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Absolute Magnetism

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Chapter I
Mysteries Of Attraction

“Mysteries of attraction could not always be explained through logic. Sometimes the fractures in two separate souls became the very hinges that held them together.” 
Lisa Kleypas

Rey

The wind is warm and dry as it swirls her hair around her face, and she enjoys the heat of the sun on her skin. The stone remnants of the once large and impressive statue that flanks the steps is warm beneath her fingertips, and she enjoys the heady feeling of the Force wrapping around her and flowing through her as she stretches her consciousness out across the vast emptiness of the Valley of the Dark Lords.

She can feel Kylo’s strong Force-signature humming in the back of her mind, and she can sense he is holed up in the Library, as he had been before she had started meditating.

Whereas she had struggled with meditation before, she is now quite proficient at entering a trance, and she often spends hours on end meditating. At first, she had sensed precious little life around her—Kylo had been ever-present; a bright, all-encompassing presence that temporarily blinded her from all other presences she could sense.

Once she learned to look past his presence though, she had been stunned by the sheer number of living organisms that surrounded her. It was as though she had been standing deaf in the midst of a crowd and now she could hear the rivers of conversation whirling around her.

It was a vulnerable feeling; one that left her feeling completely exposed and alone. But on the other hand, it was also a heady feeling to realize that she was one of the lucky few to ever get to witness the galaxy and the Force in its awe-inspiring natural state.

She had spent many an hour attempting to discern and identify each different life form, out of nothing more than sheer curiosity, and sometimes even boredom.

It had taken her only a few weeks to realize that the Force truly is present in and around everything that lives—at first, she had been foolish enough to assume that the Force only moved through sentient life—but now, when she closes her eyes and slips into a restful meditational trance, she can sense everything—from the smallest larvae to the largest Shyrack in the caves, and everything in between.

Even the foliage, limited in its existence in the harsh desert climate, has a tangible presence within the Force.  Even the sandy soil of the planet’s crust is teeming with organisms so small that she can barely sense them at all—and the only thing she can conclude is that her previous idea of sentient life was wrong all along.

Intelligent life is not reserved solely for species that have evolved to include the capability to communicate with others, but also those that thrive on their own.

She slowly drifts back to the boundaries of her own mind, heaving a soft sigh as she once again becomes aware of the weight and feel of her body. She doesn’t move from her cross-legged position as she muses over the life she and Kylo have built over the past few months—it had been difficult, at times.

Their Force Bond had been strengthened to staggering and frightening intensity, and they both still struggle to navigate the uncharted waters of that particular connection. In the first few days, Rey had found it nigh impossible to tear herself from Kylo’s side—she is certain he found it aggravating, but he had been kind about it, and allowed her to tag along everywhere he went, and even went as far as to move her bed into his room so she could be closer to him.

She’s fairly certain that the events on Starkiller Base had rattled him as much as they had her, and that he needed her physical proximity as much as she did.

He had put his foot down when she attempted to follow him into the ‘fresher, though.

It wasn’t that she was that clingy—she isn’t, really—but her every instinct had protested against letting him out of her sight after nearly feeling him die in her arms, and the newly strengthened Bond had drawn her to Kylo like a moth to a flame.

They’d also spoken about Starkiller Base briefly, and Rey remembers the pained expression on Kylo’s face as he avoided talking about why he'd stepped in front of her instead of simply catching the bolt with the Force, as she had seen him do many times before during their training—and she remembers the petrifying nightmares they’d both suffered that night.

She remembers dreaming that she had been too late—that she couldn’t catch Kylo as he fell, and that he tumbled off the walkway, into the reactor—that he bled to death before she could get him away from the oscillator—that he was dead when she’d finally gotten them off of Starkiller and returned to heal him…

She remembers waking up screaming his name, shaking and sweating, unable to steady her erratic breathing until Kylo had climbed into bed with her and held her until the shaking had stopped. He’d stayed with her until she had fallen asleep again, and she had been woken a few hours later by his own screams of terror. He had, initially, not allowed her to comfort him in the same fashion as he had comforted her, but she could sense that he did, in fact, yearn for the comforting physical contact, despite his aversion to touch. So, naturally, she had ignored his weak protests and shoved him to the side so she could fit in his—stupidly small—bed with him, and had hugged him until she could feel his mind quieting down and slipping back into sleep.

As such, it had taken them nearly two weeks before they’d managed to regain some semblance of normalcy—especially since Rey still had trouble with letting Kylo out of her sight for more than a few hours at a time.

Their previous training schedule had required them spending quite some time apart, which had frayed Rey’s nerves within ten minutes of their first attempt to return to it. Instead, they had decided that they would begin their day in the Library, studying as many of the ancient Sith scriptures as they could before Rey would find a place nearby to meditate for a few hours.

Kylo had instructed her to try to go a little bit further each day, to test the limits of their Bond, and to not forget how to be a separate person—and she’s never been able to go as far as she has today.

The entrance to the Academy is a good five hundred meters away from the entrance to the Library, and she can sense that Kylo is hidden somewhere near the back of the immense halls, which puts him at nearly a kilometer away from her—it’s unnerving, despite the fact that she can sense he’s perfectly fine, if not a bit lazy and sleepy after having spent the entire day reading through dusty books.

She sits in silence for a little while longer before she opens her eyes, taking in the sight of the stunning sunset—there are colors within it which she’s never seen before and, though the air is rapidly cooling around her, she remains seated until the sun has fully disappeared and a chill is beginning to settle in her bones.

Her legs ache when she stands, and she rolls her shoulders to rid them of the stiffness that had settled there after hours spent in the same position.

She gathers the quarterstaff that she had made of materials she'd found while exploring the Academy and pulls her warm, heavy cloak over her shoulders, pulling her hair out from beneath it before she heads into the decrepit Academy again. She’s taken to wearing her hair loose while she meditates, enjoying the way the winds blow through it when she does—it also serves as a calming agent.

And, she muses as she walks inside, if she happens to enjoy the way Kylo’s eyes glaze over when he looks at her with her hair down… Well, that’s really nobody’s business but hers.

“Kylo?”

Her skin seems to tingle when she enters the Library, and she instantly knows where he is. She finds him exactly where she'd left him, sitting cross-legged against one of the back walls, surrounded by piles of scrolls and datapads.

He looks up at her with surprise coloring his features, his full lips parted just a tad, and his hair a veritable mess—she can only guess how many times he’s been running his fingers through it—and Rey has to consciously stop herself from laughing at him. She does not catch him by surprise often, but it is always funny to see the expression on his face when she does.

"Rey," he says a little huskily, as if from lack of use. The rich baritone sends a little shiver down her spine. "I didn't realize it was this late already."

She offers him a little grin and takes the scroll he’d been reading from his hands, demonstratively putting it down on one of the piles that surround him. “Come on,” she tells him sternly. “We haven’t sparred yet, and I’m sure I’m going to kick your ass this time.”

Kylo chuckles before heaving himself onto his feet, and she can sense he’s rolling his eyes at her. She’s been challenging him, swearing she’ll beat him, every day, but she’s been unable to actually do it so far.

Her attention is diverted when he bends over to pick up his cloak, the tight black trousers he’s wearing doing positively delightful things to his backside. After their arrival on Moraband, he had rid himself of the ever-present, heavy black robes that were now charred and covered in his own blood. She had taken great pleasure in burning the robes, and in finding him a white shirt somewhere in the depts of the Academy’s wardrobes clean enough and long enough so that it’d fit his large frame.

The change in his wardrobe does things to her, and it makes his reluctance to touch her any longer than he has to—not to mention his absolute refusal to discuss the kiss they'd shared—all the more frustrating.

“Rey?”

She snaps out of her quiet reverie to realize she’s been staring at him—which is, to be honest, not an entirely uncommon occurrence—and silently curses at the blush she can feel rising on her cheeks.

“Right,” she nods, drawing her lower lip between her teeth. “Let’s go then. Sparring or dinner first?”

She follows him as he breezes past her out of the Library, willing herself not to look at his delectable derriere again—he will never let her live it down if he catches her staring again—and grumbles beneath her breath when she realizes he’s heading straight for the sparring rooms. “Sparring it is,” she sighs, running her fingers through her hair to twist it up into the three buns she usually favours, falling a little behind him in the process.

By the time she’s caught up with him, he has disposed of his cloak again and has retrieved their training sabers. He’s waiting for her with a grin that promises nothing but pure agony should she lose again—so she resolves to not lose this time.

She catches the saber when he tosses it to her, slips into the best stance to begin a battle with, and makes sure she has a firm grip on her control over the Force before facing him confidently.

They face each other for a long, tense moment, and she’s beginning to wonder if she should attack first when he suddenly charges forward, slashing his saber at her unprotected torso. She yelps and attempts to block the attack, but she’s a split second too slow, and he manages to land a strike on her ribs, sending her stumbling backwards.

“Stang,” she curses beneath her breath, deliberately ignoring the tingling feeling that spreads across her torso, numbing the muscles there, and lunges towards him, aiming to strike him on the knee, but he easily parries the blow. She forces herself to act without consciously thinking of her next move—Kylo had pointed out once that she was far too busy thinking about what she could do rather than actually doing it—and pushes forward, whirling around him in an attempt to hit his arm from the side, where he’d not been shielding it, but again he sees her coming and blocks the hit.

She refuses to let her failure to surprise him deter her attempts and swings her saber at his other arm to draw his attention away from her actual intention, drawing upon the Force to lock his foot in place when he attempts to step back, sending him crashing to the floor.

It’s a trick she’d been practicing for weeks now, but had carefully shielded from Kylo’s prying eyes, and she’s more than a little bit proud that it actually worked.

Rey growls under her breath as she uses the Force to pin Kylo down, but Kylo’s pushing back just as hard and, despite her growing strength, he is still more skilled and powerful than she is, and she is beginning to shake with the prolonged exertion.

He senses that she is tiring, and before she can stop him he shoves her away from him with a powerful Force Push, rolling to his feet immediately. The wind is knocked from her lungs for a long, tense heartbeat when she hits the floor, but she refuses to let him win this easily and jumps to her feet as soon as she can, brandishing her saber in front of her, locking her blade with his as she advances on him.

“Good,” Kylo chuckles, his eyes gleaming with something not unlike pride. “Not good enough, but good.” He eyes her form critically—and she can tell he’s having fun with this, the arsehole—before demanding, “Keep your knees bent a little more and pull your shoulders back before you strike.”

She does as he tells her, but hides her satisfaction when she senses his attention waning slightly quite suddenly—and she’s not sure what it is that has drawn his attention away from her, but he’s taught her enough to know she should never let an opportunity to gain the upper hand pass her by.

And then, suddenly, she realizes she is gaining ground on him.

He’s backing away from her.

She grins broadly, and she can tell that she’s unnerved him with her speedy response to his distraction—and she doesn’t plan on giving him any time to regroup. She swings her training saber faster than she ever has before, forcing Kylo back another step before smashing her blade against his, forcing it down, and kicking him in his stomach as hard as she can manage while swinging her saber around to smack the blade down on his hand, knocking his saber to the floor.

Before Kylo can react, Rey pushes forward and flicks the tip of her training saber up to his throat.

Her heart is pounding in her chest, and she feels a little lightheaded because of the adrenaline that is still rushing through her veins. Kylo is staring down at her, panting as heavily as she is, the tip of her training saber hovering less than a centimeter from his shirt-covered collarbone.

Slowly, she lowers her arm, a shaky smile spreading across her lips, and she backs away.

“I did it,” she grins breathlessly, kicking at Kylo’s training saber and tossing her own on the floor as well. “I actually did it.”

“You did. Well done.” A rare smile spreads across his features, and she can feel him let down the walls that usually shield his mind from hers before she is suddenly quite literally basking in the feel of his pride and approval. It’s heady and unfamiliar to feel him quite so clearly, despite the flashes of emotion that he had let slip before, and all it does is convince her further that, whatever he’s said on the subject so far, he truly does feel the same as she does.

She just…

She cannot contain her joy and giddiness and launches herself at him, tightly wrapping her arms around his neck and pointedly ignoring how he visibly starts and stiffens before allowing the hug.

“Thank you,” she tells him sincerely, pressing her face into the warm crook of his neck as his arms hesitantly rise to wrap around her waist. “I couldn’t have done that if you hadn’t been such a good teacher.” She tiptoes swiftly upwards to press an impulsive kiss to his cheek before pulling back, her lower lip caught between her teeth as she peers up at his stunned expression.

Much to her amusement, his pale cheeks flame with a pink blush, and he seems to be at a loss for words. She revels in his embarrassment, because she knows that he enjoys this—the physical proximity, the intimacy, the affection—as much as she does, and the only reason they’ve not indulged in more of it is because he refuses to.

“You’re welcome,” he finally utters, before withdrawing from the embrace. “I’ll prepare our meals for us now. Stow the training sabers and see to it that the Library is locked up before you join me in our chambers.”

She’s not entirely surprised by how suddenly his mood has shifted from warm and affectionate to cool and reserved—she has become somewhat accustomed to his abrupt mood swings, and now that she’s actually felt what his head feels like when it happens, she cannot even truly fault him for it. It is simply overwhelming and stifling, and she understands that it is easier to just shut down and not deal with any sort of emotion at times.

“Yes, Master,” she nods, taking a respectful step back and allowing him to leave the room.

She may enjoy pushing him a little, and she may want to push him into accepting whatever it is between them, but she knows him well enough to know when she can push the issue.

She bends down and retrieves their sabers.

This had definitely not been the time to push it.

.

.

.

The air feels unbearably thick and hot, very nearly too difficult to breathe. The cold durasteel bites into the skin of her knees and the weight of Kylo’s prone body is almost suffocating her, but she doesn't care. Her lungs feel like they’re shrivelling up with each breath that she attempts to take, panic and fear burning a little deeper into her mind with each passing second.

She swears she can feel her heart, stuck high in her throat, throbbing and cutting off her breathing—and even if she felt as though she could breathe normally, she knows she wouldn’t dare.

Tears roll down her cheeks relentlessly as she presses her hand to his chest, gagging at the feel and sight of his blood pooling between her fingertips, hot and sticky and terrifying. Han has disappeared, and there's nothing but her and Kylo and the occasional bomb that makes the whole place shudder and quake.

Kylo jerks roughly in her arms, a violent cough tearing through his lungs, blood spilling from his lips and dribbling down his chin and onto his neck, and she gasps in pain, clutching at her own chest as the ghost of his pain tears through her mind again. “No, no, no,” she breathes shakily, pushing his hair from his face with trembling hands. “You’re going to be okay—I’ll get you out of here.”

His eyes are wide, and she can see how terrified he is, and it is tearing her up from the inside out.

“You can’t die,” she cries, pressing on the wound desperately and attempting to gather her hold on the Force so that she can try to heal him—she knows it’s possible, she’s read about it, and with their Force Bond it has to be—to do anything to save his life, but she can’t concentrate.

Her lack of focus is going to cost her the best thing that’s ever happened to her. 

Their Bond is aching because of his absence, and she can’t stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks continuously as she struggles to get a grip on the Force. “No, no, no,” she cries, desperately pressing his cloak against the wound on his chest in an attempt to staunch the bleeding. “No, you can’t do this to me.”

“Rey,” he chokes, immediately followed by a rough coughing fit and another wave of blood spilling from his lips—and this time, it doesn’t stop.

“Kylo!” She shouts in alarm, holding him down as he chokes and jerks violently. “Kylo, no, no—please don’t—I need you.” The convulsing stops almost abruptly, and she breathes a sigh of relief before she realizes that he’s not breathing.

“No,” she breathes. “No. No, wake up. Please, wake up.”

There’s no response, and the Bond feels like a gaping wound inside her mind, cutting off her ability to think and to breathe. All she knows is that Kylo could fix it—if only he would wake up, tell her he’s okay, that she needs to pull herself together—but he won’t move.

Rey.

She slumps down over him, cradling him in her arms as she weeps, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Please come back—don’t leave me here alone. I love you—please, please wake up.”

Rey.

And then there are hands on her shoulders, shaking her, dragging her away from him—away from Kylo. “No!” she screams, struggling violently against the hands that are dragging her away. “No, please, let me stay—no! Kylo!”

She gasps as her body bolts upright in bed, her breath coming out in frantic pants as she struggles to distinguish dreams from reality. She’s in her bed, sheets twisted around her torso and her legs, and there are arms wrapped around her—

“Kylo!”

“It’s okay,” he tells her soothingly, rubbing his hand in soft circles on her back. “I’m here. I’m okay. You saved me—you saved us both. You’re safe. We are safe.”

“No,” she croaks, shifting in his arms so that she can hold him, so that she can listen to his heartbeat to assure herself that he’s here, he’s alive. “No, I—you died. I was too late, I couldn’t—” She tries to explain, tries to find the words, but all she manages is a choked sob before she bursts into tears again. She takes a deep, shuddering breath in an attempt to quell the sudden onslaught of tears, but all it does is make things worse, and all she can do to calm herself is to burrow deeper into his arms.

“Please, don’t go,” she whimpers when he moves, tightening her grip on his shirt.

She’d be embarrassed, but all she can see in her mind’s eye is his bloodied, lifeless body on the walkway, and even his heartbeat is not quite enough to soothe the fear that is still burning through her veins. “Please, Kylo,” she whimpers, pressing herself against him. “Please.”

He stiffens against her for a split-second, and she can feel his apprehension before he complies and settles back down onto her bed, wiggling until they are both comfortably lying in her bed. She’s pressed up against him from head to toe, and it feels immensely comforting to have his entire body wrapped around hers.

Her nose is pressed against his collarbone, and his scent is ridiculously addictive, and she can’t get enough. “I was so scared,” she whispers in a small, trembling voice, curling her fingers in the back of his shirt to keep him close. “It felt so real.”

She feels him press a soft, hesitant kiss to the top of her head, and it makes her heart flutter with something unfamiliar, but comforting and warm—and she wants more of it. His side of the Bond is uncharacteristically calm, and all she can feel is warm comfort. Slowly, carefully, she moves her hand up from where it is resting on his back, slipping it beneath his shirt and up over his back, as she presses an openmouthed kiss to the side of his neck.

Her entire body feels as though it’s on fire—one that can only be quelled by his cool and calming touch. Her skin feels too tight and too hot, and she wriggles against Kylo impatiently, desperately grasping at him, holding his body pressed firmly against hers.

He stiffens immediately, and she wants to burst into tears all over again, because she needs him to stay with her; to comfort her.

“Rey,” he sighs, slowly withdrawing his arms from around her. “Don’t.”

“But I need you,” she whines—Force, when did she revert to being a five-year-old?—digging her fingers into the soft flesh of his back. “Why can’t we just—”

“Because we can’t,” he growls, shoving her back as much as the limited space in her bed allows, glaring at her angrily. “I’ve told you this many times, Rey. We are not doing this.” His voice is hard and his eyes are cold, but she can sense just how conflicted he is, and she wants to push, wants to force him into acknowledging this thing

And then he suddenly pulls himself from her bed, glaring down at her furiously before spitting, “You seem well enough now. Go back to sleep.”

“No,” she exclaims angrily, pushing herself up and off the bed. “No, we’re not done talking about this.”

She can feel his anger flare, and it only fuels her own indignant rage, even as he stalks towards her again, roughly poking his finger against her shoulder. “There is nothing to talk about, Rey! There isn’t anything worth discussing about this!”

“Of course there is,” she shouts back, pressing both hands flat against his chest before shoving him back. “We’ve been ignoring this for weeks and it’s not going away! I know you feel the same way—”

“But I don’t!” he bellows, and the force of his exclamation, of his anger and rage and frustration, sends her stumbling back a few steps, her heart sinking when he carefully rebuilds the wall to separate his mind from hers. “You only feel and sense what you want to,” he continues, no less forceful and angry, curling his fingers around her upper arms as he takes another step towards her. “You refuse to take everything into account—I may feel many things for you, but I don’t want to act upon a single one of them. You’re my Apprentice, no more. Accept that.”

It’s nothing he’s not said before.

They’ve had this discussion several times.

But he has never been so serious. She’s never believed him before, but he’s radiating how much he means his words to her and it makes her feel sick. The idea that she may have been dreaming of a life with him when he has no interest in her beyond being her Master is nauseating, and she feels humiliated and angry that she was so caught up in her own head that she didn’t see this before.

“Oh,” she breathes, swallowing thickly. “Right.”

She takes another step back, surprised when he lets her go without so much as a single word of protest. “I need air,” she whispers unsteadily before fleeing the room, fleeing his stifling presence—now that she knows she is nothing more than a child in need of help in his eyes, she can’t bear to be around him anymore.

It hurts in a way she’d never expected it to hurt—it’s a kind of agonizing pain that she’d never experienced before in her entire life.

She had never known that her entire body could hurt from emotional pain, as though she is being torn apart from the inside out. Too many feelings battle for dominance within her mind, and she can barely see straight—now that she is experiencing the heart-breaking, crippling ache firsthand, she wishes she had not been so impatient with some of the other girls on D’Qar at times.

There had been many a young girl who had lost their hearts to one of the men they were supposed to service, and Rey had always thought they had to have been incredibly dim-witted to fall for one of those pigs.

She wishes she would have been better, more understanding now—she doesn’t understand how they survived this ... pain; how they had enough control to continue living with the crippling ache constantly lodged in their chests.

She understands the pain now—but she cannot help but wish that she did not. She desires nothing more than to be ignorant to this kind of pain—she wishes for nothing more than the reason for her pain to be erased.

She wishes things were different—that Kylo could return what she feels for him.

Her skin puckers into goosebumps when she steps outside, the stone steps cold beneath her feet and the winds icy against her exposed skin. She tentatively wraps her arms around herself and crawls up onto the foot of the statue where she’d meditated earlier that day, curling up in a little nook, back against the large stone leg.

She’d been so sure that he had returned her feelings—she was so incredibly convinced that the magnitude of what he made her feel was too much for one person to feel on their own—that she had indeed completely disregarded all the signs that he had given her to indicate that he wasn’t interested in a romantic or even a carnal relationship with her.

How did she let herself fall so deeply?

She supposes it was all too easy to fall for the man who had freed her from what may have been a lifetime of slavery and prostitution—the first man who had ever valued her for reasons other than being pretty or good in bed.

She knows he feels something for her, even though he has no intention of acting on it, and it makes the whole thing even harder to accept, because she knows it could easily grow into something more and she wants that. She wants more with him, wants to stay with him permanently, and wants to be sure that he’ll never leave her, because he’s the most important person in the galaxy to her, even if nothing in their relationship would ever change.

She sits for a while longer, knees drawn up to her chest and her arms wrapped around them, before she gets an eerie feeling—almost as though she’s being watched.

She tentatively tries to sense her surroundings with the Force, but the only other being anywhere near her is Kylo, and she can feel that he is still in their bedroom. The rest of the Valley is quiet, and she feels silly for even considering the notion that she was being watched.

No one’s here.

Chapter Text

Chapter II
Impalpable

“You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don’t ever count on having both at once.”
—Robert A. Heinlein

Poe

There is a certain kind of freedom and peace in hurtling through hyperspace that soothes Poe’s otherwise buzzing mind, and it is something he craves every time he spends more than a day or two on the ground. His mother had recognized the adventurous, restless spirit within him when he was a young child, and had given him the opportunity she herself had not been given until her late teens—she taught him how to fly.

Even now, twenty years later, Poe is still the same, restless little boy at heart, and he needs to fly.

The reconnaissance mission he’d taken, in a desperate attempt to clear his mind, to rid himself of the incessant buzzing of energy beneath his skin, had hardly been worth his two-week absence from D’Qar, but he couldn’t stand being on Base anymore.

After their success in blowing up Starkiller Base, there had been a brief surge of all-encompassing exhilaration and happiness—a celebration that would have lasted for days, if the Millennium Falcon had not returned without Han Solo…

If Poe himself had not returned with only a quarter of the pilots he had set out with.

The joyous atmosphere that had descended upon the Base had evaporated just as quickly as it had appeared, and there had been nothing but sorrow and hollow victory left in its place. Han Solo’s demise had caused an unforeseen power struggle within the Resistance, and Poe had found himself caught in the middle.

Now that Han was gone, it was almost like people were shaken from some kind of trance—and no one was quite the same anymore. Things that had seemed so incredibly normal before suddenly didn’t seem so obvious anymore, and it caused arguments that ranged from petty and inconsequential to serious and important.  Poe himself didn’t particularly care about the politics anymore; there had been a time that all he cared about was making sure that the First Order was defeated—that people would be allowed to live their lives freely and as they chose.

It had taken him some time to come to grips with the fact that the Resistance does not support those values as valiantly as he had previously believed—it had taken him even longer to accept that in the eyes of the First Order, the Resistance truly does embody all that is wrong in the galaxy.

He is still struggling with the realization that they might be right.

He’s struggling with a lot of things these days.

Despite his best efforts, his thoughts stray to Rey, and he has to shut his eyes and count to ten to prevent slipping right into another panic attack—he’s had those with terrifying frequency in the last two and a half months, ever since he’d seen Finn stumble down the ramp of the Falcon alone.

Of all the things he struggles with, knowing he failed to save Rey—knowing that she died because he hadn’t been able to keep her safe—is the most difficult issue.

He remembers the world spinning when he’d been told of her demise, his knees buckling as his senses were overloaded with noise and light when nothing had any right to be bright or loud anymore—not without Rey being okay and alive somewhere. He remembers Finn’s arms around him, and desperate, soft words of comfort that did nothing to calm or comfort him.

He remembers shouting and crying until his throat was raw.

He remembers the terrible fight he and Finn had gotten into when Finn had told him exactly what had transpired during the attack on Starkiller Base, and while he regrets fighting with Finn—he really hates fighting with Finn—he only barely regrets any of the things he’s said.

He knows that Finn couldn’t have done more; he knows Finn would have done everything in his power to convince Rey to come with him, but it’s just so much easier to be angry with Finn for not getting her out of there than being angry with Rey for choosing to stay. It’s so much easier to blame Finn, even in the privacy of his own mind, for Rey’s actions after she and Finn had parted ways—it’s so much easier not to think of Rey as the reason why the Resistance is on the brink of falling to pieces.

The fact that Rey was the one who had pushed Han Solo off of the walkway hadn’t been made public knowledge and, while he’s grateful for it, he’s fairly certain the Council only decided to keep it secret because it would cause riots if people heard one of their own was responsible for their leader’s death.

He knows the leaders hardly consider Rey one of their own—they don't consider any of the girls as one of their own—but Rey had had a lot of admirers and even friends before she'd gone to Jakku, even if she herself hadn't known it, and those people will see her as one of theirs.

It’s difficult to reconcile the Rey he knew—the sweet, strong, brave girl he’d loved—with Kylo Ren’s new, dangerous Apprentice.

With the person who’d killed Han.

Even just thinking about it makes him incredibly angry, and it makes him even angrier to realize that he really doesn’t know who to be angry with. He’d spent days just ignoring everyone on Base, from Snap and Ello to Leia and Finn, to avoid blowing up in their faces—to avoid saying things that he’d regret later on.

It hadn’t made much of a difference in the end.

Finn had refused to let him wallow and brood, and had pushed and pushed until Poe didn’t have a choice to push back—to yell and scream and cry until he couldn’t anymore. Until he had found himself collapsed on the floor in Finn’s arms, gasping for breath and shaking uncontrollably.

He’d fared a little better after that, though things between him and Finn were strained.

He had said things… Things he was unsure he could take back.

He’d blamed Finn for Rey’s death, for Han’s demise, for feeling like absolute shit... had taken out his anger and pain and grief on him, and Finn had taken it without complaint, without even raising his voice—and Poe loves him so much that it’s not even funny anymore.

Therein lies the problem as well—he loves Finn.

He loves him, but he’s also so angry with him, and with the Resistance, and the First Order, and with Rey and Kylo kriffing Ren, and he just doesn’t know how to make it go away.

He sighs and closes his eyes briefly before BB-8 beeps in warning, snapping him from his melancholic thoughts rather abruptly. He eyes the panel and realizes he’s got less than two minutes to disengage the hyperdrive and drop back to regular speed before he’ll just fly right past D’Qar—not that that idea isn’t entirely tempting on its own.

He swallows thickly before punching in the correct button to contact Base. “Black Leader to Base,” he says, surprising himself with the steadiness of his voice. “Dropping out of hyperspeed now. Requesting permission to land.”

“Base to Black Leader,” a tinny, unfamiliar voice responds. “Permission granted. Mission status?”

“Mission success,” Poe responds, before turning his attention away from the comms and preparing for landing. “BB-8, deploy landing gear, please?”

