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Ashes in My Wake

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When she first caught sight of him, he was nothing more than a dark, indistinct shape lashed to the back of luggabeast.

The sun hung low over the dunes. A Teedo rode atop the beast, urging it forward as though he were particularly anxious to get his quarry home before night fell. The green-skinned creature was a fellow scavenger, although Rey had never known him to venture into the Graveyard like she did. Too cowardly, she supposed. As mount and rider moved closer, the shape slung over the beast’s flank resolved itself into a man dressed in dust-covered robes. A shock of black hair lolled from side to side in time with the animal’s movements; he was unconscious, whoever he was. Rey stood up.

“Hey! Who have you got there?” she yelled to Teedo in the creature’s own language.

Teedo’s responding curses echoed across the desert. He told Rey to mind her own business. Snatching up her staff, Rey sprinted over to where the creature stood, struggling with his mount. “Let him go,” she said, nodding to the man. Now that she was closer, she saw that he was tall, pale, and relatively young-looking. Definitely not a native of Jakku, then.

Teedo swore again. “It’s mine. I found it.”

“Don’t you know the difference between a person and a piece of scrap metal? This is kidnapping, what you’re doing.”

“It’s mine,” the creature repeated, stubborn.

Rey lifted her staff. She knew that Teedo was a coward, and he had virtually no chance against her in a fight. The creature tried to spur his mount onward, but the luggabeast wouldn’t budge. Only after Rey had removed the small, curved knife from her boot and cut its burden loose did the beast begin to move again, Teedo grumbling all the while.

Rey was left staring at the figure now lying in the sand at her feet. The man was dehydrated, lips cracked, cheeks mottled with sunburn. His black hair was caked with dried blood on one side. Even though his garments were coated in sand and grit and clearly not designed for the desert, they were well-made. Merchants and collectors of imperial-era technology sometimes passed through Jakku, although they mostly outsourced their work to the likes of Unkar Plutt. The man lying before her might have been one such merchant, or at least the son of some wealthy mercantile family.

She squatted next to the figure and removed the black leather glove from his right hand. Pressing two fingers to his pale wrist, she found a pulse that was sluggish, but steady. She placed a hand on the man’s forehead; he was feverish, as she suspected. He must have been left out in the desert, exposed to the elements, for quite a while.

“What happened to you?” she murmured.

But speculation about his origins could wait. The man needed water and respite from the sun. He was much too large for Rey to carry, so she fashioned a makeshift stretcher out of some scrap metal and wire salvaged from her hideout. The sun finally sank below the horizon as she dragged him back to her shelter. Once she had him safely inside, she wrapped him in one of her few spare blankets and pressed a canteen to his lips. At first the water trickled out of the corner of his mouth, but then his eyelids fluttered, never quite opening, and he swallowed shallowly.

“Hello?” said Rey, crouched over him. “Are you awake? Can you hear me?”

The man responded with a groan—almost a whine—and a few small coughs, but he still didn’t speak or open his eyes. He needed to rest; that much was clear to Rey. She fetched a small, dusty tube of bacta from her med kit and applied it to the bloody spot on his head. Luckily for the man, she only found a small lump there; most of the bleeding seemed to be the result of a shallow scalp wound. The fever posed the greatest threat to him now. Rey had encountered victims of sunstroke before, although the affliction was rare among the hardened scavengers and native desert species of Jakku. One didn’t survive for long on the planet without a healthy amount of fear and respect for the sun.

Perhaps he had crashed in some sort of low-flying vehicle and found himself ill-prepared for a trek through the desert. Or maybe he had been caught in one of Jakku’s frequent sandstorms and separated from the rest of his party. But neither of these theories explained what an aristocratic young man dressed in heavy, black wool robes was doing on this blasted wasteland of a planet in the first place.

Rey was aware of the risk she took by bringing him into her home. Rescuing him from whatever Teedo had planned was the right thing to do, but nursing the man back to health would mean missing a day or more of scavenging, depending on how quickly he recovered. He would need food when he regained consciousness, and her reserve of portions scrounged away during better scavenging days was already running low.

She also had no idea how he would behave when he awoke. Jakku was dangerous place for anyone, but as a young woman living on her own, she had to be especially careful. Past experiences with the human men who occasionally frequented Niima Outpost had taught her not to show any weakness and to strike hard and fast with her staff at the first hint of untoward behavior. Although, if she were being honest with herself, she already found this man much more appealing than any of the wizened, leering men at Niima, even in his present condition. He looked like he might be close to her own age for one thing, and his face was handsome enough, albeit in an unconventional sort of way. Still, she knew she should be wary of him when he woke up. With his wealthy background, he might think he was entitled to take whatever he wanted from a near-destitute scavenger girl.

It wouldn’t hurt to make sure he was unarmed. Rey ran her hands over the wide, black leather belt he wore until she came to a holster, too small to accommodate a blaster. Instead she found a heavy metallic cylinder equipped with a small crossguard: a hilt missing its blade. Curious, she picked up the cylinder, gripped it tightly in both hands, and then nearly dropped the weapon as it flared to life. Suddenly the dim little hovel was full of red, pulsing light emanating from a single long blade and two shorter blades running perpendicular to it.

A laser sword. Rey knew there was another term for the weapon, but she couldn’t remember it now. So much heat and light and crackling energy was coming off the blade that she feared it might burst into flame at any moment, and yet she was too fascinated with the sword to power it down. Something about holding it felt right to her even though she could tell the weapon was unstable, dangerous even to the person wielding it.

On the floor, the unconscious man twitched and moaned. Rey turned to him abruptly. His round, dark eyes were open, reflecting the red light of the weapon. He lifted his right hand in Rey’s direction, grasping at the air in front of him. Locating a small button on the hilt, Rey powered off the blade and rushed to the man’s side. But as room went dark again, the man’s eyes rolled back in his head, and his arm fell. He was unconscious again, his breathing more ragged and labored than before.

Rey stashed the weapon under her sleeping mat and returned to the man with more water. He drank, sputtering, but he seemed barely lucid, skirting the edge of consciousness. Rey resolved to check on him intermittently throughout the night; she always had trouble sleeping anyway. For now, she lay down on her little mat and pulled the metal cylinder out from underneath it. She wondered what anyone carrying such a weapon could possibly be doing on Jakku. Her gaze remained fixed on the cylinder until she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer.

***

He should have listened to the surface techs.

While he ordered his landing craft prepared for departure, they scurried around him, showing him holo-charts of the storm approaching Tuanul. One came up to him alone, visibly trembling. He felt the fear coming off her in waves even as she bowed her head. “Lord Ren, there simply won’t be enough time. All of our models predict—”

“There will be enough time,” he interrupted. He had spent far too long searching for Lor San Tekka to let a little inclement weather put him off. “If we wait for ideal conditions, we will give Tekka another opportunity to escape.”

“But—”

Kylo Ren silenced the woman with a wave of his hand. “I will discuss this with your division leader when I return.”

He turned to board the craft, leaving the tech behind him still struggling to speak. 

They experienced more turbulence than usual during their descent to Jakku’s surface, but it barely registered with Kylo. He was busy imagining the look on Lor San Tekka’s face when he forced the old man to hand over the map. He pictured the fear that would flash in the man’s eyes before Kylo slashed open his throat. An old friend and confidant of Skywalker’s, dying in the sand of some backwater planet. The image came with a surge of fierce triumph, tempered only by Snoke’s voice in the back of his mind.

Do not gloat over your victory until the map to Skywalker is secured.

Yes, Lord Snoke.

Strong winds whipped at his hood and robes as he disembarked. His mask, like the helmets of the Stormtroopers that flanked him, protected him from the flying sand and grit that nevertheless obscured his vision. On the other side of the settlement, the tent that Tekka occupied looked as though it might blow away at any moment. He began to stride quickly in its direction.

...and then?

What had happened after that?

Here Kylo’s memories were hazy, like dreams that slipped further away the more he tried to recall them. He remembered Tekka’s voice and a burst of rage, a flash of red light and then blinding pain. Had he killed the old man? What about the map to Skywalker?

Then there was nothing but sand and sky. Desert and dunes for miles. Everything was too bright and too raw. He knew that something had gone very wrong, that he needed to fix it, but he was so thirsty. His head throbbed. He welcomed unconsciousness when it came for him again.

He dreamed about being Ben. He was twelve years old this time, and Master Luke was leading him up the side of a green, forested hill. Sunlight filtered down through the canopy of broadleaf trees above them.

I’m thirsty,” Ben complained. “Can we stop for a drink?”

Master Luke did not look back at him. With his robotic hand, he pointed off to one side of the trail. “There is a freshwater spring in that thicket. Don’t get lost.”

