The cry of the stormtrooper was cut off as a rock the size of a ship broke away and crushed him. The whole cavern had turned into hell. Fires raged while stones rained down on them from high above. Even the First Order landing cruisers were buried. With every explosion, the cracks in the wall widened, further destabilizing the abandoned base.
An alarm warning triggered in his helmet, shaking him back into reality. Kylo Ren slowly opened his eyes with a raspy gasp. The air in the cavern grew thick with poisonous fumes from the chemical fires that smoldered from the Resistance bombs. He had to leave or risk suffocation.
He felt her crumpled body beneath him, so he shifted his weight onto his arms. She was unconscious. All the better, as he had no desire to fight. He leaned back onto his heels and quickly looked her over. The girl's dark hair was bloodied and matted from a superficial head wound, but the stormtrooper suit appeared to have stopped much of the potential blast damage to the rest of her body. The irony did not escape him.
Another explosion shook the ground, reminding him of the urgency of their plight. Where his human eyes failed, Kylo was grateful for the helmet's sensors. He looked up in the direction that Rey had been fleeing towards. Despite the thick smoke, the flickering optical sensor picked up just enough of the distant frame to spur him to his feet. Kylo picked the unconscious girl up and moved towards it, his steps painfully slow. Drops of crimson marked his path, and he fought to keep his grip on her. He could feel thick heat from the flames that licked at his cloak and boots as he walked.
When he arrived, he sneered. The girl's intended escape vehicle, and now his, was a retrofitted T-47 airspeeder, abandoned by the Resistance. Up close, he could see several of its hull plates were missing from the blasts, and even now, lacking a proper landing gear, it leaned precariously on one wing to support its bulk. The basest junk dealers would hesitate to take this ship as scrap.
He didn't detect any more bombs, and warily moved closer.
There was no ladder to ascend into the cockpit, so Kylo climbed onto the wing and dropped his burden into the rear-facing tail gunner seat. Rey slumped ungracefully against the window, but he could feel her presence in the force, steady and tranquil.
Far different from himself.
Pain ripped through his chest and back as Kylo vaulted weakly over the opposite windows and settled himself into the pilot's seat. The old ship groaned with the heavy addition. He reflexively pulled the cockpit closed and ripped off his oppressive helmet. He leaned back against the headrest, his dark hair soaked with sweat and plastered to his brow. His breath was no more than a strained, bloody wheeze. He needed to leave this place, and quickly.
The retrofitted airspeeder, a relic from the Empire days, groaned in protest as he stretched his legs out as far as they were allowed in the claustrophobic cockpit. The ship stank of mildew, and rust invaded even the inside panels. No wonder this heap was left behind. It would take all his piloting skill to keep this decrepit machine in the air, if it could fly at all.
Gloved fingers quickly punched the rusted controls. Kylo had played on more than a few of these ships as a boy, and was surprised how easily the motions came back to him.
Amazingly, the plasma engines ignited with a roar. The T-47s were normally surface ships, but he had to applaud the ingenuity of the Resistance engineer who added a lightspeed rigging and the patchwork of reinforced hull. Clearly, the Resistance had been desperate for airpower to outfit such a piece of junk.
Without an astromech droid, Kylo knew he would have to navigate. Outside the ship, the smoke was so thick it was like a black, ominous fog surrounding them. He closed his eyes and focused, his hands on the controls. The ship shuttered and lifted toward the fissure in the ceiling, climbing until it made it through. Relief flooded through him.
He paused a moment, deciding on their destination, then punched in the coordinates. The craft lifted higher into the sky and left the smoldering Resistance base behind.
Kylo Ren was almost certain of their demise as they cleared the upper atmosphere. His vision blacked in and out of consciousness. The ship vibrated so heavily his teeth rattled.
The massive Finalizer hovered like a predator ahead of them, waiting for the kill. He knew they must have picked up the signal of the airspeeder by now. In fact, the bridge officers were probably hoping for a bit of sport by watching the Resistance junk ship splinter apart before them. And if they knew he was the pilot...Kylo could all but see Hux's exuberance at his untimely and humiliating demise.
The Knight of Ren refused to give that weasel the privilege, even as he took note of the obligatory TIE fighters flying in formation towards him. He didn't have much time left.
His gloved hand rested on the ramshackle switches.
Whether by his injuries or exhaustion, the present drifted away from him, and he was in another cockpit, just as ramshackle, but achingly familiar.
He was small enough that his feet dangled from the copilot seat. His father sat beside him. A band of Fabrian pirate ships hovered to their aft, weapons loaded. Their threats sounded over the intercom, and just then, the Falcon jolted in protest from the pirates' warning shot.
