Beta Love: Ianthe, All_The_Feels, SheLitaFire, SSC, WildConcerto

When we last Ben and Rey, Rey was stranded on Tatooine with mechanical problems, Ben was chasing behind her and realized that his Knights were dead - all of them.


Mos Eisley

Tatooine

Rey staggered to the narrow alley and retched. As she leaned against the dried clay wall for support, she was abruptly grateful for skipping her last meal. The gut-wrenching pain she'd felt wasn't hers. It was Ben's. Without a thought, she reached out to him.

"Ben."

There was no answer, only a howling pain screaming down their telepathic bond.

"Tell me what happened." Still no response. But she felt the thread of his consciousness coming back to her. "Ben, you aren't alone. Let me help you."

"You can't fix this, Rey."

She couldn't see his surroundings, but she felt he was on the move, striding towards something truly horrifying.

Her feeling was correct.

The Absolution

Stationary Orbit above Tatooine

Aboard the Absolution, Ben had once again donned his mask. It would not do for anyone to see the tear streaks and his reddened eyes. He stalked down the corridor towards the Officer's Mess. An alarm shrieked out interspersed with a warning.

"Poison gas detected on Level 2. This is not a drill. Don protective gear. Hazardous materials unit, please respond immediately. Poison gas detected on Level 2. This is not a drill. Don protective gear." The calm, recorded tones belied the panic he felt. It wasn't panic for himself - he knew his mask was designed to filter out toxins and smoke. No, this panic went much deeper.

When he arrived, the sight was worse than even he had imagined. All of the Knights, several old Imperial officers, and two Stormtrooper platoon leaders were all slumped over their plates. The server droid was standing beside the alarm, looking more alarmed than C3PO used to over Ben's youthful, destructive outbursts.

He felt a constriction around his throat, a panic. He was alone. Again. This was his fault. He'd finally gathered his Knights to him, and now he'd killed them. Rey had left -

"Ben -" Rey's voice intruded on his horror again. She wasn't going to go away. But the red haze obscuring his vision receded just a bit when he heard her voice in his head. Maybe he wasn't so alone after all.

"I can't right now."

"Tell me what happened, Ben." She insisted.

"They're dead, Rey. All my Knights are dead."

She had moved back onto the main street, but stopped in her tracks, causing a small pile-up in the crowd behind her. She ignored the angry snarls, growls, and positively rude comments thrown at her in Galactic Basic as she stood stock-still. "What happened?"

"I don't know yet. But I will." He turned his attention to teams arriving dressed in hazard-gas gear and motioned the captain to him. "I want to know what happened here. You are to report to me, and only to me." He lifted his fingers and tightened them.

The officer nodded frantically as his throat began to close ever-so-slightly.

"Yes, Supreme Leader. Of course, sir, right away." Kylo dropped his hand and swept out the door, his cloak billowing behind him.

Tatooine

On the planet's surface, Rey was moving again, heading to a repair stall with a sign advertising spare parts and batteries for ships and droids. She wasn't sure which parts she needed for the A-wing, but she had to get C-9 going again if she had any hope of moving along. Ben's agony reverberated in her head, a constant reminder of his presence that she was coming to accept as a permanent part of her life.

The Force was not going to let this connection go, and if she was being honest, she didn't want it to let go. She liked knowing she wasn't alone anymore. When she thought about it, Ben was the only one who'd ever accepted her solely for herself. Even Finn, her very first real friend, had been afraid of her when he'd realized that she had a connection to Kylo Ren. She knew he still loved her, and trusted her. But he'd feared her, and he'd left her.

No, that wasn't fair. Chewie hadn't rejected her. But Chewie wasn't here either.

Ben was. She only had to look up to see the Star Destroyer in orbit.

Its arrival had startled the lethargic residents of Mos Eisley. She could feel the tension rising in the air. No one around her had welcomed the sight of the wedge-shaped ship in the sky. To be fair, she wasn't altogether certain she welcomed its presence either. Rather, she welcomed one man who happened to be aboard that ship. The rest? No. They could all hang.

