Title: Mind Matters
Disclaimer: We don't own anything from any of the Star Wars franchise and we're not making any money from this fic
Summary: Set after Episode 7. Sometimes a greater force is needed to get one's life back on track. Follows A Greater Force
Warning(s): Spoilers for the entire Star Wars franchise; spanking; AU; some violence or mentions of torture/violence.
Authors: Hope1iz and BlackFox12
Ben...Kylo...'no, Ben,' he thought helplessly, shivered in the cool night air and tried to calm his breathing so that he didn't wake anyone. It was bad enough he'd been dreaming again. If his mother or father knew he was dreaming, or what he was dreaming, they'd lock him up for certain, even if only to 'protect him from himself'.
This was the fifth night in a row, though and a lack of sleep was beginning to have its effect. His short temper was even more frayed and he was starting to find it difficult not to be argumentative or disagreeable. Someone was going to figure things out soon if he didn't find a way to get some sleep. Meditating wasn't helping at all.
Both Leia and Han tended to be more light sleepers than deep, but Leia's work meant that she'd been having a lot of late nights and early mornings. For tonight, she was deeply asleep, her breathing soft and even in the dark.
Han still wasn't used to sleeping when he wasn't on a ship. The breathing of his family asleep didn't touch on the noise that surrounded him on the Millennium Falcon. He opened his eyes and focused on his son. "Can't sleep?" His voice was a whisper, as he didn't want to risk waking Leia.
Ben couldn't help but jerk in startled surprise at the question. He'd thought his father was asleep. He winced, wishing that there had been enough space available at the base for him to not need to sleep in his parents' quarters. But if he didn't sleep with his parents, he would have needed to share quarters with someone else; and currently, his parents and Poe were the only ones not afraid to be around him without weapons and a lot of backup. Still, sleeping with his parents meant they were more likely to see what was going on and question him.
He swallowed, realizing he hadn't yet answered his father's question. "Not really, no..." he finally whispered back. He was reluctant to admit why. It couldn't be normal...all these weird dreams and the whispers only he could hear. It wasn't like he wasn't used to it...or, at least, it wasn't like he hadn't experienced it before. Dreams and whispers had been a part of his sleep from as far back as he could remember of his childhood. In fact, the only time he hadn't suffered from them was when he'd joined Snoke...and even then, they came enough times that he couldn't forget they'd happened.
Han propped himself up on his elbow, focusing on his son, allowing his eyes to adjust to the darkness. "Is something bothering you?" Although still soft, his voice was warmed through with concern. Reaching out to wrap his arm around his son's shoulders was second nature.
"No...just adjusting to everything still..." The lie came easily; so easily, Ben felt a bit of shame at having told it...which didn't help his mood any. He tensed up as Han wrapped his arm around him, but managed not to yank away. He didn't want to hurt his father's feelings...being touched was difficult for him, though. Only in his neediest moments did his desire to be held and protected by his parents overcome his unease with physical contact.
Han felt his son tense up, but didn't pull back from Ben, even if he might have done in the past. He and Leia were aware of Ben's discomfort with touch... but at the same time, they knew it was important that their son reconnect with them, which would hopefully make it easier for him to do the same with others. "I imagine adjusting must be hard," he agreed. "You had trouble sleeping before." He didn't finish that sentence, 'before' meaning before Ben had turned to the dark side and left, taking on the name Kylo Ren.
Ben glanced at his father in surprise. "You knew?" His voice was tiny...hesitant. When he was a child, he was afraid that he'd be sent away if he told them of the voices and the dreams (which was ironic, considering he'd been sent away to train with his uncle anyway)...so he'd kept them to himself. He hadn't thought they noticed, between Leia being swamped with forming a new government and Han taking off on smuggling runs as often as he could get them.
Han gently squeezed Ben's shoulders. "That was one of the reasons for you training with your uncle. We thought he might be able to help you." There was a note of apology in Han's voice. He wasn't sure if anything would have been different if they'd kept Ben with them... but he still couldn't help feeling like they'd failed their son. Which was why he was determined not to leave Ben again.
"I thought you sent me to Uncle Luke because I scared you..." Ben admitted hesitantly, uncertain of how his father would take the confession. He slowly relaxed and even shifted closer to his father, needing reassurance of some sort; enough that his reluctance to be touched had been replaced by a want to be held.
Han wrapped his other arm around Ben in a tight hug. "I love you, kid. You didn't scare me... only knowing that we failed you did." His voice was soft.
"I thought you didn't want me because I couldn't control myself...you never came to visit..." He swallowed again, surprised and a lot embarrassed to realize he was crying.
Han tightened his embrace, able to tell his son was crying... which made him feel worse for making his son feel like he'd been abandoned. He gently stroked Ben's hair and whispered in his ear, "I always wanted you, kid. But I thought Luke was the one best-placed to help you. I'm sorry you felt like I'd abandoned you... and maybe it's late now, but it's not going to happen again. I'm not letting you go, son. And I'm not going to be leaving you."
Ben nodded, unable to keep from shifting closer yet and putting his head on his father's chest. He couldn't help but think about the fact that he'd almost stabbed his father with his lightsaber exactly where his ear was now pressed and he whimpered slightly, taking a hitched breath in an attempt not to cry loudly...he didn't want to wake his mother. "Promise?" His voice was shaky, needy and childish.
"I promise." Han gently stroked his hair. "I'm staying here. With you. And I'm holding on tight." His voice was filled with sincerity.
Ben sniffled a little bit more, quivering from the attempt not to cry. He wrapped his own arms around his father and clung to him, just shivering, his tears soaking his father's shirt. He was afraid to sleep, lest the dreams and voice return, but he couldn't deny he felt safer when his father had him.
Han pressed a gentle kiss to the top of Ben's head. "I love you." He couldn't deny that he felt helpless to protect his son from the dreams that tormented him... but even if all he could do was be a physical and emotional support, he hoped it would be enough to provide at least a little ease.
"I love you too, daddy..." Ben whispered brokenly. When daylight came and he was awake and was fully dressed, he'd pull himself together and be a mature adult...he'd be aloof and avoid any gentleness sent his way. But at night? Wearing thin bed clothes and bracketed by his parents like a small child? At night, when the shadows crept in, hiding all manners of evil that he could imagine (and some not of his imagination)? Ben couldn't be that brave and aloof. Not all the time, at least, even though he had tried. Ben somehow managed to snuggle that small bit closer to his father...till it felt like he was cocooned in his father's embrace.
Discovering that his father had known about the dreams all along had been a surprise...but not an unwelcome one. It meant he didn't have to pretend anymore. He wondered briefly if he should tell his father that it was more than dreams...that there was a voice that spoke to him...but he didn't want to upset his father and he felt so safe and warm and wanted and...
Han gently ran his fingers through Ben's hair, stroking over his son's back. "No matter what... me and your Mom are right here for you," he promised, his voice soft and his arms holding Ben as tight as he could... trying to protect his son from anything that might harm him.
The next day had started out good. Ben had got his best sleep in days, once he'd curled up in his father's arms. He wasn't sure what to make of the fact that the only way he could sleep was in his daddy's arms...he didn't dwell on it, though. He was heading toward the job he had been assigned on arriving; cleaning the ships and playing gopher for the mechanics. Today, he was working with Poe Dameron and Finn.
Although he had got up early (one of the holdovers from being a stormtrooper; Finn didn't tend to oversleep), Finn had ended up joining Rey for breakfast and had hung back to talk to her after promising his big brother he'd come and join him in a few minutes.
For that reason, Finn ended up going in the same direction as Ben... at the same time. As soon as he saw the other, Finn couldn't stop his jaw tightening... or the desire to react physically to his emotions.
Ben didn't have anything against Finn per se. He had, after all, ended up participating in his own defection from the First Order's cause. But Finn's defection had led to Poe escaping and then he had been directly involved in Rey escaping. That had been one escape too many for Snoke and the man had taken his ire out on Ben (he had never been so glad that his parents hadn't insisted on an explanation for the wounds that had been obvious and had not pushed him to reveal those that were not obvious). As a result, Ben childishly blamed Finn for the suffering he'd gone through. It had, after all, begun with him. He was perfectly fine ignoring the other man, but more than ready to over-react should Finn give him reason.
Poe was by his ship, having got there very early to begin its maintenance. He watched with slight worry as he saw both men arrive at the same time and could see on their faces that neither one would be cooperating with the other.
Seeing his brother was just enough of an incentive for Finn not to do anything physically towards Ben... or try to, at least. It wasn't like he could take Ben in a fight, after all. That didn't stop him from wanting to try, though. His muttered comment as he pushed past the other man was snide. "I'm surprised you're even allowed out without someone to babysit you."
Ben's first instinct was to take hold of the Force and throw Finn across the mechanic's bay...but he forced the urge down and gave a nasty grin instead. His voice was soft and non-threatening when he remarked, "You do realize the 'babysitter' would be less for my benefit than for yours..." but his tone was clearly conveying his belief that Finn would prove little to no challenge or threat to him and that any person assigned to watch him would be for Finn's protection. He smirked at the other man before walking to stand in front of Poe.
Poe narrowed his eyes. Both comments had been too low for him to hear, but he knew something had been said between the two. "…There going to be a problem?" he asked both of them quietly.
The look Finn directed at Ben was dark and although he walked over to Poe, he kept as far away from Ben as possible. "Yeah. I don't want to work with him." He didn't so much as glance at Ben, figuring he didn't need to explain who he meant by 'him'.
Poe blinked at the comment, but managed not to react in a suspicious way toward Ben. "Well, unfortunately for both of you, neither of you have a choice in the matter. General Organa-Solo has assigned both of you to work with me and unless you want to go against the General's orders, you'll both do it and do it gladly." His voice was calm. He glanced at Ben. "She's given me authority over you, along with any decisions for minor disciplinary measures; you don't do your job and you'll find yourself peeling potatoes for dinner."
Ben grimaced. He knew that major disciplinary measures would go straight back to his parents- and he suspected he knew what would be involved with those. He had no intention of doing anything to reach that level of issue. As long as Finn didn't harass him, he thought he'd manage.
Finn frowned. "There's enough people around... I'm sure I don't need to be saddled with him," he muttered, not quite under his breath. Poe's presence might make him want to behave in most instances... but it was difficult for that to penetrate the hostility Finn felt towards the other man.
"And each of the people here have their own assigned jobs that can't be neglected so they can do the job you've been assigned," Poe remarked, still calmly, but very serious. "This isn't the First Order, Finn...we don't have quite as many troopers and each job is important, even the cleaning of ships. And the maintenance is very important and it's helpful if I have people that can get items for me when I need them instead of my having to crawl out from what I'm working on so I can go get those items. It will take less time if I have help. But if you really don't think you're up to putting your differences behind you," he glanced between Finn and Ben, "then by all means. Go and ask General Organa-Solo for a new assignment."
Ben shook his head quickly. He might not want to work with Finn, but he wanted to see disappointment on his mother and father's faces even less. "No. I'm good. What do you need me to do?" he said quickly and quietly, not looking toward Finn, since he didn't want to say anything else that might cause Poe to send him back to his mother for a reassignment.
Finn knew he didn't want to work with Ben... but he didn't want to face the General and have to explain his reluctance to work with her son. And on a much more important note... he didn't want Poe to think he couldn't handle this. Still, the thought of trying to get on with Ben was hard. Finn avoided looking at him as much as Ben was doing the same to him. "I'll stay." It was said with great reluctance.
"Great..." Poe only relaxed slightly. He was pretty sure he'd have to break up a fight before the day was over and he wasn't looking forward to that. If it hadn't been for the fact that he was one of the few people on base not either afraid of Ben Solo...or hating him so much that an 'accident' might occur, he'd have asked Leia to assign her son elsewhere so he didn't have to babysit a potential fire keg. Unfortunately, he was one of the few leaders in charge who wasn't afraid or hateful, even if he had more reason than most to be. He knew how important it was to Ben's parents that he be redeemed and become a valued member of the resistance.
"Ok," he finally said, pointing toward his ship. "Finn, I know you were in charge of sanitation while a trooper, so you know how to clean properly...I'd like you to make certain that there is nothing left on the ship that might cause future problems." He smiled at his little brother, before glancing at Ben. "Your father tells me you used to help him repair the Falcon when a boy...you'll be giving me whatever tools I ask for...you haven't forgotten the various tools used for maintenance?"
Ben frowned slightly at the question, uncertain if it was a criticism or a slight toward his knowledge, but managed not to snarl when he answered. "No...I remember the tools and also basic repairs..."
Poe nodded. "Let's get to work then..."
Finn had lingered just long enough to overhear Poe's instructions to Ben and couldn't quite help the muttered, "Bet it's a blow to be such a step down." There was a small part of him that felt a measure of guilt for making things difficult for his brother. The rest of him could only feel hostile towards one of the biggest enemies.
Ben clenched his fist, but didn't say anything...even if he pointed out that his knowledge made him more useful bringing items to Poe rather than just wiping muck up...Finn was still correct. It was a step down for him. He couldn't really belittle Finn's job skills, either. Both of his parents had made it clear that every job was important and no one better than anyone else...not that Finn seemed to believe he held that viewpoint. Any pride of position Ben had ever had was due to his power in the force, not what job he did. A non-force user just wouldn't understand.
Snorting under his breath so that Finn would know he heard, but felt it beneath him to respond in kind, Ben walked to the ship. "What do you need first?"
Shaking his head- Poe had heard both the comment and the snort- Poe answered, "I'm changing the warp fluid first, so I'll need the plasiwrench."
Finn didn't waste any time in heading inside the ship to begin checking. Despite his sense of hostility towards Ben, he was still aware of how important the jobs were... and he made sure he did a good enough job that there would be nothing even approaching dangerous left on the ship. He preferred working with his hands. It left his mind free to think.
Time had gone quickly and Poe was impressed. Both younger men had done their jobs well and efficiently. When it was time for lunch they had finished enough that he felt justified in giving them a bit of extra time. "Go get cleaned up for lunch, I'll see you back here in two..." he said jovially.
Ben nodded. "Thanks..." He put the tools he'd been holding, back into their correct storage space. Nodding once more at Poe, he began to head back toward his family's quarters. He wasn't terribly hungry, but he was tired; a bit of an annoying occurrence, considering he'd finally got some sleep the night before. He only hoped his parents wouldn't come looking for him to drag him to lunch.
Finn's own steps were hurried. He'd managed to stay calm while doing his job, but now that he wasn't busy, he had to remember that Ben was here... Ben, who couldn't be trusted; who might not be as bad as Snoke, but had still taken Rey. Had still been a big part of the First Order... and even though he hadn't known his brother then, also responsible for capturing and hurting Poe.
