make your choice. Get out while you can.” He explains how the Resistance took him when no one else would, and how he is working with them to destroy Snoke. “We can bring peace. We can make our own destinies. But we can’t do it under the boot of the First Order, and we can’t do it while Snoke lives.” At the end of the holo, he challenges the viewer to come and find him, to work with him to end this war. Rey wonders how many tries it took to get it right.

There’s a moment of tense silence as the projection fades, and then the former ‘Troopers are on their feet, all cheering and clapping. Their excitement breaks the tension in the room and everyone else joins in, applauding and turning to scan the room for Kylo.  

Fuck. He’s crunched into a chair in the very back, one booted foot up on the seat in front of him, arms folded across his chest. As the attention of the crowd turns to him, he lifts a hand in an uncomfortable wave of acknowledgement.

Rey claps along with the rest and pushes admiration, pride, and affection at him through their connection. That was fantastic, Kylo! You did so well! You sounded so genuine, so assured!

I told you not to believe any of it. I’m a good liar. He’s anxious, annoyed, restless and fidgety again. It will infuriate Snoke, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

The General stands again as the hubbub peters out.  “From that reaction, I assume you’re all happy with this one.” Laughs and general agreement answer her. “Good. In that case, we’ll load these onto the ‘Trooper intranet. Phenomenal work, everyone. We’ll keep you updated on the progress and response. You’re all dismissed.” Leia beckons to Rey and she clambers down over the seats to the General’s side, pausing to squeeze Finn’s shoulder as she passes him.

“Take the rest of the morning off.  I’ll need you this afternoon, but for now please spend some time with my son.” Leia takes Rey’s hand in hers, looks up into Rey’s face with shining eyes. “ I can’t imagine any of this was easy for him, and he looks about ready to tear the walls apart up there. You know how I feel about maintenance requests.”

Nodding, Rey turns away and makes the hike up to Kylo.  He stands as she approaches and together they duck out through the crowd, heading back to the quiet sanctuary of her room.

When the door slides shut behind them, Kylo sighs and kicks his boots off before flopping down onto her nest. She follows his lead and lays her head on his chest. “You really did well. Everyone was so excited.  Did you see the way the ‘Troopers reacted?”

He sighs again, and frustration ripples through their connection, itching at Rey’s mind. “They’re idiots if they think any of that was true. Lasting peace can only be achieved through the strength of something like the First Order, or the Empire before it. This ‘let’s just all be friends’ shit the Resistance spins will never work on a large scale.” He pauses to kiss her hair, taking the sting out of his words. “I tried to get them to let me talk about how you cut off Snoke’s hand, but they said I had to ‘keep the message clear,’ whatever that means.”

“It’s not important.” He wraps an arm around her as she snuggles closer. “It wasn’t all lies, was it?” She looks up and his face twists. A wave of anger courses over him, hot and slimy.

“I’m not...” He huffs a breath out of his nose. “No. It’s not all lies. But that doesn’t make it true, Rey.” She doesn’t respond, and he continues, his tone sharp. “I don’t mean it the way they want me to mean it. I told you, I’m not here for a fucking revolution.” Kylo kisses her then, long and hard, and they ignore all the words left unsaid.

Chapter Text

In the weeks after that first mission, Kylo wishes they had never let him go off-planet.  That taste of freedom haunts him as he’s forced back into the excruciating repetition of his old routine. The higher-ups have realized that he’ll literally explode if he’s forced to work for Kess and Thorne for six hours every day and scale him back to three. There are no more missions and no plans for any holovids that require him. He trains in the mornings, eats lunch before working, and tries not to kill Thorne for three hours. Then he’s given a stretch of free time that he spends in the library or asleep before heading to dinner with Finn, Dameron. His evenings are still spent wrapped up in Rey, and that’s the only time he feels really alive, really free.

A few days into his new schedule, Kylo is working through his Niman practice with a training sword when Finn surprises him, coming back to the training room with a gaggle of ‘Troopers. Finn had been absent from their morning workouts in the days following their return, spending his time with the former ‘Troopers instead. Kylo didn’t miss Finn, he tells himself, explaining away the excitement seeing the man brings. He’d missed the intensity of the workouts, the extra challenge brought on by competition and companionship.

He feels the ‘Troopers before he sees them and allows a spinning back pass to turn him so he faces the door, finishing the move with an unnecessary flourish. One of the Exes, the name the ‘Troopers have taken for themselves, blanches when Kylo meets his eyes. Kylo wonders if he’s ever threatened the man before. Nothing stands out about him, but Kylo had threatened so many Stormtroopers that the  reaction isn’t a surprise.  

Finn steps forward, telling the Exes to wait. “Hey, Kylo!” He speaks in a voice meant to carry and holds his hand out to Kylo. Tossing his practice sword aside, Kylo takes it. Finn uses their clasped hands to pull Kylo to him, wraps his arm around Kylo’s back and embraces him. Stiffening, Kylo resists until Finn hisses, “They’re still terrified of you, man. Be cool.”

Kylo’s not sure he does it right, but he tries, hugging Finn in return, patting his back in what he hopes is an acceptable imitation of amiability. Together, they walk back to the knot of Exes, some of whom step back as he approaches, a familiar response.  He doesn’t think smiling will help, so he keeps his face neutral as Finn introduces him to the crowd.

On that first day, he doesn’t bother to remember anyone’s name. There are too many of them, and it’s not as though he’ll be working with them. This is Finn’s project, not his. He’s proven wrong as the days go by. He learns their faces, their names, their stories. They warm to him, and he, to some degree, reciprocates.

There’s a woman named Reef who lost half her squad to friendly fire and their transport crashed on Ryloth. No rescue came for them, and after four days they voted unanimously to defect. A man named Teek abandoned his post in the middle of the night, single-handedly stealing a transport full of provisions destined for the Unknown Regions and flying it straight for Takodana. He bargained with Maz, gave her everything he’d stolen in return for her contacting the Resistance on his behalf. Veeten, a man with hair a more vibrant red than Hux’s, was a medical officer on Finalizer . He talks at length about the care the Resistance takes with its people, how Kalonia and her medics spent more time checking him for injuries when he arrived than he’d spent with the all of the ‘Troopers he tended to under the First Order.

After the first week, Kylo starts daydreaming about better ways to work with the Exes while he’s supposed to be working on stacks of flimsies. Sometimes they spar, seven or eight of the best Exes and Finn against Kylo as the others watch, but more often they all train together, going for runs and working out. Some of the Exes, like Veeten, work in non-combat roles, but the psychologists who had overseen Kylo’s public image shift have encouraged them to stay together as a unit for now.  Finn works them all hard. The face he’d put on for the holos wasn’t a show. He really does believe in the Exes, in their abilities and in their futures, and is able to delegate, command, and lead. Kylo respects that, and realizes, with a start, that he respects Finn.  He doesn’t know how to handle that, so he pretends it isn’t important.

When he isn’t training or trying not to go insane in the tiny room full of surveillance and intelligence reports, he’s in the library doing research or in the weapons locker. He asks Kess for permission to work on a new weapon for Rey, wants to modify the pike she’d been speared with before they escaped Moraband. Rey doesn’t complain about missing her old staff, but he feels its absence in her thoughts when they train, and he assumes that Skywalker will someday want his lightsaber back, after its use as a prop in holos is fulfilled.

Kess goes with him to one of the weapons lockers, where the pike was placed after its removal from the First Order transport. As she lifts a hand to open the door, she pauses. “Rey was stabbed with this thing, right?”

“Yeah.” He nods.

“And you want to work on it and then give it to her as a surprise… so she can use it?”

He nods again.

“What the hell kind of romantic gesture is this? ‘Happy Life Day! Here’s the thing that almost killed you. I made it pretty!’ What is wrong with you, Ren?”

Kylo shrugs. “She’ll like it.”

Kess looks at him for a moment and then shakes her head. “You are both crazy. Chewbacca will be back in a few days. Ask him to do it. I don't trust you not to blow something up, and that Wookiee can fix anything. The quartermaster needs to okay it before you give it to her. Got it?”

His evenings with Rey are still the best part of his day. She has more energy now, though some days their time together is cut off by a shrill whistle from her comm that sends her running back to the General with her hair undone and her tunic on backwards. Rey shrugs these interruptions off, saying that the General had told her the hours were awful before she took the job so she can’t complain now.  

A few days after he starts working with the Exes in earnest, as he stands with Rey in the ‘fresher in her room, she tells him about a plan to send Dameron and his squad out to disrupt some First Order trade routes. His heart leaps. Do they need-

Shaking her head, she purses her lips. No. You’re not a pilot, and no one will be able to see anyone’s faces, so we sit this one out .

Kylo tries not to scowl when he returns to his room to find the pilot packing a bag. Dameron is gone for the next four days, and Finn works the Exes harder than ever in his absence. When he comes back, tired and happy with stories of success, Kylo tries to listen without jealousy, but fails.

Then a plan is floated to send Coyle and a crew in to sabotage one of the First Order’s largest mining operations on Lothal. Kylo puts in an official request to be assigned to the team and is denied. Kess explains to him that, in this instance, his recognizability would be a detriment to the mission.

“That pretty face of yours can’t sneak in unnoticed, Ren.  Everyone on that base will know you by sight. Have you checked the view counts on your video recently?” He hasn’t. They released Dameron and Rey’s follow up vids a few days after the originals were uploaded and he’s heard they’ve all been successful, but he’s not going to put himself through the pain of watching any of the holos ever again.

“You and Finn are probably the most recognizable people in the First Order this side of Hux and Phasma.” Kess arranges a packet of flimsies on her desk, squaring their corners. “No, you and Finn are grounded for the time being.” When he groans, she looks up to him. “I know this isn’t easy for you, but you are doing an exceptional job. We’ll find something to get you out there. You have my word.”

When Coyle and his team return from the mission, they are twelve men short and there’s not a smile in sight.  The mission was technically a success. The team crippled the mine’s ability to process the crystals, destroyed the main communications arrays, and did enough damage to the computer systems running the mines that rebuilding will take the First Order months, if not years. The fighting was worse and the defenses were stronger than they’d anticipated. When Rey tells him about the losses Kylo’s blood goes cold in his veins.

“I could have helped,” he rages to her, to Kess, to anyone who will listen. “I could have killed the guards before they got to Coyle’s people. I could have done something instead of sitting here like an idiot, twiddling my thumbs as I wait for Thorne to bring me more damned documents. When are you going to give me something useful to do?”

No one has the answers he wants until, one day, they do. There’s a meeting called in the Blue Room and Kylo arrives sulking, sure he’s going to be forced to endure more praises being sung of Dameron and his team, or subjected to the frustration of hearing about the unnecessary losses from Coyle’s mission, but he’s wrong. There’s a new mission for him, Rey, and Finn, and it doesn’t involve cosmetics or cameras.

“There’s a garrison on Oplovis that’s looking to join up. We have intelligence from multiple sources inside and outside the barracks.” The General pulls up a map and zooms in on a small blue planet in the Outer Rim once everyone is settled around the table. “We’re sending you three, plus Kess and some support, to retrieve them tonight.”

