She was waiting for him again, standing and staring out at nothing. She didn't look at him when he came to stand beside her, simply turned and started for her hut, inclining her head in an implicit invitation.
Of course he followed.
The fire was already healthy, and there was a rough blanket spread in front of it. Plainly the invitation wasn't impetuous.
She took his cloak and hers and laid them on the chest, then sat down on the blankets and tugged off her boots. This time when he sat next to her he pulled his off as well, setting them neatly against the wall beside hers. He turned back to find her studying him, her eyes thoughtful as they searched his face. "Why'd you come here?"
He opened his mouth to give her the same explanation he'd given her the first night. It wasn't a lie. He'd come to see her because he'd been on her mind, more and more, and if it were all the invitation he was going to get he would seize it.
Because he'd ached, missing a part of himself. And this was his only chance to become whole.
"Not to bring me to Snoke."
"Did you have a plan?"
He stiffened. "No," he finally admitted. Her first dream of him, of them, had issued a clarion call. He'd left the moment he had an excuse in place and had spent his traveling time carefully not making any plans.
He realized now it was because he couldn't stand the thought of them merely being smoke.
"When did you meet Snoke in the first place?"
He shook his head. "I've always known him. He's in my earliest memories."
Rey frowned. "How?"
"He was in my mind, talking to me, as long as I remember. I was too young to shield myself from him. He flattered me, except when it served him better to undermine me. He told me I was smarter and stronger than everyone else. That my parents didn't love me, that they hadn't wanted to have me, that my father kept leaving because he'd been trapped into marrying my mother when she became pregnant with me. That everyone else was jealous of my power and my lineage. It was really a perfect arrangement. If my parents had spent any time with me, if Luke had had fewer students … there were a lot of ifs. As it was I was so weak that he barely had to set a trap for me at all. He just opened the door to the dark side and I ran in. That's when the displays of power began. And then my grandfather starting talking to me, I thought. And between the things he told me and what Snoke said, my path seemed clear."
She tried to clamp down on her horror, but he could probably feel it. "Did you ever try to—" He looked at her, his expression hopeless, and it was a minute before she was able to finish. "Did you ever try to tell Luke?"
He shook his head. "I thought about telling him. At one point I decided to. Then I thought about how he'd look at me, and I couldn't do it. All of this, all these years, because I was a coward." He'd thought of it so many times over the years, and still had to push it from his mind the moment it appeared. If he lingered on it, that moment Ben Solo's weakness decided his life, he would go mad.
Rey was ashamed to realize she understood why he'd felt that. Master Luke seemed, somehow, beyond the petty human concerns of hurt and longing and jealousy. He was radiant with the light side. Even his humbleness was like a reproach. "And you stayed with Snoke all that time?"
"I didn't want to stay, at first. I regretted it immediately. I told myself my parents would come for me, and I was … so relieved. I thought they'd get me and fix everything and Luke would help me find a way to keep Snoke away from me for good. And then … nothing. They never came. I finally stopped hoping. I haven't seen my mother since I left Luke's temple. On Starkiller, that was the first time I'd seen my father in 20 years. The reason he insisted I remove my helmet is that he hadn't seen me in person since I was sent to Luke. The last time he saw me, I had a bowl cut C-3PO had given me."
He let that sink in for a minute. She wasn't sure which one of them the respite was for. "So yes, I stayed with Snoke all that time. I've been with him longer than I was with Luke … or my parents. He's been the longest constant in my life."
"But you were willing to leave him? When you asked me to go with you?"
He didn't say anything, just dipped his head in assent.
She scooted closer to him and slipped her hand through the crook of his arm. He stiffened just a little before relaxing. She leaned against his side and let him take some of her weight, and he accepted it. She could sense wistfulness throb through their bond, felt it answered on her side.
They were quiet for a long time, the silence broken only by the crackling of the fire.
She was alone in the forest. There was nothing to challenge her, and the silence was overwhelming.
