All he knows is he has to kill.
The young man's breathing is tempered, the cold threatening to bite into him, but he fends it off. Doesn't falter. The darkness around him is his ally, cloaking him from the light and all things within it which would expose his faceless appearance.
He does not know how long he has been in this snowy woods, searching, hunting. All that is real is this dark intent consuming him, and the blacker faith that set in there.
He is not a patient person. He will not wait for his prey to come to him. He stalks it from shadow to shadow.
Finally, he hears it: breathing.
The short, frantic gasps of his prey, as if the thing is pleading with the air to rescue him, begging for some coin of relief from this cold, this endless winter chase.
The sound is so small, so pitiful, shallow and without real resolve or reprieve...just the act of inhaling, exhaling, nothing entering his lungs.
And then the breathing collapses, falls into the snow, crashing like a tree wondering if it made a sound when there was only the night to hear it.
The night did hear it.
Now, now that his prey is within is grasp, now that his prey is heaving defenseless on the ground, now the shadow makes his move, stepping before him as if from behind the curtain of this grand show.
His prey is a little boy, feeble and shaking on the ground. His form is so clear; the only thing in this blurred universe that is completely real. His black hair playing monkey in the middle before his eyes, infected with fear, tears tugging his lips.
Hatred surges like a squall. His mind foggy, his reasons clouded behind a wall called yesterday. But when that hatred shoots through him and he knows it is real, even if nothing else is.
This boy is nothing. Nothing. Nothing to him. Nothing at all. Young, afraid, powerless. He could destroy him now, and he would never become anything. Just a broken puppet of fear twisted and mangled on the playroom floor.
But, try as he might to deny it, he isn'tnothing. To the host of darkness he means too much. This is more of a feeling than a knowing too. His presence makes him so angry, so disgusted, so…
So lost. So afraid. So alone. As if this wretched thing's emotions are ebbing and flowing into his own mind.
And the fact that he makes him feel like this means he isn't nothing. He has a place in his heart, power over him—
It is that, that power this boy has over him, that which he must sever.
Just the thought of that name makes his hands curl into gloved fists, his jaw clench behind the mask. He hates the faceless name as much as he hates the face that goes with it, a tag team of disdain and contempt.
He will destroy this boy. That name. He must. If he doesn't, Ben Solo will surely destroy him.
The darkness stands at his side like soldiers awaiting his command, a finely tuned blade.
He ignites his real blade, the sound of the lightsaber rending the silence like a piece of paper. The red crackles, as if it too is unsure, as if it's angry like its master is, scared like Ben is, singing a cracked, unfinished aria about lonely heroes falling to the dark, princes chained to thrones, scoundrels saving the day in war-struck empires, all hoping they'll see light again.
Black. White. Red. The only colors he knows now.
There was a time when he could see other colors. He named them, scribbled them messily on tablets and pages, along with stick-figure drawings of a mommy and daddy who weren't there for him anymore.
He's forgotten the hues now.
He could ask Ben how and why he found himself in this snowy woods, he could demand that he leave him alone. He could leave him in the snow to freeze him out. But that wouldn't be enough. He's come to break his fragile heart while he still has a chance, in attempts to harden his own. It's all he must do to become what he is meant to be, all he can do to free himself from the torment in Ben's eyes.
It's simple enough.
Ben shuts those eyes, tight, doesn't let go of the breath he's holding, as if his own lungs are capable of keeping it safe from the fire.
But after everything, the resolve strumming his heart, the shadows humming beside him, the saber singing sweetly...he finds he can't just…do it. He can't just raise the lightsaber and strike him down. Staring at his pitiful face, hatred piercing through him, even so, pity, empathy, and something… else, something like memory, keep him from his goal.
No. That's not it. It can't be it. No, it's just too…easy. That's all. He's going to play with his catch before devouring it. Killing him right away is no fun.
"Ben," he taunts, trying to make the word contain all his hatred, sound as ugly as it tastes. and Ben is so small, so young…or maybe he is just too old, "Oh poor little Ben," the words drip with a mocking pity, "who will save you now?"
The shadow watches, watches the boy as he rifles in his mind for something to save him.
"My father will come. H-He'll come to save me."
The feeble words thrown into the snow catch the shadow by surprise.
He laughs at how ridiculous, how childish, such an answer it is.
And the answer he did provide…well, it's a child's answer, to be sure. Still. As much as he tries to deny it something pangs in the back of his chest.
The hatred and resolve redoubles itself. There it is again; this boy's ability to rummage around in the depths of his soul and bring out the parts of himself he thought he'd disposed of long ago.
He wants to take this boy and make him feel all the pain he causes him before running him through. Some call it revenge. He calls it destiny.
He powers down his saber now, the red, commanding glow dissipating from the air.
The shadows around demand why? He tells them it won't be long.
He puts his hand on the boy's cheek, as if checking he's real, checking for a pulse, as if checking that he is the thing he was looking for. He doesn't want to pollute himself with the boy's fragility, yet he must, he must do this, must hang horror over his head like hypnosis.
There is something barely noticeable that does contaminate the sting in his words, gets in to the gaps in his mask, when he says;
"Poor little Ben…all alone in the world."
He can see the boy's adam's apple bobbing up and down like a game at at the fair— this may be a game, but I'll never let you back up for air—
And at last he can no longer take the feeling of touching this thing
"You think Han Solo will come to your rescue?" He tries to make the name as venomous as when he spoke Ben's name, and this time he feels he accomplished that. "You think that arrogant wretch will be your savior?" he laughs, a silly notion after all, the smuggler coming to save this pitiful thing—
—Well, is it funny at all a father would save his son? …Or at least try—
"I am sorry to say"—and he isn't sorry at all—"he will leave you on your own…everyone will. Han Solo can't save you." The words are an echo of something he said once.