“An entire garrison?” Kylo frowns. “That doesn’t sound suspicious to anyone else?”

He glances at Finn, who shrugs. “I don’t know. I was never stationed on-world. I don’t know what happens in garrisons.”

“It’s a very small outpost.” The General pulls up an aerial view of the a town and taps a building by the center. “No more than a dozen men.” The projection spins around the building. “It’s not First Order territory, but they have an understanding with the local warlord.”

Kess leans forward, eyes intent on the map. “Pardon me, General, but what kind of an ‘understanding’? Is this going to affect the extraction?”

“Coyle will deal with bribes and hush money.” The General nods at the frowning man who, for the moment, looks human, before turning to Dameron. “Poe, try to stay out of sight until you hit dirt. There’s a landing site half a click to the north of the town, an open, unmonitored field. The ‘Troopers have been directed to meet you on the northern border of town.” The view of the town sweeps up and zooms in on a small field in the middle of thick forest. “Here’s the pick up point. Quick and easy, just like a supply drop.”

“Except they’re not supplies and we’re picking them up, not dropping them off.” Coyle watches as the projection pans, spinning a stylus through his fingers as he grimaces. “General, whenever you say quick and easy, all I hear is catastrophy. Might as well spit on the gods. I already lost a dozen guys on one of these runs. How many am I going to lose here?”

Admiral Statura frowns. “I’ve assigned a squad of Exes to the team as support, Coyle.” He nods at the fifteen infantry sitting quietly along the wall, watching and keeping quiet. “You three,” he gestures to Finn, Rey, and Kylo, “have worked with them in some capacity and they’ve been familiarized with our operational procedures.  We don’t expect any combat in this and we don’t want a large group to attract attention.”

Coyle sits up, tossing the stylus across the room. His skin ripples in agitation, emotions and features flickering across his face as he fumes. “That’s great. We didn’t expect much combat on Lothal, either. Why do we have to go tonight? What’s the big rush? Why can’t I get more of my people on the ground? All I’ve got is the one guy in town, and he’s more focused on getting us in and out than on the intel coming from the barracks.”

The General speaks with restraint and poise, walking over to the spy to put a hand on his tense shoulder. “Our sources both in and outside of the base have indicated a worry that the ‘Troopers will be reassigned.  There’s talk of reconditioning.  We’re hearing it from everyone we have within the First Order.” Across the table, Finn flinches at the mention of reconditioning. “If we don’t move fast, these guys could be strapped to chairs getting their minds rewired in a few days. We need to get them out, and we need to get them out now.”

The spy’s posture doesn’t relax, but his features settle into one unified face. “Give me two full squads. We’ll do our best. No promises, though.”

The General smiles and nods, looks to Statura, who notes something down on his holopad. “Another squad will be assembled.” The Admiral ticks something on the pad. “Please note, visibility is secondary in this mission. Do not linger in the town. These are First Order sympathizers, but they’re also civilians and we are trying to minimize those casualties.” He looks around the table, waiting for questions to be raised. When none surface, he clicks his pad off. “You’re cleared for lift off in two hours.”

Kess shepherds them to the hangar, pausing only to duck into the weapons locker with the Exes and Finn before boarding the Corellian light freighter waiting for them. Kylo frowns at the ship. It doesn’t look a thing like the Falcon, the shape, the modifications are all wrong, but it still stirs something unpleasant deep in him. For the first time, he’s glad Uncle Chewie isn’t here. Rey looks around the ship with professional interest, cataloging the modifications as Kess leads them back to the seating area, kitted out with long benches, leaving plenty of room left over once everyone’s seated.

The shuttle rumbles through its ascension and Kylo’s heart lifts with the ship. It feels good to be moving, to have a purpose again, even if it’s only for a short time. He listens with half an ear to the Exes clustered around Finn, all murmuring in excitement. It’s their first mission as official members of the Resistance, and they’re happy to share their speculations about the garrison away from the leaders. Teek, one of the Exes he’s trained with, slips into the unoccupied chair to his left and tries to initiate conversation. Kylo doesn’t want to talk about the holos, the First Order, life at the Resistance, any of it, really. Rey comes to the rescue, though Kylo is not sure who she’s rescuing when she chats to the man about the training they’ve been doing in the mornings. That interests Kylo more than anything else Teek had wanted to discuss and he manages to find a few words to add to the conversation.

They’re deep in some debate with three other Exes discussing ship mechanics when the shuttle jolts, dropping out of hyperspace with a distinct lack of grace and that, more than anything else, reminds him of the Falcon .

“Boots on the ground in half an hour,” Coyle announces over the comm. “Stand by.”

Kess steps out of the cockpit as the comm cuts out, taking the vacant seat by the doors. Her presence and their imminent arrival subdue conversation until the ship crunches against dirt. She stands, patting the two blasters holstered by her hips and jerks her chin at Kylo. “Ren, you’re up in front. We don’t want to disappoint your adoring fans.”

Kylo grimaces as he stands, glaring at the brushed durasteel of the ship’s interior. Kess slaps his saber back into his hand and he clips it to his belt, grumbling all the while to Rey through their connection. Can’t we just kill her and run off to Wild Space together? She raises her eyebrows and he piles on the  temptation. You wouldn’t have to do any more paperwork for the General. It’s a nice fantasy, even if he doesn’t mean it.

Rey smiles at him, gives the barest shake of her head. Kess is starting to like you. I haven’t seen her snap her teeth at you since the first mission.

Lucky me. Kylo rolls his eyes and takes point.

Be careful . She caresses his consciousness as he moves down the ramp and he returns the gesture before focusing ahead. High grass waves in an evening breeze and trees rise up to blot out the horizon.

Tight on his heels, Kess checks her comm and the surroundings, gestures south with the blaster held on guard in front of her. “Twenty minute walk through those trees to the town.” She gestures to half of the Exes. “I want you to stay here with Coyle in reserve.”

The Exes are consummate professionals, as well trained as any ‘Trooper turned out by the First Order. They do not question their orders, they simply obey. They rip off sharp salutes and station themselves around the shuttle, blasters out, heads pivoting, settling down to wait.

Kess’s nods in approval, then turns to Rey and Finn. “Let’s move.”

Finn tromps through the underbrush, making more noise than Kylo thinks he could muster if he tried. The other Exes aren’t much better. They don’t get far into the woods before the relative quiet is shattered by the sound of blaster bolts and shouting. Kess curses and waves them down as she drops into a crouch. They spread in a half circle, weapons drawn, edging forward. Straining his ears, Kylo hears footfalls, snapping twigs, the crunch of heavy boots drawing nearer. The crew crests a small ridge and looks down to see figures move through the trees, a tight cluster of Stormtroopers in a defensive formation retreating and firing back at something beyond his line of vision. At a nod from Kess, Kylo ignites his saber, stands tall, and steps out of hiding.

The response is immediate.

“It’s him!”

“Kylo Ren!”

“The Resistance!”

A ragged cheer goes up as Rey and Finn join him. “FN-2187!”

The sight of Finn seems to set something off in the Stormtroopers, and they surge forward as one, scrambling up the hill.

Kess steps out of hiding, holding a blaster in each slender hand, as the group is almost on top of them. “Hold it!” The sight of the Captain with teeth bared, wielding miniature cannons, is enough to give them pause. “Identify yourselves.”  

There’s a scuffling as a giant Stormtrooper pushes to the front of the crowd. Kylo’s eyebrows shoot up. The ‘Trooper towers over the others and has at least an inch on Kylo. He’s holding up an injured comrade without any difficulty and salutes with his free arm. “I sent the SOS. I’m GN-513.” His voice is gravelly and he wears the pauldron of a lieutenant. “We’ll submit to whatever inspections you require, but there are two squads hot on our tails, and we need to move now if anyone’s going to get out of here alive.”

Kess scowls, holsters one of her blasters, and nods. “Finn, you take the injured. You four,” she waves to a group of ‘Troopers supporting more wounded, “take your injured to our shuttle. It’s a ten minute walk due north. You can make it in seven if you hustle.” The huge man passes his injured companion off to another ‘Trooper who  salutes the best they can and sets off as soon as Kess turns from them. “Everyone else, move up to engage. Blasters tight on me, sabers spread out.”

A bolt of energy spears through a tree behind Kylo as he moves ahead of the group, sending splinters flying. Kylo darts forward, batting away attacks that get too close. Rey guards his flank as the first wave of Stormtroopers bursts through the trees, two toting fearsome railguns. Blue light shimmers in front of him as Rey raises a shield, sending the projectiles zinging back, obliterating anything in their way.

“Who are these guys?” Kess shouts to the huge ‘Trooper who had spoken, GN-513. “Our intel was you all wanted out!”

“They’re not with us! They showed up this morning!” GN-513 ducks, returns fire with an overpowered plasma rifle around Rey’s shield as he explains. “Their captain said they were here to relieve us of our duties, and then things got rough when we resisted. You showed up just in time!”

Kess and the remaining unit advances behind him, firing at the ranks of ‘Troopers when Rey pulls back shield to allow their attack.  The Exes still fight like Stormtroopers, they know ‘Trooper weaknesses, know how they think, and their onslaught splinters the oncoming formations. The opposing unit divides between Kess’s group and the Force users. Their blaster bolts splash off the shields Rey’s thrown up, but each hit sends ripples of energy out over the surface of the shield, wearing at her strength. Kylo’s opened his power to her before she can finish forming the nascent request, feeding into her defenses as he strides around the shield to close the distance with the ‘Troopers who have pulled out energy sticks.

Rey’s thoughts are quick and concerned in his head, calling him back to the safety of the shield, but he doesn’t need its protection. He’s missed this, the way his power thrums in his blood, the heft of the saber in his hand, and he won’t cheapen the thrill by playing it safe.  The enemy ‘Troopers are quick, well trained, and it’s six against one, but they are nothing. It feels amazing to be alive again. The part of him that is in Rey’s mind works defensively, strengthening her shields and keeping her safe. The rest of him howls for blood. Everything comes into sharper focus as he parries, thrusts, maims, kills. The Darkness calls to him, its siren song sweet and seductive, so easy, so close, and the brush of Rey’s mind barely pulls him back as the fifth ‘Trooper falls. She takes down the sixth with a perfectly deflected blaster bolt to the neck.  

Movement flickers in his peripheral vision and he gathers the Force to cast it down his hand, scattering a cluster of ‘Troopers trying to advance. They tumble like leaves in the wind, falling in a crunch of armor. He starts to move on them, but Kess and another ‘Trooper, one of the Exes, not an enemy , leap forward to finish the fallen off. He feels cheated, like they’ve stolen something from him, and he’s angry for a second until Rey tugs on his power, diverting his attention as she jerks a rail gun from a ‘Trooper’s grasping hands. The butt of the rifle slams up against the helmeted head and the ‘Trooper goes down with a thump.

The woods are silent for a second and all he hears is the blood pounding in his veins and heavy breathing as adrenaline rush lingers. Rey feels it too, the pull of the Darkness, the power it holds. Her hands are shaking not from fear but from excitement, and there’s a tickle of pleasure running through their bond that isn’t just from him. The sweat on the back of her neck makes his skin prickle, and when they lock eyes, hers are as dark as his.