She should be relieved. He'd left, and the forest was hers. Yet for some reason the paths looked uninviting, the trees and brush objects instead of inspiration.
She wandered without purpose. There was nothing propelling her. She didn't have to stay, really. Nobody would stop her. But why would she leave the forest? It was her home.
Only hers, now.
She was not disappointed. The forest did not feel empty. It felt right. Everything was as it should be. Peaceful and serene. A glassy lake, its surface unbroken.
It was on her fourth mindless circuit of the pathways that she sensed something, just a nudge, and then an arm wrapped around her waist and tugged her back and there he was, stepping away from the shelter of a tree and pressing against her. Not fighting, not struggling, just letting his heat spread through her as she melted back against him until they breathed as a single movement.
Her hand was on his shoulder as he awoke and started to surge up. "Don't go," she said, her voice low. He hesitated, tense under her hand. "Put another bundle on the fire."
It was a long minute before he moved. He pushed back the blanket and rose to his knees, reaching for the pile of dried bundles. He didn't turn around after adding it to the fire, and she knew he was calming himself.
She took a moment to ground herself as well. The dream had affected both of them.
All the dreams had.
When he turned around Rey was standing between their pallets. She had undone the ties of her belt and was slipping the robes from her shoulders. His intake of breath was the only sound he made, but his dark eyes flared.
She was aware of the sounds of their breathing, hers unnaturally loud in her ears, his hard and jagged. His eyes darted over her unceasingly, covetously, even as color rose in his cheeks.
She should probably feel embarrassed. By her forwardness, by his eyes on her naked flesh, by the desire she didn't want to push away this time. His hungry gaze finally came to rest on her face, disbelieving, and she knew she was right.
Her hands were on the drawstring of her pants, tugging it loose, when his hands closed on hers, stopping them and carefully lifting them away. For a moment her heart stopped and disappointment began to overtake desire.
Then he moved closer to her, still on his knees, and hooked his fingers under her waistband. He dragged her trousers down, and the feel of the gathered waist brushing against her naked buttocks made her shake. His eyes never left her face. When the cloth pooled around her ankles he carefully lifted each foot in turn and pulled the fabric free.
He leaned back on his heels and let his eyes, those great dark eyes, rove over her reverently. She reached down to touch his shoulders, draw him up to her, but he startled her by lunging forward, wrapping both arms around her, and pressing his face against her belly.
She felt awash in him, surrounded. For a moment she didn't move, just reveled in his worship before she pushed her fingers through his hair. The thick waves slipped through her fingers, over them. He was like the waves beating at the shores of Ahch-To, overwhelming and inevitable, ready to consume her.
She wanted to let him. She wanted to bask in it.
He turned his head from side to side, rubbing his face against her. Her blood caught fire, and she grabbed the shoulders of his surcoat, trying to draw him up. Instead he reached up and pulled her down to him. He framed her jaw with his hand and slanted his mouth on hers with none of the shyness of the previous night. His tongue pushed into her mouth and dragged along hers as his free hand splayed at the small of her back, fitting her to him. Even through the elaborate layers of his clothing his arousal jutted against her, the first that didn't make her shy away or swing her staff.
The fabric of his surcoat abraded her nipples, making her gasp and squirm. She tried undoing the surcoat's buttons, but it was hard to focus when he was devouring her mouth, consuming her. His hands were hot on her, making her forget her intent, her reason.
Her hands moved down to the second button. She plucked at it helplessly. "Help me," she pleaded.
"What?" he mumbled, lost.
"Take your clothes off," she said, louder than she meant.
He blinked at her. For a second he just stared, puzzled, before bending to her mouth again. Even as she started to repeat her request against his lips he reached down and worked clumsily at the tightly fitted buttons. After a moment of struggle he grabbed the fabric and jerked, buttons flying. She gasped, thrilled and horrified. He shoved the surcoat off and gave the tabard to the same treatment before dragging the pleated gambeson over his head and throwing it aside.
