Kylo Ren surveyed his surroundings, frowning inside his mask.
He and his StormTroopers had just eradicated this little tribe of Elsniam, on the planet Takadoma.
Intelligence had been circulating for weeks that this tribe had been gathering together tribes from other small planets in an attempt to launch an attack against The First Order.
When you want to destroy a creature, you go for its heart.
When you want to make sure it'll never rise up again, you cut off its head.
This village was both the heart and the head for this small yet noteworthy rebellion attempt, and they were swift to deal with it.
After this they would seek out the other tribes and cut them down, too, one by one by one.
Now pillars of smoke were rising, standing out against the bleak sky, as rain began to pelt the horror-frozen faces of the dead.
Destroying this village had been completely necessary; he knew this.
Yet as was often the case, some deep-down part of his mind was just tired.
Tired of all the fighting, tired of the destruction.
Tired of the familiar smell of fire as they systematically torched the remains of this place; of the screams of the people right before they were executed, of the dead bodies piled in heaps throughout the camp.
Really, he was unimpressed and vaguely disappointed at how unprepared they were to withstand a surprise attack from the Order.
He had used his mind reading abilities to gather what information he could from the leaders of this tribe regarding their information and with whom they had been collaborating; then he used the Force to hold them in place as he struck them down, mechanically, with the fiery blade of his saber.
His men were able to take down what few skilled fighters there were quite easily, and the remaining villagers had been rounded up and shot as a matter of procedure.
All except this one young villager, a female, whom they had found naked, dirty and disheveled in the hut of the one who had appeared to be this village's leader.
He ordered two of his men to bring her out into the open, preparing to give them the order to fire on her, as they had done the others, when a few of their thoughts distracted him.
He rolled his eyes behind the mask, feeling vaguely appalled.
A great many of his men were staring unabashed at the girl, savoring the look of her skin, her figure, letting their carnal desires overtake their minds with a slew of lewd, torrid fantasies.
He sneered at how poorly they concealed their most base of needs, glad he was not one of them, that he had the power to resist such menial pursuits.
Still, he had often thought it was dangerous, to those with less self control than himself, to be sheltered as they were from the company of women.
The few females that worked on base were either too young, being the daughters of higher ranking Officers, or far too old.
Being kept from something that you want can be quite dangerous for yourself once you finally come into contact with it.
It can result in spontaneous behavior and poor self control; like a child left alone in a room full of sweets they were told they couldn't have.
If you think no one is watching, or that you won't get caught, you will reach out and take what you want.
And what he read in the minds of so many of his men was that, if he had not been present on this mission, they would have partaken in the sweet, easy flesh of this unusually pretty girl.
He knew that Snoke would "arrange" the company of young women, paid young women, for his highest Officers.
He had, by way of extension, offered this to Ren himself.
The first time he had begrudgingly accepted this "gift", a young woman had knocked on the doors of his quarters, stepped in and nervously glanced around herself.
The feelings he picked up that had off of her had been fear, followed by a sense of self loathing, overshadowed by a firm, strong resignation of the entire situation; a resigned defeat that showed out through her eyes and in her smile.
She had been attractive, yes.
She had been willing, yes.
But the other emotions made it impossible for him to ignore his own discomfort with the whole idea.
He politely sent her on her way, vowing never to participate, to any extent, in such a thing again.
And he never did. He had more or less trained his mind to flush out all possible distractions, sexual or otherwise, to focus on his work and his training.
And so far it had been very successful for him.
Still, he found he often had cause to feel disgust at the thoughts and feelings of others regarding this matter, and it always made him stop what he was doing, if only for a brief moment, and contemplate.
It was a lucky thing, however, that listening to their thoughts gave him pause; pause long enough to observe the girl for himself and realize that something was--different, about her
As he approached the girl, the "something" feeling grew stronger.
Something so strong, so present, that it was almost tangible.
A field of energy around the girl that could be felt, could almost be seen.
It wasn't the Force; he would have recognized immediately if he were in the presence of another Force-user.
But it was--something.
She was shivering, sitting on the ground with her knees drawn up to her chin in an attempt to hide her nudity.
As he got closer, she glanced up at him with a look that was almost--relieved.
He reached out to probe her mind, and what he read there was so unexpected that he paused for a moment, tilting his head, confused.
He had expected fear, or perhaps anger, but the single thought that was coming at him most clearly had nothing to do with either.
It was a laid-bare, hopeful, almost overwhelming desire that he would kill her.
She was looking at the lightsaber that was clipped to his belt, the one she had undoubtedly witnessed him using on the tribe leaders.
She was picturing him striking her down with it; imagining what the red light would sound like, what it would /feel/ like as it sliced into her chest and ended her heartbeat.
Curiosity was burning up inside him as he got to within a few feet of her.
"You there. What is your name?", he asked gruffly, his voice sounding harsher than he meant it to through the voice modulator of his mask.
After a brief pause, she answered "Niamh" in a soft, clear voice.
"Niamh. Are you a member of this tribe?", he asked. It didn't seem likely; this girls skin tone and facial features were drastically different than anyone else's in this little village.
Keeping her eyes down, and sounding somewhat embarrassed, she answered, "No, Sir. I--belong to Chief Gorlin Odek."
"Belong to? You--are his wife?"
The girl blushed, her head sinking a little lower as she replied "No, Sir. I am--his pleasure slave."
He paused for a moment, considering her answer.
It should have been obvious that she was being used as such, considering when they arrived she had been (and still was) completely naked, with ornate gold handcuffs adorning her thin wrists.
Wrists that were covered in a fair number of bruises, the purple-black splotches standing out against her pale skin.
He waved his hand in front of her, and the cuffs unlocked and fell off, landing in a glittering heap in front of her feet.
She looked at him, then at her wrists, and began to massage them vigorously, as if trying to bring back some circulation.
Without stopping to think about what he was doing, or why, he unfastened his long black cloak and held it out to her, averting his eyes as she straightened out of her crouch to wrap the garment around her bare skin.
"Thank you", she said gratefully. "May I--ask who you are?"
"My name is Lord Ren, master of the Knights Of Ren and Enforcer of The First Order, under the rule of Supreme Leader Snoke."
Her eyes widened upon hearing his words.
He gleaned from her mind that she had heard the men of this tribe speak of The First Order, and heard the terrible tales of the brutal murders, tortures and interrogations that supposedly took place under its reign.
These tales had been their justification for attempting to bring together other tribes to take the Order down.
Or try to.
Not that that had worked out for them, of course.
He wanted to ask her more about herself, and perhaps get to the bottom of whatever it was that was different about her, but was unsure how.
He had killed the man who had owned her, thereby technically making her a freed slave, but he did not want to let her go without discovering whatever secret she had, and whether or not whatever "it" was would be useful to the Order.
Nor did he want to kill her; as unusual a situation as that was for him.
However he also did not want to have to order her to come with them, as he typically did prisoners.
And there was the other thing; her pleading unspoken desire for death, that peaked his interests even more.
He decided to phrase it as an offer, of sorts.
"Naimh. I am going to give you a choice. You have been freed from your captors, and seeing as you are not a legitimate part of this tribe, you have not committed any crimes against the First Order; therefore, you are free to leave, if you choose to do so.
However, judging by your present circumstances, it is apparent that you would have no where to go, and no means to procure necessities such as food, clothing or shelter.
If you so desire, you may--accompany the First Order back to our base. We shall find you an appropriate job, and provide shelter and sustenance in exchange for services. The choice is yours."
She seemed stunned by his offer, and slightly suspicious.
"Sir", she asked timidly, "By 'services', do you mean . . . ", she trailed off, gesturing to the handcuffs at her feet.
"No," he replied, slightly disgusted at the idea. "We in the First Order do not partake in such barbaric forms of human ownership.
We would provide you with a decent job, a respectful one, based on whatever skills you may possess. Do you accept?"
"Yes," she agreed, smiling for the first time. "I thank you, Lord Ren, for your kindness and your mercy."
He called to two of his StormTroopers, commanding them
to escort the young woman to the ship and give her a room, and procure for her clean clothes.
As they walked off in the direction of the ship, the girl holding his cloak tightly around herself in the blowing wind, he stretched out to her mind once more, to see what she was thinking.
There were only two words there, loud, being repeated over and over like a prayer, like a message directly to him.
"Mental pain hurts just as much as pain from actual trauma. So what if it's all in your head?"
The course of an hour found the crew back on the ship and headed back towards Starkiller Base, everybody going about their duties and preparing for the long journey ahead.
Kylo inquired as to the situation with the girl; she had been properly clothed, and was given a room with a bunk, a small sitting area, and a refresher.
He made contact via Hologram with Supreme Leader, informing him of the success in eradicating the enemy tribe, and giving details on the girl that he was bringing back, as well as his feeling that she possessed an ability of some kind, unnamed as of yet, that may be of use to the Order.
Supreme Leader commended him on his success, and gave directions for him to discover more about the girl, admonishing him to make sure she was treated well and made comfortable.
Kylo bowed, and the Hologram faded out of existence.
He decided to go and check on her. It was close to supper time and he had ordered a large platter of food to be delivered to her room.
From what he had seen of her, she seemed very slight and undernourished, and could probably use a decent meal.
He accompanied the serving droid to her room, waiting as she opened the door and allowed them both in.
The droid set the platter on the table and took its leave, leaving the two alone.
He sat down in one of the chairs, and after a moment, she sat down opposite him.
She had had the opportunity to freshen up and take a nap in the hours that had passed since they left the planet, and it showed in the healthier color of her skin, and the rested calmness of her face.
She was looking at the platter of food with wide eyes, evidently hungry despite her efforts to restrain herself and wait permission from Kylo to eat.
"Yes, this is all for you. You don't need to ask me if you can eat; please, eat."
"This is--so much", she said, her eyes looping in a circle around the tray. "Are you--will you, join me?"
He pursed his lips, considering.
Finally he reached up and released the secret levers on the side of his helmet, pulling it off and setting it on the table.
He could sense that she was trying hard not to stare at his face.
It was something he had grown used to, in the presence of those who saw it free of the cruel black sheath of metal for the first time.
Personally, he didn't see anything worth noticing about his face.
After all, he had lived with it his entire life.
But he had picked up, from the minds of others, that many found his facial features, as well as the rest of his features, to be quite attractive.
He was very tall, towering above most of the people at Starkiller Base at a lanky 6'4", slender yet heavily muscled.
Thick, slightly curly black hair ended in a short wave just above the base of his neck.
He had pale white skin with a cluster of small dark moles scattered around his face and neck.
His full lips were almost always curled up in a sneer or a dropped into a pout; although right now his features were calm, relaxed.
He pulled off his gloves to eat, laying them neatly at the edge of the table.
In doing so he revealed, on his left hand, a long pink scar that ran from his index finger to his wrist, the after-effect of a lightsaber duel he had had years ago.
He noticed the girl staring at this, seeming fascinated, for some reason.
Before he could comment on her staring, she was out of her seat and standing right beside him.
"Please, Sir, may I see your hand?", she asked, an odd, timid smile on her face.
Curious, he wordlessly stretched out his arm towards her.
She grasped his hand between both of her small ones, still smiling that odd smile, and closed her eyes.
A sudden heat startled him, flowing directly from her touch into his hand.
The sensation travelled up and down his arm before centering around his scar, feeling as though the skin there was being seared, peeled away with knives and flooded with fire.
Too surprised to react, or even say anything, he just sat there, watching, fascinated, as she kept her eyes closed and her hands clasped over his.
Abruptly, the pain faded back as the girl opened her eyes and released his hand, looking at him expectedly.
"Did that help?"
He cautiously looked down at his hand, bewildered.
Not sure what to expect; thinking he was going to find half the flesh missing from his fingers.
What he DID see caused a small, barely audible gasp to fall from his lips.
The scar. It was gone.
He turned his hand around and around, unable to believe what he was seeing, and sure that it was an optical illusion of some kind.
It really was gone. The scar he had carried for a good 10 years, the one that itched in warm weather and ached on cold nights, was gone.
All from a few minutes worth of touching from this odd ex-slave girl, who was now digging into the food with hungry enthusiasm and watching him warily from across the room.
"How did you DO that?!", he demanded, staring at her.
She shrugged her shoulders and went on eating, pausing in-between bites to say "To be honest, Sir, I don't know how I did it. It's . . . something I've been able to do since I was a child."
He had so many questions that he didn't know which to ask first.
"What planet are you originally from?"
"I was born on Tattoine, but my family relocated to Genosis before I had turned 2. My . . . father, had a problem with gambling, and it seemed like my whole childhood was spent moving all over the galaxy while my father hid from those he owed debts to.
I think I must have lived on 6 separate planets before I reached 10 years of age."
"Where is your family now?"
She sighed, rubbing the back of her neck. "My mother died when I was about 7. The last time I heard of my sister was maybe 9 years or so ago, that she had married a pilot of some sort and moved back to our home planet of Tattoine.
As for my . . . father, I have no idea where he is, or if he's even still alive."
I hope he's not, her mind whispered.
"I ran away from him when I was 17, and haven't heard anything from or about him since."
He could tell that there was something more, some underlying pain and anxiety that came from talking about her family, so he didn't press the issue further.
Instead, he decided to bring the conversation back around to her healing capabilities.
"Can you heal anything?"
"As far as I know, yes. I can heal any manner of injuries, whether fresh or very old. I can take away maladies of the body, such as disease or infection.
I can, to an extent, take away afflictions of the mind as well, such as madness or depression; the only difference is, healing the mind requires the desire of the patient to WANT to be helped.
Whereas I can 'fix' physical problems with no help from the person, if they don't want me to 'fix' whatever is wrong in their mind, then I can't."
"Are you . . . NOT able to . . . ", he began, looking pointedly at her bruised arms.
She must have known what he was thinking, because she interrupted him with "Yes I'm able to heal myself, as well."
He was baffled, although his face did not betray his thoughts. He was also weirdly shocked at how intelligent she seemed, how articulate, traits he would never have associated with a former sex-slave.
He merely went on "So why haven't you fixed your injuries?"
She was silent for a moment, pressing her lips together and looking down at her hands.
Finally she said, in a voice that was nearly a whisper, "Because if I did, it's like it didn't happen. It's like the pain and the injuries never happened at all. Like I just forgot.
I don't . . . I don't WANT to forget."
He could understand the logic behind that, even if he didn't necessarily agree with it.
And now his mind was flooded with the possible opportunities that would await this girl once they returned to Starkiller Base.
She would be much more of an important acquisition as someone who could heal others, rather than what he had envisioned she would probably be doing in the kitchen or laundry services of the base.
"Naimh", he said, looking at her. "Would you--like a job, doing THIS?
She paused before answering, chewing on her lower lip.
" Are the people there, where we're going . . . are they nice, like you are?"
Kylo couldn't help snickering to himself. "Nice"? By all accounts, including his own, he was the worst of the worst.
A monster of the most despicable kind who committed cold-blooded acts of torture and murder all in the name of advancing The First Order.
But there was something about this girl, her submissive yet compelling nature, that put the beast in him on ice; or at least did so for a little while.
Maybe it was her calmness, or her naivety.
Maybe it was that subtle yet still-present affinity towards death that lurked in the deepest reaches of her mind.