BB-8 beeps shrilly in consent, and Poe goes through the motions of setting down his X-wing safely as his mind drifts towards his adorable ex-stormtrooper boyfriend, and whether or not Finn will be waiting for him on the tarmac. He does hope so, because no matter how conflicted he feels, he'd still much rather have Finn in his life, playing a significant part in it, than not at all.  

Before the mission to Starkiller Base, Poe wouldn’t have doubted for a single moment that Finn would be waiting for him, but after their fight—after all the horrible accusations he’d thrown in Finn’s face—he’s no longer so sure, despite the fact that he's spent every moment since their reconciliation apologizing for his words.

The look on Finn’s face when he’d hurled the worst of the accusations at him had very nearly broken his own heart, too, and he’d tried to take the words back immediately after—but the damage had already been done.

“You’re so kriffing insecure that you just left her! You left her because you wanted me all to yourself and now she’s dead, Finn! She’s dead because of you!

He hadn’t meant a single word of it, but he had said it.

Black One touches down safely, and he can see several ground technicians rushing towards him immediately. He leans his head back against his seat for a moment, using the couple of minutes they need to set the ladder to the hull so that he can climb out, to center himself.

He still needs to go through an entire debriefing session—which will likely be like a torture session in itself, with Admiral Ackbar and the rest of the officers arguing about the correct way to approach whatever issue he’ll bring up—before he’ll be able to return to the chambers he shares with Finn.

Before he’ll be able to go see Finn at all.

The thought is far from encouraging, but he refuses to let it show to the ground techs, who are nothing but nice and polite to him. He offers Marty, who takes his helmet from him when he descends the ladder, a tight smile. “She performed perfectly,” he tells the kid. “I’d just check to see if the power converter is working right—it sputters when I switch between hyperspace and realspace.”

The blond-haired kid nods, offering Poe a quick, “Sure sure,” and hurries around the wing, disappearing behind the space craft. Poe chuckles at Marty’s youthful exuberance before turning to the tall, handsome technician that approaches him, offering him a grin.

“Hey Malik,” he says, drawing his lower lip between his teeth when Malik smirks at him—it had been that precise smirk that had a much younger Poe Dameron falling head over heels in love with the technician when he’d been a rookie pilot in the Resistance. Of course, there haven’t been real feelings between him and Malik in years, but that doesn’t mean Poe’s suddenly gone blind.

Malik is and always will be a very handsome man and he’s always going to be Poe’s first love.

“How bad are things?” he inquires under his breath when Malik steps closer to help him remove the oxygen mask and tube from his flight suit. The situation between the two factions had been tense and on the verge of evolving into an actual conflict when he had left two weeks ago, and he really has no idea what to expect now that he’s back.

“It’s not good,” Malik mutters, his fingers lingering a little too long on the side of Poe’s chest, standing a little closer than strictly necessary—Poe could make a big deal out of it, but he knows it’s nothing more than habit, nothing more than an innocent flirtation they’ve repeated hundreds of times in the past six years, even after the end of their relationship—before he withdraws and proceeds to roll the tubes.

Malik has met Finn, and Poe’s fairly certain the entire Base knows how in love with Finn he is.

“Sorry,” the man apologizes anyway, before returning the subject to the rising tensions on Base. “Six girls quit this week. A few moved in with their beaus, and Snap flew Luxa and Dani back to Zeltros.”

Poe’s eyes widen in shock, and he whistles long and low. “Both Zeltron girls left? Woah… I didn’t see that coming—I assumed they enjoyed all the attention they were still getting.” He jumps when BB-8 bumps against his leg and beeps soft and low to remind him of the debriefing session he needs to attend.

“Right,” he breathes, sighing heavily. “I’ll talk to you later, Malik.”

.

.

.

He’d hoped to escape from the debriefing without being stopped on the way back to his chambers.

The Force, unfortunately, was not with him in this case, and he found himself stopped by the last person he wanted to speak to in the middle of a crowded hallway. “Princess,” he bows stiffly, reluctantly following her into an empty room when she beckons him to do so, sending BB-8 ahead to his and Finn’s room with a soft but stern command. “What can I do for you?”

Speaking so formally and detached to the woman he’d viewed as a second mother for most of his life feels awkward and somewhat distressing. There had been a time that Leia Organa-Solo was the only adult in his life that he and Mira had been able to count on, and he has always been incredibly grateful that Leia had been there for them after his mother’s death.

He loves his father, he always has, but Poe remembers the way the man had fallen apart when Poe’s mother had died of a rare kind of cancer—the way he and Mira had come home many times to find him passed out on the floor with any kind of liquor he could get his hands on—the way his father had raged and screamed and cried until his voice was hoarse and Poe had to drag him up the rickety old stairs of their home and help him get in bed…

He remembers Leia coming over one day, with little Ben Solo in tow, and informing him and Mira they’d be staying with the Solos on D’Qar for a while so that Kes Dameron could recover without having to think of caring for two teenagers as well.

He remembers the year they had spent with her, Han, and Ben—remembers the countless times he had woken up crying and screaming after nightmares of watching his mother waste away and die only to find himself in Leia’s comforting embrace—remembers the flying lessons Han had willingly taken over in Shara Bey-Dameron’s absence—remembers seeing a scared and nervous Ben Solo off when the Luke Skywalker came to take him back to the Jedi Temple on Yavin IV.

He remembers her soothing voice and her comforting embrace when he lost Mira too, just shy of four years later—when he had been on the verge of self-destruction and wallowing in grief and anger.

He remembers that it was only Leia’s relentless support that had kept him from self-destructing.

He finds it exceptionally difficult to reconcile the image of the woman he had once known and loved—the woman who had fought for freedom and against slavery—with the downright horrid picture she’d painted herself as in the past couple of years, especially considering the extent of her involvement in forcing girls like Rey into prostitution.

The thought that there may have been dozens of other girls just like Rey frightens him more than he cares to admit—for reasons he can’t bring himself to formulate, even in the relative privacy of his mind.

He sighs quietly and draws his lower lip between his teeth as he leans against the table in the centre of the room and waits for the elder woman to shut the door to grant them the privacy she obviously desires for whatever it is that she wants from him in here.

He finds that he is struck dumb by how aged she looks when she turns around to face him. Each line that traces her obsolescent skin is a testament to the hardships and suffering life had thrown at her—and he finds himself in reluctant awe of her silent strength and the iron-clad resolve that shows on her face now.

He had heard that the Princess was devastated when the news of Han’s death broke—though there had been rumours that she had collapsed hours before the Falcon and the other pilots made it back to Base, almost as though she had felt him die. Poe supposes it’s a realistic possibility; he’s not entirely sure how the Force works, but he does know that Leia is Force sensitive.

Maybe she did feel it when Han died.

The thought makes him feel queasy and, much as he may have grown to hate the man Han Solo had become, he still has a barrage of good memories of the man as well.

“I want to apologize,” Leia says, drawing him from his thoughts. “I need to apologize to you, Poe.”

He’d heard that Leia had been attempting to make amends in the last month and a half, but he had not expected her to actually apologize to him as well. “Okay,” he nods, drawing his lip between his teeth again and looking down at his feet. “Thank you. If that’s all, I’d like to go now.” He doesn’t wait for an answer, because honestly

He has nothing more to say.

He hopes the words will be enough to appease Leia, whether they are truthful or not, because he really just wants to leave—he has no interest in continuing the conversation because it will only cause more resentment and hurt and he’s just so tired.

Leia had been like a mother to him, and he’d trusted her and Han above everyone else except his own father, and when they’d abandoned Rey—when they’d forced her into sleeping with every man on Base—they’d shattered that unwavering faith he’d once had in them, and he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to give her that kind of trust again.

His faith in them had been wavering for years, but Rey’s predicament had been the final straw.

“No,” Leia exclaims, rushing around him to block his exit. “No, Poe, please. I’m sorry for the way handled the entire situation with Rey and with the girls…”

He winces, and Leia shuts her eyes as she takes a deep, shuddering breath before continuing. “I let my feelings for Han cloud my judgement—I let him jeopardize everything I’d always believed in and fought for, and…”

“And what?” Poe snaps harshly, his anger getting the best of him as he glares down at the shorter, elder woman. “You forced women into things they didn’t want—girls that should have been worrying about things other than which swine they’d be forced to cater to next! And that’s supposed to be okay because you loved Han?!”

There are tears shining in Leia’s eyes, and Poe has to steel himself, because even after everything, there is a part of him that loves Leia Organa-Solo, and that cannot stand to see her cry.

“No,” she whispers, shaking her head sadly. “No, it doesn’t make it okay, Poe. I know that. Nothing is going to make what happened to Rey and those other girls okay. And there is nothing I can say or do that will make it okay—but I can apologize for the way I handled your requests… For the way I treated you and Rey, and for the way I allowed others to treat you.”

The words strike a chord somewhere deep within him, and for the first time in a long time, he thinks he sees a glimpse of the woman he had grown up with.

“I am so sorry, Poe,” she circles her fingers around his wrist, her lips quivering a little as she looks up at him. “I let you down—I let a lot of people down. And I’m sorry. I hope that one day, you can forgive me.” She offers him the saddest smile he has ever seen on her and adds, “But you don’t have to.”

He opens his mouth, but no sound falls from his lips, and he stares down at her for another silent, stunned moment before snapping his jaw shut and nodding tensely. “Thank you,” he says, infusing his earlier words with a sincerity that he had omitted the first time he had uttered them. “I appreciate that.”

And he does.

He can see and feel how sincere Leia is in her regrets and her apologies, but it does nothing to abate the ache lodged deep in his chest when he thinks of Rey, all that she had gone through while on D’Qar, and the fact that he had not been able to keep her safe in the end.

Leia nods shakily before stepping aside, leaving him with a clear path to the door.

Poe doesn’t look at her when he moves to leave the room, unsure of what he’d find if he would.

“And Poe?”

He freezes on the doorstep, digging his teeth into his lower lip as he exhales shakily. He’d hoped that the conversation would be done—that Leia had gotten it all off her chest—but evidently, he was not so lucky. “Yes, Princess?” he asks, staring straight ahead, refusing to turn back around and face her again—refusing to be sucked into this conversation again.

Leia’s voice is soft and brittle when she speaks next, and the sound makes his heart clench. “Rey’s fate—what happened to her is not your fault. Nor is it Finn’s. Please… Don’t blame yourself anymore.”

“That is none of your business,” Poe snaps, his hands curling into fists as he attempts to reign in the immature urge to lash out at her. The rational part of his brain knows that Leia is likely only trying to help, but the larger, more dominant part of him wants to scream and yell and tell her that he’s absolutely fine and that he doesn’t need to be told what to feel and not to feel.

He is, however, acutely aware that he can’t just keep raging about like a headless bantha, and manages—barely—to keep himself in check. Instead of yelling at her, as he wants to, he flees the room, tugging his hand through his hair anxiously, and then makes a face as he rushes down the hallway that leads towards the chambers he shares with Finn.

He only manages a few feet before he realizes he is scaring the new cadets that are huddled near one of the larger dormitories’ door, eyes wide and apprehensive as they study him.

He shakes himself and shoots them the most charming grin he can manage—it seems to mollify most of them—before he shoves his hands deep into the pockets of his flight suit and continues down the corridor at a much calmer pace.

His thoughts drift once again to his conversation with Leia, and he has to admit that it had gone much better than he had thought it would when she nearly demanded to speak to him. Disregarding the last words she had spoken, because he can’t—he’s not ready to think about it yet—

He is still angry and hurt—he is still grieving, and he doesn’t see himself stopping anytime soon.

He heaves a sigh as he nears their chambers, consciously attempting to dispel his dark thoughts from his mind before he goes in to greet Finn. He’d rather meet his boyfriend with a clear head, to prevent himself from saying something stupid or ridiculous—he’d like at least one part of his day to be filled with happiness rather than worry, fear and pain.

He’s aware Finn hasn’t been his usual happy self since they fought, and Poe’s really trying to make it right, and trying to find a way to make both Finn and himself happy again. He leans against their door for a moment, taking a second to steady himself before he punches in the access code and enters the room.

The sight that greets him is not one he’d expected at all.

The room is in a state of disarray, with Finn’s clothes strewn across the floor and a fair few of his own shirts tossed into the mix, datapads tossed carelessly on the sofa and BB-8 rolling back and forth indecisively between the sofa and the entrance to the bedroom.

“What the hell?” he breathes, shutting the door behind him as he steps further into the disorganised room, carefully stepping over datapads and shirts as he takes in the unusual mess in the room. Finn is an exceptionally organised person—a habit reminiscent of his time as a trooper in the First Order—and he’d taken great pleasure in reorganising and cleaning up Poe’s junkyard of a room.

Poe’s never seen Finn allow their room to get this messy again.

“Where’s Finn, BB-8?” He turns to his droid again, frowning when it offers nothing but a forlorn beep and a nudge towards the bedroom before it rolls towards the little charging station in the corner of the room and plugs itself in.

“Finn?”

He approaches the bedroom with a certain sense of trepidation, unsure of what he’ll find when he does walk in there.

The sight that greets him is a heart-wrenching one, and he falters in the doorway, curling his fingers around the cool steel of the doorjamb to keep himself upright.

Finn is curled up on their bed, knees drawn up to his chest and arms wrapped around them, his cheeks tear-stained and eyes red-rimmed. Poe swears that he’s never seen Finn look more miserable, and his heart aches at the sight of him.

“Finn? Buddy?” He crosses the distance between them slowly, before crawling up the bed to kneel before his boyfriend, gently reaching out to touch Finn’s hands. “Finn, what’s wrong?”

Slowly, as though he hadn’t even noticed Poe’s presence before he touched him, Finn raises his gaze to meet Poe’s, and Poe can’t help but flinch at the raw emotion he sees in Finn’s eyes. “Finn,” he whispers again, rubbing soft circles onto Finn’s hands with his thumbs, wordlessly pleading with the younger man to tell him what bothers him—to tell him how he can make it better.

“Poe?” Finn whispers, his voice raw and hoarse, and Poe winces, afraid to imagine how long Finn has been holed up in their bedroom, by himself, crying about something, and Poe just wants to help him.

Why hadn’t anyone told him Finn had been holed up in their chambers—why hadn’t they warned him?

“Yeah, mi querido,” he manages to choke, wrapping himself around Finn the second his boyfriend loosens his arms from around his knees enough to allow Poe to curl around him. “I’m here.” He rubs his hand over Finn’s arm in what he hopes is a calming gesture as Finn rubs at his cheeks impatiently before turning to look at Poe.

“I’m sorry.” Finn smiles tightly, and Poe can tell it’s not real, and he hates it. “It’s nothing. I’m being stupid—don’t worry about it.” And he knows Finn is lying, and it bothers him, because Finn is not a liar. 

“It doesn’t look like nothing,” Poe replies as gently and calmly as he can, watching as Finn shifts uncomfortably. “You didn’t even clean our room as obsessively as you usually do.” His heart clenches painfully when Finn avoids his gaze and shifts out of his embrace a little. “Hey, buddy,” Poe swallows thickly. “You can tell me anything. Trust me.”

As the words fall from his lips, guilt settles in his stomach, and he marvels at his own hypocrisy—he’d tossed terrible things at Finn; he’d blamed him for things that were beyond Finn’s control, and he knows he has no right to ask Finn for his trust just like that.

Finn bites his lip, and Poe has to keep a firm grasp on his mind before it slips into territory it has no business being in, considering the situation.

“Please talk to me, cariño,” Poe pleads, tentatively reaching for Finn’s hand again.

“I just…” Finn shrugs helplessly, and Poe winces when he sees his boyfriend’s eyes fill with tears again. “I hadn’t—I was talking to Snap the other day, and I just…”

Poe feels more confused than he had before, and he’s certain that his confusion shows on his face, because Finn offers him a sad smile before he continues. “We were talking about people that we’ve all lost, and it made me think…”

He shrugs again and whispers, “I hadn’t even thought about them before now. I spent my entire life with them, and I didn’t even mourn them properly.”

Oh.

Oh.

Poe feels sick to his stomach when he realises that Finn had actively helped destroy the people he’d grown up with—his squad mates—because they had asked him to, and Poe had never even stopped to think about what he was asking of Finn. He has lost enough of his own pilots to know what it feels like and he knows there’ll be little he can say or do that’ll make this easier for Finn—but he has to try.

“Tell me about them,” he says softly, drawing Finn closer as he leans back against the wall, relishing in the soft weight of Finn’s body as he leans against him. He leans in and presses a kiss to Finn’s temple as he slides his arm around his boyfriend’s shoulders, waiting patiently for Finn to open up to him.

“I don’t know what happened to Zeroes,” Finn begins hesitantly, splaying his fingers out on Poe’s chest, absent-mindedly rubbing the fabric of Poe’s white shirt between his fingers. “I haven’t seen him—I assume he was on Starkiller, but…” Finn’s voice grows more brittle towards the end of the sentence, and Poe shuts his eyes briefly, tightening his arms around Finn as he takes a few deep breaths to steady himself again.

“We had the same skin,” Finn says matter-of-factly, and Poe nearly chuckles, because it sounds like such a random thing to remember. “But he had a scar on his face. It was lighter than the rest of his skin, and he didn’t want to tell any of us how he got it… We had all kinds of theories about it.”

Finn chuckles to himself and Poe bites his lip again, briefly considering asking Finn about the theories, but then deciding that the memory is Finn’s, and the decision on whether or not to share it should be as well.

“Nines was different,” Finn begins after a while. “I thought, for a while, that he might be more like me—but after Takodana…”

Poe swallows thickly when Finn accidentally rubs his fingers over Poe’s nipple, which hardens immediately beneath the innocent touch, and he briefly loses track of what Finn is telling him. “…think Han or Chewbacca shot him, but… He would have killed me, and he wouldn’t have regretted it. It’s just—”

Finn breaks off with a choked sob and buries his face in Poe’s chest, and all Poe can do his hold him and hope that Finn knows that Poe is not going anywhere. “Te quiero pase lo que pase,” Poe whispers against Finn’s temple, rubbing his hands over Finn’s back and arms, hardly even aware that he’s slipping from Basic into Spanish again.

It happens frequently around Finn, and Poe’s pretty sure Finn likes it when he whispers endearments to him in the unusual dialect.

Finn is silent for a while after that, and Poe almost thinks that that was all—that there were no other people Finn had been forced to lose when he chose freedom over life in the First Order—when Finn whispers, “I think I miss Slip the most.”

Finn doesn’t have to say anything else for Poe to realise that Slip had been far more than just another member of Finn’s squadron, and he bites his lip, waiting for Finn to tell him more as he immediately squashes the irrational little spark of jealousy that ignites at the thought of his Finn with someone else.

“We were…” Finn hesitates, and Poe sighs a little as he rubs his hand through his hair.

Lovers?” he suggests, taking care to infuse nonchalance in his voice—Finn needs him to be supportive and strong, and Poe is going to do everything in his power to be there for Finn like Finn had been there for him when he fell apart.

“I guess,” Finn nods. “I wasn’t in love with him or anything, but… He was my best friend, you know? I did—do—care about him a lot. Seeing him die—” Finn unsuccessfully tries to stifle another sob by pressing his face against Poe’s chest, further soaking Poe’s shirt with tears as he chokes, “But if he hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have tried to escape, and I wouldn’t have broken you out with me, and this,” he vaguely waves his hand between their bodies and Poe’s heart squeezes painfully, “Would never have happened. And I don't want to give this up for anything, even if it means getting Slip back, and—”

“How did he die?” Poe whispers after a short moment, something awful—guilt and dread—coiling deep in the pit of his stomach as Finn adjusts his position a little so his forehead is pressed against Poe’s temple and his hand is resting on Poe’s stomach, underneath his shirt.

“Tuanul, on Jakku,” Finn says tonelessly. “He got shot right after we disembarked from the ship. I tried to help, but—” He exhales shakily, his warm breath washing over Poe’s cheek. “I had blood all over my helmet, but I couldn’t stop to wipe it off, and then you were captured and—”

Poe’s heart starts pounding as he recalls those terrifying moments on Jakku, remembering the three Troopers he’d shot in rapid succession—remembering four going down.

He’d not thought much of it at the time, being somewhat preoccupied with blaster fire going every which way, but he does recall seeing a trooper with blood smeared over the visor of his helmet, and he feels sick when he remembers thinking, ‘I hope it hurts, you kriffing bastard’.

The memories are vague and scrambled, and he’s fairly certain Kylo Ren messing around in his mind shuffled things and skewed his perspective—but there is one idea that has sunk its hooks into his mind and he cannot, for the life of him, shake the thought, no matter how unlikely.

He'd killed Finn’s best friend.

Chapter Text

Chapter III
Escaping Fear

"To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around."
—Richie Norton

Rey

Her mouth tastes stale and dry when she drifts back into consciousness, and the delicate skin beneath her eyes is rubbed raw, tingling rather painfully in the aftermath of her weeping fit. Her left leg is completely numb, while her other leg seems the opposite, almost achingly sensitive to even the slightest touch—she can feel every little stone crumb pressing into her skin, and her limbs ache after having spent several hours curled up in a less than comfortable position.

She is not entirely surprised to find that she had eventually cried herself to sleep at the foot of the large statue, but she must admit that the hurt in her heart only intensifies when she realises that Kylo had not once come to check on her when she did not return.

She exhales shakily when said thought crosses her mind, silently cursing at herself when tears burn in her eyes once again. The ache in her body is, however, too prominent to ignore at that point, and she is blessedly able to focus all of her attention on relaxing her tense muscles in a desperate attempt to reduce the dull soreness that reverberates throughout her entire body.

She stretches her legs out before her, wincing a little at the strain in her muscles and the insistent crawling tingle as feeling returns to her left leg, breathing in deeply as she keeps her eyes shut, resting her head back against the statue’s duracrete leg.

The air tastes fresh and cool, and she does not yet need to open her eyes to know that dawn has yet to come, though it is likely not far off anymore. She has seen the dawn on Moraband many times now, so many she can see the colours of the sky morph from rich, midnight blue to soft comforting blue until a kaleidoscope of colours will explode across the indigo canvas of the sky, with intense reds and purples, preceding the sun’s appearance with a show of ethereal beauty without opening her eyes.  

She allows her mind to drift from that thought, as she often does in those peaceful moments between sleep and wakefulness, and finds her mind blissfully free of any sort of agony and doubt, unaware of anything but the press of the sandstone and duracrete against her skin, the cool temperature of the rocks soothing against the heat that emanates from her own body.

Alas, the peacefulness soon dissipates in favor of a harsh ache, lodged deep inside her chest, as memories of the previous night once again make their way to the forefront of her mind, Kylo’s stringent words echoing through her thoughts. With each inhale, the soreness in her chest flares and takes her breath away momentarily, and she still has no idea how to deal with this feeling.

She has never felt so out of sorts before—not even when she had walked in on Poe and his on-again-off-again boyfriend, after he promised her he had eyes for no one but her anymore—and though sadness and hurt are still vying for the upper hand in her heart, it is all overshadowed by anger so hot and so intense it is almost more powerful than the all-consuming hatred she had felt for Han Solo. It seems to be a paragon in the Solo genes, to be able to drive Rey completely mad with emotions so conflicting and confusing she feels as though she does not know her own mind anymore.

She loves Kylo, more than she can reasonably say, more than she even understands, but the rage that burns through her veins eclipses that love by far, drowning it in its all-consuming presence, and she knows that if she would look at him now, she may not be able to contain the fury that burns within her and that simmers in the Force—and though the scorned, hurt little voice in the back of her mind calls for it, she has no desire to actually lay harm to him.

She sits for a while longer, staring out into the Valley until she feels him stir inside the Academy, in their chambers, seeking out her mind in a gesture so natural and unquestionable that it slices through the already wounded surface of her heart, because it only furthers her conviction that he does love her, and he does want her as she wants him.

She only wishes she understood why he is so convinced they cannot be together.

The Force feels thicker when she reaches out to answer his unthinking caress, burdened with the weight of their boundless emotions. The density of Kylo’s ardor is so heavy and overwhelming that she has trouble sensing anything else, and his presence in the Force itself feels much like a supernova on the verge of self-destruction, but its light so bright and strong it outshines all other light in the entire galaxy.

She can sense his fear and anger and passion as strongly as though they were her own, and it makes her entire body tremble as she stands, stiffly brushing dust and crumbles of sandstone off of her skin where it had dug itself in, and feebly attempts to prepare herself for seeing him.

She doesn’t feel ready to face him yet, though.

More time would be preferable so that she could have an opportunity to fully consider the extent of their argument’s effects on their continued relationship. Thoughts of losing him permanently still plague her mind, providing ample imagery of how empty her life would feel without him, and it frightens her to realize just how much she has come to rely on him already.

He is close, she knows, hidden just beyond the arched doorway leading into the once-grand Sith Academy. She does not know what he is waiting for, though the idea that he is attempting to give her an option—a choice—to come to him or to take time for herself is a sweet one.

A kind gesture after his angry words  the night before.

She cannot, though, sense his finer emotions, as she could before. It feels almost as though they are right beyond her reach, obscured by a thin, impenetrable veil—but she can sense that he is conflicted and uncertain. There is anger in his mind, too, burning bright and hot, though he clearly has a better handle on the art of controlling his rage than she does—feeling his fury only fuels her own, and she almost forgets her earlier resolve not to do anything foolish.

She does not want to hurt him.

Perhaps taking time to herself is not such a terrible idea, she muses as she jumps down from the dais, grunting at the impact of her feet against the rough stone surface of the steps, loose pebbles digging painfully into the soles of her bare feet.  

She does not want to risk either one of them drawing the other into another argument, hurling insults and cutting remarks—she does not wish to say anything regrettable and irreversible, and she is certain Kylo does not want that either. She is still furious, undeniably upset with the way he had trampled over her feelings without any consideration whatsoever, but she is not willing to irrevocably lose him.

She suppresses the urge to wince and holds her head high as she strides inside, pushing past Kylo without so much as a nod of acknowledgement—because she knows she will say something unfortunate if she opens her mouth now. As she walks, one of the pebbles digs further into her foot, breaking through the delicate tissue and leaving small drops of crimson blood on the stone floors.

Kylo’s displeasure at seeing her injured reverberates through the Force, and though she feels a small measure of satisfaction at another clear indicator that he does, indeed, care about her, she is determined to make it to their room, change into her clothes and boots, grab her staff, and leave.

She enters their chambers, pulling her thin shift over her head as she does—wickedly ignoring Kylo’s sharp intake of breath as she exposes the length of her bare back to him. They had never been particularly aware of propriety—living in closed quarters with one another quickly did away with that boundary—but after the previous night she is itching to get underneath his skin and shatter the façade of morality that he had adopted.

After all, he had made it abundantly clear he does not see her in any sort of sexual way. If that is the truth, surely there’d be no issue with dressing in front of one another?

After she has changed into her dark, woolen britches and soft, thin tunic, she takes the leather boots Kylo had gifted her with back on the Finalizer, and a pair of his socks and retreats to her bed, settling comfortably as she digs the pebble from the sole of her foot. She flinches when the little piece of rock slides from her skin, but soothes over the abused flesh with a touch of Force Healing before pulling the warm socks over her cold toes and wriggling her feet into her boots.

All the while, Kylo hovers before her, his presence heavy and looming, but silent as she pushes past him again to prepare a small bag with a day’s worth of rations, a small knife, a flashlight she had put together herself, and a canteen of water.

She can sense the words that lay on the tip of his tongue, the unspoken question ringing loudly in the silence between them, requiring an answer that neither of them is willing to consider at this time.

She looks about the room silently when she is finished, shoving a ration bar into her pocket as she does, before turning to leave the room. She leaves her intention to return to him unspoken, but implied by the limited amount of rations she took, and she fully believes that it should be enough for him.

It is, naturally, not.

As she turns from him to leave the room, slinging the bag across her back, Kylo’s long fingers wrap around her wrist, his grip tight and bordering on painful as he drags her a few steps back.

“Where are you going?” he demands, voice deep and rough in a way she has not heard it before. She turns to face him, surprised by the positively unhinged look in his dark eyes, as though he is barely capable of holding himself together anymore.

“Let me go,” she hisses, roughly attempting to yank her arm from his bruising grasp.

She gasps when he growls beneath his breath, tightening his grip further and causing the delicate bones in her wrist to grind together painfully as he drags her towards him until they are mere millimeters apart, his breath washing hot and damp over her face as he leans down towards her.

No. Tell me where you are going.”

In the months she has spent with him, she had never forgotten that he is a dangerous man, capable of inflicting great cruelty if he so chose. She had not forgotten how he had kidnapped her and tied her to an interrogation chair, fully intent on destroying her mind if that had been what it took to understand what drew him to her—but even in those moments, she had not feared him.

