Being under lock and key had very few benefits. For those first three months while Ben had been thrown into a cell his muscles had practically atrophied without room to stretch. Then there was a terrible itch underneath his cuffs where the skin had long since begun to chafe. As if the loss of his connection to the force wasn't enough punishment, the grunt work they had assigned to him was a clear jab at his pride. Ben could only imagine the thoughts of bystanders who knew his identity. Watching as the man who had once ruled the galaxy was reduced to petty labor. However, the bored tasks gave him a unique opportunity to gauge everything that happened in those halls. Every task, every routine, every bit of petty gossip could be easily memorized when his freedoms were so little. So, as he rounded the corner to the old training room, Ben knew exactly whose grunts emanated from the small space.
FN-2187. His presence was a constant reminder of the years Ben had wasted in the dark. Finn, as he was now called, was always there late at night. The moment Rey would set off to prepare for bed, the man would sneak away to perfect his skills. Only problem was, he was far from perfecting anything.
Rey, his beautiful Rey, who was more like his mother than she would ever know saw only the best in her friends. Even when Ben had been at his worst Rey had stubbornly clung to the hope that he might return. Though he didn't dare to speak it aloud, he knew that her fierce loyalty to serving the light was naïve. It made her blind. Blind to the dark that her friend was beginning to sink in.
Finn swung his practice saber at a dummy, using all his might to land his blows.
"You're relying too much on strength in your attacks. You'll be countered easily," Ben stated.
The veins along the back of Finn's neck stretched with his sudden stiffness and every muscle seemed to tense before he turned to meet his gaze.
"What the hell are you doing down here?" he tried to state evenly, though there was venom laced within each word. Ben wanted to shudder, only beginning to realize how ugly he must have looked to his own family; to Rey. Yet, they had forgiven him anyways.
"Clearly the First Order failed to train you in proper hand-to-hand combat," Ben scoffed before grasping the hilt of a spare training weapon. He tested its weight with a couple swipes through the air before turning to face his opponent. "The Resistance didn't do much better."
"I'm not afraid of you," he stated fervently with his knuckles clenched tightly around his saber. Ben nearly chuckled at the lie but decided against sparking a flame just yet.
"Why don't you tell her?" Ben asked, twirling the weapon around his hand. The return of a saber in his palm felt so natural and he breathed a sigh of relief that his skills had not faltered.
"Tell her what?"
Ben never could understand why people danced around their problems. The truth was so much quicker.
"You're teetering on the line between dark and light."
Finn flinched, eyes falling to the floor before recalling the danger of losing focus. The sight of his fear would have once sent a surge of delight to see another cower before his might. Now however, Ben wanted to shrink away into his cell to hide from his dark past.
"I don't know what you're talking about," the trooper shook his head.
Again. A lie.
"You pretend that you cannot use the force because you think she might see it," Ben pressed. "How close you are to embracing that darkness."
"I am not…"
"You're trying to suppress it, to hide it from her. It's a good tactic if you wish to lose everything," Ben interrupted before he could lie again. His time was limited, he imagined that Maz was already scouring the halls in search of him. And Finn was starting to waste his time. "I can help you."
"I do not need a monster's help."
"A monster can teach many things," he declared before taking another step forward; stopping only a few feet away.
Finn grasped the blaster at his hip, preparing to wield it if the moment presented itself. Given the way his arm trembled in fear, Ben knew he was treading a dangerous line. However, he pushed against his own caution.
"You despise me. Why?"
"You know damn well why!" Finn snarled.
"Yes. But confronting it aloud tends to help," he offered.
"I told you, I do not want your help," he spoke dangerously low.
Ben merely smirked. Using his stave, he hooked it underneath the Stormtrooper's blaster and brought Finn's arm up until Ben was staring down the barrel of the weapon.
"You want me gone." Ben lowered the stave to rest his arms at his side, presenting his surrender. "Then pull the trigger."
It was a gamble, he realized, one that Rey would never forgive if the man followed through with his hollow threats. However, just as Ben had assumed, Finn shook his head in defiance.
"No, I'm not like you. I don't take lives," he stated while lowering the weapon back to his side. As if to demonstrate his resolve Finn shoved the blaster back in its holster.
At least he wasn't willing to kill, Ben thought. Yet.
"No?" Ben's brow rose with his question, earning another glare from the Stormtrooper. Good. Ben needed him angry. "It was reported that over three thousand Stormtroopers were lost during the battle of Crait."
"There wouldn't have been a battle that day if you hadn't…" he began.
Ben refused him the chance to elaborate. His sins were known around the galaxy, while Finn's were hidden in the seclusion of his mind. Festering in a pit of darkness.
"Three thousand men and woman who were just following orders."
"Your orders," Finn spat.
