Setting the shuttle on an autopilot course that will bring him to Luke feels impossible, but Kylo has somehow done it, and he sits staring at the coordinates they’re approaching as the shuttle moves through space. In just a little over seven hours they will arrive, according to the shuttle’s systems. Kylo wants to pound his fists against the console and call it a liar, because how could this be true?
He returns his attention to Hux, using the Force instead of turning in the pilot’s seat, because even sensing that Kylo has turned his cheek too fast would send a peel of unthinking terror through Hux.
Hux is seated on the floor. He’s cold. This is more of a temperature reading than a thought Hux is having. His rational feedback is still offline, but his mind is garbled with physical sensations now, things Hux can’t help but note. His throat hurts terribly. Especially when he swallows, which he for some reason can’t stop doing. Something about this makes Kylo remember once worrying that Hux’s captors might not have given him enough water. Kylo’s throat is dry, his eyes store and stinging.
“Get up,” he says, without turning. “There’s a canteen in the cabinet across from the cot. A first aid kit, too. You will retrieve these items.”
Hux hesitates to allow the Force to dictate his actions this time, but only for a moment. He’s not really fighting the intrusion so much as actually noting these instructions before he obeys them, whereas before it was as if he was only a puppet on strings, not even aware that he was acting. He moves toward the cabinet, opens it and finds the canteen, then the first aid kit. When he has them he just stands there like a malfunctioning droid, holding one item in each hand and awaiting the next instruction from his programming.
Kylo’s eyes burn even as he keeps his back to the sight of this, only sensing it.
“Put the first aid kit on the cot,” Kylo says. His voice comes out sounding angry.
Observation: Anger might be all you have left. Cling to it. Don’t linger on anything else too long.
“Fill the canteen,” Kylo says when the first aid kit has been placed on the cot. Hux just stands there. Kylo presses more deeply into Hux’s mind, feeding him mental images of how to perform this task. It’s the smallest, most bitter victory he’s ever known when Hux moves to the shuttle’s water line and does as Kylo asked. “Drink,” Kylo says, his teeth grit. Every word of this is torture. He winces when he senses the pain in Hux’s throat as he swallows a sip of water. For a moment it’s so sharp and raw that it’s as if this ache has relocated to Kylo’s body. If only it could.
“Back to the cot,” Kylo says when Hux has managed to get four swallows of water down. “In the first aid kit, there is a painkiller syringe and a sedative syringe. You will administer the painkiller to yourself, and then the sedative.”
“I will--” Hux begins to say, his voice a horrible rasp.
“Don’t repeat my instructions!” Kylo shouts.
Observation: He shouldn’t have raised his voice like that.
Observation, related: Hux has dropped the canteen, water is spilling all over the floor of the shuttle, and Hux’s feedback has returned to raw terror, every alarm going off within him as he freezes in place.
“Hux.” Kylo winces when he hears himself say Hux’s name. It feels like he shouldn’t be allowed to. “Pick up-- You will pick up that canteen.”
He has to concentrate harder. Has to push away Hux’s resistance and tell the alarms that are going off inside Hux again to stop sounding. It takes some effort and feels like there are blades pressing in against Kylo’s temples, slicing past his skin and piercing his skull.
Theory, possibly irrelevant: He might have failed to heal Hux because throwing Snoke took so much energy from him. He’s weak. Even making Hux suppress his terror enough to allow him to retrieve the canteen from the floor feels like a marathon of effort, but eventually it works. Hux’s hand shakes on the canteen. The battered thing inside Hux that has abandoned his body to Kylo’s control is twitching with awareness, waking up a little at a time, horrified by what has already happened and so confused about what’s happening now.
“You will not attempt to speak again,” Kylo says, making his voice as steady as possible. “You’re injured, and your voice doesn’t work. Go to the first aid kit. Administer the painkiller and the sedative. You are--”
He can’t make himself say You are safe here. I’m taking care of you. We’re headed toward real help. None of it feels true.
Hux performs these tasks without resistance, all of Kylo’s remaining energy now fully focused on getting that medicine into Hux’s system.
Observation: It would be nice to have the helmet right now. To hide behind that mask, though no one is looking at his face.
As soon as the sedative is in Hux’s bloodstream he has no further objections to being on the cot, and he slumps down onto it, passed out within seconds. Kylo flinches with worry and uses the Force to perform a thorough check of Hux’s physical systems, making sure he didn’t take too much of either medication.
Question, cruel but relevant: What would Kylo even be able to do for him if he had?
Observation: Both syringes contained only one dose. Hux is fine. The painkiller is effective. The sedative won’t harm him. He’s fine.
Observation: You’re still lying to yourself.
Correction: It’s not a lie. Hux will physically survive the trip to the planet where Luke and Rey await. Determining this was the only purpose of assessing him as ‘fine.’
Kylo puts his elbows on the console, his head in his hands. He’s shaking with exhaustion and with a bone-crushing fear of what will happen when they reach their destination. He feels ripped apart inside, as if Snoke took handfuls of him away when he left. For a moment he allows himself to imagine what Hux saw when he looked up into Kylo’s eyes and found Snoke looking back at him. What he’d felt when Kylo’s hands closed around his throat--
Objective: No. Not now. Not helpful.
Kylo wishes he could spend the next seven hours sedated, but that’s not what Hux needs from him right now. He doesn’t want to meditate and isn’t sure if he has the energy for even the shallowest retreat from the present circumstances, but it would be irresponsible not to try, considering what lies ahead. He keeps his eyes closed, shoulders hunched, and attempts to take a deep breath. Before trying to send his thoughts elsewhere, he checks on Hux again.
Feedback from Hux: None.
Observation, shaky but also true: Hux is just sleeping. He needs rest, to not have to deal with this yet.
Observation, dreadful: When Hux wakes up, there’s no telling what state of mind he’ll be in.
Kylo pushes this away and tries to consult his inner mind. He can feel a number of muffled disturbances in the Force. There’s a softly pulsing beacon that he interprets as Rey’s uncertainty about what will happen next as she anticipates their arrival. Luke’s unwillingness to accept that their approach could be real rivals Kylo’s and feels like a stone wall that Kylo keeps running into, hard and cold. There’s something else, too. He doesn’t want to think about it.
Observation, tightening along the length of his jaw: But you know what it is.
His mother. She senses something. Feels him drawing closer to her allies, even now. Only she doesn’t think of them as allies.
To Leia they are family. The only family she has left.
Kylo scoffs and jerks away from his attempts at meditation, sitting back in the pilot seat and scowling out at space. He doesn’t count himself among the surviving members of Leia Organa’s family. Never will again, no matter what happens. He’ll gladly confront Snoke when the time comes, will go to that avalanche of destruction without caring for his own survival, as long as he can take Snoke forever down with him, but he can’t face his mother’s pity, if any would even be offered alongside the grief and judgment and confirmation that he’s been rejected by her just as he always knew he would be.
He waits for a ghost to attempt to refute this, but no one speaks to him now.
The hours in the shuttle pass very slowly. Kylo wants to at least sleep thinly in the pilot’s seat, but his consciousness is stubbornly alert and stupidly optimistic as he continues to check Hux’s feedback again and again, waiting to find even the fragment of an image from a drugged-out nightmare. There’s nothing.
Hux is so blank that Kylo goes to him on three separate occasions to physically check his vital signs, despite the Force reassuring him that Hux is breathing, resting, and that his heart is still beating. Kylo can’t even trust the Force right now, not with Hux’s life. He’s wary of Hux noticing his proximity, even from within his deep slumber, but Hux is limp under his hands, completely unaware of where or even who he is while the sedative holds him in a merciful darkness.
When Kylo grows tired of going back and forth from Hux to the shuttle’s cockpit, and when he’s confident that Hux won’t wake anytime soon, he kneels beside the cot. He thinks of trying to heal Hux again, but knows that he won’t be able to do it, though he can’t be sure what the reason is. He holds his fingertips just above the now-dark bruises on Hux’s neck, wanting to erase them.
Observation, emerging from pure darkness: He could possibly erase the memory of what happened to Hux in that bed.
Observation, secondary but important, pushing the first one back into the dark: This idea is too vile to seriously consider, even if would mean sparing Hux from the torture that finally tipped him over some kind of edge.
Major concern: What else might be lost with that memory?
Objectives: Kylo will talk with Rey about what she retained of her memories and what she’s been able to recover, but even after investigating the practice of altering memories with the Force, he can’t imagine being willing to take anything more from Hux, not even this ruinous experience.
Conclusion, final: It still belongs to Hux. All of it, no matter how much Kylo might wish that it didn’t. It’s still part of what makes the shape of him unique.
“Elan,” Kylo says, under his breath, trying the name out on his tongue. It doesn’t sound right in this context, like when Hux tries to call him Kylo, but it’s something precious that he’s glad to have and hold. He reaches for Hux, wanting to brush his thumb over the web of burst capillaries at the corner of his right eye and watch them heal, but he draws his hand back before his fingers reach Hux’s skin, knowing that he won’t be able to heal even the smallest injury until he rests.
Observation, unwanted: And even then--
Kylo stretches out on the shuttle’s floor, alongside the cot. He feels changed. Lighter, and not necessarily in a good way. Nervous energy continues to keep him from drifting into even the thinnest sleep, and he wants to talk to someone, to Hux. He won’t be able to defeat Snoke if he never hears Hux’s voice again. He needs Hux to tell him that he can do it. Needs to hear Hux say so and to feel it surround him like a thing that could be true, real, an actual plan approved by his General.
It occurs to him, having thought of Hux as a General, that in going to Luke and Rey they are not only spiritually but formally defecting from the First Order. Kylo never cared about the Order, but for Hux this is life-shattering. Hux was born into the Order, he let its cruel machinations shape him through every stage of his life, and he cared deeply about its success until only very recently. And now he’s not even conscious for his flight from it. It’s too dispiriting to think about for long, and Kylo puts it aside along with his concerns about what Rey and Luke will want to do with Hux. They don’t even know Hux is coming along, as far as Kylo can tell from their scant communications to him.
Hux is beginning to wake by the time they’re in range of the planet where Luke and Rey await. Kylo returns to the cockpit at the first signs of Hux’s consciousness, after refilling the canteen, taking a few gulps for himself and leaving the rest within reach of Hux. Standing in the cockpit and facing the planet ahead as it comes into view is like being asked to contemplate his own death: he can do so, but the reality of the thing won’t really reach him until it’s upon him, irreversible and all-consuming. He tries to reach out to Rey and finds her anxiety waiting for him, pulls back when it makes his own increase.
At first glance, this planet where Luke has quarantined himself appears to be not unlike the one they just left, but as they draw closer Kylo realizes that the uniform blue is an ocean that covers almost the entire surface of this somewhat massive planet. Only a few small islands dot the water, spaced apart widely. Kylo cuts the autopilot as they enter the planet’s atmosphere, sensing that he will have to pilot the shuttle through brutal winds before he lands it on the island where Rey waits, watching the sky.
She’s alone. Luke is on the island but elsewhere. Cloaking himself entirely from Kylo’s attempts to find him there.
Kylo is so preoccupied with his own dread, and with the effort of keeping the shuttle on course as they fly through the winds that assail it, that he’s taken off guard when he consults Hux’s feedback and finds that there’s actually something there to read.
Feedback from Hux: He’s sitting on the cot. He hates this cot.
Further: Offline again, drifting. Attempting to make sense of things and then not wanting to, resisting the beginnings of coherent thought. Hazy from the drugs, the pain in his throat returning as the medicine’s effects fade.
Kylo has to leave Hux’s mind and return to his own in order to correct the shuttle’s trajectory against the powerful wind that constantly threatens to blow it off course. He grits his teeth, almost glad for the difficulty, as it’s a distraction from what he’ll find once he lands, from what will be said, and from what he could possibly say in response, in defense of himself or as an explanation for any of it.
Objective: Don’t forget that Rey wants you here. Even if Luke doesn’t.
Objective, related: Don’t be such a coward. She’s not going to slice you open again. Not with a lightsaber, anyway.
Observation: He would prefer another lightsaber duel to the conversation that awaits.
He lands the shuttle on the western shore of the island, keeping his eyes on the viewport and scanning the rocky landscape for any sign of a welcoming committee. Rey is nearby: it’s strange to feel her there and know that she’s feeling him, too. For a while they both keep completely still, physically and mentally. Kylo hears a footstep behind him and turns, too fast.
Hux scrambles backward when their eyes meet, putting as much distance as he can between himself and Kylo, his hands half-raised when his back hits the shuttle’s far wall.
Feedback from Hux: No, please, stay away, please--
“Sorry.” Kylo flinches at the sound of that word, wanting to apologize again for saying it, as if he was using it to taunt Hux. He turns back to the viewport and curses under his breath when he sees Rey walking toward the shuttle, the sleeveless robe she wears over her clothes whipping behind her as she makes her way toward them. She doesn’t have a lightsaber. Kylo’s hangs on his belt. Though there was no chance of the helmet making this journey with them, there was nothing in him that was willing to come here unarmed.
Objective: Don’t actually attack either of them, for fuck’s sake.
“Do you know where we are?” Kylo asks, addressing this to Hux without turning toward him.
Feedback from Hux: Please go, go away, please--
“I--” Kylo grunts in frustration and closes his eyes. Rey is standing outside now, arms at her sides, eyes as hard as she can make them, waiting. “I have to go speak to my cousin,” Kylo says, sharpening his voice. As if Hux has done something wrong by still being afraid of him. As if he’s being scolded for it. Kylo swallows, shakes his head. “You stay here. No one will hurt you.”
That’s a promise he can’t really make, but he’s already said it. He takes his robe from the back of the pilot seat and puts it on, though it’s still damp. Hides the lightsaber beneath it, though Rey will sense its presence without needing to see it, and though he’ll never wield it against her again.
Observation: He feels threatened. He’s on their turf. The weight of the saber at his hip makes him feel better, in a childish way. That’s all.
At the shuttle’s bay door, his palm hovering over the button that will open it, Kylo pauses and thinks of saying something more to Hux. He doesn’t know where he would start. Certainly not with ‘Sorry’ or any desperate pleading for Hux to acknowledge that it was Snoke who hurt him, not Kylo. Everything else seems equally ridiculous. He says nothing, but checks Hux’s thoughts once more before opening the shuttle to meet his fate.
Feedback from Hux: Please go, please, leave me alone, get away--
Kylo punches the bay door button and feels Hux curl in on himself, still pressed against the wall, his shoulders lifted and his eyes pinched shut.
Rey stands her ground when Kylo approaches. Doesn’t flinch or alter her stony expression, though Kylo can easily see through it, despite his own rattled mental energy. Rey is nervous but not afraid. She’s concerned for Kylo, curious about him, but not necessarily willing to help or to forgive, and certainly not willing to do anything he asks of her. She’s thinking about the gash he left across that traitor’s back last time they met. She’s still angry about that. Very angry, in fact.
“You’ve got someone else on board?” Rey says, frowning as if she’s not sure she trusts her instincts on this.
Kylo’s mouth falls open.
Observation, inexplicably gutting and comforting all at once: Rey’s accent sounds like Hux’s. Not precisely, but. The people she lived among on Jakku must have sounded like Hux, because Rey does, too, now.
“You do have someone on that shuttle,” Rey says, her eyes lighting up when she realizes she was right. She’s proud of herself. Still doubts her own abilities, even when evidence suggests she shouldn’t. “Are you just going to stare at me?” she asks, pushing stray tendrils of hair from her face when the wind whips them across her eyes. It reminds Kylo of something, that gesture. Reminds him of Rey doing that as a girl.