He was big, rangy and muscular, his torso marked by scars. At one side a vicious spiderweb reached out, gained on the walkway at Starkiller, while on the opposite shoulder a vivid pink line sliced halfway down his arm.
She'd done that. She'd changed him forever, marked him as hers all those months ago. Without thinking she pressed her mouth to the most twisted part of the line on his shoulder. His indrawn breath urged her on as she followed the mark down. She wasn't sure whether she was apologizing or asserting her dominion, and she didn't care. She halted at the tender inside of his elbow, tongue darting out to trace the ridges of tendon and muscle, and he shuddered. She turned and rubbed her face against his chest, unthinkingly mimicking his earlier gesture.
He grasped her head, hands engulfing her skull, and bent to press his lips against her hair.
She wanted to scream, and cry, and run, but mostly she wanted to keep going. She grasped the front of his trousers and searched for the fastener, which was hidden, because apparently one of the First Order's primary concerns was making clothing hard to remove. When she slid her fingers down inside, searching for the clasp, he gasped and released her head, reaching down to push her hand away. He shoved the suspenders down his arms and shucked his pants, and she panted, excited and a little afraid.
She'd seen naked men before. Pissing against walls, fucking whores, trying to entice her. Why they thought the sight of their cocks would be any enticement at all was beyond her, because the sight filled her with disgust most of the time, and laughter the rest.
But Kylo was beautiful all over, long and pale and hers.
She reached out and touched him, and his cock jumped under her hand. She explored his shaft, marveling at its combination of softness and steel before he pulled her hand away. "I've never done this before," she admitted.
He wrapped her hands in his. "Neither have I."
Rey didn't know why she was startled. In a way it was as if he'd stopped growing up as soon as he'd gone to Snoke. On Starkiller his temper and possessiveness and even his empathy were like a child's. Now his grief weighed on him, betraying his growth. She could never tell him, but his regret was beautiful.
He touched her face. "I'm a fast learner," he said a little anxiously.
She couldn't help smiling at his seriousness. "Show me."
He reached down, raking his fingers through her damp, tangled curls and then dragging one up the seam of her lips. She guided his fingers to the sensitive spot high up and he rubbed it, making her shiver. He took the nub between his thumb and forefinger and began to pluck at it while pushing his other fingers down to explore further and yes, yes, she believed him, he was a quick study, very quick.
He bent down to crush his mouth to hers, his free hand pushing her down to the blanket.
"You're so sweet," he murmured against her lips. So soft. He wasn't used to softness. Once he'd run from it, thinking it the opposite of strength. But she had both, softness and strength. It humbled him.
His hands touched everywhere they could reach. He was not dreaming. He knew it was real because he could never dream something so tender.
He kissed his way down her throat as she ran her hands over his shoulder, his arms, relishing the play of muscles beneath his skin. His breath was hot against her breast. It was strange to see him there, touching her carefully, running his fingers over them and brushing her nipples. He bent closer, and before she could wonder what he was doing his mouth closed over the tip of her breast and he sucked lightly, making her gasp as he rubbed it with his tongue, just as if he were kissing her mouth. She grabbed his shoulders to steady herself and in response he suckled harder, making her pant and squirm. Mindlessly she rubbed her legs together, and he grunted, pushing her legs further apart and nestling between them. He reached down with one hand and started to touch her the way he did before, the way that had made her mindless.
His tongue dragged roughly at her nipple, betraying his urgency. He suckled at it with more greed than finesse before releasing it with an audible pop and moving to her left breast. As he turned his head his hair rubbed against her right breast, the strands clinging to her damp nipple.
Her hands slipped from his shoulders to tug at his hair. "Stop," she mumbled. "Stop."
He pulled back from her breast with a dazed look, a strand of saliva still reaching down to her nipple. "Get off," she instructed, and he moved back, stricken.
She reached over and pushed him to his back, then crawled on top of him. He stared at her with wonder. She'd seen that look on his face before, she knew, but her mind was hazing from want and the thought fled. She straddled his hips and grasped his cock, carefully guiding the broad head into her and sinking down on him slowly.