Kess breaks the silence, glaring around the clearing. “I hate it when Coyle’s right.”

Rey looks away and moves to Teek, who nods and touches Rey’s arm. The predatory part of Kylo’s mind, the part that lives to hunt and kill, roars, but he chains that part down before Rey can notice and turns to Kess. Looping one of the injured defector’s arms over her shoulders, the Captain gestures to the team and begins to move. She takes as much of the hurt woman’s weight as she can, but the Ex still staggers, clutching her thigh. “Is this everyone? Everyone who wants to go?”

GN-513 nods. He’s bleeding from somewhere under his armor, but he doesn’t make any move to stem the flow. “All of us who are left.”

Kess grits her teeth. “Then let's go before any more surprises show up.”

The freighter’s engines are rumbling when they get back to the landing site and Kylo can’t suppress a sinking feeling in his stomach as he covers their retreat. That was it? He could have killed a hundred more ‘Troopers before he even began to tire. Closing his eyes tight, he scrambles up the ramp with the last of the squad, clamping down on the  disappointment. Back to the cage. He extinguishes the beam on his saber and passes it to Kess before he can let himself consider trying to keep it.

The seating area has been turned into an impromptu med-bay, and helmets and armor lay loose and rolling on the floor, skidding into corners as the ship lifts off. Finn stands in the middle of the chaos, doing an admirable job of trying to talk to everyone at once. Kylo finds Rey in a corner, crouching to tend to the lieutenant’s wound, hands covered in blood. She glances up as she tucks the end of the bandage in to give him a tight, worried smile.

“Can I help?” The ship jolts as they jump into hyperspace and Kylo sways before he catches a handhold. He doesn’t care about the revolution, barely cares about the Exes he knows, but Rey’s worry diffuses through his thoughts, and it's hard to separate her emotions from his in the confusion. Easier to go with the flow than fight against it now.

Without his helmet, the lieutenant is revealed to be a dark man with craggy features and hair cropped close to his head. He leans to rest his head against the wall. “You’re Kylo Ren.” He looks Kylo up and down without any apparent fear.

Kylo doesn’t know how to interpret the tone or the look. “Yeah.”

Wiping his forehead with the back of his large, bloody hand, the defector snorts. “They don’t talk about how you fight in the holos. Someone ought to do something about that. It’s impressive stuff. The rumors don’t do you justice, sir.” He glances up at Rey and then sticks out his hand to Kylo. “Like I said, I’m GN-513. Thanks for coming to get us.”

Kylo hesitates before a mental nudge from Rey pushes him into action and he takes the man’s hand. “I’m glad to have you.” The words are halting, strange. They aren’t altogether untrue, but they belong to Dameron and Finn, to the psychologists and their scripts, not to him. He sits down as the ship jolts again, a few inches to the side of the lieutenant. “You going to be okay?”

“I’m already okay,” the ‘Trooper shrugs as though his bloody side doesn’t bother him. “ I’d rather get shot in the head than be dragged in for that new reconditioning program. A little blaster bolt is a small price to pay to get out alive.”

“Is that why the other ‘Troopers came?” Rey crouches on GN-513’s other side, asking as she rinses her hands with water from a canteen before taking a greedy gulp.

“Yeah,” a man calls out from  across the floor. “I’m AR-959. I was a communications officer. They radioed in this morning, said we’d been out in the field for too long. There are rumors floating around about new procedures, and it looks like they’re true. They’re going to start rotating troops, breaking up squads, and doing mandatory reconditioning every few months. It’s supposed to better ensure compliance.”

A woman near AR-959 calls out in a high, sweet voice that doesn’t match the twice-broken crook to her nose. “That’s what really sold us on leaving. You aren’t going to break us up, are you?”

They all look to Kylo like he’s got the power to do anything, and he shrugs.

Finn answers for him. “No. We’ll make sure you stay together.”

Kess nods as she stands. “We’re not like them. We’re not conscripting you. You get to choose if you want to join up, but you need to make that choice quick. If you enlist, you can stay with your squad.” Grins break out. “We’ve had a few people change their specialties, and we’ll talk about that sort of stuff once we’re safely back on dirt, but we won’t take you away from your people.”

A ragged cheer goes up as Kess walks around, shaking hands and chatting before heading back to the cockpit. Kylo listens to the discussions that spark around him, focused mostly on names and the recruit’s prospects in the Resistance. Kylo speaks when addressed, which happens more frequently as Finn and his Exes walk the recruits through the new behavioral norms they can expect when they land. He seconds Finn’s attestation about the quality of the food in the Resistance cafeteria and that gets an even louder response than Kess’s speech.

Many of the ‘Troopers already have nicknames that they want to keep, given to them by friends in their squads, like the woman with the sweet voice, Sevs. Still, some ask Finn to name them, either choosing to give up their old names out of spite or take on new names in a hopeful bid at rebirth. AR-959 becomes Aren, and he walks away rolling the word around in his mouth like a hard candy. There’s power in names, and Kylo understands that better than most. It’s a responsibility he wouldn’t want, doesn’t deserve, but when GN-513 stands and looks to Kylo for a name, his request is earnest and Rey is so delighted by it that Kylo is overwhelmed by the emotion.  He consents, and the first thing that comes into his head tumbles from his mouth before he can stop it.

The man roars with laughter, holding his bandaged side as tears come to his eyes. Kylo isn’t sure he’s ever made anyone laugh that hard before, and Rey’s approval flows through him, hot and sunny. “Gun! I love it!” He pats his massive rifle with his free hand then reaches to clasp Kylo‘s forearm, his fingers still sticky and crimson. Rey’s joy has infected Kylo’s mind and his own copy of the emotion bursts forth from the roots she put down. He laughs, too, returning the grip on the Gun’s arm. “You’re alright, man. Gun! That’s great.”

The ship bounces as they drop back to low space and the Force convulses around them. Rey was laughing, her hand on Kylo’s shoulder, but the sound dies on her lips as a cold crackle of fear slides down hiss back like ice. “What the-”

“Everyone stay calm,” Kess’s voice barks over the comm. “Finn, I need you and one of your guys to man the turrets down below. Choose whomever has the most experience. Everyone else sit down and shut up.”

They can’t see anything, and that makes them all nervous. Even untuned to the Force, the Exes old and new are jumpy. Finn grabs a woman called Pit, who Kylo knows from training to be an exemplary markswoman, and they dash to the turrets, but the sound of the cannons doesn’t come.  

The shuttle lands and Kess sprints out of the cockpit with Dameron and Coyle hard on her heels. The Captain punches the release panel hard enough that it echoes. Finn is sweating when he returns, face grim. He shakes his head at Dameron when the pilot gives him a questioning look. “Nothing to shoot at, just-”

The freighter’s ramp whooshes open and smoke pours in. Coyle speaks first, shaking his head. “Like spitting on the gods, I said.”

Kess jogs down the ramp and Kylo follows with Dameron, and Rey, clenching his teeth as he surveys the damage. Finn stays behind to marshal the new Exes.

Two of the hangars have been reduced to rubble and a burnt out X-wing smoulders in the remnants of a hangar. Glass from blown out windows crackles under their feet along the path. The compound is still standing, but it looks like a close run thing.

Kylo can’t, won’t, name the emotion that writhes in his gut when he feels the General’s Force signature still glowing strong. Rey’s relief washes over him and he refuses to be swept away with it.  

“The General is alive. This way.” Rey grabs Kylo’s hand and gives it a squeeze before gesturing to the rest of the group. Dameron lingers, staring, pale and grim, at the ruins of the burning craft before falling in with them. They follow Rey’s lead to a different part of the compound, one Kylo’s never seen before. Kess seems to understand, stopping them at a door and tapping in a code. It opens onto a war room dominated by a holo of the Ilenium system. She motions them to keep back and stay quiet.

The General is talking, eyes bright and fixed on the three planets hanging above her, the sleeve of her jacket scorched brown, a pink burn striping her neck. “-Received emergency communication from Sanbra and Rugosa. They’re reporting similar statistics. Several dozen dead, three flybys, and then they hopped back out before a counterattack could be initiated. No warning, nothing.”

“No warning? What good is our intelligence gathering doing if we can’t get word of direct attacks?” A Qarren Major asks and receives a reproachful look from Admiral Ackbar.

Lieutenant Thorne, looking even more harried than usual with soot covering half his face, frowns. Kylo shouldn’t smile, but the the man’s disheveled state sends a wicked thrill of delight through him, so he does.

Admiral Statura shakes his head at the Major who spoke. “Mind your tone, Major. Don’t diminish the gains we’ve made. Not all battles are fought with blasters and bombs. The First Order could have put something like this together overnight.”

This was the warning.”  Kylo raises his voice to be heard over the murmur, and the eyes of everyone in the room seek him out. He tenses as Statura makes a familiar face, somewhere between amused and disgusted. Kess’s glare burns into the side of his face, but Rey is at his side, strong and even-tempered, and that anchors him. “The First Order has known you were in this area since before you blew up Starkiller. They had bigger, better things to to work on until you started attacking their operations.”

Admiral Statura frowns, “The First Order’s warning shots historically look more like what happened to the Hosnian system.”

“You don’t just slap weapon like Starkiller together in a few months, Admiral. It will take the First Order time, energy, resources to wage a full campaign against the entire system, to locate your base of operations and level it. As you said, they could probably throw a flyby together in a few hours. It saves them a whole lot of effort if they can just frighten you into submission.”

“We will not be-” The Qarren hisses, and Kylo cuts him off with a wave that makes Kess bristle.

“They want to scare you. They want you to move, to go underground. That would make you look weak. In fact, if you do anything other than retaliate in some way, you are weak.”

That stiffens everyone’s spine, and someone across the room cries out, but Kylo speaks over them. “Imagine the cost of moving the Resistance’s major base of operations, not just monetarily but in terms of time, political capital, the goodwill of your supporters. I can’t imagine anyone would see a retreat as a power move.” He shrugs, curves his mouth back into that smile Dameron taught him. “That’s just my opinion as a strategic advisor, of course, but-”

“Thank you for your input,” The General cuts over him, and the handful of officials who raised their voices. “Captain, please escort your crew to the Blue Room, we will join you shortly.”

Kess’s grip is like durasteel as she ushers him out. “I’m not saying you’re wrong, Ren, but we really need to work on your people skills.”

Chapter Text

Restoring the base is sad, hard work that takes weeks, but everyone does it and no one complains. Dozens of ships land before they’ve repaired their runways and landing pads, so they sit on whatever patches of  clear ground  they can find, disgorging friends and supporters of the Resistance come to help. Rey works with Kylo and Chewbacca repairing and repainting the duracrete walls that were scorched and battered by TIE cannons. She helps the pilots and mechanics dig through the wrecked hangars for anything that might be repurposed, separates the scrap from salvage, the usable pieces from the junk. At first she thought it would be fun, finding and fixing, but it’s not. Scavenging is different when the stuff  should be shiny and new, and it’s different when there are corpses. She tries not to think about it, tries to mourn and move on, but she doesn’t have much success. No one does. Mostly, though, she works with General Organa, taking miles of notes and drafting dozens of letters to the Resistance’s biggest allies.