“Thank you,” Kylo says. These are the only two words he remembers from the many speeches he rehearsed in his head on the way here. “For. Bringing-- Allowing us to come here.”
“Who’s us?” Rey cranes her neck, peers at the shuttle’s open bay door.
Feedback from Hux: He’s still plastered to the shuttle’s back wall, his mind beginning to reel dangerously from fright to fright as he takes in more of his surroundings and starts to come back to himself, partly.
“You didn’t see him with me?” Kylo asks. He’s been worried about how much Rey might know about what’s gone on between them, and about how much Luke might know, by extension. “When you found me in that house?” Kylo says when Rey just frowns at him. “You couldn’t tell I wasn’t alone there?”
“The-- Didn’t you see the house? When I called out to you through the Force?”
“You called out to Luke, as I recall,” Rey says. “And no, I just-- Felt you. Asking for help, I-- Don’t even know why I wanted to give it. Luke doesn’t want you here.”
“I know that.”
“But you’ve come.” Her eyes soften. She glances at the shuttle again. “Who’s with you?”
“Can’t you search my thoughts and see?”
“Are you joking? Your mind is a mess. And I’ve not had much practice at that since coming here. Luke isn’t exactly open to having his thoughts observed.”
Kylo shakes his head. He shouldn’t have come. She might be lying about everything. Trying to trap him somehow. Her feedback doesn’t indicate that she is, but.
It’s impossible for her to be looking at him so mildly after what he did to her.
“When did you recognize me?” Kylo asks. “In the woods? When we fought?”
“No. I felt something then, but none of it could overcome my deep desire to kill you. I thought you’d killed Finn,” she says, her voice sharpening. “You nearly did.”
“What?” Kylo scoffs, more memories from childhood coming back to him: Rey saying something, asking an innocent question, and Ben scoffing as if she was hopelessly dim. “It was a flesh wound,” Kylo says. “I could have killed him easily, but--”
“It was hardly a flesh wound! They had to induce a coma during his recovery, I didn’t even--”
Feedback from Rey, unsuccessfully suppressed: I didn’t even get to say goodbye.
“That traitor still lives,” Kylo says, unable to wipe the incredulous look off his face. “I’ve sensed it. He’s fully recovered.”
“Did you just call him a traitor?” Rey asks. This fire in her eyes is new. If she’d had it as a girl she never shown it to Ben. “He’s my friend, his name is Finn, and you’d better start applying that term to yourself if you intend to take another step closer to Luke.”
“Traitor?” Kylo scoffs again, can’t stop posturing even though he knows he must, soon. “I’m sure Luke has long applied that term to me, and worse.”
“I meant in light of your former allegiance to the First Order. Assuming that it is truly a former allegiance.”
“I never cared about the Order,” Kylo says. It’s frustrating him, already, that he’s having to tell her things that she should be able to sense easily. He can feel the flow of her power against him like a surplus that taunts his own current weakness, but she must not be revealing this intentionally, because she’s not tapping into her power much at all, at present. “My only loyalty was to Snoke,” Kylo says, spitting the name out hatefully now. “And that’s done.”
“Is it? Luke is skeptical.”
“He can look into my mind freely then, and see that I will lay my life down to end Snoke as soon as I’m able to, that I never-- That I regret-- That I know now. The truth. What my father tried to tell me.”
“Your father?” Rey’s lips twitch. The corners of her eyes actually get a bit pink. “And what was this truth Han tried to tell you? Just before you murdered him, presumably.”
“That Snoke was using me,” Kylo says, stomping on the impulse to let the depth of the wound she just inflicted show on his face. “He-- Snoke once told that me he’s immortal. That’s only true in the sense that needs a new Force wielder’s body to occupy after he’s wrung the last of the life out of the previous body he stole. He’s tried-- Multiple times-- You didn’t see what he did to me? You don’t sense it, even?”
“Like I said, what’s going on in your mind isn’t so easy to sift through right now. Ah, there he is.”
Kylo assumes she means that Luke has come up behind them, and he turns expecting to be knocked onto his ass by a blast of Force energy. But it’s not Luke she’s referring to. It’s Hux. He’s standing at the top of the ramp that leads down from the shuttle’s open bay door. Staring at them. Expressionless, the sleeves of Han’s old shirt hanging halfway over his hands.
Feedback from Hux: What-- Where-- Who is that girl, how did we get here? How will I escape?
“Hux!” Kylo says, unable to hold it in when he hears actual words forming in Hux’s thought process. Hux’s eyes flick to Kylo’s, widening.
Feedback from Hux: Please, no, stay away--
“He’s with me,” Kylo says, turning back to Rey before he can feel the full impact of that feedback.
“This man was important to the Order,” Rey says, still fixated on Hux, her eyes narrowing. “But.” She steps closer to Kylo. He’d forgotten how small she is. She looms much larger than this in his imagination. “What’s wrong with him?” Rey asks, whispering. “I mean, beyond whatever happened to his neck.”
“He’s injured,” Kylo says. “Mentally.”
“Oh.” Rey steps away, looking from Kylo to Hux and back again. “Well, I suppose he can join the club. Follow me, both of you.”
“Just like that?” Kylo says, scoffing when she heads toward the trail that leads to wherever Luke is lurking. Rey turns back and frowns. Kylo is afraid Hux won’t follow him without being manipulated again. Afraid to see Luke. Stalling. “You’re not going to ask me why I’ve come here? What I want from you, who this man that I’ve brought along is?”
“I can ask you all that with we’re out of the wind,” Rey says, drawing stray hairs away from her eyes again. “I may still be doing my training, but I could tell even before you’d landed that neither of you are a threat to us.”
“How can you tell that?” Kylo asks, hoping that the shake in his voice isn’t audible. “Because we’re both weakened? Because you know we were just attacked? I had to fight Snoke off myself. He was-- In me, all those years, and-- Yes, I’m weak, now.”
Kylo has no idea where he was going with that. He can’t hold Rey’s gaze, which has grown increasingly pitying. He turns back toward Hux, not looking at him directly.
“Come on,” Kylo says. “I’m going with her, and so are you. You can’t stay here.”
Hux says nothing. Kylo is afraid to look at him. He knows what he’ll find in Hux’s mind, but he lets himself check anyway.
Feedback from Hux: I could steal the shuttle. No. They would stop me with the Force. And there’s nowhere to go.
“We could help you,” Rey says, shouting this over the wind, to Hux. “If you help us.”
Hux’s lips part. He looks dreadful, like he’s been to hell and has barely clawed his way back. Kylo supposes that’s true, three or four times over at least.
“What do you mean, if we help you?” Kylo asks, though this offer wasn’t really addressed to him. He doesn’t want Hux to try to speak yet, with the painful, ragged remains of his voice.
“If you two are truly defecting from the Order,” Rey says. “The Resistance could use the information you have on what they’ll do next.”
“The Resistance? But-- They’re not here.” Kylo thinks of Leia, his heartbeat seeming to climb up to slam at the base of his throat, nearly choking him.
“I’m in contact with them,” Rey says. “Through your mother.”
Kylo looks away from her, at a patch of pale green brush growing between two enormous boulders, protected from the wind. Hux still hasn’t moved from the shuttle.
“How much memory have you recovered?” Kylo asks. “Of what. I did.”
“I know you saved my life when that monster tried to kill me,” Rey says. “And that you couldn’t save yourself from him in the meantime. Until now, maybe. Hurry up, will you? The wind on this side of the island drives me mad.”
She walks ahead without looking back. Kylo takes one step, then another. He turns back toward Hux.
“Don’t make me do it against your will,” Kylo says, hating that he has to shout this to be heard over the wind. “Please, just. I won’t look at you, won’t come near you. Just come and see what they have to offer you. They want to help.”
Kylo isn’t certain about this, but Hux doesn’t need to know that right now. When Kylo starts walking he sends his thoughts back to Hux, afraid that there’s nothing he can say that will convince Hux to come anywhere near him ever again. He hears one footstep on the ramp of the shuttle when he reaches the top of the hill that Rey disappeared over, then another.
Hux keeps back and moves slow, but his steps are steady, following behind Kylo’s. His feedback is still confused and fragmented, going offline at moments and slipping back into blazing alarm at others. He follows Kylo anyway, and Kylo follows Rey without being able to see her. She’s ahead of them on the island’s only trail, which leads up a steep hill at the center of the island that climbs and climbs.
Feedback from Hux, most prominently: I can’t do this. I can’t do this anymore. I’m too tired.
Observation: He’s referring to the long walk, the climb.
Actual observation, get your head out of your ass: He’s referring to being alive at all.
In a shallow valley at the top of the hill there’s a small house with stone walls and a thatched roof, built around the mouth of a cave that’s concealed by the back of the house. The circular clearing that the house sits in is all smooth dirt, a kind of makeshift training arena with boot marks here and there. Just looking at it, Kylo can sense the progress of Rey’s training that has taken place here. It’s been mostly in combat so far. He wouldn’t have expected that.
“Come around this way,” Rey calls, poking her head out from behind a tall fence that runs along the right side of the house. Kylo sends his mind back there first, making sure that Luke isn’t waiting behind the fence. There’s nothing but a rickety little table, two equally flimsy homemade chairs, and a tall planter containing a vegetable garden that spans the length of the fence, sheltered from the wind.
Observation: Luke is elsewhere on this island. Still cloaking his location. Not wanting Kylo here.
“I’ll make some tea,” Rey says when Kylo and Hux have joined her on the other side of the fence, Hux staring at the ground while he tries to regain his breath after the long climb. Kylo keeps clear of him and tries to follow Rey into the house, but she stops and holds up her hand. “Um,” she says. “Luke would prefer it if you weren’t inside just yet.”
“Fine,” Kylo says, spinning away from her. His robe was mostly dried by the wind on the way up, but he still feels wrung out and cold, and he knows Hux is feeling it ten times worse, with the last of the painkiller from the shuttle’s kit wearing off. “Does Luke have medicine?” Kylo asks, speaking through the open window that looks in on a small, shadowy kitchen where Rey is lighting a fire for the kettle. “For pain?” he says when Rey looks at him, confused.
“You’re in pain?” she says, bending down to get a better look at him through the window.
Kylo huffs and checks on Hux, looking at him only with the corner of his eye.
You asked me that once.
“No!” Hux smacks his hands over his ears and shakes his head hard, backing up until he’s slammed into the wall of rock behind the house. “Please, don’t, stop--”
“I’m sorry!” Kylo wants to pick up the little table and chairs and smash everything to kindling when he hears himself apologize. He grits his teeth and growls instead, as quietly as possible. Hux is still shaking his head, his hands still pressed over his ears, as if he can keep Kylo’s voice out that way. “I didn’t mean to,” Kylo says, mumbling this, knowing Hux won’t hear it. Rey is giving him a wide-eyed look when he turns back to her. He scowls and dares her to ask.
“What happened to him?” Rey asks again, whispering. Apparently oblivious to Kylo’s dare, or not intimidated by it.
“You want to know?” Kylo says. “Read my mind.”
As soon as he’s said it he puts up every barrier he can around the images of Snoke’s attack, mostly to protect the memory of what happened just before. Rey concentrates, comes up against these barriers and rolls her eyes, returning to the tea.
Soon Rey and Kylo are seated at the table, holding steaming teacups made from some kind of stone-like clay, both feeling ridiculous and unsure about how to proceed. Hux refused tea and is still slumped against the rock wall, his arms crossed over his chest while he shivers in the wind that cuts across the clearing, away from the protection of the fence and the little roof that extends out over the patio and the vegetables. There’s a gap between the fence and the roof, presumably to allow sunlight to reach Luke’s modest crops, though so far this planet seems as perninnelly gray as the last one they were on, if also drier.
“Why doesn’t Luke want us in the house?” Kylo asks when he’s finished half his tea. It’s some kind of weak brew with no sugar added and not much flavor in general. Typical Jedi crap: bland, simple, pretend you don’t want anything more than the barest necessities.
“Was that a serious question?” Rey asks when Kylo looks up at her. She snorts into her teacup. It makes Kylo long to hear Hux’s stupid snort, which is somehow very different. “I’m sure you’ve sensed that Luke is still angry,” Rey says. “With you. About everything.”
“Of course. What’s that got to do with us entering this house? He needs to get out of the cold,” Kylo says, lowering his voice and tilting his head toward Hux as subtly as he can.
“Oh.” Rey frowns and sits back, bringing a hand up to her mouth. “You-- Care for that man? You--”
It’s unnerving to look her in the eyes while also hearing her in his head, and unnerving to be asked this question, though it’s not really a question. Kylo shrugs violently and boots her out of his mind, redoubling the barriers to entry.
“That’s unexpected,” Rey says, mumbling this into her teacup before sipping from it again, her eyebrows going up.
“I need your help,” Kylo says, not interested in her opinion on his feelings for Hux. “I’m going to find Snoke and kill him. It’s-- My destiny. My true destiny. Snoke hid it from me, but I suspect he feared it all along.”
“And you think I can help you kill him?” Rey is incredulous, then flattered.
“No,” Kylo says. “I need your help with him.” He flicks his head toward Hux again. “He’ll probably be willing to give you information on the Order once he’s-- He needs to recover.”
“He was their General.” Rey is focused on Hux again, reading him much more easily than she read Kylo. “That’s very high up, that’s-- He gave the order to destroy those five planets!”
“Shh!” Kylo says, as if Hux doesn’t know this about himself or even cares if he’s reminded of it. Hux’s feedback is mostly offline, willfully now, threaded with despair and reminders that he could always just throw himself off the side of the nearest cliff. These thoughts aren’t serious enough to make Kylo worry it might happen imminently, but he keeps as close a watch on Hux’s mind as he can while Rey gives him an angry stare.
“You brought a destroyer of worlds to Luke Skywalker’s doorstep?” she says, at least having the courtesy to lower her voice now.
“I’m sure Luke saw him coming.”
“You’d be surprised, Ben. He rarely says a word about you, but one thing he has told me, in warning, is that you’ve always been good at hiding your true intent, even from him.”
“Please don’t call me that.”
“What?” Rey actually has to search his thoughts to understand this request. “Oh. What am I supposed to call you? Kylo Ren?” She scoffs as if this would be ridiculous and drinks more tea. “Won’t you abandon that name, if you’re really free from Snoke?”
“What has Luke told you of Snoke?” Kylo asks, unable to answer her question.
“That he took you away from us when you were still a child.”
“Us.” Kylo scoffs now. He looks away from Rey, staring at the sad-looking tops of the vegetables that are poking up from the dirt in the planter. There are wind chimes made from from fishing wire and sea glass hanging on the end of the patio’s roof. Kylo assumes that Rey made them. It’s absurd to think that Luke might have put them up. It’s really absurd that either of them did, in a place with wind like this, but the chimes are only tinkling softly so far. “So you remember,” Kylo says. “Everything? Wedge?”
“My father?” Rey says, sharply, and the anger in her eyes actually burns in Kylo’s chest when he lets himself feel it. “Yes, I remember him. I’d have gone home to him already if I could convince Luke to join me.”
Feedback from Rey: This is not entirely true. She’s scared, too, to try to be that girl again.
They’re both quiet for a while, fuming. Kylo could get into her head again, but something makes him hang back. Guilt, maybe.
“Luke is training you in combat?” Kylo says. He turns the corner of his eye toward Hux again, somewhat alarmed when he sees that Hux is seated now, his knees pulled to his chest and his arms folded over them, his head down.
“Combat, yes,” Rey says when Kylo returns his attention to her. She was looking at Hux, too. “Are you really not going to tell me what happened to your-- Friend?”