It made it that much worse that Poe didn't seem to hold any grudges at all.
It wasn't really a conscious decision to wait until his brother was out of earshot... but seeing Ben so free to move around the base (how did any of them know he wouldn't betray them and use the knowledge he'd gained to curry favour with Snoke?) just caused Finn's ire to increase. So his comment wasn't muttered... was clearly audible... and loaded with a whole load of simmering emotions. "Doesn't seem right, somehow, that you're so free to move around the base when you've been part of the enemy for so long."
"They don't stop you from moving around freely, either; you were raised by the enemy...Seems to me you're more of a risk to them than I am, since they're wary of me and completely oblivious to your ability to be spying on them and sending information back to your commander..." Ben said nonchalantly, before continuing, loudly enough for some other resistance fighters to overhear, "...I mean, if I was General Organa, I'd be less worried about the threat I'm watching and more worried about the threat I'm not suspecting..." He gave Finn a smirking glance, grinning meanly when at least two of those who'd overheard him gave Finn suspicious looks.
"I didn't need my daddy to make me decide to leave." Finn couldn't (and didn't really want to) stop the retort that sprang to his lips. He'd never admit, whether out loud or in his head that he was jealous of Ben... who had a family that had accepted him back despite the fact he'd betrayed them and everything they stood for. While Finn had Poe now... and knew the older man considered him a brother... he wasn't sure it was going to last.
Ben slanted his head, considering the younger man...and waited until it was just them in the hallway with no one to overhear before he moved in closer and whispered, "You should be glad my daddy made me leave...you'd be dead now otherwise." He smirked again before swaggering away, quickly turning and going into his parents quarters before Finn could react to that. Maybe it was childish of him, but the other man had been trying to find something to dig into him and hurt him all day long, despite his best efforts to keep control over his fraying temper and emotions. If Finn had known how close to snapping Ben was, how close to the surface Kylo was, he might have backed off. But Ben didn't want anyone knowing that. Didn't want anyone knowing what was going on in his dreams and in his head at night. If the only way he could get back at Finn for his constant digging was to cause the younger man to fret and worry more about the fact he was present; well, he'd do it.
Finn couldn't really relax, even with Ben out of the way... because he still didn't trust the other man. He headed to his own quarters, moving quickly, so he could get cleaned up and hopefully meet with Rey for lunch. Maybe his brother would be there too... if not, Finn planned to take a plate of food with him; in case Poe had decided to work through lunch.
Poe wasn't working through lunch...in fact he was having lunch with the general and her husband. He felt the two needed to realize what was going on between their son and his adopted brother; and they needed to realize what it was doing to the moral of the rest of the base. They might not have noticed it, but Poe had seen how nearly everyone had shied away from standing anywhere near Ben... and, oddly enough, Finn. The little jabs and comments that they had been making to each other had obviously been heard by other people; and those other people were taking the words at face value and beginning to distrust both young men. "I tried, General...I really did. I made certain they each helped with areas that they were good at, in the hopes that maybe they'd recognize the ability in each other and form a small bit of respect, if not like. I kept them separate for as much as possible so that they wouldn't argue. And somehow...they still managed to tear into each other verbally to the point that no one else wants to be around either of them. I'm afraid if something isn't done soon, one or both of them is going to do something that requires a very strong response..."
Leia nodded. "I had hoped they could come to an understanding, at least... but it seems that merely working together, even under supervision, isn't enough to stop the bickering." While she could understand the hostility between her son and Finn... it wouldn't do any good to allow it to continue.
"It seems to me that there are two ways this could be handled," Han said dryly. "The first way isn't very practical... since it requires keeping them apart as much as possible; and short of taking one to another base on a different planet, that won't work. The other option..." He shrugged and glanced at his wife.
"If we force them to work together, it could make them actually fight each other and ultimately end with one of them seriously hurt," Leia said, thinking.
"Despite Finn's belief that Ben can't be trusted...and Ben's own apparent lack of faith in himself, I don't believe Ben would seriously harm Finn; not deliberately, anyway. He is currently too invested in having you not be disappointed in him. If what I heard him muttering to himself while he was helping me is any indication, anyway. If we force them to work together, it could force them to both recognize how much they actually have in common...and might help Finn trust Ben more. Since a large part of the problem is Finn's distrust of Ben..." Poe responded quietly.
Han nodded. "Ben has us, who he knows believe in him... but we're his parents. I've seen them both and I think they have more in common than either of them think."
"It's safer outside the base than on most planets... and we could do with collecting certain supplies," Leia said. "We are running low on some of the elements we can use from the planet."
"I really think that would be a good job for them...and it will give the rest of the base a break from the tension. If they come back cooperative? Maybe they can work on gaining the goodwill of the rest of the base," Poe said quietly.
Leia nodded. "Do you need them for the rest of the day?" she asked Poe, already making a list of what they were going to need in her mind.
Poe shook his head. "No. Actually, they both worked so hard on their jobs in an attempt to avoid each other that we finished earlier than I anticipated. If you'd like to have Ben spend the afternoon with you, it won't cause me a problem." Poe smiled. "Or if you want to send him and Finn on an errand for those elements...that'd work too."
"You've taken Finn on as a younger brother, so this is as much your decision as ours," Leia said, comfortable enough to speak for Han and know her husband would voice any disagreement he had with her words.
"I'd think the sooner this is handled, the better for all concerned," Han said. "Nothing's going to change so long as there's all of this distrust."
"You're right." Poe nodded at Han. "The sooner they learn to coexist without all the sniping and antagonistic behavior, the better. I'm all for sending them out on that errand right after lunch, if you agree."
Han and Leia exchanged a glance and Leia nodded. "We're in agreement," she said mildly. "And I think it would be best for the three of us to talk to the two of them together. That way, they know we're united on this and there's less chance of them trying to play us off against each other."
Poe nodded fairly certain that the two younger men would do exactly that if given the chance. "I know I sent them both to get lunch, so they should be in the cantina...although Ben was heading in the opposite direction, so maybe he decided to eat in your quarters..." He glanced uncertainly at Han and Leia. Since they were eating in the General's office, he wasn't certain if they had come from their apartment and knew where Ben had been eating.
"I think he probably has," Leia said. "Han, why don't you go and get Ben... bring him here while I figure out exactly what we need and what quantities? Poe, if you'd like to bring Finn here... this should be official enough that they'll understand we're serious."
"Yes, General..." Poe quickly nodded his acceptance and left to go find his brother.
Han left at the same time, heading to the quarters he and Leia shared with Ben. He suspected his son had probably gone there.
Ben had lain down on the bed, too weary to even try and fix something to eat, even if he knew he should. He couldn't sleep, though. Too many thoughts were running through his mind and he was afraid if he did sleep, the voice and dreams would return.
Han reached his quarters and didn't bother knocking, instead opening the door and stepping inside. Spotting his son on the bed, he walked over suspecting Ben hadn't in fact eaten. "Ben." His voice wasn't loud... but it was still clearly audible.
Ben quickly glanced over toward his father. "Yes, sir?" he asked quietly, not even bother trying to mask the weariness in his tone.
Han's concern was obvious as he stepped over to the side of the bed and took a seat on the edge... close enough that all he'd need to do was reach out to wrap his arm around his son. "Your mother wants to speak to you... but if you haven't eaten, I think it can wait until you have."
"I'm not really hungry..." Ben said softly, a slightly guilty look crossing his face before he asked, "Why does she want to see me?"
Han reached out to gently place his hand on his son's arm. "She has a job for you to do, but I think it's best if she explains the details. I'd like you to at least try to eat something." His voice was calm but firm.
Ben nodded. "We can go find out the job now," he said softly, sitting up before obediently grabbing a piece of random fruit out of the bowl sitting on the small table nearby. Arguing with his father about whether he would eat or not would just be churlish, even if his first impulse was to do so. And he did need to eat if he was going to keep his strength up for the newest job. It wasn't like he'd had enough sleep to give him needed energy.
There was a small compartment in the room where they kept some containers of water. After making sure his son was eating, Han walked over to it and took out one of the bottles, bringing it back over to Ben. "There's no shame in saying if you don't feel up to it right now," he said, worry colouring every word.
Ben quickly shook his head. He wanted to be useful to the base, to his parents, and staying locked away in their quarters because he was a little tired was not being useful. It wasn't like he wasn't used to whatever was happening; the dreams and the voice in his head had been around for as long as he could remember. Well before he was sent to his uncle to train. For all his father claimed to have known about the dreams, Ben was fairly certain he didn't know about the voice that talked to him in those dreams. If they knew, his parents might have locked him away and not even attempted to train him. He knew that hearing voices was a sign of not being all together well mentally. Finishing up the fruit and taking the water from his father with a quiet thank you, Ben took a few swallows before replying. "I want to help...and if I say I don't feel up to it, then I'll never get anything done. I don't foresee feeling any differently later or even a few days from now," he commented honestly. As much as he didn't want his father to worry, he also knew he wouldn't be able to hide his weariness and lying about it would make his father worry even more.
Han nodded and placed his hand on his son's shoulder, squeezing gently. "I'd like you to consider talking to me or your mother... or both of us... about these dreams," he said seriously. "They're clearly affecting you and keeping it inside your head isn't going to help, kid. I promise that nothing you say to me will change how I feel about you."
Ben leaned toward his father, but at the idea of talking about the dreams, he winced. "Maybe..." he finally hedged. He didn't see how talking about the things he saw in his sleep would do anyone any good; and would probably cause his parents nightmares. "Maybe later..." He finished up the water and cleaned up his trash before giving his father a crooked smile. "Let's go see what Momma wants me to do..." he finally said, the more familiar term of address for his mother making it clear the emotional strain he was under. He tended to keep more aloof and use less familiar names when he was feeling emotionally secure; when he was feeling unsettled, it was Momma and Daddy.
Han responded by wrapping his arm around Ben's shoulders so he could guide him from their quarters. More than anything, he wanted to do something to help his son. He'd felt helpless enough before that sending Ben to Luke had seemed like the only way of helping him... but that hadn't worked and Han had no intention of letting his son out of his sight now. Still, it was hard to see Ben suffering and not have any idea of how to stop it. It wasn't as if Han could protect him from a visible threat, after all. "I love you, son." He kept reiterating it... hoping to somehow make up for the errors in judgement that had helped Ben along his self-destructive path.
"I know, daddy..." Ben whispered faintly. "It took me too long to remember or believe, but I do know..." He bit his lip before giving his father another crooked smile, wondering if he shouldn't tell his father about the dreams- and about the voice. Maybe if he'd told his parents about it when they first started, things would have been done differently? But the voice had said he shouldn't tell anyone, ever. That if his parents knew someone was talking to him in his head that they'd lock him away and he'd never see them again...he'd never see anyone again... and he'd believed the voice. It hadn't helped that his parents were gone so much of the time, leaving him in the care of Threepio or one of the many underlings of the fledging government. At the time, he hadn't understood why his mother and father were always having to leave home. He understood now, but at the time, he hadn't understood; and so when the voice said that it was important no one ever find out because he'd never see them again, he'd believed it.
Now, he didn't want to believe it, but he'd done so many wrong things it was hard to trust that they wouldn't lock him away if they knew he was hearing a voice that wanted him to do horrible things. A voice that sometimes suspiciously sounded like Snoke, though more usually, it didn't sound like any particular individual. He frowned as the thought intruded, suddenly wondering if Snoke wasn't the one responsible for his suffering. If Snoke hadn't been the one responsible all those many years ago. It would make sense...but if that was the case...
Ben shivered slightly. If that was the case, then he didn't know how he'd ever fight the dark lord off or regain even a small piece of what other people viewed as normality.
Han didn't let go of Ben as he led his son from their quarters. His concern was obvious... both when he spoke to Ben and in the almost protective way he kept his son close to himself. He gave his son a reassuring squeeze as they reached Leia's office shortly after Finn and Poe had entered.
Finn, in the cantina, was just finishing off his plate of food, having just had time to exchange some words with Rey before she left to try and do some more training with the Force... not that Finn really understood everything about it; but he appreciated Rey was trying to develop her skills. Even if he didn't want to think about her being in a potentially dangerous situation.
Poe quickly located Finn and walked over to his brother. "General Organa-Solo needs to speak with you in her office, if you'll come with me..."
Surprised (and relieved that he'd finished his food), Finn stood up automatically... though a nervous look came over his face, as he remembered Ben's barbed comments. Was he going to end up forced to leave? For all he hadn't wanted to be a part of the war... he believed in what they were doing here and didn't want to lose a place he felt he finally belonged in.
Poe frowned at the nervousness that was very noticeable on his friend's face. "Hey...it's nothing bad, I promise." Slanting his head, he grinned sheepishly. "Well...at least it isn't bad as far as I can see. You might not agree with me, I suppose."
"What's it about?" Finn knew his brother wouldn't lie to him... but he couldn't imagine being seen by the General would mean anything good.
"She has a job for you, but I think it would be better if she explains what she wants," Poe said, in an effort to calm his brother down. The plan wouldn't work if Finn was nervous before even starting.
Finn nodded. "I'm not going to be sent away?" he asked softly, trusting Poe wouldn't lie to him.
"Of course you aren't being sent away!" Poe exclaimed, shocked surprise warring with worry that Finn would assume such a thing. "You're part of the resistance now...my family...even if she wanted to send you away, which she doesn't, I wouldn't let her!"
"Okay..." Finn said softly, reassured. "I just... today has been..." His voice trailed off. He wasn't sure how to word the explanation to Poe about the suspicious looks and comments he wasn't entirely sure were just his imagination. At least not without admitting he'd continued to pick at Ben. A guilty look came briefly over his face.
"I know." Poe sighed. "I noticed how people were looking at you and Ben. They've been looking at Ben that way for a while now..." Poe glanced at Finn. "...You needled him and he must have said something in retaliation that stuck in their minds so that they are looking at you the same way now. The only way to get them to stop looking at you that way is to behave in a manner that flies in the face of what they are apparently expecting. The General, Captain Solo and I came up with an idea that we hope will alleviate the problem. If you're ready, we can go meet with her so she can explain what you will be doing."
Finn winced at how easily Poe was able to read him and nodded. "I'm ready," he said quietly, taking a step closer to his brother. Even if he wasn't used to being in a family... being with someone he could actually turn to for any kind of contact... he couldn't deny that being close to Poe helped him to feel better.
Poe nodded, putting a hand on Finn's shoulder and squeezing before walking with him toward the General's office.