She had never feared him, had never seen him so close to setting loose the electric storm that his anger and passion would unleash—she'd never seen his rage boiling so close to the surface.

It is terrifying.

His grip on her arm grows ever tighter, and she is certain that lest she break his grip, he will break her wrist, whether intentional or not. It frightens her to see him so out of control of his emotions, so wild and unpredictable. Her heart pounds with fear and she feels lightheaded when his hand raises threateningly, his eyes flashing with something cold and dark that she does not recognize at all.

“No!” she cries, raising her own free hand towards him and shoving at him with all of her considerable strength, both physical and with the Force, just hard enough to make him break his grasp and stumble backwards, tripping onto her bed, his head bouncing back against the wall with a sickening smack.

She winces with him, the echo of his pain rebounding through their Bond, but offers him nothing but a glare as he stares up at her, astonishment plain in his expression. “Don’t touch me,” she hisses, ignoring the burn of humiliated and angry tears in her eyes before turning on her heel and rushing outside, resolving to get as far away from him as she can.

She loves him, but she will not let him treat her as other men had before him.

She is better than that.

She is stronger than that.

Fury burns searing hot through her veins, and she grits her teeth as she storms through the large hallways, focusing solely on putting one foot in front of the other rather than giving into the urge to turn back and plant her fists in Kylo’s face over and over until he hurts like he wanted her to hurt.

She hurries down the steps of the Academy, taking two at a time, resolutely ignoring the drawn-out ache that pulls at their Bond. They have not been this far apart since they had escaped Starkiller and she had pulled Kylo back from the brink of death, mostly due to her own anxiety, and their connection feels almost uncomfortably stretched, much like an untrained muscle.

She persists, however, refusing to let her affection for him become a hindrance as well as a weakness—as she had been well on her way to doing. She had allowed the fear of losing him to cripple her and weaken her as she had once sworn she’d never be weakened.

Though it is early yet, the last three of the seven moons still high in the sky, the planet’s rocky surface is already heating up. Warm breezes wash over her, blowing the loose strands of her hastily-tied hair in and around her face as she strides out into the Valley, further than she has ever gone before.

She has no specific destination in mind, only an intense desire to get away.

She eyes the large outcropping of stone that looms over her critically and draws her lip between her teeth, resisting the urge to look back at the Academy longingly. The further she strays from the Academy, the more her rage feels disproportionate to the argument she and Kylo had shared, and she’s unsure why that thought causes her breath to catch and her stomach to sink.

Something doesn’t feel entirely right.

She is on the verge of turning back, of forcing herself to sit down calmly and talk to Kylo, when she hears a faint, distant cry echo across the Valley, the sound rolling against the walls and rebounding, waves of sound overlapping one another until the cry has become an incoherent screech.

No! No! Give her back!

The voice sounds eerily familiar, and her skin prickles as something stirs within her, draws her towards the large outcropping of stone that leads in an unsteady and broken path towards the ancient tombs in the upper Valley. She has not been there before, but the Shyrack cave Kylo had first tested her in is close, and if she strains her ears she can hear their vicious screeches even down here.

She takes a step forward, her body moving smoothly and without hesitation, even though her mind is torn between following the voice and returning to Kylo’s side in an effort to find out what it is that seems to be influencing her emotions to such a degree that her affection for Kylo was completely overshadowed by her burning anger.

Rey—Rey—Rey—Rey.

She gasps as her name echoes across the Valley in a hushed, distant whisper that begs of her to follow, to explore and discover. It’s a compulsion she cannot resist, that lodges itself beneath her breastbone and tugs insistently, until her body complies and moves forward, fingers digging into soft rock and dirt as she heaves herself up onto the closest ledge, climbing up to the upper levels of the Valley with single-minded determination.

She encounters none of the creatures she has read about on her way up, and a small voice in the back of her head notes that that is particularly strange. She has read much about Sith hounds and Terentateks in the many texts that were left in the Academy and the library, and she knows that they used to guard the many tombs that litter the entire Valley, and that there have been many before her that encountered these vicious beasts—and yet she has encountered none.

The bulk of her awareness is still drawn to the whispers and echoing cries, though, following its indomitable pull past crumbled statues and shattered tombs, towards the very edge of the Valley, so far from the Academy that her Bond with Kylo is stretched to its limit, the feel of his Force Signature cold and distant.

She jerks to a halt in front of a tomb that seems to have collapsed in on itself, the remnants of what was once an astonishing statue of a man shattered and cracked as it lay across the entrance of the tomb, barring her entrance, were it not for the small hole at the top of the pile of rubble, too small for any of the large creatures she’s read about to fit, but just big enough for her.

She pauses at the foot of the pile of rubble, as a feeling of dread washes over her, a sudden chill running down her spine, and for the first time, she realizes she has absolutely no clue why the Force has brought her here—it is an unsettling feeling.

It stops her in her tracks for a long, tense moment before she shakes the eerie feeling and scales the pile of debris until she’s reached the hole, apprehensively peering inside the dark, cavernous chamber that lies beyond the rubble. She senses nothing when she casts out her consciousness to search the tomb for lifeforms, though there is something unlike anything she’s felt before—ancient and cold; almost slimy.

She withdraws from it quickly, shaking her head as though to rid herself of the remains of the odd feeling, and pulls the ancient flashlight she had put together, with parts she had found littered about the Academy, from her bag before crawling through the hole, scraping her elbows on the rough stone as she does.

The air inside the tomb is stale, and her feet thump softly on the dust-covered floor as she jumps down from the hole she had crawled through. It is glaringly obvious that the innards of the tomb have not been disturbed in years—centuries, perhaps—and it makes her feel slightly small, to consider that this tomb had existed, carved out into the face of the planet before even her father’s father would have been so much as a gleam in the eye of his ancestors.

She takes a step forward, breath immediately wheezing in her lungs when the thick layers of dust flurry upwards into her mouth and nose. She coughs roughly, dropping the flashlight from her hand, bending forward as she attempts to expel the excess of dirt from her lungs. For a long moment, she remains bent over at the waist, attempting to catch her breath, her flashlight laying uselessly on the stone floor, illuminating nothing but the thick layer of dust that covers everything in the tomb.

It is not until she reaches for her flashlight that her eyes falls upon a small footprint, no bigger than that of a child’s, pressed in the dust before her.

A soft gasp falls from her lips as she leans forward, tilting the flashlight forward to reveal a trail of little footprints, leading in the exact direction the Force is attempting to draw her in. The prints are, as near as she can tell, quite recent, and there is something in the Force that feels familiar—that causes her to feel as though she is missing something.

She straightens slowly and draws her lower lip between her teeth, worrying the tender skin as she contemplates her next move.

Curiosity gnaws at her, and the pull that had settled beneath her breastbone yanks at her insistently, and she wants to follow the Force to wherever it seems eager to lead her, but there is a little voice in her head—that sounds suspiciously like Kylo—that demands she think about this, and that she do the smart, safe thing.

The thought of him causes a flood of hurt and annoyance, and she shakes herself, effectively ridding herself of the idea to just do the opposite of what Kylo would want her to do, simply to anger him.

Rey!

The shout of her name sounds off—as though it comes from far away, bouncing off against the walls of the tomb—but it causes her breath to hitch nonetheless, and goosebumps spring up all over her skin as she takes another step forward, tentatively following the path before her, mapped out by the small footprints and the insistent pull of the Force.

The phantom whispers, that had haunted her since the moment she set foot outside the Academy, hum pleasantly when she moves forward through a doorway, into a smaller chamber.

The beam of her small flashlight is narrow, and the light is faint, especially in the all-consuming darkness of the tomb, but she can tell the dust in this chamber has been disturbed far more than it had been in the other. The footsteps abruptly divert from their earlier, straight path, veering sharply to the left, towards the darkest corner of the chamber.

A gasp falls from her lips when the bundle of light falls upon what looks like a human body, sprawled out against the wall, legs akimbo and neck bent at an unnatural angle. Its skin is shrivelled up, dark and leathery in appearance, while fabric that was once clothing hangs limply from its decayed form.

Stars,” she whispers, eyes wide as she moves to the side of the body, where the little footsteps abruptly stop, taking in the small handprint with long, thin fingers on the body’s forehead, as though whoever had been her before her had sat beside this body and mourned. She can clearly see what had killed the woman—for the long strands of what was once blonde hair do suggest the body was once a human woman—and it makes her feel a little ill to consider what could have carved such thick, long craters into the woman’s skin.

She sweeps her flashlight over the length of the woman’s body, jumping when she catches a glimpse of something distinctly metal, hidden beneath the folds of the woman’s brown cloak near her feet.

Slowly, unsurely, she crawls forward and reaches out to pull the coarse, brittle fabric back.

“Oh stars,” she breathes, dropping the fabric as her eyes go wide with surprise.

A lightsaber.

Though it looks nothing like Kylo’s lightsaber, she immediately recognises the metal cylinder. This lightsaber is just about as different from Kylo’s as she imagines a lightsaber can get, with finely polished metal, that shines even beneath the layer of dust, graceful designs etched into the gleaming surface. It is longer than Kylo’s as well, its design more refined and elegant, and absolutely beautiful.

Her hand trembles when she reaches out to touch the saber, her stomach churning with nervous anticipation. Kylo had told her once that a lightsaber was an intricate part of a Jedi—or Sith’s—being, and that being allowed to hold another’s saber was a true privilege.

She has not forgotten that lesson, and even though the woman—a Jedi, she imagines—has clearly been dead for a long time, she still feels as though it is an invasion of privacy to just take it.

Her skin has barely made contact with the cool metal when the air is knocked from her lungs and she suddenly finds herself slammed up against the very same wall the body had previously been, but there is nothing there now. Her heart is pounding in her chest, and her hands—no, not her hands—fumble in an attempt to activate lightsaber as a monster roars at her.

The monster—a Terentatek, she presumes—is truly appalling, dark and twisted and positively nightmarish, with tusks longer than her arm protruding from its mouth and long claws glistening with shockingly purple liquid.

Seconds before the monster reaches her, the useless lightsaber having slipped from her numb fingers, she breaks free and pulls herself out of the vision, stumbling back in horror as she gapes at the woman’s dead body. She’d almost felt her die, seen the lightsaber malfunction in the woman’s hand when she needed it most, and it chills her to the bone.

The idea that Kylo’s lightsaber could fail him at a critical moment—

She shivers and rolls onto her feet clumsily, the lightsaber still clutched in one hand and the flashlight in the other. “What the kriff,” she curses beneath her breath, the sound of her own  breathing unnaturally loud in her ears in the dead silence within the tomb.

Come back.

She whirls around as the whisper thrills to the Force, the plaintive undertone making her heart clench painfully. “Is anyone there?” she demands shakily, fingers tightening around her flashlight as she sweeps the beam of light from one corner of the room to the other.

Her voice is shrill to her ears, but there is no sound other than her own heartbeat and breathing, and the small footprints that lead from to and away from the crumpled body against the wall.

She swallows thickly and turns, shining the light along the trail of prints until the beam rests upon a small, inconspicuous box, made out of some kind of dark wood she has never seen before.

The footsteps end abruptly in front of the box, and there are none leading out of the tomb that she can see. She shivers a little and takes a deep breath to steady herself before moving forward towards the box hesitantly, uncertain what to make of the way the Force seems to vibrate around her, drawing her to the box—which is, inexplicably, not covered in dust at all—with staggering intensity.

The whispers that had surrounded her from the moment she set foot inside the tomb slowly increase in volume, the words mixing together into  an incomprehensible crescendo of invisible voices.

Her hands tremble as she kneels before the box, setting down the lightsaber so she can reach out to open the lid, and the beam of her flashlight shakes slightly in her unsteady grasp. The wood is warm and soft beneath her fingers, the grain of it pressing gently into her skin, with hinges that creak as she opens it.

The box is surprisingly empty, with a few rough cloth rags covering what looks to be some kind of power core, a fusion cutter head and a sextant—an instrument she had only ever read about, used in the early days of hyperspace travel to determine the course of the journey. She feels a little disappointed, unsure why the Force would have drawn her to a box filled with rather useless paraphernalia, and reaches out to move one of the rags to the side when her fingers brush past cold durasteel—

“No! No, give her back! She’s mine!”

The agonized cry cuts through her, and Rey gasps, feeling her body arch up in a desperate attempt to move, despite the aching pain that radiates out from her lower body and the hands that are insistently pressing her down again onto the soft mattress. Her mind reels at the contrast, feeling her knees press down on the stone floor of the tomb while simultaneously sensing the soft mattress beneath her body.

Her vision blurs as she—not her, no, it’s not her voice that feels hoarse and pained after hours of screaming—cries out again, struggling feebly against the hands that are holding her down. “No, don’t take her! Mother, please! She’s my daughter! Give her back!”

Her gaze is fixed on an older woman’s back, and Rey can’t actually see what—who—the woman is handing over to a cloaked figure, but the bundle is so small, it can only be a baby—her eyes search the face—so mystifyingly familiar—beneath the hood before they meet her gaze head on, and all she sees is burned yellow.

She gasps and the vision abruptly changes, and suddenly she is surrounded by stifling heat and there are tears burning in her eyes as she stares at the man that stands before her, his eyes a dark, golden yellow where they were once the bright blue of the skies on Tatooine—it is a mystery to her how she knows that—the scar across his right eye not detracting from the fact that he is so obviously handsome and incredibly familiar.

“Well, then you are lost.”

The desperate cry reverberates in her mind, and she gasps, stumbling back a few steps as phantom pain sears through her—heartbreak so acute and intense it makes her own hurt feel like a mere drop in a limitless ocean—nearly taking her down to her knees as she attempts to build up her shields against the foreign sensations in her mind.

“This is the end for you, My Master. I wish it were otherwise.”

The words, though spoken angrily and carefully aloof, carry a great depth of sadness and longing that resounds through the Force, echoing her own feelings, even as the man leaps into the air, lightsaber arching towards her dangerously as he lands on the platform she occupies with a heavy thump.

Her body moves before she has even realised she is moving, blocking an attack from the man—Anakin, a sad, old voice in her mind insists, beautiful, broken, strong Anakin—seamlessly, without a second’s hesitation. She feels disconnected, as they trade blows, and she can feel her own fingers clenched around the cold durasteel of a lightsaber in the tomb on Moraband, the pull of her own mind stronger than it had been before—

The vision is fading, and though she still feels his—Obi-Wan, a soft, tender voice in the back of her mind supplies, Obi-Wan Kenobi—emotions, they no longer rip through her, causing her to feel much like she's coming apart at the seams, her mind tearing itself apart from the inside out.

I loved you!”

The words burst from her—Obi-Wan’s—lips involuntarily, and she can feel a tear roll down her own cheek at the pure agony that sears through Obi-Wan’s mind as something breaks between him and Anakin.

She is not quite certain if the strangled cry falls from her own lips or his, but it matters not, because the only thing she can feel is Obi-Wan’s unimaginable torment as he desperately prods at the shredded remains of what was once a Bond in his mind, remaining on his feet only through sheer will power—

Something yanks at her, and suddenly she is no longer breathing the sulphuric acid-laced air of Obi-Wan and Anakin’s chosen battleground, but air that is thick and unnatural, heavy with the scent and taste of unrelenting rain. She is kneeling, rain pounding down on her back mercilessly, forming puddles around her cold, numb, mud soaked fingers.

TIE-fighters and X-wings screech through the air above her, and the cries of wounded men and women surround her and she is panting and shaking beneath the crushing pressure on her mind. She knows, inexplicably, that while she is in her own body, it is not actually her mind that is being attacked, that it is Kylo who is struggling to keep a much stronger, foreign presence from taking over his body.

Their Bond feels different, in this place, wherever it is—whenever it is—and it's both satisfying and distressing, after having just witnessed what a broken Bond does to a person.

I've been waiting for this.”

The words draw her from her mental struggle, and the whispered sentence is followed by a swift and harsh kick to the ribs. She falls back, breath wheezing in her lungs as she clutches at her injured side—this vision is different, because this feels real, like it really is her, and she can't even feel her body in the tomb anymore—

A figure shrouded in shadow looms over her, but she can clearly see the bloodstained cudgel he holds, raised high above his head in preparation to strike again. Her heart pounds and she is certain she is about to witness her own death—and she's helpless and alone and she can't even move to defend herself—when the man cries out in agony and drops the cudgel.

Rey looks up just in time to see the tip of a purple lightsaber withdraw from his chest, and Lumiya appears behind him, her face set in a deep frown.

“We protect our own,” she tells Rey, but she is being drawn away again, the words falling hollow as her ears ring. The same crushing presence pushes against her mind again, a cruel, dark voice echoing through her mind and the Force.

Embrace the darkness, child. Embrace your birth-right and you will be the most powerful creature to ever have walked the Galaxy.

All will bow down to you. It is your destiny.

The screech of a TIE-fighter flying low above her snaps her from the haze, and she manages to roll onto her back; simultaneously feeling cold hard stone pressing against her shoulder-blades and cold, wet mud that threatens to envelop her whole. She stares up at the sky blearily, eyes tracing the elaborate patterns of the TIE-fighters and X-wings that blow past, looping around one another in increasingly complicated manoeuvres—a lethal dance.

One of the X-wings—fully painted black—shoots down three TIE-fighters in quick succession and performs a backflip to take out a fourth that had been right on its tail, and Rey’s heart squeezes in her chest.

There's only one man who can fly like that.

“Poe,” she breathes, and she doesn't know if it's her or the Rey in the vision, but it doesn't matter, because seconds later he flies right into a trap—and not even Poe can escape a circle of fifteen TIE-fighters. She watches, horror mixing with fear and frustration, as Black One is shot down, plummeting down to the planet’s muddy surface, bursting into flames upon impact.

No!”

The guttural scream that falls from her lips is echoed several times across the battlefield, and she watches as several people immediately abandon their skirmishes to rush towards the crash site—and she wants to move, wants to ensure that she didn’t just see Poe die, but she can't.

Her body won't move, and she knows she has no control over what happens in a vision, and she's sure the nausea she feels has nothing to do with her counterpart’s numerous injuries—

“Traitor!”

She gasps and falls backwards, her entire body arching upwards as she crashes back into reality, the echo of Kylo’s exclamation still ringing in her ears. She is on her back on the floor in front of the box, panting heavily as her flashlight lies uselessly on the floor beside her, her fingers still curled around the second lightsaber she’d found—that had drawn her into a vision that showed her nothing but pain.

With a disgusted cry, she flings the lightsaber away, scrambling clumsily to her feet.

“Kriff,” she curses, her eyes burning with unshed tears as she rubs her hands over her arms and through her hair in a desperate attempt to rid herself of the lingering after-effects of the vision. She can still feel the dried mud sticking to her skin, the unknown man’s blood caked onto her legs—the shadow of feeling Obi-Wan’s Bond to Anakin break still reverberates in the back of her mind and she feels sick.

Before she gets the chance to do anything but breathe, a deafening roar shakes the entire tomb, and she screams in alarm, fear momentarily paralysing her limbs as she watches a Terentatek unfurl from the tight ball it had rolled itself into, its yellow and red eyes locked upon her form.

The memory of seeing the female Jedi die at the claws of a monster much like this one—or possibly the very same—is still rooted in her mind’s eye, and terror and adrenaline rush through her veins, making her feel light-headed and dizzy as she watches, frozen in shock, the Terentatek lumbering towards her with the same clumsy, awkward gait she had seen in the first vision.

Its tusks gleam even in the relative darkness of the tomb, and Rey recalls reading that both a Terentatek’s tusks and claws are highly poisonous. Needless to say, that little fun fact hardly makes her feel any better—it only furthers her shock and fear and, try as she might, she cannot move.

The Terentatek roars again, and Rey flinches, her breath hissing as it escapes through her teeth. Suddenly Kylo’s presence in the Force becomes stronger and she can sense him prodding at her mind through the Bond, demanding to know what's happening, so he can help her, protect her—

She is abruptly knocked off her feet when the Terentatek knocks into one of the walls with such strength and velocity that the entire tomb shakes. Her head smacks back against the edge of the wooden box and she momentarily sees stars, the wind having been knocked from her lungs at the impact.

Move.

Fight.

Her eyes snap open again, her senses abruptly returning to her, just in time to find the Terentatek only a meter or so away from her, claws outstretched towards her, centimetres from touching her. The reality of her own mortality hits her like it never has before and she reacts instinctively, throwing up her hands and pushing.

I refuse to die in here.

The Terentatek roars in outrage as it is shoved back to the other side of the room, and Rey scrambles to her feet, her head spinning, sending her tumbling down several times before she manages to stay on her feet.

She shoves at the Terentatek again, but it seems to anticipate the attack and steadies itself so it only slides back a few centimetres at a time—her heart is pounding and she can barely breathe, the stale, old air feeling too thick and unreasonably moist in her lungs, and she doesn't know how to kill a kriffing Terentatek.

I'm coming to you. Hold on.

Kylo’s presence in the Bond nearly overwhelms her, but the recognition that she is not alone and that Kylo is right here with her, lending her whatever skill of his she needs to survive, is heartening, and the next time she shoves at the Terentatek, it flies back against the far wall with an almighty crash, the walls of the tomb quavering ominously.

Lightsaber.

A shiver runs down her spine as the word flashes through her mind, and she casts a quick look over her shoulder, to where both sabers are discarded on the floor beside the box, nothing about their relatively simple appearance suggesting that she is looking at one of the most deadly and efficient weapons in the Galaxy.

She remains frozen, eyes locked on the second lightsaber, until the Terentatek roars again, the floors shaking when it charges towards her.

There's no choice—and she doesn't think there ever really was one.

She shoves at the Terentatek with all her strength one more time before whirling around and calling the lightsaber to her hand, flinching when the cold durasteel slaps into her palm, where it fits comfortably—almost as though she was always meant to pick it up.  

Her thumb brushes over the ignition button and the lightsaber hums to life, the vibrant blue blade bathing the room in an other-worldly, dreamlike glow.

The Force hums around her and another thrill runs down her spine as she moves into position to attack, Kylo’s astonishment—she supposes finding a lightsaber when she needs one does seem like an awfully lucky coincidence—a vague whisper in the back of her mind.

She can do this.

This time, she does not wait for the Terentatek to charge towards her, instead rushing forward as fast as she can, slashing at the Terentatek’s unprotected legs and stomach as she rushes past it. The Terentatek is heavy and big and slow, and she knows that that is the only advantage she has—and she's going to use it.

Her head is still spinning and she feels horrible, but she can finish this—she knows Kylo is close, can feel him only minutes from finding her—and she is going to finish this.

Her arms tremble and her breaths are heaving—she has no idea if she is strong or fast enough to outwit a probably centuries-old—millennia, if she's unlucky—Terentatek, but she has to at least try.

The Force beckons to her, soothing over her frayed nerves with a cool, steady touch. A deep sigh falls from her lips as she gives into the allure of serenity, submerging herself and her entire consciousness into the Force.

These are your first steps.

The words reverberate through her and settle in the back of her mind, a warm glow spreading throughout her body at hearing Obi-Wan’s soft, kind voice.

When her eyes flutter open again, no more than half a second has passed, but she feels like it has been much longer, and her fear has all but disappeared. Releasing her oppressive and overwhelming emotions into the Force was the easiest thing she had ever done, and it is so much easier to see the right course of action without emotions colouring her judgement.

She moves swiftly and without hesitation, rushing towards the Terentatek with the lightsaber raised with single-minded determination. The blue blade slides through its thick skin and bones as easily as a knife through butter, and though the scent of its blood is positively repugnant, she manages not to gag and pushes through, narrowly avoiding the Terentatek’s claws as it swipes at her desperately, slamming onto the floor with a crash so loud the walls quake.

Rey doesn't wait for the Terentatek to recover and take another swipe at her, jumping onto its leg and using its momentum to launch herself forward, lightsaber at the ready, slashing at the Terentatek's unprotected throat—

Blood squirts from the gaping wound on its neck and Rey lands hard on her knees, smacking against the rocky floor as the Terentatek shrieks one last time, gurgling and growling, limbs twitching unsteadily before it goes still, and the tomb goes deadly quiet.

She drops back onto the floor heavily and laughs shakily, raising a quivering hand to look at the lightsaber in her hand—that had shown her nothing but pain and death—and that has just saved her life.

“Rey!”

She struggles onto her feet when she hears him storm into the room—the idea of seeing him climb through the tiny hole to get to her is both touching and hilarious—and meets Kylo’s eyes across the enormous corpse before offering him a shaky smile.

Well… It could have been worse.

Chapter Text

Chapter IV
Shape Your Day and Future

“We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past.
But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here now with the power to shape your day and your future.”
—Steve Maraboli 

Poe

“We are going to lose this war.”

The tension in the room is so palpable that it thickens the air surrounding them and causes him to feel almost like he’s choking on it. General Lando Calrissian’s voice rings loud and clear in the silence that permeates the room, and Poe sits wide-eyed across from Lieutenant Joph Seastriker, who had returned from a mission somewhere on the Core Worlds shortly after the destruction of Starkiller Base, waiting for the bluish holographic figure to continue his speech, hopefully to end it on a more positive and reassuring note than it had begun.

He’d not been aware of the fact that Generals Solo and Calrissian had several contingency plans in place, in case one of them were to perish in battle, and he feels a little foolish now for not having considered the possibility before. Many of the people higher up in the chain of command had fought with Han Solo and the Rebellion during the last war.

Now that he thinks about it, it’s only natural that they’d be prepared for the eventuality of death.

This meeting, small and intimate, had been a part of these plans too, apparently.

They’re sequestered away in a small, unused boardroom in a virtually abandoned wing of the Base that had been cleared of its usual furnishings—not that Poe missed the hard, cold durasteel seats and outdated computers—and replaced by a large, round table made of Homogoni wood and twelve high-backed chairs in deep, scarlet Greel wood.   

Poe had received the cryptic message, demanding he report for the meeting, early this morning.

Initially, he’d been a bit wary of the message, toying with the idea to go back to the room to wake his boyfriend—who was dead asleep after helping out during a night shift in the med bay—but had eventually disregarded that idea when he spotted Seastriker heading in the direction of the boardroom, too.

He’d probably been a little too cautious, he admits now, though he had good reason to be.

He’s received a disturbingly large number of threats to his person since he’d become the de facto leader of the Resistance branch that refuses to carry on with or allow the forced prostitution on their Base, and he hadn’t lived to the ripe old age of thirty-two by not being cautious.

Though the main issue of the meeting has yet to be addressed, Poe can only guess, based on the people invited and attending, that the prostitution issue will likely come up at some point, even if it is not the actual focal point of the meeting itself.

“...if we continue as we have in the past. We have all been shaken by the loss of our own,” General Calrissian continues, shaking his head with a grave expression twisting his features. “Our friends. Our kin. Our lovers and spouses—” He pauses at that, and Poe bites his lower lip uncomfortably when he sees Leia’s eyes grow glassy with unshed tears. The memory of their conversation and her sincere apology is still fresh within his mind, and seeing her grief for her late husband only serves to remind him of the unhealed wounds that mar his own heart.

He presses his fingers down on the warm wood of the table, picking at a few splinters on its otherwise smooth surface as he attempts to glean a glimmer of his former calm façade. While he is well aware that most of the people seated at the table consider him a stable, dependable man, he's not felt like that in quite some time—though he would certainly like to keep up the illusion for a while longer.

The other occupants in the boardroom shift uneasily in the silence that follows too, and Poe finds himself wondering who they had lost—there had been so much death and so much chaos in the past six months that he found himself unable to keep track of all the Resistance members who had lost loved ones in the attack on the Hosnian System and the fight to take out Starkiller Base.

He knows that Major Brance had had a family on Hosnian Prime, and by the looks of the man—his eyes dark, sunken and red-rimmed, and his skin unhealthily pale—he has not yet been able to come to terms with the loss of his sister, parents, and wife. In fact, Poe muses, he’s almost certain everyone in the room had experienced a recent loss at the hands of the First Order.

Joph Seastriker had lost friends he had known for years, Ackbar and Statura had both lost close friends and siblings who had still presided on behalf of their planetary systems in the Senate, Ematt’s son had been a Senator’s aide, Doctor Kalonia’s son had been one of Poe’s pilots, lost in the assault on Starkiller—even Senator Dorso Leersa, who had fortunately been on Coruscant at the time of the destruction of the Hosnian System, had lost many of his esteemed friends and colleagues.

Leia and Lando had lost a lifelong friend and a husband—and Poe… Poe had lost Rey, and so many of his Academy friends that it hurts to even consider thinking all of their names.