Whatever it was, it put his own aggressive tendencies on the back-burner, leaving him decidedly more compassionate and gentle than was normal for him.
"Much nicer.", he said simply, hoping to reassure whatever qualms she may have been feeling about their intended destination.
"My--my cell, will it be as nice as this room is here?"
He looked at her, frowning.
Did she still think they were taking her as a prisoner of some sort?
And the way she /said/that, as if it were the most natural circumstance in the Universe, and she was ready to accept it as an inevitability.
"You are not a prisoner," he said slowly, lightly tapping the table on each syllable for emphasis.
"You will not be in a 'cell'. You will have your own quarters. You will be free to come and go as you please.
There will be no chains, no handcuffs or shackles that bind you to any place or to anyone.
When you go about treating people, you will likely have your own private office or room in which to do it, decorated to your liking.
And in return all your needs will be met.
You will have a position of honor and importance at the Base."
He paused, looking at her to see if she understood yet. The look on her face was incredulous, disbelieving.
He had to wonder if she had ever known what freedom was.
"Have you always been a slave, then?"
"In a way, yes", she murmured in a soft voice, absently picking at the almost-empty platter of food. "It's -- a bit of a long story. Do you have the time to hear it?"
He nodded patiently, folding his arms over his chest and settling back into his chair.
"It's easy to run to others. It's so hard to stand on one's own record. You can fake virtue for an audience. You can't fake it in your own eyes."
Naimh prepared to tell her story to this scary, compassionate man, steeling her nerves to push into the very heart of her pain.
She sighed, pushing a loose strand out of her face before beginning.
"When I was 8 years old, about a year after my mother died, my sister Yoerra and I had been playing in the fields behind our home."
"We had been running through the grass, playing a combination game of tag and hide and seek."
"When it was Yoerra's turn to hide, she chose to climb this very large tree that was near the stream that separated our land from our neighbor's."
"She was wiggling around so much that, of course, she ended up falling out."
"She landed on her head and was bleeding really heavily from her head and mouth."
"Her screaming was so loud that it brought our neighbors from across the stream running, as well as my father."
She chuckled a little here, shaking her head to herself.
"My father was /furious/ with me, of course; saying I should have been watching her better, that it was all my fault."
"Really he was just angry because the neighbor's involvement meant that he had to take my sister to a hospital, rather than what he probably intended to do and just take her home to "rest".
"He carried her back to the front of our house and went to get our shuttle ready to leave."
"He left her with me in the yard."
"At this point she had passed out from blood loss and was very limp, very still."
"While I was waiting for him to come back, I had the strongest impulse to put my hands on her, touch my hands to where she was bleeding."
"I wasn't sure WHY, I just remember feeling like I HAD to."
"I put my hands on her face, cupping her cheeks, and I remember feeling like my fingers were burning, I remember feeling her face heat up under my fingers, and I was --afraid."
"But within a few minutes, I noticed that her bleeding was slowing down--and then it stopped. Completely. And the cut --the cut wasn't there anymore!"
"My sister opened her eyes and sat up, and it was like she had never gotten hurt at all."
"My father came back around the corner, and was shocked. I remember his eyes bulging out and his mouth dropping open."
"He asked me what happened, and I told him how I touched her and her blood went away."
Here she paused, popping a bit of fruit into her mouth and chewing slowly, a bitter look spreading over her face.
"You know, even with the--the drinking, and the obsession with gambling, my father was a very, /very/ smart man when it came to possible money-making opportunities."
"He recognized almost immediately that whatever talent I may have had, if used correctly, could bring him a significant amount of wealth."
"He had me test out my 'powers' on various people, at first, trying to see if my ability to heal could be extended to more than just visible or fresh wounds."
"Once we learned that it could, and I could fix just about anything wrong with a person no matter the level of severity--that was it for me, for my freedom."
"I wasn't really his 'daughter' anymore, not really; if that was indeed what was I once was to him."
"I became -- his property."
"He kept me in a small room in the back of our house with a locked door and no windows. He charged his friends and neighbors a great deal of money to come and see me, to be healed by me."
"We could have had a nicer house, I'm sure, if my father could have gotten his gambling under control."
"But as it was, nearly every credit, every piece of gold or silver or jewels that I earned for him went right into a Sabbac table, or the Cantina."
"Eventually his debts would grow larger than the money we brought in, and in the middle of the night he would pack up what few belongings we had and flee, usually torching our house in the process to make it seem as though we had all been victims of some accident."
"We would move from city to city, planet to planet, set up a house somewhere on the outskirts, and the whole process would repeat itself; an endless cycle for years and years."
"We always left these places during the night, never in the daylight."
"All those years the only knowledge or experience I had with the world outside my room was darkness, the cold starlight and the hum of a ships engine as we sped off towards our next destination."
"It was amusing, somewhat, to see the difference between the amount of wealth he was taking in versus how we were /actually/ living. There were times when we didn't have anything other than crusts of bread for days at a time."
Here she stopped, playing with the fringe of her borrowed dress, shaking.
Talking about these things was extraordinarily painful for her; yet at the save time she felt a feeling of relief, for finally getting out the bottled-up words and emotions that had been haunting her for so long.
She glanced up at him, to see if he was still listening to her. His eyes were focused on her face, intent.
She took a deep breath and went on.
"My younger sister wasnt allowed to come and visit me in my room, or even really talk to me."
"My father put it in her head that I was /different/, that I was a /freak/ of some sort with magical powers that I would use to hurt her, if she got too close to me."
"I see now that he told her all that to drive a wedge between us, shatter any closeness or intimacy that we might have had."
"I think he was afraid that, if she knew the truth, she would free me and his money source would be gone."
"This went on for many years, until I lost track of time, until I lost track of all meaning to life."
"One day, when I was about 17, my father got drunker than usual before leaving for the Cantina tables, as he did every evening. He stuck his head into my room to tell me he was going out, and to leave me a plate of food."
"When he left, he closed my door, but did not lock it."
"I sat still and waited to see if he would notice and come back, but he didn't. I waited a good half hour, afraid to move, wanting to be absolutely sure that he was gone and far away from the house."
"I packed up the few clothes I had into a small satchel, along with a few hundred credits that my father had hidden in a small jar in his room, and I put some bread into my pockets."
"I tiptoed out of my room and down the hall. My sister was already asleep in her room. I crept out the front door and down the road, staying off the main trail and into the shadows and underbrush so I wouldn't be spotted."
"Eventually I found my way to a large transport hangar of some sort, and managed to barter 50 credits for passage on a ship to the planet Felucia."
"I didn't want to tell anyone about my abilities there, because I was afraid it would turn into a situation like with my father. I eventually found work as a laundress with this lady and her husband, who had 10 children and needed the help. They treated me well, like I was part of the family, but then--"
She paused here, a light bead of sweat dotting the edges of her hairline and anxiety creeping into her voice.
" -- then one day, I was out in the village, to buy supplies. A band of gangsters rode into the marketplace, killing many shopkeepers and taking what they could grab."
"I hid as best I could underneath a stall but they eventually saw me and dragged me out, putting me into the back of a speeder and taking off. They took me to a far away outpost and sold me to this huge burly man, the Chief of his village, Chief Odek."
"He had purchased me for his own--sexual usage, but in reality I was actually passed along quite a bit among the higher ranking officials of the Tribe."
"I never let on that I had healing powers; I couldn't imagine being forced into using my gift on such despicable creatures. And I lived in that state, as a slave, for a long time. Right up until you found me, or really, rescued me."
He had remained silent this whole time, listening intently to her story.
But deep inside himself he felt the swelling of anger, deep anger on behalf of the poor misused creature in front of him.
He couldn't imagine what life must have been like for her, all those years: first with her deplorable father and later with a group of sickening individuals that had kept her chained as you would an animal; used solely to fulfill sexual appetites and nothing more.
Looking at her, he could understand how desirable she must have come off to those who held her captive.
Despite being very thin due to obvious malnourishment and poor treatment, she was still quite lovely.
Her skin was a delicate white offset by tinges of deep pink around her cheekbones.
Her lips were full and sensual, with an apple-red hue to them. A light spray of gold-brown freckles fell across the bridge of her small nose.
She was short, much shorter than he was, standing around 5'3" or less, but she still possessed a subtle, womanly curve around her hips and breasts.
Her hair fell to her waist in dark copper-colored curls. But perhaps most striking were her eyes; big wide eyes possessing an unusual green-silver hue and framed by dark, bold lashes.
He observed all this, thinking of a thousand things at once before choosing the most important thing to speak on first.
"I promise you, Naimh, nothing like that will happen to you where we are going. You will be treated with respect, and honor, among the Order. I will personally see to that, as well as Supreme Leader Snoke."
"I know he will be quite interested in you; we've never had someone with your talents before. And he sees that all his operatives are treated with respect."
She listened to him speak, nodded attentively, although her face still had a cautionary look to it.
He reached out to her mind and saw that she wanted to believe him, quite badly, but was afraid.
However, she had decided that the situation was at least worth /trying/, and was willing to forge ahead with it for that reason.
And there was something else there, something that made him feel a deep sadness in connection with her thoughts.
He was --the first male, other than the kindly old man who had taken her in as a laundress so long ago, the first one who looked at her as a person, not an object.
She could sense that he was not going to leap at her suddenly, throttling her throat and throwing her to the floor for pure amusement.
He was not going to bruise her skin, tear off her clothes and force her to submit her body to him.
He was not going to chain her up in a corner, naked and shivering, and pay no more attention to her than as if she was an animal, a pet of some sort.
He was the first in a long time who was simply . . . talking to her, and listening to the things she had to say.
And he was offering her employment, so to speak, doing what she did naturally in exchange for a better life than the one she was previously living.
He read all these things in her mind, and suddenly felt overwhelmingly tired, brought on as much by the long day as it was by the emotional onslaught of feelings connected to her story.
He glance at the clock on the wall and was mildly surprised to realize that two hours had passed since he'd come here.
"I should --be going," he said, standing and preparing to leave. I'll have a member of the cleaning staff come back and collect this tray for you."
"You are free to wander about as you please, of course. If there is anything you need during the night, extra blankets, or more food, or anything at all, do not hesitate to call and ask for it. There is a small button on the left side of the counter there; pressing it will connect you to the Protocal droid, who will relay any requests you have to the appropriate department."
His hand on the door button, his helmet underneath his arm, he stopped and turned back to face her where she still sat in her chair, watching him.
"I -- I'm sorry that you've had to go through so many awful things, Naimh," he said awkwardly, not used to speaking in so human a tone to other people. "But --your life, your life WILL be better in the Order. I'm sure of it."
Before he knew what was happening, she stood up from her chair so fast that she knocked it over, and flew across the room towards him, circling her arms around his waist in a fierce, shaky hug.
His first reaction, disbelief, gave way almost immediately to a bright, almost-painful heat that warmed his body and made his cheeks flush.
He . . . could not remember the last time he had been hugged by anyone, or even allowed someone to get as physically close as this.
There was something about the action that was so sweet and childlike that he couldn't help but respond.
After a moment he enclosed his long arms lightly around her shoulders, patting her gently on the back, answering her repeated shaky "Thank you" with a genuinely-meant "You're welcome."
Then he DID pull away, leaving her to her rest, striding throughout the halls of the ship towards his quarters.
"The present changes the past. Looking back, you do not find what you left behind."
Lord Ren strode the wide halls of the palace, slowing his pace so that the girl beside him could keep up.
He could feel the anxiety bleeding out of her, and wished there was something he could do to ease her tension.
It had been 3 days since they had returned to the base, and Supreme Leader Snoke had finally requested that Ren bring the girl before him, so that he could witness her "gift" for himself.
Before they had left her quarters, he had instructed her how to act upon meeting the Supreme Leader, and she had listened attentively, asking questions when needed but otherwise remaining nervously silent.
As they approached Supreme Leader's throne room, with its huge gold-patterned doors, he could sense the girls heartbeat quicken; the color in her face draining out subtly as she unconsciously chewed on her lower lip.
He put a hand on her shoulder, giving it a quick squeeze, trying to comfort her.
The doors opened they walked into the brightly lit room slowly, Lord Ren a few steps ahead of her.
When they were within a few feet of the great gilded throne, Kylo removed his helmet, dropped to one knee and bowed his head reverently.
Behind him, Naimh did the same, sinking to the floor in an impressively graceful manner that showed nothing of her nerves or anxiety.
"Supreme Leader, Master, I have brought before you this woman, as requested, Naimh of Tattoine."
"Rise, Lord Ren", came the whispery command from the creature sitting on the throne. "You have done well, my young apprentice. You were wise to have recognized that this woman has a powerful air around her; I can sense it from here."
Behind them, Naimh was still in her bow, her head lowered and her eyes remaining respectfully on the floor, as she waited to be told what to do.
"Rise, my child," said the Supreme Leader. "Rise and come stand before me."
She rose up slowly from the ground, lifting her head but still keeping her eyes downcast, as she made her way to stand in front of the throne.
"Lord Ren has informed me that you possess an ability to heal. Is that correct?", he asked, looking down on her expectantly.
"Yes, Sir, Supreme Leader", she answered in a clear, quiet voice.
"Do you wish to employ your talents for The First Order?"
"Yes, Supreme Leader. It would be an honor, Supreme Leader."
"I am a visual learner, my child. I believe more from seeing than I do from hearing. That being the case, I wonder if, my dear, you would be comfortable allowing me to visually witness this "talent" of yours first hand?"
"I . . . o-of course, Supreme Leader," she stuttered, feeling a little confused as to what he wanted.
Lord Ren saw what Snoke was planning to do, and internally cringed, although he controlled his thoughts and did not show his discomfort out-loud. He was --worried, about Naimh, and how she would react to the upcoming situation.
Sounds of a struggle of sorts ensued outside of the room, and Supreme Leader smiled.
Lord Ren sensed that it was the Guards beating one of the StormTroopers into a bloodied mess, the sounds of hard fists pummeling into damaged flesh growing louder.
Screams and cries rose in pitch until it filled the walls of this room, reverberating over and over again into a sickening melody of pain.
He glanced over at Naimh to see her reaction to all this, afraid of what he would see.
To his surprise, aside from the biting of her lower lip, she showed no reaction at all to the sounds of torment coming from beyond the doors.
The doors to the room finally opened, and the Guards brought in the mangled man slung between them, half-conscious and bleeding out in a dozen different places.
They dropped him in a heap at the foot of the throne and backed away, bowing to the Supreme Leader and smirking to themselves.
"Now then, my dear: show me."
Ren watched as Naimh took a deep breath and approached the man sprawled out on the floor.
He could sense that she actually felt more nervous about getting so physically close to Snoke than she felt about fixing the Trooper.
As he and Snoke watched, she crouched down beside the man, placing both hands on his face and closing her eyes.
Little by little, under her touch, the bleeding stopped and the wounds were closing themselves up, the cuts of skin knitting together at a fascinating speed and the blood withdrawing and disappearing right in front of their eyes. It was--incredible.
He could tell that Snoke was impressed, watching; that he had thought Ren had been exaggerating when he spoke of the girl's abilities.
Within a few moments, the man sat up and yawned, stretching out as easily as though he had just woken up from a short nap.
All outward traces of his injuries completely gone.
When he looked around himself and noticed where he was, he scrambled to his feet and hastily bowed, looking absolutely confused as to how he had gotten there in the first place.