It was snug. It was uncomfortable.
Of course it was. He was not an easy man.
He was lying still under her, breathing hard between his clenched teeth, trying so hard to be good. She'd reassure him a minute, when she felt less like cursing.
When the sting began to recede she started to move atop him. After a few clumsy moments she found a rhythm and became lost in it. She could feel his hands grasp her hips, felt him thrusting up to meet her. The pressure at the front of her sex became urgent, and she reached to touch the spot. Then his hand was there too, his fingers, and they tangled with hers as she suddenly fell, like she was pushed off a cliff, only it was exquisite and endless and there was his chest, she was laying on it, she had no idea when that happened but she was gasping for air and so was he, the sound of the breath jerking through his chest loud against her ear as his hips jerked spasmodically once, twice, and then he was groaning, his head thrown back, his back stiff, and then he was still.
His hands glided over her back as she lay against him, memorizing her, holding her close. She had no inclination to move and he didn't want her to, and eventually their breath blended into one, like they'd seen in a dream.
It was dawn when Kylo awoke, and the fire had guttered out. Enough gray light filtered through the ancient stones that he could see her face relaxed in sleep, undisturbed by care. It was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen, and he didn't deserve it. He didn't deserve the warmth of her light, and the thought of polluting it with his darkness was repellent.
Fairy stories weren't real. And if they were, he'd be the villain.
There was no one to slay the wolf, and there would be no happy ending.
Carefully he started to pull away. His arm was still trapped beneath her when her eyes opened and she smiled. It wasn't shy or tentative, because that wasn't her. "Good morning," she said.
He forced a smile. "Good morning."
"This is a nice way to wake up."
He gritted his teeth. This was torture. He wished he had his helmet, his cowl, anything to hide his face. His face gave everything away, he knew.
No matter how strong he tried to be, it revealed the weakness inside him.
She studied him for a long minute, and her smile eased away. "Do you want some tea?"
Before he could answer she slipped out of the blanket and started for the hearth. After barely a step she changed route and moved to the chest, shook out his cloak, and wrapped it around her.
She turned to ask if he liked his tea sweetened and stopped cold at the aghast look on his face.
"Take … take it off," he said, his voice cracking. "It's not—you shouldn't—"
She frowned at him but took off the cloak, rooting around for her own coarse wrap.
"I don't like you in black," he said stupidly.
Her back was to him as she started the fire and puttered around with the little pot. She didn't respond. He was grateful.
The cup she handed him was crude, enough that he wondered if it was as old as the hut itself. He took a sip and winced. "It's sweet."
"You could use some sweetness."
He tensed, and she took the cup from him and blew on it before taking a sip. He looked startled. She shrugged. "I've only got one. We'll have to share."
He hitched the blanket further and further around his waist as they went back and forth with the cup before finally reaching over to the scattered clothing and pulling the black pieces to him. They stood out against the lightness of her padawan robes.
He began to pull on his clothes, the endless layers that disguised him, made him invincible. Layer after layer, each piece another step away from the boy he'd been. He could hear her begin to dress as well, but kept his face averted, afraid his resolve would shatter.
He reached for his boots and his hand collided with hers as she reached for her own.
He recoiled, shaking his head. "I shouldn't have come here. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'll go—"
Her hand on his arm stopped him. "Hold on."
He turned to face her. He looked everywhere except her eyes, but she was patient and waited. If she was anything, it was patient.
Somewhere in the midst of his gaze-avoidance he realized she was wearing the draped and wrapped desert clothing she had worn when they first met, not her training robes, and his head snapped up to meet her eyes.
"We're leaving today," she told him briskly.
Panic crossed his painfully open face. "No. Absolutely not. I told you, you can't meet him. He's unbelievably dangerous. He presents seductively, but he's evil." After a moment he became aware of the awful irony of his words. His ears turned a dull red, but he didn't correct himself.
"I'm not going to him."