Lando seems to shake himself before he persists, “We can’t let their deaths have been in vain. Everyone we lost died fighting to stop the First Order’s corruption, and by fighting amongst ourselves, we only make it easier for the First Order to pick us off one by one.” Lando’s forehead creases into a severe frown, and Poe slouches a little in his seat as the older man looks at him. “I understand there is friction given the delicate nature of the issues that we face—this is also why I called upon you all.”

Poe sighs, rubbing his hand over his forehead before he meets Lando’s gaze. The holographic image is a little spotty, shivering every few seconds before it settles again, but Poe is certain Lando is looking at him. “What do you expect us to do?” he demands as he sits up straighter. “None of us are willing to allow the things that have been going on here to happen again. Not after—”

He breaks off and looks down, clenching his fists in his lap as he attempts to keep himself in check.

“Young women, who come to the Resistance to help us, to bolster our numbers and bring us new alliances, have been forced into doing things—” his voice is choked and quivering, but he refuses to stop now. “Right now, the First Order is right to hate us and to say we support disorder and slavery. We do—we’re forcing innocent girls into prostitution and no one dared to say anything was wrong until one of those girls joined the First Order and killed the man who had put her in that situation in the first place.”

He looks up again and glares across the table at Jessika, who is glowering at him in return.

There is no sign of the beautiful, clever, talented pilot he had once known in her, and to look into her dark eyes and see nothing—no emotion, no recognition, no sign of any sort of remorse—is positively disconcerting. He wonders, as he has with increasing frequency since he had met Rey, what happened to the buoyant, beautiful young woman he had known back in the Academy on Hosnian Prime.

The woman who had believed in him, Karé and Iolo to such an extent that she readily followed them from desertion into the Resistance. They had been so caught up in their own relative fame back then, that they had not noticed when Jessika withdrew from them, and then stopped talking to them.

He wishes he knew what had happened to her.

“We need to stop this,” he concludes. “Or we’re going to lose any moral high ground we might have had in fighting the First Order. If we don’t stop this—we’ll deserve to be defeated by them.”

Lando’s expression doesn’t change, but Leia is looking at him with tears running down her cheeks, and many of the other men—all of whom had participated in sleeping with  the girls at least once—are looking quite ashamed of themselves, their eyes darting all over the room as they avoid his gaze.

“And we’re supposed to take your word for this?” Jessika’s voice is shrill as it shatters the silence that had fallen after he’d spoken, and Poe winces—because he’d been waiting for someone to bring this up. “This girl—we all remember just how close the two of you were. How you have participated in the so-called rape of these girls as well—you even requested Rey permanently.”

“Because I wanted to get her away from you!” he exclaims angrily, slamming his fist down on the table. “She told me everything you made her do, every filthy thing you subjected those girls to! Of course I tried the only thing I could to get her away from that!”

“Enough!” Admiral Ackbar booms, his gills quivering as he leans forward in his seat. “Commander Dameron is correct, regardless of his own questionable actions. I stand with him and those that wish to abolish all kinds of slavery and prostitution by the Resistance. That is not what we fight for, and it is frankly disturbing that it has been allowed to go on as long as it has.”

Jessika crosses her arms over her chest and frowns, but shuts her mouth.

Poe grumbles beneath his breath but settles back in his seat and turns his attention back to Lando, who'd clearly been waiting for them all to settle down. The others are quiet as well, and Poe feels momentarily foolish for losing his temper after Jess’s deliberate goading.

The elder man is currently looking down, likely at papers or files on his desk on the Dantooine Resistance Base—the main reason he has not yet returned to Base on D’Qar—his silence heavy and uncomfortable, and Poe suddenly feels painfully aware that whichever side Lando will choose, it will change Poe’s life forever, and he’s not sure he’s ready for that.

“I believe in the Resistance,” Lando finally says, pressing the tips of his fingers against his temples. “I did when Han contacted me fifteen years ago, and I still do today. We may have lost our way for a short time—we have hurt innocents, and created a debt we will never be able to repay in our lifetimes—but we now have a chance to pull ourselves back on track. I will be within the next four standard months, after Dantooine has been successfully evacuated as well, and I expect you, as leaders, to solve the problems you have created before then.”

He doesn't miss the fact that Lando didn't explicitly take one side or another, and he vaguely wonders if that means he's going to become the next Han—in which case Poe will most definitely leave the Resistance, no matter what he personally believes in.

He can't stand by and watch more young girls be abused.

Poe swallows thickly and glances at the other faces in the room, lingering on doctor Kalonia, who looks positively livid with anger—likely at the thought of the men who raped the girls that came to her for treatment and help getting off scot-free.

She had never been forced into prostitution herself—as a doctor, she had always been untouchable.

Poe remembers visiting Rey a few times in the med bay, after one of the men had been too rough with her, and he recalls seeing the same expression on Kalonia’s face then—rage fuelled by an intense feeling of impotence and helplessness. Anger over the fact that she was unable to protect the girls that came into her care—Poe knows because he felt that way quite often when Rey cried herself to sleep in his arms.

Because he still feels that way.

Lando seems to take the near-deafening silence in the boardroom as their acceptance of his mandate, and nods. “Very well,” he says dryly, “Admiral Ackbar will be giving me regular updates on everything that goes on—I expect you to also start looking into relocating our main base to a new planet. Since this… Rey joined the First Order, we have to assume your location has been compromised.”

A soft, involuntary, collective groan rumbles through the room, and Poe’s eyes flutter shut in exasperation. A full-scale evac takes months to prepare properly, and it’ll mean more work for him and his pilots, since they’re the ones that’ll have to fly extra hours to find a suitable planet—not that they don't have a list of potentially suitable moons and planets to begin the search with—they’e the ones that’ll be in charge of coordinating the evacuation itself.

“It’ll take time,” he finally says, rubbing his fingers over his temples. “I can start running recon flights right away, but there’s no telling how long it’ll take to find a suitable planet.”

Lando nods tersely and replies, “I leave that entirely up to you. I know you have experienced great losses during the attack on Starkiller… As such, I will be sending Stiletto Squadron ahead. Expect them to arrive within the next seven days. I don’t expect you to move bases right away—but once I have arrived, I would like you all to be prepared to move quickly. We have a narrow window before the First Order regroups and attacks us like we did them. Don’t waste any time.”

With that, the holograph flickers out of existence, leaving Poe and the others bathed in uncomfortable silence for a long, tense few seconds before Jessika abruptly shoves her chair back and strides out of the room, the voluptuous red skirts of her dress flapping rather dramatically behind her.

He barely refrains from rolling his eyes at her, despite the fact that she can’t actually see him.

Excitement buzzes through him, a feeling so faint and foreign he doesn’t quite know what to do with it, at the announcement that Stiletto Squadron is to join them. He’s not seen his friends in nearly two and a half years when he had been forced to remain on D’Qar while they flew off to protect Lando Calrissian and the second, smaller Resistance base on Dantooine.

Karé and Iolo comm him every now and then, but sending encrypted transmissions across an entire galaxy from one secret base to another is a difficult feat even with the newest technology, so their messages have been sorely lacking, and Poe didn’t even realise how much he missed them until now.

He shakes himself and pushes himself away from the heavy wooden table, his chair scraping against the floor with a high, keening sound that makes him wince a little.

“I’ll arrange for recon flights right away,” he tells Admiral Ackbar, lingering for a long moment before he adds, “I don’t plan on changing my stance on the issue discussed here today. None of us are willing to let the things that happened here before happen again.” He lets his eyes trail over the faces of the men he knows slept with several of the girls, too. “I know I made mistakes too, but I’m willing to atone for them. Are you?”  

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Hours later, Poe finds himself seated in one of the uncomfortable metal chairs in the command centre. He slumps back tiredly, head tilting backward, eyes lifted towards the ceiling as he yawns, stretching his arms out above his head in an effort to dispel the stiffness that has settled in his limbs after spending hours poring over star maps and schematics. He is beginning to think that asking L’ulo and Joph for aid in planning the next recon run is not the smartest thing he has ever done—the senior pilots don’t seem to able to agree on anything.

He shoots Kaydel Ko Connix, who sits sedately at her unofficial, designated monitor at the command center’s large table, scrolling through the limited amount of information they have on Zeitooine. Snap sits beside Poe, his lower lip drawn between his teeth as he attempts not to laugh at L’ulo and Joph’s increasingly ridiculous discussion concerning the planet.

Admiral Ackbar had long since lost his patience with them and instructed Poe to contact him once they had something that could moderately pass as a plan before returning to see to his other duties.

Poe adores L’ulo—the man is like an uncle to him, genealogy be damned—but he is well aware that the older man can be quite stubborn, especially when he knows he is wrong. “It’s in the inner rim,” L’ulo repeats, shaking his head dismissively. “We cannot afford to take such risks—hiding in plain sight only works for a short time and we all know this for a fact.”

“Yutusk is no more of a viable option than Zeitooine is,” Joph retorts snappily.

 L’ulo grumbles and crosses his arms over his chest. “At least it is in the Outer Rim—the Mortex sector isn’t under First Order control, and it’s out of the way.” When Joph opens his mouth again—whether to deny L’ulo’s rather accurate analysis or simply ignore it and rehash previously made statements—L’ulo snorts, an odd and harsh sound in the back of his throat, and waves dismissively at Joph. “Oh, shush, lad. I have much knowledge on these matters, and I was here during the last war. This is not the first time I have helped the Resistance search for a suitable Base planet—I do know of what I speak.”

Poe watches, slightly amused, as Joph sputters for a moment before dropping back into his seat and grumbling, “Perhaps that’s your problem, old man—too much experience and too-rigid thinking.”

“Oi!” L’ulo exclaims heatedly, “Who are you calling rigid, you impertinent nerfherder? Are you even tall enough to be a pilot?” A round of soft chuckles and snickers goes around the room at the way Joph’s cheeks flame bright red. It is an innocent dig, Poe knows, as Seastriker is tall enough to be a pilot—a millimetre and a half over minimum regulation height, in fact—but it’s somewhat of a running joke amongst the pilots, who like to tease each other mercilessly.

Poe has been on the receiving end of such jokes many times—especially since he had met Finn—and he knows there is no ill-will behind the jeers and chuckles.

“Alright,” he finally interferes, sitting up in his seat again. “That’s enough. We have enough time to send recon flights to both systems—Kay, can you log both planets into the plans and make note of the advantages and drawbacks for each one?”

Kaydel offers him a sweet smile and nods, tapping her screen a few times in rapid succession. Her husband, Eirian Connix, stands behind her, hands clasped behind his back and back ramrod straight as he regards her. Poe does not know much of their story, and what he does know is all second-hand information—most of it delivered by Snap, who had been all too eager to deliver said gossip.

Eirian is, in fact, a sergeant in their Pathfinder division. He and Kaydel had met years ago, days after she had joined the Resistance—voluntarily and wholly aware of what it would entail to do so—and rumour has it that he had been so smitten with her, he'd requested her permanently not six hours later.

Kaydel had accepted his proposal and they had been married less than a year after she joined the Resistance. Officially, she holds no rank other than that of Eirian’s wife and the mother of their son, but it is common knowledge that Kaydel takes care of their son’s education herself, and that she has an innate talent for reading star maps and impeccable planning skills.

Poe hopes that, after they have managed to purge the Council of those still inclined to forcing women into prostitution, they’ll be able to offer Kay the title and rank she deserves.

“Malik,” he turns to the technician, who’s propped himself up on one of the lockers that are stowed against the walls, lounging casually back against the wall as he peels a meiloorun melon. “How much preparation would the X-wings need for the journey?”

He taps away on his datapad as he waits for Malik to respond, scrolling through the list of available pilots for the recon missions—his heart squeezing a little every time he catches sight of a name of pilot they’d lost that had been crossed out—considering which of his pilots he can spare for a recon mission that’ll likely take several weeks, leaving them with one or two pilots less to defend the Base should there be a need to do so.

“It’d take about a week of groundwork to prep two X-wings,” Malik muses, tapping his fingers on his chin as he frowns thoughtfully. “Outer Rim hyperspace travel should take no more than a week tops, and the pilot could just re-route back here before attempting a recon flight into inner core and deep core territory. That way we have a lower risk of X-wing malfunction and we can discuss the data they’d gathered already.”

Poe nods distractedly and makes note of the preliminary estimates before looking up and shooting Malik a quick smile. The other man grins back, a wide, toothy grin that makes Poe’s breath catch in his throat even after years of knowing—and fucking—each other.

“Okay. We have seven planets outside of First Order controlled systems that match qualifications,” he finally says, drawing his eyes from Malik and turning them back to the datapad. “I suggest sending out Cobalt and Coalstreak Squadrons. Nien and Ello have plenty of experience with recon runs like this one; they’ll know exactly what to look for.”

He rubs his hands through his hair tiredly before adding, “Kay, can you run calculations and get them trajectories? Malik, I’ll need their X-wings prepped in eight days—can you do that?”

“Sure,” Kaydel nods, tapping on the monitor to call up the appropriate star maps. “I can have most of the calculations done by tomorrow, but I’ll need an astromech to help me plan safe trajectories.” Eirian leans forward and rests a hand on his wife’s shoulder, a soft and tender gesture that makes Poe feel envious of the kind of easy, peaceful love they share.

He absolutely adores Finn, and he so longs for the easy days of their relationship—not that there had been many of those—early on, the days after they’d first kissed…

Before Starkiller.

“I’ll send BB-8 your way tomorrow,” he replies, shaking himself from his melancholy thoughts and refocusing his attention on the mission. “I’ll brief em on the mission and ey’ll help you figure it all out.”

Kaydel nods and makes another note before sitting back, leaning into her husband’s touch. “If that’s all for us,” Eirian speaks up, his deep, soothing voice ringing clearly throughout the command center. “We should get back to Carys. It is almost time for Dakini to meet with Kalonia anyway.”  

“How is she doing?” Malik leans forward curiously, and everyone stills, eagerly awaiting a reply from Eirian. Poe must admit he too is quite curious to hear the answer.

Kaydel’s gaze softens at the mention of the young girl she and her husband had taken in, and Eirian smiles proudly. “She's getting better. She's fully healed physically, and she's been able to walk through the hallway by herself already. Kalonia believes she may soon be ready to try eating at the mess again.”

“Wow,” Poe whistles quietly. “That’s great!”

Dakini Cristescu had been attacked, in the chaotic aftermath of the Starkiller Base destruction, for refusing to service any more men in exchange for food. Instead, she had joined Doctor Kalonia in the med bay and begun training as a healer—making her virtually untouchable.

There had been men who didn't take it well.

Poe had been in the medbay when Dakini had been brought in, severely beaten and on the brink of death, and the sight of her broken body is seared into his memory to this day.

He recalls that he had, in fact, been with Dakini years ago.

He met her right after he and Malik had broken off their relationship—the first time—in the pilot’s lounge. Back then, he had been fairly unaware of the things women were forced into doing, and he had simply believed he was taking an attractive girl back to his room.

He’d not found out she was sleeping with him for food and board until much later.

“Glad to hear she’s okay,” Snap adds, snapping Poe from his thoughts, drawing his attention back to Kaydel and Eirian. Eirian had been the one to find Dakini after she’d been beaten, saving her life by responding quickly and smoothly, applying emergency care before he rushed her to the medbay, where Kalonia treated and protected her.

Afterwards, he and Kaydel had taken Dakini in, caring for her and nursing her back to health.

“Go,” Poe offers. “I’ll send BB-8 to your quarters tomorrow. Go take care of Dakini and Carys.” He glances towards the datapad again and heaves a sigh. “In fact, you can all go. I'll finish up here and brief all parties involved in the mission tomorrow. Thank you for your help. Malik, please get me those final estimates as soon as possible, yeah?”

There’s a general grumble of assent before everyone starts moving, shutting down the monitors and collecting their datapads before shuffling outside. Kaydel leans down to press a kiss to his cheek, sweetly reminding him that he promised he and Finn would come by to have dinner together sometime.

“We’ll find a day soon,” he assures her with a smile. “I’ll ask Finn about it tonight.”

The platitude seems to appease her, and he watches as she and her husband bid the others goodbye and leave the command center. Seastriker and Snap leave together, their arms slung around each other as they chuckle about getting a drink and getting laid. Malik follows them, shaking his head at the older two men in amusement, hands buried deep in his pockets as he saunters outside.

“How are you doing, lad?”

Poe jumps a little when L’ulo suddenly slinks up beside him, resting his hand on Poe’s shoulder.

He leans back against his uncle’s arm tiredly, eyes fluttering shut briefly as he allows the weariness of the day to fall from his shoulders. He needs not voice any of his concerns or awkwardly attempt to find a way to articulate the absolute mess that is his emotional state.

“I’m fine, tío,” he tells L’ulo bravely. “It’s just been a long few days. Weeks. Months.”

L’ulo hums in understanding and squeezes Poe’s shoulder in solidarity. “It’ll get better, lad. Don’t forget what it is we’re fighting for. Otherwise we're just fighting for the sake of the fight, right?” It is something L’ulo told his mother once, Poe remembers, and something his mother had truly taken to heart, despite how restless she had felt while living on Yavin IV with him, Mira, and his father.

It is advice he wants to take, as well—even if he doesn’t know how.

“I know,” he finally replies, patting L’ulo’s hand where it lies on his shoulder. “Thanks, tío.”

The elder Duros eyes him critically for a long moment before stroking his long fingers past Poe’s cheek. “You’re too much like your mother, lad. Head in the clouds and too dedicated to your cause… Don’t let it take your entire life away, you hear me?” He doesn’t wait for Poe to respond this time, and simply smiles before turning and exiting the room, leaving Poe with his thoughts once again.

He eyes his datapad warily, and the work he has yet to finish beckons at him, and he knows he’ll regret it if he doesn’t finish the general mission plan tonight, but his mind is absolutely all over the place and he knows he’ll likely make foolish mistakes if he tries to continue like this.

With a resigned sigh, he shuts off his own monitor and pushes the datapad away before burying his face in his hands. The meeting earlier with Lando had rattled him more than he’d admitted to himself at the time, and he wishes he’d have gotten the chance to sit and think about the implications of everything before now, but he’d been caught up in planning sessions all day.

Now that he sits by himself in the slightly darkened command centre, the doubts that had lingered in the back of his mind rush back to the forefront of his consciousness and leave him slightly breathless. He groans and leans forward, burying his face in his hands as he attempts to keep himself from losing himself completely in his inner turmoil.

“Poe?”

He jerks upright, heart pounding in his chest when he spots Malik standing by the door, a single eyebrow raised—at him, Poe realizes belatedly, and his ridiculously jumpy behaviour.

“Hey man,” he breathes shakily as Malik approaches him, casually dropping himself in the seat next to Poe’s. “I thought you left already. Something up?”

“You tell me, flyboy.” The way Malik looks at him makes his heart pound in his chest with nervous energy and he's reminded of just how long he and this man have known each other—how much they've gone through together already, and it feels like pure idiocy to pretend with him.

Malik has seen him at his worst and he hadn't thought less of Poe then—he won't this time either.

“I'm just tired,” he admits quietly. With a heavy sigh, he leans back against the uncomfortable backrest and shakes his head. “There's just been so much lately and I feel like I just can't anymore.” He jumps a little when Malik takes his hand in his, squeezing his long, calloused fingers around Poe’s in a familiar and infinitely comforting gesture.

“You having issues with your boy?” He asks delicately, as though it's not awkward at all to ask his off-and-on ex-boyfriend about his new—and incidentally much younger—boyfriend.

Poe flinches a little at the mention of Finn, and his heart aches because thinking about his beautiful, kind, sweet boyfriend shouldn't hurt. “He’s going through some things as well,” he tells Malik hesitantly, because the things Finn is facing are entirely personal and Poe won’t betray Finn’s confidence by telling Malik, no matter how much Poe may trust the man and think him capable of keeping a secret. No matter how much he wants to unload on someone, anyone, else. “It’s—he’s just trying to adjust, but it’s a little harder than we anticipated.”

Malik nods in understanding and hums softly. “He looked tired last night—like he was about to fall over—and I noticed he’d not been in the canteen as often lately. I was just wondering if you two were okay.”

That horrible, sinking feeling in his stomach takes hold of him again, and for a moment all Poe can see is Finn’s tearstained face buried against his chest as he recounts the tale of what had happened to Slip and of their relationship over the years—a bond that had grown regardless of the oppressive regime they lived in. It had only made Poe feel worse to hear Finn talk about Slip, and he subsequently felt absolutely rotten for feeling jealous at all, given that Finn was there with him and Slip was dead—likely at his hand, too, as if the situation weren’t bad enough yet.

“I think,” he begins, keeping his eyes locked on where Malik’s hand rests on his, a comforting weight to ground him and keep him from losing himself in his head again. “I think I may have done something—and I don’t know how to tell him… Or even if I should at all.”

He groans and tips forward dramatically to rest his head against the cool durasteel of the table, beside his and Malik’s hands. “I love him. I love him so much, but—kriff, Malik, he’s so young!” Poe rolls his head to the side to look up at his friend, drawing his lower lip between his teeth before he continues, “He’s seen more poodoo than I had at his age, but stars—”

He trails off as he sits up, eyeing Malik thoughtfully before he blurts, “Is this what it was like for you? When we were still together? Is that why you—”

“Partly,” Malik interrupts, a vague frown wrinkling his forehead. “It was more than that though, and you know it. What I felt for you… We were in very different places in our lives—you wanted things I couldn't give you, and I knew that wasn't fair to you.”

Poe winces, but does no more than nod. He's long ago accepted why he and Malik didn't work out, and he's moved on—the reminder of how hurt he had been when they first broke up sits uneasy in his mind, however. “I just worry,” he finally admits. “Finn deserves better than a messed up old pilot.”

Malik snorts and promptly shoves at Poe's shoulder. “Don't talk like that. Finn is the only person who gets to decide who deserves him. And for the record,” he leans in and squeezes Poe's hand tightly, “the reasons you and I didn't work out are not going to be of consequence for you and Finn. He looks at you in a way you didn't look at me, and I'd have to be blind to miss your love-struck face every time you see him. Your relationship with him is not the same as ours was—don't try to repeat our mistakes... just talk to him.”

Malik’s words strike a nerve, and Poe feels his cheeks flush a little at the casual reproach. “I will,” he says defensively, just as the door hisses open, and Finn walks in.

“Hi guys,” Finn says slowly, eyeing him and Malik cautiously, and Poe hates to see the slight apprehension in his boyfriend’s gaze, even if Finn doesn't actually know about his previous entanglement with Malik yet.

He should probably really tell him that, too.

“Am I interrupting?” Finn asks slowly, sliding his gaze from Malik to Poe and back.

He watches, eyes slightly wide and startled, as Malik offers Finn a wide grin before standing up, pulling his hand off of Poe’s as he does. “Hey Finn,” Malik moves towards the door and clasps Finn’s shoulder briefly. “He’s all yours. We were discussing the last details for the mission, but we’re done now.” He turns back around to Poe and says, “I’ll get you those estimates tomorrow.”

With that, he pushes past Finn and exits the command centre, leaving Poe with his boyfriend and his entirely too anxious thoughts. Finn still looks somewhat tired, but the circles beneath his eyes are less pronounced than they had been earlier that day when he had returned from his nightshift.

“Hey handsome.” Poe ambles out of his seat and towards his boyfriend, carefully making sure not to show any of his previous reservations about their relationship and their future at the Resistance, and the current uncertainties that still plague his mind—more so, after his conversation with Malik. “Did you sleep well?” He asks when he’s standing beside Finn, reaching out to thread their fingers together.

Finn’s sleep had been light and plagued by nightmares since Poe had returned—likely even before Poe had returned, he had just not been there to see it—and it worries Poe endlessly. Finn seems to be running on little more than fumes these days and he’s terrified that Finn will push himself too far.

“I’m fine,” Finn assures him, reaching up with his free hand to touch Poe’s cheek, rubbing his thumb gently over the soft skin just beneath Poe’s eye. “Are you?”

Poe leans into the touch, eyes fluttering shut for a brief moment as he allows himself to relish in the contact of Finn’s skin on his, before traitorous thoughts of what he might have done to Finn’s previous boyfriend—however unintentional it might have been—slip back to the forefront of his mind. Reluctantly, he draws away from his boyfriend and drops his gaze to the floor, running his fingers through his hair.

“Poe?”

He looks up to find himself nose to nose with Finn, who looks more than a little worried, and Poe feels even worse at that, because he’s the reason Finn is hurting and Finn doesn’t even know. He knows the words are going to fall from his lips before they do, and much as he’d like to stop them, he can’t.

Malik was right.

He just needs to tell him—he can deal with the consequences—and hope that Finn will understand.

“I think I shot—I think I’m the one that killed Slip.”

Chapter Text

Chapter V
I Love Hard

"I'm hard to love, but I love hard, like my heart is the sun yearning to tan your naked body. I promise I won't burn you."
—Jarod Kintz

Rey

She and Kylo stand opposite one another for a long, tense moment, the corpse of the Terentatek separating them. She can feel him through the Bond, which now buzzes tensely in the back of her mind. The Bond is still strangely muted, and she doesn't quite know what to make of that, but there are still flashes of his awareness flitting through her mind, and it's almost disorienting enough to send her back onto her knees, gasping for breath.

She can smell the stench of death and decay through his senses, feel the dust that lingers in the air and nearly chokes him—and, most potently, she can feel his intense frustration as he tries to get around the large corpse that separates them.

She leans back against one of the now-cracked and crumbling walls, smoothing her hands down over her torn and bloodied clothing as she does, surreptitiously checking herself over for injuries that she may have missed in the heat of battle. Contrary to what Kylo likes to think of her from time to time, she is not actually reckless and she does have a sense of self-preservation—more so than he does, at that.

She breathes a sigh of relief when she cannot find anything—other than aching muscles and a sprained ankle—physically wrong with herself.

It aches to have their Bond so dampened, but she doesn’t know how to undo it. She hardly understands how it became so muted in the first place. She finds that, much as she had spent months loathing the strengthened Bond, she actually misses it now that she cannot feel Kylo as clearly as she could mere hours before. She feels stronger and more powerful than she had before she faced the Terentatek, and she can tell that Kylo can sense it as well.

She can also tell he is as confused as she is.

His breath falls from his lips in rapid, agitated puffs, and she watches as he fruitlessly struggles to find a way to reach her without touching the monster’s corpse. Finally, he loses patience and shoves the remains to the side with the Force, and then he is suddenly right there, in her personal space, his hands hot and heavy on her cheeks as his physical and Force presence overwhelms her.

Her fingers itch with the urge to push him back, to refuse to allow him to touch her after the way he had treated her in the past twenty-four hours—after he had wrapped his fingers around her wrist and nearly broke it—but the memory of feeling him nearly die on Starkiller and her own subsequent inability to keep her hands to herself, to ensure that he was real and unharmed, stays her hand.

Despite the cloudy haze that obscures the Bond, Kylo is projecting wildly, and she can tell he feels revolted by his lack of control earlier, and the thought that he might unintentionally hurt her again

She pulls away from his touch at that thought, and her heart aches at the pained look on his face.

“Are you hurt?” he asks gruffly, awkwardly withdrawing his hands and curling his fingers around the cold metal hilt of his lightsaber instead of reaching out to her again, as she can sense he still wants to. She watches, silent, as he takes a few steps back, wringing his hands around his saber in a nervous gesture.

“I’m fine,” she replies shakily, eyes drifting down to the lightsaber she still holds. Its metal is now warm and slick with sweat, and she is still unsure of what to do with everything that the Force had shown her in this damp, disgusting tomb. There’s still a ghost of a touch on her skin, of things that were, things that are—some things that had not yet come to pass.

The thought sends a shiver down her spine and she feels more than a little unnerved.

“Rey.”

Kylo’s voice draws her from her ruminations and she looks up, surprised to find him standing several steps closer to her than he had been moments previously. “Something is different,” he whispers, eyes locked upon hers. His gaze is clearer than she has seen it since Starkiller Base had been destroyed, and when she tentatively attempts to touch his mind with hers she can tell that he is right.

Something is different between the both of them.

“I think,” she whispers, once again glancing down at the weapon in her hand. “I think the Force guided me here—drew me here to find this.” She holds up the saber for him to see. “It gave me—” She breaks off again with a soft huff of frustration and shakes her head. “I can’t describe it,” she sighs, dropping her hand back down to her side. “It was as though I was here, but I wasn’t at the same time. I saw things I can’t—it didn’t make sense.”

She does not flinch this time when his fingers curl around the hand she has wrapped around the lightsaber. “It is not improbable to assume the Force led you here to find this.” He draws her hand up, and she is distantly aware that it would be easier to allow him to inspect the saber if she let him hold it instead, but she cannot quite get her fingers to cooperate.