Snoke called his Guards back into the room and told them to escort the Trooper back to his division.
They entered the room and gaped open-mouthed, completely astonished, at this man that they had not 10 minutes ago beaten into a near-coma.
When they were gone, Supreme Leader addressed himself to Naimh in a tone that Ren had never heard him use before: it was awed, and it was respectful.
"You are indeed most powerful, my dear. You will be a most welcome asset to The First Order."
"Thank you, Supreme Leader," she said, casting her eyes down once more, a blush washing over her face in response to his praise.
"Lord Ren, give the order for Naimh to be put into new quarters, and to have an office set up for her in which to accept patients. "
"You, my dear, come closer so that I may look at you," he continued, speaking to Naimh.
She approached his throne, trembling slightly but doing her best to control it.
Snoke reached out and lifted her chin with his cold fingers, gently turning her head this way and that as he reached out to probe her mind, seeing for himself the horrible experiences and memories that she had relayed to Lord Ren days before.
"My dear, you are safe here. You are now a part of The First Order, the most powerful faction in the galaxy. Your talents will be put to good use here. You will be taken care of", he spoke uncharacteristically gently, perhaps trying to ease some of her anxiety.
It was not like him, at all, to be compassionate towards those who worked for him.
To show kindness like this was unprecedented.
However, besides the magnificent healing ability, there was something else about this person. Something that made those around her react to her in surprising ways.
Lord Ren had felt it, and now, apparently, Snoke did as well.
Or maybe it was something else that outwardly softened his demeanor towards the young lady, something far less noble than mere compassion.
Snoke had been alive for a great many years, and had spent a considerable amount of time building his empire.
He was proud of what he had accomplished, and the wealth of resources he had accumulated.
Yet a person did not rise to the position he was in, nor procure an extensive amount of wisdom, by not seeing that the greatest assets that an empire could have had nothing to do with palaces, credits, technologies or anything of that nature.
It had to do with the PEOPLE that you acquire, the individuals with unique skills and talents that would not be found anywhere else.
Obtaining Kylo Ren and his unheard-of Force abilities had been the most impressive thing Snoke had acquired to-date.
The young man's startling amount of raw power had as much to do with talent as it did with his powerful familial background.
Snoke's training had further strengthened those skills, turning him into the most powerful being in the Order, second only to Snoke himself.
And now, with this new acquisition of this female and her impressive healing capabilities, Snoke could feel that his power was only growing.
It made him feel proud, and in a way, fatherly, towards his human trophies.
He let go of her chin. She remained standing still, timidly, her eyes focused directly on his. He mouth turned up in a small, crooked grin as he read the gratitude that was in her feelings.
She would, indeed, make a fine addition to his little collection.
Quite a pretty one, at that.
"You may go," he said, nodding to dismiss them both. He watched as they both bowed and then took their leave, frowning a little as he caught the focus of Ren's thoughts.
Apparently, he thought that she was beautiful, as well.
"Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you."
--Rainer Maria Rilke--
It had been a busy day for Naimh.
She leaned forward in her chair, stretching out her arms and hearing her joints crack before bringing them in to rest her head in her palms.
The Troops had been sent on a mission a few days ago, and had returned earlier this morning. Naimh had been busy all day healing the various scrapes, cuts, scars and wounds of the men.
Most of the cases that came into this little office to see her weren't that bad; however there were quite a few badly injured individuals who needed extra attention and concentration, leaving her feeling tired and used-up.
It was also a hindrance to her that she could only work on one person at a time; it would have gone a lot quicker if she had the ability to work on multiple men at once.
She had tried to get the commanders of the individual groups to organize the incoming patients in terms of level of severity, but as usual the confused Melee and bustle of people resulted in a jumble of bodies being sent in to her in random order.
She really should have seen the soldier with half of his ear detached before the one with the gash along his forearm; but eventually everyone that needed to be seen was healed, good as new, no harm done.
Now she sat in her chair, in the quiet of her little office, resting. It was beautiful, this place. The walls were painted a lovely shade of blue that reminded her of water reflecting on a clear day.
A small koi fish pond ran along the length of the far side of the room, burbling out harmonic cheerfulness into the silence.
There were several cots placed along the walls where people could rest as they waited to be seen.
She had a large suede tan colored couch for her own personal usage.
She even had one person who worked under her, an assistant of sorts, that took care of all the paperwork. Supreme Leader wanted careful records kept of whom she had healed, by Rank number, and when, and of what.
She had let him know that she could more than take care of the paperwork on her own; but Supreme Leader had shot down the idea in that almost-fatherly way of his, telling her to just focus on her gifts and to "leave the menial work for someone else".
That someone else was a really sweet young girl, about 15 but very bright and very attentive to detail; the daughter of one of the higher ranking Captains.
She had left an hour earlier, pulling her cloak around herself and wishing Naimh a Good Evening in her little voice.
All in all, Naimh's life here was turning out better than expected.
She had a warm place to sleep, food on the table (often too much food; apparently the consensus regarding her physical state was that she was still too skinny), beautiful clothing, and was slowly but surely making friends among some of personnel of this base.
Best of all, though, was that for the first time in her life, she felt REAL. All those years kept in a virtual and emotional cage by her father, then kept by a group of men who wanted nothing from her except her body--this was, surreal.
To be spoken to like a person, to feel respected and needed--it was all like a dream. Unimaginable.
While she was sitting there, contemplating everything, there was a knock on her door.
She groaned, thinking it was a late arrival patient, and slowly crossed the room to open the door.
Lord Ren was standing at her door, leaning slightly against the frame.
"Good evening, Lord Ren", she said, a little surprised to see him there. The last time she had seen him personally was when he had escorted her to Snoke's chambers to meet him, and that had been almost a month ago.
She had caught glimpses of him since then. They often passed each other in the hallways, exchanging courteous nods.
And just lately she had discovered that the courtyard beneath her southern window was apparently where he did his physical training.
On slow days she liked to watch, fascinated, as he moved objects with his mind and completed a series of impossible-looking acrobatic moves and maneuvers, often while wielding his lightsaber.
The courtyard was sealed off completely except for one gate which he kept locked while he was in there, and the high walls made it almost invisible to human eyes.
Except, of course, those who had windows above it.
She often felt guilty, watching as much as she did.
Clearly he intended for his training regimens to be a private thing, and she knew that if the situation were reversed, she would not appreciate being stared at in such a manner.
She put all of those thoughts aside, now, as he stood in front of her.
"Hello, Naimh," he said in his mask-distorted voice, walking into the room and closing the door behind him. He stood, looking around her office for the first time, and slightly nodded his head, as if in approval.
He lifted his hands to his head, unlocking his helmet and pulling it off, setting it down on her desk. He finger combed through his thick black hair, clearing his throat a little before turning to face her.
"This is a really nice office you have here," he said, his eyes taking in everything in a slow methodical sweep.
He spotted the Koi fish pond and walked over, crouching down and dipping his fingers into the cool water, catching the attention of the fish. A few flocked to his fingers and latched on, harmlessly nibbling, getting a small smile from him.
"Yes it is. It's . . . a dream," she replied, coming to stand beside him at the pond.
"If someone had told me 5 years ago I'd be here, I'd have told them they were crazy. In all honesty, I'm not entirely sure that I'M not crazy; that this isn't all some horribly realistic dream."
He straightened up, looking sideways at her, and said "All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream."
"That's --pretty, I think. I'm not sure what it means, though. Did you make that up?"
He smirked a little at that. "No, I'm not that imaginative. I read that in a book once, from some writer from the planet Terran.
Anyway I think it means that EVERYTHING in life is more or less like a dream, because sometimes the things that happen to us are really hard to believe.
Or something like that", he said, shrugging a little as if he hadn't meant to say so much.
"Do you read a lot of books?", she asked, walking over to sit on her couch.
After a moment he walked over and joined her, sitting on the opposite end, looking at her.
"No, not really. I mean I like to read but I just don't have a lot of time. I spend a lot of time training and even more time going on missions for the Supreme Leader."
She thought about that, smiling a little to herself.
She liked talking to him, and being near him.
From the little she had observed of him and how he interacted with other people, she could see that he was a very closed-off, guarded person.
The majority of him 'talking' with other people was to give them orders.
He had a temper, as well. She supposed that was just something that was natural to the dark side of the Force; although, to be honest, she didn't really understand ANY part of the Force, light side or dark.
Quite a few times in the past month, though, she had had soldiers come in suffering not from injuries gotten at the hands of the enemy, but from Lord Ren himself.
But, in the few times he had been with her, he had been very courteous, very nice. Almost -- normal, if such a thing could be said about him.
Or maybe it was just that he still felt pity for her, or whatever feeling it was that caused him to take her away with the Order to this place worlds apart from that other one, rather than just killing her along with the rest of that village.
"So, anyways," he was saying, pulling her out of her thoughts, "Supreme Leader told me to come up here and commend you on a job well done, with the Troops today. Normally our recovery time after so many in-field injuries is 5 times what it is now. Typically when we have so many people down at once we can't launch successful attacks on anyone for at least 2 weeks.
With as fast as you healed everyone, they'll be ready to go back out within a couple of days. It's --well, I think, I mean HE thinks it's impressive."
She smiled, looking down at the carpet and blushing slightly. "Well you know, I do what I can. I'm just glad I can help. You know most of those soldiers are really nice people."
He nodded politely, although he was not entirely in agreement with her assessment.
In reality he had ceased thinking of the Troopers as 'people' a long time ago.
They were tools, means to accomplish an end, to achieve the goals of The First Order.
Insignificant, and expendable.
He had found that it helped him greatly, in life, to adapt that attitude towards almost everyone he dealt with.
With his family, for sure.
With the Troopers and the rest of the personnel around the base, definitely.
The only ones he didn't feel that callous mentality towards were, of course, The Supreme Leader . . . and now, this girl.
And what /was/ that, exactly?
What was the odd pull that he felt towards her, to be in her presence?
The unfamiliar instinct to protect, to shelter?
Surely no more than a holdover from when he had 'rescued' her not so long ago. Some long-buried chivalrous instinct to shelter such a fragile-looking girl.
Still, he found that he often had dreams where his mind remembered her pale, smooth flesh as he saw it when he had liberated the girl from that disgusting village; the hopeful way her face had looked when he offered her a chance at coming with them.
His dreaming mind remembered these things, and a dozen other small things, having him waking up feeling -- confused.
Confused and something else, a feeling that he was not familiar with and could not have named even if he tried:
It was longing. And it was desire.
A desire to hold the girl in his arms, protect her from all those who wished to harm her. A desire to kiss her full dark lips, to stare into her wide pretty eyes.
He had had no experience with these kinds of feelings in his other life, and certainly none in this one. He did not know how to process them, or even explain them to himself.
And he worried that the feelings were -- weakening him, somehow.
Taking away the focus of his powers, turning him more sensitive, more apt to feel and think rather than do and react.
Making him more --human.
And because of all this he tried his hardest to avoid her, going about his daily routine and agendas as he had before she came here, minimalizing his contact with her unless absolutely necessary.
But Snoke had sent HIM here, now, to commend Naimh on her earlier work.
He could easily have sent down one of his minions, or messaged her a personal hologram via her datapads; but he had sent HIM, Ren, to do it.
Ren could sense that Snoke was observing the way his feelings changed concerning Naimh.
If he /knew/ that Ren was struggling within himself whenever he saw the girl, why would he deliberately send him to talk to her, in her office, at a time when no one else would be around?
Was this a test, of some sort? To see if Ren was strong enough to resist his base urges and physical desires?
To resist the temptation to -- what, /care/, about someone?
To possibly -- love?
He scowled to himself, indignant.
Or maybe he was just being ridiculous, overthinking things.
There was nothing reprehensible about the way he viewed the girl.
What he was mistaking for "feelings" were likely no more than a basic aesthetic appreciation; she happened to be a lovely woman on a base where very few women were present, and the ones that were, were undesirable or unattainable by some means or another.
She was new, she was different. That was surely the only real "attraction" here.
Now she was standing, going over to a small closet and opening the door, sifting through a few garments until she snagged the one she was looking for.
"By the way--here", she said, holding out a familiar looking item. "I kept meaning to give this back to you; I was keeping it here in case you ever came by."
It was his black cloak, the one he had taken off and given to her to cover herself with, back in that miserable little village.
He thanked her and took it, folding it neatly and draping it over his shoulder.
He couldn't help but notice the smell it carried, the smell of --her. A light flowery scent like lillies, and jasmine.
I better not touch this too much or else it'll lose that smell, he thought to himself; then he frowned disgustedly.
What is WRONG with me?
He stood up abruptly, telling her that he had to leave; preparing to lie and tell her that he had a mission to prepare for, or training to do, or Snoke to see, something, anything to get him up and moving away from here.
Before he could get a word out, she was standing up too, rising and coming towards him with those quick light steps of hers, getting right up in his personal space, leaning up on her tiptoes, and -- kissing his cheek.
"I owe you so much, you know," she said, backing away from where he stood, temporarily frozen with shock.
"I -- couldn't have gone on doing the things I was doing, for much longer. I would have died."
Warmth was flooding his face, his whole body, making it difficult to form a coherent thought.
With a great effort he pulled himself together long enough to smile, wish her goodnight, and leave, walking down the hall much slower than he usually did, thinking.
There had been something there, in her thoughts, something that his confused mind hadn't let him read at the time but was now jumping out at him with bold, astonishing clarity.
She had wanted him to kiss her back.
"Happiness is a specific. Misery is a generalization. People usually know exactly why they are happy. They rarely know why they are miserable."
"Destiny is a worrying concept. I don't want to be fated, I want to choose."
"Ben, we need to talk about this," his mother had said, sitting across from him, arms folded.
He hunched his shoulders, leaning toward her in his chair but saying nothing, afraid to speak.
Afraid that he had said too much already.
"If these dreams are something that is bothering you, we need to fix them. You can't go on like this, son. You're barely sleeping as it is, and now you're telling me you're -- having Force-dreams."
"I don't /know/ if they're Force-dreams or not, mother", he said in a low voice, slowly massaging his temple with his long fingers.
At 12 years old he was already taller than his mother, almost has tall as his father. Even sitting, as they both were now, he all but towered over her. But height didn't matter a great deal when it came to his mother. No matter how tall he was, when he was beside her, he /always/ felt small, almost miniscule.
Her presence, her energy was so strong, so vital, that nearly everyone backed down to her and acquiesced to her wishes, no matter the personal cost to themselves.
She was possessed of a beguiling nature; a magnetism that drew people to her, and subsequently to any cause that she may be championing at any given moment, which is what led to her immeasurable success within the Senate.
Ben had always been able to hold his own against her, although just barely so.
He had inherited her natural intelligence and her tenacity; and those things combined with his father's oftentimes exhaustive charisma made others listen to him, pay attention to him on the rare occasions he opened his mouth to voice his opinion on something.
Despite his gifts he was shy, painfully so, and only felt remotely comfortable when talking with immediate family, or close family friends.
He knew what his mother wanted; she had been pushing the matter for years, held back from imposing her will solely due to his father's persistent protests that Ben be free to make his own choices in life.