Ben crashed his way through the undergrowth until he found the spring—no more than a trickle of water on a bed of flat stones. The woods had grown dark and close around him. He lay down on the earth and drank greedily from the spring. Nothing had ever tasted so good.

The dream vanished around him around him in a burst of red light. He was still lying down, but now he was on his back in an unfamiliar place, looking up at the girl who held his lightsaber. She was young, younger than him, with fear and fascination written all over her face as she clutched the glowing weapon.

Who was she?

It didn’t matter. The saber was his. Mine. He tried to clear his mind and reach out to the Force, but a surge of pain and nausea stopped him. He strained against the sensations until the room went dark and the dream swallowed him up again.

The spring water tasted warm and alkaline now. Somewhere in the distance, Master Luke was calling his name.

 

Chapter Text

Scavenging could be mind-numbingly dull sometimes, but it was nothing compared to watching someone sleep for hours. Rey twitched in her chair, restless, half-wishing she were picking her way through the entrails of a crashed star destroyer instead of sitting here, cooped up in her hideout. She had given the man more water sometime after sunrise; there wasn’t much else to do at this point except wait for him to wake up. He would need food soon, but Rey couldn’t force him to eat while he was unconscious. She briefly contemplated throwing him on the back of her speeder and taking him to Niima Outpost. Surely someone there would know what to do with him.

She glanced down at the man’s face. He frowned even as he slept, but there was something vulnerable in the expression.

No, taking him to Niima was a bad idea. She would only attract unwanted attention to herself. Moreover, the outpost was crawling with individuals like Teedo who would look at a helpless, wealthy young man and immediately think of the ransom he’d fetch.

Still, if he didn’t wake soon, Rey might not have any other choice. What if he needed the sort of medical attention she couldn’t give him?

Almost on cue, the man opened his eyes. At first he seemed disoriented, bringing his palms to the floor and splaying his fingers as though he needed to make sure there was still solid ground beneath him. His expression of uncertainty shifted to confusion when his gaze landed on Rey.

“Where am I?”

His voice was hoarse with dehydration and unexpectedly deep. He asked the question with an intonation that suggested he was giving her an order. Unconsciously, Rey scooted her chair a bit farther away from him. “On Jakku. Do you remember what happened to you?”

He ignored the question. “I know we’re on Jakku, but where?

“Oh. We’re right on the edge of the Goazon Badlands, forty klicks from Niima Outpost. What—”

“Do you have a communicator?” he interrupted. “I need one with off-world capabilities and encryption settings.”

Rey shook her head, irritated. She didn’t expect the man to grovel at her feet, but she would have appreciated a little gratitude—or basic courtesy at the very least. “You’ll have to go to Niima for one of those.”

“Take me there.”

Rey was on the verge of an indignant response when she saw the young man trying to stand. She leapt up from the chair. “Don’t—” she began.

It was too late. His legs shook and collapsed underneath him. The color drained from his face underneath the sunburn, and he turned his head to vomit up all the precious water Rey had given him over the past few hours. Fantastic.

“You’ve got sunstroke,” Rey told him, refilling her canteen. The rate he was going through her water was not sustainable. “You need to rest.”

She handed him the canteen. He coughed bitterly but accepted the water. Once he drank his fill, he wiped his mouth and fixed her with a hard stare. Rey found the prolonged eye contact more than a little unnerving. “I need to leave for Niima Outpost right now,” he said, not breaking eye contact. “You will take me there.”

His tone brooked no disagreement. Even without his fine clothes, everything about his demeanor made it clear that he was a child of privilege. Rey couldn’t help but raise her eyebrows.

“Wow. You’re used to getting what you want, aren’t you?”

***

The girl was infuriating. Everything about this situation was infuriating.

The dull, throbbing headache he had registered upon waking increased tenfold the moment he lost the contents of his stomach. His limbs still trembled with the exertion of trying to stand. He knew that the opinion of this strange girl should mean nothing to him, but he felt humiliated all the same. Here he was: the master of the Knights of Ren, brought low by bad weather and a sunburn.

Worst of all, he seemed to have lost his connection to the Force, and, by extension, his connection to Lord Snoke. His Master’s calm, commanding presence in the back of his mind was gone, leaving nothing but unease and a sensation of emptiness behind. Kylo should have realized that his link to Snoke had been broken when he dreamed about being Ben. He ceased to have such dreams when he first entered into Snoke’s tutelage; his Master did not permit them.

Kylo took a single deep breath, trying to center himself. The Force continued to elude his grasp, but that much was to be expected. His power fed off of anger and pain; it could not abide by the nausea and weakness he felt now. He needed to regain some of his strength before he tried to reestablish his connection with the Force and with Snoke.

Everything would be easier if he could just get back aboard the Finalizer. He had no doubt that the ship’s well-appointed medical bay would allow him to heal faster than whatever this girl had planned. Unfortunately, his attempt at using Force persuasion (or the Jedi mind trick, as Skywalker used to call it) on her had failed spectacularly. He would have to convince the girl to take him to the Outpost through more conventional means.

Kylo took stock of his surroundings, looking for any clues that might help him influence her. The girl’s home—he assumed this was her home—was small and cramped. A single, thin sleeping mat lay in the opposite corner of the room. Tally marks covered the adjacent wall, scratched into the sheet metal. Kylo was reminded of prisoners that the First Order sometimes took, keeping track of their days spent in captivity through dashes on the walls of their cells.

The girl must live alone, and she did not want to be here. Either that or she was waiting for something—or someone—so eagerly that she felt the need to deface her own home every day in anticipation.

The next item he noticed almost caused him to draw back in alarm. An old Imperial-era fighter pilot helmet stamped with the Rebel insignia lay on a nearby shelf. At its side sat a crude doll, unmistakably dressed in the uniform of an X-wing fighter pilot.

“Who are you?” he asked. His voice came out sharper than he had intended.

The girl seemed taken aback. “Me? I’m no one.”

For the first time since waking, Kylo Ren truly scrutinized her. She was tanned and freckled, with an athletic build and a stubborn expression. Her clothes were dirty but practical, and her hair was tied away from her face in a series of knots. She was young and quite conventionally pretty, he supposed, but she didn’t seem given to vanity.

The girl didn’t shy away from his gaze, either. After years of looking into the minds and hearts of others, Kylo had learned the various minor physical indicators of most human emotions. Even without his connection to the Force, he could tell that the girl was exasperated with him. But there was something else there as well: a slight widening of her pupils when her eyes met his.

Yes, that. That was something he could use.

Softening his tone, Kylo spoke again. “Let’s start with your name.”

The girl eyed continued to eye him warily. “I’m Rey,” she said, after a pause.

“Thank you for taking me in, Rey. I could have died out there. I am in your debt.”

He tried to inject as much earnestness into his words as he could without the aid of Force persuasion, but evidently it wasn’t enough. The girl let out a little huff or disbelief and stood up. “Oh, please don’t pretend to be anything other than an entitled prick. It doesn’t suit you.” Her voice dropped to a low mutter. “I should have let Teedo run off with you while I had the chance.”

“Yes, maybe that would have been better for everyone,” Kylo snapped before he could stop himself. He had no idea who Teedo was, but he was beginning to think anyone would have been a better rescuer than this girl.

Rey ignored the barb and looked over him once more, frowning. “What are you doing on Jakku, anyway? You look like you’ve come from a Corellian funeral.”

Judging by the girl’s collection of Rebel paraphernalia, telling the truth was not Kylo’s best option. Still, the most effective lies often hewed closely to reality. “I have an interest in the Imperial era. I came to see the remains of the Battle of Jakku.”

Rey put her hands on her hips. “So you’re a tourist. A sightseer. On Jakku,” she said with obvious skepticism. “Still doesn’t explain why you’re dressed like that.”

“I didn’t expect to leave the shuttle. A sandstorm brought us down.”

This half-truth appeared to mollify her somewhat. “The storms can be terrible this time of year. You’d better check the forecast next time.”

Kylo thought back to the surface techs' warnings with another pang of regret and anger at himself. If he had just listened to them, he would still be safely aboard the Finalizer planning a much more effective assault on Tuanul. As it stood, his foolishness and impatience hadn’t even gotten him the map to Skywalker. Yes, Tekka was probably dead, but the old man’s passing meant nothing without the map. How could he have been so stupid, so reckless?

The girl must have picked up on the shift in his expression. She frowned. “You’re not a tourist,” she said with confidence.

Kylo scowled. “Fine. I’m a smuggler.”

