Snoke did not come for them immediately. The Resistance gave him quite a bit else to deal with, armed as they were with the information they had gotten from Ben. Rey’s training, both from Luke and Ben, intensified over the next few months, and to her pleasant surprise, Ben began to actually listen to Luke when he tried to teach him something. He didn’t always obey, but he listened. And when Rey insisted he obey, he ducked his head in deference and obeyed, though with a devilish glint in his eyes.
They were on the far side of the island on a morning run when the fighters appeared. They roared overhead, blasters blazing. The trio sought shelter on the lee side of a boulder and argued in shouts and gestures (including one exceptionally rude one from Ben) about how the fighters had gotten so close without them noticing. Luke finally cut the discussion short with a wave of his hand that caught Rey and Ben’s breath in their throats for a moment, long enough for him to have his say.
“It doesn’t matter how or why,” he said, shouting to be heard over the blasts. “They’re here, we have to deal with them.”
“How?!” Rey said. “Our light sabers are on the other side of the island!”
The blasts abruptly cut short; the fighters were coming around for another pass. Ben was crouched, poised to spring like an animal. “They’ve engaged three of the most powerful Force practitioners in the galaxy,” he said. “We don’t need light sabers.”
They quickly formulated a plan, and walked out together as the fighters started on their second strafing run. Ben fell back behind them, hands raised out towards the fighters. The blasts fired … and never fell. The air was soon peppered with blaster bolts hanging in midair, and sheer power made the energy around him sizzle and pop like his saber. Luke didn’t even hold up a hand; he just nodded to her. At his signal, Rey zeroed in on the left fighter, feeling as if she had physical hold of the fighter’s wing. Luke held the fighter on course. Rey swung her hand aside, like a physical strike with her staff, and ripped the wing from the fighter. The wing crashed into the second fighter, and they both shrieked overhead to fall into the water, beyond the cliffs. They hurried out of the way, and Ben let the blaster bolts fall at last. He fell to the ground with the release of the effort, gasping.
“I’ve told you before not to hold your breath,” Luke said.
“I wasn’t. It just … took that much.”
“That was amazing!” Rey cried. She hugged Luke, and hugged Ben around the middle as he was still on all fours. “I could feel everything, like I was holding the world in my hand!” She stopped, seeing Luke’s serious expression.
“These are dangerous skills we’re developing here. There is always a price for power.”
“Luke, we’ve paid that price. We’ve been training our asses off.”
He clapped her on the shoulder. “Just don’t get cocky, kid.”
But when they got back to their camp, they found themselves face to face with more Storm Troopers than they could count, coming from behind and within the scattered huts. The trio put their backs to each other and showed their empty hands - for all the good empty hands had done the fighters.
“This is standard,” Ben said, his voice low. “Send the fighters to try to get lucky, catch us off guard, end the confrontation before it even begins. Now they have the beginnings of a baseline for our abilities, and a starting point for negotiations.”
The troopers parted, and Rey saw out of the corner of her eye a figure emerge, but she was on the far side of their defensive knot. When she heard his voice, she felt a jolt of fear that was not entirely her own. She picked up a lot from Ben these days, but she would have rather missed the sickening lurch of his stomach.
“Kylo,” Snoke said, “you’ve disappointed me for the last time, boy. Though taking out the fighters using only the Force, that was impressive.” He extended a hand. “Well, go on, give me a spiteful speech, show me your childlike defiance before I crush you.”
“I’ve nothing to say to you,” Ben said. “I made my choice, and I’m at peace with it.”
Snoke scowled. “Your mind has grown stronger under the last Jedi’s tutelage. Your thoughts are clouded from me.” He reached out his gnarled hand. “But not for long.” Ben fell to his knees, shaking and screaming from the sudden burst of pain. Rey felt it too - felt it like it was far away, like radioactive fallout. She bent protectively over Ben’s hunched form.
“Stop!” she cried.
“He has betrayed me. He has forsaken his oath, his brethren, his purpose. I shall know the reason why.”
“Because she loves me,” Ben croaked.