Finn walked alongside his brother, more calm now that he'd been reassured he wasn't being sent away... but also a bit worried about what the idea involving him and Ben was going to be.
Poe knocked on the office door before opening it and motioning Finn to precede him. He had a feeling Finn wouldn't be overly enthusiastic about the new task ahead of him, but Poe hadn't been lying. It really did seem as if it was the best solution to the problem of people looking at Ben and Finn with distrust, as well as getting the two younger men to form a truce.
Leia smiled warmly at Poe and Finn as they came into the room. "We'll just wait for Ben to join us, so I don't have to explain everything twice," she said mildly.
Ben was grateful for his father's support and even though he knew it would give Finn more ammunition to use against him, he didn't attempt to pull away from his father, even when entering into his mother's office. He nodded briefly at Poe and Finn then looked toward Leia questioningly. "Mother..." he said by way of acknowledgement, his voice curious.
Poe, not wanting Finn to feel uncomfortable, hadn't wrapped an arm around the younger man's shoulders...but he'd stood close enough that he could do so, if it appeared Finn needed the moral support.
Leia included her son in the warm smile, indicating that the two younger men could sit if they wanted. She didn't miss the way Finn almost slanted towards Poe... nor did she miss the way he stiffened as soon as Ben put in an appearance.
"It's come to my attention that the bickering and near fighting between the two of you is affecting the others on the base... to the point where it will be detrimental for the morale of everyone here, not just yourselves, if this continues." Leia's voice was calm and to the point. "No one expects the two of you to be close friends... but if you can put aside your differences and are able to work together, it's going to make it easier for everyone else here to trust and believe in the two of you as much as the three of us do here." Leia paused, waiting to see if either young man had anything to add before she continued.
Finn didn't say anything... trying not to hint at any worry or shame he might have been feeling.
Ben was a bit irritated that Finn's inability to work with him without sniping had led to them getting extra duties. It wasn't like he had gone out of his way to antagonize the other man; more like he'd finally gotten fed up with Finn's antagonism and responded in kind. But he didn't think telling his mother that 'it was his fault' would go over all that well. He should have been able to keep a grip on his temper and not responded. The fact he had responded was reason enough for him to be in this position, even if he did feel it was a bit unfair to blame him equally. He didn't say anything, but he was too tired to mask his irritation completely.
Poe glanced at Finn, to indicate if he wanted to say something, now was the time to do so.
Finn bit his lip, aware that he had been the one mainly antagonizing Ben... and didn't feel like he could make any comments.
Leia waited just long enough to be sure they weren't going to be making any comments before she continued, "We're running low on some of the supplies we can make using the natural resources on this planet. I'd like both of you to go out together and gather the items on this list." She indicated the datapad.
Ben frowned slightly, hesitantly holding out his hand for the datapad so that he could see what supplies they'd be gathering. "We'll be bartering with the locals?" he asked with a tiny bit of worry. If the people on the base were wary of him, it wasn't anything like how the people who weren't on base would be. At least the people on base knew that he was under his parent's control. Outside, if he was recognized they'd get one of two responses. The people would be terrified and would 'disappear' - making it impossible to get supplies from them. Or the people would attack- also making it impossible to get supplies and being problematic in another way. He wasn't sure he could fight off attackers without killing them and killing the local populace wasn't something he thought he would be allowed to do- even if they attacked first.
Leia passed her son the datapad, even as she replied, "The supplies will need to be foraged for. Included on the datapad is a map where the supplies can be found... as well as the areas that are more dangerous and should be avoided."
Finn wasn't so keen on the idea of having to work with Ben... but he was intrigued by being able to leave the base and explore the planet outside. He waited for Ben to finish with the datapad so he could take a look.
Ben's eyes widened noticeably and he looked from the datapad to his mother, obviously surprised. "Foraging? You want us to go out...just the two of us...and actually gather the supplies?" He couldn't keep the disbelief out of his tone. He wondered what his parents and Poe were thinking with such an assignment. They'd be lucky not to kill each other. And even if they managed not to kill each other...well, in his state of weariness, he couldn't be entirely certain he wouldn't kill himself by accident. He didn't say that, though. That would involve telling his parents why it was a bad idea for him to go out into the wilds and forage...something he was reluctant to do.
"Foraging for supplies will be safer than actually trying to barter... and it will also be a good way for the two of you to learn to work together," Leia said. "So long as you stay out of the marked dangerous areas, you should easily be back before dark."
Finn swallowed, reluctant to cause problems by voicing the fact he didn't think he could work with Ben... even though he hoped the other man's obvious reluctance would cause their guardians to change their minds.
"Yes, Ma'am..." Ben finally said with a swallow. He didn't want to go, but it was more due to his bone weariness than not wanting to be around Finn any longer. Unfortunately, he couldn't say as much. If he did, his mother and father would make him go to the healers...who would inform his parents not only of the exhaustion he was bordering on, but also would likely discover and inform them of the wounds and scars he'd somehow managed to keep hidden...so far. There really was no choice but to go.
Poe watched Finn and Ben closely, a tiny frown on his face. Something seemed off, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He trusted that, if there were a problem, Finn at least would say something.
Leia nodded. "I'll also give you a comm unit each... in case you need to call back to the base for anything."
Finn held his hand out for the datapad. "Mind if I take a look?"
"Be my guest. I've memorized the list." Ben handed the datapad over before glancing at his mother. "The comms?"
Leia retrieved them and gave one each to Ben and then to Finn. "If it begins getting dark before you've finished finding everything... return to the base anyway." She didn't want to risk anything happening to either of the younger men.
Finn nodded, scanning through the datapad.
"Let's go..." Ben put the comm in his ear and headed for the door, figuring Finn would follow. He wanted to get this taken care of as soon as possible so they could return and he could try and sleep. Not that he expected he would be able to, but he'd at least like the opportunity.
Despite having also memorised the list on the datapad, Finn took it with him... just in case they happened to run into any of those 'dangerous places' mentioned. He put his comm in his own ear and followed Ben out of the door.
Poe watched as the two younger men left, an odd look on his face. "I hope this works. I have a very weird feeling about it..." he admitted.
Leia nodded and sighed. "I don't think there are many other ways to handle the problem," she admitted.
Ben had gone straight to the supply room and picked up whatever tools he'd need to complete the mission and then left, heading to the spot where they'd find the first item on the list. He figured Finn would follow, or he wouldn't...by this point, all Ben cared about was completing the task.
Used to being prepared, Finn not only retrieved the tools he was going to need, but also a pack with food and water bottles in. He slipped out of the base without interacting with anyone and walked to join Ben.
"That first item is also the closest and easiest to get. After that, we'll either need to head east into the hilly area, or west toward the ocean..." Ben said blandly. He wasn't thrilled to be on this 'mission' and it was obvious in his tone, but he was very careful to keep any antagonism or irritation out of his tone. He really didn't want to fight with Finn the whole trip. Even if the other man likely would be trying to pick a fight.
Finn eyed Ben, trying hard not to act as suspicious as he felt. Foremost in his mind was what their guardians had said... about the other people on the base not trusting either of them. "Did you pick up any food or water? I took enough for both of us..." His tone was neutral, even if he wasn't sure how much Ben had thought through.
Ben blinked in surprise. "I didn't pick up any food, although I have a canteen of water. I'm hoping that we won't be out for so long that we miss dinner..." he said, just as neutrally, figuring that would be an acceptable reason not to take food. He didn't want to admit that he hadn't had much of an appetite. It was hard enough his father knowing he hadn't been eating well and making him eat.
Finn shrugged. "Probably not, but who knows how long it's going to take? Either way, I've got food for if we get hungry." He began following the terrain towards the particular herb named and described on the datapad.
Ben just nodded and began to follow Finn, his eyes darting around, taking in everything; and sending out gentle probes with the force, making certain that there weren't any hostile entities following them or waiting for them. It didn't take them long to reach the herb and Ben pulled out the special container that he'd brought to store the herb in. "We should get enough to fill this pouch..." he said quietly, as he began to carefully gather leaves and place them in said pouch.
Nodding, Finn moved to help gather the leaves. He was curious, though, looking around once they'd finished. Being a Stormtrooper had meant having very little freedom... and even on the rebel base, he hadn't had many chances to look around the planet outside. "Have you been to this planet before?" he asked... partly out of curiosity; partly to try and make peace... and maybe also with some sense of envy that, until now, Ben had probably had a whole lot more freedom than Finn had ever had.
Ben glanced around, curious despite himself. "No...the First Order had no reason to ever come here; and the base we are currently at was built after I..." He swallowed, not finishing the thought. It wouldn't help matters to remind Finn that he'd willingly left his family to follow a homicidal megalomaniac. Wrinkling his nose, he went back to gathering the herbs. "Would you like to head toward the ocean next or the hills?"
"Maybe the ocean," Finn suggested, trying not to think, again, about the fact he was out here with someone who was dangerous and he found almost impossible to try and predict the actions of.
"Sounds good..." Ben nodded, carefully closing the pouch once it was filled and placing into his satchel. "That's also further away, so we'll have a better idea if we can make it to the hills after or not."
Nodding, Finn began heading in that direction... after checking on the datapad to make sure they weren't approaching any of the dangerous areas.
It had taken them a little over an hour to reach the ocean area, enough time that Ben doubted they'd make it to the hills on the same day. "We'll likely need to return tomorrow for the items we don't get today..." he said off-handedly. He'd already gathered at least half of what they needed from near the ocean. His attention, however, was on a little island maybe one hundred feet off shore. Something about the island had drawn his interest and he really wanted to go explore it. "I've got all my items...do you have yours?" he asked curiously, still staring at the island.
"Yeah." Finn noticed that Ben's attention was on the island and he stepped over to the other man. "That's one of the places we need to steer clear of," he warned.
"I don't plan to leave the beach area..." Ben muttered, carefully pulling the satchel strap over his shoulder and wading out toward the island. While the water was deeper in between the island and the mainland, it still only reached up to his chest. All he needed to do was hold the satchel over his head and he was able to walk without it getting wet. Soon, he was on the shore of the island, taking a closer look at one of the flowers he'd noticed while on the mainland.
Finn looked around, considering staying put... but, to be honest, he didn't like the thought of leaving Ben to go to the island on his own. He liked the thought of telling on the other man even less.
Holding his own supplies out of the water, Finn began wading after Ben, very quickly reaching the island. He waded out onto the beach and quickly moved over to Ben. "We should really be getting back." He winced as a sharp pain stabbed into his leg, just above where his boot ended.
Ben nodded. "Let me gather a few of these flowers and we'll go back over... This flower is very useful in a variety of medicines..." He quickly gathered a small pouch of the flowers, before putting the pouch into his satchel. He then turned to look at Finn. "Let's go, then..." His voice trailed off and he frowned slightly. "...Are you alright?"
By that time, Finn was stumbling on his feet, trying to keep his balance. "I think something bit me..." His legs folded under him at that moment and he tumbled to the sand.
"Son of a Bantha!" Ben muttered, as he carefully put the satchel back onto the ground before kneeling next to Finn. "Where were you bit?" he asked, even as his eyes darted over Finn, trying to locate the bite...and also trying to figure out how he would get Finn back over the water and into the 'non-dangerous' area.
"My leg..." Finn's legs had been spasming, but when he reached down to find the bite, a look of panic came across his face. "I can't feel them." He swallowed. "I don't think... I can walk."
Ben frowned. "We can't stay here. I doubt insects are the only aspect that make this a 'danger zone' and night will be coming soon. If I carry you, do you think you'll be able to hold both of our packs up and out of the water?"
Finn nodded. "Maybe we should drape the packs over me," he suggested. "If my legs... aren't working, it might spread..."
"I could just move the bags back over to the other side, using the force..." Ben said thoughtfully... "Hold on a minute..." Carefully concentrating, Ben slowly but easily levitated the bags back to the beach on the other side of the water. He then looked down at Finn. "I don't want to risk you drowning if you lose the ability to hold your head up above water, so I'm going to have to carry you in a very awkward manner, to make certain, even if you can't move, your head is up higher than mine," he finally said, before bending down and lifting Finn up. Wrapping his arms around Finn's legs, just above his knees, he quickly lifted the younger man up in a vertical position then began walking back through the water, heading to the opposite shore.
Finn didn't attempt to fight the hold... not that he could have, even if he'd wanted to get away from Ben. He was quiet until they'd reached the other side, concentrating on breathing and not allowing his panic to take hold. He was relieved to find he could still talk when they reached the opposite shore. "Even using the force, I suspect you can't carry me all the way back to the base."
Ben carefully put Finn down on the ground next to their packs. "No...I am afraid I cannot. What little I did to move the packs has made me very tired..." he reluctantly admitted. "I will gather some wood and make a fire." He carefully began to do just that. He knew that, once the sun went down, the temperature would drop considerably; and they both were soaked from their walk through the water. They would need the heat to dry out and keep warm.
Finn nodded. "If you put the wood within arms reach, I can light it," he offered. "And there's food in my pack... mostly only ration bars, but at least that's something."
"Yes...of course..." Ben acknowledged with a nod, putting the first armful of wood next to the ex-trooper. "When we do not return for dinner tonight, they will begin to worry. When we do not return to sleep... well, I'm certain they will want to begin searching at first light. We should not need to be out here for longer than one evening..." He tried to sound optimistic.
Relieved to have his arms still working, Finn propped himself up on his elbows so he could begin lighting the wood. "Should we try the comms?" he asked... not sure he wanted his brother and Ben's parents to know what they'd done, but not liking the idea of being stuck outside with the potential for the paralysis to get worse even less.
"If you wish to use them, I will not stop you..." Ben sounded hesitant though. Even though he knew they should contact the base and let them know what happened...he also knew that they'd gone to a clearly marked dangerous area and Finn had been hurt because of it. Even a day before, he wouldn't have hesitated in telling on Finn to Poe- if it might cause the other man a bit of discomfort. Unfortunately, since he had a part to play in Finn's injury- he wasn't too keen on having anyone else find out about it himself.
"I'm not going to say what happened... not about the island, anyway," Finn said. "Just... I think they'd worry if we don't come back." He tried activating his comm and frowned. "It's not working."
Ben frowned and tried his own comm. "It...got wet..." he finally admitted, with a bit of self-disgust. He hadn't remembered he'd put it into his pocket and wading through the ocean had caused the delicate components to fry. "I...I could attempt to send my mother or father a message through the force..." he said hesitantly. He was hesitant; not because he didn't think he could do it, but because to speak across distance to someone in their head, it formed a connection that made it more difficult for you to hide things from that person later on...especially so if they were also a force sensitive.