The thought of releasing the saber is almost nauseating now, and it stands in sharp contrast with how she had felt in the seconds after pulling herself from the vision.

“Did you see anyone here before you came in?”

Kylo’s voice is strained and suddenly there is a touch of desperation to the Force. A hint of awed reverence she has only felt when he spoke of—

Her eyes flit to the lightsaber and back to Kylo’s wide, shocked eyes as realisation slams into her. “Anakin,” she breathes, repeating the name that had played on a constant loop in Obi-Wan’s mind as he fought the handsome man with the Sith-yellow eyes within her vision. “Anakin Skywalker. Darth Vader.

“This was his,” Kylo grouses, eyes locked on the lightsaber in Rey’s hand. “It—Luke lost it when he duelled Darth Vader on Bespin. It was believed lost forever.” There is a glint in his eye that she does not quite recognize—something dark and possessive. Subconsciously her fingers tighten around the lightsaber and, before she can stop herself, she shifts backwards.

“It is supposed to be mine,” Kylo hisses, his eyes burning into hers with an intensity she’s never seen in him before—something that frightens her. “That lightsaber belongs to me.”

His fingers tremble when he reaches out towards her, almost as though he cannot quite stop himself, and Rey can’t do anything but stare at him, uncertain what to do other than draw her arm back and out of his reach. “No,” she replies quietly, shaking her head a little in an attempt to shake the after-effects of his roiling emotions bleeding through the Bond. “No, it isn’t. It called to me. It’s not yours.”

He stills and pales, and his side of the Bond suddenly goes eerily silent, as it only had when he had been on the verge of death, and she chokes, terror washing over her like an unstoppable tidal wave. Her heart pounds, guilt pushing its way to the forefront of her mind—why didn’t she just give him the stupid lightsaber?—and she tosses all caution aside as she rushes to him, pressing her free hand to his cheek as she reaches for him through the Force, desperately wrapping her consciousness around his. “Take it then,” she babbles, pushing the lightsaber at his chest as tears burn in her eyes. “Kylo, please, don’t do this again. Take it if it means so much, just—”

“Why would I want your lightsaber?”

Her breath catches in her throat when he tilts his head down to look at her, blinking sluggishly as he frowns. “It called to you. The Force meant for you to find it.”

Her head aches and she is certain his abrupt mood swings are going to be the death of her one day. She draws her lower lip between her teeth and rocks back onto her heels, fingers sliding down his cheek slowly as she does. “Does that mean you don’t mind its legacy going to me?” she questions dubiously, eyeing him nervously as he frowns and looks around the tomb in distaste.

“What legacy?” He frowns before shaking his head and gesturing towards the exit. “Just take everything. It's not wise to linger in these tombs. Riddled with Ghosts and such. Let's go.”  He waits impatiently as she stares at him before turning to collect the little wooden box and carelessly tosses the second lightsaber into it, though he takes the box from her as soon as she turns back to him.

He turns on his heel and sweeps out of the antechamber, leaving her with the Terentatek’s corpse and her—Anakin’s—lightsaber clutched in her fist, mind awhirl with the events of the day and a dull ache beginning to build at her temples.

“This is going to be a long day,” she groans, following Kylo out of the tomb with a huff.

.

.

.

The sun’s harsh glare is reddening Kylo’s pale skin as they trudge back towards the Academy, and Rey feels nearly morbidly fascinated by the change in his complexion. Wondering whether the sensitive red skin on his arms, neck, and chest would darken into a tan, or if his skin would fade back into its usual paler hue, with dark moles and freckles dotted across his entire body, is a sufficient distraction from her puzzling visions in the tomb and Kylo’s equally puzzling behaviour.

His parents—much as she dislikes even remotely acknowledging their existence—both seemed relatively tanned and, while Kylo has skin that is much fairer, she supposes it could be a byproduct from spending years living on a Star Destroyer without being exposed to direct sunlight.

He has not brought up Anakin Skywalker or his lightsaber again, and has answered her many queries regarding Force Visions and their reliability with mono-syllabic grunts. He’d admitted he was quite intrigued by the second lightsaber, and its absolute refusal to work for either of them as they walked, despite the fact that it should be in perfect working order, as far as they could tell. Soon, however, that topic of conversation had been exhausted as well, and they had once again lapsed into uncomfortable silence.

The silence between them, unfortunately, leaves her with ample opportunity to sort through her thoughts, and forces her to acknowledge the things that had happened between her and Kylo before she went to the tomb, and whatever the kriff had happened while she was in that Force-forsaken place—

She shakes her head and trains her eyes on Kylo again, drawing her lower lip between her teeth. The way Kylo had responded to Anakin’s lightsaber earlier bothers her still, and she’s unsure what to make of the way he had seemingly forgotten its origin entirely. “Do you think this means I’m related to him?” she blurts suddenly, eyes widening in horror as the thought crosses her mind.

If she was, that would mean—

She wrinkles her nose and gapes at Kylo as he turns, frowning at her. “Related to who?”

“Anakin Skywalker,” she replies tentatively, fingers twitching towards the saber she had tucked in her belt earlier. “Because his lightsaber called to me. Does that mean I—”

“No,” Kylo scoffs. “My grandfather only ever sired my mother and uncle with his wife. Anakin’s lover couldn’t bear him children, so I’m fairly certain there are no other Skywalkers. My mother couldn’t have children after I was born.” He stops walking for a moment as he speaks, rather matter-of-factly, and runs his fingers over the grained wood of the box he still carries.

She is staring, she knows, but she cannot bring herself to stop.

He has never once opened up concerning his family before, and this is the most she has ever gotten out of him. “What about Luke?” she asks curiously, frowning a little at the blatant exclusion of the other Skywalker twin. “Surely he could have—”

He smiles at her—the kind of breath-taking smile he hasn’t shown her since he rejected her—and she feels a little breathless as he replies, “My uncle has only ever been interested in one person, and children have never been an option in that relationship.” He scoffs a little and shakes his head before turning again, continuing their weary trudge back to the Academy.

She puzzles over that remark for a moment before rushing to catch up with him. “Well, if we’re not related, then why did the lightsaber call to me and not you?”

He shrugs, seemingly unconcerned that something that had once belonged to his grandfather—who she knows he idolizes—called to her over him. “My connection to the dark side may be too strong,” he replies. “Anakin Skywalker was not always Darth Vader—that lightsaber was only briefly exposed to his darkness. Its connection may be stronger to the light, and you, because of that.”

The explanation, while brief and vague, makes enough sense, she supposes, but curiosity buzzes in the back of her head nonetheless—a niggling little smudge of doubt that insists she has to know the entire explanation, so that she can understand. She sighs and digs her knuckles in against her closed eyelids, a futile attempt to alleviate the throbbing headache that is slowly building behind her eyes and forehead.

While she has no regrets about leaving the Resistance behind, she has to admit her life had been decidedly less complicated. There had been a structure and predictability to her days that had soothed the nervous tension that constantly buzzes beneath her skin—an instinct that had been born after many years living an unpredictable, dangerous life on Jakku.

She doesn’t regret leaving it all behind—not in the slightest—but there is a small part of her that longs for that stable, predictable life. The simple comfort of knowing what was expected of her each day, even if she hated what she had to do, knowing there’d be food—enough of it—waiting for her at the mess.

She misses the way her mind had been her own, even if her body was not, and the way her life had been blissfully uncomplicated, despite how miserable she had felt.

She certainly doesn’t regret leaving behind the snivelling little men with more power than sense, who had enjoyed forcing themselves on her and the other women every night, but she cannot deny the sense of nostalgia that fills her when she thinks of nights spent in Poe’s chambers, watching trashy holovids and playing cards or going over X-wing manuals because Black One was being temperamental.

Of all the men she had left behind, she misses Poe the most, precisely because he hadn’t been like the other men. Her eyes stray back to the man that walks before her, and a soft smile tugs on her lips as she considers what she knows of him. He truly is different from any man she had known before, too, and while they may struggle now, she believes that what they could potentially share in the future—and the bond they already share—is absolutely worth fighting for.

He may have told Rey that he has no feelings for her that he wishes to act upon, but she is absolutely certain he does feel a great many things for her, and not all of those feelings are strictly platonic, despite his best efforts to convince them both otherwise.

He ran from the First Order to keep her safe, after all.

If he’d not cared for her at all, he would not have told her of Snoke’s betrayal and he would not have suggested deserting and training themselves in both sides of the Force. He wouldn’t have dropped everything to come to her after they’d fought to save her from one of the most dangerous beasts in the galaxy. He wouldn’t have answered her questions patiently despite how he felt about the subject.

“It is good,” Kylo suddenly speaks up, glancing towards her briefly. “Now that we have two lightsabers, we can progress to the next stage of your training. I was going to suggest making your own, but for now, we can make do with what we have.”

She hums in agreement, nodding along as he lists a few of the exercises he will have her run through with a real lightsaber. The idea of actually using the lightsaber still makes her skin crawl for reasons she can’t quite name, and her thoughts stray back to what the Force had shown her in the tomb.

The memory of the second part of the vision…

The man who had loved Anakin Skywalker but had fought him regardless.

“Who was Obi-Wan Kenobi?” she blurts, wincing a little at her own tactlessness. She knows, obviously, who Obi-Wan Kenobi is—a war hero in the Clone Wars, a so-called traitor to the Empire, Luke Skywalker’s original teacher—but she does not quite know why he had been significant enough to show up in her visions.

“Anakin’s lover,” Kylo replies dryly, offering her a thin-lipped smile. “I don’t think anyone but Anakin, Obi-Wan, Padmé, and perhaps Yoda, knew.” She frowns in confusion, and he seems to pick up on what she is going to ask next before the question has even fully formed within her own mind.

“I figured it out when I read some of the transcripts of their conversations. He kept them, even after…” He smiles wryly and shakes his head. “He was not subtle about it at all.”

The idea of Darth Vader, Sith Lord, Jedi Killer, keeping transcripts of his conversations with his Jedi lover seems laughably out of character—but then, so does him being married and siring two children with a Nubian senator with a passion for peace and democracy. “Can Sith even love at all?” she demands incredulously, frowning up at Kylo as she does.

“Of course they can,” Kylo chuckles. “It was Jedi who were against such attachments.”

A peculiar feeling creeps up on her then, making the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end, and Kylo’s voice drops, hoarser and rougher than his regular tenor. What he speaks next is so completely disconnected to their conversation that Rey is barely able to process the words as she hears them. “Our Sith Order of two, more powerful than our predecessors, shall rule the galaxy, Zannah,” Kylo states.

She stumbles as he speaks, his words unfamiliar and unsettling, and something ominous in the Force shakes her, sending a shiver of dread down her spine. “Kylo, wha—”

The feeling of something wrong is so strong that she completely misses the flare of power surging through the Force that precedes the deafening roar of falling rocks as the floor beneath their feet begins to quake and crumble. Her eyes flit up to the entrance, heart pounding in her chest as she sees the two statues crumble before them, pieces of rubble striking the path surrounding them with terrifying velocity.

“Kylo!”

A rock the size of their shuttle hurtles down towards them, and she moves without thinking, thrusting her hands out in front of her to shove Kylo forward, to safety. She can barely take a single breath before something strikes the back of her head—and the world goes black.

.

.

.

Waking up is abrupt, entirely unlike lazily drifting into consciousness in the early hours of the morning in her shared room with Kylo, when she becomes aware of her surroundings slowly and listens to Kylo’s steady breathing across the room as she wakes properly.

This time her head aches, and her lungs burn as she inhales, her body arching up as she gasps for breath, choking on the debris-filled air. She rolls onto her side, coughing and hacking almost violently, attempting to expel the foul air from her lungs.

The air around her smells heavy, thick—stale with the odor of blood and dust.

There is a foreign kind of pressure on her mind—an ache that burns and pushes and consumes, taking her breath away before she has even gotten a chance to acclimatize to being conscious, before she has even gotten the chance to find out what the kriff is going on.

She blinks her eyes open, staring at the pair of worn brown boots that seem to have materialized out of nowhere before her. They’re nice boots, she notes blearily, as her brain sluggishly attempts to understand why there is a nice pair of brown boots standing less than two inches from the tip of her nose.

There’s a soft noise of surprise from somewhere above her, and she trails her eyes upwards reluctantly, starting from the tip of the nice brown boots to the light, tan fabric of a cloak unlike anything she or Kylo have ever worn before, to the shiny tips of metal fingers that peek out from beneath a tan sleeve, to the grey and blonde streaked beard to blue, blue eyes—

Eyes like the skies above Tatooine.

Skywalker.

She can see his lips move, but her ears are ringing and the pressure on her mind increases incrementally, and as her arms give out from beneath her, she catches a glimpse of Kylo’s prone body, his face twisted into a mask of pure agony as he writhes on the rocky, sandy ground.

Her heart clenches, and she wants to reach out for him but her vision is already whiting out and she can’t breathe

And the world goes dark once again.

Chapter Text

Chapter VI
Complicated

"I've always wondered why love has to be so full of conflict and strife. Why can't love be simple? Why can't it just be as pure as two people who realize that they can't live as well, or as happily, apart as they can together?"
―Bella Andre

Kylo

The air that surrounds him and rushes through his lungs feels thick and unnatural, and he cannot bring himself to rise up from his knees. Rain pounds down on his back mercilessly, forming puddles around his cold, numb, mud-soaked fingers. The muddy ground beneath him is cold and wet, and he is panting and shaking beneath the crushing pressure on his mind.

He had been mercifully free of such pressure for a few months, and the whispers that had been generously quiet for the same amount of time now scold him for allowing foolish affections and lustful feelings to cause him to stray from his rightful path.

“You foolish boy,” Snoke’s cruel and achingly familiar voice hisses, loud and thundering within his mind and the Force. “You'll never be strong enough to face me. To defeat me! I made you everything that you are, Kylo Ren. I can take it all away again, too.”

He gasps desperately, curling his hands into fists as he struggles against the invisible power that keeps him down—he will not be dominated so easily.

“No!” he roars. “I am not weak!”

High, bone-chilling laughter echoes through his mind in response to his words, and the pressure increases, like hot needles piercing through his brain with the intent only to hurt, not to damage, and he can't contain the anguished cry that falls from his lips.

“Your attachments make you weak,” Snoke spits, and suddenly there is a force yanking him upright, locking his joints in place and compelling him to stare straight ahead, at—

“Rey.”

Her name falls from his lips without thinking, and she sobs his own in response, her entire body taut and tightly coiled, as though she's gearing up for a fight. He can sense her presence in the Bond, but her emotions are tightly sealed away from his mind, and the silence between them frightens him.

“She makes you weak,” a treacherous voice whispers within the privacy of his mind. “She is keeping you from reaching your true potential. Just like your family.”

He can faintly hear screaming, the sound of it reverberating in his skull, and it is not until he hears Rey sobbing his name once again that he realises that he is screaming, slamming his closed fists against the sides of his head.

“You're lying! I love her! She loves me!” he shouts, stumbling forward a few steps on weak, unsteady legs. “You can't control me anymore!”

“Oh dear boy,” Snoke cackles, “of course I can.”

Kylo’s entire body freezes against his will, fingers curled around the cold hilt of his lightsaber and eyes wide and terrified. He's been in this position before, has felt Snoke use his body as a conduit for his own will, and he is not strong enough to stop him, even now.

“Now,” Snoke hisses inside his mind, “let's rid you of that pesky attachment to the whore.”

“No!” Kylo struggles, fighting his hardest against the foreign presence that had taken over his body—that is stalking towards where Rey stands, frozen, and ignites his lightsaber. “Rey, run,” he chokes, redoubling his efforts to stop Snoke’s approach, even though he knows he can't do it. “Get away!”

“No,” she whispers, her eyes wide and tearful. “You can do this. I know you can. You're stronger than he is, Kylo.”

And stars, he loves her for her bravery and her strength—for her stubborn refusal to accept that Snoke is stronger than the both of them—and for her faith in him, misplaced as it is in this case. “I'm not,” he pants, tears gathering in the corners of his eyes, “Rey, I can't—please.”

“You can,” she insists. “I believe in you—I love you!”

Your mistake,” Snoke hisses in response—and Kylo’s horrified to feel his own lips form the words— cackling with delighted laughter when he snaps Kylo’s arm forward, burying the crackling red blade in the soft tissue of Rey’s chest.

“No!” Kylo howls, jerking his arm back and shattering Snoke's control as the bright little light that is Rey in his mind flickers and extinguishes, his mind spinning with a dangerous mix of his own horror and echoes of Rey’s pain and sadness, and he can't breathe. “Rey,” he chokes, cradling her limp body in his arms as tears run down his cheeks. “No, no, no. I'm sorry—I'm so sorry.” 

He buries his face against her neck and inhales deeply, desperately poking at the frayed ends of what was once their Bond, choking on his tears. He squeezes his eyes shut in an attempt to ignore the horrible result of his weakness.

"I love you so much," he mouths against her still-warm skin, before drawing back and blinking in surprise when he is met with the sight of their darkened bedchamber in the Academy rather than the muddy grounds outside, with Rey sleeping peacefully in his arms, her end of the Bond glowing warmly and happily.

A nightmare.

He exhales shakily and draws Rey closer to his chest, pressing his face into her hair as he inhales her scent, allowing it, the gentle hum of contentment on her end of the Bond, and the soft weight of her body in his arms to soothe his frayed nerves.

“You’re thinking too loudly. Go back to sleep,” she grumbles sleepily, and it takes everything in him not to jump at the sudden sound of her voice. “‘s too early.” She wiggles her body a little closer to his before settling again, curling her fingers around his forearm and drawing it up to her lips, pressing a soft kiss to his heated skin before curling up, using his hand as a pillow.

He closes his eyes obligingly, but sleep does not come to him again.

Something in the back of his mind whispers that this situation—while everything he has wanted since he and Rey had come to Moraband—is simply too good to be true, and there must be more to it.

He and Rey…

He frowns up at the ceiling and rubs a hand over his forehead. They’d not been on good enough terms to share a bed, had they? He’d been cruel and hurtful, and he’s almost certain he had physically hurt her, too, even though the mere thought of harming Rey makes him feel nauseous.

Lies.

The whisper echoes through his mind and sends an eerie shiver down his spine, and there is something in the Force that feels off—that is not quite right. He had dreamed of moments much like these, he recalls, and while he had wished many times that these dreams would become reality, he had never truly believed that they would.

As her teacher—her Master—their relationship would be nearly permanently unequal and unbalanced, and he refused to put her in that position again, regardless of what she may think she wants now.

“This isn’t right,” he whispers to himself, slowly extracting himself from Rey’s tight embrace, gingerly pulling his hand from beneath her cheek, where she is using it as a pillow, unwilling to disturb her rest despite his reluctance to believe that the scene he woke up to is real.

He realizes he is trembling the moment his bare feet make contact with the cold floor beside the bed, his entire body tensing, muscles coiling as though gearing up for a fight. Rey grumbles unhappily as he moves away from her, but she does not wake again, and Kylo cannot quite decide whether or not he is pleased that she does not.

There is something in the back of his mind—an instinct he cannot name—that insists there is something wrong, that something feels wrong, even if what he woke up to is closer to what he has always wanted than anything else he has ever experienced in his entire life.

What is going on?

Kylo staggers to his feet, bracing his hand on the wall as he stumbles forward on unsteady feet. His memories return all at once, without any sort of order that he can discern, in an avalanche that thunders into his conscious mind with a force so intense it nearly knocks him off his feet.

There is a sense of inconsistency to his memories that he had never noticed before, gaping holes in his days and nights during which he cannot account for his own whereabouts—

Rey, her body lying bloodied and broken beneath rubble—

A distressed cry falls from his lips before he can stop himself, and the world around him shimmers, the Force thrumming with a kind of power he can’t identify. His pulse hammers in his ears and his breath catches in his throat and he summons his lightsaber to his hand, thumb flicking over the ignition without so much as a second thought.

The unsteady and familiar crackle of his lightsaber fills the room, and his heartbeat settles, despite his fluctuating and shimmering surroundings. “What the Pfassk is going on?” he bellows at the nothing, fingers clenching around the durasteel of his lightsaber.

This is how you choose to fight?”

The voice that speaks is unbearably loud and deceptively soft at the same time, its timbre deep and raspy, vibrating through Kylo’s bones with such intensity his knees nearly buckle. He only manages to stay on his feet through sheer willpower, swiveling around shakily as a tall, muscled man materializes behind him, a strange, curved lightsaber hilt in his hand.

“I suppose to expect more of such a repressed, infinitely mortal mind would be too optimistically naive.”

The insult rankled him more than he wanted to admit, but he kept his lips firmly pressed together, responding solely by tightening his grip on his lightsaber. “Who are you?” he demands finally, heart pounding high in his throat, constricting his breathing as he attempts to reconcile his flawed and fractured memories with what he woke up to.

He is clever enough to realize that he is not actually awake.

He seems to be trapped within his own mind, and he cannot quite recall how to break free from the confines of his own head, nor how there came to be an unknown villain in there with him.

“What do you want from me?”

A high, chilling laugh echoes through his mind and he winces, his grip on his lightsaber slipping slightly before he can correct himself. The silvery mists that surround him shift and twist, and Kylo’s stomach lurches uncomfortably when a tall, muscular figure takes shape in the mists.

The figure is undoubtedly male, and while his features are still obscured by the fog, Kylo is certain he can see the golden gleam of—

Sith.

His breath catches in his throat at the implication—he has read enough holobooks and studied the Sith for too long and too intently to not realize what the voice of a Sith Lord in his head means. Fear trickles into his system, and though he frantically channels it into strength, he has to admit he has never been this afraid in his life.

How long has that monster been in his head?

“I suppose I owe you the name of the man that will defeat you,” the gravelly voice speaks as the figure in the mists grows larger and nearer. “It is only honorable.” The mists withdraw enough to reveal a man Kylo has read about so many times he knows it is him even though he has only ever read vague descriptions of the man’s appearance and overwhelming presence in the Force.

Darth Bane.

“What do you know of honor? You’re trying to take my mind,” Kylo hisses, lifting his lightsaber once more as he shifts into a defensive stance, channeling his absolutely terror into rage and strength. “My body, my life—where is the honor in that?”

“So shortsighted,” Bane sighs as he steps forward, towering over Kylo by a good few inches.

Kylo’s gaze flits down to the Sith Lord’s hand, taking in the strange, curved hilt of a legendary lightsaber he had only ever read about. Now that he knows who he is facing, a lightsaber battle seems like a foolish choice in order to protect his mind—Bane had been one of the most proficient lightsaber fighters in both Jedi and Sith history—but he will not back down.

He is no slouch with his lightsaber, and this is his mind—he can win and he knows he can.

Still, he barely suppresses the urge to wince in fear when Bane thumbs his lightsaber on, his gasp of surprise lost in the heated clash of their sabers as Bane dives forward. Kylo barely manages to bring his saber up in time to parry the strike and dances out of the way, slashing his saber at Bane as he spins past the Sith’s side.

He manages to graze his saber on Bane’s side, grinning with a sick kind of satisfaction when the Sith howls in rage before he lunges at Kylo in a blur of red light and sound. Their sabers meet in the middle with a deafening crack, and Bane shoves Kylo back, aiming a heavy kick to the middle of Kylo’s chest that sends him flying back, gasping for breath.

Bane merely grins as he watches Kylo struggle back onto his feet, his breath wheezing in his chest. “While your defiance is admirable,” Bane hisses, golden eyes flashing with something Kylo can’t quite identify, “it is also foolish and pointless. You cannot win this fight, boy. I am more powerful than you can ever comprehend. Take your loss with dignity, child.”

“I am not losing,” Kylo hisses through clenched teeth, rolling back onto his feet as he blocks Bane’s latest strike. He forces Bane back with several hard strikes and lunges, channeling his anger and frustration and fear into power, strengthening his blows and fast jabs.

“You should have thought better than to take me on,” he spits at Bane, using the Force to push the Sith back before striking at the taller man’s legs and then his shoulder before—

“Ben?”

He falters when he hears that voice, missing an opening to take out Bane permanently in his surprise. He wants to turn around—wants to look at her more than anything he has ever wanted in his entire life—but Bane is still in front of him, brandishing his lightsaber with deadly precision.

“Ben, I need your help.”

His breath catches and he falters again, crying out in pain when Bane slashes his lightsaber across his shoulder and upper arm, the burning pain nearly bringing him to his knees as the Sith Lord circles him, grinning cruelly. “Will you not help her?” Bane demands, before roughly shoving him forward, kicking his legs out from beneath him.

He can’t quite contain the grunt of pain that falls from his lips as he lands hard on his knees, and he internally scolds himself for showing any sort of weakness.

“Will you abandon her again?”

“I didn’t abandon her!” Kylo cries out before he can stop himself, whirling around despite his best efforts not to—his breath hitches in his throat at the sight of her, and instead of her name, a broken sob falls from his lips as he lurches forward, hands outstretched towards her.

He barely notes that Bane steps back, extinguishing his lightsaber as he watches them.

He knows he should be bothered but… He can’t.

Her eyes lock on his, and he nearly bursts into tears at the look of desperation in hers, so much like the expression she had carried the last time he had seen her alive. He stares at her as intensely as she stares at him, and they are both silent as they try to process the magnitude of the moment, the implications of this situation.

He knows she’s gone.

He’s well aware she cannot truly be here, and yet—

His eyes leave hers slowly, trailing down to the tanned, unblemished skin of her throat, free of the ugly bruising and scars that had marred it when he had last seen her. “You’re not really here,” he chokes, struggling for breath as he gets to his feet, oblivious to anything but her. “You're—you can't be here! I saw you—you—”

She moves forward, her dark, curled hair spilling forward over her shoulders as she reaches out towards him. “Ben, I’m right here—I don't know what you're talking about, but I'm right here.” He does not move as she draws closer, but he lowers his lightsaber nonetheless, the spitting and hissing red blade pointing towards the floor as he stares at his oldest friend.

Her fingers are hovering less than an inch above his when she cries out—a deep, guttural cry that makes every hair on his body stand on end—and he stares in horror at the red tip of a lightsaber that protrudes from her chest. She stares down at it in confusion, lips parted in surprise, and Kylo chokes at the fear he can see in her eyes.

Ben,” she breathes, a small bubble of blood forming in the corner of her mouth, before Bane roughly withdraws his saber from her chest, sending her careening forward, unsteady and uncoordinated. “No, no, no, no,” Kylo chokes, dropping his lightsaber and lunging forward towards her. It almost feels as though he is moving too slow, like nothing he can do will be enough, and he’ll be forced to see her die this time—

The moment his hands should have made contact with her skin, she dissipates, as though she was never there at all, and it tears him up, because even if it weren’t real, even if she had been dead for years, he had failed her—again.

He had failed Mira so thoroughly—

Bane cackles, lifting the humming red blade of the lightsaber up to Kylo’s chin, nudging his head up so he is forced to look into the Sith Lord’s golden eyes. “You’re weak, Kylo Ren. So unworthy of the power the Force has given you. Any last words, boy?”

—now he is going to fail Rey, too.

He has no doubt that Bane, when he takes over Kylo’s mind and body, will either kill Rey outright, or break her and make her into his Apprentice. Neither option is even remotely comforting, and he clenches his jaw, glaring up at the Sith Lord in silent defiance.

He will not give him the satisfaction.

He watches with silent trepidation as Darth Bane lifts the lightsaber, swinging it in a large arc towards Kylo’s unprotected torso—

Green meets red with a deafening clash, and Kylo is thrown back forcefully, smacking his head back against the floor painfully. He gapes at what he recognizes as his uncle, too surprised to see the older man to actually question who is fighting Bane, their forms a blur of red and green and sparks meeting in the middle. His uncle is fast and unrelenting, and Kylo watches in silent awe as he finally witnesses the Luke Skywalker in action.

He had always known, objectively, that his uncle was one of the most powerful Jedi Knights in existence, but he does not think he ever truly witnessed it until this moment.

For a long, glorious moment, he thinks they’re about to win.

He thinks that, regardless of how Luke had gotten into his mind in the first place, he’d saved him. A breath of relief falls from his lips and a smug smirk finds its way onto his lips—

And then Bane starts laughing.

Deep, uncontrolled laughter, as though their efforts to stop him are the funniest thing he’s ever experienced.

“I have to hand it to you,” Bane chuckles breathlessly as he and his uncle stare at him, dumbfounded, “You are very determined. I like that—I quite like a challenge. Unfortunately for you…” His eyes darken, and his skin seems to grow more translucent and thin. “I am quite done playing.”

The tall man flicks his hand in a near-casual gesture and Kylo watches in horror as his uncle is tossed aside, lightsaber flying from his grasp and deactivating as it rolls across the floor.