But the dreams--were becoming more real. More intense. Horrible, shattered images of death, of violence, of a heartless creature shrouded in a swirl of black going down a destructive path that no one, not even himself, could save him from.
"Baby", she had said, timidly reaching out to take his hands in hers, forcing him to look at her, "I can't bear to think that--that you're in pain. I don't want you to end up like my father; his path to self-destruction started because of dreams like the ones you're describing. I want to help you, Ben. Before you begin walking down a path I can't pull you back from."
"What if this /is/ my path, mother? What if this is the journey I'm meant to take? What if--this is my future?"
"No! I can't accept that, Ben. As your mother I can't just sit back and let you spiral into darkness!"
Tears were flooding her eyes now, swelling her throat and making her voice husky.
She composed herself before going on.
"Ben. I've--talked to Luke. He'll be here by the end of the week. He--"
"No!" Ben exploded out of his chair, furious eyes blazing on his mother. "How could you do this to me?! I don't want to train with Luke, I don't want to be a Jedi!"
His shoulders heaved in anger, his mind shrouded by a heavy red cloud, blocking out all thought, all reason.
Barely aware of what was happening, he flinched as the glass from their picture window suddenly burst into pieces, raining down in chips and shards into their living room.
Stunned, he walked with numb legs over to the windows remains, crunching through the glass and tracing the splintered wooden pane in awe.
He couldn't turn around to look at her, couldn't face her.
"Ben", she said again, rising from her seat and delicately picking her way around the shards to stand behind him, placing her arm lightly on his back.
"You have amazing capabilities with this gift. Choosing to ignore them won't make them go away. Ignoring your dreams won't make them go away, either. You need help. I can't help you. The only way I can help you is to send you to a person who has experience with this; who can help you learn balance, and serenity, and control."
"Luke loves you, Ben. He would never try to force you to be something you don't want to be. But he can help you, baby. He can help you understand your gift; he can help you find peace."
"What if--what if he fails? What if I can't learn to control myself; what if the dreams take over until there's nothing left of me? I don't--I can't disappoint you, mom. I can't."
Tears were rolling down his face, but he refused to wipe them away; refused to turn around show his mother, whom he loved more than anyone else, his pain, or his vulnerability. Refused to let her see just how close he was to madness; how hard he was clinging to his sanity in his own mind.
"You're my son, Ben. No matter what you do, you could never disappoint me.", she said, wrapping her arms around his waist.
He drew in a deep, shuddery sigh, hunching his shoulders and nodding his head in resignation. "Alright, if it's what you want, I'll go with Luke, mother. I'll be--a Jedi."
"I don't want you to be a Jedi, Ben; unless that's what /you/ end up wanting. I just want you to be happy, to be--yourself."
"I don't know what 'myself' is", he said in a low voice.
"Luke will help you find out, baby. Trust in him. Trust ME."
He woke up in a cold sweat, unmoving, staring up at the darkness of the ceiling.
Every so often he would have dreams like this one, where his sleeping mind brought up scenes of the past that his waking self tried so hard to forget.
For a few brief moments, laying in his bed, he could still /feel/ the imprint of his mother's arms around him; hear her sweet gentle voice whispering in his ear.
She had tried so hard to do what she felt was the best thing for him, claiming she only had his interests at heart.
Maybe she did; maybe she didn't.
His father had also claimed to have "his best interests" at heart. As did his Uncle Luke. And Snoke. And pretty much every person of significance in his life.
Always professing to know the "best thing" for him, backed by their own self-serving beliefs and desires, hidden under the guise of "love"; until he no longer felt like he knew what was "best" for HIMSELF.
He sighed, sitting up and stretching his arms above his head, knowing that any chances of sleep he may have had were now gone.
It was still dark outside; barely 3am and cold. It was always cold here, something that he had just gotten used to as the years rolled by.
He dressed himself quickly, still in the dark, grabbing his lightsaber and attaching it to his belt before heading out, pulling his door closed behind him, intending to go train in the courtyard.
He decided it was still dark enough and early enough to leave his mask behind, feeling it unlikely that he would run into anyone other than the occasional Guard.
The full moon made the grounds outside the castle very bright, creating a pleasing painting of ivory and obsidian, the shadowy angles and planes of the walls and the trees spilling into each other nicely.
He walked along, lost in his thoughts, when he was suddenly aware of sounds of a scuffle, somewhere around the bend ahead of him.
He slowed his pace and quieted his steps, moving into the shadow of a large tree to watch.
Standing on the path ahead of him was Naimh, struggling with who appeared to be an out of uniform StormTrooper, who was pressing reedy kisses into her tiny neck and tearing at the seams of her dress, attempting to force her backwards into the wall.
He felt anger, hot and choking, rise up through his body and stream into his head like a poison, filling his brain, blinding him with its white hot intensity.
He emerged swiftly, soundlessly from the darkness, stretching out his hand and instantly rendering the man motionless, relishing the look of surprise and panic that came over his face as he approached him.
Naimh backed up slowly until she was standing against the cold stone wall, shivering, watching the scene unfold with fear in her eyes.
"What are you doing, StormTrooper?", he asked in a quiet, deadly voice, temporarily unlocking his mouth so that he could answer.
"Lord Ren! It's not what you're thinking, I swear! I was just--"
His voice was abruptly cut off as the air was squeezed from his throat, his face rapidly changing colors, tears leaking from his eyes.
"I know what you were "just", soldier", Ren continued, walking around him in a slow circle before stopping directly in front of him, his face inches from his. "I can see into your mind, you know."
"But that's not what's important now. What's important is, you've got three seconds to tell me why you think you should live.", he said, briefly releasing his hold on the man's throat, watching as he struggled to bring air into his lungs so that he could speak.
"One," he counted, pulling his saber off his belt. "Two," as he ignited it, throwing a red glow against the snowy-white walls. "Three.", as he brought the saber down and plunged it through the man's heart, smiling to himself at the anguished scream that tore itself out through his lips.
Chuckling to himself, he turned off his saber and clipped it back into his belt, before turning to Naimh.
She was still standing against the wall, a look of pure horror on her face, seemingly frozen into place.
He frowned, coming close to her, and was more than a little surprised when she backed away from his advance, cowering slightly, her arms going up protectively in front of her face.
He stopped in his tracks, confused. Was she--was she /scared/ of him? As impossible as that seemed, that appeared to be the case.
He took a deep breath and slowly held his arms up in front of him, defensively, to show that he wasn't going to hurt her.
"It's okay, Naimh; I'm not going to harm you. I'm -- sorry, you had to see that. If-- if I scared you."
Her face relaxed a little, although she still held her defensive posture against the wall.
Finding her voice, she squeaked out "You didn't have to do that. You didn't --you didn't have to KILL him."
"He was a /person/, you know. A /person/", she said absurdly, causing a look of sheer disbelief to fall over his features.
Seriously? Was she being serious with him right now?
A /person/? No, not a /person/; a disgusting creature that had been seconds away from forcing himself, forcing his body, on the girl.
Did she not KNOW that? Was she somehow unaware? Unlikely, considering her past of having lived with men who had done the same things to her before.
He noted the way the fabric of her clothes was torn down her shoulder and sleeves, and again remembered all the vile things the Trooper had had in mind for her, feeling disgusted.
He wanted quite badly to go back and cut a few more marks into his body, slice him up into unrecognizable blood-splattered pieces.
It was only through an extreme force of will that be was able to prevent himself from doing so; that, and the sure knowledge that Naimh would probably be even more scared than she was now, if he were to act on his impulse.
She was shivering, her teeth chattering in her pale face. He shook his head at how flimsy the clothing she had on was, wondering why she was always so damn stubborn about taking care of herself.
Sighing, he untied his cloak and held it out to her for the second time since they had met, feeling a bit guilty that she, still scared, didn't reach out to take it from him.
Very slowly, cautiously, he came up to her and wrapped his cloak around her himself, pulling it over her shoulders and tying the hood with shaky fingers.
"I'm sorry", he said in a more sincere voice, backing away and looking at the ground. "You're right; I shouldn't have done that; I should have given him a chance to explain himself, then sent him to reconditioning. Or something. I'm sorry", he reiterated, glancing up at her with a furtive expression on his face.
She finally relaxed her pose, sighing as she pulled the cloak closer around herself, coming to stand beside him.
"I'm sorry, too, Lord Ren. You did what you felt you had to do; I have no right to question that", she said, staring at her feet.
He smiled a little, feeling better upon seeing her relax.
"Please, I want you to call me Kylo. No more of this Lord Ren nonsense; just Kylo."
"Alright--Kylo", she said, a light blush washing over her face, gleaming pink in the faint starlight.
"What are you doing out here, anyway? It's late--or should I say, early."
"I couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd take a walk. It looked so bright outside my window, I couldn't resist."
He frowned down at her, before reaching out to awkwardly place his hand on her shoulder.
"It's -- a little dangerous out here, for someone as -- delicate, as you. In the morning I'm going to requisition you a blaster, and make sure you're taught how to /use/ it."
She looked up into his face, her mouth turning up in a tentative grin. "That'd be interesting. I've never held a blaster before."
"Well, it's not as good as a lightsaber, in my opinion, but it'll do."
"If I had one of those I'd probably end up cutting my own head off", she said, causing the two of them to burst into easy laughter.
"Why are YOU out here, Kylo?", she asked, folding her arms in front of her chest.
"I -- couldn't sleep, either. I thought I'd come out and do some training."
"But", he said, looking down at her shyly, "If you don't mind, I think I'd like to -- walk with you. If you don't mind", he said again, hurriedly, looking at his feet.
"I'd like that," she said, also shyly. She gently took hold of his arm and walked with him quietly down the moon-soaked path, his cloak trailing out behind her.
"Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as hard as spending our lives running from it. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."
Standing in the presence of the Supreme Leader did not become easier with the passage of time.
The throne room, itself, did nothing to improve matters, either.
The area was large and sprawling, punctuated with delicate furniture, luxuriant paintings, and numerous indications of his immense wealth and power.
Yet despite the sometimes confusing intaglio of tasteful affects and the attempted "open" atmosphere, the entire room radiated an intensely cold, somewhat impersonal vibe.
It was a room that hosted foreign diplomats and First Order allies.
It was a room where traitorous prisoners were dragged before the throne and dismembered piece by piece with a flaming sword, pleas for mercy falling on deaf ears and a smiling face.
While Naimh thought that the Supreme Leader was pleased with her work for the First Order, it nevertheless made her heart pound and her palms sweaty to be called to stand before him.
To her, it always felt like the gentle tones in which he spoke to her were false, in a way; or hiding a different meaning under their surface. She couldn't articulate to herself WHY she felt this way; she just knew that she did.
Most likely, she thought, it was just her brain having trouble reconciling the ruthless cruelty she had witnessed him administering to enemies and subordinates alike with the almost-fatherly way he interracted with HER; referring to her as "my child", or "my dear" quite often.
Offering that small, cold little smile at the things she had to say.
The indulgent way he granted, with no hesitation whatsoever, her painfully timid requests for different things for her office.
Receiving such "terms of endearment " from this vile soul always made her cringe a little, internally.
He hadn't physically touched her since that first day when he had lifted her chin to look into her eyes; however, she did not forget what it felt like.
The cold, rough fingers, the watchful dark eyes, the frightening grayish-blue pallor of his skin; all of these things put together gave her a modicum of unease . . . and fear.
She had spoken to Kylo about this, at length.
Sadly, he ended up inadvertently telling her the most disturbing thing of all, and although it should have been an obvious conclusion, it was nonetheless disheartening to hear Ren's words bring it into reality:
Snoke was a mind-reader.
Which, again, should have been more than obvious.
Snoke and Kylo Ren were both dark force-users. Aggressively probing the minds of others had become something as natural as breathing for them, as blinking.
Kylo had read her mind the first time they met, and quite a few times afterwards (although she was not quite aware of this latter fact).
Yet in his presence, she did not feel fear.
Nor did she sense any malice from him in regards to viewing her thoughts; although she probably would have if she had been one of the prisoners he interrogated on a semi regular basis.
With Snoke, the idea of him invading her head caused her actual physical pain.
In his presence, she was constantly worried that he would hear some random string of words, or pervasive bad feelings that she had regarding His Majesty and the way he ran his empire; hear her thoughts and then order her executed.
As he had done with countless others.
While there was no actual way of stopping this process from taking place, Kylo had attempted to teach her a "trick" of sorts, to ease her discomfort of having Snoke read her mind.
Again, this was something that should have been glaringly simple:
Think of other things.
Or rather, purposefully try to fill her mind with things that she would not care about others seeing into.
Therefore, whenever she was called before Snoke she fought her hardest to think of the patients she had seen; her mind conjuring up countless images of her laying her hands on the sick and the hurting and bringing them back to health. Let him see those things on a continuous loop; let him think she was obsessed with her job and nothing more.
Certainly not her growing attachment to his apprentice.
She wasn't even sure what that was, exactly, these feelings that materialized whenever he was near.
At the simplest, most basic level, it was merely friendship. A coming together of two people teetering on the verge of emotional starvation; misused and lonesome, grateful to finally come into contact with someone who they could talk to.
Not that there were many topics that the two of them could talk about comfortably.
Their individual pasts were largely unspeakable, and the present revolved so heavily around "work" that neither felt it would make for worthwhile conversational bits.
Mostly they talked about books.
Naimh was not very well-read, having had no opportunity for it in her previous life. However since she came to the First Order she had discovered a great love for reading and literature, enjoying the fantasy, the escapism that different works could provide.
Kylo had been formally educated as a child, having read many different works; however as an adult he found that the nature of his work did not leave him with ample free time in which to enjoy the act as being one of leisure, the way Naimh did.
Nevertheless they were able to find some pieces on which they had similar opinions, and they used these as conversation-starters.
For some reason speaking about such innocuous topics made it easier to segue into a variety of other ones, slowly getting to know each other by means of their thoughts and feelings.
The concept of having a "friend" was so foreign to each of them that they didn't quite know what to label the situation, if a label were needed.
They just knew that spending time in each other's presence was comforting, was natural, and easy.
They both stood before Snoke now, each wondering why they had been sent for; and why together.
"Naimh; my dear, I have an important assignment for you," he said in his low, feathery voice.
"On the planet Serreno there resides a woman named Atainai. She heads a small but extraordinarily talented group of combat fighters, trained in a unique style of fighting and warfare."
"For a very long time I have wanted to make this woman and her fighters a part of the First Order; but Atainai is a stubborn woman and refuses to cooperate."
"Our operatives have received word that she is very ill, suffering from a massive internal infection from an injury sustained in battle. No one has been able to help her; they fear she is a mere handful of days away from death."
Here he paused, shifting in his seat a little, eyes searching her solemn face.
"We have extended an offer to her subordinates, and they, being desperate, have accepted."
He smiled down at her expectantly, leaning forward, his voice dropping slightly lower.
"I have agreed to send them a 'miracle'; a First Order advanced cure for their Mistress, promising that what I'm sending will save her life. In return, once she is healed, she and her band of soldiers shall join The Order."
"Naimh; do you feel like you are up to this task?"
"Of course, Supreme Leader," she said, bowing her head.
"Very good, my dear."
Now he turned to address Kylo, the corners of his mouth twisting upwards in an imitation of a smile.