Rey looked down at him in surprise, and so did Snoke. “You mean to say,” Snoke snarled, “that you have forsaken me because you fell in love? With a GIRL?”
“That’s not what I said,” Ben said, straightening a little. “I love her, yes, but she. Loves. ME. The first person to do so in my adult life. Almost the only person.” Luke took an almost imperceptible shuffle closer to him.
“Sentiment!” Snoke spat. “Weakling! Coward!”
“That I am,” Ben said, managing to sit up. “But I will be what I am at her side, out of choice, and love, not out of fear, not because she demands it from me.”
Snoke’s eyes raised to Rey. “You don’t look like much to me,” he said.
“Take another look,” she snarled. It didn’t actually mean anything, but it felt good to say.
Luke stepped in. “Snoke. Surely you can see the impossibility of your survival here. With the three of us in such a target rich environment, we cannot fail but inflict grave damage upon your resources. Truly, I have no wish to do so. If you surrender now, no harm will come to them. I cannot extend the same promise to you personally.”
The Storm Troopers fidgeted uneasily.
Snoke stalked towards him. “Skywalker … Long have I yearned for this moment.”
“I cannot say the same. I saw in Ben’s mind a shadow and a toxin, but his impression of you is but a shade to the twisted mind I see before me. Let me help you -”
“Never!” Snoke hissed. “Jedi. Ha! You were nearly a man when you first even heard of the Force. You were not raised in it, steeped in it, as a true Jedi would have been.”
Luke shrugged. “We are none of us perfect. We do what we can with what we have.”
Rey felt Luke reaching out to her with the Force. She answered him, lending him her strength of will. From the way Ben straightened and his expression shifted, ever so slightly, she thought perhaps he was doing the same to Ben.
“For instance,” Luke said, “you have come to my home, insulted my nephew and my friend, and would no doubt have us imprisoned and tortured and perhaps killed as you saw fit. If there was a cell that could hold us; I am sure we would take our leave long before that. Rey knows something about that, don’t you?”
Rey shot him a crooked grin. She focused on summoning up the Force around her, concentrating, sending it to Luke.
“You will find my methods much more difficult to resist,” Snoke said. He gestured to the nearest troopers. “Take them to the ship.”
“This is your last chance, Snoke,” Luke said. “Leave us in peace, or be destroyed. Villain though you are, I never relish taking another’s life.”
The troopers hadn’t moved; they looked back and forth between Snoke and the Jedi nervously.
“Imprison them!” Snoke roared. Luke shook his head, disappointed. One moment Snoke was there, and whole, and the next, there was a great boom, and Snoke’s headless body dropped to his knees, then to the ground.
The troopers stared, silent. One trooper behind Snoke’s body, holding a smoking blaster cannon, looked around as if he’d just woken up. As one they dropped their weapons and walked in a daze to the ship, bumping into each other, stepping on the corpse.
Ben spoke first. “That was unexpected.”
“The Storm Troopers have always been weak minded. Snoke underestimated me, and both of you, and dismissed the troopers as a potential threat. Never draw down on someone if they can take your weapon away from you.”
“Noted,” Rey said. She tried to keep her voice from quaking, and was mostly successful.
“Help me build a pyre,” Luke said. “We will mourn the lost potential he wasted, pursuing a dark path. He could have been a powerful ally for a better world.”
Ben regarded the corpse with unreadable eyes. “I’m not ready for that. He was evil, and cruel, and he has been snuffed out like a madman. That is all that is in my heart right now for Snoke.”
Rey remembered what Ben had said, and stepped close to him. “Ben,” she said, “you told Snoke … that we loved each other. But we’ve never said it. How could you know?”
He took her hands between his and touched their foreheads together. “You have told me a thousand times in tiny ways. In action and in thought. I may have been away from the light for too long, but I still know love when I see it. When I feel it.”
She closed the gap between them and kissed him. “I do love you,” she said against his mouth.
“I guess I’ll be getting the firewood,” Luke muttered, and trundled off as the transport ship with the confused Storm Troopers wobbily lifted into the air, and away from the island.