His mother was going to be furious.
"We're never going to make it," Ben argued, his dark eyes wide. In the seat behind them, Chewie growled something in the affirmative.
Ignoring the Wookiee, his father offered a wry, self-assured half grin. "Are you so sure?"
Ben looked ahead, his finger on the hyperdrive switch.
"Punch it, kid."
General Hux stormed up to the technician's console of the Finalizer, his arms held stiffly behind his back. His lip curled and his pale skin had gone several shades redder.
"What do you mean, gone?" he hissed, "wasn't it just an ancient Rebel B-Class airspeeder? Bits of it are still hovering out there!"
The young woman swallowed. "It jumped to lightspeed, sir."
The General scowled. How many of these indignities was he forced to suffer? If the First Order, with all its might, could not apprehend one miserable Resistance ship, what good were they?
The same technician interrupted his poisonous doubts. "We are receiving a signal from planet side, sir. It's Captain Phasma."
Hux sighed. This had better be good news.
Rey awoke to a fearsome headache and blue and orange flames rippling like a flag outside her window. Past that, a huge expanse of green and brown landscape. Where was she? She blinked, coming to her senses. The Resistance logo was etched on the console in front of her. She nearly let out a whoop. They had found her!
The thrill vanished immediately when she realized the Resistance ship was crashing, and fast. Jerking awake, she looked at the controls before her.
"What is this thing?" she shouted, panic seeping into her desperately wiping the grime away from the panels. "Don't tell me this is an airspeeder!" Jakku's junkyards were littered with parts from these machines. They barely survived for any great length in performing their atmospheric jobs, and were certainly never designed to sustain space travel or reentry.
The ship shuttered around her. Rey found the override for the steering and pulled hard on the lever—it came out in her hands in a bundle of wires and sparks. She swore something that would make Unkar Plutt blush and looked desperately for any working control, but the rest were for weapons, and surely disconnected. Where was the pilot?! Rey spun in her seat and looked back, hoping to catch a glimpse of a Resistance helmet peeking out from the other seat. Someone was there, she could feel it, but she couldn't suppress the sense of dread that lingered.
"Hey!" she yelled, on the hope that the comms still worked, "navigate or will we be incinerated in less than a minute!"
There was no response. The ship shook again and took a hard turn to starboard. Rey looked out the window and saw bits of the metal wing flying off. She closed her eyes and concentrated, trying desperately to block out the scream of their free fall. She knew what the controls looked like from the pilot side. She saw them in her mind.
"Slow down," Rey whispered, sweat breaking out on her brow. The controls did nothing, and the ground loomed even closer outside the window.
"Slow down," she repeated, and the airspeeder vibrated heavily as it responded.
Rey knew it wasn't good enough; they were still going to crash. She was thrown forward as the nose of the ship plunged through trees, moving so quickly they were just green blurs outside the window, and then with a horrible splash—
The ship flipped over violently. Seconds or minutes could have passed—Rey had no way of knowing. Stunned, she lay sprawled on the intact glass ceiling, the seat above her. Slimy, black water crashed against the windows, growing deeper by the second. With a groan, Rey rolled and kicked at the rear window. It held. She tried again, harder this time without success.
"C'mon," she hissed, and gave it one last attempt. The window gave, and she dropped into the cool water. It was a shock of which she never could have been prepared. Water was a luxury on her native desert planet, and in her whole life, not once had she experienced the indulgence of a bath or pool.
Desperate to keep her head above the surface, her limbs flailed chaotically as she sputtered mouthfuls of the foul liquid. This was decidedly not the way she wanted to experience swimming for the first time. The stormtrooper suit was taking on water and making her body sink like lead. Though sheer force of will, she pulled out of it and struggled to the muddy bank, gasping for air. She had never been so relieved to touch solid ground. Her thin white First Order prisoner garments were plastered to her shivering body. She was so cold—she wasn't sure she could will her body to move again.
She looked up, eyes wide. She heard her name, as clearly as though someone had spoken it right next to her.
Even before she forced her gaze back to the sinking ship, somehow, she knew what she would find. Her mind still had trouble processing the image. It was impossible. Though the cockpit was half submerged, she finally saw him, his eyes closed. Helpless. Kylo Ren. He was the pilot?!
Anger, betrayal, shock...she didn't know which emotion to pick. Her heartbeat thundered in her ears and her fingers clawed the ground. She should let him drown and the universe would be well rid of him. She could have justice for Han. Justice for the misery and pain this maniac had inflicted upon countless individuals across the galaxy.