"Lord Ren, you shall accompany Naimh on this journey, for protection. I was going to send her with a squad of StormTroopers; but I felt she may be more comfortable being accompanied by someone with whom she is 'friendly'."
"Do you agree with this assessment, my dear?", he directed his attention back to Naimh, pretending not to notice the blush slowly creeping its way up her neck and face.
"Yes, Supreme Leader; I should be honored to partake in whatever assignment you see fit for me, Sir."
He nodded down at her, the eccedentesiast expression still lingering on his features, before turning back to Kylo.
"I assume you can handle this journey, Lord Ren, without the additional need for a StormTrooper guard?"
"Of course, my master," he said, bowing his head.
"Excellent. Then both of you may go. Rest yourselves well; you leave at first light in the morning. Lord Ren, I shall be sending your command shuttle the coordinates of your destination before take-off. And now; dismiss."
They both bowed before him once more before taking their leave, each absorbed in their own thoughts about their upcoming journey.
Once in the hallway, and a safe enough distance away from the throne room, Kylo turned to her and said, with a grin, "Looks like we've earned ourselves a little vacation, doesn't it?"
"So it would seem," she said, frowning a little to herself.
He noticed the frown and wondered at it, thinking dismally to himself "Maybe -- she doesn't like the idea of being alone with me, for so long."
"What's wrong?", he asked out-loud, curious although somewhat afraid to hear her answer.
"I was just thinking--", she began, looking sideways at him, "That I don't think I have a single thing to wear, that isn't one of my work garments."
He relaxed a little, looking down at her, a grin tugging at his full lips.
"Well, you are going to /work/, after all", he said teasingly.
"You shouldn't worry so much, anyway. You always look so pretty, no matter what you're wearing."
Oh, Force, did I just say that out loud?, he asked himself, embarrassed. She's going to think I'm pathetic.
But she was smiling ear to ear from his little comment, looking happier than he had seen her in a while.
"Really? Do you really think that?", she asked shyly.
"Not at all," he replied, smirking. "You're the most hideous creature I've ever seen, ever, Naimh. Really."
She burst out laughing before reaching up and lightly hitting him on the shoulder.
"Look who's talking, Lord Ugly"; and then they were both laughing, before splitting up and heading down the hallways towards their individual quarters, to prepare for their journey.
They left early the next day, while the sun was still peaking over the edge of the earth, the air cool and moist.
They boarded the shuttle and stowed their bags in the luggage compartments, before Kylo strode over to the cockpit, preparing to take up his temporary position as Captain.
"Oh", she Naimh, surprise coloring her tone, as she watched him climb into the pilot's seat behind the controls of the shuttle.
"What is it?", he asked, still facing away from her as he checked over the controls and monitors, making sure everything was in working order before their takeoff.
"Um, it's just uh . . . "
He turned his head to stare at her, narrowing his eyes and brushing a stray black lock off of his face.
"What's /wrong/?", he asked, frustrated.
She coughed into her hand, gently, before hurriedly looking at the floor.
"I just--it's nothing, I just--I hadn't thought that you would know how to pilot a ship yourself, that's all", she said, her face going pale crimson. "I mean, I thought you'd be someone who has this sort of thing done /for/you, is all."
He turned back towards the controls, suppressing the urge to laugh out loud.
"I'm not completely useless, you know," he said teasingly over his shoulder.
Before she could reply he went on,
"Besides, this ship is easy to fly. Everything is brand new, top of the line, very fast, very convenient. You should have been around when I first learned to fly on my father's hunk of junk ship," he chuckled, shaking his head. "If there was ever a flying death trap, that was it. If I could manage /that/ thing, I could manage /any/thing."
He unconsciously grimaced to himself, his own words burning him as they always did at the mention of his father.
Shaking it off, he again spoke over his shoulder to her, inquiring in a low voice, "I don't suppose you've ever learned to fly, have you?"
Sighing a little, she walked over to him, standing behind his chair and resting her hands on the headrest. "You suppose correctly."
"I could -- show you some things. If you want, that is."
A look of excitement flashed over her face; quickly replaced with fear, and anxiety. "I don't know, Kylo. What if I --crash us, or something? Snoke won't exactly be pleased if he hears that both of us are smashed into the side of a moon, or something."
He laughed out-loud at that, twisting around to look up into her face.
"You don't have to take the controls if it makes you feel uncomfortable. But how about you just watch me, for a while? I think--it'd be a good idea, for you to at least have a basic knowledge of how to work this thing. You never know when it might come in handy."
She smiled at that, moving to sit in the copilot seat, leaning over closely to him to watch. "I guess I can't argue with that logic."
Kylo spent the next half hour explaining to her the functions of various controls, demonstrating how to use them as they left the planet's atmosphere and lifted into the blackness of space.
He glanced at her from time to time as he was speaking, pleased to see how intent she looked; how carefully she was watching his hands on the controls and paying attention to his instructions.
He was growing increasingly aware of her presence in this small, enclosed space; of the energy she seemed to be leaking out into the air.
She was very close, close enough so that he could touch her face if he stretched out his fingertips. Close enough to appreciate her scent; some subtle yet noticeable perfume, notes of vanilla and jasmine blending smoothly with a honeysuckle base.
Aside from his low voice and the faint hum of the ship's engines, it was really very quiet.
He was struck, again, with the thought of how /odd/ it was that Snoke should be so adamant about sending out the two of them, alone, on this mission.
They reached their intended path and he punched their coordinates into the monitor, setting the ship on autopilot and leaning back into his seat, stretching his long legs.
He hazarded another look in her direction.
She too was leaning back into her seat, arms folded across her chest and gazing out the window quietly.
The look on her face was calm, contemplative, almost--dream-like.
"I'll bet that's what she looks like when she's sleeping," he thought to himself.
She face looked--beautiful.
She must have sensed him staring, because she shifted her gaze to his face, adjusting her position a little bit and smiling.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?", she asked, and for a moment he panicked, thinking she had somehow heard his thoughts.
He realized what she was talking about a second later, as she turned back towards the window and said "There are so many stars, so many planets--it's hard to imagine how many people must live on them."
She looked back at him, a serious expression on her face as she said "Do you ever think about things like that, Kylo? Like, you can look at a planet and know that there are millions, maybe billions of different people, different /lives/ happening in those places?"
He sighed a little, looking at the window himself and absently running his fingers through his hair.
"No, not really. I mean I know you're right, but--it's not something I think about so much anymore."
He turned towards her, sitting up straighter, eyes locking with hers as he continued in a hardened voice,
"People are overrated, anyway. Everybody is always looking out for themselves, serving petty self-interests, seeking professional advancement, or riches, or power. You can't--you can't trust anyone."
She said nothing; only stared at him with a look of hurting and sadness on her face, until he said, somewhat sheepishly, "Well, okay, maybe that doesn't apply to /everyone/."
"No, not to everyone," she said, a slow smile spreading over her face. She sat up, her eyes holding his, as she continued,
"I like to think that /all/ people have /some/ good in them. Even if it's buried deep. Even if--even if they don't know it themselves."
He looked down at his lap, biting his lower lip.
"It's amazing how optimistic you are, considering the life you've had", he said, then flinched, instantly sorry that he had said something so insensitive.
If she was offended, she didn't show it. She merely nodded and said "Some days, optimism is all I have, Kylo."
She stood up abruptly, letting out a yawn. "I'm a little tired. If you don't mind, I think I'm going to go and take a nap in the bunk area."
He nodded and watched her walk away, thinking of so many things at once that he was a little dizzy with it.
"Rest well", he said softly, as the door closed behind her.
"No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were, and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of that change; you just come out on the other side.
Or maybe you don't."
They arrived at the planet earlier than expected, and upon touchdown of their shuttle, a small contingent of warriors stood in formal lines on either side of the craft's doors, to greet them.
When the doors opened, one older man emerged from the crowd, stepping forward to shake their hands and guide them into the building. He introduced himself as Jamison, main advisor and counsellor to the woman they were here to see, the ill leader of this tribe, Atainai Metulla.
"It's been just terrible," he was saying, leading them into a brightly-lit room and beckoning them to sit in the large chairs.
"She was gashed in the side during our last battle with our enemies, the Ramordians. They launched a sneak offense on us in the middle of the night. We tried to get her to stay put, protected in her secured quarters, but . . . " he trailed off, smiling ruefully to himself. "When she's determined to do something, no one can stop her."
"In all honestly, despite her age, she is the best warrior we have in this tribe. She has trained every single one of our men in her combative style herself. I never . . . I never thought the day would come when I saw her like this, so . . . helpless."
"We thought that she would get better, eventually; but her condition just worsened as time went on. It seems to have spread inside, attacking her body from the inside out."
"We've had countless Doctors, medicine men, and other things out here to try and help her. The most anyone can do is ease her suffering, but only temporarily. No one has been able to 'fix' the problem."
Now he looked up at Naimh, a pleading expression on his face.
"Your Supreme Leader Snoke told us that--he had something which could help her, in return for our allegiance to his empire. We were told that our tribe here, this area, would be made into one of your bases; that we would be sent groups of your soldiers to train in our combative style."
"Atainai was reluctant to this idea at first, but, after much persuasion, we finally got her to agree to those conditions in order to --to save her."
Now he stood, gesturing towards the door where two armed Guards stood, eyeing Kylo apprehensively as they stepped into the room.
"These two men will escort you to her room, now. Good luck," he said, placing a hand on Naimh's shoulder and gently squeezing. "I truly hope you can help her."
Kylo Rose and took his place beside her, preparing to follow the Guards, when one of them looked at him, nodding as he said,
"Excuse me, Lord Ren, we have prepared an area for you to wait in while your companion--"
"Where she goes, I go", he coolly cut across their words, his voice coming out a bit more strained than he had intended, even with the modulator.
The two men exchanged a glance and then nodded, quickening their pace down the dimly lit hall.
"She must be his mate," the taller of the two thought to himself. "So protective. It's odd, though; I didn't think Jedi's were /allowed/ to have mates."
The other man thought, "If this is how they do things in The First Order, I'm not so sure I'd want to join. Pairing off these two is a bit extreme; I can't imagine this sweet girl would choose this man on her own."
Kylo heard their thoughts and smiled to himself, despite the overall tension of the situation. He had an urge to correct their errant assumptions, but wisely decided to hold his tongue.
"Jedi", he scoffed inside his head. Jedi, indeed.
But they are right, in a way, about the other situation. "If we were 'mates'", he thought sadly, "It would /had/ to have been an pre-arranged situation; Naimh would /never/ choose me on her own."
When they got to the doors, he noticed both of the men drawing in a deep breath, and the smaller one turned to them both, eyes grave in his pale face.
"Brace yourselves," he said simply, before they stepped inside.
The intense feeling of the room hit Kylo as soon as the door was opened, a palpable, throbbing flood of agony. It scattered his thoughts for a bit, leaving him slightly disorientated as he wondered, "How in the world is this woman still alive?"
Clearly the situation was more serious than Snoke had let on; or perhaps, more than he actually knew.
He had said that the woman was days from death; but to Kylo, it looked more like /hours/.
The small figure lay sprawled across a large bed, writhing and jerking from
side to side. Kylo didn't know what she had looked like prior to getting sick; but this woman was even thinner than Naimh had been when they first found her; her emaciated body and sharp haunted face giving her the look of a demon risen from the depths of hell. She was in her early 40's, and normally quite strong and energetic when she was well. However the illness had added premature lines to her face, making her appear far older than she was.
She was yowling softly to herself, eyes rolling in random looping patterns all over the room, until they stopped and focused on the two outsiders standing in the doorway.
She shrieked to herself, exhibiting a surprising amount of strength as she heaved her broken body to the far side of the bed, staring from beneath sweat-matted hair and muttering words in an indecipherable language.
Kylo didn't ask for a translation, but he picked up from the minds of the two men that she thought Kylo and Naimh were the Angel of Death and the Guardian of Life, respectively, there to bargain for her soul.
If Naimh felt apprehensive about treating this woman, she didn't show it.
She turned to the two guards and asked, in her soft voice, "Could each of you grab an arm and hold her, please, so that she doesn't hurt herself while I'm helping her?"
The men warily moved over to the bed and each gingerly grabbed an arm and held the lady down, fending off her weak struggles as she tried to free herself.
Naimh approached the bed slowly, taking careful measured steps until she was right next to the woman.
She reached down tentatively to touch her face with her fingertips, smoothing back her hair before saying "My name is Naimh; I'm here to help you."
The woman stopped struggling and went limp, eyes boring into Naimh's face as she choked out, in Basic this time, "It's too late; nobody can help now."
Naimh only smiled and said, taking her hand, "There's no such thing as too late."
She closed her eyes, grasping Atainai's hand more firmly.
Heat flowed from her touch, making the woman gasp as it wrapped her entire body like a blanket; like Fire reaching out and stirring her blood with It's flaming fingers.
A few moments later, it was all over, and Naimh let go of her hand, stepping back.
Atainai shrugged off the hands of the two holding her down, experimentally sitting up for the first time in weeks.
The pain was gone, as was the fever. Strength was already returning to her weakened arms and legs, and a vitality that she had not felt in days was returning to her slowly, inch by inch, until it was as though she had never been ill in the first place.
Rising from her bed, in utter disbelief at the complete absence of the pain that had been ravaging her body for so long, she walked slowly towards Naimh.
She enclosed the younger woman into a tight hug, kissing both of her cheeks repeatedly, thanking her for the gift of her life.
"Your gifts are quite remarkable, child. You have saved my life, and it is a debt which I could never repay. As discussed, my tribe and I are ready to fulfill our promise to pledge our loyalty and servitude to The First Order."
"Melchai," she continued, addressing one of her Guards, "Please show Lord Ren to the chambers of my Advisor, where they may discuss in detail our transition into the Order."
"As for this young lady," she continued, smiling as she gently took Naimh's arm, "I shall give her a personal tour of our grounds. If that is fine with you, my Lord," she said, addressing Kylo.
Judging that she would be safe with Atainai, Kylo nodded and left with the Guards, leaving the two women to wander freely over the grounds of this camp.
"It's so beautiful here," Naimh sighed a little to herself, walking with Atainai along a tree-lined pond, water sparkling in the afternoon sunshine. "I'll be sad to go; but now that you're part of the First Order, maybe we'll come back here more often."
"You and your husband cannot leave us so soon; my men are preparing a feast for us even now as we speak. It is a matter of honor, and the very least we can do."
Naimh blushed, looking down at her feet. "He isn't my husband. He is the Enforcer of the Order; I am the 'doctor' of sorts. We're friends, if anything at all. Coworkers. Nothing more."
Atainai smiled at her, putting a hand on her shoulder.
"Child, throughout my life I've become a Master at reading the energies of others. Every person has their own flow of power, of thoughts and feelings and auras, that they put forth into the world.
Your energy and his, they swirl and flow around each other, balancing, pulling together, creating a perfect circle. You are what my people refer to as life twins."
Naimh smiled at this, although it did not change her opinion on the futility of pursuing the matter.
Atainai was watching her with shrewd eyes, as if reading her mind, and said, in a softer voice, "His spirit calls out to yours, and yours to him. It would be a tragedy if you both chose not to answer that call."
The food was delicious, if somewhat odd. Naimh had never heard of some of the dishes being served, although she was willing to try everything.