"It wouldn't be the first time I've spent the night outside," Finn said. "I'm sure we can wait until morning... the paralysis doesn't seem to be spreading. Maybe it'll wear off? Or there could be an antidote..."
"Hopefully, it will wear off. I do not know of an antidote that can be made by a campfire...although the flowers I picked will make one back in the med bay..." Ben said softly, putting down more wood for the fire.
Finn began feeding the wood into the fire, careful not to make it too strong, and watched the flames as he spoke. "You could go back to the base without me." He didn't really want to be left alone... but he was surprised that Ben hadn't decided to just leave him.
"No...I really can't. Even ignoring the fact my mother would be disappointed in me...it's at least partly my fault you were injured. I won't leave you vulnerable out here..." Ben shook his head as he wearily sat down across from Finn.
Finn was quiet for a few seconds, feeling exhaustion beginning to take hold. He wasn't sure if it was the amount of work... or something to do with the bite. Either way, he wanted to try and stay awake for as long as possible. "Sorry... for keeping picking at you," he added, a bit embarrassed... but wanting to apologise.
Ben looked at Finn closely. Deciding that the younger man was serious, he nodded. "I apologize as well. I reacted poorly..." Sighing, he rolled his outer tunic up and lay down, using it as a pillow.
"I'll take first watch," Finn offered. "You should try and get some sleep... you look worse than I feel." His tone wasn't insulting... he felt more concerned.
Ben was too tired to take offense or argue against Finn's decision. Besides...if he was needed, he was fairly certain he'd wake up at the smallest disturbance. "Thanks..." he said briefly, closing his eyes. He hadn't expected to fall asleep as quickly as he did. Hadn't really expected to fall asleep at all. So, of course, he did fall asleep...and within moments.
Finn lay next to the fire, moving his arms and upper body to get a feel for if the paralysis was spreading... or reducing. The fact he couldn't feel anything in his legs was worrying... and he constantly had to check on the bite wound, to see if there was anything out of the ordinary.
It hadn't taken long after falling asleep for Ben's dreams to begin plaguing him again. Lately, they were always the same (though he hadn't told his father what they were about). He was standing on the bridge, facing his father...but instead of Chewie knocking him out from behind, he drew his light-saber; and despite not really wanting to do so...stabbed his father through the heart, then shoved him off the bridge into the abyss below. And as always, as soon as his dream played out, the voice began. 'That is what you should have done...you would have been given untold power had you shed the connections that make you weak. You would have been powerful enough to bring peace to the galaxy. You would have been powerful enough to ensure that no people died because of war, ever again. You would have saved every living thing years of misery, death and untold torment, but you were weak. You let your attachment weaken you.' As he dreamed, Ben tossed and turned and whimpered; first at seeing himself murder his father...then at what the voice was telling him. He finally jerked awake, his eyes filled with tears. They didn't fall down his face, but it was close. Unlike all the other times since he'd begun having dreams and hearing voices again, his father wasn't there to hold him close and tell him he wasn't alone. He hadn't realized what a huge impact that had...until the voice continued while he was awake. 'It isn't too late. Kill the traitorous trooper and make your way to the nearest settlement. Find yourself a ship and come back to the First Order. Return to your master, Kylo Ren...'
"No...no..NO!" Ben gasped out. "I'm not Kylo Ren...not anymore. I'm Ben Solo! Leave me alone!" He threw his hands up, pressing them to his head as if trying to protect himself from something, and began to quiver with the stress of attempting to push the voice, who he was now certain was Snoke, out of his head.
The moment Ben had started moving in his sleep, Finn had done his best to drag himself round to the other man's side. Due to the paralysis taking hold, he'd managed to get round the other side of the fire as Ben reacted to something Finn could neither see nor hear. Swallowing, he reached out... but his hand hovered over Ben's arm, hesitating. While he didn't think this was a trick, he didn't know how Ben would react to being touched. "Ben?" His voice was soft... hesitant.
Ben's head whipped up, his gaze pinning Finn in place where he was. His eyes were red rimmed and glassy and it was obvious he was in a great deal of torment. "He wants you dead. He wants me to kill you..." His voice was ragged and strained. "I don't want to..." he admitted hoarsely.
It wasn't as if Finn could run away... but even if his legs were working, he couldn't get up and leave. Not seeing how tormented Ben looked. He drew his hand back, carefully watching the other man. "Who was talking to you?" He actually had his suspicions... but if he was right about those... well, it was beginning to look like he was wrong about nearly everything else.
"Snoke..." Ben admitted. While he'd not been able to bring himself to admit that the dark practitioner had taken to speaking in his head to his parents (not wanting them to worry further than they already did and knowing they'd fear for his mental stability if he told them), he truly didn't care if Finn thought him crazy. The other man already had as low an opinion of him as possible. It was a relief to finally tell someone, even if it was someone that wanted him dead.
Finn's eyes narrowed in worry... and it wasn't for himself. While he'd never had any personal interaction with the leader of the First Order, he knew how dangerously cruel the Sith was. "How long...?" he asked quietly, thinking that it explained a lot... especially considering how at odds Ben's behaviour was now with what he had been.
"Since I was three..." Ben muttered, his eyes darting away for a few seconds before a horrified look crossed his face. "It just started again when my father took me back...so, just since we've been at this base..." he quickly said, hoping Finn would ignore the first part of his answer.
Finn decided to ignore Ben's attempt at changing his answer... horrified at this revelation. "He's been talking to you for that long? That's why you defected to the First Order?" While there wasn't any pity in his tone... it was filled with sympathetic compassion.
"I joined the first order because they offered power...and didn't expect me to go through life ignoring my feelings!" Ben's protest was weak at best, though. He may have told himself those were reasons for joining, but he knew the reason was because after years of listening to Snoke in his head...he'd finally started believing the Sith when he claimed Ben's parents didn't want him...had never wanted him. He knew it to be a lie now. But when still a young teenager- a child still, really- he had believed it true.
"I can't claim to know anything about family," Finn said. "Before Poe... it wasn't like there was anyone I would say I cared about or respected enough to call brother. But your parents don't act like they want you to ignore your feelings. Like... Captain Solo... your dad... even from when we were on the Falcon, it didn't look like he wanted to let you go."
"My dad would never have wanted me to ignore my feelings..." Ben actually smiled briefly. "It was my uncle...during Jedi training. I was meant to control any passionate feelings, no matter the sort, as 'they lead to the dark side.' I might have misunderstood..." Ben frowned slightly.
"I don't really understand about the Force... or being a Jedi... or a whole lot about the dark side," Finn said. "But maybe control doesn't mean ignore. I mean... I guess it's like lashing out angrily during a fight. You're more likely to lose and get hurt that way."
Ben let out a weak chuckle. "All these years and that was never how it was explained to me...and I was too upset, scared and angry to ever think of it like that myself." His voice was chagrined and sad. "My uncle was my only and last hope of stopping the voice without listening to it, but I was too scared to tell him. Everyone knew about the dreams; they didn't know what was constantly being whispered to me. I hadn't wanted to leave home...hadn't wanted to leave my parents...but they didn't know how to help me...how to handle me...they thought my uncle could. All I could see was them not wanting me and getting rid of me, just like Snoke said they would. I was a foolish child..." His voice trailed off and he glanced at Finn. "He's stopped for the moment. Are you able to feel your legs yet?"
"Gradually," Finn replied. "Like I have pins and needles. And I don't think you should keep it from them," he added. "Snoke talking to you, I mean. Your parents can't help you if they don't have all the information."
"If they couldn't help me when I was a child, how could they hope to help me as an adult after years of being influenced by the Sith? Even if they did know... my father isn't force sensitive; at least not enough to be able to fight me if he needs to. My mother hasn't trained. And my uncle has every reason in the world to despise me and want me dead. Telling them would only worry them and make them feel helpless and I've hurt them enough." Ben's voice was firm, even if the look on his face gave away his uncertainty. "The return of feeling is a good sign. Perhaps you'll be able to walk by the time the sun returns to the sky and we can make it back to base before they send out a search party..." Ben's voice was doubtful this time, but only because he was fairly certain they sent out a search party once it became clear that the two younger men hadn't returned to base by nightfall.
"You didn't tell them everything," Finn pointed out. "Maybe if you do... this time... you'll be able to fight back better. And when you need to hear it... they can tell you that you're not going to be sent away. I mean, I figure you should know that most of the time... they wouldn't have brought you back here... but it would help. If he makes you feel like that again."
Ben gave Finn a dirty look at the reminder that he should already know he wouldn't be sent away, since the words made sense and the fact he hadn't thought of that made him feel small and stupid. "I'll think about it," he finally said, not making any promises. "You should try and sleep...maybe the rest will help your legs heal faster."
Finn nodded. "I'll try." He was doubtful he'd be able to, though. Not now that he knew Snoke was hovering there at the edges of Ben's mind.
"Good..." Ben finally said, not sure what else he could say. It was obvious Finn was uncomfortable now. He sighed softly. Not a lot he could do about it at this point.
Finn closed his eyes. "So... maybe we should not mention that we both headed to one of the dangerous areas?" he suggested... even though he held out very little hope of keeping that a secret.
"I don't plan to say anything..." Ben snorted. "I may be border-line insane, but I'm not that crazy..." His tone was droll, his eyes twinkling.
"Sounds to me more like circumstances made you crazy." A light teasing note slipped into Finn's voice, despite the seriousness of the situation. "I think Snoke's to blame for that."
"Snoke can be blamed for a lot of things...but I still chose to believe him." Ben's voice was sad. "I have much to pay for..." He sighed softly. "Try and rest. I'll keep lookout." He turned to face the wooded area, his gaze watchful.
"Right." Finn closed his eyes, trying to at least rest... no matter how concerning learning this was.
Poe was knocking on the door to the General and her husband's quarters shortly before the sun was due to rise. "General...Captain. The search party is ready to go at first light..." he said quickly, planning to join the search team in looking for his brother and the General's son.
Rey was stood next to him. "Permission to accompany the search team, ma'am?" she asked, her tone worried and hopeful at the same time.
It had been hard for Leia and Han not to go out during the night, despite knowing how dangerous the planet was at night. Neither had slept and Leia opened the door the moment Poe knocked. She nodded to Rey, indicating her permission. "Captain Solo will be accompanying you." As much as she wanted to go as well, she couldn't leave the base.
Dressed and ready with his gear, Han edged round his wife to join Poe and Rey.
"We'll bring them back, ma'am..." Rey said confidently, before stepping back to let Han take the lead.
Poe allowed him to take the lead as well, recognizing that the father was anxious and needed to be in charge for his own peace of mind. Since Han had more experience, it wasn't difficult.
Han nodded to the other two before he headed to join the rest of the search party just inside the base. With sunrise, he took the lead... carrying a datapad with the details of Finn and Ben's mission, so they had an idea of where to start searching.
Poe glanced at the datapad. "If I may suggest, sir, unless there was a freak accident in this area," he pointed to where Finn and Ben picked up the first herb, "this area is very close and is not near any of the dangerous spots. They likely would have returned back if one of them was hurt, because it is nothing but an open field and is close enough for one of them to come back for help, even if the other can't move. They are most likely in the mountain area or near the ocean..."
By this point, Rey had a strange, unfocused look on her face. "The...ocean..." She blinked, then took a deep breath and shook her head. "I can sense Ben's presence near the ocean...but his isn't the only one. There was a malevolent presence there at some point..." Her tone was very worried.
About to reply to Poe, Han looked at Rey, fighting to hide his worry. "We'll check by the ocean," he said, not sure if there was still a malevolent presence there... but determined to stay on guard anyway.
"You don't think...his master came for him...do you?" Poe asked quietly, as they quickly got a pod to fly out toward the ocean.
"I wouldn't put anything past him," Han replied, just as quietly, as they climbed into the pod. His worry was obvious, as he tried to pull his mind away from the thoughts of losing Ben again.
Ben was worn out, but he hadn't dared go back to sleep, not knowing Snoke wanted him to kill Finn. He had to stay awake to fight him off. Besides, Finn had needed to heal if they wanted to walk back to base. Now the sun was coming up. He glanced at his companion. "Are you able to feel or move your legs?" He couldn't keep the hope out of his voice.
Finn had only fallen into a light doze, unable to relax enough to sleep properly. Even though he trusted Ben (at least now), he didn't trust Snoke at all. When Ben spoke to him, Finn moved... gingerly at first and then with more confidence. "I can move," he reported.
"Good..." He started to suggest they begin walking when he suddenly slanted his head. "I think I hear a pod approaching..." he said quietly.
Finn stood as quickly as he could, his legs protesting the movement, and placed his hand on his blaster... in case the approaching was hostile.
Ben no longer had his lightsaber...he didn't know if it had been left behind when his father 'reclaimed' him, or if his father took it from him and hid it. It didn't really matter, though. The end result was the same; he didn't have it. He also didn't have a blaster, as that was something he wasn't to be trusted with until he proved himself trustworthy. He wasn't sure his parents even thought about his weaponless status when they gave him this chore and he hadn't seen fit to remind them. He wished he had said something now, though. If the approaching pod was hostile, the only thing he could do to help himself and Finn was hand-to-hand combat and use of the force. As tired as he was, he didn't know how effective he'd be using that.
He stood next to Finn and positioned himself to fight (or shove whatever was coming out of the way) if necessary.
Despite the tiredness and ache in his legs, Finn remained ready with the blaster trained on the pod... until it came in for a landing and he was able to see who was piloting.
Han relaxed a fraction when he saw his son and Finn safe and apparently unharmed... though Rey's words had sparked a whole wealth of worry and his focus remained on Ben as the pod landed and he was finally able to exit and make his way to Ben's side.
Ben couldn't help but slump in relief when he saw who was piloting the pod. He didn't fully trust anyone outside his parents, Finn, Poe and Rey not to kill him on sight then make up some excuse about how he'd been a threat to them. The fact that he now trusted Finn- and, by extension, Rey and Poe- was a bit of a surprise...but the younger man had done his part in trying to keep them both safe and had tried to help, despite his obvious distrust of Ben. Ben figured that was reason enough to give him a small measure of trust back. "Dad..." He sighed softly. "Can we go home now? We got all but one of the items on the list and I'll go out for it after I've used a fresher and eaten..." He sounded like a child bartering for a later bed time, but he was too worn out to realize it.
Poe blinked, giving Han...then Finn...a questioning look.
Han quickly stepped over to his son, checking first Ben... and then Finn, though a little less urgently (figuring that Poe would more extensively check his brother), for visible injuries before draping his arm around his son's shoulders. "You won't be coming back out here, son," he said seriously. "At least not today. After you've eaten, I think both of you will be resting." He included Finn in that so Ben didn't feel he was being singled out.