Especially that Hux guy. Rose had told her what happened on the Supremacy, how she'd almost taken Hux's finger off when he was lecturing her about the worthlessness of the Resistance. Rey wished Rose had bitten just a fraction harder.

But then again, Rey liked Rose and didn't want her to get blood poisoning or something from causing that red-headed menace to bleed.

He's evil. Ben's voice echoed in her mind.

What?

He's evil. Mad. Dangerous. But he's a coward. All too willing to use others and technology to conduct a reign of terror on any who stand in the way of the First Order.

Is that why you wouldn't leave with me?

There was a definite pause. Rey wondered if he wasn't going to answer her.

Partially.

And then he was gone - for the moment. He'd be back.

Supreme Leader's Office

The Absolution

Kylo Ren paced behind his desk as he awaited the chime to let him know that a subordinate had finally worked up the courage to face him with news of the attack this morning. He stretched out with his feelings - yes, there was one person coming down the corridor, and she should be arriving very soon.

The chime sounded, and Kylo flicked his fingers, opening the door. A young woman, no more than twenty-five standard years stood in the opening. Apparently, the captain of the hazardous materials unit was a coward, but he would deal with him later. He faced the window, but in his reflection, he could see her swallow nervously as she gathered her nerves to enter his domain.

"Well?" he asked.

"Sir," he heard her swallowing again as she prepared to deliver the bad news, "there appears to have been a breach in security."

"You don't say."

"Uhhh -"

"Spit it out."

"There was a breach, and somehow poison gas was released into the Officers' Dining Hall this morning at 0700, just at the start of the first meal." Her voice grew stronger, more confident as she recited the bare facts for him. "Fatalities were instant. No survivors. The gas was developed by the First Order for use as a last resort on uncooperative planets that the Order would like to remain viable."

"We -" he paused to absorb the unexpected information "- developed this gas."

"Uh -" she paused. "Yes, sir. We did."

"Who did this?" His voice quiet and lethal.

"At present, we have no suspects."

"No suspects?"

"None, sir," she confirmed and then jumped at the hissing and zapping of the red lightsaber as Kylo swung around and bifurcated his desk.

"Sergeant, you are to report back to me within three standard hours with preferably more information that you have now. I will know who did this." He retracted the blade and stowed it on his belt. As he stalked to the door, he paused beside her. "Do not fail me."

On the outskirts of Mos Eisley (not far from a raucous cantina)

Tatooine

On the planet's surface, Rey felt Kylo's rage and resolution as she poked through the spare parts and batteries available at the junk dealer's shop. The proprietor, a Toydarian, a creature she'd never seen before, hovered close to her, propelled by rapidly fluttering wings. He'd identified himself as Wattosin. So far, she hadn't found what she needed to get C9 moving again.

Giving up on finding anything of use in the used parts bin, she asked, "I need a full battery pack for an R2 unit - at least thirty years old. Do you have that?"

"Ehhh, for a price I might have what you need."

Rey's eyes narrowed. She knew that lecherous tone, and she wasn't having any of it. "Bring the battery pack to me, and give me a fair price for it." He stood no chance against the compulsion in her words.

"I don't have that."

Damn. That wasn't what she wanted to hear.

"Where can I find it?"

"You could track down the Jawas; they might be able to help, but it's a long shot."

"What about in Mos Espa?"

Wattosin was visibly resisting her coercion. She asked again with a stronger push. "What about in Mos Espa or Freetown?"

He relaxed at the renewed compulsion. "Mos Eisley is the only place you'd find anything. But with an older R2 unit, the likelihood you'll find the right batteries is next to none. You'd do better to convert him to solar power."

"Do you have one of those kits?"

"No. But the shop at the center of town does."

"Thank you, Wattosin." Rey turned and left. She would have given him a few credits for his time, but his earlier attempt to take advantage of her had struck a nerve. All those years on Jakku being ogled by Unkar had left a mark. She would never be treated that way again, not if she could possibly help it.