Presumably Kylo had never experienced some of the food either, as a look of confusion crossed his face several times during the evening as he looked at the dishes set in front of them; although, like her, he seemed to favor the majority.
It had made him nervous, having to remove his mask to eat. With Naimh's encouragement he was able to do it, trying his hardest to hold back his self-conscious tendencies and just relax himself.
After a while, he succeeded, enjoying listening to the men tell stories about their past battles, the strategist in him reveling at the details of combat and weaponry that they described.
Naimh tried to listen, too, although she was somewhat distracted.
Was Kylo /completely/ oblivious to the stares of the women seated around the table?
The way their eyes followed his every movement, caressing over his handsome face and body?
The way the one closest to him on the opposite side was slow to take her hands away from his when passing him bowls or drinks, her fingers lightly stroking over his much longer than necessary?
He seemed not to notice, but she couldn't /stop/noticing; couldn't stop seeing the faces of all those silly swooning women as they stared at him throughout most of the evening.
At the end of the meal, Atainai offered them both rooms for the night, saying that it wouldn't be prudent for them to begin their long journey home until the next morning.
They agreed, and were led to separate rooms across a hallway from one another.
Kylo says he was going to go back to the ship and make contact with Snoke regarding the success of their mission; he would bring her bag back for her when he returned.
He left and she entered her room, looking around. There was a large bed rooted to the floor by four tall gold pillars, sheets and blankets a snowy white, and very comfortable looking.
With a grin, she ran at it with a childish giggle and hopped up, bouncing slightly, pleased that it was just as comfortable as it looked.
She climbed to her knees and looked out the window situated at the foot of her bed.
The sun had set and the night was dark, punctuated by a few bright stars and wispy clouds, glowing ghostly-white against the dark sky.
She got up and walked to the little door on the opposite side of her room, discovering a tiny refresher.
"It wouldn't kill me to take a shower," she thought to herself, stepping inside and pulling the door behind her.
She emerged about 20 minutes later, wet haired and glistening skin, pulling one of the huge fluffy towels around her little body and stepping back into the room, hoping that Kylo had dropped off her bag so that she could change.
She didn't expect to see Kylo himself, sitting quietly at the edge of her bed, staring out the window.
He was so absorbed with whatever he was looking at that he didn't seem to notice that she had come out of the refresher at all.
She stepped forward, clearing her throat a bit and pulling the towel more securely around herself.
He jumped a little, as if startled, then stood and crossed the room to the opposite side, gesturing to a bag sitting on her pillow.
"I brought your things in for you", he said, blushing a bit as he looked at her dripping, towel-wrapped form.
"Thank you," she said, subtly pulling her towel tighter before going to sit on the edge of her bed, facing him. "So what did Snoke have to say?"
"Oh, he was very pleased, of course", he replied, smirking. "He's been trying to acquire this group for years, and now, thanks to you, he's finally got them."
"I'm glad he's happy", she said, pulling a wet lock of hair back from her face. "I'm glad we got here in time. I like these people; especially Atainai. I think we got here just in time, though; I think--another few days, and she would have . . ."
Kylo nodded somberly in agreement. "I felt that, too. She's really grateful to you, you know; and she likes you quite a great deal. Her thoughts were just continually singing out praises for you the entire time we were at dinner."
Naimh smiled at that, looking down at her toes.
"I should probably go; we leave at first light tomorrow, is that fine with you?"
"It's fine with me."
"Can I ask you something?", he said hesitantly, turning to face her, his hand grazing the doorknob.
"Of course," she said, pulling her knees up to her chin, looking at him.
He turned fully towards her, fingers fidgeting with the fringe of his cowl, not looking her in the eyes.
"Don't get mad," he began, still messing with his robe, "But--I was listening to something you were thinking earlier. It wasn't very clear, but two words kept leaping out at me. I just--I'm so curious, I want to know what they mean."
"What two words are those?", she asked nervously, hugging her knees closer to herself, afraid of whatever it was he had picked up from her mind.
It was so unexpected for a moment that she was silent, unsure of what to say. She hadn't even been aware that she was /still/ thinking of what their hostess had said to her earlier.
"It's just something Atainai was telling me earlier", she said, blushing, looking down at the bedspread as she hurried through an explanation of what the term meant, finishing by saying, shyly, "She thinks -- that that applies to me and you. Life twins. Crazy, right?" She forced a chuckle, not daring to meet his eyes.
He didn't answer at first, instead gazing at her with a diffident expression on his face.
When he did speak, his voice was low, quiet, somewhat disheartened.
"That /is/ crazy", he said, running the back of his neck slowly. "You're so much better than /this/", he said, limply gesturing to himself with his free hand.
Abruptly he turned around, saying again, "It's late; I should get going to my room. Let you get some sleep. I'll see you in the morning, Naimh."
"Kylo?", she said, standing, padding slowly across the room towards him, holding her towel wrapped around her like a cloak.
Moving close to him, she could now actually /feel/ what Atainai was talking about earlier; the electric pull of energy, the strong spark of /feeling/ that seemed to be flowing out of both of them, dancing throughout the air and converging together in the space between them; hands reaching out and pulling the two pieces into each other.
Heart thudding painfully in his chest, he turned to face her, looking down at her.
She closed the distance between them, gliding underneath his arm and raising herself up on her tiptoes to press a soft kiss into his full lips.
He stood stunned, for a moment, unable to react; then he gently cradled her face in his hands and returned her kiss with one of his own,
fingertips grazing her delicate features.
She smiled to herself, smiled around the lips that were melting into her own, thinking.
She had never been kissed before.
This was her first kiss.
All the men who had taken advantage of her, abused her body, assaulted her with their desires; it was as though all of that fell away into pieces, a meaningless jumble of clouded glass, the moment his lips touched hers.
This wasn't just her first.
This was her everything.
"Who taught you to write in blood on my back? Who taught you to use your hands as branding irons? You have scored your name into my shoulders, referenced me with your mark."
Kylo was more scared than he had ever been before, waiting to be summoned to the throne room with Naimh.
They had been back from their journey for a few hours, and had been waiting for the call to go and see the Supreme Leader.
He did not know how Snoke would react once he had found that he and Naimh had--kissed.
He knew that he would see it all; the feelings that had finally been acknowledged by both of them, the helpless way they had clung to one another on the ship coming home, the way it now felt physically painful to be apart from her, everything.
He was more or less confident in his abilities to shield his mind from his Master, if need be. After all, he had learned from the very best.
But Naimh had no such abilities, no practice in controlling her thoughts or reigning in her emotions. And Snoke would pluck every memory, every detail from her head, one by one, until he had all the information he needed to use as fuel against them.
He was scared not for himself but for /her/, this sweet slight girl who tasted like honey and felt like silk. Who, against all odds, felt the same ardor for him as he for her.
But really, /surely/, Snoke must have /known/ that this would happen. Sending them alone even after picking up on the tamer, unrealized affections the two stored in the deepest reaches of their minds for each other. He /must/ have.
And if that was the case, it meant that he had a plan of some sort for them both.
But what was it?
"Are you okay?", Naimh asked him, pulling him out of his thoughts.
He was pacing restlessly around her office, pausing every so often to look at their datapads lying on the table to see if their summons had popped up yet. She was sitting on her couch, legs folded nearly under her, watching him.
He paused in his pacing long enough to look out the window. He could see the courtyard where he liked to train from here, with its high, ivory-clad walls and boot-trampled brown-green grass.
Should he tell her?, he wondered to himself, looking out the window longer than necessary to prepare his answer.
No need to scare her, for no reason.
After all, his worry that Snoke might be disapproving, or retaliatory of their newfound romantic liaison was purely speculative, at this point.
Besides, he reasoned once again in his head, it's not like he didn't /know/ that something like this would happen; so by that logic, he could not be angry at the outcome.
Hells; maybe he just wouldn't /care/, at all.
No need for her to worry, yet.
"There's nothing wrong", he finally said, leaving the window and going to sit down next to her.
"I guess I'm just restless, is all. I always feel restless after coming home from a trip. I'm thinking I need to go and train sometime soon; I've missed having that in my routine this past week."
She looked sideways at him, concerned, feeling as though there was something else on his mind but deciding not to press the issue further.
"I think you need a good rest, Kylo", she said in a low voice, reaching out to stroke his wavy hair with her fingers.
He closed his eyes, leaning into her touch. "That feels good", he said, shifting his position so that he was laying with his head in her lap. He relished the feel of her hands weaving lightly through his hair, stopping to massage and gently scratch different parts of his head.
She leaned down and softly kissed his closed eyelids, and then his lips, smiling to herself at how sweet he was like this, how vulnerable.
At that moment, a loud buzz from the table made them both jump, a little.
Kylo sat up and picked up his datapad, seeing the expected message flash in red across the bottom of his screen.
He waited for Naimh's to buzz as well, but it never did. They waited 5 minutes, 10, and still no summons.
When he could hold off going no longer, he slipped on his mask and took his leave, more than a little relived that he was going to face Snoke alone.
As he entered the throne room, he was surprised to see Snoke looking more jovial than was normal, more relaxed.
I wonder why, he thought to himself as he knelt and bowed his head.
"Rise, my young apprentice," he said.
"Let me be the first to congratulate you on a successful mission. The tribe of Atainai is an immensely powerful addition to the First Order. You and Naimh are to be commended on your diplomatic efforts; and Naimh on her magnificent abilities. You'll be sure to convey my thanks to her, won't you, Lord Ren?"
"Yes, my Master," he replied, struggling to keep his mind neutral upon hearing Naimh's name.
If Snoke noticed his efforts, he did not comment on them. Rather, he seemed anxious to speak to him about something else.
"Lord Ren, I have a somewhat interesting proposal for you. I have been thinking a great deal about Naimh lately, and her healing talents. I find myself wondering, if she can access a power such as that, she may be able to access other abilities as well, including -- being able to use the Force."
"How is that possible, Master?", Kylo interrupted, unable to stop himself. "I've always believed that the Force is something you cannot be taught; it is a natural ability that you either have, or don't."
"You may be right, Lord Ren; but that does not mean that there is harm in trying, is there?", he asked, that familiar sly smile playing over his twisted face.
"If she agrees to it, I'd like you to take her on as your pupil. Attempt to teach her as much as you can, see if it is possible for her to gain the abilities that you have. If not, then no harm is done."
"But", he continued, his expression taking on a scheming look that Kylo didn't quite care for, "Just think of how powerful of an asset she could be to us. More so than she already is."
"It should be a pleasant learning experience for you both, Lord Ren. And I'm sure she won't mind benefitting from your tutelage; I believe she's quite fond of you, as a person."
He said that last part in a nonchalant, offhandedly sort of fashion that made Kylo suspicious that he knew more about his and Naimh's situation than he was letting on.
But he said nothing of his idea out-loud, nor did he let his mind slip away from the carefully crafted wall it was throwing up around his personal feelings towards the girl.
"Yes, my Master; I will do my best", he said, bowing his head once more before he was dismissed from the room.
He slowly wound his way through the hallways towards her quarters, wondering how he was going to propose all of this to her; wondering what she would say, would /think/.
When he got to her door, he pulled off his mask and tucked it under his arm, before tapping lightly on the frame with his knuckles.
She opened it, looking pleased to see him.
She appeared to have showered and changed her clothes since he'd been gone; wearing a casual dark blue dress that set off the color of her creamy white skin.
She looks beautiful, he thought, and automatically repressed an urge to grab her, to kiss her.
That was something he would have to work to overcome. The strict no-attachment doctrine that the Jedi prescribed to had been ingrained in his mind as a younger man, and later in life, his inexperience combined with an aversion to letting others get emotionally close to him had made for a /very/ romantically stunted person.
He wasn't used to this; wasn't used to acknowledging passion, or desire. Wasn't used to being open, being affectionate.
However, all things considered, he felt that he wouldn't mind learning to do these things /now/.
And so he picked her up with one arm as he came in the door, ignoring her playful squeals of protest as he captured her lips in a deep kiss.
He walked over to the table and set his helmet down, then joined his arm
to his other one in holding her up off the floor, squeezing gently around her waist.
He walked with her over to the couch, not breaking the kiss as he sat down and adjusted her on his lap.
After a few minutes of his ministrations, she eventually pulled away, coming up for air and panting slightly.
"What's all this for?", she asked, smiling.
He didn't answer at first; instead moving his lips to beneath her ear , letting his warm breath glide and tickle over the skin before sinking into a series of firm kisses down her jawline and neck. She gasped and shuddered convulsively, arms tightening around the back of his neck.
"Just thought I'd practice a little", he said with a low chuckle, lowering his head again and brushing his lips along her collarbone.
Sighing happily, she said "You're in a better mood than when you left. Snoke must have had something good to say to you."
Thinking of Snoke made him involuntarily tense up, and he sighed as he gently lifted her off of his lap and sat her down beside him.
"What's wrong?", she asked, aware of the sudden shift in his mood.
He paused, not sure how to tell her what Snoke had in mind for her. For them.
Taking a deep breath, he gave her a detailed account of everything that had been said in their meeting, carefully watching her face as he came to the bit about Jedi training.
"Snoke thinks that you might have an affinity for it," he said, looking down at his hands. "That--you may find it easy to access the ability to use the Force, with proper training."
"Of course, it might not work; but he wants you -- us, to at least give it a trial run."
"Has that ever been done before; someone being able to use the Force from studying it, rather than being born with it?", she asked.
"As far as I know, no. But it could be that you /do/ have those abilities but are just unaware of it. Your healing powers could be indicative of Force Sensitivity that hasn't been fully realized, or utilized."
"Aren't I--aren't I too old to learn?", she asked curiously. "I mean I have no experience with this first hand, but I remember reading in one of my books that most people who are force sensitive start learning how to use their powers very young, like before they reach adulthood."
He thought about that for a moment, before answering "I think it could just be dependent on the person. For example my Uncle Luke didn't discover he was force sensitive, or learn to use his sensitivity, until he was already in his 20's. I discovered mine at about 12 or so. So yeah, I'd have to say it varies for everyone."
She was quiet for a while before saying, in a timid voice, "I think it would be interesting to try and learn this. I'm willing to learn if you're willing to teach."
"Do you think you can trust me to be a good teacher?"
"Of course, Kylo", she said, leaning up to kiss his cheek. "I trust you with a lot more than that, you know."
"Hey", she went on, a mischievous grin spreading over her face, "IF it does turn out that I /can/ use the Force, and I'm good at it; does that mean I get my own . . . lightsaber?"
He laughed at the enthusiasm in her voice. "Yes, I think it does. I'll have to show you how to build your own; you'll love that."
"And wait 'till I teach you my awesome blade-skills! With my expertise, you'll be the best warrior on the planet!", he said teasingly.
She rolled her eyes at his joking. "Sounds like we'll have a lot to practice."
"But for now," she said, climbing back into his lap and taking his face between her hands, "I'd like to go back to our other practice session, if you don't mind."
He curved his pouty lips into a smile, grasping her waist and pulling her in close, wondering if it was possible to have your heart explode from too much happiness.
And not caring in the least.
"It gives me strength to have someone to fight for; I can never fight for myself, but, for others, I can kill."
"You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength."
"Try it again."