“What does it matter?”
“Well, if you want me to help him it would be good to know what I’m supposed to be helping with. Though I can’t imagine helping someone who’s done what he has, or why you think I can be convinced to do so.”
“Please. Do it as a personal favor to me.”
“Haven’t I already done you a rather large one of those just by guiding you here?”
“You’ve changed,” Kylo says, without meaning to. Rey’s eyebrows go up.
“Yes, well, I suppose being ripped from everything you know and dumped into the arms of a scoundrel who owed your uncle a favor will do that. Not to mention aging fourteen years and nearly being murdered by your cousin. You were expecting a five-year-old girl who worshiped the ground you walked on, still?”
“You didn’t--” Kylo shakes his head, pinches his eyes shut, needs some time to unpack all of that and is having trouble doing so with Rey’s anger and heartbreak focused on him. “I was never going to murder you, I-- That scoundrel, the one on Jakku, the junkyard owner-- He didn’t hurt you? Right? I checked, I had a vision that you were okay--”
“I suppose I was about as okay as a person can be when they’re sold into indentured servitude at five years old, sure.”
“It wasn’t-- He didn’t-- Beat you, or, he never--”
“I wasn’t physically harmed by him in any way, no. Congratulate yourself for that. I dare you.”
Rey shoves her teacup away and goes into the house, muttering under her breath.
Feedback from Rey: He’s just like Luke said he would be. Self-centered child!
Further, this realization stopping her in her tracks: Except that I don’t think he’ll hurt us. I don’t think he could bring himself to do it. Not again.
When Rey returns she’s dragging a quilted blanket that may have once been a different color but is now a kind of muddy gray. She walks past Kylo without looking at him and brings the blanket over to Hux, tossing it onto him as if he’s a pile of firewood and the blanket is a tarp.
Feedback from Hux: What the fuck.
Hux is covered completely by the blanket. He doesn’t budge beneath it as Rey walks back to Kylo.
“Your friend is in shock,” she says. “I suppose he might deserve to die, but that’s not for me to decide.”
“Bring him into the house,” Kylo says. “What difference would it make?”
“Luke asked me not to bring you even this far!”
“Where is he?” Kylo asks, standing, pretending he’s ready for that confrontation. Rey gives him a look that tells him she can see that he’s really not.
“Away from you,” she says. “And you should be glad for that mercy.”
“You think he’ll attack me?”
“Attack you? What, physically? Of course not! But have you forgotten what it’s like when he’s disappointed in you? I wouldn’t want to be you when he lays that broken gaze on you. It’s brutal, just the way he can look sometimes, and you--”
She stops short of saying it out loud, but Kylo hears it anyway.
You’re the one who broke him.
“I’m good at that,” Kylo says, staring down at the teacups. Why are there teacups in this hell he’s made for himself, and wind chimes? What the fuck did he think he would find here? Forgiveness? Idiot.
“You probably know more about how all this is going to go than I do,” Rey says when Kylo looks up at her again. “All I have is this feeling like I’m meant to help you. I don’t always like it, but it’s always there. I think I had it even when I was very young. You always seemed like this-- Important person, almost this sort of hero, even when you were being a complete shit to me for no reason. I don’t know what my destiny is, but if I can help you defeat the bastard who did this to us, to you and to me, to our family-- Well, that’s what I want my destiny to be. If what I want means anything.”
“Ben! Just shut up and come into the house, you might as well. He’ll be furious at me anyway. And bring that wretched man with you before he shivers himself to death.”
It’s disturbing to be called Ben so confidently, as if she knows better than he does what his name is. Disturbing, too, to turn toward the blanket-covered puddle that is what’s left of Hux and contemplate convincing him to take shelter in this house. Rey walks inside, groaning in exasperation.
“Wait,” Kylo says.
“For what?” she asks, turning back. “I thought you wanted to come inside?”
“I do, I--” Kylo walks in, noting the smell that’s not dissimilar to the smell of the house on the cliff, as if some essential Skywalker thing hangs in the air, even when only a Solo and an Antilles occupy this place. “What happened to him,” Kylo says, keeping his voice low, “Is that Snoke possessed me and tried to kill him. I fought Snoke off, but. He’s traumatized, so. He doesn't want me near him. Maybe you could tell him to come inside?”
“Possessed you?” Rey steps back a bit, the color draining from her face.
“He won’t do it again.”
Observation: It’s true. The reality of Snoke is coming to him now in glaring bursts of insight that he never knew he already had. The body Snoke occupies is so worn thin that he needs a particular sort of vessel in order to successfully transfer his consciousness to another living person, wiping that body’s original owner out in the process. Kylo fits the bill so perfectly that Snoke has made two desperate gambits to fully possess him already, against the usual rules. He’s failed both times.
“Please,” Kylo says, breaking from his thoughts to study Rey’s.
Feedback from Rey: He’s out of his mind and overdramatic and unreal, just like he was as a kid. Asking me to help that homicidal maniac! But he gets what he wants, still. Spoiled little prince.
“Well,” she says. “I suppose I’d rather have a live psychopath in the house than a dead body to carry down those stairs, so. Fine, but you owe me for this.”
“I owe you my life,” Kylo says, very seriously.
Rey laughs. If this didn’t remind him so much of Hux, Kylo might be truly angry, but as it is he’s just sad, his shoulders dropping as she moves around him.
Kylo looks around the room they’re standing in, a kind of den attached to the kitchen. There’s a fireplace, no furniture except for a large trunk and a woven rug. He sends his thoughts out to the yard when he senses Rey approaching Hux.
“Hey,” she says. “Get up.”
Hux remains under the blanket, motionless.
Feedback from Hux: This is exactly where I should have expected him to deliver me, always. Into the hands of the enemy, gift wrapped for those who want me dead. Ren will waltz off into the sunset with these fucks. I’ll hang.
Kylo is so relieved to hear actual, fully formed, characteristically cynical thoughts from Hux that he’s not even upset that Hux apparently thinks Kylo has again betrayed him by trying to find help through his--
Observation: Fuck it, Rey already feels like family. Is family. It’s easy and unstoppable, the truest thing he knows right now.
“Hello?” Rey says, squatting down, speaking to Hux. “Don’t you want to come inside?”
No response from Hux.
Feedback from Hux, directed at himself: You’re acting like a child. Go with this woman and listen to her conversation with Ren. Gather information. Formulate some kind of plan to get the hell away from here before their friends arrive with a noose. Go down with a fight, the way you always told yourself you would.
Hux pushes the blanket away from his face. Stares up at Rey as she rises to her feet. Still can’t speak without pain and wouldn’t be understood even he tried. He stands, holds the blanket out and offers it to her.
“Oh, keep it,” she says, already walking away from him. “Come on, hurry up.”
Kylo doesn’t know where to look when Hux walks into the house, dragging the blanket behind him. Rey points to a chair at the small table in the kitchen and Hux sits in it, his eyes unfocused and the end of the blanket still clutched in his fist. Rey puts a cup of lukewarm tea down in front of him and walks into the den.
“When will Luke come?” Kylo asks, part of him just wanting to get it over with. Another, larger part of him is grateful for every second without Luke’s broken gaze bearing down onto him. He knows exactly what Rey means about that. She shrugs.
“Luke is good at holding out,” she says. “I was here a month before he spoke a single world to me.”
“What-- He-- Are you serious?” Kylo is bothered by this, newly angry with Luke. “He was like another father to you, did he-- Not remember that? Did he not care that he was taking his grief out on you? You didn’t do anything to him.”
“It wasn’t something he did out of cruelty.” Rey walks over to the fireplace and uses a wooden scoop to pile some kind of rock-like fuel from a nearby basket into it. “It wasn’t that he didn’t want to speak to me. He was just out of practice, and still afraid that his words could only hurt the people he cared about, that they had hurt-- well, you. That he ruined things when you asked to be trained, and now I was asking him for the same thing. But he was kind to me, from the start. He brought me meals and saw that I was comfortable, didn’t turn me away. He resisted bonding with me when I was a child, did you know? Because he was afraid--”
She won’t say the rest, but Kylo hears it anyway. Luke was afraid of growing too attached to Wedge, always, though they were irreversibly attached since the night Wedge found Luke alone at the edge of Anakin Skywalker’s smouldering funeral pyre. There was no going back then, but Luke was always trying to deny himself that comfort, always afraid the darker things in him would ruin Wedge’s true goodness somehow. He was haunted by visions that he feared would come true. Kylo had sensed all this, too, even as a boy. As Ben.
“So what made you fall in love with the Starkiller?” Rey asks.
“That’s what they call him, in the Resistance,” Rey says, pointing her thumb toward the kitchen, where Hux has taken two tentative sips from his teacup, struggling to swallow both. “Or anyway,” Rey says, “That’s what they were starting to call him before I left. Since the whole bit with the sun getting sucked up into his megagun. Starkiller, and it’s not said fondly. Was it his unmatched ability to do mass murder that won you over, or something else?”
Kylo wants to tell her to shut up, but he supposes that comment wasn’t really so unfair. She seems amused by herself, still squatting by the fire and seeing that it gets going properly, tossing more of those rocks onto it.
“You’re in love with that stormtrooper,” Kylo says, swatting this back at her like a ball, as if this is one of the games they played as kids. He never let her win, even though she was ten years younger than him. She glares at him.
“He’s not a stormtrooper,” she says. “And I barely know him.”
“You know plenty.”
“He’s probably forgotten me by now,” Rey says, unperturbed by Kylo’s attempt to make her feel ashamed of her private feelings. “People tend to.”
“No one forgot you, I-- It was my fault no one found you, the memory alteration was too-- Too passionate, too desperate, I messed it up--”
“Regardless,” Rey says, sharply, and then she doesn’t seem to know how to continue. She throws a final rock into the fire, so hard that it sparks. “I suppose I gave you that,” she says, pointing to her face, indicating his scar.
“Hmm.” Rey turns back to the fire. Kylo consults her thoughts when her face falls.
Feedback from Rey: She’s wondering about the scar on Finn’s back. What it looks like. Imagining her hand pressed over it.
“Are you in my head?” she asks, whirling on Kylo.
“No-- I’m sorry. It’s-- I was alone with him for weeks before I came here-- I got accustomed to, uh. And I feel, you know. You and I are connected, also.”
“Connected.” Rey sighs and stands. “That’s one word for it. Doomed to require each other’s help, maybe.”
“What could you need my help with?”
“What do you think? Training.”
Kylo laughs. Rey frowns.
Observation: She’s serious, somehow.
“Luke would hack off both my hands to keep me from training you,” Kylo says.
“Well, then it’s a good thing it’s not his decision to make. You’re right that he’s like a father to me. I could never call him ‘Master.’ Not that I would ever think of you that way, but I need someone who truly tests me. Luke has helped me a great deal, but there’s something you have that he can’t give me.”
“What’s that?” Kylo asks, afraid he knows.
“Reckless transparency,” Rey says. “Luke is too guarded. He makes such small moves now, especially with me, especially regarding my-- Power.”
Observation: It’s strange to her, even calling it that. She’s afraid of her own power. Luke is, too. She reminds Luke so much of himself at her age: orphaned, struggling to understand the scope of her own potential, and in a constant state of disbelief that she could be important, that she could change the world.
“You’re welcome to all that I have,” Kylo says, not sure how serious he is about this. He turns toward Hux without thinking. Hux isn’t looking at them except out of the corner of his eye, but he sits up straighter when he senses Kylo’s attention on him, and grabs for his empty teacup like he may have to use it as a weapon.
Feedback from Hux: I have to get out of here, have to go, away from him, head-first into the fucking ocean if it comes to that.
“Can you-- Do you have healing powers?” Kylo asks Rey, sensing the the answer before he’s even finished asking this question. She shakes her head.
“Not that I know of.”
Kylo knows that Luke doesn’t have them either. He would have attempted to teach them to Ben if he did, or warned Ben not to develop them himself, if the powers come from something Dark. Kylo still can’t be sure. He’s felt connected to both the Light and the Dark through his healing.
“What have you told the Resistance about me?” Kylo asks, wondering how much time they’ll even have here.
“I told your mother, through the Force, that you were coming here. That’s all. I don’t think she’s told anyone else.”
Rey is lying about that second part, but she’s able to keep Kylo out of her head with surprising strength after she’s felt him realize this.
“If they want good information from the Starkiller,” Kylo says, aware that Hux is hearing this, “They’ll have to be patient. He’s-- The Starkiller is in no condition to be aggressively questioned right now.”
“Do I look like I plan to do that? Even his mental feedback is like torture. I can barely look at him without feeling this horrid despair welling in my chest, rising off of him.”
“You call it feedback, too?” Kylo asks, unable to deal with the rest of that information at present. Rey shrugs.
“I heard you thinking of it as that,” she says. “I guess it’s catching.”
She was always copying him when they were kids. Kylo smirks. He imagines what it would be like to train her. How easily the Force might flow between them. Maybe too easily. Luke would kill him before allowing it, whatever she thinks.
When Luke fails to show up, Rey busies herself with small tasks around the house. She’s still nervous, and still keeping close tabs on both Kylo and Hux, though neither of them is doing much of anything. Hux folds his arms onto the table and puts his head down, fighting off the urge to vomit when the pain in his neck sears him like a rope around his throat that he can’t loosen. Kylo sits near the fire, hating that he can’t do anything for Hux, hating Luke for making them wait, hating himself most of all.
Darkness falls outside, and the wind seems to strengthen, those chimes on the roof remaining almost eerily quiet despite this. Rey makes some kind of instant meal for herself in a bowl and eats it over the kitchen sink, doesn’t offer any to Hux and Kylo. Hux has fallen into an uncomfortable kind of half-sleep, still slumped onto the kitchen table.
“Don’t you have a bed he can lie in?” Kylo asks when Rey returns to the den to rekindle the dying fire.
“There’s my bed roll,” Rey says. “Which normally gets spread out where you’re sitting, and there’s Luke’s bed in back. I’m not eager to have General Starkiller in either of them, no.”
“Please, Rey. He’s making his neck worse, hunched over like that.”
Rey opens her mouth to respond, but before she can they both feel it: Luke, approaching. He’s not coming up the path that they climbed to get here. He’s--
Already in the house, somehow--
He’s climbing up another staircase, inside the cave behind the house. The cave is connected to the house, in a hidden room beyond this one.
“Don’t panic,” Rey says when she feels Kylo’s energy shifting into exactly that. “Let me do the talking.”
Kylo turns away from her. Stares at the wall. His heartbeat is like an assault from within. He can’t be here-- How the fuck did he end up here? What had he been thinking? He needs to leave, feels the urge to escape as desperately as Hux has, on and off all day, as his despair waxes and wanes like a moon where a battle is being fought. Kylo’s thoughts are already insane, scrambling away from the awareness of Luke sensing him here but not reaching out to him. Pulling back, in fact, when Kylo tries to focus on Luke’s location as he climbs higher, closer.
Footsteps at the back of the house. A heavy door creaks open and then closes again. There’s a key in a lock. Kylo scoffs.
Observation, in young Ben’s voice, small and secret and angry: As if a locked door could really keep me away from whatever it is you’re hiding.
Luke pauses at the back of the house, the closed doors of several rooms still between them. Rey is bouncing on her heels, her arms crossed over her chest. She keeps glancing at Kylo like he’s an animal she sneaked into the house, something she wants to keep but doesn’t know how to care for. She’d need Luke’s help with that.