Supreme Leader's Quarters

The Absolution

Stationary Orbit - Tatooine

Ben forced himself to sit down, cross legged, and to center his mind. His grandfather had been completely quiet since his disturbing dream, or whatever it was. Even if no one appeared to guide him, he knew he needed to focus himself if he ever wanted answers. So, reluctantly, he began the breathing exercises he remembered from his time as a padawan learner with Luke a decade ago. The habit was rusty, but familiar, and he felt his feelings center.

Why had he ceased to meditate?

The twisted, torn visage of Snoke flitted across his mind.

Ah, yes. That's why. That predator was why.

How much had Snoke lied about? Ben reached out with his feelings. There it was - the Force. The dark, the light, forever in a complicated dance to maintain balance. He could see it now. He remembered the battle on Starkiller, the back and forth. He reached out for her. And he saw her, striding down a street, dust flying with each step.

She was beautiful. Did she even know? She didn't have the grace of his mother, but she had Leia's will and determination. Rey wasn't elegant. Her movements were economical, practical. She wasted no time with the trappings of diplomacy. If the Resistance had entertained thought of using her as a diplomat, they were sorely mistaken. It was not her calling.

He breathed out, reaching out again. Luke! White-hot rage threatened to tear him out of his meditative state.

"Let it go." Anakin Skywalker walked into his mindscape. "Luke's a part of the Force now. He paid for what he did to you with his life. Let it go."

"Grandfather?"

A small smile cracked Anakin's face. "In a way. You still don't understand. But you will."

"I've lost them all."

"You have what you need."

"I must find who did this."

Anakin waved his hand. "That's a concern of your world. The Force is so much bigger."

"My Knights are dead!"

"They're one with the Force. They'll help to guide you now."

"Someone must pay!" Ben felt that hard-won calm slipping away from him.

"Find the one who completes you." Anakin started to fade from view.

Ben reached out - "Grandfather, wait!" But it was too late, Anakin was gone.

Ben's eyes snapped open; he had to find the one who completed him. Rey. He had to find Rey.

But what about the Knights? Vengeance? He could not allow this attack to stand, unresponded to. He had to set an example. No one would be allowed to come into the heart of the First Order and take down his most trusted guard.

"Think, Ben. Who has the most to gain from you being distracted and angry?" Rey's voice echoed in his head.

"The Resistance, obviously."

"No."

"What do you mean, no? They are the ones with the most to gain."

"Yes, I mean no. They would benefit, yes. But they don't have the resources to pull this off."

"Are you sure?"

Rey sighed as she made her way around a large litter carrying a fully-grown Hutt. She winced at the sand grinding in the undergreased wheels. "Yes, I'm sure. I think you need to look closer to home."

It only took Ben a moment to hear what his instincts were telling him. "Hux. It has to be Hux. He's always wanted to be Supreme Leader, and he'll do anything to get it."

"So, arrest him."

Like clouds parting, Ben could see the pattern - all of it. Ben cursed quietly. "I can't. He's gone. And besides that, I've got no proof he did it. At least, not yet."

"What? Why did you let him go?" Rey stopped in front of a slightly-less-shabby storefront. It advertised spare parts, and it had to be the store Wattosin had recommended. "Where is he?"

"There's a rebellion brewing on Ord - never mind. He's taken the Resolution." He sighed. "It seemed like the thing to do at the time." He was going to pay for underestimating Hux and he could only hope that too many innocents didn't suffer the price as well.

Mos Eisley

Tatooine

"Can I help you?" A startlingly clean male humanoid appeared at Rey's elbow as soon as she entered the shop. He had dark skin and close cropped hair like Finn and wore the loose, breathable robes so popular in desert climes. Dust seemed to cover everything on this cursed planet, and seeing anyone or anything devoid of the fine coating was truly surprising. There was something about this man that was familiar - his eyes were kind, but sad as if some great tragedy had befallen him at some point, and thankfully they lacked lecherous gleam with which Rey was so familiar. He felt - safe.

"I've been told you have solar power converters for R2 droids."

Within minutes, Rey was her way back to the A-wing. Her purse was appreciably lighter, but it felt like she'd made the right choice. C9 needed to be running, and with a bit of time in the hot twin sons of Tatooine, he'd be fully charged and ready to help within a standard day. Ben was still aboard the looming Star Destroyer, and she had yet to see any troop transports or shuttles depart the larger vessel for the surface. Maybe she'd be able to leave without seeing Ben again.

