16. Old Wars
"You know why you are summoned here, correct?"
Standing in a grand audience chamber, yes, he knew why he was summoned. He knew he would be put up before the Resistance's main commanders the second he was betrayed. It was obvious they would try him, regardless of his mother's words.
Leia was a member of this overpowered jury, sitting with her hands folded out of sight, refusing to look him in the eye. Their contact had been better over the past month and a half. Not perfect, but more amiable than he ever could have hoped. Now she refused him even a glance.
The rest of the base had come to suspect whom he was and the whispers grew into mutterings until the higher members of command could no longer ignore his presence, calling him to a hearing before everyone of rank. This meant his mother. This meant many of her friends he'd known briefly through his childhood. His uncle. Eyes who recognized him even when they didn't realize why.
He wasn't so gangly as before, but his eyes were difficult to forget, deep brown splintered with tiger's-eye gold. That had come as a surprise, a reflection of his youth staring him down. He had wiped steam off the mirror to see the face his sixteen-year-old self, changed only by the slight lines near his brow and the red fissure splitting his countenance.
"I'm aware, yes." He kept his head high, not allowing them to humiliate him any further. His family was starting to see him change and he would not be battered from this course by a bunch of half-grade politicians.
"Do you have any questions for the council before we begin, Kylo Ren?"
He bit the inside of his cheek. "It's Ben."
Deep breath. "I am Ben Solo, and I will be tried for the crimes of my past."
The woman at the bench raised a slight eyebrow. This was a change; he knew this was a change. He still wasn't comfortable with his old name, but the new one…being referred to as Ren once more made shivers cascade in violent tides down his spine. He didn't want to be that anymore, knowing the future that name would hold. He was here now—this was the man he was becoming.
"Very well." She steepled her hands. "You are accused of—"
Ben heard the list. Heard it loud and damning in his ears. Murder. Genocide (which he was not responsible for, the blast to Hosnian Prime). Crimes against the state. Crimes against personhood and species. Illegal military action and formation, criminal organization. Trafficking—though how that one came about, he hadn't a clue.
The list went on and he fell into a black pit.
This was a Force vision—he'd had them before.
He stood beside Rey, who now appeared as a wild queen. A knight in his place, she was dark as an endless void. Her clothing was reminiscent of his, with a dark tabard and thick belt, its end falling down her waist like a warrior of old. She wore no mask, but her gloves came up to the sleeveless tops of her shoulders, a heavy cloak around her neck. She looked to him and her eyes were flickering sickly amber, the same color he'd managed to keep from his.
She turned forward, being addressed by someone outside the vision. He couldn't hear the conversation, but he saw images, snippets of words in her head. A huge red canyon shuttered into focus, faces of the dead carved into its walls. Suddenly—rather abruptly—she took notice of his presence. Anger boiled heavy in her chest and she gave him a powerful shove, sending him flying from her mind.
Hands gripping the edge of the podium where he stood, Ben took thick, labored breaths. He couldn't feel her anymore—she'd severed their connection—but he saw, Force, he saw what Snoke was planning.
"How do you plead, Solo?"
The words barely reached his ears and he whipped around to Luke. "Thought bomb."
Luke's eyebrows shot up.
"The Valley, I saw the Valley."
Luke's nose wrinkled. "Snoke isn't a Sith."
"Doesn't matter, it's a thought bomb, he's planning for it."
"But they only work on sensitives."
"Apparently not this time."
"Master Skywalker, do you have something to add?"
Uncle and nephew cringed, turning back to the council. "I believe we may have an idea of the First Order's next attack. Can you see anything else?"
"No." He shook his head, hands nervous through his hair. "No, she's cut me off entirely." And that made his chest ache, that she'd throw him away like that. It figured, though, with what she was becoming. Still, he felt as though he were bleeding internally.
"But you saw the Valley?"
"Yes. She knows what it is. She's spoken to Qui-Gon in a dream. I have every suspicion that she's the reason Snoke knows."
"Would anyone care to enlighten the rest of us the basis of this personal conversation?"
Ben hated that woman right now. "It's a blast of energy that traps Force-sensitive souls in a torturous vortex for eternity. It's an ancient weapon that requires a lot of power. Snoke intends to manipulate it to affect non-sensitive beings. My family line is unmistakably the primary target."
"How do we defend against it?"
"We don't," Luke said. "It's been centuries since one was last used."
"How certain are you of this, Ben Solo?"
"Eighty-five percent at the least. If it's not this specifically, it's something equally bad."
"But you can no longer connect to your source, can you not?"