Another door opens, and Luke walks through the adjoining room. Kylo turns, sucks in his breath, and prepares himself for the last door that remains between them to open. He’s so glad to not be alone here that he wants to grab Rey’s hand and squeeze it, but she’s too far away and doesn’t want him grabbing her, anyway.
The door opens. Luke wears a hooded robe, his eyes concealed. He has a heavy beard now, and he’s aged more than he should have in the fifteen years since Ben-- Kylo --last laid eyes on him.
Luke doesn’t look at Kylo or at Rey. He moves through the room and stops in the doorway to the kitchen, adjusting his hood so that he can stare at Hux, who is still slumped onto the table in a fitful sleep.
“I’m sorry,” Rey says. “But you must have known I’d bring them here. Luke, please, don’t be angry. I know you think I’m foolish to trust him--”
“You’re not foolish, Rey.” Luke moves into the kitchen and Kylo takes an instinctive step forward, wanting to protect Hux. Luke freezes, sensing this, and Kylo goes just as still, waiting. “What is this man doing in my house?” Luke asks.
“Me or him?” Kylo asks, making his voice hard.
Hux wakes up then, and the pained sound he makes when he lifts his head, his neck in absolute agony now, pulls something ragged and fragile out of Kylo, too. It’s inaudible, but he knows Luke and Rey have both felt it. Hux cries out again when he puts his shoulders back, his eyes pinched shut tight against the pain. Rey has lit a few lamps in the kitchen, but the light is low, and Kylo feels Hux’s terror in his own chest when Hux looks up and sees Luke staring at him from beneath that hood. Hux shouts and scrambles away, falling onto the floor when the chair tips over.
Objective, directed to Rey, begging: Please, help him, please.
“He’s got information about the First Order,” Rey says, as if Luke doesn’t already know this. She squeezes past Luke and into the kitchen, giving Luke a shoulder pat and a nervous smile as she passes. “There, there,” she says when she kneels down to Hux, unwilling or unable to hide the sarcastic disbelief in her voice. She gathers up the blanket that Hux dropped onto the floor and pulls it onto him again, lets him hide beneath it. “Have you got any more of that tea you gave me when I hurt my wrist?” she asks, speaking to Luke.
“You intend to heal him with it?” Luke asks.
“Snoke hurt him,” Rey says. Again, Luke must know this. Kylo wonders if Luke gets frustrated, too, by Rey’s hesitation to use her powers as fully as she could when communicating with a fellow Force-user. “Snoke used Ben to hurt him,” she says, still kneeling beside Hux.
“Is that what he’s told you.”
“It’s true!” Kylo barks. “Luke-- Uncle, I-- Can’t you see the truth of it?”
“I don’t presume to go looking for the truth in your head any longer, Lord Ren.”
Observation: That title sounds like an insult, like the most viciously personal slur, when Luke pronounces it.
Luke goes into the kitchen and opens one of the high cabinets. He pulls down a fat clay jar with a stopper stuffed into its lid and calmly begins making some sort of tea, his hood still blocking Kylo’s view of his face. Kylo shifts his gaze to Rey and she stands, shrugs.
Feedback from Rey, directly sent: This is going better than I’d hoped, actually.
“It would be absurd for me to try to apologize for what’s been done,” Kylo says when the silence grows uncomfortable. “That’s not why I’ve come here. I only ask for your help in defeating Snoke. I’ve-- Removed him, from-- My mind, now. From myself.”
Luke is quiet, mixing something from another jar into the brew he’s concocting at the stove. He’s going to respond: Kylo can feel it.
“You think it’s that easy, huh?” Luke says.
“I don’t-- No, of course not, it wasn’t easy.”
Kylo glances at Rey. She lifts her hand in a dismissive wave.
Feedback from Rey, very appreciated: He always takes a bit of time to respond, don’t worry.
“Have you realized, then,” Luke says, “What Snoke meant to do with you?”
“Yes. He wanted my body. Needed it, to continue the line of what he calls his immortality. He’s done it before. Many times. I’m not sure how long he’s been alive this way, moving from body to body. A thousand years, perhaps.”
“Longer, I suspect,” Luke says. “But then, I can’t really know. Snoke never revealed himself to me. He hid masterfully, right under my gaze.”
Unspoken, the rest of Luke’s feelings on the matter are nevertheless heard, and Kylo knows Rey has heard them, too:
Perhaps he’s hiding still, in the same fashion, inside you this very moment.
“Luke,” Rey says. “Does he really not feel different to you? He does to me, since our confrontation in the woods.”
Luke considers his response, using a spoon to stir the tea that’s beginning to boil, the stove’s fire stoked by his power. Kylo tries to see Luke’s mind and finds only what he expected: that Luke’s thoughts are very closely and carefully guarded, in general and specifically against him, appearing only as a kind of gray fog despite Kylo’s fiercest concentration.
“Ben Solo was masterful, too,” Luke says. “At hiding his true intentions, feelings, allegiances. I suspect Kylo Ren is even more skilled than Ben was, in this way.”
“Oh, but he is Ben!” Rey says. “You must feel it, like I do. You’ve told me not to let myself think that I know better than the truth I find in the Force, not to fight the feeling that comes when something genuine reveals itself. I think you’re fighting it now.”
Rey feels guilt for saying so. Luke doesn’t respond. He finishes the tea he’s brewing and retrieves Hux’s cup from the table, dips it into the steaming pot and brings it to Rey, all without glancing at Kylo, the hood shadowing his eyes.
Observation: Kylo wants that brutal gaze on him now. Wants the pain of it.
Analysis, tentative: That’s precisely why Luke won’t give it.
“Here,” Rey says, squatting down to Hux. She pulls the blanket away from his face and offers the tea. Hux just stares at it, hating all of them. “This will heal your throat,” Rey says, sharply. “It’s very fast-acting and it gives you a brief sense of euphoria, even. So maybe don’t look at me like that and just be grateful, yeah? Drink.”
“His voice is like yours,” Kylo says, idiotically, wishing he could stuff the words back in when Rey and Hux both look at him like he’s out of his mind. It’s the first time Hux has looked at him with anything other than utter terror, at least. Luke remains impassive, staring out the window that looks onto the covered patio.
“Whose voice?” Rey says, frowning “What?”
Kylo watches Hux take the tea and drink from it. He can’t resist checking Hux’s feedback when the relief of it floods into him, along the length of his aching throat. It doesn’t erase the pain as fully as Kylo’s healing might have, but it soothes more than just the bruises and sore muscles. Hux has to swallow down an appreciative noise of something nearing pleasure when he drinks more.
“Yeah,” Rey says, standing to refill his empty cup when he passes it to her. “It’s the good stuff, right?”
Kylo is tempted to ask for some himself. He can feel a spark of renewed disgust emanating from Luke when he senses Kylo’s desire to have some of the tea.
“Snoke left me weakened,” Kylo says, defensively. Rey winks at him and takes a tiny sip from the teacup before bringing more to Hux, who reaches for it greedily and drinks it in gulps this time. Kylo refocuses on Hux, wanting to feel more of his relief. His want is too strong: Hux notices Kylo’s attention on him and freezes in mid-gulp, frightened, sputtering. Kylo pulls his thoughts and his gaze away, staring instead at Luke’s back.
“If you won’t help me, we’ll leave,” Kylo says, though this is disingenuous. Rey and Luke are already helping. Hux drinks from the cup again, feeling almost human for the first time since Snoke’s attack. It’s only a fleeting effect of the tea, but it’s something. At least he’s drinking it on his own, and asking for more. It’s an improvement over what went on in the shuttle on the way here. Kylo is ashamed of himself when he recalls it. He wonders if Hux even remembers that he was under Kylo’s control before he came back to himself.
Observation: That’s just what Snoke did to you. You’ve taken Snoke’s weapon and used it against Hux. You’re like Snoke. He transformed you into his puppet, and even now that he’s gone, you’ll always be shaped like him, because he formed you from nothing, because there’s nothing left of Ben. Luke is right to reject you.
“I see your staggering ability to cultivate self pity has survived into adulthood,” Luke says.
You’ve changed. Kylo doesn’t say it out loud this time.
Luke hears it anyway, and finds this observation just as offensive and absurd as Rey did. Of course they’ve changed. Kylo changed them. He threw them into the wind like a handful of seeds. They found far off lands where they took root and grew into new people. It’s unconscionable for Kylo to feel betrayed that they’ve hardened without him, against him, that they’ve grown thorns and won’t hesitate to use their sharpest edges to to keep him away. But he feels it anyway.
“I’ll need to recover some of my strength before I go after Snoke,” Kylo says.
“Ben,” Luke says, before he can catch the impulse to call him that. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“You intend to stop me?” Kylo regrets the volume of his voice when he feels Hux flinch in fear.
“What’s there to stop?” Luke says, and he coughs up a joyless laugh.
Observation: He’s laughing at Kylo.
“Do you even know where Snoke is, presently?” Rey asks, maybe to cut the tension that tightens and tightens between Kylo and Luke.
“No,” Kylo says. “I’ll meditate. I’ll find him.”
“You lack vision,” Luke says, his voice sharpening. “You might find Snoke-- I don’t doubt that you’re still connected to him enough to do so, no matter how well you might think you’ve cleared him from your mind, but you don’t even see yourself, Ben.”
This time Luke uses that name deliberately, and he turns from the window, looking into Kylo’s eyes at last. Luke’s are shaded by his hood but visible, bright with grief and accusation that strikes Kylo with knifing energy.
“You think you’re anywhere near ready to take on an enemy who lived within you for fifteen, twenty years?” Luke asks, his eyes narrowing. It’s not a real question. “You’re barely standing upright among us.”
“I’m weak right now, I admit that freely, from Snoke’s attack, but once I’m--”
“The amount of work you must do on yourself before truly defeating Snoke would take many, many years.”
“I don’t have many years,” Kylo says, forcing himself not to shout, for Hux’s sake. “Snoke will have found another victim by then. I won’t let him keep doing this. I won’t let him survive what he’s done to us.”
“Us?” Luke shifts his gaze to Hux. Kylo wants to step in front of Hux, to protect him from Luke’s scrutiny. Hux has finished three cups of tea now and is leaning against the wall with his eyes closed, letting it soak into his system with relief. The bruises on his neck are still there, but they’re lighter, and the burst blood vessels in and around his eyes have gone from angry red to faint pink.
“You can’t fault Ben for clinging to whatever human contact he could scrape together,” Rey says when she senses Luke’s disdain. “Luke,” she says, more softly.
Feedback from Rey, to Luke, overheard by Kylo: This is what shook him free of Snoke at last, however strange it seems to us. This attachment.
“No,” Luke says. “This man who calls himself your cousin is not the sort of person you’d want holding on to an attachment like this. Kylo Ren is ruthless. He will do anything to get what he wants. The word itself is important to him-- I feel it even now. Whether he wants unlimited power or the company of another person, he will corrupt any desire he latches onto before long, and this particular partner in crime would have no objections to destroying anything that stood in their way. No, this is terribly dangerous.”
Everyone is silent in the wake of this observation. Kylo can hardly disagree with Luke’s assessment. He would hurt more people if it meant helping Hux. He would do worse than that to fix Hux, heal him, save him.
Observation: But you wouldn’t hurt these people for him. Not even for Hux. You wouldn’t let Hux bring Rey to harm. Nor Luke.
Observation, related and only a small comfort in light of the other: Hux wouldn’t want to hurt Rey or Luke. He doesn’t operate like that. Anyway, they gave him that tea.
Feedback from Hux: I’d rather die than listen to another word of this inane nightmare of a conversation.
Analysis, hasty but concrete: Hux doesn’t mean that literally.
“What do you propose I do now?” Kylo asks, speaking to Luke. “Rather than going after Snoke?”
Luke’s shoulders sag, and he turns to brace his hands on the counter, one on each side of the sink. He pushes the robe’s hood down. His hair is messy, gray.
“Go home to your mother, Ben,” Luke says, sounding now like the uncle he remembers. “She wants you back.”
“No.” Kylo looks at Rey, but she’s staring into space, her jaw tightening as her mind returns to the same moment that Kylo is remembering now. “You know,” Kylo says, to Luke. He hears himself sounding like Ben: small, weak, afraid to voice what must be said. “What I did. To my father.”
Luke goes very still. He pulls the hood of his robe back up and moves toward the patio, opens the door.
“Where are you going?” Rey asks.
“For a walk,” Luke says. “I can’t-- Continue to be around him. It’s excruciating.”
Feedback from Hux, inadvertently overheard: That makes two of us.
Kylo leaves the kitchen and moves blindly into the room with the fireplace, finds a dark corner and sinks to his knees there. Rests his forehead against the wall. Realizes only then that he’s so tired. That he’s shaking just from exhaustion.
Observations, unwanted: Also from fear. Heartache. Hopelessness.
“Hey.” Rey’s voice is soft, but she still manages to startle him. Kylo turns to her, lacking the energy to hide the expression on his face or anything he’s feeling. Rey is feeling it, too. She shows it to him openly, on her face and in her mind, as she hands him a cup full of the special tea. “There was some left,” she says, whispering. “Go on, have it.”
“I don’t deserve any.”
“Nobody gets what they deserve in this life. Don’t you know that yet? Please, Ben, do it for me.”
Kylo takes the cup and drinks, finishing it all in three gulps. It sinks into him fast and unsettles him. He’s wary of giving up control to anything now. But when he lets his weight rest against the wall he allows the weight inside him to lift, too, and the tea seems to make good memories pour into him like sunlight: Hux with his little hat half-covering his face, peering up at Kylo with such unexpected trust, Hux exhaling with relief when Kylo leaned in to kiss him over his helmet, Hux safe in his arms in the house on the cliff, laughing at him in the shower, pressed against him to hide from the cold, Hux grabbing his face while the speeder idled beneath them and kissing him like it might be the last thing either of them ever did so it might as well be what they both wanted more than anything.
When Kylo opens his eyes he’s not in the little room with the fireplace, not on Luke’s island, not looking at Rey. He’s on the roof of the Tower. Cold, terrified. Hux is standing across from him, wearing an oversized coat that’s a poor replacement for the neatly pressed one he wore over his shoulders when he strolled the halls of the Finalizer. Hux is smoking a cigarette, keeping his distance. But he’s not afraid. Not offline, and not afraid of Kylo anymore.
The vision fades when the effect of the tea fuzzes away. Kylo is breathing hard, clinging as hard as he can to what he saw.
Observation, solid enough to keep him alive until it comes true: That was the future. It was real.
“Oh,” Rey says, because Kylo’s eyes are wet. When they were kids, when Ben had a rage that turned around on him and broke him down, left him sobbing, Rey had sometimes cried, too. Sometimes even if they weren’t in the same room. Sometimes even if she was across town, in Wedge’s apartment, barely understanding what had upset her. Ben didn’t know that then, but Kylo feels it now.
“It’s okay,” Kylo says when Rey’s eyes well up. “I saw something good. Something real, I-- I’m okay. It’s all going to be okay. I think.”
“I know,” Rey says, and she chokes out a kind of half-sob anyway, smiling through it. “I feel it, too.”
Kylo puts his head against the floor and she leans over him, sighs, rests her cheek on his back and hugs one arm around him. It’s a comfort, and so terrifying, to begin to hope she could be his ally and to feel her wanting the same thing from him, and knowing that same terror.
“I wish I had known how to tell you how wrong you were back then,” Rey says. “Wrong to believe anything that foul beast said to you.”
“I wish you could understand how true it all was to me then,” Kylo says.
He feels her eyes squeeze shut, feels her swallow a sob that hurts to hold in. She takes a deep breath, sits up. Kylo sits up, too.
“Want to hear something amazing?” Rey’s smile is real, even as she wipes at her wet eyes.