The boy's hands are trembling in their fists, his nails digging into his palm, and the shadow feels a shot of anger go through him at the cry "N-No! NO!" the resolve in his voice almost mirroring his own.
—(If that means he barely has resolve at all.)—
"You're so sure…why?" and this is the first question he's actually curious to hear the answer to. Because why would this boy, all alone in these dark and snowy woods, powerless before a monster, hold on so tightly to something so breakable as the light?
"Because…Because he's my father—"
He instantly regrets the question. He'd been hoping for some real, interesting answer, not some circular, childish reasoning. He snuffs out the conversation before he can continue.
"And that's what fathers do? Just because he is your father doesn't mean he'll always be there. There are some darknesses we must face alone. Best to realize this earlier on…it'll save you the pain of betrayal later."
Sometimes he wishes someone had warned him. That he knew what was coming to him. That even those he held most dear would never regard him as something human, rather as a monster to be tamed, appeased, dealt with, sacrificed to. Then again, if someone had told him at Ben's age…he probably wouldn't have believed them anyway.
Ben is still shivering, but he knows now the cold and the fear have nothing to do with it. That anger is so familiar to him he almost doesn't recognize how overwhelming it must feel in the boy's small frame.
He reaches back and tilts Ben's chin up, trying to make him feel as weak and powerless as possible.
"You cling so tightly to the light. Wouldn't it be easier to just give in?"
"U-Uncle Luke says—"
He wants to hit him and say strike two. To wring his neck for even speaking that name in his presence.
"Skywalker." The last thread in his venomous chord. "I should have known…Did he ever tell you of your grandfather?"
Because that's who matters in all this, the only one who really matters.
Ben's silence betrays him.
"What if even your uncle Luke"—there's that venom again—"isn't the perfect hero everyone claims he is? If even he were to turn against you one day…what would you do?"
"No…NO! Uncle Luke would never do that!"
Ben is wrong. So very wrong.
But that isn't what matters anymore, because the shadow's indecision may have led him to folly. He thought he was alone with Ben in these woods and all the time in the world, but now he feels another presence.
"Quiet!" He paralyzes his prey with the Force, keeping him locked where he can still strike him down, igniting his lightsaber again, the tongues of fire licking the boy's terrified face.
The figure steps before Ben, trying to shield him from the darkness' offer. Their face is obscured, but their presence is familiar to him.
"You're the one who shouldn't be so chatty."—And they're probably right about that—"He's jut a boy. What do you want with him?"
"What use would you have for him? He is just a boy."
"Use?" they sound offended, "He's not a tool, or a toy! He is a person!"
He twirls his lightsaber in the air as if that's enough of a threat. "He has his grandfather's blood in him. Someday he could become something great. But not like this; not sniveling on the ground."
—(And that's what he wants to kill; the part of himself that's the thing sniveling on the ground)—
"He could be something great. He will be. But not led by you. Go. Leave him alone."
"I'm afraid I can't do that."
They draw their own lightsaber—such a bright song, one about heroes, and hope, and never giving up—the blades clashing, creating fireworks in the night, their sound reverberating through the silence, and when Kylo Ren feels the lightsaber drill a hole in his chest…Ben Solo falls too.
Kylo Ren awoke in his quarters, drenched in a cold sweat and heaving for breath. He tried to get up and fell off the bed to the ground.
He had forgotten about the dream.
He'd had many nightmares like this one (long ago, now), and everyone always told him they didn't mean anything.
But he knew they were wrong.
If he had remembered the dream from back then, he would have tried to forget it, as he did everything to do with Ben Solo. To pretend he never was that little boy crying on the ground, begging his parents to save him from the monsters in his head.
And what was he now?
Thirty years old, crying on the ground. The only difference was this time he didn't have any parents to run to anymore. He was far far away from them, a lost boy trapped behind the second star.
Rage surged like a living thing, infecting his breath, curling his fingers into fists.
He wanted so desperately to destroy Ben Solo, to eradicate the sway he had over his heart, the ability he had to make him feel lost and scared and lonely, the child's voice inside telling him this isn't right.
As much as he tried to block them out, deny they were ever real, fragments of memories fell apart in his head and cut his thoughts.
He had killed Han Solo. That thing that caused him so much pain, so much torment, so much guilt. That thing tying him to that boy on the ground—the boy's hope at rescue, still aching inside him—cutting off his ties to the life boat, ensuring him that nothing and no one would take him back to shore. Assuring him that the dark, the wind, and the waves were all he was, all he could turn to.
And now guilt was an ever-present specter rotting away his chest like maggots. Memories like banshees, screaming, undead in his head.
He sat up, leaning against the bed, telling himself it was only a dream.
He didn't believe it.
Here he was, the shining, war-struck legacy of Princess, General Leia, Han Solo, of Luke Skywalker, and Ben Kenobi, and Darth Vader…sniveling on the ground. Trying to be everything at once and failing to be one thing at all. Trying so hard to fulfill a destiny…yet coming back with the pieces of dreams. Trapped behind sheens of lies, the ones others told him, and those he told himself.
If only he'd grown up.
If only he'd stopped believing in the light.
If only he could have forgotten, destroyed that boy in the woods.
Then maybe he could convince himself he's not still Ben.