"Am I to assume that you never pulled the trigger that day."
"I was only defending…"
"How many souls were on the pods that exploded after you failed to deactivate the tracking device?"
"Stop talking!" the man growled.
"You can try to deny it all you want. But you and I are more alike than you want to admit." Ben took another step, close enough to see the fury building beneath those eyes. "Rey cannot teach you. A monster is more equip to train another monster."
Finally, Finn snapped, roaring with his swing. Ben moved his own weapon to block the blow. The Stormtrooper was stronger than he had given credit for, but his inexperience made the attacks easy to parry just as he imagined. Their staves collided and Finn pushed clumsily against Ben's hold.
"You think you're good at hiding your anger, you're not," Ben taunted. "It has grown these past two weeks, ever since they let me out. Release it."
Finn pulled away with a grunt; trying and failing to push against Ben's strength.
"The council is stupid! You should have been thrown in a guillotine the moment we landed!"
"Public execution?" Ben's brow rose. "That's a First Order policy. Perhaps you belonged in the Stormtrooper program after all."
Another roar, another strike. Finn's movements only became more predictable with every swing as his rage began to build.
"I was ripped away from my family! I don't even know their names!" Finn shouted as he failed to land a single blow through a barrage of attacks. Ben waited, letting the man run himself into exhaustion before finally pushing back. The trooper stumbled backwards and after an embarrassing few steps fell to the ground.
"What is it you want? An apology?" Ben spat as he stood over him. Finn's eyes were dark as he glared up from the floor. "An apology will erase everything I've done?"
With a grunt, he rose to his feet and engaged once more. There was more power in the strikes, nearly enough to overwhelm his own strength. For a fraction of a second Ben feared that his tactic to push had been misguided but quickly pushed the thoughts away. Now was not the time for reflection.
"You don't deserve a second chance!" he ranted furiously. "You shouldn't be here! You should be rotting away in that cave so the Galaxy can live in peace!"
"But I'm not, because you carried me out," Ben growled. He dodged another swipe, hooking his saber around Finn's wrist and shoving against him. Finn toppled to the floor once more while his weapon fell out of reach with a clatter. Groaning in pain, he held his hand where the weapon had struck and glared with fire in his eyes back at Ben.
Nearly there, Ben thought. Just one final push.
"You've made yourself imbalanced. You cannot even master the simplest uses of the force that even younglings can manage. You just keep failing!"
Finn's arm snapped up with tense fingers while Ben felt his throat constrict.
He stood in acceptance of his punishment, forcing his arms to remain at his sides; knowing how pointless it would be to reach for the coil around his neck when it was the force strangling him. Instead, he stood still, gasping only when his body demanded and stared at the Stormtrooper. His weapon fell to the floor when it became impossible to breath.
Ben waited for those dark eyes to soften in fright of what he was doing. Even when his knees gave out, he continued to wait. And wait.
When his vision blurred he began to worry that his gamble had backfired, that his push had sent Rey's friend beyond what he could handle, but then the shame finally found him and Finn finally released his hold.
Ben collapsed, gasping for a desperate breath of air.
"W-what did you do to me?" Finn stared at his open palm in terror. "What..?"
By the time Ben had finished coughing, he could see shame consuming the Stormtrooper. The man fell to his knees before Ben recovered enough to speak.
"What have I done?" Finn gasped in fright.
Through heavy breaths Ben forced himself to hitch a knee before making it to his feet.
"It was a gift," Ben finally stated. Finn looked as if he wanted to glare, but instead pleaded with his eyes; desperate to learn.
Finally, Ben thought.
"Now you understand the consequences," he groaned through heavy breaths; taking another moment to steady his breathing. "To give you a chance to test the dark out on me, instead of someone you care about."
"So that's it? I've fallen to the…" Finn stopped before shaking his head in dismay. "I really can't become a Jedi?"
"Fearing it will only make the dark more tempting," Ben merely shook his head. "Anger, hatred. They will drown you. You have to move on. You must forgive the people who wronged you. Including me."
His expression twisted into rage once again.
"I will never forgive…"
"I don't need your forgiveness," he quickly interrupted, "I don't care if you like me, I care about what you do to Rey."
"I would never hurt her," Finn recoiled at the very thought.
"Like you would never use the force to hurt someone?" Ben challenged. "Next time, it might not be me you're strangling."
"You're wrong, I could never hurt someone I care about," he pushed again.
"You think so?" Ben felt his own anger brewing. "The first time you lose control, you will lose yourself. That's how the dark wins, it makes you feel as if there is only one path forward. It makes it easy to do terrible things. Things that would disgust anyone in the light.
You think you're above it all, but you're not. You are unstable. Would you be able to live with yourself if you lash out when Rey criticizes your form? Or your pilot friend when he argues with you? How about your girlfriend?"
