A/N: Thank you for your kind reviews, they are very encouraging. Mild violence in this chapter.
They cross paths at least twice a day. Once at the start of the cycle, she is leaving her father's throne room when he enters for his training with Leader Snoke. And at the end of the day, when he leaves, and she returns to share an evening meal with her father, as is their usual custom.
She's jealous that the new Knight of Ren is monopolising Snoke's time, but her father promises that it's necessary. Kylo Ren has great potential, such bloodlust and anger, raw strength, and a powerful blood line. A new Darth Vader, but without the weakness that ultimately led to his downfall. She doesn't understand the importance of this, and Snoke has instructed her to study the histories, day, and night. The ancient battle of Sith and Jedi, of the light and the dark side of the Force, great battles and war generals, powerful Force users and legendary leaders, all bleeding through the generations to one Anakin Skywalker who embraced the dark side and became Darth Vader.
She leaves the histories and begins reading reports on her datapad, all she can learn about Kylo Ren. Jedi Killer. Member of the Knights of Ren. Force Warrior. Exceptional Pilot. Nothing more.
She searches her own name. Rey Snoke. Force sensitive. Adopted. Nothing more.
Suddenly she feels inadequate, and it's any wonder her father has found another protégé. Of course, her father has said nothing comforting to quell her jealousy, in fact he almost encourages it.
Which leaves Rey with an abundance of anger and frustration and no outlet to channel it through. So, she trains. Hard. She's put all her training weapons out of action, and the sparring room is undergoing repairs for the seventh time and the simulation droids have been hacked to pieces. She's moved on from her lessons flying her father's command shuttle and can pilot a TIE fighter – escorted, with weapons and hyperdrive disabled. The exhilaration of hurtling through space with tremendous speed and force satisfies her need to be away from the monstrous size of her father's ship – where she knows every window, every door, every officer onboard and their shoe size. The restlessness returns the moment her TIE touches down and her feet hit the deck. It used to be control with power, power with grace, but her mantra is stifled by another uncomfortable awareness that she trapped. Contained. Afraid.
Kylo Ren is waiting for her, a looming, inescapable, black-clad, masked monster teetering at the edges of the hangar floor. She can feel his eyes follow her movement as she climbs out of the cockpit, her feet finding the floor, and her spherical astromech droid ejects itself from the plane and rolls away. He's standing part way between the blast doors and the turbo-lift, prepared for whichever path she will take.
Despite her scheduled flight training ending, her pilot escorts having left for the change of shift, and her exhaustion at being subject to incredible g-forces in her manoeuvres, all she wants to do is jump right back in the cockpit and hurtle out into black space, far from her confines and frustration.
With a defeated sigh, she begins her slow walk towards the turbolift, eyes downcast, seeing him shift in her peripheral vision to cross her path.
"Milady," he greets curtly.
"Rey is fine," she's so irritated she's prepared to do away with formalities.
"Lady Rey," he compromises. Ever the gentleman. Close enough.
"Shouldn't you be training with the Supreme Leader?" Rey queries, and he falls into step beside her as they cross the floor and enter the lift.
He stiffens slightly but doesn't answer, instead changing the subject. "There's a gathering on Bardotta, a celebration and Supreme Leader has requested yourself and General Hux to attend to represent the First Order."
"And he sends you to deliver this message?" she cracks, her fury bleeding through her composure.
He looks straight ahead at the turbolift doors as they travel upwards. "I am to accompany you."
She glares at him, then, but he doesn't meet her gaze. She tries to imagine his expression beneath his mask, but it's impossible, but she supposes that is the whole point of hiding one's face. "Are you there as General Hux's bodyguard or my babysitter?"
At the word 'babysitter', the Force shifts between them and she can feel the anger roll off him in waves as he crosses his arms.