"And neither are you."
He dropped his boot with a clatter. "What?"
"You're staying with me."
His jaw worked. He was more agitated than she'd ever seen him, this emotional boy, worse even than he'd been in the snow on Starkiller Base. "I can't stay here—"
"No, of course not. We're going to leave together. We'll find a place somewhere that isn't First Order and isn't Resistance. We may have to look for a while, but there's a place for us. We'll find it."
Doubt swam in his eyes. If only he had known her before he'd given in to Snoke, allowed the dark side to swamp the light, he knew she would have been able to pull him back. Even now she could almost make him believe that she cared enough to fight for him.
"You think I won't?" she demanded, making him flinch. He hadn't even felt her in his mind. She leaned close to him, her finger in his face. "He can't have you any more. The things he did to you, the things he made you believe, they're over."
His mind raced, but thoughts didn't land. Fear battered him, smothering the starburst of joy and hope her words had evoked. Reality sank in. "Rey, my life is over. It was the second I went with him. I've got nothing left. I've massacred villages. I destroyed Luke's plans for restoring the Jedi. I killed Ha—m-my father," he corrected, looking down. "I don't get anything more. It's over for me."
"Shut up," she hissed, grabbing his face, shaking it, forcing him to look at her. "It's not too late. It's not. I won't let it be."
"He's—he's changed me. I'm marked. Even if I hate him—"
Her grip on his face was fierce, unyielding. "I put my mark on you on Starkiller. I'm your master now. If I have to fight him for you I will. He can't have you." She pulled him down, pressing her lips against his mouth, his cheeks, his eyelids, and finally his scar, lingering until it burned. "You're mine. He can't have you."
He shuddered, unable to respond, and she drew his head down to rest on her shoulder. He needed comfort, pitifully so. She could give him all the comfort he needed. He froze for a moment, then shook harder. She tried to raise her head to look at him, but he pulled her back against his chest and hooked his chin over the top of her head. He was silent, but a warm wetness began to dampen her hair and slip down over her temple, blending with her own tears in a communion somehow more intimate than the night before.
"Who do you belong to?" she whispered.
His response was muffled against the curve of her neck. "You."
It was several minutes before he stepped back. She raised her head, studied his face. Lifted a hand to cup his jaw. After a long moment she nodded.
It was a strange, unnatural even, to accept that he really had a way out. That she was willing to tie herself to him like that. Once Snoke had led him to the dark side, that had been it from the people who claimed to love him. Their love was no more tangible then than it had been during visits that never happened and calls that never came.
When his father had come to him on Starkiller, so many years after Kylo had hoped he would, he'd thought it had been too late. That it hadn't been love, but a ploy. It wasn't until his father had cupped his cheek, gazed at him with absolution, that Kylo had known it was true.
And it was too late for both of them.
It had broken Snoke's grip on him, but it had made it impossible for him to ever return to his old life.
"I can't be Ben Solo again," he told her carefully. "I killed him. Snoke gave me the weapon, but I'm the one who used it."
She'd tell him, eventually, that he was wrong. Ben Solo wasn't dead. He'd tried so hard to destroy the boy he'd been, but even that moment on the walkway on Starkiller hadn't done it. He wouldn't be shielding her from Snoke if Ben Solo were dead, wouldn't be keeping Luke's location a secret. He'd slipped back to the light side so quietly he hadn't even realized he'd crossed over.
But whether he was Ben Solo again, or not, he was hers.
She stroked her thumbs against his cheeks. "I don't know Ben Solo. But I know Kylo Ren." She reached up on her toes to brush her lips against his. "Have you already forgotten what I said? He's mine."
He shook his head again, worry in his eyes. "I'm death."
"But I'm life." His eyes widened. "Do you doubt it?" she challenged.
That look … he couldn't fight against it. He couldn't fight against her. He'd known back in the snowy woods of Starkiller that she would be his end. Then, he thought it would be with a lightsaber. But that was the least of the weapons she wielded.