Once the major buildings have been structurally recertified, she brings Kylo back to her room and they spend the evening cleaning her quarters, clearing the broken glass out of her nest, repotting the seedlings, restacking the ration packs and tools. By the time they’re done, it’s almost time for Kylo to go, and they’re sweeping up the last of the mess when his comm link beeps.

“I’ve got ten more minutes, Kess,” Kylo groans into the cuff.

“Stay the night, if you want. Everyone under my command is on effective shore-leave for the next 12 hours. Tell the Admiral or any of the other leaders and I’ll eat you for breakfast.”

Kylo’s mouth hangs open for a second before he’s able to speak. “Kess, what-”

“It’s been a rough few days for all of us, and a rough few decades for you. Tomorrow everything goes back to normal. Enjoy it. Kess out.”

The connection goes dead and Kylo looks to Rey. “I… uh… Can I sleep here tonight?”

She leaps on him.

Hours later, after she’s shivered and clenched under his tongue, after he’s shouted her name as he came in her mouth, they curl together in her nest and sleep. She walks the halls of his dreams with soft footfalls, chasing the darkness away before pulling him into their shared space beneath the stars, which sing until they wake.

It takes weeks for things revert back to normal after the attack, for the base to start feeling more like a home again and for Rey to get into a comfortable routine. Kylo is still antsy, still on edge, and though the more time he spends with the Exes, the less pronounced it becomes, the feeling never goes away.  Gun, especially, is good for him. The huge man is rough of feature, rough of word, and rough of nature, but there is something in him that speaks to the warrior in Kylo. They spar together every morning without pulling punches, and Rey never feels Kylo touch the Force when they fight. She asks him about it and he tells her that sometimes it just feels good to hit someone.

Rey’s days are taken up by attending meetings with the General, liaising with the other leaders, working with Master Skywalker, and training with her friends and the Exes. She’s always busy, and is surprised when General Organa summons them all back to the room where they had watched the holos with details their next mission.

“You leave this afternoon,” General Organa begins without preamble once everyone’s seated. It’s the largest group she’s seen for a briefing. Every seat is occupied, and extra chairs have been brought in to accommodate more people. Even then, there are still soldiers and pilots standing along the walls. “There’s a facility on Capza that we have confirmed, beyond a reasonable doubt, to be a primary reconditioning facility for First Order Stormtroopers.”

Beside her, Finn takes a sharp breath and leans forward, keen and aching to hear more. Around the room, the Exes fidget, murmuring amongst themselves. Gun curses under his breath.

Admiral Statura takes over. “You three,” he nods at Rey, Kylo, and Finn, “are going in with three squads of infantry under Captain Kess while Dameron and Blue Squadron cover you from the air.” A dark haired pilot near Poe perks up at that, and Statura gives her a firm look. “The main objective is to retrieve as many prisoners as possible. This is primarily a ground op. We’re not leveling the place until everyone we can tap as an ally is safely away. ” The woman’s face falls. “So get those guys out of there and don’t get yourselves killed. Read through your dossiers and head to Hangar Three. You burn atmo in two hours.”

There are more documents in the files this time and Kess takes the head of the table when General Organa and Admiral Statura exit.

“Alright, you heard the Admiral. Two hours before we ship out and just over two days of transit, so let’s make it fast. ” With a few quick motions, Kess brings up a projection of the planet and zooms in on their target. “It’s a decently sized facility, maximum security over two floors. Pilots will go in first. Dameron, as usual, you’re lead for this. Soften their defenses up, take out any shields or heavy artillery, especially any communication stations you can make out. We need to evacuate the prisoners and get out before the First Order can call for reinforcements.” Poe and his team nods their understanding.

Kess gestures at the projection with confident swipes of her hand, delineating the top floor from the bottom. “We’re going to need to divide and conquer, here. There’s two levels, and we need to keep control of the prison yard at all costs. That’s the only landing pad around for miles, because this stupid thing is stuck in the middle of a swamp.” Pointing to one side of the building, Kess looks to Rey. “Ren, Rey, you two and Delta squad under Lieutenant Gun will take the main staircase to the second floor. Finn and I will sweep the ground level with the other teams, so we’ll be able to support the shuttle if necessary. We’ll all have comms. I want to know what’s going on at all times, so be chatty.” Kess looks to a group of men standing in the back of the hall. “Brix, Tethis, you guys need to hold the shuttle with a small team. Keep it running hot while you’re in there. We’re not leaving without our primary objectives, but we might need to get out fast, without a whole lot of warning.” She looks around the room and nods. “Let’s go, people.”

There are too many people around, and that makes Rey tense, or maybe it makes Kylo tense and Rey feels it by proxy.  They’re surrounded by three squads of fifteen infantry and a half dozen pilots she doesn’t know particularly well. They’re a tight- knit group, have worked together before if the joking and jostling is anything to go by. They say their farewells to Poe and BB-8, who are making the jump to Capza in the X-Wing.  She’ll miss Poe’s easy smile and relaxed good nature in the midst of all this bustle.

Kylo walks beside Kess at the front of their group and Rey sticks close to him, within arm's reach at all times, for her own peace of mind just as much as his. He knows Finn’s group of Exes and she’s pretty sure she’s at least seen most of the infantry around, but the crowd still makes her uneasy. There are quartermasters set up in the hangar this time, disbursing  small kit of gear to the teams.

“We’ll be gone for almost a week,” Finn reminds Rey when she asks about the kits. “It’s good to have things like soap and change of underwear. It makes everyone’s life more pleasant.”

“Alright,” Kess turns back to them from where she’d been addressing an ensign. “You three get the junior officer’s quarters for this jump. Get your stuff locked down in there. We’ll be in the air in under an hour.”

“What about arms and armour?” Finn asks, runningscrubbing a hand over his short hair.

“I don’t know how the First Order did things, but we try not to make people sit in their damn armor for two days unless we’ve got a good reason to.”  The markings above Kess’s eyebrows raise in sudden excitement. “Speaking of the armory, the General wanted you to have something to go with their two glowsticks.” She jerks her head at Kylo and Rey, both of whom prickle at having their lightsabers referred to as ‘glow sticks”.

She beckons Finn over to a rack of mismatched blasters. In the center, standing out like a Wookiee amidst Ewoks, is a giant blast cannon, heavily modified and enhanced, with the Starbird of the Resistance painted to wrap around the barrel. “She thought it’d help you stick out from a crowd.”

Gun whistles from the other side of the armory as Finn blinks at the cannon. “Uh, Cap?” Finn reaches out a tentative hand towards the weapon. “Is there a practice range on that boat of yours? Cause I’ve never even touched one of those before.”

Captain Kess smiles, and when she directs it at Finn, it almost looks friendly. “You’ve excelled in all  tested parameters with every damn weapon you’ve handled, Finn. This baby’s not made for sharpshooting. I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it.” She turns the smile on Kylo and the smile becomes sharper. “Now shift yourselves. There will be plenty of opportunities for us all to play with the toys when we get to Capza.” She walks off, issuing orders to the infantry and pilots working their way down the lines as she goes.

Rey adjusts the pack on her shoulders and looks between her two friends. Kylo’s nervous, too, and trying to hide it. Is this what friendship is - hiding your nerves and your fear to strengthen those around you?  “Guess we better be going then,” she shakes the thought off and trots towards the transport.

The ship is old, a GR-45 dating back to the Galactic Civil war.  The ship seems well maintained, clean and well cared for, and she likes it almost immediately.  It’s exciting to look for their new bunk with Finn and Kylo and that small adventure makes her excited to explore the ship and find all it’s secrets. They follow Kess’s instructions to a small door stenciled with Petty Officers. The room behind the door is smaller than some closets she’s seen. Three beds are bunked to the low ceiling with three drawers under the bottom bunk exactly wide enough to stow a pack. There’s a ‘fresher the size of a coffin and a holo- screen on the door.

“So that’s why they keep the armor off until last minute.” Finn edges around Kylo to stow his pack in one of the drawers. “You want the ceiling or the floor, bud?”

It takes Kylo a moment to realize that Finn is talking to him and Rey does her best not to smile. “Uh,” he stutters. Bud? “Uh, I’ll take the lowest bunk.”

Rey lays a hand on his arm as she passes him to shove her own bag into one of the bins. Stop overthinking it.  To Finn, she says, “I’ll take the middle. You two will just giggle all night if I let you sleep next to each other.  Don’t pretend I don’t know what happens in your room.  Pillow fights every night, Kylo says.”

Bud , Kylo thinks again, before speaking. “You should take the ceiling, Rey. Finn’s fat head will never fit up there.”

Rey laughs as Finn cracks his knuckles, shakes out his neck. “Is that a bet?” He proves that he’s more than capable of wedging himself in the narrow gap between the ceiling and mattress with a leap and a wriggle, sliding in and out of the bunk like an eel before jumping back to the ground. “Nothing to it.”

The next two days are a novel experience for Rey. Kylo accompanies her as she investigates the ship from end to end, finding her way into storage closets, cargo holds, and the cockpit, much to the surprise of the on-duty pilot.  She ingratiates herself with the crew and pilots with a focused curiosity and an earnest interest in their work that disarms even the gruffest soldiers.

The three take their meals with the infantry in the cafeteria under Kess’s watchful eye. They accept Kylo’s presence without flinching, ask him about life with the First Order and the fight with Snoke, and he tells them what he knows. It’s getting easier for him, for all of them. He, Finn, and the other Exes commiserate over the meals. They’d all gotten used to the food on base, and the return to field rations is unwelcome. The primary entertainment for the crew is watching holos and training. She likes the holos, the vids of cats and Resistance fighters clowning around when they’re off duty, but Kylo always leaves when the Resistance propaganda pieces pop up.  

Training helps calm everyone down when the confines of the ship start to feel claustrophobic. The exercise room is small and perpetually crowded. Rey practices her battle meditation both mornings, and Finn gets better at allowing her in each time. Kess and Gun are more than happy to join in, teaming up with Finn and Rey against Kylo. Kess is fast, strong, and deadly even without Rey’s help, and Gun’s devastating strength and endurance give the rest of them something to aspire to. The first time the five of them fight is the first challenge Kylo has had since he left Moraband and the thrill of it tingles through their connection.

The best thing about all of this, by far, is sleeping above Kylo in the middle bunk. She reaches down, tracing the lines of his face, brushing her hand against his shoulder as they fall asleep. The contact is enough to let her back into his dreams. Her presence chases Snoke away, and even curled up awkwardly with his feet jammed against the end of the too-short bunk and her strange half-on-half-off the bunk posture, they sleep better than back on the base.

Kess calls everyone into the cafeteria for a final conference as they approach Capza. She’s got a comms array on the table and conferences in the pilots across the ships. “We’ll touch ground at four-hundred standard. Poe, you and your squad know your jobs. We’ll work with you to take out any heavy artillery before landing.”

Poe’s voice cracks over the speaker. “Yeah, Cap. We’ve got you.”