The turbolift comes to a halt, the doors open, and he falters momentarily at the door, waiting for her to step out first. It smacks of derision and forced respect, but she doesn't quite care enough to pull him up on it, because he might be one of her Father's tools of terror, but he still shows a stubborn reverence for her position as the Supreme Daughter. She's still not sure why, exactly, and again, doesn't quite care enough to press the issue. She steps out of the lift first, and he follows, her boots click lightly on the floor, muffled by his heavy footfalls behind her.
"So, what did you do?" she implores. If she must spend a few days planet-side with him watching her every move, she wants to know why. They turn a corner, and she sees an entire terminal panel being disassembled for repair; burnt, hacked, and slashed with what she knows to be a laser sword, likely the one he carries on his belt.
"Quite the temper," she says with a tsk. "You should be more mindful of your feelings."
"You destroyed the training room and all the simulation droids, perhaps you should take your own advice," he quips, and she stops dead in her tracks and looks up at him. Eyes locked, his hidden and full of dark mirth, hers frozen in surprise. A sense of humour?
They remain still for several long moments, while the maintenance staff work undisturbed on the melted terminal nearby.
"We leave at oh-four hundred," he nods respectfully, and turns to leave. She watches him walk the other way, stiff with unbidden anger and his fists clenching. She wants to tell him that she's just as displeased with the arrangements as he is, but by saying something she risks the trip altogether and stars, she needs time away from the Supremacy.
As the time nears oh-four-hundred, Rey is bouncing with excitement, a spring in her step as she sets about preparing for her trip. She leaves Tes to pack her case, and sprints down the hall to see her Father before she leaves. He wishes her a happy birthday, kisses her forehead, and tells her to trust her instincts. It's the maximum level of affection he ever shows, and it occurs only once a year, since the day he came for her on Jakku.
It's my birthday, she muses, as she begins the long journey to hangar A. It's the anniversary of the day she became his daughter, but she doesn't like to mark it. It brings back memories of all the days preceding and it's excruciating to reminiscence of all the times she was weak. One day, he says, she will return and have her revenge, kill everything tied to her past and complete her training.
For her journey she's wearing a thin, black cotton dress with long sleeves, a high collar and a cowl wrapped around her shoulders. It hides her hair, which is twisted into her usual single braid. The hood falls low enough that she can easily turn to hide her face, something she insisted upon because she's spending several hours in a confined space where she can't simply walk away from him if she feels like it.
Kylo Ren is waiting for her at the ramp into her father's shuttle, but her eyes are drawn to another ship, a larger, more elegant craft of similar design. DX-4597 is behind her carrying her travel case and sees her look of curiosity. "It's the Supreme Leader's new shuttle Milady."
"And what of his old one?" she queries.
"It's yours, now, Milady," Tes answers.
My beautiful monster, Rey thinks, wistfully looking at the folded, jagged black wings of the shuttle that now belongs to her. Pity. It was meaningless to own the metal creature, when she was barely permitted to leave the Supremacy. Every time her feet touch the ramp, it's as though it's happening for the first time again, and she's a little desert rat desperate to find her imaginary friend.
"Your sentiment is your weakness, Daughter," her father's echoing voice thunders in her mind. "Let it go or it will be your downfall." She nods, and winces as his icy touch slices through her feelings and leaves them broken. She gives him what he wants and fills the void with all the hate she can muster, and when one of the maintenance staff steps into her path unexpectedly, she Force pushes him out of the shuttle, across the hangar floor and into the wall on the far side. In the shocked silence of the entire hangar, she hears his head hit the wall with an audible crack, the Force shifts with a feather-light shudder, and she knows he's dead.
The rest of the maintenance staff hurriedly finish their work, and exit the shuttle at speed, giving her a wide berth.
Tes is visibly upset but says nothing, and DX-4597 is blissfully apathetic to her outburst, like a good stormtrooper should be. When Rey takes her seat, she steals a glance at Kylo Ren, whose expression she can't see nor gauge because of his kriffing mask. She can't help but narrow her eyes at the enigmatic Force warrior and she's certain she must look like a sulking little girl glaring at her custodian.