It was the first thing that popped into his head. A series of long-buried memories flashed unbidden before his mind’s eye as he spoke the words. He found himself wishing that his Master was there to suppress the recollections and the raw feeling that came with them.

Fortunately, the girl looked like she believed him this time. “You know, you could have been honest with me from the start. I’m a scavenger, after all,” she said, gesturing to their surroundings, which were littered with machine parts and various pieces of Imperial-era tech. “I’m not in a position to judge anyone’s career choices. We might even have done business in the past.”

She narrowed her eyes. The scrutiny was back. She began to pace around him, and Kylo once again cursed the sickness, the weakness, that prevented him from getting to his feet and towering over her. “You must be doing well for yourself, then,” she said. “I’ve never met a smuggler who looked quite so posh.”

“Business is always good if you’re smart enough,” he shot back. Even as he spoke the words, he heard his father saying them. He pictured the way his mother used to roll her eyes when his father made declarations like that. Kylo felt the urge to vomit again.

“Hmm. You’d think even a successful smuggler would need to carry a blaster.”

“What are you getting at?” he asked. Somehow he found the energy to bring his palms to his eyes and rub at them. The momentary darkness was comforting.

Then came the unmistakable sound of a lightsaber—his lightsaber—activating. Red light seeped in between his fingers, and Kylo’s eyes flew open. The girl stood before him, holding the saber in one hand, considering it with a maddeningly nonchalant expression.

“That’s mine,” he growled. He tried to rise again. This time he succeeded in leveraging himself into a seated position.

The girl gave the saber an experimental twirl, causing sparks to fly through the air as she grazed a metal countertop.

“Careful!” yelled Kylo.

Rey ignored him. “Where did you get this? You a Jedi or something?”

Her tone was mocking. Either the girl was part of the ignorant masses who believed that the Jedi were a myth, or she found the idea of Kylo being one ridiculous.

At this stage in his life, Kylo also found the idea of being a Jedi ridiculous. He let out a short, humorless laugh. “No, I’m not a Jedi. And how I acquired my weapon is none of your business.”

Rey looked like she was about to retort when a noise interrupted her, audible even over the crackling of Kylo’s lightsaber.

***

The man’s stomach rumbled loudly. For a moment there was silence between them apart from the buzz and hum of the laser sword. The man looked faintly humiliated; he sank back down into a prone position and folded his arms across his chest, seemingly frustrated by the demands of his own body.

Rey extinguished the weapon and tucked it into her belt loop. The young man was rude, arrogant, and clearly still lying about something, but he was also her responsibility. Tomorrow she would take him to Niima Outpost, where he could become someone else’s problem. For now, though, she needed to get him something to eat.

“The food won’t be nearly as good as whatever you’re used to,” she warned from the kitchenette.

The man did not respond, but he gave her a stiff thank you when she handed him the bowl. He ate the entire ration without complaint. He did not ask for his weapon back, and Rey did not offer to return it to him. Even in his petulant, weakened state, there was a strong undercurrent of danger in the way the man carried himself. She felt safer holding on to the weapon.

The rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully. The man dozed on the floor while Rey tinkered with an old Rebel flight simulator and planned how she would explain her absence to Unkar Plutt. She woke him at sundown with water and another half portion, and they ate in silence again.

“How do you feel?” Rey asked him once she had finished clearing the dishes.

“Better.”

“Good. You’ll be well enough to go to Niima in the morning.”                                  

Rey yawned and glanced at her sleeping mat. Somehow the day had left her much more exhausted than twelve hours spent scrambling up the walls of a dilapidated starship. On impulse, she turned around to face the man. He still lay on his back, but now he gazed up at the low ceiling, his brow furrowed intently.

“I just remembered. I never asked your name,” Rey said.

The man hesitated for a beat before responding, and Rey knew that whatever he told her was likely to be another lie. Still, she needed to call him something.

“Ren Calrissian,” he replied.

Definitely a lie, but Rey was too tired to confront him over it. “Goodnight Ren,” she called, lying down on her mat and pulling the thin blankets around her. “Wake me if you need anything.”

There was no response. Rey kept her fingers wrapped around the hilt of the laser sword, her grip weakening only after sleep took her.

 

Chapter Text

Ultimately, the need to urinate woke him.

It was pitch-dark inside the little hovel. Kylo felt around for something that would support him as he tried stand. His fingers landed on a countertop, and he grabbed onto it while he maneuvered himself to his feet. Before he could get to his full height, his head smacked against the low ceiling. He hissed in pain, and pinpricks of light swam at the edges of his vision; for a moment he thought he might pass out again. He gripped the countertop until the dizziness subsided. Another swell of nausea rose within him, but thankfully he was able to swallow it down this time.

He located the door after only a few moments of crouching and staggering in the darkness. Outside the dunes stretched for miles, bathed in starlight. He stared up at the patchwork of constellations while he relieved himself; it had been a long time since he had seen the night sky unmarred by any artificial light. When he finally tore his eyes away from the heavens, he was surprised to find that he stood alongside a downed AT-AT walker. He had never seen one of the old Imperial crafts in the flesh, so to speak, but he remembered watching holovids showing them lumbering along, Rebel T-47s weaving in between their legs. Kylo always thought the machines looked clumsy and inelegant, but his father had told him—

No. He was not going to follow that train of thought. Instinctively, he checked on his connection to his Master, but the place Snoke normally occupied in his mind remained still and quiet. He reached out to the Force next, and this time he nearly gasped with relief as it came surging back to him, filling him with renewed energy. He could not help but anthropomorphize the power sometimes; it was not like a friend to him, exactly—Kylo Ren did not have friends—but a capable ally returning to his side, at once strengthening and comforting him.

He still felt weaker than normal, but at least now he was no longer helpless. Glancing around, he started to formulate a plan.

A battered speeder stood parked next to the AT-AT. It might take a little finesse, but Kylo could bypass any anti-theft mechanisms installed in the vehicle—that is, if the girl had even bothered with such precautions. The coordinates for Niima Outpost were almost certainly stored in the speeder’s memory. He could leave tonight, contact the Finalizer, and get off this junkyard planet for good.

Then he remembered his lightsaber. He pictured the girl holding it again, the light from the blades mirrored in her wide eyes. Something about the mental image provoked a flare of possessiveness; the saber was his. In his anger, he did not pause to eke out its exact location. Instead, he cast out wildly with the Force, calling the weapon back to him.

He found something else entirely, something so heady and all-consuming that it flooded his mind, and before he knew it, he was falling to his knees in the sand. At first the sensation was so intense that he couldn’t tell what it was supposed to be. He knelt there, reeling, for what felt like minutes before he was able to identify it.

Loneliness.

Years and years of loneliness, of aching solitude, of abandonment condensed in his mind and then swirled outward, infecting every corner of his consciousness. Kylo was no stranger to the emotion, but it had never served him, and thus he made a concerted effort to stamp it out when it appeared. But this. This he could not suppress, at least not in the same way; something about it was different.

Then it dawned on him. These feelings were not his own.

His gaze snapped back to the ruined AT-AT behind him. The girl.

It was just the two of them for miles, he was sure of it. His connection with Snoke had been severed, and he shut out Skywalker and the rest of his family years ago. The girl was the only one close enough to be affecting him in such a way. But how was she doing it?

Kylo had no trouble picking up on the mental states the people around him; at this point in his training, he could read surface emotions without even consciously trying. But he was not merely observing the girl’s loneliness now—he felt it too.

He stood and strode back to the AT-AT, wiping at his eyes—why were there tears there?—and fuming, working to tamp down on the invading sensation. Fortunately, the anger he felt was all his own, and it allowed him to distance himself somewhat from the girl’s weakness.

Once inside, he located a touch-lamp that filled the structure’s one room with a soft, yellow-orange glow. The girl lay huddled on a mat on the far side of the room, her legs curled up to her torso and a thin blanket drawn around her. Her face was pulled into a tight frown, but her eyes stayed closed, and her breathing followed the unmistakable rhythm of sleep. All of Kylo’s half-formed thoughts of confronting her over whatever she had done dissipated in an instant; instead, he felt a bizarre compulsion to move closer to her.

His legs worked of their own accord, carrying him nearer to where she slept. As he approached, his surroundings seemed to bend and blur. First he was staring down at the girl and then, without warning, he found himself in the middle of the desert at noon with the sun glaring down on him, the sky a harsh, merciless blue. The two realities flashed before him at random, like he was watching two distinct holovids that had been hastily spliced together.

The girl. The desert. The girl.

The desert, where a child was screaming. He whipped around to see a massive, corpulent creature clutching the child’s hand, tugging at her cruelly.

“Quiet, girl!” the creature barked.