"I agree...I'll call ahead and have food brought to the General's office, if that's acceptable. Then both of them can return to quarters for decent sleep..." Poe said in agreement with Han, as he examined Finn for wounds.
"I think that would be for the best." Han gently led Ben towards the pod, keeping his arm around his son's shoulders.
Finn held still so that his brother could examine him... not wanting to draw Poe's attention to the bite on his leg.
Ben couldn't help but relax further as his father took control and all he had to do was follow obediently. If anyone had told him, even a few weeks before, that he'd ever willingly follow his father anywhere and obey him without question, he'd have wondered if they were looking to be put in medical so that they could get off duty. He would have never accepted anyone thinking he'd ever do such a thing, let alone do it, before his father dragged him back home. Now? Now, he was happy to let his father be in charge of him, if it meant he could use the energy he would have expended being independent trying to keep Snoke out of his head.
Poe didn't see any noticeable wounds, although Finn was wearing long pants and sleeves, so his clothing could be hiding something. "Were you hurt or wounded anywhere?" he asked his brother seriously, fully expecting that Finn would tell him if he had any injuries.
Han helped Ben into the pod, settling his son in next to him so he could keep him close and stay in contact with him. He'd paid attention to Rey's comments and couldn't help the worry as he watched his son.
"No." It slipped out without conscious thought... the lie. Finn told himself it wasn't really a lie now. Despite the bite, he could walk... and he didn't think there would be any lasting side effects. Besides, admitting his injury would also mean admitting that he and Ben had left the safe area.
Ben slumped into the seat his father directed him to and half-closed his eyes. He didn't react to what Finn told Poe; partly because it wasn't any of his business...he wasn't the one being asked the question...but also partly because he didn't want to draw undue attention to the fact that Finn had just lied. Drawing attention to that might bring up a whole host of other questions neither of them wanted to answer.
Poe nodded, believing his brother. "I'm glad. There are some really nasty bugs near that area that can cause some really horrible problems. If one of them bit you... well, I'd want you to have a full blood scan, just to make certain you recovered completely."
Han waited for everyone to be settled in their seats before he activated the control to close the pod and lifted it off the ground. "Did you lose track of time while searching for the ingredients?" he asked.
Caught in the middle of a yawn, Finn quickly jumped on the excuse and nodded. "Yeah... some of the ingredients took a bit longer than we anticipated. Figured it was better to stay in one place than try to find our way back in the dark." He held back his wince as one lie turned into another.
"Didn't think it was a good idea to try and find our way back when we didn't have proper clothing for colder temperatures, only had the one blaster and only had one flashlight..." Ben agreed softly. That much was the truth. He hadn't really come prepared for anything more than a short day jaunt...although Finn had at least thought to bring a few meal bars and water. Ben figured it would be better to get into trouble by admitting his poor foresight in planning the trip than to admit they'd got soaked to the skin going to the island that had been clearly marked dangerous and needed to warm up by a fire before even thinking about walking back, even if Finn's leg hadn't been a consideration.
"Hmm." Although concentrating on flying the pod back to the base, Han still addressed his son. "After you've slept, we'll talk about planning better for the next time you go out."
"Yes, sir..." Ben easily agreed, too exhausted to even think about arguing. It wasn't like he really shouldn't have planned better and he knew his father was only worried about him.
Poe had settled himself next to Finn and was watching his brother closely as Ben was talking to his father. He knew Finn had planned ahead, because he'd helped stash Finn's pack once they'd got onto the pod and Finn had both a blaster and a flashlight. He was watching to see if Finn reacted in irritation to Ben's words.
Finn was quiet, figuring that, as they were part of a team, he should have made sure they both had enough supplies with them. He couldn't hold back another yawn, finally relaxing now he knew they were safe.
Poe smiled crookedly. "We'll be there soon. As soon as you eat something decent, you can go to bed..." he said to Finn softly. He planned to talk with Han and Leia once both younger men were resting, just to let them know that maybe...possibly...the animosity between Finn and Ben had lessened. There was a good chance of it, if the way they were now acting was any indication.
Ben kept his eyes closed, but didn't sleep. He didn't want Snoke talking to him again, especially not in his father's presence.
Finn nodded in acknowledgement, his eyes slipping closed because keeping them open was hard... although he stayed awake.
Han reached the base and carefully set the pod down, before moving to help his son out.
Poe quickly helped Finn out as well, but then allowed Han to go ahead of them, leading Ben.
Ben, for his part, just followed his father like a meek little lamb, which... if anyone had known him as a child, and especially knew his reputation as Kylo Ren...was completely unusual for him. He didn't say anything at all...even when his father opened the door to his mother's office and ushered all of them in to where Leia was waiting with a warm meal.
Han kept his arm around Ben, supporting his son, and helped him over to one of the chairs in front of the table... though he stayed standing.
"Eat up," Leia directed. "For now, all both of you need to concentrate on is eating and then resting."
"Thank you..." Ben's voice was rusty...scratchy...He swallowed and cleared his throat before taking some of each item to eat. He wasn't feeling well. Apparently, getting soaked then being exposed to the night air while still wet, combined with his lack of sleep, was enough to wear down his immune system and he'd caught some ailment. He hoped his mother or father didn't pick up on it, but he wasn't optimistic.
Poe led Finn to a chair across from Ben.
"Are you going to make them see a medic?" Rey, who had kept quiet to this point, asked curiously.
Finn sat down and began eating without protest... though a brief look of worry passed across his face at Rey's comment about having a medic see to them.
Leia's sharp eyes didn't miss the look on Finn's face, or the way her son looked, though she exchanged glances with Han to make sure he didn't have anything to add before saying, "As soon as they've rested... yes."
Ben found himself needing to push down a flare-up of anger that the girl had brought attention to their less than ideal condition; although if he thought about it, he would have realized that his parents and Poe weren't blind.
Poe found himself tensing as he realized Ben was fighting down anger.
Han's hand settled on Ben's shoulder, squeezing gently. "Calm down, kid. It's fairly obvious that you at least are sick... I can't imagine Finn's fared much better."
Ben, pretty certain he'd say something he'd regret if he actually answered his father, just grunted obnoxiously and shoved a spoonful of food into his mouth.
Poe snorted, but didn't comment on Ben's attitude. He glanced at Finn to see how the younger man was responding to Ben's bad mood.
Rey frowned, but didn't say anything further.
Han kept his hand on Ben's shoulder... though it wasn't restraining in any way; more reassuring. His concern was obvious... as was his affection.
Finn kept his own eyes averted, eating partly because of how hungry he was... partly so that he didn't have to voice any more lies or half-truths.
Ben sighed softly, finally having eaten as much as he was able. Not wanting to have his voice give him away any further, he sat back quietly and waited for everyone else.
Poe waited until Finn looked finished as well before asking, "Your throat sore?"
"A little scratchy right now..." Finn replied, relieved to have a question he could answer honestly.
"If you've both had enough to eat and drink, I think it's time to retire to your quarters," Leia said.
Poe nodded. "I'll see if I can't get you something to help with that before you go to sleep."
Ben just nodded at his mother, still reluctant to show weakness in front of any of them.
"Come on, kid." Han draped his arm around Ben's shoulders once more. "You don't have to be scanned yet, but we can get something to help your throat and let you go to sleep."
"Not sure that's a good idea, but whatever you say, dad..." Ben muttered softly to himself.
Poe gently helped Finn up as well. "C'mon, bro...let's get you settled."
Han exchanged a worried glance with Leia, but he helped Ben to his feet, hugging his son close against his side.
Leia reached out to run a hand through Ben's hair. "I'll come and sit with you and your Dad once I've taken care of what absolutely can't wait," she said softly to him.
Finn leaned into his brother, feeling a bit woozy... and half-worried that the bite was affecting him in a different way.
Poe glanced at Finn in worry. He could tell the younger man didn't feel right, but it was hard to tell if it was just lack of good sleep or something else. Part of him wanted to insist Finn get checked out immediately, but he didn't want his brother thinking he didn't trust his judgement about his own health.
"Ok, momma," Ben answered hollowly. He knew he couldn't let himself sleep when other people were around. It just wasn't safe. He didn't know how he could ask them to leave him alone- no...actually lock him in a room by himself- without them figuring out something was up. Because that was the only way he'd feel secure enough to sleep. If he were locked in a room by himself, so that the only one that could be hurt if Snoke broke him was himself.
Finn's eyes were half-closed, but he was awake and aware enough to walk... at least with his brother's help.
If Poe, Finn and Rey hadn't been there, Leia would have hugged Ben to herself. As it was, she didn't want to embarrass her son, so she squeezed his hand gently instead... even if letting go was hard.
"He'll be fine with just me for a few minutes," Han said... a trace of amusement beneath his own concern for their son.
Ben blinked at the hand squeeze and his father's resultant comment. Looking more closely at his mother and father, he realized exactly how worried they were and felt a stab of guilt that he'd caused the worry. If it weren't for the fact he was convinced the truth would be more terrifying and horrifying than not knowing anything, he'd have spilled the information to them in that moment. But he was certain the truth was worse than not knowing. He couldn't help but glance at Finn, though, a helpless look on his face.
Rey caught the look and began to glance back and forth between the two men, eyes considering...then becoming more worried as she realized the malevolence she'd sensed near the ocean was firmly attached to Ben...not necessarily Ben himself, but so entwined with him, it was smothering the light that was trying so hard to escape. She didn't say anything in front of him, not sure what it meant. But she hoped to talk to Han and Leia about it later.
Finn was awake enough to be aware of Ben looking at him, but although he knew what was going on with Ben... he knew he couldn't raise it with their guardians present. And he was too exhausted to figure out how to word things to Ben right now.
Han squeezed Ben gently. "Come on, kid. Let's go get something to help your throat and then get you into bed."
Ben just gave a brief nod before letting his father lead him to their quarters. He hoped his mother and father didn't plan to stay with him the whole time. As frayed as he felt, he was afraid Snoke would try and convince him to return again and he wouldn't be able to fight off the suggestions. The thought that he might try and hurt his father or mother terrified him.
Rey bit her lip, glancing at Leia and giving her a significant look over Ben's head. She hoped Leia realized that meant she needed to speak with her and Han...or at least speak to Leia.
Poe led Finn back to their own quarters. "C'mon...you can sleep and then get cleaned up...or get cleaned up and then sleep. Either way, you've got clean clothes waiting for you in the room," he teased Finn gently.
Han kept Ben close to him through taking him to medical and retrieving what they needed and then guiding him to their quarters. He kept Ben close to him... aware something was wrong, but not sure what.
Ben smiled weakly at his father. "I'd like to get cleaned up first. Is that ok?" he asked, his voice scratchy and uncomfortable. He winced at the way he sounded. He had a feeling hiding the fact he was coming down ill would not be possible. He only hoped his father didn't ask what might have caused him to begin getting ill. If he just assumed that it was because Ben wasn't able to sleep, it would be easier to keep Finn's secret...as well as the fact they'd both deliberately gone into an area marked dangerous.
"Of course." Han squeezed his son gently. "I'll put out some clean bedclothes while you're doing that... and then you can take the medicine before getting into bed," he added.
Ben nodded, quickly heading into the tiny room where the fresher was. One of the perks of being the son of the General and living in her quarters was an attached fresher. He didn't bother shutting the door, or even waiting till he was in the other room, before he'd begun stripping out of the soiled, stiff clothing, letting it fall on the floor to be picked up later when he was finished. He had been careful since returning to his parents to keep up a façade of reservation and modest shyness, as that had been his personality before leaving their side. It was no longer a part of his personality, those attributes having been destroyed by the First Order under Snoke's commands (if his father had known exactly how the reserved modesty had been destroyed, he would have been horrified), but he'd been careful to pretend up until that point, because it allowed him to keep all the scars hidden. He was too tired and in a hurry, though and not thinking clearly, so he dropped the façade of still being shy and reserved, stripped without embarrassment and forgot that every scar on his body was on full display to his father. Once naked, he'd quickly stepped into the tiny cubicle and begun cleaning up, not looking toward his father and so missing any reaction that might have occurred from what his father might have seen.
It didn't take him long at all to clean himself thoroughly then dry off and soon he was putting the bedclothes his father had gathered for him on.
Han had managed not to give any verbal reaction to the sight of the scars on his son... even though his shock (and anger at whoever had hurt Ben) had shown clearly on his face. By the time Ben was dressed, he'd managed to calm those initial reactions so his son wouldn't see the anger and feel that it was directed at him.
Placing a hand on Ben's shoulder, Han gathered him in close so he could give him a tight hug... even as he asked, in a voice rough with emotion, "Those scars on you... were those Snoke's doing?"
Ben stiffened at the question, backing up just enough to give his father a startled look. He swallowed hard, looking away uneasily. He'd managed to keep the scars hidden until now and the fact that he was so worn down that he hadn't even thought about them was worrisome. What else might he let slip through because he was just too tired to think about it? Blinking, he took a shivering breath and tried to answer his father, his voice raspy and uncertain. "M...most of them were from Snoke directly. S...some of them were from members of the First Order, acting on Snoke's commands..." He licked his lips nervously and swallowed again, hoping beyond hope his father didn't question him any further. He didn't feel mentally able to deal with telling him details about the events that gave him each scar, especially since those events also caused other scars that couldn't be seen with the eye.
Han brought his other hand to rest gently on Ben's opposite shoulder as well, so he could look into his son's eyes. "I'm not going to ask you to tell me about each of those occasions." His voice was gentle, low and filled with compassion. "I hope you know that you can talk to me or your mother about it, though. What I want you to understand is that, no matter what, you will never have to go back to him again. I love you and so does your mother. You're safe here with us. I promise." He gently stroked a lock of hair out of his son's face.
Ben looked into his father's eyes and could see the resolution in them and knew his father was telling him the truth. It made keeping his secrets all that much harder (he wanted to just give them all up and let his father take care of him) and easier at the same time (he wanted to keep his parents from worrying any further and he was fairly certain there was nothing that they could do about any of the secrets he was keeping). Not saying anything, he just twisted around enough that he could wrap his own arms around his father and hold on tight. "I love you, dad..." he whispered softly.
He stayed like that for several moments before he finally reluctantly stepped away from Han and went to lie down on the bed. He lay on his stomach and closed his eyes as if he was about to go to sleep. He doubted he would get any sleep- the dreams or the voice would start soon- but if he could get a few minutes before that happened, it would probably be enough. It would have to be enough. He just hoped if the voice came again, it happened when his father wasn't in the room.