“Yes,” Kylo says, sincerely. Needing that.
“Did you notice those chimes hanging from the roof?”
“You know I did.”
“Well.” Rey laughs and wipes her eyes again, still smiling. “I made them, as a test for myself. That part of the roof is sheltered a bit, by the fence, but they were still fully assaulted by the wind when I first hung them, clanging horribly. I keep them as calm as I can, against the wind, all the time, just with my mind-- even when I sleep! It’s, it’s-- like a barometer, a test of my own ability to connect to the Force, and I invented it myself, you know? That’s why it matters.”
“I know,” Kylo says, barely able to form the words, because yes, he does know: his healing. He knows. He shakes his head, feels something break in his chest. It’s soundless but also much bigger and harder than a sob, something he won’t be able to put back together. “You called me a monster after you saw what I’d done,” he says, thinking of the way his father’s body just fell. As if Han was nothing. As if Kylo had made that true. “You were right.”
“I know,” Rey says. “But I was wrong, too. You can be both, at once. That’s the hell of it. That there is no pure Light and no complete Dark. They’re always together, always struggling.”
“But there’s no darkness in you. And no light in Snoke.”
“Well, regarding Snoke I agree, but only because he squashed whatever light was ever in him long ago. And as for me, don’t presume I can’t be dark.”
“How do you know that?” Kylo asks.
“Because I know myself! You can’t tell me--”
“No, I meant about Snoke. You spoke confidently, saying he had squashed the light in himself. I think you’re right-- I think it’s something you’ve sensed about him, a true vision.”
“It’s more like a guess, I’m sure. You said Snoke has been stealing bodies for perhaps thousands of years, and something like that would require the squashing of all things in the light, I assume.”
Kylo lets the discussion drop, but he knows he’s right. Rey sees things without trying. Not always, but when she allows herself to do it, without even knowing. He sends his thoughts to Hux, checking on him.
Feedback from Hux, cycling internally as he curls further into himself: Pathetic, you’re pathetic, just sitting on the floor, under yet another fucking blanket, waiting for them to do whatever they have planned. At least your brother died a hero.
Further, smaller: You’re alive and Brendol Jr. isn’t. You’re still winning. Stay alive, stay ahead of their plans, do the only thing you’ve ever known how to do. Survive.
“I’ve got a message from Luke,” Rey says, pulling Kylo from Hux’s mind.
“He’s going to spend the night outside, and if the weather grows too harsh he’ll shelter in your shuttle. So don’t be alarmed if you sense him there. He’d only be using it as a kind of tent, not stealing it from you.”
“He--” Kylo closes his eyes and shakes his head. “He thinks I can even sense where he is on this island?”
“He has no idea what you’re capable of,” Rey says, whispering this, as if Luke might hear. “After what you concealed before, when you were even younger and had less training.”
“You can reassure him that his attempts to keep me out of his head are working.” Kylo stands, using the wall for traction.
“Fine,” Rey says, rising to her feet. “Anyway, he offers you his bed. You and the Starkiller can sleep there. I’ll be on my bed roll out here.”
“He--” Kylo allows himself to wallow in the torment of knowing what he can’t have, imagining what a comfort it would be to climb into any bed with Hux after what they’ve been through, to hold Hux against him and whisper to him in the dark, to stroke his fingers through Hux’s hair and feel Hux taking some measure of comfort from that, from him. He sends his mind to Hux’s again, desperate and needy and knowing what he’ll find.
Feedback from Hux: He wants to die or to run, to go back in time maybe. Doesn’t want to be in the same room with Kylo, let alone the same bed.
Further, a knife down Kylo’s chest despite that new vision of the Tower: Hux specifically never wants to be in a bed with Kylo again. Nothing that has ever happened to Hux has been worse than that was: that betrayal, in that bed, in the house on the cliff. It’s the kind of shock that can’t be healed, that long-wanted feeling of peaceful surrender met with what looked and sounded like Ren’s mocking laughter when Hux tried to cry out in pain and couldn’t even get the sound of it past his lips.
“Let him have the bed,” Kylo says, forcing the words out past his clenched jaw. “I’ll sleep out here, or in the kitchen. On the floor.”
Kylo sits near the fire and averts his eyes when Rey brings Hux through the room. Hux has the blanket folded under his arm, refusing to walk through this house with it draped around his shoulders as if he’s some kind of refugee. Hux doesn’t look at Kylo, but he’s hyper-aware of Kylo’s presence as he passes, going tense with dread just from being so near to him.
Feedback from Hux, once he’s under the blanket again, in Luke’s bed: Well, here I am in a fucking Jedi’s bedclothes. Ren’s fucking uncle, terrific. Don’t sleep, idiot, think. Think of some way out of here, fast.
Despite assigning himself this objective, Hux is too tired to remain awake once he’s comfortable, the remaining ache in his throat very faint now. Kylo feels it when Hux allows a restless sleep to take him. He wants to go into the room and brush the windblown hair from Hux’s forehead, wants to watch over him throughout the night, but doesn’t dare it.
“Here,” Rey says when she returns from Luke’s room with a pillow and a blanket. She hands them to Kylo and pulls her own bedroll from the trunk that sits against the opposite wall.
“What will happen now?” Kylo asks.
“I don’t know,” Rey says. She stretches out on her bed roll. Though she looks her age, she has an energy that makes her seem younger than nineteen, and she’s somehow still so hopeful. Every move she makes reveals this, even the way she folds her arms behind her head. “But I wasn’t saying so lightly when I told you that I believe things will be okay,” she says. “We might go through hell again, Ben, but there’s something on the other side of that. I do feel it. It feels real.”
She smiles and rolls away from him then, toward the wall, tucking in for sleep. Kylo puts the pillow down and rests his head against it, rolling over to face the opposite wall. He holds the folded blanket in his arms, brings his face down against it and pretends that it’s Hux.
Observation: This is foolish but somehow helpful.
He longs to dream of the roof on the Tower, wants to see Hux again in a future where he isn’t afraid anymore, of Kylo or of anything else, but those dreams don’t come. Kylo dreams of the cave. It isn’t the cave that sits behind Luke’s house. This cave waits for him on another planet. Snoke waits within it. Laughing. Believing that he’s already won.
It’s more important than anything to identify the ways in which Snoke underestimates you. Those are the strengths you have that he cannot see, weapons you can hide from him no matter how clearly he thinks he sees your attack coming. This is what will save you.
Kylo awakens to the echo of this voice from his dream, which was somehow both familiar and new. He turns and sees that Rey is gone, her bed roll tucked away. A quick mental search of the surrounding area reveals that she’s in the cave behind the house, which Luke has made into a kind of Temple. Rey is meditating there. Luke is elsewhere, his location still concealed from Kylo. Hux is--
Hux is not in Luke’s bed.
Hux is outside, standing at the edge of a cliff that overlooks the ocean, wondering if he would feel it when he struck the rocks below, or if death would come too quickly for his dashed-apart mind to process any pain.
Kylo slams out of the house, runs.
It’s raining outside. Hux is not visible when Kylo enters the clearing. Kylo is going to have to calm himself enough to do a mental search for Hux again, but what if there’s no time, what if--
He closes his eyes, swallows a whine that might have come out as broken begging if there was anyone to hear it. He sees Hux sitting down, letting his legs hang over the edge of the cliff while the rain continues to soak him. He’s nearby. He’s not going to do it, not really.
Feedback from Hux: Only an idiot would want to go on playing this game, but I’ve certainly proved to be one of those. What’s next, what now? Somehow I still want to know.
Kylo wants to send his voice into Hux’s mind, resists. He walks around the side of the boulder that conceals this cliff from the clearing, along a very narrow path. Hux feels him approach but doesn’t turn.
“Careful,” Kylo says. He could move Hux back himself, away from the edge, but he doesn’t.
Feedback from Hux: He’s frightened, doesn’t want Kylo to come any closer. His posture is very stiff. But the alarms in his head aren’t as loud as they were the day before.
“So you see I’m too much of a coward to do anything about this corner you’ve painted me into,” Hux says, turning his cheek in Kylo’s direction. “I suppose I knew I wouldn’t, but I wanted to have a look. Wanted to see how far down it is to the bottom, I suppose.”
Kylo doesn’t know what to say. Isn’t sure Hux would be able to stand hearing his voice. Hux’s voice is mostly recovered, thanks to that tea. It’s still a bit scratchy, maybe just from disuse.
They call him General Husk. He hasn’t spoken in years, they say.
But no. That vision conflicts with Kylo’s more recent trip to the future, to the roof of the Tower. General Husk wouldn’t bother with cigarettes. They’re in combat with each other already, those two potential outcomes.
Objective: Do anything. Just as Luke fears. Anything to save Hux, whatever you can.
“Please come back inside,” Kylo says. Keeping his voice very soft, almost inaudible.
“Do you know what happened as soon as I walked out here?” Hux asks, turning back toward the ocean. “It started fucking raining. Go figure.”
“I’m glad to hear your voice,” Kylo says, unable to hold this in.
“Are you. Well, I expect this is one of the last times you will.”
Feedback from Hux: Hearing your voice is like torture, meanwhile. You screamed that you would kill me. That you should have already. After your eyes were yours again.
“I was talking to Snoke!” Kylo says, his voice too loud already. “He wouldn’t let me look away from you when I said it, but I was talking to him, you must know that--”
“I don’t know anything. Except that I was bait, a trap set for you. That’s all I ever was. I wonder if Snoke arranged to have me promoted to General because he’d done some light mind-reading and found me to be the candidate who was most likely to roll over and offer his ass to you as soon as you’d asked for it?”
“Shut up,” Kylo says, without meaning to. He winces. “Sorry, I--”
“Don’t fucking say that to me ever again.”
Observation: Hux is forbidding him from saying ‘sorry,’ not ‘shut up.’
They both remain silent for a long time after that, both unwilling to move. The rainfall softens and then stops. Hux is cold. He suspects he’ll be cold for the rest of his life.
“I’m going to save you,” Kylo says, hoping that Hux will laugh at him, needing to hear it. “I don’t care if you believe me or not.”
“Save me from what? The time for that has passed, Ky-lo.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“I don’t even blame you,” Hux says. He stands, moves back from the edge of the cliff but doesn’t turn toward Kylo. He can’t look at Kylo-- Doing so hurts, physically, like a gut punch. Even having Kylo this close, over ten feet away, is like feeling ice coat every bone in his body, all of Hux’s energy going toward suppressing the primal fear that tells him to run, run, or risk being attacked again. “I pity you, really,” Hux says. “He took me from you. I can’t-- Look at you, I can’t-- Be whatever I was for you before. He accomplished that, even in failing to kill me. I’m sorry. I’m not strong enough to undo it.”
“You are,” Kylo says, gritting his teeth against the shake that wants to jump into his voice. “I’ve seen it. In the future.”
“Oh, Ren. You never really saw anything there that helped us, did you?”
The truth in this statement lands against Kylo so hard that he has to turn away from Hux, as if he’s been knocked sideways by a strong wind. Kylo startles when he sees Luke standing on the narrow path beside the boulder, watching them.
“Ben,” Luke says. “Come with me.”
Kylo turns back to Hux when Luke walks away, expecting him to follow. Hux remains in place, wet and cold, wondering whose old clothes he’ll be asked to put on next.
“Go on,” Hux says, still not facing him. “I won’t kill myself. You must be able to sense that. You’ve done what you could for me, Ren. Don’t torture yourself with what’s been lost to us. Go and listen to your uncle tell you how to destroy the one who took it. That’s all we’ve got left. I’ll thank you for killing Snoke, if you manage to do it, and if they haven’t already executed me by then.”
“That was quite a speech,” Kylo says. He moves away from Hux, wanting to give him the relief of not having to stand there shaking in fear because Kylo is too close. “I almost believed it,” Kylo calls back as he walks away.
Feedback from Hux: Fuck you, Ren.
Observation: Kylo is smiling, his steps light as he hurries after Luke, his battered mind briefly lifted into the clouds.
Analysis: Hux can’t look at him, can’t hear his voice without fear. That will be true for a long time. But Hux’s anger feels like the sweetest kiss on the lips after feeling nothing but fear in his feedback since Snoke’s attack.
Kylo’s elation fades when he considers what Hux said more seriously. If they haven’t already executed me by then. Where will Hux go from here? Where will any of them go?
Luke is waiting for him at the very top of the hill. Kylo supposes it could be considered a mountain, now that he’s scaled it. The house and the clearing are thirty feet below. Kylo watches Hux return to the house and hopes that Rey will help him find some dry clothes to put on.
He turns to Luke, who has his back to Kylo as he watches the clouds thinning over the water. The idea that the sun might come out seems like a childish fantasy.
Observation: Luke’s energy is different today. He’s still sad, but less angry.
“I spent the whole night meditating,” Luke says. Apparently he doesn’t want to look at Kylo while they speak any more than Hux did. “Also walking,” Luke says. “And thinking, in a less organized way, about all that has happened.”
“That’s admirable,” Kylo says. “I slept.”
“Well, you were right to. You were wounded by what happened. It sapped your power-- I felt it. I’ve felt other things about you, too, and Rey is right that I don’t want to believe them. That I’m afraid to.”
“You have truly returned to us.”
Luke turns then. His gaze is still brutal, still full of the pain that Kylo put there. Kylo holds it, accepts this.
“I also know that you won’t heed my warnings,” Luke says. “Just as you never have. I know you will go to Snoke as soon as you can and attempt to kill him.”
“And? Have you foreseen the result?”
“No. There is no future firmly in place, where this goal of yours is concerned. Too much depends upon what happens next. Between now and then.”
“What do you-- Do you propose to train me?”
Luke laughs. There’s nothing joyful or amused in it.
“No,” he says.
“You must have sensed that your time here is already drawing to a close. The Resistance has already sent a ship here to retrieve you. To bring you home to your mother.”
Kylo shakes his head. He had sensed that, but he didn’t want to let himself know it.
“What will they do with Hux?” he asks.
“I’ll get to him in a moment. Right now, before they arrive, you and I need to talk about the realities of Snoke. How he operates. This will be our last chance to communicate before you face him, most likely.”
“What-- Why? Won’t you come back with us?”
“No, Ben. That path is closed to me.”
“No, it’s not.” It’s disturbing to realize how much he’d been counting on having Luke back, for good. Despite everything. “Why should you stay away?”
He consults Luke’s thoughts. Finds only the gray fog. Luke’s eyes have hardened when Kylo refocuses on them.
“Stop prying,” Luke says. “You’re not as a good at it as you once were. Snoke has taken so much from you. He’s made everything harder for you by building himself into your very foundation, and now he’s taken those support beams away-- Or you’ve disposed of them. Either way, you need to protect yourself for as long as you can. He will try to enter your mind again, as soon as he’s able. Don’t assume that you’ve already done the work it will take to keep him out.”
“How do you know I haven’t?” Kylo asks.
Luke shakes his head. “Perhaps I don’t. Perhaps you were always right to assume you know more than me, Ben.”
“Regardless, these are my feelings at present. Shall I continue, or would you prefer to go down to the house and wait there until the Resistance arrives?”
Kylo thinks of his mother. Sends his thoughts to the craft that is already approaching. Relief overwhelms him when he senses that she’s not aboard it. Nor is Chewbacca.
“Well?” Luke says when Kylo’s attention returns to him. “What will it be?”
“Tell me your concerns.”