“Come back!” the child cried out again, eyes shining with tears, head tilted toward the sky. Kylo looked up to see a ship streaking overhead, leaving the planet’s atmosphere.

Why had they abandoned her, left her here with this monster? What if they never came back? What if she was stuck here forever, waiting for a family that would never return—a family that had forgotten about her, a family that maybe never really loved her at all? What if she became like the old women she saw every day at Niima: wizened, broken in mind and body by endless hard labor, day in and day out with no respite, no hint of comfort, for dozens of years, for hundreds of years—

Kylo fell to the floor, gasping. He was back in the hollowed-out AT-AT, kneeling at the girl’s side as she somehow continued to sleep. His hand hovered inches from her face.

He wasn’t just sharing her feelings now; she had pulled him into her dreams without even understanding what she was doing.

He had no precedent for this. He had never met anyone with this effect on him: not Skywalker, not Snoke, not even his own mother. The girl must be extraordinarily powerful with the Force.

Or something about her was making him vulnerable. Making him weak.

Kylo pushed those thoughts aside and stretched out his hand until his fingers grazed the girl’s cheek. He felt her wake with a start before she even opened her eyes. A sequence of confusion, fear, more confusion, and then anger played out in her mind. Kylo wondered if she realized she was projecting her emotions so loudly.

The girl snatched his hand away from her face. “What are you doing?” she hissed.

“You were having a nightmare.”

He fought the impulse to reach out and touch her again, to cup her cheek and stroke a sweaty, escaped lock of hair away from her face. This urge to comfort was both alien and disturbingly familiar, something that he had experienced on occasion as Ben Solo but never once since he became Kylo Ren.

At least, not until now.

“Yes, it was a bad dream, but—how did you know?”

“I heard you whimpering,” Kylo lied.

The ghost of a scowl crossed the girl’s face at the word whimpering, but underneath her expression was all wide-eyed uncertainty. Her gaze shifted from his eyes to the hand that had rested against her cheek moments before.

Kylo spoke before he could stop himself. “Do you feel it too?”

He felt the girl’s heart skip a beat. They were both breathing heavily, he discovered, in time with one another.

“I—feel what?”

She was still afraid of him, he knew, but there was curiosity in her as well—the same sort of fascination that lit up her eyes when she held his lightsaber for the first time. He had to know if she understood the effect that she was having on him, if she was able to comprehend the magnitude of it.

“Are you aware of what you’re doing?”

“What are you talking about?” the girl practically shouted this time. She was still groggy, frustrated, and confused, and the ache of abandonment from the dream—the ache that had simmered, always just below the surface of her thoughts, for the past fifteen years—still haunted her. Kylo was intimately familiar with that sick, black feeling, and he wanted nothing more than to drive it away from her.

He did the only thing that occurred to him in the moment. He pulled the girl into his arms.

For a few seconds, they stayed like that: the girl wrapped in his embrace, her cheek pressed damp and warm against his chest. Holding her, touching her felt inexplicably right to Kylo, and he tightened his grip.

Then something clicked into place in her mind, and suddenly she was pushing him off of her with surprising ferocity. Kylo stumbled to his feet as the girl leapt to hers. He made to move towards her again.

“Stay back!” Rey commanded. She clutched his lightsaber in her right hand, but she did not activate it.

Kylo knew he was strong enough to rip the saber from her grasp and send her flying, smashing against the far wall. He could hold the crackling blade to her throat and demand that she take him to the outpost. If she resisted, it would only require a flick of his hand, and she—

No, he realized. No, he did not want to hurt her. In fact, the idea of hurting her made him feel physically ill.

Fear tinged with defiance boiled outward from where the girl stood, crouched in a defensive stance. Despite her hostility, Kylo was still struck by a bizarre desire to comfort her, to chase away her pain. Ordinarily he thought of suffering—mental or physical—as supremely instructive; how to suffer without losing his grip on the Force was one of the first lessons that Snoke taught him as a child. In turn, the pain he inflicted on his enemies and his inferiors taught them to submit to his will. But there was no purpose to this girl’s suffering, no reason for her to feel lonely or frightened. Not while Kylo was right here, offering her respite, giving her something he had never extended to anyone else, not since—

Abruptly, he realized that he must have been projecting these feelings outward, because the girl’s expression softened, and her eyebrows rose. She stalked toward him, and he didn’t have time to read her intentions before she was on him, tugging him roughly down to her height.

With obvious inexperience, the girl pressed her mouth to his. For a moment, Kylo was too stunned to respond, but then the girl’s sheer need crashed down on him like an avalanche. He kissed back, matching her awkwardness with fervor, scooping her up off the floor and guiding her legs to wrap around his waist. In spite of her athleticism and wiry strength, the girl was light in his arms. He sensed trepidation when her feet left the ground, so he reached out to her again with the Force, intentionally this time, conveying as much warmth and goodwill as he could muster. Rey answered with a small noise—something between a moan and an intake of breath—and buried her face in his neck, her lips ghosting over a vein that pulsed there.

Kylo discovered that he was achingly hard.

The girl noticed as well, and she drew away from him slightly, apprehensive. Kylo probed deeper into her mind and found insecurity, curiosity, and yes, a not-insignificant undercurrent of desire. She was worried about her naiveté, her lack of experience, but nothing could have mattered less to Kylo in that moment.

“What do you want?” he breathed.

Her gaze flicked rapidly from Kylo’s eyes to his lips and back again. She spoke as though she had to get the words out before she lost her nerve.

“I don’t know, just—just touch me.”

Kylo was happy to oblige. Gently, he laid her back down on the mat until he hovered above her, propped up on his elbows. He urged his mouth against hers in a deeper version of the kiss she had initiated. Meanwhile, one hand insinuated itself underneath her tunic, tracing the contours of her spine and upper back before moving lightly over her breasts. Her nipples hardened under the barest brush, and she sucked in a breath as Kylo continued to kiss her.

He funneled all the yearning, all the raw desire he felt, and projected it in her direction, in part so she could understand how she was making him feel, but mostly because the sensations threatened to consume him otherwise. Much as he wished he could lose himself in the moment, Kylo wanted to retain at least some small modicum of control.

It had been such a long time since he had done anything like this—nine years, maybe even ten. His past conquests had all been courtesans or men and women out of their minds on one substance or another; Ben Solo’s covert fumbling didn’t count. In any case, Snoke put a stop to all of it once Kylo progressed far enough in his training. Beyond maintaining a certain level of physical fitness, matters of the flesh were nothing more than a pointless distraction for a Knight of Ren.

But this didn’t feel pointless. Every little noise the girl made, every point of skin-on-skin contact was significant, imbued with some sort of cosmic meaning. He knew Rey felt the same; her desire was indistinguishable from his own now.

Kylo suppressed the flash of anxiety the girl experienced when his hand drifted from her breasts down to the waistband of her trousers.

“I want to make you feel good,” he murmured.

It worked. Rey relaxed underneath him, allowing him to sample the heat and wetness between her legs. He traced her entrance enough to slick his fingers before moving upward, finding the spot he would use to make her writhe.

“How do you touch yourself?”

Kylo could have delved into her memories to discover what she did when she felt especially lonely, all by herself in the little hovel, but he wanted to hear it from her.

Rey gasped when he began to move his fingers. “Circles,” she said. “Anti-clockwise, not too much pressure.”

He grinned into her ear. “Specific.”

Kylo dropped all remaining defenses and left himself completely open to the girl’s pleasure, radiating up towards him as his hand continued to work between her legs and he pressed soft kisses to the underside of her jaw. Heat pooled low in her torso and the tops of her thighs, building on itself. Kylo provided additional encouragement by reflecting every bit of Rey’s own enjoyment back at her until the bliss stretched out endlessly, like the vision in a pair of mirrors facing one another.

It couldn’t last. The wave crested and broke.

Kylo was dimly aware that Rey was sobbing, but he was so adrift in sensation—borrowed pleasure— that the noise barely registered with him. When he finally returned to lucidity, the girl was covered in a thin sheen of sweat and breathing like she had just finished a footrace.

Rey shook her head. “It doesn’t usually happen like that.”

She was flushed beneath her freckles, bright-eyed, her lips red and slightly swollen from kissing. Kylo couldn’t think of a lovelier sight. He suddenly became aware of his own arousal straining against the fabric of his trousers.

He licked his lips. “Could it happen again?”

 

Chapter Text

Rey lost track of time while he was down there.