"Oh, give it a rest." His mother stood from her place. "If what he says is correct, we've got bigger issues at the moment than prodding for a criminal trial. Let the boy help."
The council leader turned to Luke. "Do you trust him?"
• • •
Ben hurried alongside his uncle when the chambers adjourned. They'd be meeting again in the War Room in an hour's time to discuss the consequences of this new information—he was to be present as well, the only lead into Rey's mind, though the old pathway was shattered.
"Thank you for this. I know…I know it's not the easiest thing for you to do."
"We made a deal, Ben. I intend to honor my part, and expect you to honor yours."
That felt a little damning. "I can't sense her anymore, though. I meant that when I said it. I don't know how I'm supposed to get back into her head—if I even can."
"We'll need to meditate first. You need to stay calm through it; our memories will merge."
"You cannot pull out if it gets uncomfortable, either sorting through my head or yours."
They traveled down into the bowels of the base, deep into where the metal of the floors above met the rock in which it was carved. He had minor splits of memory down here, recalling the descent into the ruins on Giaca. When he blinked or turned his head too quickly, he could see her beside him, the determination in her face prominent and proud.
"Are we at a Nexus?"
"I never bothered to check. Here," he pushed a long drapery away to reveal a small meditation chamber hidden in the rockface. Ben stepped awkwardly inside, crouching to fit his height through the small opening. It was dimly lit but a strange sort of cozy, calling him back to the days he spent training under his uncle's tutelage. He could smell the burning herbs from years long past, feel the thick humidity of a rain on his skin.
They sat across from each other, knees on mats placed over the damp ground. Ben let his mind drift miles away from him, focused only on his breathing, then on Luke's presence. Quickly, but slowly, they begin.
He sees sand. So much sand. There is barely anything on the landscape but sand. It's hot—hot as that hellhole Jakku—and Ben can feel his skin burn under the rays of two incredible suns. This is the planet his uncle grew up on, the one his grandfather grew up on. That thought shakes him—he's been nothing but a disappointment to Anakin Skywalker.
The sands twist around and he sees the old Jedi who has visited his dreams more than once, his uncle's tutor—Obi-Wan Kenobi. He's been with Ben's family for two generations—this is the man he was named for.
His mother swirls before the vision, young, aggressive but commanding. His father, too—a dashing figure, a self-made smuggler. There's tension, fighting, a war. The war he was born after, the one that had ripped the galaxy open in places. It didn't end as planned; it didn't fix all the wrongs in the galaxy.
He comes next, young and fresh-faced beside Luke. He recalls the excitement that filled him when he began his training; the despair that landed once Snoke began to press to heavily into his mind. He crumbled, crushed his uncle, and fled, leaving Luke to wander, searching for a purpose, a meaning to all the pain. To the first temple he travels.
Then it is his turn. He sees the fire that emerged with his transformation, the half-finished cocoon with which he surrounded himself. He did not emerge as a dark moth from the silken strings, is now instead a strange gray thing neither attracted nor repulsed by the light. But before, he is vicious; he is cruel. He wants to be what he cannot.
And then there's her.
She touches him, removes parts of his darkness, and it takes so long for him to let her in, to let her grace his skin, but once he does, the world speeds up. The universe crashes around him and suddenly it's only her. She has planets in her eyes and stars on her cheeks and she's magic under his hands. She's strong and cunning and she outsmarts him occasionally, but she's brilliant. Oh, she's brilliant.
She tastes like how he imagines the cosmos would, sparking and endless. Looking at her causes him to remember how she felt, how she was, how much he has grown to care about her. She is the wrench in his plan, she is his downfall, and he would not give up her role for anything. He wants her here, with him, beside him, out of the darkness where she belongs.
He reaches out to hold her and the world becomes blindingly bright.
The room was cold when he returned to his senses, his head pounding. He could feel the fissure between them beginning to heal, but slowly, slower than they needed. Rubbing his eyes, he looked up to his uncle. "So that's it?"
"You have changed, haven't you?"
He nodded. "Am still changing."
"Is she really that important to you?"
He flushed, slightly embarrassed by how much Luke had seen. "She is."
"Then we have work to do."
Rey could feel a tingling feeling in the back of her head, something wriggling its way past her defenses. She snarled at it but it continued, trying to bury itself deep in her consciousness. She didn't have time for these petty distractions.
Yes you do, said the voice she'd been attempting to drown out. It's him, you still want him.
No, she didn't.