He leaned down to press his forehead against hers. "I don't."
Kylo waited for Rey on a lower terrace, one Luke Skywalker would not see unless he were actually looking for someone. He had given her privacy to pack her things and write a note to her master, and perhaps in the solitude she would change her mind.
But he had felt her honesty, her devotion. It sanctified him. He didn't deserve it, but he was selfish enough to take it.
"I've never done this before."
"Neither have I."
It was something a child would dwell on. A callow adolescent trying to find significance in happenstance, a romantic attempting to assign meaning to an act that was mechanical, biological. Not metaphysical.
But he had spent his life looking for signs, searching for guideposts to a future he knew must already be written. All he had found were Skywalker's platitudes and Snoke's deceptions. And so when he found a map inscribed with his name, he could no more ignore it than he could cease to breathe. He had never wanted anything more than to know his place in the universe and be strong enough to accept it.
And for the first time that place was clear to him.
"If I have to fight him for you I will."
He wouldn't tell her, not yet. He didn't want to scare her. He would hold his certainty against his heart and warm it with his belief. Later, when he was as sure of her as he was of himself, he would share it with her, this thing that was part of them.
He turned and there she was, wrapped in her cloak, the world's smallest, most pathetic bag in her hand. "Are you all right? The letter—was it…?"
"It's fine," she dismissed. "I thanked him for training me. Told him how grateful I was. Said it wasn't the life for me, but I was honored. Encouraged him to contact his sister. Said to give them my regards."
"He won't wonder how you got offworld?"
She stopped and considered for a moment. "Look," she said finally. "We're not going to find the perfect way to get out of here or the perfect planet to go to or the perfect ship after we ditch yours. But this—us—is perfect now. I don't want to wait any more. Do you?"
It took a moment before the smile spread across his face, but when it came it was incandescent. "Let's go."
He couldn't hear them, and they couldn't hear him. Not any more than they had the other times. The first couple of meetings they had been careful to keep their voices lowered, although he wasn't sure it was even intentional.
Later they'd seemed to forget they weren't the only people on the island. As if he disappeared when Kylo was there, or as if the entire thing were taking place solely in their heads.
Kylo was without his mask, and his cowl was down. The gloves were gone. He still wore the stern black clothes, but Luke had the feeling that would change.
Rey, wrapped in her coarse cape, reached over to Kylo and tugged at something. His head jerked up and he reached out, stopping her.
Luke squinted against Ahch-To's harsh winds before he recognized what the object of contention was.
Kylo's lightsaber. Huge and crude, with treacherous cross-beams. Made with a cracked crystal before the boy had earned the right to make his own saber. The light it shed, the power it wielded, was as unstable as the boy who had made it.
For a moment the two of them tugged the lightsaber back and forth, and he could see Rey talking to Kylo, leaning closer, her head shaking vehemently. Abruptly she stumbled backwards.
The lightsaber was in her hand.
She dropped it.
She picked up the little bundle she'd gathered in her hut and held out her hand to Kylo. He stared at the abandoned lightsaber only a moment before taking her hand.
They were out of sight in just a few moments, never knowing he was there. Luke walked into the clearing and bent to pick up Kylo's lightsaber, abandoned in the low weeds. He could sense darkness crawling over the weapon, but it didn't touch him. Rey was right to make Kylo leave it.
Ben. She was right to make Ben leave it.
The lightsaber vibrated in his hand, pleading for use. Tonight it would be added to his fire, and he would ensure that there were no trophies left for the dark.
The dark side had pursued Ben for his entire life, groomed him, isolated him, flattered him.
Luke had been able to pull his father back at the very last, welcome him to the light. Despite his efforts, despite Leia's, they'd been unable to drive the beast away from Ben.
For years they'd lived with the guilt that they had failed him.
But maybe their efforts had been enough to keep the embers glowing until Rey was able to fan them back to life.
Luke exhaled, the pressure of decades easing.
The wolf that had stalked his family for so long was dead.