He was such a quick study. The small corner of her mind that hadn’t short-circuited under the wash of pleasure wondered how he seemed to know her body better than she did. Periodically, she forced herself to wrench her eyes open and look at him where he knelt between her legs, his dark hair warm and soft against her inner thighs. The broad, flat part of his tongue swirled against her clit, slick and unrelenting. She clenched and unclenched her fists, fighting the onslaught of sensation, wanting to draw the bliss out as long as she possibly could.

Let go.

She couldn’t tell if Ren had actually spoken or she had imagined it. Either way, her second orgasm slammed into her with the force of a cargo ship’s engine roaring to life. Ren’s tongue kept moving as she rode out the pleasure, thrusting weakly against his mouth. He moaned into her like he was the one coming.

Once the sensations began to subside, Rey’s head dropped back to the thin pillow beneath her. She stared up at the low ceiling and concentrated on catching her breath.

It never felt like this before. Rey was used to meeting her own needs quickly and efficiently, but she had no practice whatsoever when it came to partnered sex; prior to this encounter, she hadn’t so much as kissed anyone. Still, the way she felt underneath this man’s—this stranger’s—hands and tongue was unlike anything she had experienced by herself.

All coherent thought left Rey when a long finger gently breached her without warning. Panic raced down her spine, and her whole body tensed. She rarely explored that part of her body, preferring to focus on external stimulation. The intrusion was not uncomfortable, but it put her on edge right away. She sat up.

“What are you doing?”

Ren raised his head to meet her gaze. His plush lips were wet with the evidence of her arousal, and his eyes shone in the low light. The look he gave her communicated such an overwhelming mix of tenderness and desire that all of Rey’s hesitation evaporated. She gave him a small nod.

Watching her intently, the man crooked his finger inside of her and made a come hither motion. Rey let out a breath she didn’t know she had been holding. Ren appeared to take her response as permission to sink down between her legs and set to work with his tongue again.

When she came for the third time, she clenched around the two fingers he had pistoning inside of her. She shuddered, gasped, and grabbed him by the shoulders, but he didn’t let up until the last bit of pleasure finally ebbed away. Then he crawled up her body and kissed her, harder and more desperate than before, cradling her head in his hands. Rey returned the kiss with ferocity; she enjoyed the taste of herself on his lips.

One of Ren’s hands slid down between her legs again, bypassing her clit to hover over her entrance.

“Can I…?”

His voice trailed off before he could form the question, but Rey knew what he wanted. For the past few years, she had assumed it was what all men wanted when they looked at her.

The energy left her abruptly. She bit her lip and looked away.

“I’ve never—”

“That’s fine. It doesn’t matter,” he rushed to reassure her.

Rey still didn’t look at him. Now that the blissful haze of orgasm was wearing off, she started to consider the reality of her situation. She was alone in her hideout with a strange man—a man who was much larger than her and who traveled with a deadly, volatile weapon. He would be weak from the sunstroke, she knew, but Rey had put herself in an extremely vulnerable position, trapped as she was underneath him.

When she glanced back at Ren, she found concern evident in his expression. Her sudden nervousness must have been obvious to him.

“You know I would never hurt you,” he said.

Rey believed him. There was nothing but compassion in the look he gave her. A twinge of discomfort with the situation still nagged at the back of her mind, but she ignored it. Rey was sure he wouldn’t take anything from her that she wasn’t willing to give, and he only wanted to give her what she wanted.

And what she wanted now was to see him—all of him.

She shoved him away none-too-gently, and he looked momentarily stunned before she spoke.

“Are you going to wear those ridiculous robes all night?”

Ren’s lips twitched in an almost-smile. By way of response, he unclipped his belt and began to undress. He shucked his boots and his cloak first, followed by a series of coats and skirting. Rey hadn’t realized he was wearing so many layers.

“Didn’t anyone tell you Jakku was a desert planet?”

Ren didn’t reply. Instead, he pulled his tunic over his head to reveal a pale, lightly-muscled torso littered with marks. In the dim lighting, Rey had trouble between distinguishing between freckles and scars. There was one long stripe across his ribs that looked like it came from a nasty burn.

Rey was once again reminded that she had no idea who this man really was or where he came from. She felt the unease beginning to return.

Ren shot her another glance, unlacing his trousers. “Is this better?”

Hearing his voice, she relaxed a little. It was deep and husky in a way that made her cheeks heat up. She vividly recalled the sensation of his mouth on her.

“Just get back here,” she blurted.

He smirked and strolled over to the sleeping mat, kneeling at her side. He slipped both hands underneath her tunic and cupped hear breasts before gently peeling the garment off of her, holding her gaze all the while.

Rey couldn’t help herself; she surged up to kiss him. He responded by maneuvering himself on top of her. His erection pressed against her stomach.

“Do you—”

Rey interrupted, “Yes, do it.”

She hated herself for the pang of trepidation she felt when he lined up at her entrance.

It hurt, at first: a sharp pain that was unlike anything else she’d experienced. Rey had lived through her fair share of broken bones and electrical burns, but something about this pain was more disturbing, far more intimate.

She couldn’t stifle the cry that escaped her mouth. Ren stopped moving abruptly and brought his hands to either side of her face.

“It’ll be all right,” he said.

Again, something in his voice soothed her. She nodded, and Ren resumed his movement.

The pain didn’t go away, but this time it was complemented by something else: the sensation of tight, wet heat and a barely-contained urge to speed up and thrust.

The feelings were utterly alien, and they only intensified as he sank into her further. She wanted to ask him what was going on, what he was doing to her, but the strange, heady blend of pain and pleasure robbed her of the ability to speak. She made a strangled noise instead.

“Okay?” he asked.

Ren was flushed from cheeks to chest, his dark hair plastered to his forehead with sweat. He gave another short, experimental thrust, and Rey was bowled over by how good it felt to be sheathed in such taut heat, to push forward and—oh.

All hints of soreness were gone now, blotted out by the waves of pleasure that crashed and receded with each one of Ren’s thrusts. Rey found herself in a daze, juggling the twin sensations of fucking and being fucked.

She was feeling everything that he felt. Questions of how and why died on her lips as Ren began to speak.

“I know you’re confused but—unh—I promise I’ll explain. I’ll show you,” he said breathlessly. “Rey, you’re so—”

She cut him off, grabbing the back of his neck and pulling him down to her level.

“Shut up,” Rey growled, and she kissed him, sloppy and wet and lacking any hint of finesse.

Ren groaned into her mouth, and the pace of his thrusts increased. Rey felt the heat pooling in his groin, the warmth suffusing his limbs, the shudder that was beginning to wrack his whole body. She panicked when she realized what was happening, their shared pleasure temporarily banished from her mind.

“No,” she gasped. “Please, don’t.”

For a single terrifying moment, it seemed like Ren wasn’t going to stop. But then he made a frustrated noise and pulled out, leaving her with a sudden aching emptiness. He knelt over her, thrusting slickly into his own fist, and it wasn’t long before he found release, spilling himself over her stomach and chest.

The full force of his orgasm struck Rey, knocking her out of her body, knocking her out of her own head. Abruptly she saw herself through his eyes: this improbable scavenger girl, so beautiful underneath him, so unaware of her potential, her raw power.

Rey’s head spun. She clutched at Ren’s shoulders, trying control her breathing, to ground herself back in her own consciousness. He responded by pulling her into a crushing embrace, as though he wanted to erase every last scrap of distance between the two of them.

Rey couldn’t be sure how long they stayed like that, holding one another, panting. Dozens of questions wheeled through her mind, but she resolved to stay quiet and motionless until the room stopped spinning around her.

Unfortunately, Ren disentangled himself before that could happen. He go to his feet and made his way across the room, slipping into his black trousers and then leaving the structure without even a backward glance.

It happened so quickly that Rey didn’t have time to ask him where he was going. Cold shock settled in. After the intimacy they had shared only moments earlier, the speed at which he abandoned her was jarring. She shivered at the abrupt loss of body heat, but the chill was more than physical.

Numb surprise gave way to anger, mostly directed at herself. What had she expected? Did she really think this stranger was going to stick around and bask in the afterglow after she gave him what he wanted?

And why had she been so quick to jump in to bed with him, anyway? Ren might be handsome, in his own strange way, but the petulance and dishonestly he had demonstrated earlier that day were far from attractive. Why had she felt compelled to kiss him, to initiate the whole encounter? Rey couldn’t deny that she was lonely; she craved companionship, but not that sort of companionship—at least not with anyone she had ever met on Jakku. At least not before now.

The terms used and played and exploited came to mind.

But no. Those words did not apply here. There had been something different between the two of them; from the moment he woke her from her nightmare, she was drawn to him in a way she couldn’t explain or rationalize. Moreover, Rey had felt everything he felt when he looked at her. She might be naïve about most sexual matters, but she knew that sharing the thoughts and sensations of one’s partner was not a normal part of the act.