“If they’re flying any patrols, if they have any nasty business in orbit, we’re going to clean that up before we go dirt-side. We don’t expect anything crazy, but be on your guard and keep yourselves safe.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Poe and his squad all confirm together, their voices blending across the static.

Looking around the room, Kess nods at the gathered fighters. “Gear up and get in position, everyone. We drop to low space in an hour.”

Before he leaves the room, Kess waves Kylo over and Rey lingers, waiting for him. She pulls his saber out of a bag at her feet, speaking low as she looks him straight in the eye. “Don’t do anything stupid. I’d hate to have to push the sleepy-time button and to carry you home when the neurotoxins knocks you out.”

Kylo extends his hand, palm up. “Kess, don’t you trust me?” She isn’t smiling this time, and there’s no teasing gleam in her eye, so he gives her his own sharp grin.

“I’m trying.” She slaps the saber into his hand.

A quartermaster offers Kylo a set of armor which he rejects. He hasn’t trained in it and he’d rather not add any more variables to the fight. Rey nods, refusing the offer as well and then bristling as Finn lectures them both about the importance of armor and the dangers of hubris. Tell him to shut up if it bothers you that much.

He’s only giving me a hard time because he’s worried . Rey tugs at their connection as she checks her saber and clips it to her belt. She’d worked with a staff in the training room the day before and it had been familiar, comforting, but she’s happy with Luke’s saber, pleased to have it back at her side.  

They thread their fingers together as they move to the ramp. Finn parts the crowd forming behind them with his oversized cannon, settling at  Rey’s other side. He catches Gun eyeing the massive weapon and lifts his chin in acknowledgement. “Distinctive, right?” They share wide, toothy smiles before the ship judders into low space and they need to brace themselves or stumble.

In the grainy display embedded above the exit, the planet grows, featureless green expanse resolving into craggy mountains and thick forests. The X-Wings flicker in the peripheral of the holo and then accelerate into the field of view, scouting ahead. Behind her, Gun shifts his giant plasma rifle from one arm to the other. “Damn, but seeing those orange bastards still makes me jump.”

“You’ll get used to it,” Finn promises.

Kess cuts through the assembled crowd as she calls into the comm. “Talk to me, Dameron. What are you seeing?  

“So far, so good, Cap.” Poe’s answers, calm and steady. “Looks like they’ve got some light artillery, maybe some shields? We’ll hit those first.”

“Do it.” Kess looks up, watching the feed as lights dance, missiles homing in on the compound. “Brix, can you land us in the prison yard?”

“Yes ma’am. Transferring power to under-side shields. Gunners, get ready.”

The transport jolts as the prison swings into view and faint sounds of the firefight penetrate the durasteel walls. Rey holds on to Kylo as he grabs for a strap above his head. holds onto him The deck shudders under their feet, shields absorbing incoming fire. She hates this, hates the waiting, hates being powerless.

I wish I was flying this. Or manning a turret or doing something. I feel helpless just standing here. Rey’s twists her right hand in his shirt as her left grips Finn’s armored hand.

Kylo leans down to kiss the top of Rey’s head, pulling on the Force for a calm that doesn’t come. We’ll be out soon.

She feels it in the air around them, everyone looks just as jumpy as they are, save for Kess and Gun, who both look at ease.  Rey grumbles but quiets, watching the view as it wavers in the smoke, fighters in the yard clearly visible at this range.

Stormtroopers are falling back as they come under fire, retreating to the sheltering  fortifications of the main building itself. The engines whine as they land with a crunch.

“Door coming down in ten,” Kess announces into the hush of the transport and smacks the switch to lower the ramp. “Ready now. Three, two, one.”

A sliver of light cracks the edge of the ramp and the sounds of blaster fire and shouts fill the shuttle. Rey slips into battle meditation, letting the Force flow through her, brushing up against the fighters as they stream out of the transport. Kylo breathes with her, long and deep, igniting his saber as the door opens with a rush of humid air. Finn tenses beside her, lets her into his mind as he adjusts his grip on his cannon. The Force shimmers, as blue as the beam of her saber, as she raises a shield and the three of them run as one down the ramp.

Kylo moves outside the shield, deflecting blaster bolts, running towards a cluster of ‘Troopers hidden in a doorway by the main gate. She nudges him, Up there , and he follows that feeling, throws out a fistful of power that knocks a sharpshooter out of a turret on the defensive perimeter. Finn’s cannon booms beside her as the infantry fan out around them, gunning down the defenders. A few Resistance fighters fall to enemy fire themselves. Their deaths cut little slices of void into her thoughts, and Rey does her best to ignores it. She cannot help them now.

“Operatives, advance on the door.” Kess orders, catching one of the remaining guards in the throat with a casual flick of her blaster. “We need to get inside.”

Finn takes point, advancing on the group of ‘Troopers sheltering in the door. They return fire and their shots hiss as they are deflected by lightsabers. Overpowered, the First Order troops retreat, slamming an emergency shutdown alarm as they go.

Door! Rey can’t tell if the command is hers or Kylo’s, but they reach out together as the reinforced durasteel begins to close. The door slows and then reverses its descent, a cacophony of grinding gears and warping metal, until it slams up, crushed open.

“Good work.” Kess nods and waves to her squad. “Move it, people!”

The infantry sweeps down the hall, separating at the staircase. Gun, his team, and a squad of Resistance fighters stay with Kylo and Rey, the other half jog off with Finn and Kess. Rey waves to them and Finn gives her a tight smile behind his visor, then she turns and squares her shoulders, loosening her shoulders with a spin of her saber before moving forward with Kylo.

At the top of the stairs are more guards, clustered in front of reinforced blast doors. Kylo’s power mixes with hers as Rey throws out a hand, flinging their attackers back as she deflects rapid blaster bolts with her saber. The shooters crash against the doors and the Resistance infantry swarm up behind Kylo and Rey, finishing them off where they lie.

Through the door is the only way forward. Rey moves to the control panel, pops the covering open, and yanks out two wires, hopping away as torrent of magnesium-white sparks spray up. The door rolls open and the lights in the panel die.

Well done , Kylo praises her and his admiration fuels the spin she uses to bounce the incoming blaster bolts back at the ‘Troopers beyond the portal.  The soldier behind her falls with a strangled shout. She feels him die, and something in her gut shifts. That man, the one who just died, was one of hers . The darkness behind her eyes grows. Rey reaches for the sparks of life she feels at the other end of the hall and twists like she had when Serrin Tiyu put his gun to Kylo’s temple. The light flickers and goes out, the shooter clattering to the ground.

Kylo growls in approval as he sprints forward and she follows, past barred doors and peering eyes, slashing away the bolts she can’t dodge. The darkness in her head taunts her as momentum carries her past the first two guards, stabbing through the a breastplate as Kylo engages the ‘Troopers behind her. How much faster could she end this if she just let go? How many could she save if she just let the darkness in, used the power it longs to give her? She shoves the thoughts away but they cling to her mind as she shears through the blaster of a guard on the back-swing as a plasma bolts shatters the narrow eye slit of her enemy’s helmet. She jerks her head around to see Gun, his plasma rifle held almost casually as he kicks a guard so hard in the chest his helmet tumbles off as he falls.

Kylo can feel the darkness too, and his shoulders shake, tense as coiled snakes as he lowers his lightsaber, his eyes locking on hers. Gun comes up between them, reaches down to fish a keycard out of one of the dead ‘Trooper’s belts. Rey grits her teeth and turns away, breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth. Easy , she whispers in her mind. Calm . It almost helps. Gun says something,  tosses the card to one of the soldiers behind him, and they begin letting the captives out.

Men and women stream out of the cells as the doors are unlocked, dressed in nothing but the black bodysuits that go under their armor. There’s stunned silence for a moment until their goggling gives way to murmurs that become shouting and cheers as they recognize Kylo, note the uniforms of the Resistance fighters.

“The Resistance!”

“They came!”

The blast doors on the other side of the long straight hall slide open and Rey throws up a shield, instinct moving her hands without thought now after her training with Finn and the Exes. The corridor fills with gunfire and she braces under the assault. The Force is odd here, slippery, unwilling to behave, and she pushes back against its disobedience. Twelve guards at the end of a long hall all focus their fire on her. The shield flexes under her mind again and she growls, bends it to her will. She pulls power from Kylo, pours her need to protect him, the people behind her, into the shield and it strengthens.

“There’s a transport waiting outside,” Kylo barks out over the crackle of blaster fire, gesturing to the black clad ‘Troopers who have shrunk back to the walls. Without their plastoid armor and weapons, they’re defenseless, toothless, and they know it. “It’s a short walk. We’ve cleared it as much as we can.” He picks two of their people out with a glance. “Escort them, then report back to me or to Kess.” The two soldiers move with swift steps to corral the  unarmed men and women, turning them to hustle out of the prison.

Rey can’t focus on anything but the shield as the press of bodies dwindles. The ‘Troopers at the end of the hall have advanced, and one has a plasma rifle almost as big as Gun’s. It’s steady, rhythmic thumping blasts jar her arms, make her shoulders ache. As the last of the unarmed rescues turns the corner and the second Ex gestures an all clear, the shield begins to break down. “It won’t hold much longer,” Rey murmurs and she shifts her mind to battle meditation.

Twelve pairs of eyes, a dozen brains wait for her, honed and ready. The threads of their consciousnesses are hard to grasp, whipping as if in a high wind in the strange eddying currents of the Force here, but she catches them and holds them tight, weaving them into a web in her mind. She lifts her saber as the shield goes down and the group moves forward with Kylo, surging around her like a tide. Her perspective shifts, multiple viewpoints swimming before her eyes, refusing to coalesce. She swats away the bolts that come thick and fast as their troops shoot around and over her, running in a tight formation behind Kylo. With so many minds hingeing on hers, she can’t fight as effectively as she’d like, so she drops into a defensive crouch hanging at the back of the group, deflecting blaster bolts when they get too close.

The Resistance fighters advance before her, taking  the shots available. A few sustain wounds beyond her ability to protect them, each hit scorching against her mind as they fight on or fall back. Kylo’s fierce battle joy thrums in her veins, bolstering her focus and her power as he uses the Force to slam the last defending ‘Trooper into the blast door. As the ‘Trooper falls, Rey moves, sprinting down the hall to catch up with her people. That final crumpled defender reaches for his blaster as he rights himself, but the, bright light of Rey’s saber’s blade catches him in the neck as he moves to shoot. He crumples to the floor and the hall is quiets. Rey pulls her mind back from the battle meditation, easing her hold on everyone’s consciousnesses.

The Ex with the keycard takes it from where she’d held it between her teeth, swipes it down the last door and stands back as Rey and Kylo enter first, careful and quiet. The door opens onto a long, wide space filled with torture chairs, ranked in rows five chairs deep and extending into the distance. The sight of the chairs makes Rey’s blood freeze, and beside her Kylo’s jaw clenches so hard she can feel it in her own face. A man or a woman is strapped to each chair, heads lolling under heavy metal goggles. Their arms are bare and punctured with needles leading to tubes that pump clear fluid into bulging veins. Each face is contorted into a rictus of pain that makes Rey’s stomach churn.  At her side, a sick disquiet floods from Kylo in waves.

