A Life Made Right
While he showers, Ben Solo thinks.
His brain flies through scenario after scenario, trick after trick. He's at the heart of the First Order, and he has one chance to put things right - one chance to eliminate this scourge of the galaxy and go and find Rey.
Ben's insides feel light, for the first time in years, as though a heavy tumour has been cut out from the pit of his stomach. It's no longer eating away at him, and he can focus, at last, on the things he wants to do.
Snoke's voice is but a distant memory.
When he's done, Ben pulls on some clean clothes, abandoning his old garb and choosing looser, softer items that are altogether more comfortable. He drops to his knees and begins to rummage through the crates salvaged from his old quarters. Typically, it's right at the bottom, his hand grasping the leather that has lain rejected, out of sight, and out of mind, for all these long years.
He pulls the jacket out. It's dried out, the leather cracking in places, but his dad had bought it for him, for the last birthday he had spent with his family. It seems like a lifetime ago.
Ben pulls the jacket on. It's tight over the shoulders, and maybe an inch or so too short.
It's been a while.
He sits down at the desk, boots up the control panel, and then issues his first order. A ship is to be filled with food and medical supplies, and it is to be readied for a solo flight. He issues a thirty-minute deadline, and the order is acknowledged instantaneously.
Ben checks the time. Hux will be meeting with the other officers, delighting in delegation. He needs to move fast, if he is to escape suspicion.
He takes one last look around the quarters, accepting that there is nothing here for him at all. He throws on his cloak, pulls on his gloves, and, as a precautionary measure, dons his helmet. He's not sure he'll be able to get away with this if people can see his face. The mask, for its blank dark glare, strikes fear into people far more than his own expression, which can be read, anger anticipated.
The unpredictability has worked for him in the past, and he will use it to his advantage now.
Ben leaves the quarters - and his lightsaber - behind. He marches swiftly towards the bridge, one thing on his mind. He knows he can do it, has run through the coding several times over. Every time a hypothetical problem has presented itself, he has mentally crafted a workaround - one to override the protocol, another to deadlock the system.
He reaches the console, brushing the commander aside with a wave of his hand. The commander is only too happy to get out of his way, and Ben has full control of the ship. He grits his teeth as he swipes through the screens. He has to be sure that nobody will notice. He has to be certain.
He starts small, draining the power from the escape pods. And then, when no one bats an eyelid, from the fleets of TIE fighters. He is careful to leave his own supply ship untouched. His heart pounds in his chest, and he looks across the bridge, his vision hampered by his mask. Everyone is at their stations. The commander has taken to pacing around, hands clasped behind his back, surveying the work of his officers.
Ben releases the codes to every other ship on the First Order's roster, draining power, eliminating their escape routes.
It's cruel, in a way. But the murder machine is so big, so self-fuelling, that he can't stop it now. All he can do is save the worlds that have escaped its wrath so far.
Next, he deadlocks the system, securing himself as the only authority who can override it. He deletes half of the protocol files, and his path is clear to deliver his final command.
The order goes out to every single ship, but there's not one blip. No alarm sounds, no lights flash. The engines hum on as normal. There is a twisting sensation in his stomach - one that suggests to him that the command hasn't taken effect. But he's not stupid enough to hang around to find out. The point was always that no one would know; that it would be stealthy, quiet, and the final moments would come without panic or disorder.
The First Order would simply cease to be.
Ben locks down the control panel, then abandons it. He feels the commander's gaze on him, but he knows better than to question the Supreme Leader. Ben Solo, and his plan, are saved by Kylo Ren's reputation. Something good had to come of it eventually.
He strides down to the hangar, cautious not to move too fast. He has plenty of time to get away before the countdown reaches zero, but he has never been more anxious to leave this hell hole. He hates everything about it - the infinite shades of grey, the harsh metals, the hoards of uniformed stormtroopers. Every single element makes him sick to his stomach, and he can't fathom how he's put up with it for all these years.
Perhaps his mind is finally his own.
"Sir, can I ask your destination? The crew will - "
"I told you I didn't want a crew. The destination is my business." The words are distorted by the synthesiser in his helmet, and the officer's eyes widen at the response.
"Of course sir," he replies, and he boards the ship. Moments later, crew members begin to file out - at least a dozen of them. Ben waits until the ship is completely empty, and the last supply pallet loaded on board. He strides up the ramp and whacks the button to close it with the side of his fist.
Ben pulls off his helmet, and the cool air of the ship hits his lungs. He tosses it to one side, and his gloves follow, before he shrugs off his cloak and flings it into the corner. The ship is probably too big to be piloted by one person - there are three seats at the front of the flightdeck, but Ben can manage. Theoretically, this should be the easy bit.