Ren must have done something to her. For one brief, ridiculous moment, Rey considered the possibility that he might be a sorcerer. He certainly had the costume for it.

She rejected the idea out of hand. She wasn’t like those mystics over in Tuanul—she didn’t believe in magic. She believed in patience, precision, and good engineering. There had to be a reasonable explanation for what transpired between them, and she was going to get it out of him.

She got unsteadily to her feet, registering the soreness between her legs with irritation. The fluid cooling on her stomach was somehow even worse; she wiped it up with the blanket before it could trickle any further down her body. Pulling her trousers and tunic from the floor, she dressed as fast as she could.

She was halfway to the door when she realized that she still sensed him.

He hadn’t gone far from her hideout, and he was looking up at the sky. A cloud of competing emotions roiled around him. Rey only caught glimpses of each one before they flickered out of her perception: fear, uncertainty, shame, guilt, frustration. The glut of unfamiliar feelings caught her off-balance, but she hastily steadied herself and stepped out into the night.

Ren stood with his back to her: an elegant silhouette against the dunes. He was barefoot, half-naked, and unarmed, meaning he was unlikely to make a run for it in the next few seconds.

She began to stride in his direction. Ren turned to face her before she came close, and something in the air around him seemed to shift. His expression was impassive, but Rey could tell it was a façade; she felt the conflict stirring underneath. Absurdly, she noted that the sunburn across his nose and cheeks was beginning to blister. Maybe she should have put bacta on it.

Ren’s eyebrows rose a little then, but he was quick to school his features back into the mask of indifference. His arms tensed at his sides.

Rey opened her mouth to say something—anything—and found that her vocal cords would not respond.

Something had stilled them. She sputtered noiselessly, and her hands flew to her throat. Panicking, she almost didn’t hear Ren speak.

 “You will disable the locks on your speeder. You will go back to your bed and forget the events of the past 36 hours.”

His voice was low and authoritative. The words felt like a mental shove—his will against hers. This was different from the sensations they had exchanged earlier; there was nothing shared here. Ren was trying to push his way in, to bully her mind into submission.

She pushed right back.

His eyes widened, and he took a step away from her. Rey didn’t see what he did next because she was falling headlong into his mind.

The roar of his thoughts nearly deafened her. She felt only his anger at first, but it quickly gave way to hurt: pain from old wounds that should have healed long ago. Rey saw a young boy huddled next to a fire, hugging his knees to his chest and staring into the flames. The scene dissolved around her, and she saw the same boy, older now, gazing at his reflection in a pond, blood striping his face and grey tunic. She watched the boy scramble through the darkness with a cracked, luminous red crystal held out in front of him like a prize. She watched him slowly lower a mask over his head—a mask like the charred, ruined husk he saw in his dreams every night. She watched him don the mask and robes and raise his laser sword over the head of the man who knelt before him.

Rey leapt away from the memory as though she had been burned, and suddenly she was back in the desert, staring across at Ren. The man’s face was twisted into a snarl.

Based on everything she had just seen, Rey knew she was right to be afraid of him. Still, she swallowed her terror and spoke with as much calm as she could muster.

“Who are you?”

 

Chapter Text

Kylo couldn’t think properly around her.

He especially couldn’t think like this, holding the girl to his chest, heartbeat against heartbeat, their minds and bodies intertwined. He sensed Rey trying to pull away from their mental connection, overstimulated and overwhelmed. She had so many questions, and Kylo wasn’t sure how many of them he was prepared to answer. He remembered the rash declaration he made only minutes earlier, his reckless promise to tell her everything. It wasn’t a promise he could keep.

He let her go.

He had to bite down on the immediate impulse to pull her back, already missing the warmth of their psychic contact. Fighting the post-orgasmic lassitude in his limbs, he extricated himself from the embrace and stood up. He quickly turned away, knowing that if he looked back at her, he wouldn’t be able to leave. Right now he needed clarity, and for clarity he needed distance. The girl’s proximity muddled his thoughts.

Even after disengaging from her conscious mind, Kylo still felt her shock when he got to his feet. He ignored it as best he could and crossed the room, nearly forgetting to put his trousers back on before he left the hovel.

The night breeze was cool and dry against his exposed skin. Closing the door behind him, he sensed Rey go from surprised to upset. Kylo moved away from the AT-AT, farther out into the desert, but he was beginning to realize that putting physical space between them wasn’t as effective as he had hoped. The connection persisted, although it didn’t feel as potent as when he was in the same room as her, touching her.

Inside of her.

The memory provoked a faint stir of arousal, which he promptly tried to subdue. But it was difficult not to dwell on the image of Rey stretched out beneath him, eyes screwed shut, flushed and trembling. Her pleasure was his pleasure, their desire one and the same. He had only needed to communicate his intentions in their purest, wordless form to make her want everything he wanted. Rey’s initial hesitance and insecurity hadn’t served either of them; in the moment, Kylo felt justified in reaching through their link and smoothing those feelings away. He had shown her just how good it felt, letting her consume him again and again.

And she had consumed him, body and mind, whether she understood it not. Even Kylo didn’t know the full extent of what existed between them now.

He thought back to the time he spent on Moraband, early in his formal training with Snoke, poring over texts in the old academy archives. Some had made mention of an ancient practice among the Sith, wherein masters and apprentices would establish a bond more potent than the normal affinity between Force-users. With the creation of such a bond, both individuals grew stronger, feeding off one another’s power. They would share thoughts, passions, triumph, and pain. The bond could only be broken by one or both of their deaths.

Kylo still felt the girl at the edge of his senses. She was angry, determined now. He swallowed hard.

The bonds were generally forged through healing energy or in the heat of battle. He hadn’t fought at Rey’s side, and he certainly hadn’t used the Force to heal her. Yes, he had reached out to her, but only to provide comfort. Her loneliness felt like a wound in his side, and he had staunched the bleeding the only way he knew how.

Oh no.

He tried to shake off the mounting horror. There was no conclusive evidence that he and the girl shared anything more than the usual connection between Force-sensitive beings, albeit one enhanced by hormones and mutual attraction. If he got off this planet—if he got away from her—he might be able to get her out of his head as well.

Something twisted in his gut at the idea of leaving her behind, of not being able to see her or touch her again.

It was a stupid reaction. Kylo had only met her earlier that day. True, she was Force-sensitive, and they had shared an ill-advised tryst, but otherwise she should mean nothing to him.

Rey’s footfalls were whisper-quiet on the sand when Kylo sensed her approach. He whirled around before she got too close, deciding at the last second on his course of action. The intensity of their connection spiked the moment he locked eyes with her, and he scrabbled to slam down barriers between them. Still, a stray thought managed to slip through: the girl was worried about his sunburn.

It was ridiculous, the tenderness of that thought. He fought to keep the barriers up, to keep his expression impassive. Not for the first time, he found himself wishing for his mask.

The girl opened her mouth to speak. Kylo drew on the Force and stilled her vocal cords before she could get the words out; he knew that hearing her voice was likely to weaken his resolve further.

Rey clutched at her throat, her mouth working silently. Even with his mental shields in place, he felt the fear radiating off her. He stamped down viciously on the urge to let go of her right away.

“You will disable the locks on your speeder,” he said. “You will go back to your bed and forget the events of the past 36 hours.”

Somehow he succeeded in keeping his voice level. He laced the words with as much Force persuasion as he could gather, allowing the suggestion to sink into her mind.

He met no resistance at first, but then, without warning, the girl pushed back.

The strength with which she rejected the command nearly knocked him off balance. Before he understood what was happening, the girl turned the tables on him; she shoved right past all of his defenses and plunged into his head.

Rey crashed around in there, stumbling from image to image, from memory to memory. Everything she saw flashed before his mind’s eyes, and each scene she recalled for him felt as raw and vivid as it had on the day it happened. To his dismay, Kylo realized that she was seeing him as Ben. She watched him become the man he was today, the master of the Knights of Ren. She watched him lift his saber over his head, preparing to strike down Lor San Tekka—a memory he hadn’t even known he possessed.

Something about the image made her pull away sharply, leaving Kylo alone in his own head, although their connection remained intact. He felt her horror, her disgust at what she had seen. Her reaction was a slap in the face on top of the greater indignity of having his mind forcibly invaded by an untrained scavenger. Kylo’s whole body thrummed with anger now, but a tiny, traitorous part of him was impressed with the girl.

“Who are you?” Rey spat out.

It was a ridiculous question, after everything that had happened. “You already know. You’ve been inside my head.”