Rey’s stomach churns as Gun comes up beside her. “What the hell is this?” she asks, looking up to the large man.

Gun’s face is bloodless, gaunt, and his eyes dart from chair to chair.  “Reconditioning.”

Chapter Text

“Get them out!” Kylo’s not sure if the command comes from himself or from Rey, but the Resistance fighters move to obey all the same. Gun leads the pack, slinging his rifle over his shoulder as he pulls the needles from a man with surprising tenderness. As the Exes run past him, he feels their discomfort, their fear and anger.  It could have so easily been them strapped down, helpless and mindless.

Something bothers him, a convulsing wrongness in the Force, and Rey’s hand finds his as she senses it as well. They squeeze each other’s fingers for a moment before Rey releases him and moves to the closest chair. Seeing her at the chair brings memories from Starkiller flooding back. Her wide eyes, bright with fear and defiance. Her spitting accusation, you’re a monster , and the hiss of his helmet as he pulled it off to show her his face. Her slender neck strained as he tried to wrest the location of Skywalker from her thoughts. The electric sting of her mind’s invasion into his, as merciless as her declaration that he’d never be as strong as his grandfather, her exposure of his fear. The sharp stabbing pain that forged their connection, the overwhelming need to prove her wrong, make her his. The insane rage that gripped him when he returned to find the chair empty, his sliver of hope gone with her. He shakes his head to clear the memory from his thoughts.

The headgear is complex, latched in ways she can’t figure out, and he feels the echoes of her discomfort as she runs her fingers over the blinking lights and sensors without any sense of how to remove it.   I don’t know what to do! She cries out to him for help and Kylo masters himself, strides over to her side.

He keeps his examination of the headgear perfunctory and impersonal, jabbing at a button on the chair that releases the seals with a hiss and a puff of gas. She looks up at him as the mask clicks open and he meets her gaze, a hollow feeling in his chest. These chairs aren’t so different than the ones on Starkiller.

The man in the chair jolts as the last clamps release and they look down on him. Dark bruises mottle his temples, forehead, and chin. Rey leans over him, her mind all horror and concern that seeps into Kylo, overpowers his self-loathing. The man’s face beneath her hands is wet with tears or sweat, Kylo can’t tell which, and his bright green eyes follow her movements without seeing her, rolling in blind panic as his jaw works at the bite guard between his teeth. Rey tries to smile through the tears that sting her eyes, tries to sooth the wild terror of the Stormtrooper, drawing on the Force for calm. Kylo lifts a hand to her shoulder, touching the bare skin of her neck with his fingertips and tries to give her strength, but the Force writhes like a snake under his skin. Kylo moves away, going to the next chair, as she murmurs, “It’s okay, we’re here to help you. We’re with the Resistance.”

The ‘Trooper beneath this mask is a man with dark hair shaved short. He screams around the gag as Kylo pulls the needles from his arms. Murmuring the words Rey had said,  Kylo tries to imbue them with all the calm sincerity he has. “It’s okay. We’re here to help you.” He lifts his hands to where the prisoner can see them and moves to slide the bite guard out, cautious and ready for a fight if he lashes out, but he quiets, sits silent, stunned and shaking. When he unlocks the thick cuffs on his arms and legs, the man doesn’t move until Kylo leans to help him stand on unstable legs.

The chamber fills with the hiss of masks being removed, the clank cuffs being undone, the rasps of raw voices crying or shouting, the murmur of the Exes as they go about their grim task. Occasionally, another  scream or the sounds of conflict pierce the air as a  rescue turns violent. All of the ‘Troopers Rey awakens are docile, shell-shocked, and he is relieved.  He can feel her unease as she balks at the thought of killing someone hurting like this, even as a necessary action. The certainty that Kylo could kill these people without hesitation or thought makes him feel sharp and cold, more like a knife than a man.

Some ‘Troopers don’t wake up at all. Gun finds the first dead man and swears until he runs out of curses. Kylo finds another and it is only with great effort that he restrains himself from destroying the chair in front of him. One woman clings to Rey as she wakes, sobbing and retching before falling to the floor to tear at her own hair.

Once all the chairs have been checked and all the living ‘Troopers woken, they have another crowd on shaking legs that needs to be taken back to the transport. Kylo watches them go, escorted by the walking wounded from their original squad, and takes a deep breath before turning to the door on the far side of the room. Hand in hand, they walk past the corpses left in the chairs to reach it. He feels Rey carve their faces into her mind, coloring their bond with her rage and pain.  Kylo forces himself to ignore the figures, chasing away thoughts of if only we’d gotten here sooner . They are dead now, and no longer his concern. The living, enemy and ally alike, are all that matter.

The hall beyond is narrow and curves sharply, forcing them to walk in a single file to a small unguarded door at the end. The Force flexes as they approach the sense of wrongness rolls over them in waves as Rey, out in front, approaches the end of the hall. Even the soldiers, insensitive to the Force, shift with discomfort . The door tears open before she can touch it and she almost falls through, lightsaber coming up as every instinct she has screams for them to run .

Kylo can place the feeling now, recognizes the presence that warps the Force. Anticipation leaps in his stomach as he brushes his hand across the small of Rey’s back, helps her to raise a shield as she regains her footing and slips into the room. A Knight of Ren. Ranks and ranks of troopers aim plasma rifles at them, an overwhelming force in this tight space. He gestures to the lieutenant to be ready for a fight and Gun nods, signals to his people, and they all fall into fighting crouches.

Darkness, the familiar, comforting hatred, bubbles up from where it had lain dormant as a slim figure in a black mask and long draped coat emerges, slow and languorous, from the sea of white plastoid. Ajani. That explains the extra ‘Troopers.  Ajani always preferred to have others do the hard work for her. Kylo rolls his shoulders back, pulls himself up to his full height, his grip on his saber controlled, making himself look confident, aloof.

“Kylo Ren.” Ajani’s voice is light, high and mocking, and it lilts over his name. “You look… softer than I’d imagined.” The figure stops, shifts its weight sensually, and taps a long thin staff against its shoulder.

“Why are you here, Ajani? Since when is Snoke so concerned with the common rabble that he’d send a Knight to oversee reconditioning?” The Knight’s mind is guarded, slick and hard with defenses. All he can get is a sense of purpose, a duty to fulfill. She scrabbles against his thoughts, weaker, but not helpless.

The masked head shakes slowly, as if it’s wearer is disappointed. “Knights don’t talk to foolish traitors.” As she spits the last word, she spikes a lance of pain at his mind, but he blocks it. The staff stops tapping and the mask snaps to look at Rey, who adjusts her grip on her saber as the unsettling click of thirty safeties clicking off in perfect unison sounds across the chamber.  Her interest in Rey makes Kylo’s skin crawl, and he wants to lunge for her right there, tear her apart with his bare hands. Ajani turns her head back towards him and retreats behind her ‘Troopers, her presence diffusing as she calls from out of sight, “You and I will talk later, though, girl.  Once the traitor is dead.”

Kylo snarls, wordless, and drops all he knows about Ajani into Rey’s mind with a thought and a surge of defiant rage.  Something dark and terrible shreds at their shield, dragging at their shared strength with a studied brutality. Rey fights back, tries to gather the Force from around them, but it resists and that change sends fear spiking down the back of her neck. I can’t keep the shield up.

Kylo realizes then that this is new to her. She is frightened, and she’s still scared of the darkness that feeds on that emotion. She’s never fought a Force user besides him or Snoke before, and she remembers the failure of their previous attempt. The fear will cripple her if she lets it, so he pours strength and conviction into her through their bond.  They won’t fail here, not against a single Knight hiding behind rows of ‘Troopers.   Then drop it.

The attack rips the air and Rey dodges, her protective barrier unraveling as she runs along the narrow space, moving away from the door as she desperately strengthens her battle meditation. Kylo flicks out his free hand, a concussive wave of power rolling forward like thunder at the enemy Stormtroopers, but a white shield shimmers before them and his attack breaks against it. He growls, deep and guttural, and darkness warms his thoughts, strong and steady, honed and enhanced by her battle meditation, and throws another blast of power at the shield. The white glow winks out and the ‘Troopers open fire.

The Exes understand their formation, understand close quarters firefights, and they break into small groups at a shout from Gun, utilizing quick, erratic movements to reduce the accuracy of their stationary opponents while returning fire. On the periphery of his awareness, Rey struggles to link them together, to enhance their abilities through her battle meditation, but the Force fights her at every attempt.

Kylo has fought Ajani before, and he feels her presence lurking in the midst of the battle, a little break in the uniformity of the minds around her. Back left, three rows in . Rey nods and Kylo takes the lead, hunting the Knight through the ranks of Stormtroopers, deflecting, freezing, or reversing the blaster bolts fired at him as he carves through the formation. He drinks in the darkness to fuel his abilities, allowing it to flood into his veins, into his soul, until he sees red at the edges of his vision. He remembers the way Ajani’s head tilted, predatory and intrigued, as she’d looked at Rey, and then he imagines her head tumbling from her shoulders.  He calls on the anguish Rey felt in the room with the chairs, pulls the fear apart to tease out her bestial blood rage inside. It possesses him, gives him the strength to fight alone against dozens, fills him with a bright savage joy as he kills.    

Rey opens herself to him, lending him more of her power as she moves behind him. The flow goes both ways, and her mind takes on some of the endless power surging around him. It makes her reckless, stronger, as she shears through limbs, deflects plasma slugs back at the shooters, dodges and hops just a few steps behind Kylo as he scythes a clear path for her. Then something hisses, sizzles against her leg and Rey staggers. The pain takes a moment to manifest, fire hot then icy cold burning into her thigh and it hurts . Her mind darkens at the temptation, the promise of strength to make the pain stop.

She doesn’t give in, but Kylo does, soothing the burn through their link before reengaging with the ‘Troopers. He berates himself as he swings his saber in wild arcs that break through the press of bodies. He must be faster, stronger, better , to keep her safe. Rey limps after him, focusing all her attention on protecting herself and defending his back as he cleaves a path for them, and that is right and good and as it should be. A ‘Trooper fires at him from a foot away and Kylo laughs as he catches it, plasma radiating warmth to his fingers before he flicks it into the crowd and runs the shooter through. His shoulder burns, leather smoking with a putrid stink, and only through Rey’s eyes can he see the flick of the electrostaff.

Ajani stabs again, thrusting with the staff and Kylo parries, lunges to slice the air just short of her torso as she arches away. The Force warps  as a half circle of ‘Troopers turn inwards. There’s something wrong with their minds, and it turns Kylo’s stomach. They’re linked through the Force, chained, enslaved to Ajani’s will. He’s heard of this puppetry, the Dark Side of battle-meditation, but never seen it in action. He uses the downward momentum of his saber’s blade to turn the swing into a spin that burns through a ‘Trooper’s leg and then he brings it back up, chopping at Ajani’s head.  She ducks under the screeching blade, flicks up with the free side of her staff, trying to hit his wrist to knock the saber out of his grip as the Stormtroopers fire.