And it is.
He takes off smoothly, and soon he is beyond the range of their guns. Ben doesn't turn the ship around to see if his plan has worked, but he feels a tremor in the force, that grows and grows and grows, crescendoing until it feels like a scream inside his heart.
The light of the explosion is reflected off the atmospheres of the nearby planets. It flares and fades, and then it's nothing. An eerie silence hangs around him, and he feels little satisfaction from the completion of his plan. Across the galaxy, people will celebrate the fall of the First Order tonight. There will be fireworks, parties, music and dancing.
But he doesn't feel ready to rejoice in his actions.
He hadn't even had the courage to watch it all burn.
Ben focuses on the future. He needs to find Rey - and fast. They can't have gotten too far in the Falcon, and so he switches the controls to autopilot, closing his eyes, and leaning back in his seat. She's somewhere, but he can't isolate it to a location, or even a direction. All he can feel is her, existing, somewhere in the galaxy.
He reaches out with his mind, careful not to connect with her. She'll be angry with him still, he's sure. Actions speak far louder than words, and he's better off turning up with supplies, and showing her that he's serious about this.
As if blowing up the First Order wasn't serious enough.
Now he thinks about it, now he has the time and the space and the quiet to really think about it, his connection with Rey is much clearer, much stronger. It feels organic, more fluid, and far less brittle and unpredictable than when Snoke had been exploiting it.
Their connection is real. It's theirs, and theirs alone.
Snoke had lied. Of course he had. It all seems so obvious now, in hindsight. Anakin had been right. Ben had come so close to falling into the same trap, to losing everything he had to the dark side.
He is grateful, truly grateful, for his family - both those who are gone and those who still remain.
Rey's position solidifies in his mind, and Ben leans forward, setting the coordinates, before making the jump to lightspeed.
The landing is bumpy, the planet littered with craggy rocks, twisted undergrowth, and unlevel ground. The ship is a little lopsided, the floor sloping beneath his feet, but it doesn't matter. The cargo is safe, and he's made it.
He lowers the ramp and walks down it, his eyes peeled for any blasters that may be pointed in his direction. The hangar door is solid - almost as solid as the one on Crait - but he's not going to try and blast through this one.
His palms are sweaty. He doesn't have a weapon - not that he wants to use one - but turning up here unarmed feels almost like a suicide mission. His heart pounds in his chest, thudding against the inside of his ribcage, his stomach doing somersaults as he approaches the door.
Ben eyes the control panel warily, still wholly aware of his experience the previous night. He reaches out a thumb, and presses it against the intercom button, the metal cool against his skin.
"Rey…" He hadn't gotten as far as planning this bit. He had been so consumed by the logistics, the codes, the back ups and the workarounds. He had been obsessed with finding her, so he could explain himself, but how does he explain this? How does he explain his family returning from the dead to mentally kick the shit out of him?
"Shouldn't you be with your beloved First Order?" Her voice his harsh, and the distortion of the intercom speaker only heightens its coldness.
"I destroyed the First Order," he says, the words coming out in a hurry. "It doesn't exist anymore, it's all ashes." The facts he can state, those are simple enough, and they seem to be good enough - or at least enough to pique her interest - because there is a great grinding noise as the hangar door slowly draws upwards.
Her feet come into view first - those soft boots that are of no use anywhere other than a desert planet. His stomach lurches as he remembers the scene Anakin had shown him.
It's not his destiny.
Her tunic comes into view next, the charcoal coloured one that she had been wearing throughout yesterday's fight. Her arms are still smudged with dust, and when her face comes into view, the dark circles under her eyes make him realise that as fitful as his own night had been, he's probably had far more rest than she has.
"What did you say?" she breathes.
The rest of the Resistance stand behind her, the pilot and FN-2187 at the front of the group. It's a diminished rebellion, and that's his fault. He knows he cannot forget that.
"I set all the ships to self destruct," he says. "There are probably some units still out there on different planets but...most of it's gone."
"Are you serious?" Rey asks, eyeing him with disbelief.
His stomach lurches unpleasantly. Had this been the wrong thing? Was he supposed to go to her and fight the war by her side, rather than calling an end to the whole thing with a brutal, cruel trick? Was his redemption supposed to come in serving her and the Resistance? As opposed to him making one final, sweeping decision?
"Yeah," he says, and he doesn't know what else he can add. But then the future flashes through his mind again - sand and death and rain. "Rey, I can't spend a lifetime fighting you. I won't do it."
Rey looks down at the floor, one thumb fiddling absently with the index finger of her other hand.