He cocks his head indiscernibly, then looks back at the carnage she has caused, then, with a wave of his gloved hand, the ramp closes with the smooth, mechanical precision she has come to appreciate. She can still feel her father sensing, feeling for her presence and she closes her eyes to meditate, letting wave after wave of darkness wash over, penetrating, and cold, so cold.
He seems satisfied, and withdraws from her mind, and she shivers. She doesn't feel when the ship takes off, nor when it enters lightspeed. But she feels when a warm, soft weight presents itself on her shoulders and wraps around her small frame. She breathes deeply and opens her eyes just in time to see Kylo Ren return to his seat, and there's a dark grey blanket around her. His mask is discarded and sitting on the seat next to him, adjacent to hers.
"Thank you," she says simply.
"You're welcome," he replies, not meeting her gaze.
She finds it hard to reconcile his erratic behaviour. Then she notices that they are seated alone, with Tes opting to sit in the cockpit with the pilots, and DX4597 in the main cargo area with the rest of his squadron. They've all kept their distance from her, and a harsh epiphany hits her with a wave of guilt. Kylo is not the dangerous one aboard this ship.
She knows that DX-4597 would say that all First Order staff should know their place, and if they forget their place, then execution is deserved.
She knows that Tes will likely scold her, telling her that her position holds her to a higher standard, and that composure must be maintained, as all great past leaders have possessed this attribute.
She knows that her Father will shower her with praise and encouragements.
But Kylo Ren says nothing. But he had removed his helmet, for the second time, for her.
She's still barely present, still entuned with the Force, and she reaches out towards him. He doesn't look, and he doesn't move, instead opting for staring towards the cockpit and away from her. She persists, until finally he reciprocates. He turns and meets her gaze, his piercing dark eyes equal parts curious and accusing. She can feel it. The pain and hurt and betrayal that fuel his fire, determination and desire, passion, and purpose. Power with grace.
"We're the same," she whispers. He latches onto her words like an Arzidi tentacle-bush and he, too, reaches for her with the force, strong yet impassive. There's tendrils of bright red incandescent light around them, invisible to all others.
"So it would seem." Is all he says, snapping the connection shut.
She throws up a wall around her mind, imagining a jagged, rocky mountain slope. She shouldn't trust him, she barely knows him, and she just knows how she will be punished if her Father finds out she's developed an attachment. The light inside her is screaming for connection, for friendship with Kylo, but she needs to keep it in check. Sentimentality is weakness.
She can't look at him anymore, with his exposed handsome face and thoughtful eyes, so she brings her legs up to her chest, curling into a ball and rests her head on her knees. Hiding. Very mature, she chastises herself.
Hours later, the ship lurches out of hyperspace, and she wakens.
Tes emerges from the cockpit and comes dutifully to her Lady's side, hairbrush in hand as she tidies her sleep-mussed hair, stows the discarded blanket, and touches up Rey's makeup. She wishes Kylo wasn't present for the show, but thankfully he's hidden behind his mask again and is waiting for her at the rear of the shuttle. When she joins him, he doesn't fall into step behind her, like usual. It's another long ten minutes before the shuttle enters the atmosphere and another ten before they land. The ramp opens with hissing steam, red lights juxtaposed against the daylight streaming in. Kylo Ren strides down the shuttle before her, and she realises, slowly, that they're entering somewhere new and he's surveying the area for her safety. It had been barely weeks since the Knights of Ren had liberated the planet from Republic rule and, to him, it was still a war zone.
They are greeted by several squadrons of stormtroopers, and a handful of First Order officers and Bardottan delegates. Kylo steps aside and stays close behind her, and she walks with the practised grace that Tes has taught her, greeting General Chesbri first. He is a greying, seasoned war general loyal to her father and their cause. "Lady Snoke, it is a pleasure to see you again, we are honoured by your presence."
