“You stole a speeder.”
“Borrowed.” Ben Solo kept a perfectly straight face. Keeping a straight face was difficult, in this particular moment, because he had a strip of bacta and gauze bisecting his face, diagonally. He’d cultivated a diplomatic, neutral voice from years of repressing all – or most – of his innate personality traits under his uncle’s tutelage, and that helped. That, and having a politician for a mother. “I borrowed a speeder.”
“Han!” His mother’s voice pitched up, and she spun around to face the other man in the room. Both of them towered over her, but this one looked a little cowed by the ferocity on her face.
“Ben.” His father tried to sound stern, and failed. He ran a hand over his graying hair, awkwardly. Being a disciplinarian was not his strength. Being a parent wasn’t his strength, truth be told. “… What model?”
“Han!” Leia looked like she was about to spontaneously combust. The intricate bun her hair was wound into trembled with rage. “You are not helpful.”
“Sorry.” Han muttered. He rubbed the back of his neck, looking at Ben. He seemed conflicted between commiserating with his son, which was what he wanted to do, and scolding him, which was what he knew he should do. He settled for uneasy silence.
“What were you thinking?” Leia looked back at Ben when Han couldn’t seem to make up his mind; Ben jumped. He thought his mother’s wrath had been, at least temporarily, diverted to his father.
“What was I drinking?”
“Ben!” His mother’s eyes welled with frustrated tears, and then he felt badly. “Did you – did you use…”
“No.” Ben lied. He had. He’d accessed that well of energy that itched under his fingertips constantly, gently prodding the Ithorian’s mind. Humanoids were even easier for him than humans to influence. They spoke his language, and they bent easily to his will. What was the access code to the Ithorian’s speeder’s door? Could he use it? Take it out for a spin? Yes?
It was so easy. Even when he was drunk. Unfortunately, he’d crashed the speeder into a skybridge, screeching and scraping along it in the dead hunk of metal that was the destroyed speeder, barely missing pedestrians, and barely avoiding skidding off the edge into oblivion. He’d climbed out of the hulk of metal with singed clothes, a nasty laceration across his face, and bruised ribs. The Republic City Security Force had been on the scene remarkably quickly – the droids were automated, after all – and he’d been escorted to security headquarters, where a medical droid patched up his face, rudimentarily, and young sergeant scowled at him until he sobered up.
Han had come to pick him up. He’d been gallivanting across the galaxy, as usual. Leia must have contacted him and told him, in no uncertain terms, to come home and deal with his son.
They’d been silent in the transport on the way to Leia’s apartment. The only thing Han had said was, “Turned it into scrap metal, didn’t you?”
That was the part of this escapade that disappointed his father the most – that he’d crashed the speeder. His father, who had taught him to fly, and fly well. Even with a few glasses of Corellian whisky in his belly. Perhaps he’d had a few too many glasses of that to be flying a stolen speeder.
Ben’s mother was looking at him like she didn’t believe his lie. Perhaps she could sense the lie in the Force. He held her gaze steadily and made his mind opaque. His simultaneous effort to ease her mind was almost subconscious, but after a moment, she noticed it.
Her brow creased. “Stop that.”
“Stop what?” Ben asked, innocently.
“Stop what?” Han echoed, truly confused.
Leia ignored him and Han huffed in irritation. This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, from what Ben could gather in the sparse time he’d spent observing his parents interact.
Ben and his mother could communicate, and understand each other, on a plane that Han wasn’t at all privy to. From a very early age, Ben had been aware of this, and aware of her. Before he could speak Basic, he’d projected his thoughts to her. They’d spoken their own language, in their own heads, a language not really comprised of words, until he was nine years old.
Han didn’t have the Force. He didn’t feel a web of energy stretching out from himself to other Force-sensitives. He didn’t feel his wife or son’s Force signatures, or the subtle changes in them. In some ways, it created a rift in their family structure. It certainly had in Ben’s relationship with Han.
“You could be put in a detention block for this.” Leia narrowed her eyes at him. Suddenly, she looked more senatorial than maternal.
“No, I won’t.” Ben crossed his arms over his chest. He knew he sounded imperious, but he’d inherited that from her. “Senator’s sons don’t get put in detention blocks.”
Leia hissed between her teeth. “I could pull a few strings.”
“To keep me out of a detention block?” Ben knew he didn’t have to nudge Leia’s mind to ask her to intervene on his behalf. She’d be embarrassed if he was put away. It would hurt the family business – politics.
“To put you in one.” Leia snarled, to his surprise. “Where you can’t hurt yourself or anyone else.”
Ben felt heat rise in his cheeks, all of the sudden.
He’d been sent away, at nine years old, for that very reason. So that he wouldn’t hurt anyone. He still remembered his mother saying that.
When he was six, a boy had taken away his stuffed Loth-Cat toy. The boy had held his chubby little hands over his ears and yelped when Ben glared at him. He’d dropped the toy. It hadn’t been fun, exactly. But it had been satisfying. It was the first time he’d used the Force, other than to communicate with his mother and levitate random household objects.
Sometimes, he did things on purpose. Sometimes, he didn’t. At first, he hadn’t realized that his screaming and anger coincided to strange occurrences - every window shattered for three floors of their apartment complex, people developing splitting headaches, droids breaking.