You are strong enough, Ben. Take back what’s yours. Don’t let him win.

Bane cackles madly, as though he picks Kylo’s thoughts right from his mind—not entirely unlikely, considering the Sith Lord is aiming to take over said mind—and shakes his head. “You are not strong enough to defeat me!”

Anger—rage—bleeds through his veins at Bane’s words, and he can feel the Force shift, a tidal wave of strength and power that had never been more confusing. It felt simultaneously out of his reach and closer than it had been in a long time, and his anger only makes the feeling more potent.

How dare Bane presume to know him?

How dare he presume to know Kylo’s strength?

He has no idea of the horrors Kylo has seen and how tirelessly he had worked over the past two decades to ensure that he would never have to witness another loved one die, so he would never have to fail them again—

He stills, recalling his earlier vision with a sick feeling, squeezing his eyes shut.

Perhaps Bane does know the lengths Kylo had gone to—and perhaps the Sith Lord still underestimates him. Kylo bares his teeth at the older man in a vicious snarl and reaches, dipping into the Bonds—both the tentative, tattered remains of his training Bond with his uncle and the strong, vibrant Bond that he shares with Rey—that are pulsating in the back of his mind, radiating power and vitality and a kind of lightness that Darth Bane could never even comprehend.

Their combined strength pools warmly in the palms of his hands, and it calms him in a way he has not experienced since his early teen years. He spools the threads of the Force, envisioning them wrapping around his hand in thick strands of luminescent rope.

Before Bane can make a single move towards him, Kylo raises his hand and shows Bane just how foolish it is to underestimate Kylo Ren. The Force comes to him easily now, obeying his command without hesitation, freezing Bane on the spot—he has always excelled at this particular Force Ability. He revels in the adrenaline that rushes through his veins as he feels Bane struggle against the Force Lock that holds him—struggling in vain.

“Yes,” Kylo suddenly interrupts, a hushed, tense silence falling between them as Bane stares at him, still struggling. “I am.”

He does not allow the Sith Lord the chance to fight back—does not stop to gloat beyond that initial gleeful response—because he knows it’s only a matter of time before Bane will shatter his restraints, no matter how powerful Kylo is, and strides forward, calling his lightsaber to his hand as he walks, thumbing it on the moment his fingers curl around the cold, familiar durasteel.

He takes a deep breath, ignoring the first glimpse of fear in the Sith’s golden eyes, and swings his lightsaber horizontally, cutting clear through the Sith Lord’s neck. He keeps his eyes locked on Bane’s golden one’s the entire time, making no effort to suppress the utter delight he feels at destroying whatever roots the darksider had laid within his mind.

“I did it,” he breathes, staring down at his hands and lightsaber as though he’s never seen them before, blinking rapidly in an attempt to clear the dark spots that blur his vision. “I did it.”

His breath hitches as his knees buckle, and before he touches the ground the world goes dark.

.

.

.

He is on his back when his sight, hearing, and sense of smell abruptly return to him. The ground beneath him feels unsteady and he can sense the Force more clearly than he has been able to in months. An onslaught of noise assaults his sensitive ears, and he chokes on the smoke and debris-filled air, rolling onto his stomach as he coughs and hacks violently in an attempt to expel the foul air from his lungs.

His head is pounding, and he feels much like someone has tried to pull his brain out through his nostrils. Nausea coils in the pit of his stomach and, much as he’d like to, he is quite certain that opening his eyes will only cause said nausea to get worse, and he has no desire to throw up the contents of his stomach.

Debris presses into him at uncomfortable angles, and there are cuts and bruises smarting all over his body, and the Force buzzes in the back of his battered and abused mind, adding to the white noise that fluctuates between entirely too loud and barely audible every few seconds. “Kriff,” he curses, curling his hands into fists and pressing his knuckles against his closed eyelids.

He has some difficulty recalling the sequence of events that had preceded him waking up with the worst migraine of his life in a veritable disaster zone, with holes the size of his shuttle in his memories and debris and rocks surrounding him.

He moves sluggishly and rolls onto his back again, slowly blinking his eyes open to stare at what remains of the entrance. The once magnificent statues that flanked the Academy’s entrance now lay crumbled and shattered around him, partially blocking the cavernous entrance hall. The sheer devastation that surrounds him is almost difficult to comprehend, and he briefly struggles to recall what on earth could have caused such a catastrophic collapse.

Something in the back of his mind lurches, and he jerks upright, hand clutching at his chest.

Rey.

“Rey,” he chokes, blinking dazedly as he sits amongst the rubble, listening to the high-pitched ringing in his ears as he attempts to clear his head.

He needs to find out where Rey is.

“Rey,” he breathes again, shaking his head to get rid of the haze that clouds his mind. “Rey?”

He ignores the persistent throbbing in his head as he struggles to his feet, panic and fear trickling down his spine as he catches sight of her prone form. She, too, is on her back, arms and legs splayed out widely, as he had seen her sleep a few times, her entire body slack and loose, head tilting back at a near unnatural angle—

And there is an all too familiar bearded man in tan robes standing over her, his durasteel hand glinting in the light of Moraband’s setting sun as he reaches out towards Kylo’s Apprentice.

“Don’t you dare touch her.”

His uncle’s head snaps up and Kylo has to swallow back a mixture of wistful sentimentality and animosity when Luke Skywalker’s cobalt blue eyes meet his. He is aware, distantly, that his uncle must have given him the strength to defeat the Force Ghost of Darth Bane, and that he likely owes his life to the Jedi Master, but a decade of carefully nurtured resentment and anger is hard to shake, and he cannot stand the mere thought of Luke’s hands on Rey, even well-intentioned.

His legs tremble when he takes a step towards them, and if he were a lesser man he would have given in to the demands of his weary and exhausted body. He is, however, not unused to having to push himself beyond his body’s physical boundaries and refuses to hear his treacherous body’s plea for rest until he is within arm’s reach of Rey and his uncle.

He drops to his knees again as soon as he reaches her, ignoring the smarting ache of cuts on his knees, stroking his thumb over her cheek tenderly, wiping away the dirt and dust of the collapse as he chokes down a dry sob.

His weakness infuriates him, and the thought that his uncle is witnessing said vulnerability is enraging, but he simply cannot push himself any further.

Even the simple act of breathing seems to require inordinate amounts of energy.

“She is fine,” his—Lu—Skywalker offers kindly. “She woke earlier, while you were…” He falls silent, and Kylo has to admit he too is unsure what words to use to describe his mental struggle with a long-dead Sith Lord, though it is a comfort to be able to reach out through the Bond and verify Skywalker’s claim.

She is indeed unharmed, and he’s relieved to see that the immense energy resources he had spent on healing her earlier, before Bane tried to take his mind, seem to have been worth the effort, despite his inexperience in said area.

Having drawn on her power to win does not seem to have had any sort of ill effect on her, and he feels the burden of that worry slip from his shoulders with a soft breath of relief.

Much as he would like to take up his lightsaber and challenge his uncle to the duel they should have had years ago, Kylo is also smart enough to realize that, even at his best, a victory against his uncle would be difficult to ensure, and he is not arrogant enough to think he could take the man on in his current, weakened state.

He supposes he was planning on learning from the man anyway.

He may as well take advantage of the opportunity and get answers to the questions he had been yearning to ask for well over a decade. He eyes his uncle speculatively and sighs, reluctantly reaching for the Force to release his immediate anger and resentment and fear into it. He won’t forget his anger towards his uncle and what remains of his family, but he will gladly shelve it for the time being, so that he can center his focus on the woman in his arms.

“I thought,” Kylo finally says, keeping his voice carefully level and calm as he curls his fingers in Rey’s hair, lifting her head and slipping it onto his lap so that she is no longer lying on hard, shattered rocks. “I thought you taught me, years ago, that Force Ghosts have no true power over the living.”

He keeps his eyes focused on Rey, inspecting every inch of her skin that is not covered by soft fabric for injuries, while he waits for Skywalker to respond. The delicate skin around Rey’s wrist is still discoloured, a bruise that is still in the process of forming where his—his—fingers had gripped her too tightly, and he attempts valiantly to disregard the way his stomach churns at the sight.

“Evidently I was wrong,” Skywalker replies wryly, and Kylo hates that he still knows the older man well enough to know without looking that there will be a small frown between Luke’s eyebrows and a self-deprecating grin on his lips. “I suppose it is not unreasonable to believe a Sith Lord, especially the Sith equivalent of the Chosen One, would be able to harness powers that the Jedi knew nothing of.”

Kylo barely suppresses the urge to snort at that, and merely shakes his head as he gently nudges Rey’s mind through their Bond to rouse her. “Seems to me you underestimate the power of the Dark Side quite often,” he says snarkily, barely resisting the urge to snarl at his uncle when the man reaches out to touch Rey again.

“For Force’s sake, Ben,” the older man gripes. “I just saved your life. If I wanted to harm either of you, I would have let Bane take your mind and I would have killed her while you were out.”

“Forgive me for being wary,” Kylo snaps, glaring up at the older man angrily. “The last time I trusted you with the life of someone I loved, she died.” He does not wait for a response or a sputtered denial, instead choosing to focus his attention on Rey, who is finally beginning to stir in his arms.

“Wake up,” he orders her softly, shooting a single quelling look towards his uncle to warn him not to try anything. “Rey, open your eyes for me.”

She grumbles incoherently, but she complies, and he’s greeted by the sight of beautiful hazel.

She looks confused, and he can see there is still a shimmer of pain in her eyes, but she’s focused on him and he can’t help but smile—because even when she’s covered in soot and dirt, she’s the most beautiful woman in the galaxy to him and she’s awake.

She’s alive.

“There you are,” he laughs wryly. “I don’t know what happened, but it’s over.”

He frowns when Luke makes a choked off noise, as though he’d wanted to say something but decided not to and, were he not preoccupied with Rey and ensuring she’s alright, he might care enough to find out why his uncle looks as though he’s swallowed a Roonan lemon.

As it is, his attention shifts from Skywalker to Rey again when she furrows her brow, lower lip protruding into a small pout as she breathes, “Head. Hurts.”

The influx of Rey’s pain combined with the aggravation of his own injuries puts him on edge in such a way that he is rather impressed with his own ability to keep his fluctuating moods in check. He winces a little, all too aware of the side effects of poorly-skilled Force Healing, and runs his fingers over her creased forehead in a soothing gesture. “I know, I know. It’ll feel better soon.”

He helps her sit up, chuckling gently when she looks at his uncle in confusion, before demanding, “Who the kriff are you?” She is unsteady on her feet, and Kylo would laugh at the way she squares her shoulders and glares at Skywalker, as though her small stature and glare would be enough to subdue a Jedi Master.

Of course, Kylo has been on the receiving end of that glare more than once and can rightly attest to how terrifying Rey can be if she so chooses.

“Luke Skywalker,” his uncle replies with a dashing grin entirely too reminiscent of Kylo’s fath—

No.

He is not going to think about that man.

Rey seems to be done glaring at Luke, instead thrusting out her hand towards the man challengingly. “That makes sense. How did you find us? Everyone is supposed to think we’re dead.” She sways on her feet, and Kylo moves forward almost on autopilot, curling his fingers around her hip to steady her before she can stumble, relishing in the way she leans back into him as he does.

Luke frowns at them, his skin crinkling near his eyes into crow’s lines that hadn’t been as pronounced the last time Kylo had seen him—it suddenly hits him just how old his uncle has become—and nods towards the partially blocked entrance. Kylo marvels at how adept he still is at reading his uncle’s expressions and picking up on his cues, even after spending nearly a decade pretending he wasn’t even remotely related to the man, and nods in agreement.

“I believe that story is better kept for another time,” Luke grouses, folding his arms over his chest, and while Kylo would like to push, find out how his uncle found them when no one else had, the way that Rey is currently swaying in his arms and the faint feel of her in the back of his mind is more than a little disconcerting.

“Yes,” Kylo nods, “it is. Come on, Rey, we need to get you inside.” He runs his fingers down her arm and whispers, “You need rest to recover from your injuries.”

Rey huffs in protest, and Kylo chuckles when she squirms, patting his bicep weakly. “But you’re hurt, too. You need rest as well.” Despite her protests, she allows him to guide her back into the Academy, with Luke on their heels.

It is far easier to disregard—if not ignore—his uncle’s presence than he had anticipated, and he allows himself a brief moment to gloat at the older man’s obvious disgruntlement.

Luke Skywalker never did like to be ignored.

They have barely passed through the rubble that partially blocks the entrance when Rey suddenly struggles, gasping and grumbling as she wiggles in his arms. “Kylo, let me go, stang—I have to—”

“What?” Kylo exclaims exasperatedly. “You have to do what?” 

“The box,” Rey glares up at him—and his heart does not skip a beat, at all. “We need to get the box. I did not fight that stupid monster and almost die just to forget the vision and leave the lightsabers outside.”

And, much as he is reluctant to admit it, she does have a point. Whatever reason the Force had for guiding Rey towards his grandfather’s lightsaber, the box, and the second, mysteriously malfunctioning lightsaber, Kylo knows it would be foolish to simply ignore it.

“Fine,” he sighs, “fine.”

He helps her lean against one of the larger rocks, his lips turning down into an unhappy scowl when she winces again. “After I get that box,” he tells her seriously, ignoring the incredulous look his uncle gives him, “you are going to bed, and you are going to sleep until you’re fully healed, you hear me?”

“Yes, sir,” Rey grins, though her eyes are slightly unfocused and he can tell she is just about falling asleep where she stands, half-leaning against the rock and half against his uncle, who seems utterly bemused at the turn of events, eyeing Rey nervously as she leans her head against his shoulder, her arms wrapped around her torso.

“What lightsaber?”

Kylo doesn’t reply to his uncle’s query, scouring the ground for the box that he must have dropped when Rey shoved him out of the way, but he can hear Rey murmuring a soft reply about her vision and being drawn to the tomb in the upper valley.

He vaguely wonders what his uncle will make of Rey finding his lightsaber in a deserted tomb on Moraband—knowing his uncle, he’d probably make a horrible quip about finding his missing hand, too.

He surveys the rubble before him intently, frowning as he tries to recall where, exactly, he had woken up. He had been holding the box when Rey had shoved him aside—with little regard for her own safety, he fumes silently—so it stands to reason it’ll be close to where he had fallen. He has to admit he cares little for the paraphernalia Rey had found at this point, but he knows her well enough to know she won’t let him take care of her if he won’t give her the damned box.

He finally spots it, half-buried beneath rubble and dust, and sighs a breath of relief, because while he is anxious to get Rey inside the Academy and into her bed so she will rest, he must admit that his own injuries are, perhaps, not as inconsequential as he may have believed them to be initially.

His head still aches and he discovers quite suddenly that bending over to pick up the box is not his finest idea either. His head swims, and he has to steady himself on a nearby rock for several long moments to regain his equilibrium before he staggers back to where Rey is now fully leaning on his uncle, blinking ahead sleepily.

“Here,” he hands her the box with a smile that feels more like a grimace. “Now will you rest?”

She smiles beatifically, blinking up at him with an innocent expression that does not fool him for a single moment. “If I must,” she concedes, allowing him to take her hand and draw her close again, his uncle eyeing the way Rey easily falls from his uncle’s steady shoulder into Kylo’s waiting arms, with none of the aversion to his presence or touch that she had shown before.

“You must,” he grumbles, steering her towards their chambers. “You absolutely must.”

.

.

.

It is not until much later, after he has finally managed to wrap Rey up in all of the blankets they own and convinced her to sleep, after he has reluctantly shown his uncle to the small room Rey had occupied during their first stay on Moraband, after he has painstakingly rebuilt the mental barriers Bane had systematically and meticulously torn down over the course of weeks, that he sits, and allows himself to comprehend everything that had happened that day.

He exhales shakily and leans back against the wall as he curls up on his stripped bed, attempting to steady his trembling hands with limited success.

He had nearly lost Rey several times today.

Not only that, but he’d also nearly broken her wrist himself and, though the memory is vague and blurred in his mind’s eye, he remembers being furious to the point where nothing could calm him anymore, and even destroying the entire room—the entire kriffing Academy—would not have cooled his temper.

Now, he knows that it had been Bane, feeding into his anger and frustration to weaken his Bond with Rey and fracture his mind so that the Sith Lord could stroll right in and take his mind, but a small part of him is terrified that the rage he had felt had had nothing to do with Bane and everything to do with his own mind.

He can feel his heartbeat increasing, thumping heavily against his ribs, as though it is trying to beat out of his chest, while his lungs contract and he can barely breathe

What if he is capable of the same things his father had done?

What if he is a danger to Rey?

He’d not been strong enough to keep Bane out, and he’d barely been able to keep a grasp on his sanity while studying with Snoke—and perhaps he isn’t strong enough to defend those he loves.

The thought of laying a hand on Rey in anger ever again makes his stomach turn, and he can’t suppress the urge to gag, dry-heaving as he desperately attempts to hold himself together. His body reacts without his consent, muscles clenching so tightly it hurts, and his mind is rapidly spinning out of control as it never has before—

And he is frightened.

His grasp on his control—control that he has always fought to maintain—feels tenuous and feeble, like sand slipping through his fingers, and no matter how he struggles and tries to control himself, he fails.

He chokes and claws at his chest, breath wheezing in his chest as he tries to breathe, tries to calm before he loses his mind—before he loses all sense of who he is. He almost believes Bane or Snoke has once again taken over his mind, and this time, he is completely incapable of stopping them—his thoughts feel foreign and sluggish and he can’t stop thinking.

Bane—Snoke—Luke—his parents—hurt—Mira—death—fear—

He is trapped within his own head.

He squeezes his eyes shut and ignores the sudden wetness on his cheeks, because he can’t think but he can’t stop either and he feels like he is going to burst

“Kylo.”

He knows that voice—knows the woman it belongs to—loves that woman, even—but he has no control over his body, cannot make himself look up and see her.

“Kylo, you need to listen to me. I’m here. I’m going to put your hand on my throat so you can feel me breathe, okay? Try to breathe with me.”

He has barely heard the words when there is suddenly a hand curled around his, and soft skin moving beneath his calloused fingertips, and it is suddenly much easier to focus on that steady movement—on her brightness within the Force.

He moves his fingers without thinking, seeking out the steady thrumming of her heartbeat to reassure himself that he hadn’t failed—that she wasn’t dead, that he hadn’t allowed Bane or Snoke to harm her—

He can feel one of her arms wrapped around his neck, her fingers tangled in the hair on the back of his neck, and the dual touch of his fingers on her throat and her fingers in his hair is grounding. Shakily, he focuses on her slow breaths, and his body relaxes slowly, leaning forward in Rey’s embrace. His body feels slow and heavy with exhaustion, and his mind is equally slow and sluggish, thoughts still tangled and confusing, but no longer as panic-inducing as they had been before.

“I’ve got you,” Rey whispers quietly as he leans his head against her shoulder. “You’re okay.”

A shuddering breath falls from his lips, and he knows that he should feel horribly embarrassed at losing control in front of Rey, but he cannot bring himself to feel much of anything. After a short, comfortable moment, he eases them both backward until they sit curled up together on his bed, their backs pressed against the wall. He resolves to simply enjoy the quiet calm and satisfaction that rolls back and forth through the Bond as she burrows further into his embrace.

He’s unsure what it is that settles the anxious fear that has been stirring in the back of his mind since the moment they set foot back on the planet, but he is grateful to feel it dissipate from his mind.

He knows he needs not explain what had happened to her.

She understands.

And he adores her.

He loves her.

While he may not be the most emotionally stable—mature—person in the galaxy, even at the ripe age of twenty-six, he does know a thing or two about love and affection. The thing about being born into the Organa-Solo-Skywalker household was that you learned very quickly that no matter how much you may love someone, it did not mean that you were meant to be together.

Sometimes love simply wasn’t enough.

Ben Solo never had any doubts that his parents loved each other, but he learned very early on that his father was unable to show his mother a healthy kind of affection that wouldn’t result in pain and tears.

When Ben Solo died and Kylo Ren was born, he had sworn off all sorts of affection, convinced that love brought nothing more than wasted years and endless torment. It was a pledge he had no trouble keeping for many years—that he might still have kept, had he not met Rey.

Rey blew into his life much like a whirlwind and forced him to feel things he had not felt in over a decade—things he had learned to hide away quite well during Snoke’s tutelage. 

Nonetheless, he truly had no intention of acting upon the feelings Rey had awoken within him—he had made a promise to himself and to her that he would not act upon said feelings—and perhaps he had been a little crueller than strictly necessary when he had told her so the previous evening, but Rey had a way about her that seemed to draw out his most extreme emotions, both good and bad.

He had fully intended to never break that promise—up until this morning, in that nightmare, when he was forced to look upon Rey’s broken, bloodied body, knowing that she only came to be that way because she had attempted to save him—even after he had hurt her; broke her heart.

The thought of it infuriates him beyond belief, and he can feel anger and frustration—with her, but mostly with himself, for putting her in danger, for hurting her despite his best efforts—humming just beneath his skin, searing hot and barely restrained.

Perhaps he had not adequately shown her how much he does care for her. 

He had certainly never meant to imply that he would value his own life over hers—that he would be capable of recovery after feeling her Force signature slipping away from him, without anything he could do about it.

He had certainly never meant to make her feel as though he saw her as replaceable.

“I’m sorry I hurt you,” he finally says, his tone soft and measured, drawing his fingers up and down her upper arm. “While you are right—your feelings are not entirely unreciprocated—you must understand… We cannot… You’ve been in too many unequal and unhealthy relationships in the past. I refuse to put you in that position again, regardless of my feelings. I’ve only ever wanted you safe and happy.”

She is silent for a while and, while the quiet is somewhat unnerving, he feels no need to fill the void with inconsequential chatter. He understands that the wounds he had inadvertently inflicted upon her are deep and painful, and he’d be more than understanding if she chose to take Luke as her Master in the future.

“I'm sorry I pushed you and kissed you again,” she finally whispers against him, clenching her fingers in his shirt, and he can sense shame welling up in her mind. He’s sure she didn't truly want him to hear the words, but he can feel the compulsion that pushed her to say them regardless.

While he’s certain she still doesn’t quite agree with his reasoning for refusing to act upon his feelings, he does think she understands

“I'm not,” he blurts quite suddenly, without thinking, and, though she does jerk to move back, he just tugs her back into his arms. After a brief moment of struggle, she concedes and tucks herself comfortably beneath his chin and waits for him to speak again. He had not intended to say anything, had not intended to tell her of the feelings that swirl around in his mind, despite the fact that he knows she can feel them as acutely as he can feel hers, but he cannot hold it back any longer.

He cannot live with himself if he does not let her know that whatever she feels for him—he feels the same for her, even though it will make it harder for the both of them to move on. It is that idea precisely that frightens him the most—their feelings are so similar that it almost truly feels like they are mirror images of one another, and he fears that such feelings may only have grown in the wake of their Force Bond.

That in itself is enough of a motivation, for him, to choose not to act upon their feelings.

“I'm not,” he repeats. “I may want the best for you, but I am only human, Rey. I love you—any kiss from you is a gift to me. Any touch that doesn't cause me pain…” He sighs, and an unpleasant memory that he can't conceal within their connected minds pushes its way through the front of his mind.  Over the years, he has felt many unpleasant touches, from Snoke, the other Knights, and even from his parents when he was seen as a disrespectful, misbehaving child, but each touch Rey gives him feels like a revelation.

A promise that not everything needs to hurt in order to be strong or powerful.

“I love you too, you know.”

The words are quiet and spoken quite matter-of-factly, but they warm his heart in a way nothing else has in over fifteen years. It gives him hope that, one day, he will be able to simply let the Force guide him without feeling the lure of the Dark Side as intensely as he does now.

They fall silent, and he allows her soothing presence against his body to lull him back into sleep, despite the little voice in the back of his mind, wondering about prying eyes and meddling uncles and changing dynamics that are sure to follow.

.

.

.

Luke

Luke leans back against the wall beside the door that leads to the quarters his wayward nephew shares with the girl—Rey.

He had sensed Be—Kylo’s discomfort in the Force, and while he is still most uncomfortable with facing the boy he had failed so spectacularly in the past, he had immediately rushed to him, though he must admit he had no idea how he could be of any help.

Before he had even opened the door, however, he had felt Kylo’s turmoil die down, and sensed the girl’s Force Signature envelop his nephew’s—he has no satisfactory explanation for what had happened between the two, but he has never witnessed two Force Signatures that had been more entwined than his nephew’s and the girl’s.

He heaves a heavy sigh and rolls his eyes heavenward.

What the kriff did he get himself into this time?

Chapter Text

Chapter VII
Handling Mistakes

“I'm afraid that we all make mistakes. One of the things that defines our character is how we handle mistakes. If we lie about having made a mistake, then it can't be corrected and it festers. On the other hand, if we give up just because we made a mistake, even a big mistake, none of us would get far in life.” 
Terry Goodkind

Poe

The first thing he becomes aware of is an insistent pounding in his head, his thoughts slow and confused as he attempts to recall how he had ended up back in his bed after the previous night. His limbs feel heavy and tired, and his eyelids feel much like they’ve been glued shut. The taste inside of his mouth is absolutely foul and he can’t stop a soft groan from falling from his lips as he shifts, pressing his face further down into his pillow.

His mind attempts to piece the bleary and alcohol-impaired memories together into a somewhat coherent sequence of events, but he doesn’t get very far—after he had left Finn in the command center, he’d run into Snap and Joph and had gladly allowed them to drag him out to the nearest bar…

After that, his recollection of the evening consists of little more than flashes of conversation and touch, of laughing and dancing—and then nothing at all.

It’s hardly the first time he has gotten drunk enough to completely forget the things that had happened the previous night, but it has been a long time since it had last happened, and Poe has never been quite so aware that he is no longer twenty-two and capable of handling just about any sort of hangover. His stomach roils in protest when he rolls onto his front, and he gags, lunging for the edge of the bed as he dry-heaves through the sudden waves of nausea.

His head throbs painfully as he hangs limply over the edge of the bed, and it’s not until the nausea has tapered off entirely that he begins to take further note of his surroundings and his own state of undress.

The sheets are softer than his own, he realises with sudden clarity, and much less thick—Finn prefers thicker woollen blankets over soft sheets—and they slip over his bare skin without much resistance as he moves back onto the bed. He collapses on his back, sheets tangled around his waist, and stares up at the ceiling in somewhat of a daze.

He'd seen enough of the room and bed already to know precisely whose bed he'd found himself in. He shuts his eyes again and struggles to take a deep breath as he fights off a second wave of nausea—why, why, why is he so hell-bent on destroying every good thing in his life?

He refuses to move for a long time, tossing his arm over his eyes in an attempt to avoid having to face the truth. If he opens his eyes and looks around it'll be real and he'll have done something immeasurably stupid and he'll have added another reason to the list of why Finn should hate him and he can't—

He can't face that yet.

He doesn’t move until he realizes that the longer he waits, the later in the day it’ll be, and the more people will be loitering around in the hallways to witness his walk of shame, and the higher the chances are that someone will talk to Finn about what they saw. With another quiet groan, he hoists himself into an upright position, before promptly doubling over to bury his face in his hands.

The world spins when he attempts to sit up again, and he is forced to remain kneeling in the middle of the bed, leaning forward onto his elbows as pained, gasping breaths fall from his lips.

He is so not twenty-two anymore.

Eventually he regains at least some sense of equilibrium, and is able to sit upright without tipping over straight away. He spots his clothes folded neatly on the chair in the corner of the room—which is yet another confirmation of just where he is, and who he was with—and sighs heavily before hoisting himself from the bed and stumbling over.

He doesn’t feel much like he’d had sex, but that hardly means anything. Wouldn’t be the first time he woke up hungover without feeling so much as a twinge of discomfort, only to feel it much later while he was supposed to be working or doing anything but remember his escapades.

He sits back on the chair with another heavy sigh when he has managed to wriggle himself into his trousers, leaning his head back against the cushioned surface, shirt clenched in his hands, as he recalls more of the previous day—recalls the look on Finn’s face after he'd blurted out that he'd killed Slip.

His heart clenches painfully as he remembers the way Finn’s eyes had gone wide before something seemed to snap and his entire expression had closed down, and nothing had ever hurt more than seeing Finn looking at him with nothing more than cold detachment.

“Look who’s finally up,” a familiar voice rings out from the direction of the door, snapping him from painful memories and forcing him to face the consequences of his stupidity.

His eyes flutter open slowly, and he does not bother to move to cover his bare chest or to button his trousers properly. He woke up naked in the man’s bed, it seems fairly useless and overly demure to try to regain his modesty now—besides, it’s hardly the first time he woke up in this bed. “Please,” he says, his voice hoarse and rough. “I really don’t need you gloating at me right now.”

