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He doesn't know why he came back.

For Kylo Ren, it's not really coming back. He's never actually been there. And when he steps across the threshold into the Imperial Walker – through the bones of his grandfather's era, boots crunching through memories and feet sifting through sand – he knows that she never returned here, either. The Goazon Badlands are hopeless.

It's a dead end, like so many other dead ends that he's trailed of late. Like the rumors of Rey he keeps chasing through back alleys and crypts, ever since she purposely cut off the link; since she tried to sever their bond through the Force. It's become a constant for him, this chasing of ghosts. A fugue state, from which there's no waking. Always, Kylo Ren has been obsessed with phantoms, although the nature of these ghosts changes from time to time. For now, his fixation rests solely on her. The bones of his grandfather are burnt to ash, just like the corpse of his father.

Kylo Ren doesn't blame Rey for not coming back, although he wishes he could. He wishes she would, if only to make his hunt just a little bit easier. A little less drawn out and painful. Memories of waste are unpleasant things, though, and her years on Jakku were nothing but. Here in the Badlands are the years that Rey wasted, where no one returned for her; here are the years where no one knew she was alive, and no one cared. If he'd known she was still breathing, he would have found her, Kylo tells himself as he walks towards her graveyard of memories. He would have dropped everything and killed everyone – regardless of age, and lack of resources – but Snoke had kept that from him. They'd all kept things from him, and he'd been lied to. As soon as he found her, he was going to burn the galaxy, he decided. He was going to rip and shred with the full force of their collective anguish surging behind him. Kylo Ren was Kylo now, Lich King of Dark Space. He wouldn't be lied to again.

It's bright that afternoon as he nears his destination. Far too bright for his tastes, the light of Jakku's star beating down across his back. As he trudges forward, yellowed sand drifting around his feet, Kylo sees even more sand seeping in through a gaping hole in the side of the Walker. The machine's joints are rusted, wind whistling through its open gun ports, its legs bent. It's looming metal skeleton cuts up across the too-blue sky.

Slowly, painfully, Kylo Ren gets an idea of the where and how Rey used to live. He doesn't like it. The truth of it hurts.

You never came back! she'd screamed at him, hands wet with the rain. He doesn't like the memory, but he uses the pain of it to propel him forward. The pain is a constant these days. It was a constant back then, too.

It had taken Kylo some time to track Rey down, or at least her home. Jakku was littered with metal gods, long forgotten by their mortal servants. No one had thought to keep track of a slip of a girl, or where she went at night. No one had actually cared. In Niima, a Crolute by the name of Unkar Plutt had known the general gist of where Rey lived, and in the beginning the pinkish, waddling creature made of more folds than skin had seemed like a promising lead. Somewhat repulsive, to be sure, but Kylo's men had dealt with the Blobfish before, when he'd been working for the Order. For the right price, the Junkboss had been willing to spill everything and anything about one of his former wards. Kylo wasn't picky about the specifics.

"Rey?" Unkar had said when Kylo first asked. He'd let out a snort that sounded more like a huff. "Small girl? Human? Pretty?" Kylo had twitched at the word pretty, but told himself not yet. He still needed the lead. "I knew her," Unkar continued. "Good scrapper, but cheated me out of a droid. Never trust females. Never. Bad for business."

Kylo hadn't needed to pay him. He could have forced his way into the Junkboss' brain – the alien's mind had been like jelly, all soft and pliable – but he was tired and feverish without the link. He always ached. So instead of replying, he'd simply nodded and handed over a handful of ancient Sith coins. The pitiful collection had been worth more than Niima itself. That pitiful collection of them had been worth more than Jakku, and the Crolute had been oblivious to it. Kylo had been fine with this arrangement.

He'd listened. He'd listened lots. The Junkboss liked to talk about everything and anything, but as they'd conversed the topic had slowly shifted away from where Rey was, onto Rey herself. The Crolute's eyes taking on a sheen of memory, he'd started reminiscing about how small Rey was: how soft and lovely. He'd liked the way that human skin – her skin – had felt beneath his hand. At the mention of skin, Kylo had twitched.

Unkar had always looked out for her, he'd said, because Rey was a good girl – if perhaps a bit disrespectful – and when she came back he was definitely going to taste her. Finally, after waiting for so long. He hadn't had her yet, but she owed him for being so patient. For letting her slip away from Jakku for just a bit. Kylo had listened to the creature talk with slowly stuttering consciousness. He'd listened, his mind going from its constant fugue-like state to something resembling cognisance. He'd thought of how little Rey had been when she was abandoned on Jakku. He remembered how young she'd been, and how no one had ever come to take her back.

"Mine." Unkar had said, nodding thoughtfully. "She's always been mine."

Kylo saw the Blobfish standing in front of him, all pinkish with more folds than skin. He saw the Crolute gesturing with his hands about the size of her, and how he'd hold Rey just so, and Kylo Ren, Sith-Lord-spat-out-by-Dark-Space, had snapped. He saw red.