"It is good to see you, General," she doesn't smile, as he bows and offers his hand. She takes it and he leads her to the Bardottans. They are a reptilian species with long, curved necks and pointed skulls with beak-like snouts, but there are also humans among them. General Chesbri introduces them one by one, and they each bow in turn, with rehearsed greetings and some with false veneration. One of them, she takes note, is a very tall Bardottan called Chieftain Yentisch, who is of the religious order with whom occupational negotiations have failed. She wants very much to learn more about the religious order who worships the Force.
General Chesbri's deputy, Lieutenant Kuesh, the most nervous of the group, and it is he who is tasked with leading the Supremacy guests to their accommodations. They are staying in the capital, a vibrant, populated city made with yellowed stone bricks and adorned by immaculate gardens, high-flying flags and bordered by a lush, green forest on one side, and a deep blue ocean on the other. The citadel was the home of the former monarchy, and now houses the military leadership. The entire city buzzes with life and movement and is littered with white stormtrooper helmets and patrolling TIE fighters.
Kuesh leads them to the royal chambers, where her room has been prepared. Kylo Ren pushes ahead of her, surveying the room as she enters. Safe, he must have decided, before going to the balcony. She follows him and looks at the breathtaking view of the city, the forest, and the sea. She closes her eyes, and feels the force of all the living, moving things, and it's beautiful. Her quiet contemplation is interrupted as she can feel his eyes on her again, from beneath his mask, giving her a measured stare. Judging? Evaluating? He's too hard to read most of the time and she barely disguises a frustrated eye-roll as she turns to go back inside.
Kuesh shows Kylo Ren an adjacent room, for the Supreme Daughter's bodyguard.
She snorts in derision at the Lieutenant's assessment, earning her three questioning looks from Tes, Kylo and Kuesh. She doesn't need a bodyguard. DX-4597 places her travel case at the foot of the bed and leaves to stand guard outside the door with the rest of his squadron. Rey adores the irrelevance of her favourite stormtrooper.
Rey assesses her current position, and finds that although it's beyond wonderful to see, feel and smell nature for the first time in many months – she's still trapped. Still entombed by her protectors, her insufferable handmaiden, her father's whispers, and her duty to the First Order.
It's such a nice day, a chill in the breeze but warm in the sun. She tosses her cloak aside and turns to leave the room, while Kylo Ren is distracted by his own lodgings, out of sight. "I'm just going for a walk," she says softly to Tes. She quickly strides from the room before he can follow her and takes the most obvious path she can find through the halls of the citadel, looking for a way out. She's not sure whether she wants to explore the beach, or the forest first, and decides she'll let the Force guide her. She can hear the stormtroopers marching after her, her ever-present guard, and she makes a choice she knows she's going to get in trouble for later, but it's just too good to resist. She runs for the nearest footbridge and leaps over the rail guard, falling several stories to the streets below. She rebounds off a wall, grabs hold of a jutted brick and uses the Force to slow her decent, tumbling into a roll and running through the crowded streets. Her sudden aerial appearance shocks onlookers, but soon she's lost in the crowd and the witnesses are far behind. She can hear the shouts and synchronised footfalls of her guard up high, panicked at losing her.
She laughs then, an unusual sound that she doesn't make often, and she takes a corner, and another and another, running for almost a mile until she can see the ocean. She runs along the sandy beach, feet sinking in the sand with each leap, water lapping at the hem of her dress, and stars it's glorious!
The sun is warm, but the breeze is harsh and the water freezing but she simply doesn't care, letting the Force flow as she runs, giving her speed and exhilaration. When she reaches the end of the sandbar, there's an outcropping of rocks and she climbs up the cliff face, higher and higher until she's perched at the highest rock, the ocean a vast expanse before her and the city's edge a distance away.
She's panting from the exertion, and she sits cross-legged, trying to contain her adrenaline and slow her breathing. She reaches out with the Force, feeling for all the connected living, breathing, thriving creatures on this planet. It's intoxicating and high, peaceful, and balanced. Everything falls into nothingness and she loses herself in the energy around her, straying out of thought and time.