“I know you’re a murderer. And a liar. I know you’ve done something horrible to me.”

A sound akin to a mirthless laugh bubbled up in his throat. He hadn’t chosen any of this. He wouldn’t have chosen any of this. “What exactly do you think I’ve done?”

Rey’s frustration was almost tangible, prodding at mind like an accusatory finger. She threw up her hands. “I don’t know!” she shouted. “That’s the problem, isn’t it? I’ve never been able to read anyone’s mind before. I’ve never heard anyone else’s thoughts in my head the way I did when you were—when we were—”

She broke off, but Kylo knew what she was thinking of. His face grew hot as he sensed her dwelling on the memory.

He pushed the feeling away. He couldn’t afford to indulge in that sort of weakness now.

“You’re strong with the Force,” he told her flatly. “It’s likely that you’ve always had the capacity to enter into others’ minds.”

Rey’s brow furrowed, and skepticism flickered across their connection. “The Force? What, that mystical energy they worship over in Tuanul? You don’t expect me to believe in any of those fairytales, do you?”

She spoke with derision, but Kylo detected a hint of uncertainty as well. He shook his head “How can you still think it’s a fairytale after everything that’s happened tonight?”

The girl’s expression remained stubborn, so Kylo softened his voice. “Rey. Look at me.”

She met his eyes reluctantly.

“The Force is real. It lives in me. It’s there in you too. It makes you—it makes us—more powerful than you can imagine.”

A wild thought occurred to him then, and it was so compelling that Kylo spoke before he had time to consider the implications. “I could train you. If you come with me, I can teach you the ways of the Force.”

His head was abruptly filled with images of the two of them together, sparring, drawing on one another’s strength. Falling into his modest bed aboard the Finalizer, joined in body and mind. He envisioned guiding her through the dark, craggy caverns on Lothal, helping her choose the crystal that would power her weapon. He made a point not to think about General Hux’s response when he brought a strange scavenger girl onboard their ship. He certainly avoided imagining what his Master’s reaction would be. For once, he was glad of Snoke’s absence from his mind.

Rey saw everything he saw; he deliberately projected the images in her direction. She frowned, unsure of what she was witnessing and frightened in spite of herself.

“So you’re a Jedi?”

Kylo sighed and ran a hand through his hair, pushing it away from his face. “Not everyone who carries a lightsaber is a Jedi.”

“Then what are you?”

He was too exhausted to think of another lie. In any case, he doubted he would succeed in tricking her this time.

“’Master of the Knights of Ren’ is the official title.”

Rey clearly recognized the name. She absorbed the information and took a slow step backwards, her fear morphing into full-fledged panic.

“You’re part of the First Order,” she said shakily.

Rey must have had some sort of run-in with the Order in the past; that much was apparent to Kylo. He longed to peer into her memories and see what she truly knew of the Order, but he resisted the temptation. Forcing his way into her thoughts would only upset her further, and he didn’t want that now.

“The Knights are allied with the Order, yes.”

The girl grit her teeth. “So you’re a murderer leading a gang of murderers.”

Venom dripped from her words. Shocked by the intensity of her disdain, Kylo didn’t respond.

She continued, sardonic, “Sorry, but I think I’m going to have to turn down your offer to train me. It’s tempting, but then again, I’m not exactly itching to join up with a bunch of sadists fighting for an oppressive regime.”

“And why would you be?” he replied, having recovered from his surprise and matching her sarcasm. “You’re doing very well for yourself here, sifting through trash for a living.”

Rey only rolled her eyes, so Kylo kept going, lowering his voice.

“You’re lonely. You’re so lonely that it keeps you up at night. You think you’ll be all alone when you die on this planet, once you’re too old and broken to scavenge any longer. And you know what? It’s true. You’ll waste away in this place, waiting. Your family isn’t coming back for you, and you know it. When they left—when they abandoned you here—it was for good. You—”

Kylo stopped speaking when he realized that the girl’s eyes were shining with tears. Equal parts rage and despair emanated from her, and her hands were balled into fists.

“Fuck off,” she hissed, and then she turned on her heel and stomped away in the direction of her hovel.

Kylo was used to being cruel, used to digging under his opponents’ skin, exposing their weaknesses and then verbally eviscerating them. But it was different now that he sensed every bit of the girl’s hurt, trailing after her like miasma. A strange sensation gnawed at the pit of his stomach. It felt a lot like guilt.

“Rey,” he called. “Wait.”

She spun around, blinking away tears. Her eyes blazed with anger. “What? Going to offer to teach me again? Fuck you. You can walk back to Niima. Have your friends come pick you up and go on your merry murdering way.”

Kylo watched her disappear back into the capsized AT-AT, the hatch slamming shut behind her. He paused only for a few seconds before he followed.

Rey must have anticipated his pursuit, because she was waiting for him when he ducked beneath the doorframe and reentered the structure. A swift blow from her quarterstaff caught him around his midsection. He stumbled backwards, wheezing, all the air forced from his lungs. Even with their connection in place, he hadn’t known she was planning to strike him right away.

Fortunately, pain from the impact helped ground him. When the girl lifted the staff over her head, preparing to hit him a second time, Kylo was ready, instinctively drawing on the Force and stilling her movement.

She let out a cry of frustration, struggling against the invisible bonds.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he tried to reassure her.

“Yes, I’ve heard that one before,” Rey snarled.

Holding the girl in place was more difficult than he had predicted. She was beginning to fight his restraints with her mind as well as her body, tapping into the Force, doubtless without understanding what she was doing. Kylo reached out to her again through their connection, the same way he had what seemed like hours ago, attempting to soothe away her fear and anger.

This time, however, she rebuffed him so fiercely that it felt like another blow from the staff. Thrown from her mind, Kylo fought to stay upright, his ears ringing.

“Stay out of my head!”

Kylo was still reeling from the violence of her reaction. “Don’t you get it?” he spat. “I can’t. Not anymore, not really. We’re connected through the Force.”

“You’re lying,” she said, but Kylo heard the tremor in her voice. He sensed her uncertainty.

“You know I’m not.”

“You are.” Rey shook her head, eyes squeezed shut with the effort of resisting him. “I should have left you out in the desert to die. I can’t believe I let you touch me.”

Her disgust with herself and with Kylo was visceral—a slap in the face. He took another step backwards, bumping into the wall behind him. All of the tenderness that had existed briefly between them was gone, replaced by something much darker and more potent. He felt the girl gathering strength from it, wrapping herself in its power.

It was the Force. It was the terrible energy that flowed through him, the result of years and years of training and devotion to the Dark Side, and she was stealing it from him, using it against him.

Rage flooded him, but before he could mount a counterattack, the shackles broke. The quarterstaff swept towards him in a downwards arc, and a look of triumph flitted across Rey’s face.

He did the only thing that occurred to him in the moment. Grasping the Force, he snuffed out the girl’s consciousness.

It was like blowing out a candle. Rey didn’t have time to stop him; her eyelids fluttered shut. Her staff clattered to the floor. Kylo barely managed to catch her when she fell.

 

Chapter Text

Once again, he was surprised by how light the girl was in his arms. The fury that contorted her features moments ago melted away, softening her expression and making her look younger, almost delicate—even though he knew she was anything but. Staring down at her, Kylo felt his own anger dissipate as well, leaving nothing but profound tiredness behind.

He carried Rey over to her sleeping mat and laid her down, taking extra care to lower her head gently. Then he sat back on his haunches and tried to think. He tried to consider the situation objectively, to distance himself from his feelings and view the events of the past several hours from an impartial perspective.

Skywalker would approve of this exercise.

He scowled at the thought. The dispassionate approach had never been Kylo’s strong suit, and his current Master certainly didn’t condone it. Snoke encouraged him to find strength in the fervor of his mind, in the push and pull of competing emotions.

Right now, he felt pulled to the girl more than anything else. Kylo allowed himself to indulge, briefly, in the feeling.

He could take her away with him. He could commandeer the speeder and carry her to the nearest outpost. Contact the Finalizer and bring her onboard, show her off to Snoke like a prize, a rare gem hidden among Jakku’s rubble. She was strong, but Kylo was sure he could make her even stronger. She would be the most powerful of his Knights—his star pupil. The girl already fought with ferocity and a rough, unfinished sort of skill. Who knew what she would be able to achieve with proper instruction?

Kylo pictured her in one of the ship’s training rooms, dressed in black sparring linens, wielding a double-bladed lightsaber—much like the quarterstaff she used to attack him—with practiced ease. He imagined her smirking at him, deactivating the weapon and tossing it aside before pulling him down into a perfect, bruising kiss.