The disembodied voice was softer this time, but just as persistent. Rey grit her teeth. She wouldn't be like Kylo Ren. She wouldn't be...
She grabbed a long vine and looped it around her wrist, then with a deep breath, dove back into the water. Her movements were clumsy, but she made progress. The cockpit was another half meter deeper into the water when she reached the ship. Rey touched the unlocking mechanism and yelped when her fingers came back burned. The metal was still scorching hot from reentry. Leaning back, she kicked on the glass.
It shattered, and water poured in ruthlessly. Rey couldn't see Kylo anymore, but she felt for his arm. She tried to take hold of it and pull. He was like dead weight.
She sputtered to the surface, took a breath, and plunged down again. She was blind in the water, relying only on touch. She felt all around her, struggling from one place to another. Suddenly, she felt his hand brush against hers. Rey grabbed it and without hesitation, kicked upwards with all her strength. One gasp at the surface and she was pulled down again, but the process repeated. The vine provided hold for the last few meters until her feet touched the bank. Rey grit her teeth as she gave one last mighty tug, and at last, Kylo's torso was free of the water. He was still unconscious, but alive. She released his hand and collapsed next to him. Steam hissed from the airspeeder as the cold water hit the last bits of hot metal, and then the ship disappeared unceremoniously beneath the surface.
Rey didn't know how long they just lay there, her cheek pressed against the cool mud. When she looked up, the thick tree canopy of vines and foliage made the shadows deep and the air thick to breathe. Her head pounded, and she wanted to rest, but she knew she couldn't.
"Kylo," she croaked, blinking at the dark form next to her. He made no response.
She pushed herself up and felt the skin of his scarred cheek. He was cold and clammy. She drew her fingers back. He wasn't dead yet, but it wouldn't be long if she didn't get them both warm and dry. She glanced down at his legs, still submerged under the water. He hadn't moved, even a fraction, on his own. Determined, Rey knelt behind his head and placed her hands under his armpits. She pulled, barely making any progress.
"You—" Heave. "Are so—" Heave. "Heavy!" she spat, finally moving him onto higher ground before she stepped away. While she had nothing but the filthy clothing that clung to her body, she reasoned that Kylo Ren would be better equipped. Taking no chances, Rey grabbed a heavy fallen branch from the ground and approached him again with narrowed eyes. She nudged open his cloak with her foot, her makeshift weapon raised to strike if needed, but he didn't stir.
She didn't know what she expected under the layers of heavy black fabric, but there was no supply satchel or even more peculiar, no weapons that she could find. Rey cursed the austere pragmatism of the First Order, though it could have been Kylo Ren's arrogance as well. Why carry burdensome supplies when on every mission one expects a short and efficient conquest?
She fell down at his head, thirsty, tired and weak. She didn't dare drink that water, and they had no transport, no shelter, no provisions of any kind. She should have just let them crash at full speed, Rey thought, her mouth forming a thin line.
"Well," she said out loud, more to herself than to him, "it can't get any worse, can it?"
Just then, a great booming sound caused Rey to jump up and strike a defensive pose. She breathed hard, senses on alert, waiting.
Water droplets hit her skin, finding their way through the trees until she couldn't escape the oncoming deluge. Despite everything, she laughed—so this is what they called rain! She opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue. This water tasted cool and pure against her raw throat, unlike the brackish water of the swamp. Rey knelt by a fern taller than she was and redirected the moisture that gathered on its foliage into her mouth. She felt her strength returning with every greedy sip.
Rey, help him before it's too late.
She stopped in mid swallow, eyebrows knit. Thoroughly annoyed with the curious supernatural urging to ignore any self-preservation, she stood and glared around her. She saw nothing but the thick fauna surrounding them, bending and rocking from the heavy rain. And yet as certain as she'd been of anything, Rey knew she wasn't alone. It was as disconcerting as it was comforting.
"Why?" she called out, her voice nearly lost in the heavy rainfall, "haven't I done enough?"
She didn't get a reply, but she didn't expect one either. With resignation, Rey turned back to the deathly still Knight of Ren. One arm was crossed over his chest, the other outstretched on the ground where she dropped it. For the first time, she got a good look at him. It was still unnerving to see the human face rather than the mask. Rain clung to the planes of his forehead and nose, on the end of his long black eyelashes, along his full bottom lip. The circles under his eyes were dark, and the lightsaber gash running the span of his cheek and neck was pink and barely healed. Her perusal shifted lower. Diluted red droplets fell from the gloved fingertips of his hand resting on his chest.