They’re shooting at him, at Rey, killing their fellow soldiers in bursts of friendly fire in the overlapping confusion of the scrum. Bolts from Gun and the Resistance fighters criss-cross back over, taking out a few, but not enough, of the enemy ‘Troopers.  Kylo takes everything, dark and light, to keep his blade blurring against the lethal shots, but they’re all so closely pressed together and the Knight’s staff is flickering in and out of his defenses, stinging a half dozen irritating little touches that each demand just a little more attention, a little more strength.

There’s a moment of perfection when Rey switches from defending to attacking. The tiny part of his brain that isn’t occupied with battle is in awe. This is how they’re meant to operate together, synchronized in murderous harmony. Lashing out with the Force, Rey snares, freezes, uses all the tricks Kylo taught her. She releases her tenuous grip on the bastardized battle meditation to focus on slowing and annoying the Knight of Ren and she ducks under a backswing from the staff and slashes at the exposed back. Ajani shrieks and Rey’s exaltation ripples through the connection as her lightsaber burns a long gash from Ajani’s shoulder to hip. The Knight turns the convulsive motion of her pain into a wild thrust up and Kylo can’t move fast enough to stop it. The staff catches Rey on the neck, just under her ear. The pain lasts for eternity, filling her veins with broken glass and her mind with roaring void.

Rey screams from the edge of unconsciousness for Kylo and he responds, instinctive and half crazed with fury. Snarling, he slides around Ajani, snatches the staff with a bare palm from where it crackles against Rey’s skin. She crumples, but he can’t catch her and keep her safe, so he lets her collapse as he tightens his grip on the staff. The pain in his hand from the electrified tip is nothing, a trifling nuisance, as he yanks Ajani to him, Force bunching around his hands as he pulls. The Knight is thrown off balance, surprised at his rash action, jostled by the writhing crowd, and Kylo takes his chance. He runs her straight through with his saber, thrust strengthened by rage, by Rey’s pain, by the Dark Side. He tears the saber free from Ajani’s chest as she falls, shifting to turn and carves into another enemy before the Light touches his mind, the Force reasserting itself after the corruptor’s death, and he has the presence of mind to see the ‘Troopers throw down their weapons in surrender, gloved hands tapping to their plastene helmets.

He spins to find Gun, and the man is already moving to his shoulder. “Shoot anyone who moves.” Gun nods, lifts his rifle and shouts something as the Exes and Resistance people swarm to encircle the ‘Troopers. Kylo ignores it all. Rey’s pain claws at his mind, weak and distant, and the shocks wracking her still twitching body spasms through his limbs. He kills the beam on his saber, stowing it at his belt to bend over her, rage bubbling up at the sight of her skin, the blistering marking a horrible electric kiss on the spot he knows makes her sigh and squirm. He has to get her out of here, get her to safety, and her eyes flutter open as he lifts her, wide and unseeing. She lets out a tiny gasp of pain, and it’s enough to make him wish Ajani was alive so he could kill her a hundred times more. His furor is still pounding in his head, mingling with her fear and confusion, and he hates it but he slings her over his shoulder, takes his saber back in hand, and nods at Gun. “We have to go.”

There’s an exit to the hangar somewhere close, Kylo remembers this place from the documentation provided in their dossiers, but there will be more enemies and no prisoners to rescue. It’s an unacceptable risk when Rey is hurt. She’s fighting unconsciousness across his shoulder, thoughts muddled and slow, and his focus now is to get her to safety. He stays with his crew as they retreat down the halls they cleared, past the empty prison cells. Rey cries out as he jostles her down the stairs and he rests his blistering hand against her back, bringing his saber up as the sounds of a firefight echo around the stairwell.

He finds the fight in the prison yard, a half squad guarding the ramp of their transport and a line of grim, unarmored figures in black undersuits trading fire with advancing ranks of guards. The shuttle hovers a foot off the ground and the Force ripples with the disquiet of the crowd. Over the zapping bolts, he can just make out an argument about maximum load capacities and emergency take off protocols. He grits his teeth, panic rising. There’s not enough space. They’re going to leave. His eyes flick around as he runs full tilt across the yard. There are at least two dozen rescued prisoners on the ground, not to mention Gun’s whole squad, himself, and Rey. It is unacceptable. They came to get these people out of here, not to leave them behind. His mind races and he thinks back through the pages of blueprints from the dossier in his mind. Something sparks an idea, a reckless, stupid, half-formed plan, but he can’t do anything, can’t think straight until Rey is safe.

Gun’s shouts cut over the fighting, ordering covering fire for Kylo as he gathers the Force and uses it to leap up the ramp  as the transport shudders under his feet and climbs higher. He places Rey into Kess’s gesturing arms and straightens up again. He takes a last look at them, at Kess checking Rey’s pulse, at Finn’s startled, open face, at Rey’s fluttering eyelids, before turning back to the battle below. He shouts to make himself heard over the tumult, cutting the Captain off mid-word. “I’ll be right behind you, Kess!” He smacks the button to the ramp and jumps as it raises behind him, saber igniting as he hits the ground and rolls to the line of recently freed captives.

There’s a pause broken only by gunfire and then a ragged cheer. Glancing over his shoulder, he sees the transport still ascending. Rey is screaming in his head, calling his name over and over, terrified and furious, but she’s safe. Time to work.

“Get armed. Whatever you can find,” He orders the freed ‘Troopers. “We fight to the hangar.”

“Ren!” Kess snarls through the comm on his wrist, “I’ve got a shiny button with your name and a whole lot of pain on it. Tell me exactly what the fuck is going on right now or so help me, I will push it.”

It’s lucky that the comm is on the wrist of his injured hand, it gives him some room to engage the guards that emerge from a side door, the one he hopes leads towards the hangar. “You push that button and I die, Cap.” He grunts as an electrostick connects with his side, hissing against his coat. He lets the Force flow through his free hand, snuffing the life out with a thought. “You push that button and everyone left on the ground dies. There wasn’t enough room on that transport, you know that!” He throws up a shield to part a curtain of flame, then dodges as Gun’s rifle and the blasters of his squad crackle behind him and the Flametrooper falls. “Statura said to bring back as many as we can. I’m showing initiative.” He grunts, ducking as the ‘Troopers turn their fire on him, letting the Force guide him along a path between the projectiles and wading into the cluster before they can switch from blasters to melee weapons. “I can do this, Kess. I’m not going to let you down.”

There’s a long, nerve-wracking silence where he fights, not sure if or when Kess is going to trigger the chip in his skin, so he uses that terror to push himself further, fighting harder down the wide hall. It’s packed with enemy ‘Troopers, seems to hold the entire surviving population of the facility, and the fighting here is brutal, close, and blasters are next to useless. Fighting makes him feel good, alive . It’s perfectly right to rip through opponents and scatter their neat straight lines to chaos. Gun roars somewhere behind him, and Kylo turns, ready to help, but he’s not needed. A dead ‘Trooper lays at the giant’s feet, and Gun is red to the forearms. He’s slung a wounded Resistance woman across his shoulders, one bloody hand holding her in place, his rifle given away to an unarmed rescue who covers the Lieutenant from his flank. Kylo extends a hand, throws up a barrier to protect his allies from an oncoming volley of fire, and watches as Gun grabs another ‘Trooper by the throat, lifts the figure into the air, and breaks the neck with a savage twist. Behind and around him, the remaining Exes and prisoners fight on, bloodied and battered, with weapons scooped up from the fallen, or, when no weapon could be found, with their fists and feet.

His comm lights up and Kess snaps back, her tone’s ferocity on par with Rey’s voice in his head. “You will call back as soon as you are airborne so we can track you back to D’Qar. You will keep me informed of every single step you take from now on, you hear me, Ren?” There’s a click of her teeth gnashing. “If at any  point I have to guess what you’re doing, I will blow your chip and then I’ll hunt you down myself, do you understand me?”

“Got it.” He catches two riot sticks on his saber, one enemy falls to blaster fire and he finishes the other off, stabbing through the bubbling plastene helmet before remembering himself.  “Kess!”

“What?” The Captain snarls.

“Tell Rey I’m sorry.” He flicks the comm off, silencing Kess’s half-formed curse, as Gun reaches him.

The lieutenant catches Kylo’s eye, jerks his chin and they advance again. Turning a corner Kylo flicks a hand up, killing his saber as three flat discs accelerate towards him. The discs freeze and then he waves them back at the cluster of ‘Troopers kneeling in front of a blast door. An explosion and a concussive wave throws them all back, enemies and allies alike, and Kylo grunts as his burned shoulder impacts the wall and he slides to the floor. The sound of screaming fills the halls, and Kylo accepts the hand of a man in a black bodysuit, barely cringing as the blistering on his palm is squeezed. The man pulls him to his feet, his mouth moving, but Kylo’s ears are still ringing with the bomb’s explosion, his veins still full of the dark power of the Force and so he just nods and shouts an advance order. The man raises his stolen blaster, turns his adrenaline-glassy eyes ahead, and moves forward in step with Kylo and his comrades.

He turns the corner, saber swinging in long, lazy arcs as he steps over the dying Stormtroopers, frowning at the door to the hangar. It’s a barrier to what he wants and is thus unacceptable. He could cut through the durasteel, but that would take time he doesn’t want to waste. The control panel is an easier target, reduced to smoke and melted plastic after two quick shots from the man at his side. The door rolls up and the darkness hisses against his mind, instinct and Force jerking his hand up to manifest a shield, edges sharp and jagged, catching an ambush waiting for them on the other side. The shield flexes under the blaster fire and Kylo shoves it out, knocking the firing squad back, cracking their armor and crushing the air from their weak bodies. Kylo raises his saber, slashing away a long plasma slug as the boom of heavier weaponry sounds from ahead.

Behind him, Gun grunts in pain. Again, Kylo turns to help the man, worry stabbing his heart as an Ex next to Gun goes down screaming. Gun’s face twists as blood blossoms from his shoulder, just beneath the hip of the injured Resistance woman, and something in Kylo shifts.  It’s not the same animal instinct to defend as when Rey is in danger, but it’s as close to that as he’s ever felt for another person, and Kylo roars his fury. Gun is his man, his responsibility, has been from the moment Kylo gave him a name, from the moment he clapped his bloody hand on Kylo’s arm in friendship. Rey isn’t here to stop him now, and Kylo slips the leash on his rage, lets go his control, reaching for the eager, waiting power.

Darkness enfolds him, drapes around his shoulders like a heavy cloak. He’s one with the Force like this, wholly engulfed in a meditative trance he can never achieve any other way. His saber twists, as though of its own volition, in his hand for what could be minutes or hours as they fight for every inch of progress across the wide empty space. He feels the lives of his opponents glowing in his awareness, tiny smoldering fires that he extinguishes with puffs of power that seem almost insignificant. His comrades are behind him, Gun still at his heels, picking off those in his periphery. He shields them as best he can while still allowing them space to fire, and nothing can stop them like this. His sides are guarded and his eyes sweep ahead, snagging on a gleaming black craft, all sleek lines and hard angles, and he laughs, a sharp bark of true mirth. Dameron is going to love this.