“Oh, this isn’t gloating,” Malik snorts, pushing off the doorjamb and strolling towards the chair Poe is lounging on. “Gloating comes later, hotshot. First I want you to take these—” He holds out his hand towards Poe, and he can see the Comaren pills in Malik’s palm. He wrinkles his nose but accepts them when Malik gives them to him, swallowing them as quickly as he can before leaning forward to pull his shirt over his head and to button his trousers.

“Come on,” Malik smiles at him as he offers him a hand to help him up. “I got blue milk and Franjo pancakes with Wroshyr lice syrup from the mess, and you’re having breakfast with me, and you are going to tell me what’s wrong with you and your boy.”

Poe frowns up at Malik, remaining seated as he demands, “How—what are you talking about?” Malik doesn’t look particularly ravished either, now that he thinks to actually look, and he’s seen the older man after a wild night often enough to know what he’d look like, which only serves to further confuse Poe, because he woke up naked in Malik’s bed. “We—” he stars, staring at his ex with a sagging jaw, “We didn’t—”

Malik snorts and shakes his head, leaning forward to grab Poe’s hand and drag him to his feet, regardless of Poe’s soft grumbles of protest. “Of course we didn’t, hotshot. Not for a lack of trying on your part, I have to admit, but I'm not interested in being your piece on the side.”

He blinks up at Malik sluggishly, mouth gaping wide open, and in the back of his mind, he is certain he looks like a right fool. His head throbs as he tries to process everything he’s learned in the past half hour, from finding himself hungover and drunk and naked in his ex-boyfriend’s bed to finding he didn’t actually sleep with said ex-boyfriend—

“But I…” He trails off hesitantly, unsure what, exactly, he had been planning on saying—it seems Malik isn’t entirely concerned with what he’d been saying either, because the older man simply grips his hand tighter and nearly drags him to the door, into the smaller living area.

Poe remembers the first time he’d visited Malik in these quarters.

He’d been stunned by the sheer size of the rooms and he’d continued to be up until Malik told him he had lived there with his husband and little girl before he and said husband had split up. Leia had been kind enough to allow Malik to keep the family quarters for the rare occasion his ex-husband lets his baby girl—who is now seven and beginning to resent being called ‘baby girl’—visit him.

As a result, Malik has access to quarters with two bedrooms, a separate ‘fresher unit, a living area, and even a tiny kitchen unit. The living area is smaller than the bedrooms and ‘fresher, but it's no less warm and welcoming than the rest of his quarters, and Poe knows plenty of their men would give an arm and a leg to have quarters like these.

He lets Malik lead him towards the comfortable sofas that are arranged around the long table, plopping down onto the soft cushions with a resounding groan. Malik playfully shoves at his shoulder and laughs as he sits opposite him, pulling one of the plates heaped with pancakes towards him.

Poe’s eyes widen just a tad as he takes in the abundance of greasy breakfast foods Malik had piled onto the small table. There are, indeed, Franjo pancakes and Wrorshyr syrup with tall, sweating glasses of blue Bantha milk, but he also spots what looks like eggs and—stars.

Bacon.

“This is not fair,” Poe moans pitifully as he reaches for his cutlery, shoving a piece of the bacon—a rare delicacy since he had joined the Republic fleet and then the Resistance—into his mouth. “You’re playing on my weaknesses to get me to talk, you son of a Bantha.”

Malik chuckles and rolls his eyes at him as he neatly pours some syrup onto his pancake before cutting it into bite-sized pieces. “A man’s got to work with the tools he’s got, Dameron,” he finally replies as he settles back in his seat. “Now please, do tell me why I had to fend off your rather insistent advances to the point where you simply stripped, tossed your clothes at my face, and fell asleep on my bed.”

Poe wishes he would be able to say that the story sounds unlikely, but he knows himself well enough to know that his drunken self may have decided trying to hook up with his ex-boyfriend to forget about his current angry boyfriend was a good idea.

He sighs.

Drunk Poe has been known to make some slightly questionable decisions.

“I told Finn about a thing I did,” he starts. “Thing I might have done.” The hurt in Finn’s eyes flashes through his mind again and he aches, his entire body itching to run to wherever Finn is holed up and to beg for his forgiveness, to do anything to make Finn understand that Poe never meant to hurt him. “We fought,” he continues hoarsely, head tipping back to rest against the back of his seat as he blinks up at the ceiling.

He’d tried to explain, of course.

He’d tried to put everything that had happened on Jakku into words so Finn would understand, so he would know that Poe would rather die than ever see him hurt, but Finn hadn’t wanted to hear it—hadn’t even allowed Poe near him.

“Don’t you kriffing touch me!”

Finn’s outraged cry still rings in his ears, and the image of seeing his boyfriend draw his arm out of Poe’s reach as though the mere proximity of the other man was toxic is seared into his memory.

“When I left, I—” His breath catches in his throat and he leans forward, elbows on the table, as he rest his head in his hands. “I ran into Snap and Joph. They talked me into going with them to the bar and I just…” He snorts and laughs bitterly. “I’m an idiot who went along with it and probably ruined the best thing that’s ever happened to me because I couldn’t keep it in my pants.”

Finn had awoken something in him that had been dormant—dead—for years. Something he had no longer thought himself capable of, and while the younger man infuriates him at times by ignoring him, teasing him, continually putting himself in danger, Finn had triggered his will to live and to become more than simply the Resistance’s best pilot.

He’d fallen in love with Finn because he made him feel like the kind of person he had wanted to be.

Poe recalled asking his father, once, how he’d known Shara was the one for him. His father’s words had stuck with him to this day; but, until he had met Finn, he had not truly understood them.

“She brought out the best in me, son. And I knew I would be the best person I could be when I was with her, and she was the best person she could be when she was with me—with us. I love her more than life itself, Hijo, and she loved us the same.”

And stars, he loves Finn.

He adores him.

Nothing that could happen would ever diminish his feelings for Finn, nor would he wish for them to, but the uncertainty of knowing whether Finn feels so strongly about him as well is disheartening.

And he wishes to fight for Finn, for his place by Finn’s side—for his love—but he is no longer certain he deserves the right to fight for it. He’d killed someone Finn loved, he’d hurt Finn, and he’d been unable to even make himself regret it until the masked Stormtrooper’s relation to Finn had been revealed. Finn deserves much better than an old, emotionally stunted pilot with a semi-drinking problem and more commitment issues than Finn could ever imagine.

He knows that the fairest thing to do would be to let go and to allow Finn the freedom to pursue his dreams, whatever—and whoever—that may entail, regardless of how it would shatter him to do so.

He knows that it would be the best thing to do.

He just doubts whether he actually could do it.

He jumps when the cushion dips slightly at his right, before Malik’s hand settles on his back, rubbing in soothing circles as Poe struggles to recall how to breathe without feeling like he’ll fall apart at the seams.

“Nothing happened between you and me, flyboy,” Malik mutters quietly. “You kissed me once, when I opened the door, and then I shoved you off. You passed out pretty soon after that—you didn’t do anything, I swear. You slept in the bed, I slept on the sofa.”

“But I wanted to,” Poe groans, his voice muffled slightly by his palms. “I came here with those intentions. Does that not say enough about me? Finn deserves someone who wouldn’t—wouldn’t even think—”

“You’re not—” Malik breaks off and shakes his head. “Look, you’re a nerfherder and you got a boatload of issues, but there’s no questioning that you love that kid. And he loves you. Whatever it is that’s got you two on the outs, I’m sure you can work it out.”

“I killed his last boyfriend,” Poe blurts as he sits up, turning to look at Malik with bleary eyes.

The words don’t feel as heavy as they had when he spoke to Finn, but they are no less shocking, and he can nearly feel their impact reverberating in the air. Malik’s jaw is sagging as he stares at him, and Poe can only smile wryly as he reaches out to stuff another piece of his bacon in his mouth.

“Don’t think there’s a way to come back from that,” he continues quietly, poking at the pancakes on his plate sadly. “Maybe if I’d told him sooner, but—” He breaks off abruptly when Malik’s hand claps over his mouth, barely repressing the childish urge to lick at the older man’s palm until he releases him. Instead, he placidly allows Malik to turn him so they’re sitting face to face, curling one leg beneath him as he does so.

“You killed his last boyfriend?” Malik echoes incredulously, raising an eyebrow at Poe. “How the kriff did you do that? He was in the First Order—” He drops his hand from Poe’s lips, his eyes widening as his mouth forms a perfectly round little ‘o’. “One of the troopers before you got captured?”

Poe nods mutely, wrapping his arms around himself as he remembers all the stories Finn had told him of Slip—of a handsome young man that had been terribly bad at being a trooper but had tried so hard. He feels sick when he recalls how easy it had been to pull the trigger, how easy and uncomplicated it had been to kill faceless men in white plastoid armor before he met Finn and he was forced to face that there were real people behind those masks—men and women who had no choice in fighting for the First Order.

Men like Slip and Finn and Force knows how many others.

“Poe,” Malik says quietly, wrapping his hands around Poe’s. “You couldn’t have known. You were defending yourself—they were trying to kill you. We’re at war with them, for Force’s sake!”

“They’re people,” Poe croaks, squeezing his eyes shut in a desperate attempt to hide the tears that threaten to roll down his cheeks. “They had no choice in this and I killed them. And Finn—I could’ve—I might very well have killed the love of his life, and I can’t ever take that back.”

You’re the love of his life, Poe,” Malik exclaims, squeezing his fingers around Poe’s harshly. “He may be hurt and he may be upset with you, but he loves you. Give him a chance to forgive you.”

“I wouldn't,” Poe admits quietly, hand curling into a fist as he voices his greatest fear. “I wouldn't forgive me. How can I expect him to when I can't even forgive myself?” Malik falls silent after that and Poe wishes he wasn’t the kind of person to take that silence as an answer, but he is, and he knows that, whatever Malik will try to say next, he agrees with Poe.

Finn won’t ever forgive him for killing someone he loved, no matter how he feels about Poe.

He wouldn’t do it either—he hasn’t.  

“This isn’t just about Finn, is it?” Malik finally asks softly. “Poe… What’s going on?”

The question takes him by surprise, and he feels much like the wind has been knocked from his lungs, like Malik has shoved him into a wall and punched him too, for good measure, even though he realizes the older man only asks out of genuine concern.

It's just—

He's barely allowed himself to acknowledge the bigger reason he is generally a hot mess concerning emotions and relationships, especially this time of year, so it almost baffles him how Malik would even be able to know.

Neither of them had officially been a part of the Resistance when—

No.

He heads that thought off before it can take root in his mind and shoots a quick glare towards his ex, though he does realise the look likely falls flat due to the treacherous tears that still burn in his eyes.

“I hurt Finn,” Poe replies tersely, frowning down at where Malik’s hand is still touching his. “That's what's going on. I feel horrible, and I do stupid things when I feel bad.” He managed a self-deprecating grin and shrugs. “Isn't that one of the reason you dumped me too?”  

“It is not, you knucklehead, and you know it. Look…” Malik hesitates, and Poe almost feels bad for being deliberately obtuse, but not quite bad enough to allow himself to admit what truly bothers him. “I’m not getting into this with you again. We’ve been over this, and you and I both know that’s not what this is about at all.” Poe winces, but Malik continues, unperturbed by Poe’s discomfort and sudden fidgeting.

“It’s fine if you don’t want to talk about this—or her—with me. Just… Talk to someone, okay?”

Poe doesn’t reply, instead choosing to shove another piece of bacon in his mouth and chewing it slowly as he attempts to find a way to escape Malik’s intense and all-too-knowing gaze. Before he can say or do anything though, Malik slaps his hand down on his shoulder and booms, “Now, get out and go deal with your shit. Your boy deserves better than to have you mope around. You deserve better.”

Malik shoves him up and off his seat, pushing his jacket into his hands, before ushering him towards the door and outside, leaving him with a cheery, “Talk to you later, Dameron.”

Poe stands gobsmacked in the middle of the hallway, boots only half tied and his clothes ruffled and distinctly smelling of cheap alcohol, jacket in his arms, as he attempts to figure out how he went from eating breakfast with Malik to being kicked out in less than two minutes.

A pair of cadets squeeze past him, chuckling at his appearance and whispering behind their hands, and Poe’s stomach drops to his feet. “Kriff,” he curses. “Kriff. Now everyone will now.” He shakes his head and sighs, shrugging his jacket on as he sets down the hallway towards the room he shares with Finn.

“Time to face the music.”

.

.

.

SIX DAYS LATER
X-WING TARMAC—RESISTANCE BASE—D’QAR

Poe recalled the exact moment he had decided to join the Resistance.

It hadn’t been, as his friends liked to think, the moment he’d seen Leia Organa and Han Solo, nor had it been after the older man had both praised and scolded him for his rashness on the Yssira Zyde’s case. He had, honestly, still been in shock after losing his best friend to the First Order and having to face off against two dozen TIE-fighters before he’d managed to escape by completing a move so complicated no one but his uncle had ever been able to do it.

It had actually been Karé, who had tearfully ranted about fighting the First Order during their return to Mirren Prime after they’d lost Muran, that made up his mind. Karé and Muran had known each other for far longer than Poe had known them both, and everyone had known that their relationship went a lot deeper than friendship, even if it had never been more than platonic.

Muran deserved justice, and it hadn’t looked like the Republic was keen on giving it to him.

They’d talked about it, after he, Karé and Iolo had accepted Han and Leia’s offer, piled on top of Muran’s old bunk together with every bottle of moonshine they’d been able to get their hands on.

Poe may have been their commander, but they were his friends first, and he’d refused to make this kind of decision without making damn sure they were all sure about what they were getting into. He and Karé had both been terrible messes after losing Muran, but they’d made the formal announcement and left the Republic the next day.

He and Karé had been terribly mentally unstable, but Iolo had pulled them through.

He had not, as it was often regaled, led them into desertion and towards the Resistance.

Instead, they had taken his hands and each led him there, side-by-side every step of the way.

They’d been thick as thieves for many years, and Poe could hardly remember a time when they hadn’t been in his life in one way or another—so it had been exceedingly difficult for all of them when both Iolo and Karé had been assigned to a long-term mission on Dantooine, without Poe there to have their back and vice versa.

He’d missed them.                                               

He’d been, quite honestly, slightly miserable without them.

Meeting Rey and, a while later, Finn had done quite the job at alleviating the loneliness he had been wallowing in, but he has to admit that he had found himself quite in need of his friends and their—sometimes slightly questionable—advice.

He crosses his arms over his chest with a soft grunt, leaning back against Black One as BB-8 wobbles excitedly at his feet. He’d not spoken to Finn, per his request, since he’d confessed to—probably—killing Slip, and every time he had entered a room Finn was also in, Finn had ducked away and disappeared, underlining just how unwilling to talk to Poe he was.

Poe doesn’t really blame him either.

He had conceded to the wish for time and space Finn had expressed in the short note he’d left for Poe in their quarters, leaving Finn the use of their quarters while he bunked on the rackety old sofa in his office. He knows, rationally, that he and Finn need to talk, and that he’ll need to come clean to Finn about a few things he’s never mentioned to anyone, but the idea is frightening and he really doesn’t want to. It has nothing to do with Finn personally—Poe just hasn’t ever talked about… everything, not even with the people that were there at the time, and he doesn’t know how.

“Commander!”

He looks up at the shout, his gaze sliding across the tarmac until it lands on Malik, who is busy checking things off on his datapad, and another ground technician whose name escapes him.

“Yeah?” he calls back, pushing off the side of Black One, BB-8 following him closely.

Malik offers him a tight grin when he joins them and angles the datapad so Poe can see the radar images that the Control Center had sent him. “ETA is about three minutes,” Malik starts, tracing the expected flight path of the incoming X-wings with his finger. “But it looks like one of them took some hyperspace damage, so we should prepare the ground crew for a possible emergency landing.”

Poe’s stomach swoops unpleasantly at the thought of losing one of the pilots—of losing Karé or Iolo—when they’re so close to making it to their base safely.

“Do we know who took damage and how severe it is?” he asks, taking the datapad from Malik as the other man turns to issue orders to prep the tarmac for emergency landing.

“No,” the younger tech with flaming red hair and a shy smile pipes up when Malik doesn’t reply. “The comms are spotty, which isn’t unusual after a long hyperspace journey. We barely managed to confirm that it was, in fact, Stiletto Squadron when they first pinged on our radars.”

Poe frowns, but nods and crosses his arms over his chest again. It feels foolish to be so impatient—three minutes should be nothing after not having seen his friends for over two years—but he can’t help it. He’s missed his friends and he’s desperate to have someone to talk to who he hasn’t slept with at one point in his life.

(And that one time when they were all drunk off their asses back in the Academy does not count.)

Malik is great, but it will never not feel awkward to talk to his ex about his love life.

The high-pitched screech of low-flying X-wings snaps him from his thoughts again, and his head tilts upward just in time to catch sight of the three approaching X-wings, flying in the Diamonds Parade Formation that they’d employed all too often back in the New Republic.

He laughs, because of course Karé had them fly in formation upon returning, and rocks back and forth on his heels impatiently as he watches the grounds techs guide the fighters onto the ground safely.

His entire body is thrumming with anticipation, his gaze rapidly flicking back and forth between the damaged X-wing on the emergency landing pad and the other two. The relief of seeing all three X-wings land without further complications is intoxicating, and he can barely keep himself from losing all sense of decorum and rushing forward to drag his friends from their cockpits to hug them.

He rocks back and forth on his heels impatiently as the post-landing check-ups and diagnostics are being run, and he’s not felt this level of excitement in years.

He knows they’ll not have a lot of time together right away—there’s mandatory post-hyperspace physical check-ups, debrief, tech reports to fill out, meetings to be planned—but he’ll just be really glad to see them, to be able to talk to them in person, even if it’s just for a moment.

He nearly jumps when one of the X-wings' hatches springs open and someone loudly bellows, “Dameron!” Instead, he laughs in recognition and jogs over to the X-wing, gently pushing past the ground techies fussing over the abused equipment until he’s reached the ladder. “Get your cute butt out here, Karé!” he shouts up towards the open cockpit, grinning wildly when he’s answered by excited laughter.

Before long, a slim figure with tan skin and a shock of short blonde hair leaps out of the cockpit and straight into Poe’s arms, laughing joyously as she does.

“Oh, I’ve missed you, you stupid nerfherder,” she whispers as she holds him tightly, and Poe has to blink away the sudden sting of tears in his eyes. He hadn’t truly realized how much he’d missed her and Iolo until he has them back by his side. He slips his arms around her and hugs her tight, remaining mum, because he doesn’t think there are words to say how much he’d missed her.

He’s aware he’ll need to let them go soon, let them get to debrief and then the medbay before they’ll even get the chance to catch up properly, but he’ll be damned if he doesn’t take this moment at least.

He’s so caught up by Karé and Iolo, who claps him on the back when he’s disembarked his own X-wing, that he doesn’t catch sight of Finn until Iolo hauls him from Karé’s arms into his own. He catches Finn’s eye over Iolo’s shoulder and the way Finn hovers uncertainly at the far end of the tarmac, almost as though he’s not certain he’s welcome there, makes Poe ache.

There’s nothing he would rather do that introduce Finn to Iolo and Karé, holding him close and pressing kisses to the side of his face while Finn squirmed and tried to talk to his friends awkwardly.

He moves without thinking, slowly extracting himself from Iolo’s embrace to walk towards Finn—

But the younger man’s eyes widen, filled with an emotion Poe can’t quite place, before he shakes his head and turns on his heel, rushing off the tarmac and towards the medbay so fast he is nearly running.

Poe’s heart clenches painfully at the sight of Finn walking away from him again, and he isn’t quite able to hide the hitch in his breath, because suddenly his two friends are in front of him again, and Karé’s hand is warm and soft on his cheek, and the concern in her eyes is almost too much to bear.

“Poe,” she whispers when he looks away, unable to look at her. “Who was that?”

“No one,” he shrugs, desperately aiming for levity but failing miserably. He knows they don’t believe him the moment the words fall from his lips, because saying Finn is no one, even just to get his friends off his back for a moment, tears him apart on the inside.

“You’re a terrible liar, Dameron,” Iolo intones drolly, patting him on the shoulder.

“I—”

“Kun! Arana! Debrief and medbay! You know the drill.”

The interruption couldn’t have been better timed if Poe had arranged for it himself, but the twin looks of determination on his friend’s faces tell him that he’s not off the hook yet by far.

“We are talking about this later, Poe,” Karé tells him seriously, poking him in the chest as she does, before turning on her heel and following Ematt towards the main building for their debrief.

He sighs in relief.

Later.

.

.

.

LATER
OFFICERS OFFICE ASSIGNED TO POE DAMERON—RESISTANCE BASE—D’QAR

“A stormtrooper, Dameron? Really?”

Poe sighs and rubs his fingers over his temples as he looks up from the mess of datapads on his desk to find his two friends leaning against the doorpost, each holding a bottle of clear liquid that can only be illegally obtained moonshine.

He has a lot more work to do; an evacuation to plan, three more reconnaissance runs to check and approve and a report to draft for General Calrissian.

All of that, naturally, can wait until after his friends are done trying to get him drunk so he’ll spill all of his dirty secrets to them—which he will anyway, because they’re convincing nerfherders and he’s more than a little desperate to talk about everything with someone.

They’ve both changed out of their flight suits and into their civvies, and Poe can tell they’ve both recently hit the ‘fresher due to the rosy hue in Karé’s cheeks and the dampness of their hair.

“Who told you?” He demands tiredly, pushing himself away from the desk with a weary sigh as Karé strolls inside and plops herself down on the couch as Iolo kicks the door shut before turning his eyes—dark and beautiful in a way that never ceases to unnerve Poe—on him.

“Everyone seems to know about it,” Iolo remarks casually, before settling himself on the couch beside Karé. Poe watches as he wrinkles his nose in derision and pokes the seat next to his. “Have you really been sleeping on this thing, Poe? You have a perfectly serviceable bed in your quarters. Why the hell have you not been using it? And who’s this Stormtrooper kid that we’ve been hearing about?”

“Finn,” Poe snaps without thinking, guilt immediately curling in his stomach at the stricken expression on both Karé’s and Iolo’s faces. “His name is Finn,” he repeats, slower and calmer, rubbing a hand through his hair as he leans back in his chair. “H—he saved my life, and I—stars, I love him.”

The words feel like they’re torn from his lips rather than a voluntary admission, and he curls in on himself automatically, pressing his hand against his breastbone hard, wishing the physical discomfort of the gesture would just be enough to make him forget.

It is, naturally, not, as he had known it wouldn’t be.

He leans back in his office chair with a weary sigh, pressing his knuckles against his eyes until he sees little bursts of light erupting behind his closed eyelids. His head feels heavy and his mind is tired and worn, and he has so many things to worry about he can barely figure out where to start.  He doesn’t realize he’s said that out loud until Karé suddenly kneels before him, her hands pressed against the tops of his thighs as she looks at him intently.

“Start from the beginning,” she orders him gently.

And so he does.

For the first time in years, the words spill from his lips without much consideration for his audience, and he surprises even himself with the depth of his hurt over the events of the past few years. His voice wavers, at the end, when he fearfully regales his friends with the attack on Starkiller and its devastating aftermath, but he does not break until he tells them of Rey’s death.

“I should have saved her,” he sobs, hunching forward to bury his face into his hands as undeniable guilt eats its way through his inside, mercilessly consuming all in its path until all he can feel is guilt and hurt.

He should have fought harder, should have worked harder to stop the prostitution ring in the Resistance, he should have made sure none of the girls, not just Rey, would’ve been forced into selling their bodies in exchange for food, and he should have known better than to callously shoot every Stormtrooper in his path, because they were people too, and he should have known that before he broke Finn’s heart—

He should have done ever so many things, and he had failed at all of them.

 A sob falls from his lips before he can stop himself, and he barely hears Karé’s soft, “Oh, Poe,” before he is dragged to his feet by Iolo, who wraps his arms around him and holds him with a steadiness Poe hadn’t felt in decades—not since the last time he had hugged his father.

Iolo simply holds him, with Karé’s hands tracing a steady circle between his shoulders, as he sobs until he cannot anymore, until he doesn’t feel like he’s tearing himself apart at the seams simply by existing.

Until he doesn’t feel much of anything anymore.

Slowly, he allows his friends to pull him to the couch, leading him until he’s sitting sandwiched between them with the bottle of alcohol they’d brought pressed into his hands. “How did things get this messed up?” He questions dully, taking a large swig of the alcohol, only wincing a little at the sharp burn, before handing the bottle off to Karé.

“I don’t know, gatito,” Iolo says sagely, dragging his long fingers through Poe’s hair.

The latter heaves another heavy sigh and leans his head on Iolo’s shoulder, wholly unconcerned with how tactile both his friends are being towards him. They’d always been close, and physical touch had always been a way to ground and steady them when they felt untethered and unstable.

“I can’t believe we didn’t know Jess was doing such terrible things,” Karé breathes in horrified astonishment, and unease curls in the pit of his stomach as he nods to agree.

He squeezes her fingers when she slips them between his and rests their hands against his thigh, staring ahead blankly as he tries to form any semblance of coherent thoughts. He feels lighter, oddly, after getting everything off his chest, but the knot in the pit of his stomach has not lessened at all, sitting uncomfortably, making his gut churn uneasily.

“I don’t know what to do,” he admits quietly, shamefully, because he is supposed to be the leader, the one offering the answers and the one solving problems rather than drowning in them.

Iolo tugs on his hair softly and snorts before replying, “Well, I’d go make up with your boyfriend, for one.”

Karé chuckles on his other side, and he begins to question the wisdom of having confided in them—because honestly, much as he loves Finn, he is not quite delusional enough to think his every problem will be solved by getting laid again—when she speaks up. “He’s right. You deserve to have someone like your Finn by your side to tackle the rest of this poodoo. And you’re a stupid nerfherder, so you should really just listen to us and get off your ass and talk to him.”

The worst thing is that he knows she’s right.

Knowing that she is right, however, does nothing to aid him to decide what to do.

They sit in silence for a while longer, piled together in one big tangle of limbs, passing the bottle of moonshine back and forth as they stare ahead, simply relishing in being together again.

Poe’s just about nodding off, head lolling back onto Iolo’s shoulder, when his office door suddenly slams open, and all three of them jump, limbs flailing as they nearly tumble off of Poe’s couch. “What the kriff, man?” Karé screeches as she untangles herself from Poe and Iolo, glaring at the man who’d appeared in the door and is now looking at them with wide eyes and parted lips and—

Oh. Finn.

And it feels so juvenile, to stand—sit—there, staring at Finn without saying or doing anything, without offering an apology or explanation or anything to help Finn understand that the last thing Poe had ever wanted to do was hurt him.

“Hey,” he says breathlessly, gracelessly trying to extract himself from Iolo without falling flat on his face.

Finn’s eyes flit from him to Iolo and Karé and back again, and he’s wearing the same unreadable expression as he had on the tarmac earlier, and Poe has no idea what to make of it. “Hi,” Finn finally replies, voice even and void of emotions.

There’s another short, painfully awkward silence before Iolo clears his throat loudly and announces, “Well, I’m starved. C’mon Karé, let’s go see what kind of poodoo the mess is passing off as food today.” Karé follows Iolo silently, and it’s almost eerie to see her so serious and quiet, but he doesn’t have much time to dwell on it, because he’s alone with Finn, and he’s still just staring at him.

“I don’t know what to say to you,” Finn says dully, and for the first time, Poe realizes Finn’s eyes are rimmed with red, and there are dark shadows beneath them, and he has never seen Finn look this tired before. “I want to yell at you,” Finn continues, and it breaks Poe’s heart to see tears shimmering in Finn’s eyes again, “and I want to be so angry with you, but—”

The younger man’s voice breaks and a quiet sob falls from his lips, and Poe can’t—

He launches forward, ignoring the way Finn’s breath hitches when his back presses against the door and Poe’s hands land heavily on his cheeks. “I’m sorry,” Poe mutters, his own eyes burning with tears. “I’m so sorry, Finn. If I could take it back, I would.”

He leans in to brush his lips against Finn’s, because he can’t not kiss him, and he swears Finn kisses him back for the briefest of moments before he shoves him back roughly.  He stumbles back a few paces until his lower back presses against the edge of his desk and Finn is glaring at him, chest heaving with panting breaths.

“You don’t get to—” Finn exclaims angrily, stepping forward with a furrowed brow and the corners of his lips turned down into a frown. “You can’t just kiss it better, Poe!”