Cautiously, Rey knelt next to him, every instinct on high alarm. Her makeshift stick weapon was within easy reach. Kylo Ren was lethal and well-trained in the force, and she wasn't going to trust him for a second, even in this state.
Biting her lip, she reached for his hand and pushed it aside, her gaze darting back up to his face. She half expected for those eyelids to flutter, to find herself staring into a dark abyss, but there was no register of her touch at all. Emboldened, she looked back down. She knew what she had to do, and it repulsed her. Gritting her teeth, Rey reached for his heavy belt. The clip that would have held a lightsaber was torn away, indicating that he lost his weapon in the crash, or perhaps earlier. It brought her little comfort as she ran her hands along the leather side of the belt until she found the latch to remove it. With a harder tug than she needed, it came off and she tossed it aside. Finding the hem of his tunic easily now, she awkwardly untied the knot holding the sides together. The black fabric fell apart, exposing his pallid chest.
Rey had seen more than enough gruesome injuries for a lifetime, but seeing this made her stomach turn. Every inch the body of a warrior, Kylo's defined torso was a map of scars, some pale with age, others pink and as fresh as the gash along his cheek. The bowcaster wound was easy to recognize, the flesh raw and rippled from his ribs until the uppermost parts of his hip. He still fought both Finn and herself with such an injury. Shame gnawed at her—no wonder she had been able to best him.
A thin trail of blood oozed slowly from his right bicep. Rey peered closer. The glint of a metal point was embedded in his skin, the tip just a few millimeters outside the flesh. The more she looked at it, the more dread filled her. She wasn't looking at the entrance wound—she was looking at the exit.
Sitting back, the rain pelting in a steady rhythm around her, Rey put her head on her knees. She didn't want to do this. She wasn't a healer, and her own injuries as a scavenger on Jakku were minor at best. Her thoughts turned darker. If their situation were reversed, would Kylo Ren come to her aid? Her very presence here made the answer elusive.
An indeterminable amount of time passed before she found the courage to remove the cloak and the rest of his shirt. She rolled Kylo over and looked hopelessly at his back. Here again was another testament to a harsh existence, many of the scars unlike anything she had ever seen. They hinted at a terrifying story, but the burn marks, the bruises—those were fresh. Over his left scapula, the metal shard protruded out, the metal as thick as her ring finger. It was larger on this side, and she was certain that if she pushed it through his body, she would surely kill him. Her rain slicked fingers could barely find purchase on the edge of the metal. She gave it a tug and promptly fell back hard on her backside, the shrapnel unmoved.
"See," Rey hissed, hitting the ground with her hand, "I tried!"
Do or do not.
She felt a wave of calm pour over her frustration, gentle and soothing. Breathing hard, Rey closed her eyes, extended her hand towards Kylo, palm facing him. Rain dripped down her fingertips, her eyelids, her tangled hair, then her body to the ground below. She was one with this strange place.
Rey visualized the offending piece. Fragmented images and sensations swept over her. She felt the foreign object ensnared in the tissues, the strength of the heart that still beat beneath it in a constant, slow rhythm. An ache formed in her chest, its intensity increasing until she gritted her teeth.
Please, she urged, calling upon the power she didn't understand. She felt the shrapnel shift within Kylo, the pain in her chest radiating outwards, doubling her over.
And then, impossibly, it was in her hand. Gasping, Rey threw the metal piece aside. The ache in her chest diminished, and once again, she and Kylo were alone. The rain beat around them, drowning out all other sounds.
"You're welcome," Rey said quietly.
Resistance Base, CYTI-32
She allowed herself only brief moments of sleep. To rest in the comfort of private quarters, safe from attack and with food in her belly, was a luxury many in the galaxy no longer had. Leia never forgot it.
She shifted onto her back, the blanket rustling with her movements. Opening her eyes, she looked at the dark ceiling. True, there were more internal reasons as well that caused her to shun resting. The dreams were nearly unbearable.
She had never taken issue that she was not as adept a force user as her brother, or even her father. Luke's patient but brief tutelage had opened her mind in a way that she could have never imagined possible when she was young, but she was left with an echo of awareness of the force rather than the impressive command that Luke had possessed. Still, even all these years later, if she tried, if she really focused…
Her brother was still out there, she was certain of it. He was self-condemned by his failure, and dismissed as a myth among all but the oldest members of the Resistance. Leia had long since given up on the idea that Luke would reappear and fight along side of her. His path was different now, and she had accepted it.