"Don't count on it." Ben's sardonic tone filled her brain.

A fleeting smile crossed her lips. "We'll see." She picked up her pace to get back to the public spaceport. She had a droid and ship to repair.

Supreme Leader's Office (sans remains of the desk)

The Absolution

Sergeant Charity Sol stopped at the beginning of the corridor leading to the Supreme Leader's office and tried to gather her thoughts and her courage. Her Captain had been all too eager to send her into the lion's den once again, the coward. Squaring her shoulders, she marched down the corridor to meet her fate.

The black-clad terror was waiting beside his chair, hand clenched on the back of it, and listened to her update on the investigation. After her admittedly short report, he spoke, voice distorted by a modulator on his mask.

"To be clear, the only evidence you have at the moment is a recovered holovid of a stormtrooper apparently performing routine maintenance on the climate control unit?"

She nodded.

"And this stormtrooper was in Executioner gear so his or her suit emitted no identifying marks?" He didn't bother to wait for confirmation before continuing. "So, we have no more information than we did three hours ago."

"We now know that the attack was very sophisticated and targeted." She offered. "They managed to almost destroy all video evidence and conceal their identities. And they had the toxin, but none is missing from the stores in the lab." Behind her back she clenched her hands together so tightly that she almost fractured a finger. Better that, she thought, than to give in to the hysteria lurking in her brain. She did not want to die today. "We could bring in all stormtroopers on executioner duty for the past week for examination."

"Sergeant Sol, do you really believe that a stormtrooper was behind this attack?" Kylo Ren's voice dropped even lower behind the voice modulator.

She blanched and twisted her fingers even more violently. "No, sir. No, I don't." Charity really hoped she was not going to suffer for her honesty. But she couldn't lie. There was no reason or, more importantly, no opportunity for a stormtrooper to have obtained a dose of the highly toxic airborne poison that had killed eight officers and the mysterious Knights of Ren that morning.

"Tell me. Who do you think did this?"

"I - I don't know." Charity stammered.

The expressionless mask of Kylo Ren tilted as the man, or monster, considered her. "You didn't answer my question, Sergeant. Who do you think did this?"

She fastened her eyes beyond his shoulder and studied the desert planet below and came to a decision. If she was going to die today, she'd at least go with a clean conscience after having told the truth. "Sir, it had to have been someone higher, much higher, on the chain of command. He or she must have had the toxin for some time for it to not be recorded in the laboratory stores."

"How long?"

"Since development, sir."

"When, exactly, was that?"

"Seven years." Charity's right eyelid twitched.

"You're afraid of me. That's good. It means you aren't stupid." Supreme Leader Ren turned around and stalked to the window. "You can stop mutilating your hands now. Congratulations, Lieutenant, you've just been promoted. Your new duty post is my personal aide. Tell the flight line to prepare my shuttle. I have duties to attend on the surface."

Charity's eyes widened. Ben felt her mix of elation and terror and smirked behind the expressionless mask. "Please send Captain Peavy to me immediately and then meet me in the main hangar bay in one standard hour." He waved his hand to open the door. "Oh, and get me a new desk. You're dismissed."

Mos Eisley

Tatooine

Traffic on the streets stalled as the troop transport and a smaller batwing shuttle departed the main hangar bay of the Absolution. For just a moment, life paused, but actions quickly took on greater urgency and the slow-moving inhabitants picked up their paces. Smugglers and others who lived on the edges of the law sped up their preparations to leave the planet. Even the Hutts retreated to their palaces posthaste. Among the few ships headed in for a landing was a battered YT-Corellian freighter. But Rey didn't see any of that. In her hangar bay, she felt Ben approaching, but continued working steadily on C9. He had been right - she wasn't going to be able to avoid him.

But surely that wave of excitement at the thought of seeing him in person meant nothing.

It was just a product of the Force bond.

She hoped.


A/N: If you enjoyed this installment, I'd love to hear from you with a review! Thanks for reading. PB