Han held his son for as long as Ben stayed in his embrace and then, when Ben lay down, he walked over to sit on the edge of the bed. He reached out to stroke Ben's back, hoping that his presence would be enough to soothe his son to sleep. While he didn't know exactly what the dreams were... he knew how much they hurt his son. He just wanted to find some way to protect Ben.
Ben fell asleep despite himself...and while his father was there, the nightmares didn't return and Snoke left him alone. His rest was peaceful for the first time in days.
Leia waited until the others had all gone and then turned to Rey, a serious look on her face. "I can see something's concerning you... what is it?"
Rey swallowed, moving closer to Leia so that no one else could hear what she said. "Prior to leaving, when we were trying to decide where to start searching first, I sensed malevolence in the same vicinity as I sensed Ben. That malevolence I sensed? It's surrounding Ben almost completely. It isn't Ben...but it...it seems to be trying to smother him. To smother the light inside him trying to break free..." she whispered, her eyes wide and confused. She hadn't yet trained in the force...so she wasn't sure how to interpret what she was sensing.
Leia listened intently, her own sense of worry growing with every word Rey said. She nodded. "Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I will speak to Han about it and decide the best way to proceed." Considering the situation, she felt that it was likely Poe needed to be included in the conversation... though she didn't say that.
"You're welcome, Ma'am. I...I wish I could be of more help. If we can locate your brother and if he agrees to take me on as an apprentice..." Rey's voice trailed off and she smiled weakly. "Well, that's a lot of ifs, but I think I need to be trained..."
Leia reached out to draw the younger woman into a comforting hug. She didn't give voice to the sense of kinship she felt with Rey... or her suspicion that the young woman standing in front of her was Luke's daughter. Instead, she said, "Once we find him... he might need a bit of persuading to come here, but that will only be because of his own emotions... and nothing to do with you."
Rey pressed her mouth tightly together and nodded. "Ok..." She wasn't certain why Leia would be worried about her thinking Luke Skywalker's reluctance to come train her was because of something she'd done. She'd never even met the Jedi, so nothing she had done could affect his opinion. It was an odd thing for the General to say and Rey would have asked her about it, except she knew the woman wanted to go check on her son. So she didn't ask. "Perhaps I will see you tonight in the mess hall for dinner..." she said in an offhand manner; not really a question, but letting it be known indirectly that she hoped to see the General again that night if possible. Nodding quickly at Leia, Rey waited for a sign that she was dismissed before heading back to her own quarters.
Leia nodded. "It may not be at dinner... but please feel free to come and take your meal with myself and Han in our quarters, unless you think you'd prefer to eat with Finn and Poe." To her, it wasn't a question of having Ben eat with her and Han... not considering her son being ill and appearing to be emotionally vulnerable.
Rey nodded. "Thank you, ma'am… I'll consider it..." She smiled gratefully at Leia, then turned and went back to her own quarters.
Finn walked willingly with Poe. "I think I'm too tired to get cleaned up first," he admitted.
Poe nodded. "That's fine. Sleep then get cleaned up. I can find clean sheets for your bed once you're in the fresher." He led his brother into their quarters and turned down the sheets for him. "Do you want to at least get out of those clothes? I can leave the room and give you some privacy if you need..." Poe said hesitantly. Normally, Finn didn't care if Poe was in the room with him, but Finn was acting a bit skittish and since he wasn't certain what had got into his brother Poe figured he'd do better to give the other man a choice. He hoped whatever Finn was hiding, he'd talk to him about it soon.
Finn blinked tiredly at his brother. "You don't have to leave..." He reached for the bedclothes he'd been wearing, putting action to words as he began changing. He was comfortable around Poe... no matter that he hoped not to draw attention to the bite on him.
Poe was carefully not staring at Finn, trying to give the younger man privacy...or at least a sense of privacy. And Finn had said he hadn't been hurt; staring at him, trying to find wounds, might ease Poe's worry, but it wouldn't help Finn feel trusted, so Poe had to refrain, no matter how much he wanted to give his brother a quick once over to make certain he was well.
Finn's movements as he changed were slow due to his tiredness... but eventually, he was able to crawl into the bed and close his eyes. "Sorry I worried you," he mumbled, voice hoarse from exhaustion along with the effects of being outside so long.
"I know. As long as you are healthy...I'm happy." Poe smiled at his younger brother, waiting for him to fall asleep before having a droid come in and take his place, then quietly leaving their quarters and heading back to the General's office. If Leia and Han wished to discuss Finn and Ben, then he'd be ready. If they didn't, then he'd go do his job and return to Finn's side when the younger man woke up and the droid sent him a message to return.
Leia glanced through her work... but her worry for Ben was so intense, she decided that no piece of work was more urgent than making sure Ben was safe. Shortly after Rey left the office... so did she.
Poe met up with Leia half-way to her office. He blinked and gave an apologetic look. "I'm sorry...you're probably heading back to check on Ben...I'll just come to your office later to speak with you and Han, if that's ok? Maybe after they both get checked out in medical?"
Leia focused on Poe and nodded. "If you can send me a message when Finn wakes up... if Ben sleeps longer, then we'll wait until he wakes up to get them both scanned." She added, "Of course, you're welcome to come with me to my quarters and talk to us both there."
Poe shook his head. "No...I don't want to disturb your son if he's sleeping. He looked like he desperately needed the rest..." Poe said softly then smiled at Leia. "I'll send a droid to alert you when Finn has woken and I'm taking him to medical."
Leia nodded. "Then we can speak once they're both fully scanned. They do seem to have put aside their animosity," she added.
"Yes...they do. To the point they seem to have become allies in keeping secrets from us...or am I imagining that they were both acting oddly?" he asked, needing to voice his concerns to someone else, but not sure if he was correct to be concerned.
"I'm inclined to agree with you and I suspect Han would as well," Leia replied. "I doubt it was as simple as just getting stuck outside... but hopefully, if there's anything seriously wrong with either of them medical will pick it up."
"Agreed." Poe sighed. "I'm going to go back and wait for Finn to wake up. I'll send the droid to let you know when he is on his way to medical. Until then, General..." He nodded his head deferentially, then turned and headed back to his quarters and his brother.
Leia nodded politely to Poe and then headed to her quarters. She stepped inside and joined Han on the bed, watching their son quietly and reaching out to stroke Ben's hair as she and Han talked in low murmurs.
It was a couple of hours later, the early morning having progressed to almost mid-day. Poe was sat in the chair next to the tiny desk in the quarters he shared with Finn, going over some paperwork that he needed to turn in for some parts that he'd obtained for his ship. He hadn't got very far, though; his gaze kept going to his little brother, relieved that they had found both younger men quickly and that there hadn't appeared to be any dangerous injury. All that was needed was the medical scan to confirm that nothing had injured the two men and Poe would be happy. He couldn't shake an unsettled feeling that things weren't going to go quite as smoothly as he hoped, though.
Finn slowly surfaced from sleep, blinking his eyes several times as he took in the fact he was warm... if filthy and sweaty... and not outside. He sat up slowly... wincing as he got a whiff of himself. "I think I need to clean myself up..."
"Clean clothes are on your chair over there." Poe nodded toward the chair with the clothes on it. There was also a clean towel. "I'll take care of the bedding and once you are cleaned up, we can head to the medics for your check-up." His smile was friendly, caring and considerate; his tone was stern and indicated his immovable state of mind when it came to Finn being cleared medically.
Finn nodded, gathering his towel and heading into the fresher to clean up. It didn't take long before he was finished and back to get dressed... not sure how he was going to explain about the bite, but hoping the scanner wouldn't pick up anything.
By the time Finn had returned to their quarters, Poe had changed all the sheets on his bed so that it was clean again, putting the soiled linen into a laundry bag. "If you want to put your dirty clothes in here, I'll have a laundry droid take everything to wash..." he said quietly. He then waited; as soon as Finn was dressed and ready to go (or as ready as he'd ever be), Poe took his arm and walked with him to the medic for scanning. "If there is anything at all bothering you: sore throat, dry eyes, itchy backside...I don't care what it is, I want you to tell the medic..." he said seriously, in a teasing tone.
Finn walked alongside his brother. "It's really just an ache in my throat..." he said; though sleep had helped him considerably. He couldn't help wondering if Ben had managed to sleep at all... he hoped he had.
"I am glad that you are not suffering worse...I still want you to be as precise and honest with the healers as possible. Even a small scratch could have deadly complications if it was given from the wrong item..." Poe reiterated, just before they reached the medical wing. He noted that Ben was coming from the other direction, Han and Leia on either side. Poe couldn't help but get the feeling that they bracketed him in such a manner because he looked as if he was ready to run at the slightest chance given. It was obvious he didn't want to be scanned.
"General...Captain..." Poe nodded at Leia and Han then glanced at Ben. "...Ben."
Ben just nodded briefly at Poe and then at Finn, his clenched teeth betraying his distress and reluctance at having to be checked out.
Finn glanced at Ben, returning the nod... as worry passed briefly across his face. While he thought Ben had got some sleep... he somehow had the feeling that the other man had got much less sleep than he had.
Han squeezed Ben's shoulders gently. "Come on, kid. The sooner it's over with, the better you feel."
"I somehow doubt that..." Ben muttered, but he didn't pull away from his father or mother and actually walked into the medical suite of his own volition, leaving his mother and father to follow in his wake.
Poe raised an eyebrow slightly at that, wondering why Ben would be against a checkup, then followed the Solo family into where the medics were, gently bringing Finn inside with him.
At that moment, a droid came and caught the attention of the three higher ranking officers, indicating that they were needed desperately back in the General's office.
Ben gave his parents a crooked grin. "Go on, then. I don't need you to hold my hand while the doctor takes my temperature, but if you want to give me a candy afterwards, I won't complain..." His voice was gruff, if teasing.
Poe glanced at Finn. "You ok if I go?"
Leia leaned over and kissed the top of Ben's head. "If you need us, send the droid to my office," she directed, including Finn in the instructions.
Finn nodded to his brother. "It's fine. Not like it's the first time I've been scanned." There was a trace of amusement in his own voice. It wasn't as if he thought Ben would pick at him... or planned to pick at the other man.
Poe nodded. "Listen to the General. If you need us at all...send that droid..." he ordered his little brother, before giving him an affectionate smile, squeezed his shoulder and then followed Han and Leia out the door.
"You want me to go first?" Ben asked Finn quietly. "I know what the scans are going to find and chances are the file will be thick and the droids will be so disturbed by it that they'll contact my parents...and maybe you'll escape having to be scanned in all the unrest. If you want."
Finn hesitated, seriously tempted by Ben's offer... but he couldn't hide his worry as he looked at the other man. "Did you talk to your parents?" he asked softly. "About Snoke?"
Ben glanced toward the medical personnel and, assured that they were far enough away not to hear, spoke. "No...I don't think I can tell them that he's still talking to me in my head. That he started talking to me when I was still a toddler. They'd just worry more and there's nothing to be done about it, so...I'm not telling them..." Ben answered honestly. "Does Poe know you were bit by that insect?"
Neither men noticed that Poe had returned to the medical suite, having been informed very shortly after leaving that he wasn't needed after all. Poe pressed his lips together tightly as he heard Ben, his worry for both younger men skyrocketing. He didn't immediately confront them with what he'd just heard, however, waiting to see what Finn said or decided before he made his own decision on how to proceed.
Finn frowned, but responded, "I wasn't sure how to tell him..." Not without admitting both of them entered the dangerous area. "But apart from a sore throat and sneezing a couple of times... from being stuck outside... I don't think there are any more effects from that bite." Pausing, he then added, "But... I think your parents need to know. Snoke's just going to keep doing it... and it's going to get worse. Maybe, if you tell them, they can figure out ways of helping until a permanent way of stopping him can be found."
"He talks to me in my head, Finn...and sends me dreams when I sleep. There isn't much anyone can do about that. Even my parents..." Ben's voice was hopeless. "You should at least tell the medics you were bit by an unknown bug from the dangerous zone near the ocean...it paralyzed you for several hours. You don't know that there won't be side effects..."
"But if you don't tell them, what if something really bad happens?" Finn reasoned... ignoring Ben's suggestion to tell the medics about the bite. "I know you don't want to worry them... but you won't be able to fight Snoke forever. Not on your own."
Poe had heard enough. Walking the rest of the way into the med bay, he gave each of the younger men a stern look that didn't leave any room for defiance. "You're both right. You are going to explain to the medic exactly where you were and what time it was when you were bit. You will show them the bite. You will tell them exactly what happened to you after the bite. And finally, you will allow them to run whatever tests are necessary to make certain you are ok." He looked at Finn with a mixture of disappointed frustration before turning toward Ben. "And you will tell your parents, in as much detail as they request, exactly what has been occurring to you in your dreams and otherwise. If you don't tell them, then I will tell them what I heard. It will be much better for all concerned if it came from you. Am I clear?" Poe looked back and forth between the two men.
Finn flinched visibly, but didn't try to argue. He'd already started feeling guilty about not telling his brother everything... and knowing that he'd disappointed his brother was more than enough to quell any arguments he might have made. "Yes." His voice was quiet... subdued.
"Yes..." Ben's voice was soft and subdued. He couldn't look Poe in the eye, staring at the floor and fidgeting more like a young child caught by an older brother than the adult he purported to be.
"Good." Poe didn't say anything else, certain that his orders were understood and would be followed. He nodded at Finn when the med droid came to take him to the scanner and began asking questions. He didn't leave Ben alone, though. He'd wait for Han and Leia to return...fairly certain Ben would run if he was left alone. The kid looked spooked.
Finn was quiet and subdued, but answered the questions without any hesitation, telling the droid all of the details that were needed.
Han and Leia returned partway through the examination and Leia could immediately see the serious look on Poe's face. She checked over Ben quickly before asking, "What happened?"
Han stepped over to Ben and wrapped an arm around his son's shoulders, noticing Ben looked spooked and hoping to calm him down.
Poe's stern look turned sympathetic for a moment before he turned toward Leia. "Ben has something very important that he needs to tell you..." He waited expectantly to see if Ben actually followed through with the basic details, knowing if he left before Ben said anything, the younger man might try and find a way to avoid telling.
Ben was too exhausted to fight the obvious order. At the same time, he was scared to admit what had been going on. The fear and the exhaustion combined to make him incapable of controlling his emotions and, to his horror and embarrassment, tears began streaming down his face. Swallowing hard, he shifted so he could face both his parents. "My...my nightmares aren't regular nightmares. Snoke sends them to me...to remind me of everything that I've done or that...that's been done to me. And he...he also talks to me… Telling me to do things… Trying to convince me I'm better off with him. He...he's been talking to me since I was a child...I don't remember a time when he hasn't been talking to me, except after I'd been horribly bad and left you to join him." Ben's voice had started out strong, if quiet, but by the end, it was shaky and he was having a hard time getting the words out. "He didn't talk to me in my head when I was with him...he didn't need to though, I guess..." Ben looked at the floor, unable to face anyone.