Kylo sat cross-legged on the ground across from her, watching intently. He could feel the struggle going on within her mind and felt a twinge of pity for her, remembering how difficult it had been for HIM, so long ago, to put a focus to his thoughts and make things happen with it.
Her brows furrowing, her facial muscles contorting, she gazed raptly at the pile of stones sitting to their left, stacked in lopsided configurations.
Slowly, slowly, the rock situated on the very top of the taller tower rose up into the air, wobbling slightly as it floated through space and landed neatly on the shorter stack.
Kylo smiled to himself, pleased.
They had been engaging in training sessions such as this one every day for the past three weeks.
Having her expand her mind wide enough to allow in the presence of the Force had been difficult, at first. But Snoke had been right; it WAS there, and it just needed grooming to bring it out into the open.
While her physical manipulation of the Force was still in its developmental stages, her mental prowess in regards to it were shockingly strong.
She had been able to determine the part of her brain that aided her when she healed others, and harness the energy there to engage in the mental nuisances of her training.
The first time he had witnessed this in action, he had been somewhat shocked.
They had been leaving Snoke's chambers, having just reported to him how her training was proceeding, and were walking the hallways in silence.
He had been thinking to himself of his nightly meditation session, and wondering whether he should start including Naimh in them, or keeping it a private matter.
He was also wondering whether, if he DID include her, he should find an area indoors to do so in. He found the courtyard soothing to meditate in; having gotten used to the sounds of nature and the bustle of people like background music .
But people who were new to the concept, and not used to clearing out their mind and filtering all outside influences, might be distracted by the noise and constant motion of the outdoors.
Out of no where, Naimh said in a quiet voice beside him, "I like it outdoors; I think it's peaceful."
He had looked at her and stopped in his tracks, taken aback.
"What did you say?"
"That I like it outside. Weren't you--weren't you just thinking about that?", she asked timidly, eyes on his face.
"I was", he said, trying to contain his excitement. "You heard that?"
She smiled a little, lightly tapping her temple with her index finger.
"It's--very low. Like hearing someone speak through a thick wall. But it's--there."
He grabbed her hand and brought it to his lips, lightly kissing her fingertips.
"I'm so proud of you! How long have you been able to do this?!"
She blushed as she withdrew her hand, eyes lowering to the floor.
"I can't really /do/ anything, yet. I've been practicing all week, though. But I'm not very good at it; I can't do it all the time like you can. Right now the things I hear are random, kind of sporadic."
"You'll improve over time, though. Everything gets easier with practice. The important thing is that you can actually /do/ it."
"I'm sorry I'm so slow at this; you must be so bored", she said, fingers playing with the fringe of her robe.
He grinned down at her, shaking his head. "Believe me, no time spent with you is /ever/ 'boring.'"
That had been a week ago, and Naimh's abilities had increased exponentially since then.
He was proud of her, and in a way, proud of himself, for being able to successfully pass on his knowledge to her.
Now she was back in her office, treating a group of soldiers that just came back from a mission. She'd be busy for a few hours yet.
Earlier in the evening he had gone alone to the Supreme Leader, having been summoned, to speak of Naimh and her growing abilities.
"I am confident, my Master", he had said, standing before him, "That Naimh will prove to be a strong wielder of this power. Soon you will have TWO gifted warriors in your empire."
"Two?", he had said, smiling down at Ren in that unsettling way of his. "Quite an ambitious endeavor, for any Master. I've always found One to be quite efficient. But we shall see."
"We shall see."
He paced through his quarters now, waiting for Naimh to get off work, thinking about Snoke's words.
What did he mean, "one was sufficient"?
Clearly, very soon, he was going to have TWO powerful Force-users at his disposal.
Unless he was somehow still doubting that Naimh would become as powerful as Kylo; or still doubted Ren's abilities to properly teach her.
But that didn't seem to be quite the issue, not exactly.
So then what--
Heat flashed through him and he sat down, hard, at the edge of his bed.
Suddenly it all made sense.
Snoke /wanted/ Naimh.
He wanted a new apprentice.
One who could potentially be more powerful than Ren himself.
Once Naimh learned to control her powers, she would only grow stronger. It was already happening, now. Ren could see it in the way it was getting easier for her to do the things he requested of her; how the time it took her to heal people seemed to be faster than ever; everything.
It would not be long before Snoke offered to "complete" her training, himself.
And that, Ren thought sickly to himself, is when /it/ would happen.
With Ren, Snoke had been quite adamant about the idea of him killing his father. Trying to rid his soul of the last vestiges of love, of light, had been the goal.
And it had worked; at least for a while. Killing his father had hardened his heart and closed off his spirit to all possibilities of a life outside of the First Order; ushering in an existence that revolved purely around his training, and accomplishing goals for the Supreme Leader.
He had lived for years in a cold, fugue state of mind; dead to the outside world and inside crammed to bursting with bitterness, with rage.
And with seemingly unlimited power.
It was only when he met Naimh did a hole begin to appear in that inner armor; growing larger the longer he spent with her, the closer they got.
And Snoke KNEW that this would happen.
Which is why he turned a seemingly blind eye towards their almost-tangible growing attachment to one another. Why he constantly arranged for the two of them to be alone together.
His plan was so sly, yet so /obvious/, that Ren was a little disgusted that he didn't see it before.
He would let them fall in love with one another.
He would "suggest" that Kylo train the girl, already knowing that she would eventually be able to access a wellspring of fierce internal power.
He would then "take her on" as a pupil to himself, slowly crafting her abilities and her mind to dark side proclivities.
And once he had efficiently manipulated her mind, he would tell her that the only way her training would be "complete", rendering her supremely powerful, would be if she destroyed the one thing she loved most.
With Snoke's help, she would rise up and kill Kylo, completing her transition to darkness and leaving Snoke with a strong new apprentice.
And Kylo . . . wouldn't be able to defend himself at all. He wouldn't be able to raise a hand or a weapon back towards the woman whom he needed like the air, like the sun.
And once the deed was done, Snoke would pull her strings even further, having her see that Kylo had let love weaken him, turn him into a fool; thereby shutting off her mind and her heart to all possible future attachments to others.
Ren felt a little ill, thinking of all these things, and closed his eyes against the sickening flood of emotions that rocketed through his body.
He tried to sort out his feelings, find the thing that was bothering him the most and squelch it so that he could think clearly.
He realized : it was Naimh.
He didn't care so much about the idea of her murdering him, as he did with the implication behind it.
That, after doing so, she would be firmly entrenched in the dark side.
That the sweet warm light that he had come to love would be gone forever, leaving a cold empty shell with no trace of her beautiful smile, her intoxicating laugh.
No vestige of her magnificent heart.
I'd rather die than have that happen, his brain screamed at him.
Well if you do die it'd happen for sure, anyway, idiot, he thought to himself.
Come up with a better plan.
What? he asked himself wearily.
I don't know, he answered, but whatever it is you'd better think of it soon; or it'll be too late to save her.
"In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. And then, in that very moment when I love him . . . I destroy him."
Supreme Leader Snoke was scheduled to be gone for a week's time, visiting Diplomats in a neighboring system.
Kylo knew that his time was short, if he wanted to act on the idea that had been forming in his head.
He was going to try and get in contact with his--mother.
He hadn't spoken to her in many years, but he knew that she was aware that he had been the one responsible for her husband's death.
He knew, without having to see her, that he had viciously broken her heart time and time again these past long years; first with turning his back on Luke, then joining the Dark Side, then becoming a head of an organization that was working to destroy everything she and her Resistance fought so hard for; and finally, the murder of Han Solo.
He didn't know if she would be willing to speak with him even if she could hear his psychic call; he couldn't very well blame her, if she didn't.
But he had to try. She was literally his only hope in all this.
He knew that he wasn't strong enough to try and defeat Snoke on his own, and running away somewhere with Naimh would put a heady target on both of their backs.
But to go to his mother--Snoke would never suspect that. After all, he had put every measure in place to make sure that a homecoming could never be possible for him.
But Snoke may have underestimated his mother's capacity to forgive, and to love.
Or at least, Kylo hoped that that was true.
And if his mother did take him back, miraculously, and somehow also miraculously welcomed him and Naimh into the Resistance--was he ready for that?
Was he ready to give up the measure of power and control that he had spent years amassing within the First Order?
Was he ready to give up having everything at his fingertips, ready to be . . . a /normal/ person? Or as normal as it was possible to get in the Resistance, anyway?
He had turned his back on every single piece of his former life, in order to have the things he had now. Ben Solo had been dead for so long that Kylo wasn't entirely sure that it wasn't too late to revive him.
Was he ready for this?
In the midst of his inner turmoil, his confusion and pain; one thing stood out to him, shining a silver-silent light on all of his doubts, quelling the indecision in his heart:
He couldn't bear to see her go down the path that he had taken, couldn't bear to think of the light that shone so firmly from the pit of her soul be replaced with anger, with hatred, with the sickening cycle of power and destruction and pain and death.
He knew he risked death himself, if Snoke were to catch on to what he was planning to do in his mind.
But that didn't matter to him anymore. His own life was insignificant compared to hers, and his future would be empty without her in it. He had to try this.
He had to save her.
Before it was too late.
Ruefully, he found himself thinking back to some of his uncle's teachings, on why Jedi were discouraged from forming attachments to others.
"The fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side", he had said, and although he never really explained himself, he thought he understood that a little better, now.
People do desperate things, to keep from losing those they love to undesirable fates.
What he was doing right now was dangerous, to everyone involved.
Did that make him selfish, that he was willing to risk the safety not only of his mother, but the entire Resistance, in order to find a safe place for Naimh?
Was he being selfish in trying to decide her path /for/ her; for trying to keep her away from the seemingly unlimited power of the darkness?
What if he was interfering with her destiny; with the path she was /meant/ to be on?
He hadn't even fully discussed these things with her yet, giving himself the excuse that he wanted to make sure his plan was viable before involving her. But was he really just afraid that, for whatever reason, she wouldn't want to go along with his idea?
Would no longer want to be with /him/?
If that was her response, could be accept her decision, step back and let her go? Even if it meant she would eventually rise up and kill him one day, taking his place at Snoke's side?
Was he strong enough for that?
He shook his head, trying to clear it, trying to keep focus on the task at hand.
He didn't know if this would work or not. He had no idea how much distance lay between him and his mother, or if enough of a bond still existed between them for her to hear his thoughts.
But he was desperate, and had to at least /try/.
He took a deep breathe and focused all of his energy, clearing out his mind and thinking slowly and deliberately towards his mother's mind.
Mom--mom, this is Ben. Your son. I know you can never forgive me for what I've done to this family, but please mom I need you. I need your help. I want to talk to you. Please mom, answer back if you can hear me please.
Mom if you can hear me please, would you agree to meet me somewhere, neutral ground? There is a remote forest on the southernmost outskirts of Naboo, it's not under the control of the First Order, totally unpopulated.
Please mom, will you meet me there in two days time, by evening? I will come alone, on my shuttle. I understand if you don't trust me enough to meet me alone, if you feel safer bringing escorts with you. But please mom I need to speak with you face to face.
Please mom, answer me back.
He kept his eyes closed, trying to keep focus, rethinking his words over and over in his mind, trying not to hope that there was a chance she was actually hearing him.
Out of the stillness, a soft voice answered him in back in his mind, one word:
"It's an awful truth that suffering can deepen us, give a greater luster to our colors, a richer resonance to our words."
"Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind. To answer may annihilate the question and the questioner."
He had taken one of the old shuttles, non-descript and absurdly plain looking, for this encounter. He did not want to alert the people of Naboo to the presence of the First Order; nor did he want to draw any more attention to himself than necessary.
Before he had gone, he had decided the time had come to talk to Naimh about his plan; see her reaction and gauge her willingness before fully committing himself to this course of action from which their could be no turning back.
Sitting with her in his quarters, he had carefully, slowly explained the plan he had figured out in Snoke's mind, and the reason behind her Force training.
He also told her, tentatively, about his idea for escape; and his intention to meet with his mother and see if it was possible to put his plans into action.
She had sat in silence for a long time, contemplating his words, before pulling her hands out of his and standing to face him, anger and incredulity blazing from her eyes.
"I can't believe that you wouldn't--tell me this sooner, Kylo!", she raged at him, pacing back and forth. "Were you EVER going to tell me; or were you just going to kidnap me to live with your mother and not give me a choice in the matter?!"
"Naimh, that's not it, that's not it at all, I--"
"You've known for weeks that Snoke has been manipulating me, or getting ready to, anyway, but you never TOLD me?!"
"And what if he HAD been able to take over my mind, twist it and mangle it until I DID strike you down in cold blood? Would you have just let that happen? Would you even have defended yourself, from me?"
He sat in silence, body trembling and eyes blurring at the venom in her voice. He had never meant to hurt her by keeping these things from her; he only meant to protect her.
"Protect me?", she asked in a softer voice, easily picking the thought up from his mind. "Kylo I don't want you to 'protect' me, I want you to be HONEST with me! If we don't have the truth we don't have ANYTHING at all!"
"I'm sorry", he whispered, unable to move, unable to even turn his head to meet her eyes. "But I love you, Naimh. I don't know if I've ever said that to you, if you knew it already, but it's true. I do love you. I've made mistakes in not being honest with you from the start, and I'm sorry."
"But I couldn't stand to lose you. I couldn't stand to lose you to Snoke, I couldn't stand to lose you to the darkness. I know what the darkness is; it's been eating me alive for almost 20 years. I can't let that happen to you."
"But", he said, lifting his head and staring directly at her, "You're right; I can't not give you a choice in the matter. If you were to stay here and continue on this path, you would have everything that most people can only dream of. An unlimited source of power, of command, of resources and respect."
"If you were to leave, if you and I were to join my mother, our lives would be drastically different. Less luxury, less power."
"But we would have--each other. And that's all I want; all I ever wanted. We could live like normal people. I'm sure they would welcome someone with your healing abilities in the Resistance. If you wanted to continue your Force training, I could try and arrange that with my Uncle Luke."
"We could--start a family, someday. Sometimes, when I dream at night, I catch snatches of a small girl playing in a meadow. Flickering images but still powerful. A child with my dark eyes and your copper hair, laughing as she jumps into her parents arms and smothers them with kisses."
He stood now, crossing the room to Naimh and taking her hands in his.
" I don't know if I'm seeing the future, or only what my heart wants to see. If I am, I can't wait for that child. I can't wait for anything in my future; but only if you are in it. Without you there is no future, no light, no life."
She stood silently, staring down at their joined hands. Finally she lifted up her head and looked into his eyes, a watery smile on her face.
"Do you--do you think your mother will like me?"
He leaned down and hugged her to him, tightly, resting his head on her shoulders and refusing to let go.
Now he landed in a large open patch of the hidden forest, cutting off his engine and peering out of the window into the dim light.
She was there.
She was standing a little further away in the trees, in a smaller clearing a short distance from the one he had landed in. He reached out with the Force to sense the presence of others, and picked up on a handful of other life forms aboard her ship, which was resting some distance away.
He could also sense another life form, closer, hidden in the deeper shadows of the trees, carefully watching over his mother.
But he couldn't concentrate on the others now; all he could think of was /her/.
He was able to remain strong walking off his shuttle and into the little space of sunlight where she stood.
He took off his helmet and dropped it at his feet, knowing that she needed to see his face, see HIM, not the masked monster that he had let himself become.