The words feel like a slap to the face and he rears back, his stomach knotting uneasily as he stares at Finn. “Is that—I wasn’t trying to—stars, Finn, I don’t know what to do! I know I can’t kiss it better, for kriff’s sake, but I don’t know what else to do!” He shouting by the end of it, and he’s fairly certain anyone out in the hallways can hear them,  but he doesn’t care.

“Neither do I!” Finn cries, throwing his hands up in desperation. “Do you think this is easy for me? I love you, so much, but you killed him, Poe.” Finn’s voice breaks again and Poe winces, because he knows, and he’s trying to make it better, somehow, even if he keeps failing. “He was all I had,” Finn whispers brokenly, and Poe has to squeeze his eyes shut at the sight of tears spilling over  Finn’s cheeks.

“I love you,” he whispers helplessly, sagging back against his desk tiredly.

“I know,” Finn replies sadly, hands clenching into fists at his sides. “I just don’t know if that’s enough.”

Chapter Text

Will to Believe

“What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.” 
― Bertrand Russell

Kylo

“If you are going to have an opinion on something, ingane,” Luke intones drolly, “you need to be certain you have informed yourself of all the facts.” He and Kylo watch with slight amusement as Rey shoves the datapad she’d been holding away, a soft groan of frustration falling from her lips as she tips forward, burying her face in her arms.

“This is terrible,” she moans dramatically. “There is no discerning what is the truth and what is lies spread in order to intimidate and indoctrinate.”

Despite the distinct air of discomfort and awkwardness that remains between him and his uncle, Kylo allows a small smile to tug up the corner of his lips as he exchanges a glance with the Jedi Master. 

The eye contact lasts no longer than a couple of seconds before they both look away, refocusing their attention onto Rey, who is still making slightly disgruntled noises from within the safety of her own arms. He leans forward to pat her shoulder in a gesture that is meant to comfort her slightly.

He has little clue if it actually serves as intended, but she does not complain, so he takes it as a win.

Relations between the three of them had remained strained and cumbersome for some time as they all recovered from the horrifying ordeal Darth Bane had put them through.

Even re-acclimatizing to the feel of Rey in his mind had taken Kylo several days. Their bond had been warped and twisted under Bane’s wrathful attention, and now that his oppressive spirit was gone, the intensity of their connection had been entirely overwhelming for him.

The addition… or rather, re-addition… of his tentative, frayed, barely-there training bond with Luke had not helped matters.

It had, however, helped establish a measure of peace between the two men.

While they had not actually spoken the words aloud, both Kylo and Luke had decided to leave the past behind them for the time being. They had much bigger matters to concern themselves with, such as the mystery of the malfunctioning lightsaber and how it had ended up in the tomb along with Luke’s old one.

They’d not yet found the answers, Kylo mused distractedly, and in their search, they had turned once again to the archives, which had led them to their current predicament.

“That is the point, Rey. History will always present us with a skewed view of the past, simply because it is the victor that gains the right to tell the tale. Take the war between the Empire and the Rebellion,” he proposes, gently coaxing her back into a seated position. “As the New Republic tells the tale, there were no good things in the Empire. They ruled by fear and violence, and they only managed to remain in power for so long because they were ruled by the Sith.”

“Is that not the truth?” Rey frowns at him. “Darth Vader and Darth Sidious beat down anyone who had the gall to stand up to them.”

He raises a single eyebrow at her and nods, before reaching out, gently pushing the datapad back towards her with his fingertips. “Did they? That is what the New Republic wrote, after they had won the war. Imagine the same from the Empire’s point of view. The Rebellion acted against the established power, bombed both civilian and military transports, interrupted supply lines that caused famine and food shortages on several planets and blew up their primary defence force. In essence, they were terrorists.”

Rey gapes at him, and he can tell he has struck a chord.

The silence is broken by a sudden chuckle, and they both flinch a little as Luke sits back in his chair, eyebrows hitched high on his forehead, hands covered by the long sleeves on his ratty cloak. “That is, of course, but one side of the story as well, my umshana. I’m sure the Empire had its merits—it would not have stood for as long as it did if it did not—but as a man who grew up on a planet that was mostly ignored by the Chancellor and left to the tender mercy of Hutts because we had little to offer him, I can assure you that the Rebellion did not make up any of the atrocities they accused the Empire of. They didn’t have to.”

Kylo barely resists the urge to snarl at his uncle for using the old term of endearment, but he has long since stopped trying to fight him on it. The first time Luke had called him ‘nephew’ in Jawaese after he had arrived on Moraband and revealed himself to them, Kylo had nearly taken the other man’s head off—but Rey had stopped him and made him explain what it meant.

Honesty did bid him to say that Luke had tried to stop, but it had been obvious that the Jedi was so used to calling Kylo umshana that stopping seemed nearly impossible. Eventually, he had told his uncle to just call him whatever he wanted, and settled for rolling his eyes whenever the other man did so. He did so this time as well, before continuing to address Rey.

“Be that as it may,” he shoots another look at Luke, “it is all too easy to get lost in a certain way to regard the galaxy and its history. It’s also easy to look at it from a solely human perspective, disregarding the fact that we are only one of millions of sentient species, not to mention one of the youngest and by far the least interesting ones.”

He pauses, almost surprised when Luke grins and waves his hand loosely, shaking his head. “Oh no, please, continue. I wholly agree that human arrogance has caused many of our kind to wear blinders, of sorts, to the immense potential of other species.”

It is a profound statement, and one Kylo has to admit he did not entirely expect either.

It is not, honestly, that he thinks his uncle incapable of such statements, but mostly that he has taught himself to think the worst of the other man over the past decade. He’s spent so much time convincing himself that Luke was as much of a hypocrite and a liar as his parents had turned out to be that he finds himself floundering now, each time his uncle turns out to be more like he remembers him.

Rey makes a small, non-committal noise, and he looks away from his uncle to find her reaching for the datapad again before her entire body stiffens and she gasps in a deep breath, the tips of her fingers barely resting on the piece of durasteel and glass.

The moment lasts for no more than a second before she relaxes and exhales, but Kylo has seen the same happen often enough in the past few days to recognize the symptoms of yet another vision.

It is hardly the first time he has been present to see Rey snap out of a vision—it is not even the first time Luke is present—but Kylo can immediately tell that whatever this vision had shown, it rattled Rey in a way very little does, these days.

Her breath wheezes in her lungs as she exhales shakily and she stares ahead blankly, eyes shiny with unshed tears, her side of the Bond roiling with a tangle of emotions so powerful and complicated he can’t even begin to understand what she’s going through.

“Rey,” he says calmly, reaching for her hand gingerly. “Are you okay?”

“I…” She falls silent, and he exchanges a slightly desperate look with his uncle, who seems equally at a loss. He has no idea what Rey saw, but he’s got an inkling that it might be something related to either her time at the Resistance base or her first few days at Starkiller base—those are usually the only two subjects that can shake her to her core.

“I think I’ll go for a stroll,” Luke says with a forcibly bright smile. “I’ll see you two in an hour for katas.”

Kylo watches his uncle move away from them for a moment before he slides off his seat and into the one next to Rey. She turns into his embrace before he has even opened his arms, a soft sob falling from her lips as she latches onto him. “I don’t—I can’t—” she sobs noisily, fingers clutching at his tunic.

He is frankly at a loss of what to do or say, and instead hugs her close, rubbing his hand over her back in what he hopes is a soothing gesture. “What was it this time?” he inquires softly. “What did you see?”

“I don’t know!” she wails angrily, slamming her fist against his shoulder in frustration. “I have no idea what that was supposed to mean, and I can’t—it makes no sense!”

“Do any of your visions make sense?” It is probably not the gentlest thing he could have said, but it makes her snort with laughter regardless, and he counts that as a win.

“It was Hux,” she finally whispers, pressing her face into the crook of his neck, the cold tip of her nose dragging against his skin, causing him to shiver just a tad. The mention of the disgraced general’s name makes him tense, though, tightening his arms around Rey just a little.

“He saved me,” she chokes. “Why would he save me? Why would the Force show me that?”

Her voice is thick with tears and fear and frustration, and not for the first time, Kylo finds himself at a complete loss of words—there is nothing he can say that would make sense of Rey’s vision, and he’s painfully aware of his shortcomings in said department.

“I don’t know,” he admits begrudgingly. “We’ll figure it out. We will.”

.

.

.

He had tucked Rey into bed carefully, more than a little concerned by how lethargic she had been after the vision of Hux of all people. She hadn’t been able to stop sobbing, fear tearing through their Bond, shattering Kylo’s already weak defences, and he hadn’t even been able to provide her with any answers to soothe her frantic mind.

He has no idea what is causing the visions anymore, and he has no idea how to stop them.

He feels powerless and he’s been forced to feel that way far too often of late, and he is very much incapable of handling that feeling with any amount of grace.

He is, however, determined to find the answers that Rey seeks—that he seeks. The answers they have sought concerning lightsabers and Force bonds can wait.

This. This is far of far greater importance.

He slows to a stop in front of the door that leads to Luke’s chambers, the light streaming from beneath it making his skin crawl just a tad. He is well aware his uncle had felt him approach from the moment he entered the hallway, and though Kylo had barely been able to remain civil to the man, despite their unspoken truce, he does appreciate that the older man gives him the mere semblance of privacy in order to gather his thoughts.

He’s accepted his uncle’s help because Rey had demanded he should—because he knew they needed his uncle if they were ever to reach their goal of balance within the Force.

They needed the Dark and the Light alike.

He could accept his uncle’s help on this if it were to prove beneficial to Rey.

“Were you planning to come in at all tonight?” Luke asks when his door hisses open, a small, slightly awkward grin playing at his lips, almost hidden by his bushy grey beard as he leans casually against the doorjamb, arms crossed across his chest. “Or would you prefer to brood in the hallway for a bit longer?”

“I don’t brood,” Kylo denies immediately, though his cheeks flush with heat, because he had been brooding a little. “I came to ask for… advice.” The words feel thick and awkward on his tongue as he speaks them, and he’s sure his uncle can feel his uneasiness, but the other man simply nods and steps aside to let him inside.

He does so uneasily, shifting uncomfortably in the small space as his uncle shuts the door behind him. He had been in this room numerous times during his and Rey’s initial stay on Moraband, and it is slightly unnerving to see the difference between how his uncle preferred to utilise the space and how his… how Rey had used it.

When Rey had occupied the room, she had piled every blanket, each sheet, and all the pillows she could find onto the slim cot in the corner of the room. She was increasingly fond of soft things and liked to surround herself with them, preferring to sleep bundled up in as many blankets as she could fit onto her bed. Her tendency to hog the covers had made him smile the first time he had noticed it, when he had awoken with cold toes and sans sheets to find a Rey-shaped lump of blankets on the bed beside his.

It had appeared she even stole sheets from another bed while lost deep in sleep.

After having seen the room in Rey’s hands, it is almost painful to watch it in his uncle’s. Kylo finds himself more than a little caught off guard by how empty and sparse the room is now, with the single bed covered in simple, thin sheets pushed into the corner, and a single mat on the floor that Kylo knows is used for meditation.

He had used similar ones in the academy often enough to be well aware of how little protection the mats offer against the cold stone floors. Uncle had always maintained that it was an asset in teaching them how to focus on things beyond the physical when meditating.

He’d always believed it was a load of Bantha poodoo, but he knows his uncle still insists on it from Rey.  

He does not, however, offer up complaint when Luke sits on the mat and follows the Master Jedi’s example, settling cross-legged on the straw mat across from Luke as he tries to decide which issue to address first—his personal concerns, or Rey’s visions.

“How fares Rey?” Luke asks calmly, before he can say anything.

And though Luke has only known Rey for a very short amount of time, Kylo can tell that his uncle genuinely cares for her, and that he is quite eager to know the answer.

It is, if not startling, odd to find himself not alone in caring for Rey.

“As well as can be expected,” he offers reluctantly. “She is tiring of having no answers to her questions.”

Luke nods in understanding, brow furrowed in thought. “I assume that is why you have sought me out, ingane. To seek those answers and see if I may provide them.”

Kylo remains mum, unwilling to admit that he needs his uncle’s help, but unwilling to dismiss the man, as well. It is a difficult position to find himself in, and though he needs to trust the man, he does not think himself capable of actually doing so anymore.

Not fully anyway.

“These visions are wholly unlike anything I have encountered thus far,” Luke continues, forehead crinkling with a deep frown as he scratches at his beard, and though Kylo would like nothing more than to simply ignore the man and their multitude of issues altogether, he is far too concerned about Rey to let the opportunity to speak to the only person who knows the Force better than he does slide.

“They are draining her energy,” Kylo presses, leaning forward, dark eyes fastened upon his uncle’s. “Is it possible they are sent by those with malicious intent towards her?”

He only hopes that his uncle will be able to provide some insight.

“The Force rarely offers clarity in visions,” Luke mutters, though Kylo is well aware his uncle is merely musing aloud, mind whirring at speeds Kylo is not sure he will ever comprehend. “And there is very little that would allow Rey to see past as well as present and future without visiting the actual site where the memory occurred,” Luke continues, absently tapping durasteel fingers to bottom lip.

Kylo groans quietly and rubs his thumb and forefinger over the bridge of his nose.

“It’s driving her crazy, uncle. There has to be something I—we—can do to help her.” His words sound desperate even though his own ears, and he looks away from his uncle shamefully, unobtrusively taking a moment to gather himself, regaining control over himself.

He has not lost his temper this easily since well before he had met Rey, but the impressions he gains from Rey’s mind through the Bond are driving him mad, and his impressions are only second-hand.

He cannot imagine what it must feel like to Rey.   

Fear still claws at his insides as he looks up at the older man, and his heart is pounding, high up in his throat, constricting his breathing even as he attempts to calm himself down. His hold upon the Force feels precarious at best, and he is slipping—and then Luke’s hand falls heavy on his shoulder, the weight of it comforting and familiar, and he leans into the soothing touch subconsciously, allowing Luke’s calm and steady presence to reassure him as he has not in years.

The moment lasts no more than a few heartbeats before his uncle’s hand slips from his shoulder, but it rattles Kylo all the same, and when he looks up, his uncle looks equally shaken. It occurs to Kylo that it had been the very first time his uncle had offered him a touch outside of sparring with one another.

He does not know how to feel about that.

“You are strong,” Luke intones steadily, slowly. “Lend her your strength when she needs it.”

I do,” Kylo insists heatedly, cheeks flushing at the implication that he would not offer everything he had to aid his apprentice. “But she is unravelling. The visions happen more often and the things they show are… upsetting to say the least.”

He does not even mean to imply Rey’s latest vision of Hux, but the ones where she had been forced to watch Poe Dameron die in a fiery crash, the reliving of his grandfather’s duel with Obi Wan Kenobi and the shattered remains of their Force Bond and the scenes that made little sense at all, but that always left Rey gasping for breath desperate, with tears running down her cheeks.

He looks up to meet his uncle’s pensive gaze and shrugs helplessly. “I simply want to help her.”

Luke is silent for a moment before he heaves a sigh and runs his mechanical fingers through his hair. He looks tired, and older than Kylo ever recalls him looking before, but his blue eyes are sharp and his expression is thoughtful. “I admit I have felt an upset in the Force,” he replies cautiously, measuring his words carefully before he speaks them aloud. “It is something I have not encountered before, but I assumed it was merely the lingering sense of Darth Bane. Perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps these visions Rey is experiencing are not so much visions as they are echoes.”

Kylo frowns, unsure of what his uncle is implying, but before he can say anything, Luke gestures impatiently and continues, “Events, that resonate through the Force, not quite strong enough to leave a wound or a scar, but strong enough to cause a ripple. An echoing wave that reaches only those with the Force and the right sensitivity for it—like Rey.” 

Kylo leans forward, resting his forearms upon his knees as he tries to fit Luke’s theory with the things he had thought he had known about the Force. Snoke had been a ruthless teacher, unwilling to entertain any interpretation of the Force but his own, even with evidence to disprove his ideas.

“There were rumors,” he divulges slowly, unsure of how his Knights—if any of them even survived—would feel about him giving away their closely held secrets. “I knew of a woman who said she was capable of manipulating reality with the Force. She described the aftereffects of her work as ‘ripples’ that tore through the Force.”

He can tell his words are a surprise to Luke, whose eyes widen a fraction before he schools his expression into something carefully neutral. “While indeed an interesting coincidence… perhaps it is of no true consequence,” Luke offers, though it is a hollow suggestion and they both know it.

“Even so,” Kylo shakes his head after considering it shortly. “I never saw proof of such ability in her. All we know for now is that the visions are becoming too much for Rey.”

Luke frowns thoughtfully, stroking his fingers across his beard. They sit in silence for a moment, and Kylo watches uncomfortably as Luke’s eyes slip shut, unsure of whether the older man is that tired or just meditating—he thinks he still knows Luke well enough to know both are viable options.

“It is interesting,” Luke muses, eyes still shut. “Your Bond with her seems to deepen and strengthen which each passing hour.”

It takes a moment for Kylo to realize his uncle is using the remnants of their reawakened training Bond to gauge the depth of Kylo’s Bond with Rey, and his defences slam up as he snarls at his uncle before much conscious thought. “I fail to see how that is relevant,” he hisses, drawing back from his uncle, fear and anger and frustration roiling within him, a small, little voice in the back of his mind insisting he get out of there, before he makes the mistake of allowing his uncle to see within his mind and heart again.

“It is merely an observation,” Luke replies calmly, obviously trying to soothe him—and he can’t even begin to explain how the Jedi’s endless patience infuriates him. Before he can say anything though, Luke continues, “You should know that… physical intimacy would enhance such Bonds. If you and Rey do intend to—”

“Is this a vague attempt to reinforce the celibacy rule you instated in the Academy?” he interrupts, snarling angrily, all-too-familiar rage burning through his veins as he glares at the older Jedi.

Luke shakes his head with a wry smile. “No. I only insisted on the rule then because many of the elders did. It was a compromise, given to ensure no unwanted reproduction took place.” He pauses, a little crease forming between his brows as he searches for the correct words. “It was, after all, a place filled with teenagers,” he finally nods. “What I meant to say to you, Kylo, is that you should not wait.”

“Wait for what?” Kylo asks, straightening up once again as he pushes his legs out in front of him to stretch out the slight ache in his legs from sitting cross-legged for too long. Luke remains silent as Kylo stretches, but he can sense that his question has rattled Luke just a little, and it’s enough to make him realise that the older man is feeling quite out of his depth as well.

It is a slightly satisfying thought.

“You have an opportunity,” Luke begins slowly. “Your feelings for Rey are quite… pronounced. I merely want to advise you to take the chance you’ve been offered. Tell her you love her, before it is too late.”

He cannot help the snort that falls from his lips, and sneers, “Sounds like you have experience, old man.”

He does not expect the morose smile his uncle shoots his way, sadness and regret blazing bright and painful into their faint bond for no more than a moment before Luke seems to catch himself, steeling his mental walls and shutting Kylo out so fast it almost makes his head spin.

“There are worse fates than seeing the one you love marry the love of his life. Even if that woman is family.” Luke looks up at him slowly, almost skittishly, and Kylo gets the peculiar sense that his uncle hadn’t really meant to say even that much.

Kylo had known, of course, of his uncle’s feelings for his father.

It had been somewhat of a public secret at the Jedi Academy, overheard in a conversation between Luke and Master Mara Jade by her Padawan, who told her friends, who told their friends, and so on.

It had made Ben Solo uncomfortable, at first, to know his uncle looked at his father in the way Ben had never even wanted to look at anyone—more so because he had been convinced, at eleven years old, that his mother and father were absolutely perfect for one another.

He had not wanted to think of the possibility of his father leaving his mother for anyone.

Kylo had not, however, known how deep his uncle’s feelings ran—how deep they still ran, and how agonizing it must have been for the other man, to watch the man he loved love another.

He thinks he might have understood better, if things had been different for him and Rey. He doesn’t doubt that he would always have grown to love her, but he fears that, if he had not taken her from the Resistance, if his parents had been better people, if Poe Dameron had succeeded in getting Rey away from the prostitution ring, she would never have returned his feelings for her.

Would he have been able to do what his uncle did?

Would he have been able to stand by as she married another—be it her flyboy pilot or the stormtrooper or someone else entirely?

He doesn’t think he could’ve done it.

Luke must have broken his own heart to do it.

And for a disconcerting, mindboggling moment, Kylo understands his uncle more than he ever did before. Even if said understanding only stretched across this single, though not unimportant subject—because he cannot, for the life of him, understand his uncle’s questionable decisions on many other occasions.

Of which there are many.

“Why didn’t you stop them?”

The words fall from his lips unbidden and entirely of their own accord, softer and less angry than he would have liked. He thinks, rather frustrated, that he sounds like little fifteen-year-old Ben Solo, who confided in his uncle, who trusted his uncle to help the one person he loved outside of his little family. Who was devastated when his uncle didn’t do anything.

“What do you—”

“You know exactly what I mean,” Kylo bites out before Luke can finish the question. “Mira. Why didn’t you stop them when they hurt her?”

The words hang in the space between them and the silence stretches on uncomfortably, thick with unspoken words and old grievances. Kylo has waited ten years for the moment to ask his uncle this precise question, even if he were never sure why he still needed to know the answer.

He had been so angry, so done, with his family after Mira had died—

But he’d loved his uncle, once.

He had regarded the man as a father more than he had his own, and Luke’s betrayal had cut deeper and more painfully than either of his parents’ had.

“I don’t know,” Luke finally admits, looking smaller and more exhausted than Kylo had ever seen him look before. “I don’t think there is an answer to that question that will satisfy you.”

The words tear into him, even though he knows Luke does not speak out of any kind of ill will or malice. The words hit the tender part of his soul—a scar that had never quite healed properly, festering with hurt and anger and hatred. “She’s dead because of you,” he chokes, tears burning in his eyes and an ache lodged deep within his chest. “You promised you would help her, and you just—you let them cover up her death. Like she meant nothing.”

There are, he notes, tears in Luke’s eyes, too, but he doesn’t care, because Mira is still dead, and Luke still hadn’t helped her, even after Kylo had told him what had happened to her.

“I was foolish,” Luke admits quietly, voice thick with unshed tears and a decade worth of hurt. “I trusted your parents. You were not the only one they betrayed the day they covered up Mira’s death, Kylo.” Luke’s voice is impassioned and genuine, and it is more than a little astonishing for Kylo to realise how simple it is to fall back into caring for his uncle.

Despite all of the deception and hurt between them, Kylo finds that he cares.

His uncle had been a young man, too, not much older than Kylo is now, who had fallen in love with a man incapable of returning such affection—a man that took advantage of such affection.

And suddenly, inexplicably, Kylo is angry on behalf of his uncle. Angry, and filled with the need to defend, and to show the man that Kylo cares, even if only for a moment, and to break the illusion of the pedestal on which Luke had placed Kylo’s father.

But he has never been good with words.

“You know he’s dead, right?” he asks—almost states—bluntly, words slipping from his lips before he can think of a way to soften the blow, and he regrets his candor almost immediately, regrets the tac that he took. It had been the wrong one, completely, even if it had needed to be said.

Of course he had needed to say it. It looks like… like Luke hadn’t even known.

His uncle’s face drains off all color and he sways where he sits, his shock resonating through the Force, though it is quickly followed by grief and pain so overwhelming it takes Kylo’s breath away for a moment.

“He—what happened?” Luke’s voice quivers, thick with unshed tears.

“I—”

“It was me.”

Kylo whirls around to see Rey standing in the doorway, eyes wide and lips parted slightly as though even she is taken aback by the words that had come from her lips.

Silence falls for a moment, but Kylo can sense his uncle’s unbridled emotions in the Force, a tidal wave of grief and anger that feels so oppressive and overwhelming it clouds Kylo’s sense of the Force entirely and he can barely breathe—

Rey staggers, caught unawares by the weight of such unabashed despair. The immensity of the grief that bleeds into the Force is so multi-layered and complex that Kylo can tell it isn’t just about his father’s death, even if Luke himself isn’t aware.

“Show me.”

Luke’s voice is small and fragile, and it startles Kylo to see how small the man looks, especially in the face of the enormity of his grief in the Force.

Rey’s apprehension itches in the back of his mind, caution and uncertainty warring for dominance in his own mind. “Uncle, that is…” he trails off, alarmed by the look of unhinged desperation in the older Jedi’s eyes as the shorter man presses forward towards them. “He was—it was not—”

“H—he was going to kill me and Kylo,” Rey stutters, eyes wide and unsure.

“I said,” Luke hisses, heedless of their words, durasteel fingers clamping down on Kylo’s forearm painfully as he extends his flesh hand towards Rey. “Show me.”

The Force trembles with the strength of Luke’s demand and the raw show of power, however unintentional on the older Jedi’s part, sends a tendril of fear down Kylo’s spine, and he can feel his apprehension echoed through his Bond with Rey. The ordeal with Bane is not yet so long ago, and though Kylo knows that his uncle would never even dream of trying to take their minds as Bane had, there is a small part of him that keeps reminding him that Luke could.

The idea of having control stripped from him once again makes him feel nauseous and makes his heart pound so loudly he is half-convinced both Luke and Rey should be able to hear it—but he refuses to let such fear paralyze him again.

“Uncle,” Kylo pleads softly, curling his trembling fingers around Luke’s durasteel wrist in an attempt to ground both himself and his uncle. “Please, this isn’t—”

He exchanges a wary glance with Rey, unsure what to make of her defensive posture as she eyes his uncle speculatively. She feels determined too, and it takes him a moment to realise that it is determination to prove herself to Luke—to prove that she isn’t a killer, and that Han’s death hasn’t been her fault, even though he had died at her hands.  

“Rey,” he begins, but before he can put name to the millions of thoughts that are tangled in his mind, she interrupts, stepping towards him and Luke with a soft, determined expression.

“No,” she says, brushing her hand against his in a soothing gesture as she pushes calm into the Bond simultaneously. “It’s okay.” She reaches out, touching her palm—so much smaller than Luke’s—to his uncle’s.

He and Rey had shared memories several times during the course of her apprenticeship with him, but it was, overall, not a technique that was frequently used.

It was an incredibly intimate process, and seemed highly inappropriate by the Jedi Masters of Old—Kylo had no idea Luke even knew how to do it.

Even so, it takes no more than a few seconds, but his heart has lodged itself somewhere high in his throat and his breath catches in his lungs during those few moments his uncle and Rey are connected. It feels almost like the entire planet has stilled for a few long, drawn-out heartbeats until his uncle pitches backwards, a soft, agonized cry falling from his lips as he releases his grip on both him and Rey.

Kylo reaches out to steady him almost instinctively, but Luke draws himself away, breath falling from his lips in wheezing huffs. “He was truly gone then,” he whispers, so softly Kylo is sure he didn’t mean for them to hear it. “The man I loved would never have—”

He breaks off as he shakes his head and offers them a sad, heartbreaking smile.

“Thank you, ingane.”

He wanders off then, out the door of his room with nothing more than the soft hiss of the mechanism to tell of his passing, and while his Force Signature is still shrouded with confusion and grief, it is no longer clouding Kylo’s entire sense of the Force. He wonders, idly, if he should follow the man, if he should try to find a way to offer a measure of comfort to him.

Should he even comfort him?

Is he even allowed to comfort his uncle for something he does not feel particularly sorry about, himself?

He does not move, in the end, and simply stares at the door, because there is so little he can say. He isn’t sorry his father is dead, but he does regret that it causes Luke so much pain. He had held Luke Skywalker as many things in the past decade, but he had never truly been able to forget that Luke was, above all else, a good man.

One who had made more than one questionable decision, yes, but a good man nonetheless.

But sometimes… sometimes even in that, it was easy to forget that he was nothing but a man, when stripped of all else that made him who he was. It as easy to forget that he was a man who lived and breathed, who hurt and bled, and felt and cried, and laughed and loved.

It was easy to forget that they were all simple, emotional beings at their cores.

“I want to follow my visions,” Rey says suddenly, drawing his attention abruptly towards her. She stands beside him still, arms crossed across her chest, and he can tell she is still shaken from reliving the memory, even if she will not admit to it. He is also unsure what to say to Rey’s statement, still too caught up in the conversation he and his uncle had had to truly be able to offer her a sensible response—but it seems she does not need one.

“They’re showing me something,” she continues stubbornly. “I need to follow them.”

He nods mutely, because while he and Luke had theorized about what Rey’s visions meant and what they could do about them, following the clues they gave her seemed like the best plan they’d had in a while. “We should tell him,” Rey adds softly, her gaze moving back to the door through which Luke had disappeared.

“Not tonight,” Kylo blurts before he thinks it through. “Let him grieve. The visions will still be there in the morning.”