He doesn't really remember what happened after that.

He blacked out for a bit, Ren thinks, or he went somewhere else on that second plane of existence, his already fractured psyche crumbling even further. When he'd come to, Unkar Plutt was ripped in half. Unkar guts were spilling over the sand in spirals of pink, and Unkar limbs were strewn every which way across the market. Kylo's gloved hands had been wet with red, nearby objects warping and swirling around him in a Force-cyclone of hate. The residents of Niima had been screaming.

Ghosts. Kylo was chasing ghosts, and he was a juggernaut of slowly creeping vengeance. Rey was still missing, and his only lead was ripped in two. There'd been no others to help him – no one else willing to track Rey down – so Kylo had taken out his lightsaber, plasma blade humming, and he'd destroyed the Junkboss' shop instead. He'd killed every single soul that had worked under him, and he'd killed anyone who'd been unfortunate to be passing by, too. Kylo can't remember how many of them there were. He can't recall their faces. Death blends after a while, and it's a feeling he's familiar with. A constant, like the pain he's felt ever since Rey tried to cut herself off from him.

Afterwards, Ren had simply started walking; aimlessly, out into the desert, his black robes billowing around him across the sand. His voluminous scarf had wrapped itself around the contours of his face as he'd marched forward, his deep hood shielding his head from the light of the star, but not by much. His eyes hurt. Always they'd hurt, ever since The Temple. He'd been in the dark for so long, and so had she, but Rey wasn't there anymore. Even with the broken bond, he would have been able to feel her in such close proximity. Still, he had to check. Kylo was compelled to, by greater things. Older things, that called to both of them out of the darkness.

It had been sheer luck that he'd run into the Teedo; the only Teedo, it seemed, who hadn't heard or seen what he'd done to Niima. The creature had been dead as a rock to the Force. In an offhanded manner, Kylo had assumed that this was why it didn't run from him. Anyone in their right mind would have run from him by now, and he knew it.

"Which way to The Badlands?" he'd asked, his voice cracking with disuse. The Teedo had responded why. Kylo had told him as such, and the small, squirreling creature had clicked its tongue, gurgling at the back of its throat.

Rey, it had said. Tall girl, likes to hide in ships. Lives in the Walker.

Kylo had asked "which walker," and Teedo had said there was only one. Nothing else around for miles in any other direction. Smaller than the ships, and decrepit, it said, but you couldn't miss it. Kylo had turned and followed the call of his ghost.

The bones of the Imperial Walker were instantly recognizable as he approached it. The metal machine is collapsed on its side, a gaping hole in its chassis being consumed by the dunes that are slowly drifting in with the wind. As Kylo nears, he has to bend forward, his gloved hand braced against the entrance and the ragged edge of his long black scarf trailing in the sand. His longer robes fold around his ankles as he crouches down to climb into the wreckage.

The entrance to Rey's hovel is open, but tiny and uncomfortable for someone his size; for anyone over the size of Rey, really, and once he's in Kylo has to keep his head ducked and his back stooped, his hand braced against the ceiling itself as he looks around the interior with dead eyes that constantly glow with a red light. His hands are still wet with Crolute blood. As Kylo lets his left palm drift over the wall, he smears the substance across the rusted metal. An offering, it is, to the ghost who rejected him. To the ghost who didn't reject him, the one that he loves. To the one he's trying to appease and bring back.

There's not much left inside Rey's little home, and the first thing Kylo's struck by is how open it is; how the wind whistles mournfully through the holes in the Walker as beams of bright light filter in between the cracks. Wisps of threadbare brown fabric that might have functioned as curtains at one point hang from the ceiling, flapping slightly in the breeze. As Kylo touches one, pulling it aside so he can see better into her makeshift den, it crumples beneath his fingertips; so worn down and thin that it comes apart from the rafters. Behind the drapery, everything else is covered with sand. Tawny swirls of it etch patterns of grit across the hard metal floor. Kylo sees a control panel, long dead and gutted. There's a small nest of fabric beneath it. A collection of pillows and unidentifiable soft things piled high into the rough approximation of a bed. The entire thing looking decidedly uncomfortable and almost painfully naked in how small and threadbare it is; how utterly childish.

As he stares at it, Kylo feels a whisper of something flicker to life in his sluggishly beating heart. He doesn't feel much these days – everything's been numbed by the constant agony – but when he does feel, it always leads back to her.

A little ways off there's a small stove in the center of the hovel, away from the drapes. On top of that sits a small cooking pot, now entirely full of sand. Along an interior ridge in the Walker's armor, there's a collection of odds and ends, carefully placed along it to resemble a shelf. To the right of the shelf there's a wide woven basket full of various bits of brightly colored fabric. To the left there's a clear glassy jar, partially filled with an odd assortment of coins and anything shiny. Next to those sits a doll. It's a child's doll. A child's toy, and seemingly hand made, looking rough and worn around the edges.