“I don’t know what powers Snoke has precisely,” Luke says. “But his need of a powerful physical body may be telling. Also that he focused on you, with your innate balance of Light and Dark, and that he seemed to want you to experience this interlude of freedom from his control, either as a test or for some other purpose, I can’t be sure. You need to do some research when you’re back home. There are some books that I left behind-- Very old, paper bound in leather. There may be information there that is relevant to how Snoke intends to gain some sort of ultimate access to control of your body, and the methods he might use to force his way back in, now that you’ve begun to deny him permission. Snoke has invested himself in this scheme for over twenty years, and he’s not going to give up easily. There’s got to be some reason why he didn’t move on to another victim after you threw him out the first time, when you were fifteen, when you saved Rey. These books in my collection contain information about the oldest Jedi and Sith customs, but the text can be hard to parse. Enlist Rey’s help. She denies the power of her own intuition, but it’s uniquely complete when she allows herself to access it.”
“My mother has these books of yours?” Kylo says, mumbling. Studying old books wasn’t in his original plans for preparing to vanquish Snoke. Luke shakes his head.
“Wedge,” Luke says, tightly. “He has them.”
Kylo looks down at the house again. Feels Luke’s scrutiny of him shifting.
“And now to the other matter,” Luke says. “Your attachment to that man.”
“It can’t be helped.”
“Perhaps not, but what you choose to do about it might matter a great deal. People like us weren’t meant to have certain comforts, Ben. I never wanted to have to say that to you, or even to admit it to myself, but it’s clear to me now. I did such damage by trying to deny it.”
“What do you mean?” Kylo asks, though he thinks he knows.
“I’m not concerned about what happens to that man they call Starkiller,” Luke says. “But you might continue to be. Overly so, and in vain. I destroyed someone by loving him, once. The strength of our connection had no chance against the weight of what was thrust onto me at birth. If you foster this attachment, it could cost you the energy and focus required to destroy Snoke, and that could lead you to inadvertently destroying the very person you want most to protect. Sometimes the price we must pay to keep the ones we care about safe is keeping clear of them.”
Kylo wants to argue against this, but he knows Luke won’t listen. Luke thinks that Wedge is destroyed, and that Luke’s return, alongside Rey, would make no difference in undoing the damage done to him.
Memories like daggers that flick across the back of his neck: Realizing what Wedge was to Luke happened concurrently with Ben’s own realizations about himself and what he wanted. There was a young pilot a few years older than Ben, a prodigy who idolized Ben’s mother and was suddenly always around, infuriating Ben with his-- Everything. The things Ben began to feel for that pilot made some of what Wedge and Luke had together clearer to him. Some years later that same pilot was in the interrogation chair aboard the Finalizer, and Kylo was his torturer.
“I can’t do this,” Kylo says when he turns back to Luke, his chest getting tighter and tighter as he senses the approach of the New Republic ship that will soon land on the other side of the island. “I can’t go back. I can’t face my mother. Luke-- Uncle, I’m. Too weak, I’ve done too many things that can’t be undone--”
“That is precisely why you must face them now, Ben.”
“Won’t you come with me? Please? I need you, I need--”
“You need Rey, and she will be with you. My role in your life is over. I’ll remain here, where I can do no further damage. Call on me through the Force only in case of emergency. And don’t expect me to know what to do if that comes to pass. I didn’t, when you called out to me yesterday. Rey knew, however. She was right.”
The word ‘yesterday’ weighs on Kylo until it sinks him to his knees. He puts his hands in the mud, closes his eyes. It’s impossible but true. It was just yesterday that everything changed.
He thinks of his first night alone in his room in Snoke’s fortress, when he was fifteen, after what had been done. After he’d been ordered to kill Snoke’s previous apprentice upon arrival, the rattling relief in that boy’s death cry still ringing in his ears. Ben had used all the energy he had left to keep from crying that night, the impulse to break into sobs shuddering through his chest with every painful exhale.
Observation: Ben. He was still Ben that night, whatever Snoke said.
Observation, related: He doesn’t know who he is now. Not Ben, unless Luke or Rey looks upon him. Not Kylo, with Snoke on notice as his enemy now.
He sends his mind to Hux, wanting Hux to answer this question for him.
Feedback from Hux: He’s dressed in some of Luke’s old clothes, baggy and shapeless things given to him by Rey. Hux is half-listening to Rey’s nervous chatter about the instant meal she’s making, something from a packet that tastes like cardboard until you add some dried herbs from Luke’s garden, according to her.
Further, when Hux tunes her out: This girl is nothing like Ren. I suppose he did say they’re not related by blood.
Observation: Ren. That’s who he is now, as decided by Hux. He’s only whatever Hux needs, from now on. And Hux needs him to kill Snoke.
Remember: Take special notice of the things about you that Snoke underestimates. Such as when he thought he could kill Hux and it gave you the strength to rip Snoke from your mind.
Observations, further: Thinking of himself as Ren will take some getting used to. All of this will. He’s still not sure he’s strong enough for any of it as he lifts his head to watch the small Republic ship appear in the sky, breaking the atmosphere. He feels a hand on his shoulder and assumes it must be a ghost.
Correction: It’s Luke.
“You’re lucky,” Ren says, watching the Republic’s ship draw closer. “You can choose not to go back.”
“It doesn’t feel like a choice. Not any more than your need to return does.”
“You didn’t fail me.” Ren thinks of turning to Luke when he says this. He can’t. “I failed you. And-- Everyone.”
“You were a child. We couldn’t comprehend what was happening to you. We missed all the signs, because we were naive about that kind of darkness. We didn’t know such a hideous thing could even be real, to prey on a child that way, that secretly. That’s not your fault.”
“But what happened, later--”
“Yes, Ben. You have much to atone for, as yourself. Go and do so. Be strong for your mother. She needs you.”
Ren stands. Wipes his muddy hands on his robe. Who will wash it when he arrives at the place where that ship will take him? Not his mother. The idea of her doing it is obscene.
I underestimated you, Ben. I’ll always regret it.
That’s Luke’s voice in his head. Ren turns and meets Luke’s gaze. Luke’s eyes are like the ocean at the base of the house on the cliff. Almost never clear of some variety of rainfall. The pain there is in constant motion.
“Rey will be angry when she learns you’re not coming with us,” Ren says, in lieu of anything so ridiculous as an attempt at an apology for being the thing that Luke will always regret.
“I know,” Luke says. “I’m taking the path behind us, down the back of the cliff. There’s an entry point to the cave there. I won’t emerge until you’ve gone. Tell Rey goodbye for me.”
“That’s cruel,” Ren says, surprised by him.
“Perhaps. I attempted to be kind to those I love, once. It was the ruin of all of them. Goodbye, Ben.”
Ren turns from Luke and returns to the house, unable to suppress his renewed anger with Luke for again doing something that Ren feels he can uniquely understand. Ren wants to run, too. To hide until everyone is gone.
Rey has emerged from the house when Ren reaches the patio. Hux is inside, frozen again with terror, though this is a more resigned, conscious sort than what he felt the day before. Hux saw the Republic ship as it came down for a landing. He thinks he knows what it means for him.
“Where’s Luke?” Rey asks. Her eyes are hard, because Ren is to blame for the answer to this question. She already knows. Ren shakes his head.
“We’ll see Luke again,” he says, wanting to believe this. “But he’s not ready to go back.”
“So he gives himself that luxury when we don’t--” Rey senses something then, cocks her head and lets her mouth hang open.
Feedback from Rey: The pilot who came to collect them is not alone. He’s in the company of--
Further, striking through Ren with a peel of unfiltered joy that jumps from Rey and into him, though this realization means nothing to him and everything to her: Finn.
Rey exhales in disbelief and pushes around Ren, dashing for the path down the hill. Hux remains inside the house, dejected, hating that he’s wearing Luke’s ratty old clothes and not his uniform when facing these conquering enemies. His sense of allegiance to the Order is gone, but he still hates the Republic, the Resistance, and he’s still wistful about the uniform he wore when he had power over them.
“Come on,” Ren says. “We should walk down to meet them.” They’ll appear less threatening that way. Ren doesn’t want Hux further traumatized by any rough handling upon arrest.
“They’ll kill me, Ren,” Hux says, still not looking at him. “Or worse.”
“No. I won’t let them.”
Hux turns his cheek. There’s a moment when he seems to consider meeting Ren’s eyes. Then he leaves the house without doing so, hurrying around Ren and shuddering in fear at needing to pass by him so closely.
Ren waits until Hux has reached the head of the trail before following, leaving enough space between them so that Hux won’t feel threatened. It’s strange to leave the house knowing that Luke won’t be coming with them.
Observation: There is nothing about what is currently happening that isn’t strange.
Hux heads down the trail slowly, confident that every step brings him closer to his death. Ren keeps back and tries not to focus too intently on Rey’s glee as the traitor called Finn runs toward her, matching the gleeful pace of her approach, both of them laughing like children.
Ren is too connected to Rey’s emotional surges to ignore what comes next, though he would like to. He feels it when she imagines jumping into Finn’s outstretched arms, and when she stops herself just as Finn does, both of them talking at once.
“You’re okay,” Rey says, grabbing Finn by his elbows, her eyes shining up into his. “You’re okay-- You’re here!”
“Rey, you’re-- They made me afraid you’d be some kind of monk, all stoic and wearing a robe--”
“Well, it is a robe, technically, just without sleeves and without a hood--”
They make themselves stop talking and beam at each other. Rey finally can’t resist: she jumps into Finn’s arms, knowing he’ll catch her. He hugs her and laughs, spins her around.
I was so afraid I’d never see you again.
It’s mostly feedback from Rey, but Ren is fairly sure Finn had this thought at the same time, because he heard it in one voice layered over the other: his and hers. They’ve both been desperate to be clung to like this for months, having only ever had it from each other, as far as they could remember, before being parted.
Hux has stopped walking, ahead on the trail. Ren stops, too, remembering why he’d sometimes hated Rey, though she never deserved it: because this is her destiny, this pure fucking joy. Even after everything that’s happened to her. Nothing diminishes it, and if there wasn’t another Resistance soldier walking up behind them now, she would already be kissing Finn, both of them preemptively pretending to believe that they’d know how to do it.
Observation: That’s not just some Resistance soldier. It’s Poe Dameron. The man Kylo Ren tortured. Also the first boy Ben Solo ever dreamed about kissing.
“Fuck,” Ren says.
Observation: He can’t even handle this. He’ll never be able to face his mother.
Poe says hello to Rey, gives Finn’s shoulders a friendly shake and moves past them. Toward Hux. The smile Poe had for his friends drains away, and when his eyes flick to Ren’s there’s nothing but righteous anger in them. The worst kind of anger, in Ren’s view.
“This-- This is really him?” Poe says, turning back to Finn and Rey when he’s standing before Hux. “This is the General? The Starkiller? Him?”
“Yes,” Rey says, pulling herself from Finn and walking to Poe. “He’s, ah.” Rey’s gaze shifts to Ren’s. He’s begging her for something important but indistinct, not even sure how to put what he needs into words within his own mind. “He’s not well,” Rey says. “But he’s surrendered, willingly.”
Feedback from Hux, who keeps his eyes as hard and colorless as he can but makes no move to get away, aware that it’s hopeless: That’s debatable.
“Well, then,” Poe says. He tucks his flight helmet under his arm and pulls something from his belt. Durasteel binders. It seems like a strange approach, as if such a simple method of restraint can’t hold a man like Hux. “General Elan Bartram Hux,” Poe says, clicking the binders open. “It’s my great pleasure to inform you that you’re under arrest by order of General Leia Organa of the New Republic.”
Hux doesn’t put his hands out, but doesn’t resist when Poe grabs his wrists and slaps the binders on, adjusting them so that they fit tightly.
Everything in Ren wants to protest, to use the Force to rip the binders off of Hux and throw everyone here far away from him. Though Ren is well aware that Poe Dameron has no Force sensitivity, as sensing this was once a great relief to Ben, it still feels like Poe has sensed Ren’s fury with complete clarity when their eyes meet, and like Poe relishes doing something that enrages Ren, and something that Ren can do nothing to stop.
“They told me it was you,” Poe says, his voice as hard as it was when he fought Ren’s intrusion into his mind, during his torture. “Behind that mask. I didn’t want to believe it.”
“What happened was regrettable,” Ren mutters, half-sincerely. The backs of his ears are hot, as if he’s Ben again, making some smug, condescending comment about Poe to hide his real feelings. Poe scoffs and grabs Hux by his bound wrists, tugs him forward.
“C’mon, General,” Poe says. “There’s a sentencing committee on Gailea that’s real eager to make your acquaintance. Rey, maybe you could do the honors on your cousin. And take that lightsaber off his belt while you’re at it.”
Rey looks to Finn. He makes a sort of queasy face and hands her another pair of binders. She takes them and looks down at them like they’re a knife she’s been asked to insert into Ren’s ribs.
“This is ridiculous,” Ren says. “I could rip those things off in a blink.”
“I know.” Rey gives him a pleading look. “Don’t make a scene,” she says, whispering, as if she’s more embarrassed by this than he is. Ren takes the saber off his belt and slaps it into her hand. When she clips it onto her belt Ren notices that she’s got Luke’s there already. Rey takes a deep breath and opens the binders. “It’s symbolic, Ben. For them. To show them you can be trusted.”
Ren looks away from her and watches Poe leading Hux toward the shuttle, Poe’s hand around Hux’s arm.
Feedback from Hux: I’ll be tortured again. I’ll do better this time. They won’t get a single fucking scream from me. They won’t-- They won’t do what-- Those traitors did, probably, so-- I can-- Handle this, I’ve had worse--
Further from Hux, like a sunbeam that breaks through the cloud cover, even as Rey sighs and locks the binders around Ren’s wrists: Maybe Ren will raze the entire city when he finds out they’ve hurt me. That would be something. We could go down in a kind of blaze of-- Not glory, but something fierce and deadly. That would be all right.
Observation: Hux is comforting himself with this fantasy, imagining a New Republic city in flames, Ren enormous and crashing through buildings, transformed into a real monster by his rage. Hux envisions himself as a dust-sized speck that sits on Ren’s massive shoulder, hidden against his neck, bloodied and laughing and watching it all burn, cheering Ren on.
Ren smiles. Rey seems concerned about this when he refocuses on her.
“Oh god,” Rey says, wrinkling her nose when she’s consulted his thoughts. “You really do love that little monster.”
“Don’t say it,” Rey snaps, because Finn is walking toward them. Finn stands behind Rey and glowers at Ren.
“Who’s the traitor now?” Finn asks.
“Still you,” Ren says. “I never swore my allegiance to the Order.”
“Oh no? Only to the one who called himself our Supreme Leader? How does that work, exactly?”
“Enough,” Rey says. “We need to go.” Her gaze shifts back to the hillside, the house not visible from where they stand on the trail that leads down from it. Luke is no longer standing atop the hill’s highest peak. He’s in the cave. Ashamed of himself. Letting even Ren sense this.
“He just needs time,” Ren says.
“Don’t lie to me,” Rey says, that fire flashing in her eyes when she looks at Ren again. “It’s pointless.”
“He loves you,” Ren says, unable to abide the pain she’s in now, the sense of abandonment. “He just--”
“Who?” Finn asks. He frowns, looks from Ren to Rey. “Who loves you?”
“The father I’m returning to,” Rey says. She swallows her grief, steadies her shoulders. “The only one I’ve got left, it seems.”
“I’m confused,” Finn says.
“I suspect that’s not a new feeling for you,” Ren says, annoyed already by Finn’s asinine interruptions. He’s so common, really just a grunt.
“Oh, sure, sure,” Finn says. “But you wouldn’t know about confusion, huh? Light side, Dark side, First Order, Republic-- you’re Mr. Decisive, is that right?”