The man looked ready to start another round as his muscles tensed once more. Ben softened his tone to avoid as much.
"You will never heal unless you figure out how to forgive. If not, you'll find yourself right back here. Again and again. Until the dark convinces you it's too late."
Finn continued to scowl in defiance of his assumptions. A moment later he sighed deeply, eyes closing as his chin fell to his chest.
"The First Order took everything from me. I blame you for that."
"I had nothing to do with the Stormtrooper program," Ben argued lightly. Finn opened his eyes to glare.
"I watched you snap my friends neck two months before I defected. With a flick of your wrist he was gone. I stepped over more bodies than I could count. Bodies of people whose only crime was to get in your way at the wrong time. You expect me to forgive that?"
Ben watched him carefully.
No, he wanted to say, no one sane would expect such a thing. But, it was what must be done. If not, the dark would prey on him.
"SE-1484," Ben whispered. Finn's attention snapped back to him. "He was your friend. The one that I killed."
His glare softened for a fraction of a second before returning. Finn nodded.
Ben sealed his lips. When he felt a rush of blood warming his face, his eyes shut tightly
"I see every face when I close my eyes, I hear every scream. Every night I am haunted by those whose lives were taken by my own hands." Ben sighed deeply.
"If you're trying to win my sympathy, you're barking up the wrong tree," he pointed angrily. However, with less venom that before.
"I don't want your pity," Ben sneered before recalling himself. "You can prevent yourself from experiencing that pain. But it is a choice that you must make to accept my help."
Finn started to shake his stubborn head.
"I know I don't deserve it, second chance. I know you don't believe that I've changed. But, this isn't about me," Ben interrupted. "Let me help you."
"I can't," he answered. His voice was hesitant, uncertain. Ben watched him struggle with his own thoughts. Knowing exactly what war was brewing beneath those troubled eyes.
"Fine," Ben answered simply. Finn looked up, both in surprise and terror, watching as Ben took a step backwards. "I thought it was too late. Snoke convinced me that my family despised me. They are lies. If nothing else, allow my presence to be a reminder to you that no matter how deep you get, your friends will be here waiting. At least make sure to remember that."
Ben turned towards the exit, walking until he stood only feet away from the door.
"Wait," Finn barely broke above a whisper. Ben turned halfway to meet him, watching his scowl as the man fought against his hatred. "I'll do it. I'll train with you."
Ben wanted to sigh in relief, waiting a moment to nod and then spoke softly.
"For whatever it's worth, I am sorry."
The trooper began battling with himself once more, switching more than once from an expression of offense to acceptance and back again. It felt like many moments later when he finally nodded.
"Get some rest, training starts tomorrow," Ben ordered gently.
"I'm not calling you master," Finn shouted before he could reach the door.
"Call me anything you'd like," Ben smirked. "Traitor."
When Finn scoffed in amusement, Ben finally took his leave. Stepping out into the dark hallways that signaled the late hour.
By the time he reached his room, he half expected Maz to waiting; ready to berate his disobedience. However, when he opened the door he nearly crashed right into Rey. She yelped in surprise before calming at the sight of him. Sighing in relief.
"Maz said you disappeared, she asked me to help find… What happened to you?" she asked with a wide gaze.
Ben glanced down at his body to see if their sparring had broken any skin. When he found nothing, he narrowed his gaze in question.
"What do you mean?"
"Your neck is bruised!" she exclaimed in a hushed tone.
Ben reached for his throat absentmindedly, cursing his carelessness.
"Who did this to you?"
"You're lying," she accused with a glare. "That's twice in one day. What's going on?"
Ben stared at her, impressed by her observations. Also knowing that she might not be so forgiving if he were to do it again.
"I was sparring with your traitor friend," he answered lightly.
"My traitor fr… Finn? Why were you..?" she tripped over various questions before furrowing her brow. "Ben!"
"Relax, we worked it out," he promised.
"You look like you've been strangled," she mumbled while crossing her arms.
"Not too far from the truth," Ben shrugged while stepping around her to close the door behind them. When Rey's expression twisted in terror, he began to explain. Her body tensed, then relaxed as she took in his story. By the time he was finished she was watching him with worry.
"Will he be okay?" she asked; pleading for a simple yes.
"It's up to him," Ben answered honestly. "But, he seems to want to try."
Rey nodded slowly. A moment later, her eyes scanned below his chin before bringing a cautious hand to his neck.
"You're sure you're alright?" she whispered. Her fingers trailed along the edge of his throat as he nodded.