He stopped a few feet away from her, unable to take another step forward. So many raw emotions and memories were radiating out of her that it was like a tidal wave, washing over his body and threatening to batter him into the ground.
Her face was older, more wrinkles than when he had left her so long ago, hair having taken on a mild gray hue--but it was still his mother. And it was still the face of love.
He dropped to his knees where he was, feeling his heart smashing for all that he had put her through; all the tears she had cried and the nights she had lain awake wondering where she had gone wrong, what mistake she had made for his life to end up the way it did.
His mother closed the space between them, slowly, timidly; and she reached out and touched his face, her gentle warm hands tracing slow patterns over his features.
"My God," she said unsteadily, cupping his cheeks. "You've gotten so handsome; you look just like--your father."
And then she was putting her arms around him and holding his head to her waist, stroking his hair as his sobs wracked her tiny body.
He couldn't speak for the longest time, couldn't do anything except cry helplessly into her shirt. When he finally could speak, the only thing he could manage to say, over and over, was,
"I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry, I'm sorry."
The only thing she could manage to say, spoken through tears of her own, was,
"I love you Ben; I know."
The figure that had been standing in the shadows of the trees next to his mother stepped forward, approaching the two with tears slowly coursing down his bearded face.
Kylo stood, letting go of his mother as he faced the man, shaking all over with the onslaught of emotion that was rippling through his body.
He stepped over to him and embraced him fiercely, fresh tears flooding his eyes as the older man held him firmly, rubbing his back and unable to let go.
When they finally managed to pull away from each other, Kylo stepped back and looked at him, this man with whom he had once been so close, who had tried so hard to help him face down his demons and resist the call of the dark.
"Luke . . . ", he said, before falling once more into the other man's embrace. His mother came up from behind and put her arms around the two of them, and they all stood in the fading, tree-filtered sunlight, holding each other as if time had no meaning, as if they would never let go.
"So that's my position", he said to his mother, taking a sip of his tea.
They were sitting in a small room on his mother's ship, empty save for a tiny round table and a few chairs, with a large window set into the space of one entire wall.
The only people she had brought with her had been Luke, and about 6 men he took to be guards, standing silently towards the ship's entrance and watching them through the room's window.
He was acutely aware of the thoughts of the others, as they watched him with his mother. They were observing him closely, monitoring his moves, making sure that he wouldn't suddenly lash out and harm the General.
He knew that he could take down every person on this ship with a single thought; but he had no desire to do so, no matter what they were thinking of him.
Because all of these people were fiercely loyal to his mother, willing to do anything, even forfeit their own lives, to protect her.
He could sense, from her mind, that she had intended to meet him with no one other than her brother; but her soldiers had solidly refused the idea of letting them go "unguarded" to her dangerous son.
They knew of the intense pain and suffering this man sitting in front of her had caused her; knew it, and despised him for it.
And he honestly wouldn't have had it any other way.
His mother deserved this, deserved the loyalty and the almost-familial bond of the members of her army.
/He/ should have been the one giving her these things; so he couldn't begrudge her the same tokens of respect and affection from other people. He was grateful that she had these things in her life, even if fate had brought them to her in a cruel way.
He was looking at her now, the concentrated expression on her face being the one he recognized from childhood, as she weighed the gravity of his situation.
"I--know I'm asking for more than I have any right to", he said timidly, looking down at the table. "And I understand if you don't trust me, or don't--want me back", he continued, voice breaking on the last part.
"Ben", she said, reaching across the table and taking his hand in hers, "How can we be--sure, that you won't--leave us, again? I couldn't take it if you were to leave a second time. I couldn't--I couldn't . . .", she trailed off, tears in her voice.
"Because this time he's being called by the Light", said his Uncle, who had been sitting next to his mother and silently listening to Kylo speak.
"It's there, in his soul; his energy is already changing colors. I can feel it."
Leia looked at her brother, then back to her son; wanting so badly to believe their words but afraid.
"I know you won't approve, Uncle, considering attachment is forbidden to Jedis. However, I can't turn back from this, I can't turn away from this woman. It's too late; my heart is her heart, and hers mine."
"She is in the middle of being trained to use the Force. She is quite powerful, prior healing abilities notwithstanding. If--if I were to bring her to you, would you consider--completing her training?"
Luke looked at him and sighed, scratching his beard.
"I've had a lot of time to think about, to meditate on, what went wrong with--you. Why my teachings couldn't save you, why you so easily embraced the darkness. I--still don't really have an answer for that."
"But what I've come to believe is that being a Jedi requires more balance than anyone, even Master Yoda, had ever thought."
"It is dangerous to forbid a person one thing or another, to tell them that they have to live their lives in confinement to one strict set of rules, of principles. Balance, more than anything, must be achieved."
"If you love this woman, if she is the light in your darkness; I can't suggest anything other than that you be with her. If you feel she would be a willing pupil, of course you can bring her to me."
Kylo relaxed the stiff set of his shoulders, smiling gratefully at his Uncle before turning back to his mother.
"Mother, I promise you that no matter what happens, I will never hurt you again. I'm willing to spend the rest of our lives proving that to you. All I ask is a chance. Just--a chance."
She sighed, then she smiled up at him, squeezing his hand tightly.
"Do you promise--to try and wear something other than black, all the time?"
He looked down at himself and laughed, marveling at how good it felt to do so.
"I can't promise /that/, no; but I'll try. Really, I'll try,"
She nodded, still smiling. She leaned back in her seat and said, in a softer voice,
"Tell me more about this girl. It sounds like you truly--love, each other. I hope so. I'm not getting any younger, Ben; I'd /really/ like some grandchildren soon."
"From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring,
Renewed shall be the blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be King."
-- J.R.R. Tolkien--
"This is where the story starts, in this threadbare room. Beyond the door, where the river is, where the roads are, we shall be. We can take the world with us when we go and sling the sun under your arm. Hurry now, it's getting late. I don't know if this is a happy ending but here we are let loose in open fields."
The plan was simple.
Before Snoke came back, Kylo would take Naimh and disappear.
They would take his shuttle and leave with a small crew of StormTrooper guards. Ren would inform his advisors that there was a problem with the leader of one of the star systems that the F.O. controlled; that they had gotten badly hurt, and needed Naimh's healing treatment.
Once in the air, and safely away from the base, Ren would render the StormTroopers unconscious and perform a complete memory wipe. They would dump the men at one of the outposts, leaving them free to start new lives away from Snoke and The Order.
From there he and Naimh would go back to that little forest on Naboo, where his mother and uncle had agreed to await their return.
They would explode his shuttle in a place where the people of Naboo could see it, then he and Naimh would board his mother's ship and leave with her, to her base across the galaxy.
Naboo was one of the planets standing in between the F.O. Base and Nicorr, the planet that Ren had supposedly been making his way to.
With luck, Snoke would think that they had had an engine malfunction along the way, forcing them to make an emergency landing on Naboo that resulted in the explosion and death of everyone on board.
As he pulled into the planet's atmosphere and the base came into view, his heart momentarily sank.
There was no way he could just take Naimh and go.
Even if Snoke wasn't here, he had a thousand sneaky eyes and ears that would be all to eager to let Him know of their suspicious and sudden disappearance.
Even if Snoke DID think that Ren returning to his mother was impossible, it did not mean that he would neglect to look there.
As of right now the First Order was unaware of the location of the Resistance; but if Snoke felt that Ren might be with them, his efforts to find them would increase threefold.
It would, in fact, be /easier/ than ever for him to find The Resistance with both Ren and Naimh there. Snoke would be able to sense his presence; Ren would be like a glowing beacon leading the Order right to his mother and her fighters.
Was this the way it was meant to be?
That no matter how hard Ren tried to protect those he cared about, his very presence would be a danger to their lives?
The best thing to do, maybe, was to run. On his own. To take Naimh to his mother and flee on his own, keeping far away enough so that Snoke would not be able to detect him. And while Naimh was growing powerful, she still did not give off as strong a life-Force as Ren. It was unlikely that Snoke would be able to track her to the Resistance the same way he could Ren.
But I love her. How could I stand to leave her?, he thought to himself.
And my mother. How could I disappoint my mother like that? To cruelly dangle the idea of a homecoming with her only child in front of her face, then snatch it away, leaving her with a woman that she doesn't even know?
What am I supposed to do?
He circled around the far side of the castle and began his decent towards the hangar.
He knew, as soon as he landed, that something was wrong.
The normally empty hangar was filled to the brim with Officers and StormTroopers, all watching his shuttle make its landing and waiting for him to step out.
Warily, he walked towards the door and emerged. As soon as his foot touched the ground, every person in the room dropped to one knee and bowed to him, with a single uniform intonation of "All Hail Supreme Leader Ren!"
He was so surprised that he froze, unable to speak or think for a good few minutes.
Then the man nearest him, Advisor Renulff, was speaking to him in a solemn voice about the news they had received while Ren had been away.
Supreme Leader Snoke was dead.
An uprising had occurred amongst the people of the planet he had been visiting, resulting in a bloody battle that ended in the deaths of all the ambassadors--and the Supreme Leader himself.
Snoke is --dead? , he thought to himself, staggered.
It had always been made known amongst the top officials at the Base that, should Supreme Leader Snoke be incapacitated or killed, Lord Ren was to become the new Leader of the First Order.
He was now . . . Supreme Leader Ren.
There was nobody in a position higher than his, and, now that Snoke was dead, no one who wielded more power.
Conversely, though, that now meant that no one had a bigger target on their back than him.
With the death of Snoke, all those who opposed the First Order would band together in larger numbers, confident in their ability to take down the younger, less powerful new leader.
The army was his.
The castle was his.
The base was his.
The entire First Order was his.
The throne was his.
Everything that a person could want had all been dropped into his lap within a split-second, and there was no one standing in his way to oppose it.
With the permanent absence of Snoke, and Naimh no longer in danger . . .
. . . should he go back to his mother, at all?
There was no more need to run, to hide. He could rule over Snoke's empire with an iron fist, running things how HE saw fit.
He would be a King, and Naimh his Queen.
All systems would bow before him, and The First Order would continue to reign supreme in the galaxy.
Would it have worked, in the long term, with the Resistance, anyway? Or with his mother, or uncle?
What were his chances of being successful, of being /happy/, no matter which path he chose?
Was it even possible?
He sat on Snoke's cold throne, head in his hands, as he thought things over.
You are powerful, Snoke had said.
Balance, Luke had said.
Trust your feelings, his mother had said.
What were the odds that he could make everything work?
But above everything else, above the fears and doubts spilling into his brain like a waterfall, came his father's voice, firm and steady, saying, as he so often did when he was a child,
Never tell me the odds.
A sliver of light fell across him as the door was pushed open, timidly, and Naimh emerged into the room, squinting in the dimness.
"I'm here, Naimh."
She walked over to him and frowned. "Why didn't you come tell me you were back? I was so worried about you! I heard that Snoke had been killed by an uprising and I thought maybe you had been, too!"
He stood, taking hold of both of her hands and pulling her down unto the throne, positioning her on the stone seat.
"You are a Queen now, you know," he said in a quiet voice. "I'll have to get another throne built in here, for you to sit on."
She said nothing, and so he continued on, pacing slowly in front of her.
"Everything is ours now. Everything, and no Snoke to stand in our way. We can command armies. Entire systems."
Then, in a softer voice, "I saw my mother. And my uncle. They were so happy when I said I wanted to come home. My mother especially. She wants to meet you, Naimh. She--wants grandchildren."
Here he paused, blushing a bit, before continuing.
"Anything that I do, or don't do, is dependent on you, my love. I've spent far too much time telling you what I want."
"What do YOU want?"
She sat in silence, looking down at her hands, before answering in a small voice,
Before he could respond, she continued:
"It is ALWAYS so cold here. The brightest sunshine feels like ice in the veins. And it has NOTHING to do with the physical temperature of the air. It's--this place. These walls. Everything is cold, everything aching and dead. Everything."
Now she stood and leaned up on her tiptoes, throwing her arms around his neck in a tight embrace.
"If you were to take over this, you would be cold, too. Dead. And I couldn't bear to lose you like that, Kylo."
Now she let go, looking him in his eyes.
"But here's the thing: it's not my choice. It's yours. It's your life, and your fate. No one else can choose it for you."
He stood still, thinking.
In the midst of his thoughts that vision occurred to him again, brighter than ever. A little girl laughing in the sunshine of a green meadow, using her mind to make the flowers dance and reveling in the clapping and admiration from her parents.
She turned and waved at him where he stood in this throne room, this girl who didn't exist. Waved and smiled across time, across space. Smiled and called out to him, in a voice like music.
Slowly, he unclipped his lightsaber from his belt and ignited it, throwing a ruby glow against the shadowy walls.
Then he silenced it and laid it gently on the throne. He picked up his mask from where it had been sitting on the ground and placed it beside the saber, looking at the two resting in tranquil harmony side by side.
"Come on", he said, reaching for her hand and pulling her along beside him towards the door.
"Our daughter is waiting for us."
He stirred, sitting up in his chair and looking around.
"Ben! If I have to call you in here one more time--! Dinner is ready!"
He rose and went into the dining room, looking around.
His mother and Uncle were already seated, side by side, at the little round table. Naimh sat across from them, smiling, one hand resting on her large belly.
"Sorry mom, I was reading and I guess I fell asleep. I must be a little tired."
"YOU'RE a little tired?", Naimh said in a teasing voice. "I'd like to see you lug around all this extra weight in front of you all day long."
"I don't think I'd be strong enough", he said, patting her stomach before sitting down next to her.
"What are we having?"
The war was far from over, and a new Leader had risen in his and Snoke's place, promising to bring order to the Galaxy and annihilate the chaos.
It was a fight that would never end.
But now, at least, he was in a position where he could help his mother and her fighters in what they did.
Before he and Naimh had left, he had taken every technical document he could find on the F.O.'s starship and weapons schematics, the location of the bases hidden across the galaxy, and anything else he thought might give his mother the upper hand in this battle.
They had also stopped to visit the tribe of Atainai, explaining the situation to her and offering them a position in the Resistance.
They had happily accepted, setting up a camp on the outskirts of the base and returning to the way they had lived before the Order had come into their lives.
Stepping off of the shuttle on Naboo and seeing his mother's face as they came towards her had been enough to quell any remaining doubts that he had made the right decision.
That had been almost a year ago, and each day further reinforced his mind towards that conclusion.
He had given up his crown, yes.
But he had gained a kingdom, nonetheless.
Nothing is ever truly over, and nothing ever really ends.
Happy endings don't exist, for that very reason. Neither do sad ones.
Now he reached out of the darkness and touched the warm back of the sleeping woman beside him, felt how even in dreaming she stirred beneath his fingers, spilling out light and warmth into the air.
At that moment, a soft cry came out of the darkness, startling him a little.
He smiled and padded out of bed, over to the small rose-colored basinet in the corner.
"Hey, hey, ssshhhh, it's okay, Hanah," he said, gently rocking and soothing the small bundle in his arms. "It's okay. Daddy's here."
He pressed a soft kiss into her tiny copper curls, watching as her dark eyes connected with his own.
Hanah smiled and yawned, eyelids fluttering as she drifted back off into a relaxed slumber.