“Don’t mind Ben,” Rey says, grabbing Ren’s arm. “He thinks it makes him feel better to get angry and be rude to everyone, always has. Let’s go.”
“It does make me feel better,” Ren says, glad that the path to the ship is too narrow for Finn to walk alongside them. He trails behind. Rey groans.
“I asked you not to lie to me,” she says.
When they board the ship that will bear them into Republic custody, Ren senses the first inkling of Hux being relieved to see him as opposed to horrified, though the horror is there, too, and Hux doesn’t turn to look at Ren when he’s placed into a seat on the same restraining bench that Hux has been strapped into. There’s about six feet of space between them, the most the bench will allow, and Ren is grateful for this as Rey straps a restraint across his chest. He catches Rey’s gaze. Despite present circumstances, it’s a relief to now be the only two people present who can freely read each other’s minds.
Don’t take me to my mother. Not right away, please. I’m not ready.
Feedback from Rey: The men in your family certainly aren’t shy about avoiding the realities they’re not ready to face.
She sits across from Ren and Hux, beside Finn. Poe is speaking to someone at the Resistance base through the cockpit console, announcing that both prisoners are on board and he’s beginning the journey back. It will only take five hours, according to him.
Observation: In five hours, Ren will be on the same planet as his mother.
Further, and somehow even harder to believe: In five hours, Hux will be taken away from him. Hux will be taken to the Tower, where all the possibilities for his future will begin to bear down on him.
Ren shifts his gaze, stares at Hux’s knees.
Feedback from Hux: I can’t do this again, I can’t, I was wrong, I can’t--
“Can I speak to you?” Ren asks, muttering.
Feedback from Hux: Are you talking to me?
Yes. Can I speak to you like this? So that they won’t hear?
Feedback from Hux: Why ask my permission when you’re already doing it?
Further, humming below the direct response: Hux is not terrified by Ren’s voice in his head now. In fact, he’s surprised by how comforting it is, hidden from present company, though he still can’t make himself look at Ren.
I won’t let them hurt you. I will raze their cities to the ground if you come to harm.
Feedback from Hux, shuddering with humiliation that borders on fear: Fuck, you saw that? Of course you did.
It was beautiful. I hate this, too. I wish I could knock it all over, take you and go.
Feedback from Hux, furious: You could have, you complete fucking ass. Instead you hand-delivered me to my enemies when I was too weak to stop you.
You know we wouldn’t have gotten far on our own before Snoke caught up with us again. I need them. I can’t defeat Snoke without this first step. I’m--
He squashes the thought before the word can fully form, but Hux hears it anyway: Sorry.
Feedback from Hux: Gray fog. He’s thrown Ren from his thoughts. Ren could get back in, but he’d have to press at Hux’s mind aggressively, and he’s not willing to do that now, no matter how much the quiet in his own mind disturbs him, without the sound of Hux’s voice to warm the ravaged pits and valleys Snoke left behind.
“What are they doing?” Finn asks Rey when he notices her eavesdropping on this conversation. “They’re doing something weird, aren’t they? Plotting?”
“The General can’t use the Force,” Rey says, not really answering his question. She smiles at Finn and takes his hand, holding it between hers. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she says, speaking softly. Ren wonders if she’ll try to speak to Finn without words. Ren would hear if she did, maybe. Possibly she would guard it too closely. Ren had thought he’d done that when speaking to Hux, but apparently not.
“Where’s Luke?” Finn asks. “We thought he was with you.”
“He was.” Rey glances at Ren. He doesn’t bother to pretend he’s not listening, since she helped herself to his conversation with Hux, possibly just for security reasons. “Luke-- He’s staying behind because he can’t face my father.”
“Mhm. My adoptive father-- My biological parents died when I was three years old.”
“Rey. I’m so sorry.”
Feedback from Finn, read by Rey and then by Ren: Finn wants the Starkiller to tell him how he might find his parents. He’s worried they might be dead, killed when he was taken from them.
Rey doesn’t let on that she’s sensed this, but she holds Finn’s hand a bit tighter.
“It’s all right,” she says. “I mean, it’s not, but I barely remember them, except through the stories my dad told me-- He’s my biological uncle. His name is Wedge.”
Feedback from Finn, directed at himself: Idiot, stop-- Why are you laughing?
“Sorry! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-- It’s just kind of a funny name.”
“It’s fine,” Rey says. She’s laughing, too. Charmed by this fool, for some reason. “I know, it’s-- It’s strange to even say his name out loud again, after all this time. It will be so good to see him, but also sort of awful, incredibly awkward? I’m actually quite terrified. We’ve been apart for almost fifteen years. He remembers me as a five-year-old.”
“How did you end up on Jakku? Your dad left you there?”
“No, um.” Rey glances at Ren. “Do you want to explain?” she asks, her voice sharpening. “Since you’re so interested in this conversation already?”
“I had to hide Rey there,” Ren says, speaking loudly as he tries to sound confident about this. Hux flinches, perturbed by the volume of his voice. “It was necessary,” Ren says, more quietly. “To keep her safe from Snoke.”
“Snoke was after you?” Finn says, turning back to Rey. “The Supreme Leader, that Snoke?”
“As a Force user, I’m a threat to him,” Rey says. “And I think-- It sounds silly, but I have this feeling that me and Ben are the only ones who can defeat him.”
“That doesn’t sound silly,” Finn says. “Except for the part where he helps,” he adds, glancing at Ren.
“You don’t know shit about me,” Ren says.
Hux snorts. It sounds like a choir of angels to Ren, and he fights the urge to turn abruptly to Hux, not wanting to scare him.
“I know plenty,” Finn says. “I know I have a scar on my back from when you almost cut me in half, for example.”
“Are you fucking serious?” Ren resists the temptation to glance at Hux to see if Hux also can’t believe this clown. “That cut was too shallow to even reach bone. You should be thanking me for not killing you.”
“I should be thanking you?” Finn starts to stand, but Rey holds him in place. “Sorry,” Finn says, to her. “I just--”
“Don’t apologize, please,” she says, and she gives Ren that fiery look. “I completely understand the occasional desire to throttle him.”
Additionally, from Rey: Has anyone ever told you that you still sound like a fifteen-year-old boy at times?
Hux thought so once-- maybe more than once --but Rey doesn’t need to know that. Ren closes his eyes and tips his head back against the wall of the shuttle, trying to tune them all out and focus instead on what awaits him upon landing.
“Everything all right back here?” Poe asks, coming to the cockpit doorway, when the shuttle is on autopilot. Ren leaves his eyes closed. Pretends to sleep. It’s not as if anyone but Rey will be able to tell it’s an act.
Observation: It is possible that Hux knows him well enough to see through this pretense without needing the Force to do so.
Observation, related: Ren likes the idea that Hux could see through him that way. Still likes being weak for Hux. Probably always will.
“We’re fine,” Rey says when no one else answers. “Um. Do you have any idea who plans to meet us when we land?”
“A transport team from the prison in the south,” Poe says.
“Okay. So-- Not Leia?”
“No, it’s too dangerous to have her there when we still don’t know what he’s capable of-- Do we?”
“Ben? Oh, ah. No, I suppose not, though I’m confident he wouldn’t hurt Leia. In fact, I need to speak to her about Ben’s incarceration. It would be incredibly dangerous to house him in the Tower where the normal criminals are held.”
Though his eyes are still closed, Ren can sense Poe looking at him, wary.
“Well, yes,” Rey says. “He’s too strong in the Force-- He can’t be held in a physical prison, for one thing. Haven’t they taken this into account?”
“All I know is that Leia said to bring him home. I guess I thought she’d figure out the logistics of-- Him, once we got there.”
“I’ll defer to her, of course,” Rey says, “But I think it might be better for me to handle the logistics at this stage. He’s unstable-- The emotional impact of facing his mother, after everything he’s done, might set him off down a dark path again. Whereas I remind him of something good he did, for the most part, and I think, um, well, I’m still relatively untrained, of course, but when we were kids they used to say my powers were comparable to his, in-- In terms of our potential, so. What I’m asking, that is-- What I hope you’ll confirm with Leia, is if it would be all right if I take him to my father’s apartment in the city. If I oversee Ben’s imprisonment myself, I mean.”
Ren keeps his face as still as possible when he feels Poe’s eyes on him again. He thinks of Hux’s stormtrooper with the sweet face, the one who talked her way into the Resistance base and got so cozy there that she decided to stay indefinitely. Rey is fidgeting, sincere, not attempting to manipulate Poe on any conscious level. But it’s her sweetness that might actually sell this plan, to Poe and to Leia.
Observation: There’s also no real alternative. Ren is still powerful enough to defy them, on their planet or elsewhere.
Feedback from Rey: But you won’t. Right? Ben? You won’t make a fool of me for trusting you?
Response, to Rey: You’re too powerful to need to ask questions like this. Trust your intuition. It’s brought me this far.
Rey looks annoyed when Ren peeks at her with one eye before closing it again.
“Will Captain Antilles be okay with hosting a Force-wielding mass murderer in his apartment?” Poe asks. “I mean, I know Wedge has a reputation as a freakishly nice guy, but--”
“Captain?” Rey says. “I thought. I mean, I’d sensed that, um. Isn’t he retired?”
“Oh, yeah, I just. Old habits.”
Trust your intuition. Questions like that are redundant and you know it.
Feedback from Rey: Shut up, Ben.
I thought you wanted training.
Feedback from Rey: Yes, and my intuition is telling me I’ll live to regret that request.
Ren doesn’t appreciate her use of the word ‘regret’ in this context, though he supposes she’s not privy to his conversation with Luke. Not all of it, anyway.
Regardless, observation: She was being facetious. Mostly.
“I’ll talk to Leia on the comm,” Poe says. “It’s-- An interesting idea?”
“Leave the audio off,” Rey says, whispering, as if she’s not well aware that Ren can hear this. “He, um. I don’t even think he’s ready to hear her voice.”
I’m not. Thank you.
Feedback from Rey: I don’t mind helping you ease back into their world-- I can certainly relate to how daunting that can be. But you can’t avoid her forever, Ben.
Ren closes his mind to her then, still feeling a shade of attentive observation over the surface of his thoughts. Neither of them can completely block the other out.
Observation: That’s comforting. Strangely. He would have hated the thought when he was fifteen and she was five.
Observation, related: She’s far more powerful now than she was then, even untrained like this.
Observation, tentative: The isolation on Jakku was like a kind of informal, non-traditional training. It both hardened her and allowed her to remain pure in some ways, concentrated solely on what she had to do in order to survive, unflinching in her steadfast desire to do so and in her belief that she would find another, better place in the world someday.
Ren opens his eyes. Rey is looking at him, still holding Finn’s hand. Possibly she heard some of that.
“I would have preferred traditional training,” she says, sharply.
Ren feels stupid for voicing that aloud, so simply, and guilty for drawing the attention of Hux with that word.
“Are you two, um--” Finn looks back and forth between Ren and Rey, uneasy. “Talking, in your heads?”
Rey looks at Finn and smiles. Ren can’t hear the message she sends to Finn, using the Force, but he can feel the delighted shock in Finn when he hears it and smiles back.
“Luke told me it’s rare,” Rey says. “That it takes practice-- I didn’t expect you to be able to hear me so well right away.”
“That’s wild,” Finn says, moony, still smiling at her.
“What’s rare?” Hux asks, surprising everyone. Ren almost turns to him when Rey and Finn do, then remembers that he shouldn’t.
“Um.” Rey glances at the cockpit, as if she’s not sure she has clearance to speak to the Starkiller now. Poe is distracted, typing something into the console. Probably a message to Leia. “I meant this sort of ability to talk to someone without speaking,” Rey says. “Especially someone who isn’t Force sensitive. It’s not supposed to be, you know, easy. Supposedly it normally takes years to cultivate.” She squeezes Finn’s hand when she says so. He squeezes back, apparently unable to wipe that stupid smile off his face.
Ren dares a look at Hux when he senses that Hux has closed his eyes.
Feedback from Hux: Still a gray fog. He’s keeping Ren out. Getting better at it, maybe.
The next four hours are agonizingly uneventful. Rey and Finn lean against each other and fall asleep. Poe hums to himself in the cockpit and eats toasted yarum seeds from a packet in the front pocket of his pilot suit. Unperturbed by the fact that his once-torturer is part of his cargo, it would seem. Ren is tempted to check Poe’s feedback but also afraid to, for some reason.
Memories, like knife wounds when they come now: Poe grinning and calling him Benny, always asking to be shown ‘something cool’ that Ben had learned to do with the Force recently. Ben had indulged this happily until he became resentful of his solidifying feelings for handsome Poe the pilot, and then he had often told Poe that the Force didn’t exist to amuse people with parlor tricks. Poe would just laugh-- Sure thing, buddy, I get it. Ben had been afraid to read Poe’s mind back then, too, but he had dared it once or twice, burning with shame before he even saw anything. Poe was only eighteen but had already been with both women and men, Ben found. He’d retreated from Poe’s thoughts before he could see anything specific, too embarrassed by his curiosity to continue. The information about Poe having sometimes gone to bed with men didn’t give Ben any real hope for his own chances.
When they enter Gailea’s system, Ren feels it like a shove against his back. He reminds himself that his mother won’t be there waiting. Not on the landing strip, anyway. Then reminds himself that Hux will be ripped from him as soon as they disembark.
Feedback from Hux, who sits up and leans forward to try to see the cockpit’s viewport when the planet they’re headed toward comes into view: There it is, Elan. Your prison, your grave. His salvation. This is where he leaves you. Back to Mummy he’ll go, while you go to the gallows. This is what your indulgence has finally cost you.
Observation: Hux only thinks of himself as Elan when he’s reprimanding himself in something that resembles his father’s voice.
Ren opens his mouth, but further feedback from Hux, offered freely, indicates that Hux would rather tear his own ears off than hear from Ren right now, verbally or otherwise.
“Wake up, kids!” Poe calls back, presumably talking to Rey and Finn, since his tone is friendly. “We’re home.”
Rey wakes first, and Ren feels it when she thinks of the wind chimes back on Luke’s island. She’s too far away, too inundated with stimuli. She’s lost control of the chimes. They clanged so terribly in her absence that Luke took them down as soon as he returned to the house, before the wind could break them.
Rey turns to Ren, her eyes getting wet when she senses, like he has, that Luke broke down when he held them silent in his hands: the little knots she’d made around the sea glass, Rey’s chimes.
“He’ll comfort himself with the knowledge that you’ve returned to Wedge,” Ren says, accidentally out loud. He’s tired. Disoriented, terrified. Hux turns and looks at him, also by accident, also very tired. Hux turns away quickly, though not before observing that looking at Ren didn’t stab at him this time, not at first.
Finn wakes up at the sound of Ren’s voice and glares at him before noticing how fully he’s allowed himself to slump onto Rey while he sleeps.
“Sorry,” Finn says, sitting up. She smiles at him, shrugs. Maybe communicates something to him without speaking. She’ll guard those thoughts from Ren most closely, of course.
“This is shuttle TR-37 coming in for a landing on the backlot strip at Delta base,” Poe says, speaking to the control tower when they’re drawing close. There’s a city visible in the distance, not far from the base where they’ll land. The city is Femon, this planet’s capitol. The Tower is far away from here, on the southernmost tip of this planet. A half day’s journey even in the fastest civilian craft.
Observation: The last time Ren was among these people and all they represent, he was surrounded by dead children.
From Rey: I was with you that day, too. Stay calm. You’re not alone.