"I've seen the future," he says, taking a step towards her. He reaches out, taking her by the elbow, and she looks up at him, confused by his words. "I don't want it. I don't want to destroy the galaxy and I don't want to…"
He can't tell her what he saw. It won't help things.
She must see something in him though, or maybe she feels it. This close, he is certain he can feel her own heartbeat, next to his. Both are slightly elevated, nerves fraught with stress. Her expression changes a fraction, and she looks at his face, drinking in every detail.
"What happened to you?" her words are a breath, and only he can hear them.
He opens his mouth to respond but his brain fails to come up with a suitable answer. Would she believe him? He doesn't even know what happened. It could have been a vision, or the work of the Jedi. He doesn't know whether any of it was real. But it feels real - the sand had burned his feet last night, the rain had left him shivering.
Maybe it doesn't matter if it was real.
"I had a vision," he says, and he shakes his head, chewing on his lower lip. "I didn't like it. So here I am. With you. If you'll have me."
Rey's hand moves to his face, her rough skin gentle against his cheek. She nods, her brown eyes glossed with emotion. "Of course," she breathes.
Ben is relieved from the burden of forming a response. Rey rises onto her tiptoes, drawing his face down to meet hers. Her lips are soft, and their connection shines brighter than ever. Instinctively he draws her closer, her slender form fitting perfectly against his own.
They break apart too soon for his liking, but he is compensated with Rey's brilliant smile, her eyes crinkled at the edges with happiness. He can't contain his own, and it builds inside him until he releases it in a laugh that sounds warm in his ears.
Considering he's been out of practice for so many years, it's a brilliant laugh - one he vows to become accustomed to once again.
"I brought supplies," he whispers to her. "On the ship."
"Of course you did," she laughs. She doesn't take her eyes from him, and he has no desire to look away from her either. He reaches down for her hand, and she gives it willingly. Ben raises it to his lips, pressing a kiss to her knuckles, careful to avoid the raw skin from their fight in the throne room.
"I need to see my mom," he tells her, and she nods.
He releases Rey, his fingers slipping through hers. He misses her touch as soon as he is without it, but then he scans the small crowd of Resistance fighters and finds what he's looking for.
The group parts for her wordlessly, none dare saying a word against him in her presence. They will be led by her reaction. Her brown eyes fix his, and her brow set in a frown as she assesses him. He is briefly reminded of Anakin, but then he takes a couple of tentative steps towards her.
He is acutely aware of the pilot's hand, resting on his blaster, but there are greater things to worry about.
"Can I come home?" he asks, and though his voice is quiet, it echoes around the cavernous hangar. "Please?"
His mom's shoulders sag in relief. "You never needed to ask permission."
The words strike him like a blaster, regret burning through him. It's all so obvious now.
He's not obliged to think on it for too much longer, because his mom crosses the last few steps between them and pulls him into a hug. She is smaller than he remembers, though he is sure he is taller and broader. But she still radiates that same comfort and warmth that she did when he was just a boy with a scab on his forehead from an ill-advised speeder outing.
Ben closes his eyes, and thanks whatever powers exist for her continued place in the galaxy. He could have lost her so many times over the years, and the most recent one cuts deepest of all. But she's here, and so is he, and that's what matters.
She pulls away from him, and tugs on the edge of his jacket to try and smooth it into place.
"We'll have to get you a new one," she tells him, and he nods dumbly, his throat clogged with unshed tears.
His mom's smile only shines brighter. "I knew you were coming," she confides in him. "I felt the change in you."
"How?" he asks.
"Mothers always know," she replies, and then she looks past him to smile at Rey. "Well done," she says, as though a mission has been accomplished.
She should be thanking her family too - and perhaps one day he will tell her of the night that turned his life upside down. But for now, there's work to be done. He and Rey levitate the supplies into the base, and the Resistance tears into them, eating hungrily, and applying bacta bandages to wounds.
The Falcon sits at the back of the hangar, and Ben can feel his dad's spirit within him, swelling up at the sight of the old ship.
In the months and years that follow, Ben Solo is, at first, tolerated by the Resistance, and then accepted, until finally, he is loved, wholly and truly for the man he is. The group shrinks and shrinks as the new Republic grows, leading the galaxy towards a new future of peace, harmony, and healing.
As for Rey - who would not die at Ben's hand - she would find the family she'd always wanted. She and Ben would build a life together, and the Solo household would become a place of joy, laughter, and warm welcomes for all who stepped over the threshold.
Ben would not be visited again by the ghosts of his family, but that night would stay with him for the rest of his long and happy life, altering what had seemed, at one time, an inescapable destiny.
But, as his father had observed, it was never too late to come home.