The remnants of Kylo Ren instinctively commanded him to shy away from such tenderness. Kindness had always been a trap, an illusion that would be hiding a world of pain. Then again, even when his soul had been stained with so much darkness, Rey always seemed to be an exception. So, instead of chastising her hysterics Ben reached for the hand at his neck and took it firmly within his own, pushing against the false instincts to grasp it as if it were a lifeline.
It hadn't been easy to adjust to such a change, to have someone care when he so much as bruised his skin. It was strange, especially given the number of scars they had given one another in the past. However, now that he experienced her gentle caress, he knew that it would be impossible to leave her tender care.
"I could heal it," she suggested.
"Rey, I'm fine," he promised with a smirk. "I've had far worse."
Rey flinched. Had their minds still been linked he knew exactly what image would have raced between them. Her eyes lowered until they fell to his abdomen where a blade of red had nearly ended it all.
Fool, Ben scolded himself.
Moving quickly to pull her attention from the sour moment, Ben rested his forehead against hers. Already his heart was pulsing from their shared breath, urging him to close what little space remained between them. But, he never could move first. Even as the weeks passed he failed to shake that terrible fear that she would come to her senses; to pull away in repulsion. And yet, she never did. Even then, near the gates to his cell that were a stark reminder of his stained soul, she closed that space for them.
Ben's lack of knowledge on intimacy never ceased to wound his confidence as he struggled to know where to place his hands. However, as usual they came to rest at her back in a plea to beckon her closer. Rey's kiss was always chaste. He wasn't even sure if she understood why he had to pull away when the moment lingered too long. However, he was grateful for it. Knowing how easy it could have been for the cruel desert to have destroyed her innocence.
Rey's hands moved to rest along his neck. When a soothing flood of warmth began pouring from her fingers and as the pain of Finn's damage begin to ebb, he brought his own hands to stop her.
"Sneaky little…" he mumbled against her lips.
"It's just a bruise, let me finish healing it," she argued.
"We agreed not to waste your life force on petty injuries," he reminded.
"Do you really want people to wonder if you've gotten into a fight?" her brow rose in challenge. Ben opened his mouth to counter but failed to find the words. Remembering that he had only just been released on good behavior. With a victorious smile, Rey put her hand back to his neck. "Hold still."
"Sneaky and bossy," he mumbled.
"Shh," she hushed. Focusing on the task at hand. Ben sighed at the moment of relief, not realizing how much damage her friend had caused. With a quiet gulp, he wondered how close his neck had been to snapping. "There."
"Thank you," he whispered.
She answered with a short kiss.
"I should go report to Maz before she sets her blaster to stun."
"You should probably lock me in my cell first," he reminded. Ignoring her sneer, he stepped around to open the door to his 'room'.
"You know I won't do that. You'll have to wait for Maz," she argued.
"I won't," she stated more sternly.
"You'd be doing me a favor," he offered softly. "If you leave me to Maz I'll have to listen to her lecture for an hour."
"You'll have to suffer her lecture," she smiled weakly. "I am not setting that lock."
Ben merely sighed, waiting for her to change her mind. However, as per usual, Rey never faltered. Instead she stepped forward, reaching up for one last kiss.
A/N – Hope you all enjoyed the story, I have another story in the series coming out next week so hit that subscribe button if you'd like to be notified! You can follow me over on tumblr (Username Neeklos) for previews and updates. The next story will be far more Reylo centric with much angst and feelings.
Review Replies: I am going to start putting review replies from the last chapters of a story on the first chapter of the next story. I hate not responding to reviews so I'm going to try that as a solution.
RangerFox – Falling indeed! Hope you enjoyed the second part of the story and really glad to hear you enjoyed Dee-Oh's verbiage! I was worried about him coming off strange. Thank you so much for reading and leaving your thoughts!
Maushaushase – Absolutely! And I have two other stories partially written, for sure one will be getting published next week! Thanks so much for reading and leaving your thoughts!
Minafinnes – That is so lovely to hear! Thank you so much! I loved hearing your thoughts on the balance of the story, that's really great to know and I don't get feedback on that very often. Also glad you enjoyed Dee-Oh. Thanks so much for reading and leaving your thoughts!
Stepanka hanusova86 – I am so glad to hear that you were excited for the story! I'm very glad that you liked Dee-oh's interactions with Ben and Rey, he's a fun little dude to write. I agree, if Ben had survived I don't think he would have ever been able to live within the resistance. If people knew he survived, I think he'd have to hide or he'd be executed. I'm going to try to explore how he could be "free" in future stories though! :) Thanks so much for reading and leaving your thoughts!
Reyoflight – I am glad that you're still excited for my viewers! That's still my favorite thing to hear :) I'm very glad you enjoyed Dee-oh calling her mom, I was worried it would be corny. Also glad to hear that you feel the quality is still good, that's great! Thank you so much for your lovely compliments, I treasure them very dearly!