Hux sits up straighter when the shuttle comes in for a landing. The only feedback available from him is that he still wishes dearly that he wasn’t wearing a hobo’s rags while facing down this fate.
“Do you want my robe?” Ren asks, not looking at him.
Hux considers it. Ren resists the urge to consult his thoughts more deeply.
“No,” Hux says, still staring ahead at the cockpit. “They would just take it from me.”
“All right,” Poe says when they’ve landed, powering off the shuttle. Rey and Finn are already out of their seats. “If you two will be so kind as to unbuckle our prisoners,” Poe says, emerging from the cockpit, “I’m going to head to the administrative building and have a talk with Leia.”
“What did she say about Ben coming to stay with me?” Rey asks as she removes Ren’s restraints, leaving the binders around his wrists when she helps him up.
“Leia told me she has a transport waiting to take you two directly to Wedge.” Poe lifts his eyebrows and holds out both hands. “I guess great minds think alike. She said she already had this plan in place when I told her your idea. Your dad is okay with it, to no one’s surprise.”
“Did she have any message for me?” Ren asks, before he can stop himself. He doesn’t look at Poe after asking. Just goes on staring at Rey’s boots.
“No,” Poe says. “Sorry, Ben.”
He means that, somehow. Ren looks up at him, but Poe averts his eyes and walks past, pretends not to notice.
Finn marches Hux out of the shuttle behind Poe. Rey looks up at Ren. She puts her hand on his chest, over his pounding heart.
“It’s not because she doesn’t want to speak to you,” Rey says. “She does, desperately. When you’re ready. And not with Poe as a middleman.”
“I’ll never be ready, I-- Let’s go, let’s-- I can’t stand this, I want these fucking binders off of me.”
“I’ll take them off as soon as we get to Wedge. The transport driver will be nervous if we don’t keep up appearances.”
“Well, we can’t possibly allow some grunt driver to be nervous while he follows orders.”
“Shut up, Ben,” Rey says, fondly. She pats his chest and takes his arm, leads him off the shuttle.
Observations, barely able to form against the rattle of his pounding heartbeat: It’s far too bright on this planet. There’s civilian transport noise in the distance, and some military ships hovering overhead, waiting to be cleared for landing. It’s hot here, dry. Everything seems to sting against Ren’s skin, eyes, against his entire consciousness. Hux is being lead toward a waiting transport. A different transport waits for Rey and Ren. Ordered to move in the opposite direction.
Feedback from Hux, as he’s marched toward the waiting guards by Finn: Funny. I was so desperate to get away from Ren, and now I’d do anything not to leave his side.
“Hux!” Ren didn’t mean to shout. Didn’t mean for any of this to happen. Finn and Hux both turn back to him.
Observation: Hux meets Ren’s eyes, holds his gaze. Hux is afraid, so terrified that he worries his legs will give out, but it’s not Ren he’s afraid of now.
Observation, so uniquely harrowing that it’s somehow almost precious: Hux looks different in the sunlight. Assaulted by it, almost, squinting, so small.
It’ll be okay.
That’s all Ren can come up with. Even I promise seems like too much, and too little.
Feedback from Hux, as he’s turned around by Finn and nudged into the transport that will take him to the Tower: Like hell it will, Ren. Goodbye.
“Tell-- Tell him--” Ren’s voice is shaking. Rey shushes him, doesn’t need to hear it out loud.
“Just be still,” she says, holding up her finger as she walks toward Finn.
Ren closes his eyes. Hux is in the shuttle, but Ren can’t see him. Not with his eyes, anyway. Finn has shut Hux in with the prison guards, and the shuttle’s windows are blacked out. Ren concentrates on Rey and Finn’s conversation rather than sending his mind to Hux, who has already slipped into a kind of offline mode, too tightly focused on keeping his expression neutral and his breakfast from coming up to really have much of a thought process.
“Are you going with them?” Rey asks, holding Finn’s arm.
“Yeah,” Finn says. “But I’ll be back as soon as I can, I promise.”
“Good.” Rey smiles. “Look, um. I need you to speak to the management when they process him at the Tower. Or whatever you call it-- Just, speak to the person in charge. The Starkiller is traumatized. Make sure they handle him with care, or he’ll have a complete mental break and we’ll get nothing from him. He was very high up-- We need to keep him in as pristine mental condition as possible if we want to learn what he knows about the Order and what they’ll do next.”
“Okay,” Finn says, nodding. “Yeah, of course.”
“I’m serious, Finn, it’s very important.” Rey leans up to whisper the rest against Finn’s ear. “Ben is extremely attached to that man. It’s the whole reason he’s come back to us, even after fifteen years of relentless conditioning-- because Snoke tried to separate him from the Starkiller. If anything bad happens to him while he’s in our custody, Ben will sense it, react terribly, and we’ll lose him forever. I can’t do that to Leia. I hate that this vile First Order officer is important, but I can’t change the fact that he is. I need you to personally see to it that he’s not, um, abused.”
“Okay,” Finn says again, differently now. Everything in his feedback hums with a kind of strangely innocent longing as Rey leans back, her face still close to his.
Observation: FN-2187 will do anything Rey Antilles asks him to. He’ll lay down his life to follow this order she’s given him, with the feeling of her lips against his skin still buzzing on his ear.
“Thank you,” Rey says. She smiles: loves him, truly, somehow. “I’ll see you soon?”
“Def-- Definitely, yes.” Finn squeezes her shoulder. “Be careful with that guy,” he says, whispering, meaning Ren. “If he hurts you, I’ll--”
“He won’t. The truth is-- I could handle him if I had to. I’ve done it before.” She winks. Finn beams at her. When they part, they’re both already thinking about the next time they’ll meet.
Ren tries to imagine what that must be like. Being free to meet the one you love when the day’s duties are done, to go where you want with them, to stay with them for as long as you choose. Ren will never know that freedom again. He never really has.
He sends his thoughts to Hux but only senses more steadfast determination not to crack, Hux’s perfectly straight posture maintained with a great effort now. As Hux moves away from him, his transport heading off toward the main road to the south, it’s harder and harder to get any sense of what he’s thinking, in part because Ren’s own thoughts and fears have become overwhelming.
“You’ve been in the sun for five minutes and you’re already starting to burn,” Rey says, blinking up at him.
“I hope you’re not being metaphorical.” Ren knows she’s not, or at least not entirely. He can feel it, too: an uncomfortable sting across the bridge of his nose.
“I guess you already know this,” Rey says, hooking her arm through Ren’s as she leads him toward their transport. “But I’m terrified, Ben.”
“Yes. Well, not exactly, but-- We talked on a holochannel before I went to Luke. It was strange. I still didn’t have my memories back, really. He was crying. I was so awkward. I kept doing this stupid, nervous laugh. Now that I remember him, I feel terrible.”
“Rey. He’s your father. It doesn’t matter what you--”
He catches himself before he can say the rest, feels her staring at him and thinking of Leia, wanting him to hear what he’s saying and take note.
“Shut up, Rey,” Ren says. She pushes him into the backseat of the transport.
And then they are somehow moving out of the base and into the city. Amid civilians. Rey conversing with the transport driver in irritating exchanges of inane small talk. Ren closes his eyes and puts his his forehead against the viewport that looks out on real people living their small lives in a New Republic city, going about their days, unaware that the monster they’ve heard whispers about is among them again.
“It’s so strange to be in a city at all,” Rey says, tapping Ren’s knee to get his attention. “Look,” she says, holding up her hand. It’s shaking.
Ren turns back to the window and stares glumly at the shops that line the streets, the people on the sidewalks, the sunlight that bakes down onto all of it, cutting through the buildings that tower overhead. Without looking at her, he reaches across the seat and finds Rey’s shaking hand, holds it.
One memory that’s terrible and somehow also good: When Ben was fourteen he had some kind of tantrum during training. It wasn’t uncommon. Glass broke, younger kids were frightened. Luke was frustrated, his voice raised. Ben ran, blocking everyone out so he couldn’t be found, and went outside to a landing platform. He was in tears, digging his teeth into his bottom lip to try to keep it from shaking, trying to ignore the sound of Snoke’s congratulations for this latest defiance of Luke, loss of control, capitulation to the unstoppable anger that was already driving Ben toward the day when he would do something that would take him away from all of this: for good, Snoke said.
Rey found him that day. The sun was setting, painting the glittering city that could be seen from the landing platform with an orange glow. Ben was right at the edge, the toes of his boots almost poking over it. The streets below were miles away. He didn’t want to jump. He just wanted to stay there and be left alone while he thought about the fact that he could, and how they would all be so sorry for how they’d treated him if he did.
“What are you doing out here?” he asked when he sensed Rey standing behind him. Four years old and already able to sneak away from the others successfully and find Ben when no one else could. He’d made his voice as mean as possible, his teeth grit and his tears almost successfully held back behind the tight clench of his jaw. Rey wasn’t afraid of him, however. Not like the other kids. Not even like Luke and Leia were sometimes.
Rey didn’t say anything to him that day. She walked to the edge of the platform and took Ben’s hand. Something in Ben-- Snoke --hissed in horrible satisfaction at the idea that Ben could just push her over the edge and be done with it. Ben sucked in his breath, horrified by the thought, and took three big steps backward, Rey’s hand still in his. When they were far enough from the edge that Ben couldn’t hear Snoke’s cruel laughter in his head anymore, Rey clutched at Ben’s leg, kept hold of his hand. Wanted him to feel better. She hated it when Ben was sad. It made her sad, too.
He remembers thinking, At least Rey loves me. Even if it’s only because she’s too young to know better.
He looks down at her hand in his as the transport draws to a stop in front of a residential building on the quieter end of the city. Rey’s hand is still shaking, but she’s brave, smiling at him.
“Here we are,” she says. “Home at last.”
Ren follows her out of the transport in a kind of daze. This building they’ve arrived at is not shiny and impressive like some they passed: there are only three stories, with a white stone exterior and porches off of each unit, flowering vines growing over wooden trellises. The street is quiet, only a few happy shouts from children playing on the patio of another building audible. Rey thanks the transport driver and he drives away, trusting Rey Antilles to wrangle Kylo Ren on her own. They’re no longer holding hands. Rey walks up the stairs that lead toward the unit on the third floor where Wedge lives. Ren follows.
“Oh,” Rey says when they’re standing outside Wedge’s door, her feedback a mess of nervous energy that makes Ren’s stomach ache even when he doesn’t attempt to read her thoughts specifically. Rey’s hands shake as she removes the binders from Ren’s hands. She frowns and thinks of putting them in her pocket, or in the pocket of his robe, but neither seems right. There’s a grouping of three potted plants to the left of the door. All the plants are dead-- They were abandoned by the former occupant of this apartment. Wedge has been living elsewhere for years and is only renting this place in anticipation of Rey’s arrival. Rey stashes the binders behind one of the pots and looks at Ren, shrugs.
“Ready?” she asks.
“Yes,” Ren says, because she needs him to say so. She nods, knocks on the door. There’s a data pad with a button for requesting entry, but on Jakku knocking was more common, and Rey can barely think straight right now.
There are footsteps from behind the door. Ren tries to imagine anticipating this reunion if it was Leia on the other side of the door. Can’t.
The door opens. Wedge seems older than he should, too, though he hasn’t aged as visibly as Luke. With Wedge this tiredness is more evident in his energy, though it changes when he sees Rey and a smile that matches the brilliance of her own breaks across his features, making Wedge seem as young as Ren can ever remember him being.
Rey and Wedge start crying at the same time. They both make a wordless noise of relief at the sight of each other, and they fall together in a clinging hug that Ren can feel in his own chest, as if he’s being squeezed like that, too.
Feedback from Rey: There’s nothing awkward now, no fear, just this joy that breaks out of her in sobs that feel like shedding weight. Even in Leia’s arms, in Luke’s house, even with Ben’s hand in hers again, nothing has felt as much like a return to her family as this.
“I knew it,” Wedge says, eyes closed, rocking her in his arms. Ren isn’t sure if Wedge has noticed him darkening the doorway of this reunion. “I always knew, I told them--”
“You searched for me,” Rey says, laughing as she continues to sob in a kind of quake that feels like years of dead weight leaving her bones. “You left the fleet just to--”
“Of course I did, Rey, oh--” Wedge rubs his palm across his eyes and smoothes the stray hairs from Rey’s forehead before he blinks his tears away enough to focus on Ren, who keeps his mouth shut tight when he has the urge to open it, to speak. He can’t say he’s sorry again. It’s like an insult to everyone he still cares about, after everything he’s done. “Ben,” Wedge says. His smile is real. There’s no anger in his eyes. Nothing but gratitude and acceptance. He’s reaching for Ren, motioning him closer. “You saved her. They told me, Ben. They told me what you did for my-- Come here.”
Ren hesitates. Rey lifts her wet face, smiles at Ren and pulls him close. She and Wedge both wrap their arms around him when he stumbles toward them.
Observations, muddled: It’s alarming, being suddenly surrounded by their affection. Alarming that it’s so unconditional.
Further, important: Such things are dangerous.
Wedge is like Rey, on the short side. Ren feels ridiculous, hunched over him. He huffs out his breath when he drops his forehead to Wedge’s shoulder, wanting to be angry about this. Feels his face pinching up, shakes his head, but can’t forbid one sob from breaking in his chest, hitting him like a fist. They both hold him tighter when they feel it.
“It’s okay,” Wedge says. Such an absurd lie, but Ren wants to cling to it. He puts his arms around both of them and pulls them closer when Rey laughs and tucks her head to his shoulder. Ren can feel the heat of her tears even through his robe and his shirt. He can feel their insane, incomprehensible forgiveness of him like ten cups of that tea he gulped in Luke’s house, every good memory he’s ever had circling around him like protection from the bad ones.
Observation, not really useful but also like medicine, like a cure: What he felt on his face before was just the burn of some star. There are billions of those, their piercing light interchangeable. This is the sunlight he remembers.
“Come in, come on,” Wedge says, wiping his face when they all reluctantly separate. “I, ah, I know you’re both grown up now, but you used to love hot chocolate when you were kids, so I made some. Don’t laugh! I have beer, too,” he adds when Rey does laugh.
Hot chocolate. Ren hasn’t had anything sweet for as long as he can remember. He can smell it from the kitchen as Rey follows Wedge there, both of them talking at once and drying each other’s wet cheeks, arms around each other again.
Ren turns away from them. Looks at the door. It’s hanging open. He could just walk out. Go anywhere. No one could stop him. Not even Rey, if he really wanted to go.
The smell of that hot chocolate and the sound of their laughter is comforting, but it’s also a reminder that this life always felt like a prison to him. Now he’s here under formal house arrest.
Far away, to the south, Hux’s transport draws closer to the Tower. Hux hates the thought that Ren is getting away with something, being allowed to stay here while Hux is taken there. Hux doesn’t understand that the kindness Ren will be shown, that which Ben could never allow to fully reach him, is the most severe punishment Ren can imagine for what he’s already done to that same kindness.
“Would you mind shutting that?” Wedge asks when he turns back to see Ren lingering at the door. Rey turns back, too, and meets Ren’s eyes. She doesn’t bother to beg, knows she doesn’t need to. Just smiles and lifts her hand, beckons him to follow.
Ren closes the door. He follows them into the kitchen, toward the smell of hot chocolate and the sound of their voices when they both start talking again-- They both talk a lot, even now, after everything. Rey and Wedge don’t carry the same inborn sorrow that Leia passed on to Ben. He follows them anyway, though he can’t ever know that kind of light. He follows them, moving as if over hot coals, toward the only path he’s ever been shown that might not lead toward ruin.