And then, one day, when he was nine, he’d cut off the air into someone’s lungs. He vaguely remembered doing it, flexing his hand, amazed by his own power. It had been an accident. He hadn’t known he could do it. What he remembered with great clarity was his mother’s face, afterwards. He’d expected her to be angry. She hadn’t been. She’d sobbed, holding him close to her. He’d been confused. She should have been angry.
The next day, she’d sent him away on a transport, to Yavin 4, and to his uncle.
Now, Leia seemed to know she’d gone too far. “Ben – ”
“Don’t.” He shrugged off her hand, and stormed out the door. He saw, out of the corner of his eye, a vase wobble and fall off a shelf across the room, crashing onto the floor.
The spire of his mother’s building pierced Republic City’s clouds. Ben climbed it at night to think, bathed in the golden glow of millions of lights. He dangled his leg over the edge, leaning back on his hand, and looked out at the city. It was sleepily coming to life as the sun set, buzzing with all manner of life forms. The pressure of it all weighed on his ear drums. He was used to the quiet of Yavin 4 – it’s rainforest, the hum of rainstorms in the distance, the buzz of insects in the swamps.
His parent’s visits to Yavin 4 had been few and far in between. More often than not, Leia would come, but not Han. If Han did come, they barely had anything to say to each other.
Hosnian Prime was nothing like Yavin 4. That was the point. Ben hadn’t dared asked his uncle if he could go to Hosnian Prime. He’d known what the answer would be. He’d asked his mother, who’d asked his uncle. Uncle Luke could never deny Leia, and she said she wanted a few weeks with her son before he split off from the rest of his uncle’s students and studied more seriously. He was old enough for that, almost twenty-three.
His uncle had disapproved. Then again, his uncle seemed to have a look of disapproval permanently affixed to his face. Ben had ignored it, clambered up the gangplank of a transport, and high-tailed to the Hosnian System.
He wasn’t here because he wanted to see his parents. He was here to be away from Luke, the other students, and, most of all, the confines of the Jedi Code. For eleven years he’d lived under it, isolated from the other students because of his propensity for accidents, admonished that he needed to control himself. He couldn’t swear, do pinwheels in an old x-wing, watch dirty holovids, or experiment with alcohol, except on his father’s infrequent visits. Then, they’d take the Falcon out for a few days and he could try whisky, and taste how new swear-words felt on the tip of his tongue, and masturbate in his bunk without the shame of wondering if someone could sense what he was doing.
Maybe crashing the speeder had been a blessing in disguise. He’d accepted his sentence from the New Republic Magistrate Court that morning. It meant more time away from his uncle. More time to live.
He could sense a thousand souls within meters of where he sat – humans, humanoids, creatures that didn’t even resemble humans. He wondered if any of the humans were girls. Perhaps it was silly, but he was twenty-two years old, and he wanted to meet a girl.
He’d met girls, of course, on Yavin 4. A few of them were even his age, or close enough that he had a modicum of interest. But they were all equally self-serious and uninterested in him. They never got distracted during meditation, or laughed at his jokes. They didn’t like his flippancy or sarcasm. They took the Code seriously. Most of them seemed afraid of him, but were too stoic to say it.
He was not a monk. Not yet. He was twenty-two, and a virgin, to his private embarrassment, but he wasn’t a Jedi yet.
In Republic City, there were cantinas, skin shows, bars – every matter of temptation. Ben ventured to them, alone, and prodded hopefully at the minds of women and girls who glanced at him. He did it so gently they didn’t even feel it, so he only got scraps of their thoughts. Ears. Tall. Something not quite right –
Maybe hearing that over and over was what had led to the drinking, and the unfortunate speeder incident. Flying made him feel alive and reckless, the way that he hoped sex might.
He could have pushed into their minds a little more, and planted something there to make them like him. It would have been easy – as easy as stealing the speeder, and he certainly wasn’t above that. But sex was different. He wanted to earn it, to know that he was actually wanted. If he had more time, he would have wanted to fall in love. He wanted to know what that was like, before he surrendered himself to the ascetic life of a Jedi Knight. It would be the ultimate, final act of rebellion to fall in love.
But at the very least, he wanted some memory to hold onto so that when he felt like he was dying inside, smothered by the choices his mother and uncle had made for him, he could know that once, he had lived.
“That’ll scar.” Ben sensed his father’s approach before he heard his voice; he made no effort to turn away from the ledge. Han stood behind him, nervously. He’d always been nervous around him, first, because he was a baby, and Han didn’t understand babies, and then, because he had the Force, and Han didn’t understand the Force. “Girls like scars.”
“It’s not like it matters.” Ben looked out at the thousands of spires surrounding them. He couldn’t help the bitter spike in his voice, thinking of his abysmal failures in that department. Perhaps he would die a virgin, he thought, ruefully. “I’m going to be a Jedi.”
Han grunted in sympathy, and then sat next to him, swinging his legs off the side of the tower, too. The urge to feel alive, to take risks and taste danger – that was what he’d inherited from his father. “Heard you got off the hook.”
“Not exactly. Community service.”
“Better than a detention block.” Han leaned back on his hands.
Ben scoffed, looking at his feet, and the long way down below them. “It’s asinine.”
His father shifted, looking up at the stars, through the hazy, translucent atmosphere of Hosnian Prime. “What do they have you doing? Picking up orbit pollution, or something?”
“Worse.” Ben snorted. That wouldn’t be so bad – he could fly. “Teaching orphans to read and write Basic. On Jakku.”
Han winced. “Only slightly better than a detention block.”