Poe, knowing Han and Leia had their son and now knew the truth, nodded once at Leia to let her know Ben had said everything that Poe was aware of, then went to join his brother for the remainder of his exam.
No matter how worried Leia was, she moved over to Ben, unable to do anything but respond to her son, and wrapped her arms tightly around him.
Han had already moved closer to their son and wrapped his own arms around Ben. He wanted to ask if his son had told any of this to Luke... but considering the clear emotional strain Ben was under, he didn't start questioning him immediately, instead just needing to hold and comfort Ben.
"He said if I told you he was talking to me, you'd think I was crazy and send me away...when you sent me away to Uncle Luke because of my abilities...he said that was proof I shouldn't tell you. If you knew I had him talking to me on my head, you'd know even Uncle Luke couldn't help and you'd lock me away and I'd never see you again..." Ben's voice was a whisper filled with shame and self-loathing, fear that admitting everything now would result in his parents washing their hands of him.
Leia pressed a kiss to Ben's head. "Sending you to your uncle was never about not wanting you with us," she said. "We thought he'd be able to help you."
Han's own arms tightened around Ben. "We always wanted you, kid," he said, his voice gruff. "You should have been honest with us from the start."
Ben shivered, slumping in his father's arms and letting his head rest on Han's shoulder while he gave his mother a crooked, teary grin. "I know that now...I'd spent so much time listening to him...being convinced that you would be afraid of me or think me crazy or that you'd just think I was really, really bad and not want me...I didn't know how to be honest...I was afraid to be honest..." He sniffled, reaching up with one hand and rubbing at his eyes. "Finn...Finn was present when Snoke 'talked' to me last night. Heard me answering him back...insisted that I should tell you. It's hard to admit he was right..." He let out a tiny huff that wasn't really a laugh, even though he was trying.
"I'm sure it is." Han's voice contained a trace of amusement, even as he added, "I still want you to get scanned. You were out all night... and I don't want to find there are wounds and scars I didn't see."
Leia stroked Ben's hair gently, but didn't add to what Han had just said.
"Yessir..." Ben answered, much more meekly than he would have in the past, everything having piled up to the point where he didn't have the energy or desire to fight anyone or anything. When the droid came over to lead him to a bed behind a curtain and indicated he should undress for a complete check-up, he didn't argue at all...though he did whisper a tiny, "Please don't leave me..." to his parents. He was more afraid of them deciding he was too much to handle and leaving him because of his confession than he was embarrassed at being naked in front of them. After he'd done as directed, he stood very still while the scanner was run over his body.
Leia and Han stayed close to their son's side, only moving enough to allow him to undress and the droid to scan him. Han's expression was tight at the sight once more of the scars... but he'd warned Leia what to expect and they both held one of Ben's hands throughout the examination.
It said something about the injuries Ben had sustained over the years from the moment he left his Uncle's teaching until his father had regained him that after the droid ran the scanner over his entire body, sending all findings to the medical file they were building for Ben, that a sentient humanoid doctor had come over and begun to examine him even more thoroughly. The doctor didn't leave one part of him unexamined or un-prodded and Ben would have been highly agitated at all the contact if his parents hadn't been standing there, concern on their faces.
Finally, the doctor turned to Ben's parents and began to explain all the findings.
Leia and Han moved closer to their son, flanking him on either side as they listened to the explanation from the doctor. The concern and worry had only grown with the sheer amount of scars on Ben's body... as had the anger at Snoke.
"In short, despite all the scarring inside and outside his body... he doesn't have any wounds now that need to be dealt with. You may want to consider options for getting rid of some of the internal scarring at some point, as it makes it difficult for some of his organs to function at full strength, but it isn't urgent that it be done right this moment. Really, anyone who has been in several high-speed collisions with a solid object could expect these kinds of internal scarring and damage," the doctor said to Han and Leia. He turned to Ben. "I'd suggest you stop racing your pod at such a high rate of speed that you continually crash..." he said sternly, not realizing the injuries were deliberately inflicted on the younger man, not due to accidents.
The doctor turned back to Han and Leia. "Beyond that, the greatest concern is his complete and utter exhaustion. If he doesn't sleep...and sleep deeply...soon, his body is going to start shutting down. I can give you medication to aid with that..."
"I don't want to take drugs..." Ben interjected quickly, a note of fear in his voice.
Han didn't say that the injuries were deliberately inflicted, since he didn't want to reveal anything that his son didn't want to be revealed. He did, however, speak to his son in a tone that, although gentle, was still firm and no-nonsense. "I know you're reluctant to sleep, but you're going to need to."
"Exhaustion will lower your defences," Leia said gently. "We'll work on a long-term solution... but for now, you need to rest and recover. And then we'll figure out treatment."
"But...what if I...?" Ben began hesitantly then stopped, not certain how to ask what if Snoke told him to do something and he wasn't able to fight the suggestion off and listened? The doctor didn't know he was hearing Snoke talk to him in his head and Ben didn't really want to tell him. "...How will you...?" he began again, but wasn't sure how to ask how they'd stop him if he started doing something he shouldn't in his sleep. Sighing softly, his shoulders slumped. He looked at the doctor. "May I get dressed now?" he asked softly.
At the doctor's answer of 'yes', Ben slowly began to put his clothing back on, still uncaring that his parents were watching.
"I'll give you the medication for his sleeping as soon as I've finished answering any questions you might have. Do you have questions?" the doctor asked Han and Leia.
"We would like to discuss treatment options with you and Ben in the next day or so... but for now, I don't believe we have any questions." Leia glanced at Han to make sure.
Han rested his hand on Ben's shoulder once his son was dressed. "We'll handle it," he promised.
"Very well. I'm also going to be giving you an anti-inflammatory cream. You may not need to use it, but I noticed that your son had a pollen on his skin that is only found on that tiny island near the shore a few miles from here. It can sometimes cause a nasty allergic reaction and should he develop one, he will need to put the cream on the affected area. Some people have been known to have their entire body break out in a rash just from getting the pollen on one finger..." the doctor said, almost conversationally. "It isn't dangerous, but it can make the patient miserable and since he's already having difficulty sleeping... well, I figure you should have the cream just in case." With that, he walked back to his office. A few moments later, a droid was returning with the sleeping medication and the anti-inflammatory cream...handing them to Leia.
Ben swallowed hard, suddenly unable to look at his parents at all.
Leia raised her eyebrows, looking at Ben. "How did you end up on an island I know was clearly marked dangerous?" she asked mildly.
"I...uh...ignored the markings?" Ben asked, instead of just admitting that's what he'd done. He'd been away from home for over half his life, but he easily remembered that ignoring things that were meant to keep you safe was not acceptable behavior then. He somehow doubted it was acceptable now, even if he was an adult.
"Why?" Han probed, ignoring his son's uncertain answer.
Ben's answer this time wasn't a question, but it was muttered softly and low, since Ben didn't really want to admit it. A pout formed on his face as he answered and he was looking at the ground again, not able to look his parents in the eye. "Because I was mad that you made me go out with Finn..." he huffed then shifted from foot to foot, knowing that he'd behaved rather childishly.
Leia shook her head, but squeezed Ben gently. "I think we'll discuss this in greater detail after you've slept," she said. "For now... let's go back to our quarters and get you settled." She kissed Ben's head.
Han wrapped his own arm around Ben's waist, planning to support their son back to their quarters.
Ben nodded, biting his lip but finally looking back up into his parent's faces. "Yes, ma'am." He returned the hand squeeze gently, leaning more into his father. He glanced over toward where he knew Finn had been taken for his check-up, a worried look in his eye. "Can...can you find out if he's ok? Later if not now...?"
Leia gave Ben a kind smile. "His brother is with him right now, but I'll ask Poe to give us an update on his condition," she promised. "We have a good medical team here. And if you feel up to it later, perhaps we can eat together with Finn and Poe... Rey, too, if she would like to."
Han kissed his son's head. "Let's get you to bed, kid," he said, voice filled with affectionate worry.
Ben nodded at his mother, pressing even closer to Han when his father kissed him. "Yes sir..." he said softly. He wanted to ask if he was in very much trouble for going into the 'dangerous' area...but was too tired to formulate the sentence coherently. He figured if he was, he'd know about it soon enough. He leaned even more onto his father, letting his parents guide him out of the medical suite and back to their quarters.
Although Han kept his arm around Ben's waist to support him, Leia kept hold of her son's hand as they walked to their quarters. Once inside, Han settled Ben on the bed and squeezed his shoulders gently. "I know you don't want to take the medication, but you need to sleep. Your mother and I will be awake and will be right here. If Snoke tries to force you to do anything, we'll stop it," he promised.
"Do you promise, daddy?" Ben winced at how much like a child he sounded, but he was truly terrified at what Snoke could do through him if he somehow got control over him. He glanced at his mother, including her in his question of a promise.
"We promise," Leia said, her voice gentle. "Now that we know what's going on, we're better prepared for it." She stroked Ben's hair.
Ben swallowed hard, leaning into his mother's hand and closing his eyes briefly, craving the affection from her. Finally, though, he sat up then stood, looking for his sleep clothes. He would have liked to quickly change, but he was just too bone tired and was finding it difficult to maneuver quickly, or even agilely. Getting his clothes off wasn't a problem. Putting the sleep clothes on without face-planting into the floor? Not quite as easy. Or maybe it was because he was attempting to dress more quickly than he should because he knew all his scars bothered his parents and he didn't want them to have to see them for any longer than necessary.
"Come here..." Han pulled Ben a bit closer to him so he could help his son get changed. Each touch was gentle and loving... showing nothing of the anger Han felt towards Snoke for putting his son through so much pain.
Leia waited for Han to finish helping Ben and then took his hand so they could both guide him towards the bed. She already planned to settle him in between them, in the hopes that sleep would be a bit more peaceful with his parents on either side.
It was too much. Everything. Han helping him was just that one step more beyond what Ben could emotionally handle in his exhausted state. Tears began to fall down his face and he leaned even more into his father and held his mother's hand tightly. "Do I need to take the medicine?" His voice was hesitant; as if he was reluctant to ask because he didn't want it, but knew he might need it.
"I think that's for the best," Leia said gently. "You need to sleep. Your body can't function as it is." Settling him on the bed with herself on one side and Han on the other, she stroked his hair and kissed his forehead.
Han kept his arms tight around Ben, speaking to him softly. "Your mother's right. I know you're scared. I know you're hurting. But we're both here. And if Snoke tries anything? I might not be a Jedi, but he'll still be facing three of us, because we won't ever leave you alone to face him."
"Okay, momma...daddy..." Ben sniffled and snuggled down between his parents. He blinked then looked sheepishly between his parents. "How much do I take? And where is it?"
Leia took the bottle out from where she'd placed it and tipped the required two pills into her hand before passing them to Ben, reaching over and taking the half-full bottle of water from the small stand next to the bed so that he'd have something to take them with.
Ben obediently put the pills in his mouth, then took the water bottle and swallowed them down with a gulp of water. After, he opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue so his parents could see that he had swallowed the pills...much like he'd done as a child. "Love you, momma...daddy..." he said softly, burrowing down between them and shutting his eyes. Within seconds, he was asleep.
Han and Leia stayed nestled on either side of Ben, discussing in soft whispers how to handle everything they'd learned that day... and the best response for their son's dangerous behaviour and his lies.
Finn had sat quietly throughout the examination, not really worried about being naked... though he was worried when he heard Ben leaving with his parents and hoped that they'd be able to figure out how to help the other man.
As soon as he was told he could, Finn pulled his clothes back on, having meekly answered all of the questions about the bite he'd received.
Poe had stayed by Finn's side, turning to give him privacy when the exam was going on, but staying close enough to answer questions if needed...as well as listening to make sure Finn answered the questions asked him. When the exam was over and Finn redressed, Poe asked the doctor, "Will he have any further problems because of the bite?"
"While the effects of the bite have worked their way out of his system, there are traces of a pollen, found on one of the more dangerous islands in the ocean, that could cause an allergic reaction. There is a medication that you can give him if any symptoms do show," the doctor said, waiting to see if Poe had any more questions before going to retrieve the medication.
"He won't need any medication for the bite? There won't be complications from the paralysis?" Poe asked to be certain.
The doctor shook his head. "The bug that bit him releases a venom that temporarily paralyses a larger creature. An animal smaller than Finn would have suffered from complete paralysis and probably had longer-lasting effects. On humanoids, the venom works itself out of the system, usually through sweat, over the course of several hours."
Poe nodded, not bothering to try and hide his relief from his brother. "Thank you, doctor. I guess if you can give me the medication for possible allergy, I don't have any more questions."
He turned toward Finn. "You will tell me if you start to have an allergic reaction and need the medicine. No trying to pretend nothing's happening." His voice and face were stern.
Finn quickly nodded, even as the doctor left to retrieve the medication. "I'll tell you..." he promised.
The doctor returned shortly with the medication, passing it to Poe.
Poe nodded, choosing to believe his brother would be honest, despite his lying about the injury before. Taking the medication from the doctor, he thanked him, then gently grasped Finn's upper arm and led him out of the medical suite and walked him back to their quarters. "I want you to rest a bit more before we meet up with the General and her family in her office for dinner," he said, softly but firmly. It wasn't a request but an order. He glanced at Finn. "How are you feeling right now?"
Finn wasn't really sure if Poe wanted (or needed) to know that he felt guilty for lying. "I'm feeling... normal. Maybe a bit tired still," he admitted, before adding, in a much quieter voice, "I'm sorry."
Poe nodded. "I know. We'll talk about it back in our quarters..." His tone was firm, but it wasn't unkind and he gave his younger brother a sympathetic smile, letting go of Finn's arm and shifting his own arm so that it was wrapped around the younger man's shoulders. "It will be okay."
Finn nodded, shifting closer to his brother as they headed back to their quarters. He didn't apologise again... even though he did still feel guilty.
Once they were back in their quarters, the door firmly shut to keep out any distractions, Poe pulled the chair out from the desk, setting it in the middle of the room before taking a seat and tugging Finn to stand next to his side. "I think you realize that going into an area marked as dangerous was not the decision you should have made. Hiding the fact that you had been bit by a bug in that section and lying about the fact that you had been hurt because of it was a worse decision..." His voice was calm and firm, but underneath was the worry he'd felt for his brother from the moment Finn didn't return home and the disappointment that Finn would hide things and lie to him.