But the path her son walked on—Leia squeezed her eyes shut and felt her stomach turn in knots. His rejection of the Jedi teachings—and of his family—still made her heartsick. She hadn't seen Ben in years, but she felt his presence, like a quiet heartbeat in her consciousness reminding her that he was alive. So often, he shut her out, preferring to walk alone in darkness, but she never gave up. Not even after—
A tear slipped down her cheek. After all his exploits, many illegal, foolhardy or just plain dangerous, that Han Solo had met his end by patricide was an unbearably cruel reality. Even worse, she had asked him to bring Ben back to her. Would he have risked open confrontation with the masked creature if not for her urging?
Of course he would have, you dolt, Leia told herself. Han loved their son as much as she did, and his grief at Ben's defection was as deep as her own.
Giving up on sleep, she sat up on the bed and reached for the glass of water on the table beside it. She was about to take a sip, and then with a cry, Leia doubled over. The glass crashed to the ground and shattered. There was a pain in her head, a nearly unbearable stabbing, that made her want to scream. Impossibly, a long disregarded lesson surfaced. "Leia, accept the pain. Be calm," Luke had told her once. Against every self-preservation instinct, she slowed her racing heartbeat, and took in a deep breath. The stabbing sensation didn't subside, but something else held her focus.
She stood in an ancient forest, surrounded by mist. It was quiet, too quiet. Where was she? Branches crunched, some faceless creature from high above her screamed in warning.
Questions unanswered, Leia ran, pushing past vines, struggling to keep her footing. A swamp was to her left. She had somewhere to be—but couldn't place where. Instinct drove her forward. She frantically looked around. There was fear, pain—Leia fought to stay with the vision—and then she saw him. Ben was lying unconscious on the ground, unmasked, his clothing scorched and torn. His hands dripped with blood. Leia dropped to her knees at his side, but her form was like vapor. She tried to move closer, but her legs moved like they had weights on them. She couldn't touch him, couldn't hold him. She choked back a sob and looked behind her. They were still in danger. What could she do?
Ben wasn't alone. The vision wavered as Leia struggled to focus. A wisp of white moved in the darkness. The image sharpened. She knew that face—the girl from Jakku. Rey. Leia didn't need a proclivity in the force to know that Rey wanted nothing to do with the First Order enforcer that lay helplessly before her. But he would surely die without her aid.
A mother's instinct took over. "Rey, help him before it's too late," Leia urged. Whether Rey could hear her words or not, she didn't know. Leia was ripped from the vision, and when she came back to her senses, she was on her hands and knees on the floor in her quarters, gasping. Slowly, the pain in her head dissipated.
"General! General! Are you all right?"
Her mind still cloudy, Leia nodded and allowed the guard to help her to her feet. He was young; a shock of black hair peeking out from underneath his helmet. His post outside her door was likely his first assignment. She frowned. He was too young to be fighting in a war like this.
"I heard you cry out—" he said, brown eyes large as he took in her bewildered appearance. In another breath, she straightened, pulling on her dignitary status like a glove.
"Thank you, I'm fine now."
"But your hands—"
She looked down. Glass shards from her fallen glass were embedded in the skin. Maroon droplets fell to the floor.
"I'll go to the medic myself. Thank you."
The guard did as he was commanded, but not without another troubled glance at the General as she left.
Darkness. The weight of it was so complete and profound that Kylo wondered if this was what death was like. He sat cross legged on a glass-smooth obsidian surface, hands resting easily on his knees.
This place was calm. Lacking the mask, he breathed easily. He didn't need intimidation. He was without threat, without pain, and without obligation. He simply...was.
Somewhere far away, he felt the presence of the girl. She swore and kicked and splashed and pulled and fought. A whisper of a smile formed on his lips. She was strong. A scavenger from nowhere with the power to change everything. But in the stillness, he could feel the edges of her raw emotions. There was fear, loneliness, anger. And the thread that connected all of it—hope. The spirit of a fighter. But the girl was uncontrolled, and without control, she would never reach her potential. As a potter molds clay into beauty beneath his fingers, Kylo knew he could give her the guidance she so desperately sought.
But first, he had to rest. Even in this quiet place, his body was scarred, torn and abused. He hadn't had the time to properly heal after the girl had arrived on the Finalizer. So now, removed from the watchful gaze of Snoke and the snarl of Hux, he would wait.
A/N This is the last chapter of this story I will post on this site. For those who are interested in knowing what comes next, I will continue it on An Archive of Our Own, under the pen name Merryernest.