She tossed her cloak angrily onto the chair by her desk. No, no, she didn't. She was done with him. He was useless and gone, shipped away for destruction. He failed Snoke and he failed her. These were the last sorts of thoughts she needed at night, before bed. There were more important things happening now than the frivolous love of some fickle graywalker. Of someone who couldn't pick a side. She had picked hers, and she was determined to stay here.
Throwing herself down onto the mattress, she wrenched the feelings from their place in her ribs, pulling hard until…
They stayed there, stuck like sinew to bones. Somewhere in the back of her darkening mind, she still wanted him. The feeling was made worse by the night. She closed her eyes and tried to think of the new directive. Her training to maintain the control would begin tomorrow. Snoke would aid her in this, in centering the energy and keeping it balanced until it split open on D'Qar and havoc thundered through the planet.
She would be unstoppable then.
But she would also be alone.
He'd be…gone after that. Ended. Vanished into the dust. And she would be the cause of it. She would end the one good thing—
No, he wasn't the one good thing.
"Yes I am."
He was lying beside her on the bed, hands folded over his chest and smile smug. She'd fallen asleep without realizing.
"I cut you out."
"Not well enough." He rolled onto his side, still smirking as he did. She hated that expression, wanted to punch it from his face.
"You could kiss it off too, I think that works better."
"I don't want to kiss you."
"A few weeks ago you wanted to sleep with me, and I think we both enjoyed that."
"You have too, Kylo."
"Ben," he corrected. "It's Ben now."
"So you've fully gone soft now?"
He laughed, and she raised an eyebrow. "In some ways, not others."
"What do you want?"
"I want to talk to the girl hiding in your shell. Is she there somewhere?"
"Yes she is." He tugged on her shoulders and she stayed put, a scowl on her face. "Rey, Sweetheart, I know you're in there."
"Don't call me that. It sounds wrong out of your mouth."
"Why is that?"
"You're supposed to be dark. You're supposed to be dark and here with me."
"No, you're supposed to be gray and with me, but you pushed me away." His hands grazed her cheeks and she let him, keeping still. Gods, she had missed his hands—had only touched him once before in a dream, but she missed it. Missed their sleepy intimacy.
"I had to do what I could for you, to get you away."
"And damn yourself like a martyr." His lips pressed to her temples and she relaxed, her shoulders, falling. "I miss you."
"I love you."
"I know, stop saying it."
"I don't want to. I want you to feel it, too. Let me in again. I want to be near you."
"What changed you?" She took in the sight of him, the warmth in his brown eyes, and the careful kindness in his smile. He was a different man than before, someone new where her former teacher had been. He meant his words.
"A little bit of you, a little bit of reality. A lot of not wanting to be what I was." His lips were so soft, so damningly soft. "A lot of wanting to touch you without feeling guilty about myself."
"But we screwed it all up again."
"For the now. There's still time to change it all. You can come back."
"I'm going to bring you home, okay? I'll get you back safely."
"There is no safety in a world of war."
"We can protect each other, you and me." He nudged closer and she crinkled to his touch. The girl living deep in her hollowing heart did love this man and there was little she could do to prevent the impulses that rose up like fire.
"Stop this before it happens. It has to end, Ben. I'm not going to disobey once I wake up."
"If you can keep a space open for me in your head, I promise we'll do everything we can."
"Are you doing this for them or me?"
"It started as just for you, but now I think I want to do it for them, too. You are my first priority though."
She nodded, magma hot in her chest. She folded into him, her hands caught up in his hair, mouth pressed to his. She wanted him so badly, wanted to keep in this dream until the end of time. Once she woke, he would be lightyears away and she would be dark as brutal poison. She wouldn't want him unless at rest, loved him only in dreams. She hoped—dearly, deeply—that soon she could love outside of this surreal land. But until then, she would pine in unconsciousness.
"How's he doing?"
Leia walked beside Luke as they meandered through the base. The hour was late, most the personnel asleep, and they took this time to catch up. Now, though, her concern was less with her brother and more with her son.
"Better, I think. More of the boy we lost than the man who was feared. I don't think he'll come back all the way, though."
"He's my kid; I'll end up taking him however he ends up, we both know that."
"I think she'll be good for him, if we can get her back."
"The scavenger girl?"
Luke nodded. "I saw into his head today. Most of his darker memories were drowned out by her—he was practically swimming in her."
"So you believe Poe, then?"
"Absolutely. I hope it's not all that's carrying him, but I think it won't do more harm."
"I hope you're right."
A/N: I'm so sorry this took so long. I'm involved in way too many projects at the moment and I'm having a hard time getting this to where I want it to be. We're close to the end, though.