Finn went with his brother without protest, flinching as he heard the worry and disappointment in Poe's voice. "I'm sorry..." he said again, guilt filling his voice. He waited... knowing what was about to happen (what he deserved), but unsure of what Poe wanted him to do.
"I know. What I need is for you to learn not to do things like that..." Poe sighed softly. He really hated this part of being a big brother, but he couldn't let Finn's actions go. He couldn't risk the kid doing it again and possibly dying the next time. "I love you, kid. I can't lose you to foolishness like that." With those words, Poe gently tugged Finn over his lap.
Finn didn't fight being positioned, but it was hard not to tense up. He didn't quite know what to do with his hands... in the end, one came to rest on the lower rung of the chair, while the other grasped his brother's ankle. He took a deep breath and steeled himself.
"I love you, Finn. I want you to stay safe as much as is possible. You need to try and do that for me." Quickly pulling his brother tight against his stomach, Poe bared Finn, raised his hand and began swatting.
Finn jumped, letting out a soft cry as Poe began swatting him. He didn't really understand how this kind of pain had such an emotional effect on him... but he already felt so guilty; his brother's words only served to make him feel worse. The tears sprang quickly to his eyes and he didn't try to hold them back.
Poe hated causing his brother any type of pain and hoped that he could bring Finn to the point needed quickly so that he could stop the spanking and offer comfort. He kept the swats firm and steady, though there was no set pattern. Sometimes he'd smack one area, then move his hand and smack an area several inches away. Other times, he'd smack the same spot several times in a row before moving his hand to a new area. When Finn's entire backside was the same shade of red, he spoke again. "Please don't make me lose you to something you can prevent. Please, Finn..."
Finn did his best, but he couldn't hold entirely still, beginning to squirm and writhe in response to the swats. The tears in his eyes began to slip out as he let out a quiet sob... and then couldn't hold back more from following the first. He tried to promise he'd be more careful... but very soon, he was crying too hard to talk.
Knowing that Finn was almost ready, Poe tipped him forward and began swatting his brother's sit spots, speeding up the tempo just slightly, though he kept the force the same. "I love you, Finn..." he said softly. "I'd be lost without you..."
Finn wanted to find the words to respond... to tell Poe he loved him too... but the tears made it impossible to talk. Going limp over his brother's lap, he just sobbed.
Poe stopped immediately when Finn stopped squirming, the limpness and the crying making it clear he'd reached the point he needed to. He quickly pulled his brother up and into his arms, holding him tightly, as if afraid he'd disappear if he let him go. He'd been worried and a bit scared all night that something had happened to his brother; finding him alive and seemingly well had helped calm him somewhat, but discovering Finn's foray into dangerous areas and the fact that he'd been bitten and paralyzed had reignited that fear and he just needed to hold his brother and comfort him now to convince himself Finn was truly all right. Comforting his brother was just as much a comfort to him.
Finn immediately latched onto Poe, not ashamed of how much he needed the comfort when Poe was so willing to provide it. He gulped in air, trying to calm his tears, as he pressed as close to his brother as he possibly could.
Poe just continued to cling to Finn, rubbing his back and kissing the top of his head as he gently rocked him. "I'm so thankful to have you back again..." he admitted hoarsely.
Finn let his head drop against his brother's shoulder, his sobs finally quieting down to hitching breaths. "I'm sorry I worried you... sorry I lied..." he whispered. The fact he wasn't used to this wasn't an excuse. He needed to get used to it... because knowing he'd hurt his brother was harder than anything else to deal with.
"I know you are. You've been punished. I forgive you. We can put it behind us now..." Poe soothed, continuing to rock Finn gently.
Finn hugged tightly to Poe, still needing some comfort, even though his tears had died down. "I know I need to... get used to having a big brother who cares about me and wants me safe," he whispered, voice soft. "Thank you... I love you."
"And I love you. I will always care about you and do whatever is possible for me to do to keep you safe..." Poe said softly, kissing the side of Finn's head and hugging him back just as tightly. Slowly, gently so as not to startle his brother, Poe carefully stood and helped fix Finn's clothes, then carefully directed him toward the bed. "I want you to rest a bit...just to make certain that the insect bite is completely clear of your system before you do anything strenuous. I'll stay with you..." he promised before Finn could say anything, not wanting his brother to think he was leaving him directly after a punishment. "I'm a bit tired myself, so I'll nap too..." He smiled crookedly as he began to help Finn lay down, planning to lay down next to him, reluctant to let him get too far away.
Finn had stiffened slightly when Poe had begun leading him to the bed, but upon being reassured that his brother wasn't going to leave him, he didn't fight on it and lay on the bed, waiting for Poe to take the spot next to him before he closed his eyes.
Once assured that Finn was comfortable, Poe lay down next to him and wrapped an arm around his brother. "Get some sleep, kid."
Finn nodded, shifting in closer to Poe and letting out a quiet sigh as sleep finally overtook him.
Ben had been exhausted. Between that and the sleeping medication given to him, he slept twelve hours straight with no dreams at all. Of course, the medicine did eventually wear off. Ben began tossing and turning shortly after.
Leia and Han had slept in shifts, to be sure one of them was awake for Ben at all times. Han was the one awake right now and the moment Ben began tossing and turning, he placed his hand on his son's shoulder. "Ben." His voice was soft.
Ben whimpered softly before he blinked blearily. "Daddy?" He glanced toward his father.
Han gently stroked his son's hair. "Snoke again?" His voice was soft.
Leia had already woken and reached out to hug Ben from the other side, responding automatically to the vulnerability she knew their son still felt.
"Just dreams this time ... But Snoke was in them..." Ben whispered, sounding spooked and fragile.
Han wrapped his arms around Ben... though he was careful not to dislodge Leia's arms. "Snoke isn't here right now." More than anything, he wanted to promise his son he was safe... but he couldn't; not without Luke to help... if Luke would help...
"He was never there the other times either..." Ben swallowed hard. "I tried so hard not to listen to him, but he always knew exactly what to say to make me doubt my own beliefs...to make me believe him..." Ben placed one hand on his mother's arm and one on his father, as if he was afraid they'd pull away from him. "I tried not to, but I... I wasn't strong enough to fight him..."
Leia wrapped both arms around Ben's waist, careful not to dislodge his hand. "You let yourself get scared and that gave him more power," she said, her voice soft. "But listening to him wasn't your fault, even though there were ways you could have handled it." She kissed the back of his head.
Han placed his other hand on top of Ben's. "It's important to tell us each and every time Snoke talks to you... if there are certain times he does it more than others..."
"I gave him more power when I listened to him and didn't tell you...I'm sorry..." His voice was tiny and filled with regret. "I thought you'd send me away...leave me...I should have trusted you...I'll tell you...from now on, I'll tell you..." Ben said emphatically, even if he was still whispering.
"We won't ever send you away," Han promised.
"Even when we find your uncle... you'll be with us from now on." Leia's own voice was as promising as Han's.
"Even when I disobey or lie?" Ben asked hesitantly. While it was true he hadn't been given a direct order not to go into areas marked dangerous, it was fairly obvious that was what was meant...between disobeying an unspoken order and then lying through his teeth until Poe overheard and forced his hand, Ben had a hard time believing his parents would still want him around.
"Even then," Leia promised. "No matter what happens... having you with us will always be preferable to being separated from you."
Han stroked his hair gently. "You might be in big trouble, but it's not going to change how we feel about you... how much we love you... even a little."
"Promise?" Ben couldn't help but ask... "Even if I'm in really big trouble?"
"Even then," Han said, his voice filled with reassurance.
"Even now." Leia's voice was gentle, but she was still reminding Ben that he was in trouble for his actions.
Ben nodded, acknowledging his mother's words even as he pressed back more snugly into her arms and pulled Han closer. "Ok..." he finally whispered. "I believe you. Are...are you going to spank me?" He bit his lip at how childish he sounded asking the question.
"Yes." Leia's voice was firm as she added, "Or, rather, your father is... but I won't be leaving you alone either." She tightened her arms around Ben in response to him pressing back against her.
Han shifted closer to his son, leaning forward to kiss his forehead. "We'll take care of it as soon as you feel up to it," he said, his voice gentle.
Ben closed his eyes, snuggling back into his mother a bit more while gripping tightly to his father then took a shuddering breath. "I...I want to get it over with...so things can be right again...if they can be right again..." he whispered brokenly. "I'm sorry I lied and hid this for so long...if I hadn't been such a coward...maybe I wouldn't have turned so evil...shamed both of you so much...I'm so sorry..." He sniffled again, not bothering to try and stop or even hide his tears. He felt too much guilt and just wanted to somehow make things right. If submitting to his parents' punishment and obeying them was a way to do it, he'd willingly do so every time they felt it was needed...no matter how many times they felt it was needed. He'd give up all his freedom to their control if they could only help him remove the blackness in his heart that had been killing his spirit for so long. He knew he could never get Snoke out of his head on his own.
Unable to help but respond to the obvious pain their son was experiencing, Leia embraced him even more tightly and pressed a kiss to his head. "I love you, Ben. We both do. So very much," she whispered... though for all the sincerity in her voice, it might as well have been a shout.
Han pressed his own kiss to Ben's head before he sat up, carefully drawing his son with him... keeping fully in contact with Ben.
Ben couldn't help but whimper as his father moved him, the cold air at his back feeling harsh after his mother's warmth. He didn't fight, however and tightened his own grip on Han, unable to push down the fear that his parents would leave him if he let go.
Leia sat up as well as Han gently transferred Ben to his other side, so that, when he placed his son across his lap, Ben could still be close to his mother. He gently adjusted Ben's position and then wrapped his arm around his son's waist, drawing him in tight against his stomach.
Ben meekly went where his father put him, any sign of the headstrong, confident young man he normally projected completely absent from the guilty, frightened shell he currently was. As soon as his father had him in place and tight against his body, Ben put his head on his mother's lap, grasping with one of his hands toward one of her own. His other hand reached blindly behind him so his father could immobilize him by holding his hand. He still didn't fully trust himself and needed to know they could subdue him if necessary. He knew his mother was force sensitive, but she had never trained...he couldn't confidently believe she could stop him using that. Not when he'd never witnessed it.
Leia wasted no time in grasping Ben's hand with her own, leaning down to kiss his head. "No matter what... we both love you," she whispered to him. "Don't ever forget that."
Han took hold of Ben's hand, squeezing it gently, before he bared his son. Rubbing Ben's back a moment or two, he then steeled himself, lifted his hand and brought it down in a firm swat that he then repeated.
"I love you too, Mommy...Daddy...so much," Ben gasped out. He was already crying hard, the guilt of keeping such a secret for nearly his whole life and the knowledge things could have been different- better- if he hadn't kept the secret overwhelming his emotions. He was too relieved to have his parents know the truth and know that they were going to help him to be embarrassed or ashamed at finding himself over his father's lap again. It was a relief having his father correct him...evidence that Han and Lea had told the truth that they weren't going to leave him alone and weren't going to leave him to fight his demons alone.
Even so, the first swat was enough to elicit a tiny gasp from him and he squeezed his parents' hands in response to the first uncomfortable sting.
Han gripped his son's hand tight as he settled into a pattern of swats, working his way from the crest of Ben's backside down to his thighs before starting over from the top.
Leia continued to hold Ben's hand, but with her other, she stroked his hair gently, trying to provide another small measure of comfort.
Ben tried to hold still. He felt he deserved every swat and didn't want to even give the impression he was fighting the punishment. His body had different plans, though...as soon as Han started over, Ben couldn't stop his body from tensing and giving small, jerking kicks with his feet. He also couldn't keep from emitting increasingly louder hisses and pained whimpers. He'd continued crying...he'd be surprised if his mother's clothing wasn't saturated with his tears.
Han kept his arm around Ben's waist, keeping his son close against his stomach. It was partway through the second circuit that he started to speak. "Hiding things... lying to both of us... isn't acceptable. Going deliberately to a place you know is dangerous isn't acceptable. We lost you once already. Neither one of us is prepared for that to happen again."
Ben let out a choked wail when Han began speaking. "N...no, sir...I...I know...I...I'm sorry... So sorry..." Ben sobbed out the words, his tiny kicks and tensing up turning into increasingly frantic squirming as his father's hand unerringly found and punished his backside.
"I know." Han's words were gentle but serious. Gentle because he did know Ben was sorry... serious because they couldn't allow a repeat of what had happened. "But losing you once was devastating enough. We'll do everything we can to help you and keep you with us, Ben... but you have to trust us enough to tell us when something's going on. Even if you're not sure we can help, it will always be better to tell us the truth. Lying again will only end up with you right back in this position."
"Y...yessir..." Ben choked out, before letting out one last quivering wail, then going limp over Han's lap, sobbing softly and just holding onto his parents' hands.
Han couldn't force himself to continue and he brought the spanking to a stop and then helped Ben up so that he and Leia could hold and comfort him, nestled between them as close as it was possible for them both to hug him.
Ben shivered, only letting go of his parents long enough to pull his clothes back up, but he was quickly curled up against them as soon as he was dressed again. He hadn't stopped crying, though it had gotten a little quieter. "Love you..." His voice was forlorn and still filled with guilt; he didn't think he'd ever be guilt free, though. It was enough that his parents loved and wanted him, despite what he was guilty of.
Leia pressed a kiss to the side of Ben's head as she held him. "We love you. Nothing could ever change that," she promised, stroking his hair.
Han had wrapped his arms around Ben, relieved to be able to comfort rather than punish his son. "Losing you again would be devastating." He moved in close enough that Ben could curl up against both of them and didn't have to be uncomfortable with any part of his body not supported.
Slowly, Ben was able to regain control over himself, the crying stopping and the shivering ceasing. He snuggled with his parents, something in him easing with the knowledge that they were there for him in every way he needed. "You've got me now..." Ben whispered, not only to reassure his parents but himself.
Leia and Han both just hugged him, needing to be close to their son in a similar way to how he needed to be close to them. They'd talked already about discussing with Ben the options to help the wounding inside him... but for the time being, it was more than enough to be close to him.
Ben hadn't meant to. He knew his parents planned to have dinner with Poe, Finn and Rey (and shouldn't that be occurring soon?) and he'd already slept twelve hours straight...but the high emotion, relief and feeling of safety cocooning him made it too easy. He fell asleep, this time with his head on his mother's chest and spooning back into his father. And while his bottom may have been sore enough to cause him to whimper a few times in his sleep, dreams or Snoke didn't plague him once.