Very slowly, keeping his head bent, Kylo walks over to it. With the utmost care – his movements stiff from disuse – he reaches down and picks the toy up, cupping the tiny creature in the palm of his hand. It's legs dangle over the side of it.

Kylo takes in the sight of its rough brown hair, all patchy and shredded; he gazes at the mismatched button eyes and clumsily constructed red dress, and knows with the certainty of a thousand suns that Rey had made this. A little Rey, because the doll is old and he can feel the presence of her younger self clinging to it. He can feel the adult presence of her – in that brief period before the two of them met – whispering around it too.

Red dress. She had to give the dolly a red dress, because then it would look just like Mama. Mama had red dresses, or at least from what Rey could remember. She'd slept with the doll at night. She clung to it during the daytime, too.

Slowly, that stuttering feeling inside Kylo's chest grows larger. That sensation of something turns into a pang – a shiver of loneliness, of if only I'd known – and his heart hurts. The broken bond is throbbing. He wonders if it throbs for her too.

He looks over towards the left, then. He sees the wall.

There is nothing remarkable about this wall. Nothing that stands out about a rusted sheet of metal that used to function as the ceiling of an Imperial Walker, except for the marks on it. Little marks, scratched out in white with what looks like the edge of another piece of metal. Little marks that are clearly some sort of indicator of time. Endless they are, stretching the entirety of the wall all the way down onto the floor. In his heart that pang of something become a scream, and Kylo Ren, Chaser of Phantoms and Lich King of Dark Space, collapses. He staggers over to the wall and staggers into it, taking in a shuddering breath between his teeth. Pressing his forehead against the metal, his breath rasps behind the ragged black scarf wrapped around the bottom half of his face. The marks swim before him – so many of them, each screaming in loneliness – and his knees buckle. His knees fold, and he tumbles.

Dropping the doll in the sand beside him, Kylo works one of his hands out of its leather glove, pulling his fingers free with his teeth. He places his hand to the marks on the metal, palm flat, and he shakily traces them, one after another in reverence. The marks at the bottom are mostly covered by sand, but he digs them out anyways, pale fingers scrabbling through the grit as he releases them from their dusty prison. As he does so, a strange sort of anguish surges through him. The grooves are shaky and weak; they're sort of infantile, as if done by small hands that were not quite strong enough. As he goes up, eyes partially closed as his fingers feel over ridges, the lines become deeper and stronger; quicker, and angry. So many marks for so many days. Thousands upon thousands of them, until time becomes endless; until she was all alone and scared and hurting.

Kylo Ren touches them, and he can feel his heart clenching. A pain festering. Fear gives way to frustration and rage, and rage gives way to resignation and grief. A crippled sense of self worth. He clenches his teeth to stop himself from screaming, but the sound escapes him anyways, muffled and ragged. No one came back for her. No one ever does. He feels it as he touches them, these tiny notches of time; he feels this other self, this ghost of her, sitting in the Walker beside him. Kylo Ren tastes her tears, breathless nothings choked out into the arid nights, and he hates them. He hates them for keeping Rey a secret: for keeping her from him. He hates Master Luke and he hates the First Order. He hates Supreme Leader Snoke and his mother and father. He hates and he hates until all those ghosts are piled into one singular, writhing mass of rage.

He hates himself.

You never came back! she'd screamed at him, fists striking against his chest, her clothes drenched to her skin with the rain. You never came back, you never came back, you never came back how dare you, chanted like a mantra, and he'd just stood there and let her hit him, because she'd been right. Only Kylo is back now. He's returned, a monster reborn. And in his head and in his heart the fractured link that she purposely severed burns him, like the heart of a star.

Kylo screams, as he stares at those marks. He rages.

When he comes back to himself, the wall is dented. The wall is warped, metal peeling outwards and bent over like it was hit by a blast wave, the sun shining bright into the remains. Everything around him is shattered, motes of sand floating on the air. Rey's doll – or what's left of it – sits by his knee. The drapes hanging from the ceiling and her small collection of brightly colored fabric have been obliterated.

Hands shaking, Kylo reaches down. Very carefully he cradles the doll in the palm of his hand; opening the front of his robe with the other to tuck the battered toy next to his chest. Dead ends. The galaxy is full of dead ends and false leads – entire planets, snuffed out like candles – but he has an eternity to find her now, and there are only so many places that Rey can hide.

You never came back for me, she'd said, but he's coming back now. He's searching. He'll keep his promise.

Kylo Ren gets up. He draws his deep hood deeper around his head, his black scarf tightening further around his face. Ren feels the remains of her doll nestled amongst the folds of his robe, the whispers of ghosts clinging to its remnants, and his bitterness grows stronger. The need to hurt them for what they did to her. To him.

I love you, she'd said, and then she'd severed the link.

Kylo keeps walking, out into the desert. He hunts, a Death God of vengeance.

Author's Note ( )

Just a one shot I did in collaboration with arriku, inspired by a prompt through my tumblr. You can find the link for arriku's comic – and the link for the prompt – through my profile. A big thank you to Trebia for beta'ing!