He’s almost disappointed when he’s in arms reach of the slick exterior and he taps the button to lower the ramp, storming on to begin the takeoff procedure that he knows so well. While the engines sing, he switches off with one of the black-suited rescues, a pilot with a bloodstained face, and runs to aid the defenders on the bottom of the ramp, deflecting blaster bolts with arms that went numb some time ago. He doesn’t care, ignores his various pains, ignores everything but the singing, thrilling freedom of the fight, the insane joy of success. The ramp shifts under his feet, raising as he stands on it, and only then does Kylo retreat into the ship and kill the beam on his saber.

“Kess,” he cues up his comm, “we’re on a shuttle. I’m setting the coordinates to D’Qar. We’ll be on your tail the whole way back.” Everything aches as the Exes and rescues part for him, but it’s good, the best feeling of bone-deep tiredness, and though he could have killed a hundred more men, he is satisfied with his work.  He sinks into the chair beside the bloodied pilot, tapping in the coordinates that will bring them back to the base.

Gun slides into the cockpit and Kylo extends his uninjured hand to the man. They grasp each other’s forearms, and Gun lets out an exhausted, gravelly laugh. “We really need to get you fighting on film, man. The First Order would shit itself and run.” He leans on the console, droplets of blood pattering down his arm to the floor.

Looking at the droplets, Kylo is struck by the fact that this is the second time he’s watched someone bleeding in an Upsilon. “Let’s find you some bacta, Gun. You’re bleeding on the chrome.”

Gun laughs again, dark and rough. “Most of it’s not my blood.”

Kess chews him out for a full ten minutes before thanking him, confessing that he saved her from a lifetime of sleepless nights regretting her choice to leave people behind. All in all, his team rescued twenty-one more prisoners. Without Kess or any other high ranking Resistance people on board, Kylo becomes the de-facto leader, and the new Exes look to him with awe and reverence before Gun’s cavalier attitude begins to color their perception of him. They follow Gun’s lead, treating Kylo like a respected friend and leader rather than like a wild animal, a monster, or a prisoner.

The next two days are the happiest he’s ever been without Rey. She yells at him, over the comms and in his head, projecting her fury at being left, her fear for his life, into his mind, and he tries to explain that he did it to protect her, to save her and as many others as he could. She’s hard to reach in hyperspace, and they are reduced to communicating through feelings without the comms. He misses her, aches for her presence, and feels her longing in return. He sleeps poorly, dreams even worse with Rey so far away, but the residual joy from their escape and his success stave off any melancholy he’d find from the tiredness.

The mood on the shuttle remains ebullient despite the cramped quarters. The small med kit is raided and the supplies distributed to those most in need. One of the Exes in Gun’s crew is a medic and patches up the worst of the wounds.  Gun’s shoulder is packed with bacta, and Kylo only submits to the medic’s ministrations once everyone else has been seen to. Another Ex managed to hang on to a pack of sabbac cards through the battle, and they all use the blood splattered cards continuously throughout the flight, betting with bits of armor, guns, and the limited ration packs.

The new Exes all ask for new names from him or Gun, and with each name, Kylo gives them a little part of himself. The rescues become his , and he, in turn, becomes theirs. He gets assurances from Kess that they will be folded into Gun’s crew, and they all seem happy with that decision. On the second morning in hyperspace, the pilot starts referring to the rescued 'Troopers as the Ground Crew, stating that without Kylo, they'd 'all be in the ground.' Gun likes this, attests that the fate awaited them all, and the name sticks.  

As they drop into low space over D’Qar and begin their descent, Kylo’s mood begins to sour. He’s excited to see Rey, but he’s not looking forward to going back to his life as a glorified prisoner. Noticing the change, Gun elbows him in the ribs. “None of that, sir. Happy face for the Groundies, happy face for the top brass. I don’t know what your deal with the Leaders is, but if you go in looking like you screwed up, they’ll treat you like you screwed up. If you go in looking like a hero, they’re more likely to treat you like a hero.” Kylo scoffs, but Gun doesn’t laugh. “I don’t care why you did it, Ren, but you came back for me and for all the guys in this shuttle. We owe you our lives. If that doesn’t make you some fucked up version of heroic, I don’t know what does.”

Gun turns on his heel, heads back into the tight confines of the shuttle proper, and raises his voice. Kylo can’t make out the specific words he says, but the shouts that follow his speech are loud enough to filter through the door of the cockpit. As they touch down, the Ground Crew is cheering, and they’re cheering his name.

Chapter Text

Kylo hails them after one of the worst, most terrified hours of her life from a stolen Upsilon-class shuttle that he picked out “just for Dameron,” crammed to the brim with Gun’s crew and First Order defectors. Rey yells at him through the comms and in her mind, lightheaded with relief and furious that he left her , that he’d do something so stupid . Hyperspace and her lingering headache from the electrostaff makes their mental communication shaky and reduces it to mostly senses and images, but she feels the distance between them just as acutely as the ache in her head.

They speak twice more during the trip back to D’Qar, and each time he sounds happier than the last. He tells her about the men and the women on the shuttle, their new names and their specialties. Gun has taken them all under his wing and they seem to look up to Kylo with the reverence the other Exes save for Finn. He apologizes for scaring her and for leaving her with Kess, and she doesn’t forgive him. She’s so angry, so hurt, that she wants to explode, but she pushes all her confused emotions into one of the boxes in her head and lets them wait. The next two days are their own kind of agony. They haven’t been apart this long since they first arrived on D’Qar, and she hasn’t been this physically distant from him since she left Master Luke’s island. That distance resonates as a dull pain in her chest, tearing her between missing him and being furious .

Rey spends most of her time in the med bay, first as a patient, then visiting with and tending to the ‘Troopers they rescued from the torture chairs. Veeten, the medical officer from Finalizer , says that there’s nothing medically wrong with them, but they are skittish, twitchy, and they barely sleep. The other Exes and the Resistance personnel all spend time with them, sometimes talking and listening, other times just sitting quietly within arms reach. There are no squabbles, no conflicts, just a shared sense of loss and relief. They’re lucky that the General had the foresight to send Veeten, two med-droids and a plentiful supply of bacta on the transport.

The rescues talk about the reconditioning as if it happened to other people, in vagueries and whispers. It is supposed to make a soldier more efficient, better at taking orders, a more perfect vessel for the First Order’s will. When Rey probes at their minds, soft and delicate touches taken only after receiving permission, she finds them pliable, defenseless, stripped bare. That, at least, explains some of the terrifying ease with which Ajani was able to shackle those ‘Troopers to her will. As time passes, as the rescues talk more with Rey and Finn and Kess and the other people aboard the overstuffed transport, their personalities begin to reemerge, and their minds begin to heal. Rey hopes the psychologists back on the base can help more.

Finn is by her side, constant and strong, during their return trip. Neither sleeps well, too disturbed by what they’ve seen. Rey misses Kylo most during the nights, and even though he doesn’t say it, she knows Finn is longing for Poe. They pile all of the blankets onto the floor and make a new nest, huddling together to watch whatever they can find on the holo-screen until they doze off. On the second day, Rey works with Finn and Kess to properly document the new Exes. It takes hours, and she’s surprised at the respect and trust she’s given, even without Leia’s presence. When she mentions this to Kess, the Captain puts her hand on Rey’s arm and says that she is a hero, a worthy ally and friend, and is deserving of respect independent of her position as the General’s aide. No one has ever said anything so kind to her, and when Rey bursts into tears, the Captain’s face transforms from an expression of pride and comfort to one of utter shock before the woman opens her arms and enfolds Rey in a warm embrace.

General Organa is overjoyed to see them when they land, meeting their shuttle on the tarmac with Statura, Ackbar, and Master Skywalker. Kess reports on their activities and the mission’s success and Rey gives them an overview of the reconditioning facility, the fight with Ajani. Everyone’s faces fall when Kess explains Kylo’s absence, looks of dismay folding into confusion as the story unfolds.

“He went back to rescue more people?” Leia asks, her eyes bright on Rey’s.

Rey nods, and Kess speaks for her. “He saved twenty one First Order soldiers, as well as the entirety of Gun’s crew. While he did not clear the action with me beforehand, he has been consistent and proactive in giving us updates ever since.” She shakes her head. “There must have been ten First Order ‘Troopers to each of his people. We barely got out. I wish I’d been able to see how he did it. It is one of the most stupidly heroic things I’ve ever heard of in my career. He’s about an hour to an hour and a half behind us. General, if you’d oversee our new friends, I’ll wait and escort him to the Admirals when he arrives for a debriefing.”

Rey knows the moment Kylo drops out of hyperspace. He’s close again, present in her mind, and as his ship touches dirt, the ache of their separation lessens. As if on cue, the boxes in her head burst open and she is all at once furious with him again. She wants to sprint from the room, but the General, undoubtedly also sensing her son’s arrival, lays a hand on Rey’s wrist. “Do you have those enlistment papers?”

They spend the next hour organizing the hundreds of new Exes who came back with her and Finn, officially enlisting them in the Resistance. Throughout the meeting, Kylo probes at her mind and only her continued anger with with him keeps her from succumbing to his renewed closeness.  He’s excited, as happy as she’s ever felt him, and part of her wants to give in to that delight, to throw herself into his arms and tell him straight off how much she missed him, how much she had worried. Eventually, he pulls back, his joy undiminished.

As soon as she is released from the meeting, she follows the bond to him.  Through the window in the door, she can see him sitting, relaxed, talking to Kess, Statura, and Ackbar in a briefing room. His feet are up on another chair, his hands behind his head. Kess chuckles at something he says, though Statura and Ackbar are stony.  She’s never seen him look more like his father than in this moment, when he tilts his head back and laughs with Kess, his eyes sparking when he sees her through the door. Rey! The connection, lazy and warm, ignites, and his delight at seeing her, his absolute joy, fills her for a moment. Kess follows his gaze, lifting her chin when she notes Rey. Kylo drops his feet and stands, and she can almost hear him asking to be dismissed.  Ackbar rolls his eyes and Statura looks bored, but he waves his hand and Kylo bursts out the door to her.

He scoops her up in his arms, lifting her so she looks down on him, and kisses her. For just a moment, she lets herself fall into his bliss, returns the longing he’d felt for her while they were apart, his pleasure at seeing her again. Then she catches her breath, pulls her mind back, and pushes away from him.

“How dare you, Kylo!” She wriggles, trying to dislodge herself from his grasp.

He turns the corner so they’re standing in an empty hallway.  Setting her down, he looks puzzled and laughs again. Their emotions run together, happiness and anger, fear and relief, overwhelming, confusing. “How dare I what? Kiss you? Rey, everyone knows that we-”

She punches him straight in the jaw, hard enough to make her fist ache. “How dare you leave me like that!” He’s right. Sometimes it does feel good to hit someone.

“What?” Kylo is more surprised than hurt, his happiness flickering as he lifts a hand to his face. “We talked about-”

She swings her arms up, breaks his hold on her, and grabs his face, kissing him, hard and vicious. The connection crackles like the blade of his saber and into it she pours all the fear, all the worry, all the yearning she had felt over the past two days.

Kylo seizes her again, kisses her back with equal voracity before pulling away with a gasp. “What the hell is going on right now?!”

“You threw me onto th