A small, hungry noise escaped him at the thought, and he experienced an abrupt twinge of shame.

The fantasy was absurd. Rey would not join his cause willingly; her hatred of the Order ran too deep, and she had little trouble rebuking his attempts at Force persuasion. Compelling her to obey was out of the question. With her stubbornness, he doubted even his Master would succeed in bending the girl to his will. Snoke would have to destroy her spirit first, dismantling everything that made her who she was. Leaving her as good as dead.

Every part of Kylo revolted at the idea. No, he was not going to bring her to Snoke. He would revisit his original plan: wiping her memory and getting away from this place. Putting as much distance between the two of them as he could. There was no other acceptable solution to the mess he’d made.

Gathering the Force around him, he pressed his thumb and forefinger to the girl’s temple. His other hand slipped behind her head, unbidden, and wound its way through her hair. Kylo allowed himself a small moment of indulgence while he reached out to the girl’s mind. He breathed in the scent of her: sweat, sunlight, and some unfamiliar, spiced oil that she must use for bathing.

Ignoring the urge to bury his face in the crook of her neck and inhale, Kylo slipped into the girl’s subconscious. He met no resistance this time; her sleeping mind yielded at the slightest hint of pressure. He was tempted to explore, to delve into her innermost thoughts and lose himself in the twisting corridors of memory, but he knew he was running out of time. Rey was not weak, and she would not stay unconscious for long.

Steeling himself with the Force, he located her first recollection of him—prone, captured and tied to the back of some lumbering, four-legged creature. The sight had filled her with pity and indignation on his behalf. He probed further into her recent memories, finding Rey’s awe when she activated his lightsaber, her annoyance with the aristocratic, scowling young man lying on the floor of her hideout, her mingled fear and curiosity when she woke to find Kylo kneeling at her side. He relived the pleasure she felt while he was crouched between her legs, working her with his fingers and tongue, touching her, fucking her, throwing every bit of his own enjoyment back at her so she could see, so she could know the power she held over him.

With difficulty, Kylo ripped himself away from the image. He couldn’t afford to dwell on it now. He drew in a deep, fortifying breath and gathered all of the girl’s memories of him together. Then he plucked them apart from the rest, preparing to pull them from her mind.

A sudden pain at the back of his skull nearly blinded him. It felt like something was drilling into his head, trying to cut away whole chunks of his brain. He gagged and dry-heaved, quickly letting go of the recollections and tearing himself from the girl’s thoughts.

The pain subsided, and only faint nausea remained. Rey continued to sleep, but her brow furrowed. He sensed her distress, though it was not as acute as his own.

Kylo sat back, panting. Whatever had just happened, he never wanted to experience it again. It was clear that he couldn’t destroy her memories without rending his own mind in the process. The two of them were connected—inextricably linked. Any damage he inflicted on her psyche would come back to hurt him tenfold.

He stood and began to pace, turning tight circles in the hovel’s single room.

What was left to be done here? What else was there to try? He couldn’t stay on this blasted planet much longer. He had to get back aboard the Finalizer, to resume his search for the map to Skywalker. The Order needed him; his Knights needed him. Snoke was likely to be waiting when he returned, readying a suitable punishment for his foolishness, his negligence. The thought made him shudder, but Kylo knew he deserved every bit of the pain his Master would subject him to. How else would he learn? How else could he drive this weakness away?

Kylo glanced back down at Rey.

He could not tell Snoke what had happened—not the full extent of it, anyway. His Master needed to remain ignorant of the bond he and Rey shared. His Master needed to remain ignorant of the girl’s very existence. It was the only way to keep her safe, keep her whole.

Why do you care?

The voice in his head didn’t belong to Snoke, but the tone was similar enough to make Kylo shiver. He ignored it and set about picking up the rest of his clothes, strewn all over the small room. When he finished dressing, he found himself unconsciously looking around for his helmet.

He swore under his breath. No doubt the helmet was long gone, lying in the sand somewhere, buried beneath Jakku’s shifting dunes. He we would have to make a new one and keep to his quarters in the meantime. It was bad enough that Hux had seen his bare face on occasion; he didn’t want the whole ship gawking at him. Without his mask, Kylo was acutely aware of just how much he resembled Ben Solo.

It was strange, then, that he didn’t mind the girl seeing him without it.

Kylo turned to look at her again. His gaze landed on the lightsaber lying off to the side of the sleeping mat where she had dropped it earlier. He called the weapon to back him with the Force, and this time it leapt into his outstretched hand. He clipped it to his belt.

Pausing in the doorway, he allowed himself one last glance at Rey. The girl had rolled onto her side and drawn her knees up to her torso, but she seemed strangely at peace. Her dreams were quiet.

Kylo stepped outside and shut the door behind him. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the memory of her: her scent, her voice, the warmth of her skin—the way she had burned with anger when she saw through his deception. He gathered all the images and sounds and sensations together and buried them deep in his mind, somewhere Snoke would never find them—the same place he kept memories of his mother, his father, Skywalker, and all their friends. The same place he kept Ben.

He opened his eyes, tilting his head back to gaze up at the stars.

The realization came to him without warning.

It wasn’t goodbye. Not really.

Kylo didn’t understand how he knew it, but he felt sure. He and Rey would meet again—perhaps in a different place and under different circumstances. Either way, he hadn’t seen the last of her.

Unable to suppress a small grin at the thought, he set off into the night.

***

Rey woke to the clang of metal on metal.

She sat bolt upright, reaching instinctively for her staff, but her fingers grasped at thin air. It took her a few seconds to register the throbbing ache at the back of her skull complimented by the soreness between her legs.

Memories of the night before came rushing back to her: waking to find Ren kneeling at her side in the dark, kissing her, undressing in front of her. She didn’t care to recall the rest of it. The lingering shame was reminder enough.

Ren had tried to bully his way into her head after that, tried to make her forget everything. But it hadn’t worked, and somehow Rey ended up in his mind instead. She still didn’t understand how she had done it.

You’re strong with the Force.

That’s what he told her, anyway. Until recently, Rey thought of the Force the same way she regarded any other supernatural belief: with skepticism bordering on derision. The small sect of the Church of the Force headquartered in Tuanul was something of a running joke among the scavengers and traders who frequented Niima Outpost, and Rey was happy to laugh along with them. The idea of a magical energy field binding together every living thing in the galaxy always seemed ridiculous to her—far too fanciful for anyone used to a hardscrabble life on Jakku.

And yet she had felt something there when she pushed into Ren’s mind. In fact, something had changed the minute she was ripped from that old, recurring nightmare to find him crouched next to her, staring. A part of herself that she didn't know existed had woken from a long, deep sleep. And Ren was the catalyst.

With a jolt, Rey realized that she still sensed him. He was nothing more than a faint, indistinct pressure at the back of her mind—she couldn’t tell what he was thinking or feeling—but she recognized his presence all the same. She thought back to what Ren had said to her.

We’re connected through the Force.

Perhaps the strength of their connection depended on physical proximity. She sensed that Ren was far away now, not even on Jakku. For a moment she pictured him standing at the viewport of some horrible modern star destroyer, staring out into the blackness of space.

Rey banished the image from her mind. She rubbed at her eyes and got to her feet, ignoring the way her headache intensified. Late-morning sunlight filtered in through her hideout’s dusty viewports. She spotted her staff lying on the floor at the opposite side of the room.

Ren must have knocked her out somehow. Probably something to do with the Force. With a pang, Rey realized that she was going to miss another day of scavenging. Her store of emergency rations was all but depleted thanks to her unfortunate decision to rescue a First Order knight.

The rhythmic clash of metal on metal started up again, making Rey jump and lose her train of thought. Quickly crossing the room, she snatched up her quarterstaff before heading outside to investigate.

She took one step out the door and promptly tripped over the large, round object at her feet. As she fell, she noted with a surge of anger that her speeder was gone. Ren had almost certainly taken it.

Something above her was whirring and beeping, sounding oddly concerned. It took her a few seconds to recognize binary. Rolling onto her back and wiping the sand off her chin, Rey looked up to find spherical astromech droid—a BB unit, by the looks of it—hovering over her, its domed head tilted to one side.

“Were you the one banging around out here?” she asked.

The little droid made an apologetic noise and explained that it had only been trying to get her attention.

“Well, you succeeded. Where do you come from, anyway? What are you doing here?”

The droid chirped out a response, and Rey had to laugh.

“Classified?” she said. “Oh yes, me too.” She slumped back into the sand and gazed up at Jakku’s brilliant blue sky, imagining a ship—the same ship she saw in her dreams every night—streaking across it.

“Big secret.”