Conversation Among Friends
Joy. It was a feeling Ben Solo hadn’t felt in a long time. But as he leaned against a column watching Leia, Luke, and Lando reminisce about their past adventures with Rey and the heroes of the Resistance he actually found himself feeling happy.
He stood in a grand sitting room filled with white chairs, a perfectly polished white floor, red tables were spread throughout the area to give the space personality, the walls were lined with white columns, and on the far wall sat a massive, fifty-foot-tall window that allowed the beautiful light of the gorgeous sunset to paint the room in an unforgettable brilliance.
Everyone had dressed accordingly for the get-together, discarding their clothes fit for adventure and choosing to wear elegant robes and gowns or casual wear. Even Ben had adopted the idea of dressing leisurely, choosing not to wear his cloak and changing into a more comfortable black tunic with a V-neck and low collar.
His gaze kept falling upon Rey as she sat with her friends. Her hair was no longer tied back into a braid but was instead hanging loosely, falling to her shoulders. She wore a long-sleeved brown tunic lined with white, brown leggings, and her usual brown boots. He couldn’t help but think she was beautiful.
Rey’s eyes touched his for a moment and the two shared a smile before she averted her gaze. His smile lingered. And then, he heard his name called. He snapped to attention and found everyone looking toward him.
There were smiles and mute stares, as always. The blond woman named Admiral Sterk was especially aggravated, gazing at him with a subtle scowl. Ben’s jaw clenched. It was at times like these when he wished he had stayed in his quarters.
“Ben, join us,” his mother urged.
Ben shook his head, remaining in the shadow of the column. “I’m fine,” he said.
“Ben, please,” Leia pleaded.
He looked at everyone’s expressions who watched him closely, waiting to see what he would do. And then his gaze met Keeli’s. He was suddenly bombarded with memories of them together as children playing through the vacant halls of Lando’s quarters in the Cloud City. His mother and father would be off conducting adult business while he and Keeli had the best of times.
Now here they were, over a decade later, as adults. Their paths had diverged but now, like old times, they were together again.
Keeli smiled at him and suddenly he felt the courage to join the good times. So, he emerged from the shadow of the column, choosing to sit down alongside Leia. She smiled, placing a hand on his shoulder, before continuing the conversation.
Ben could feel everyone’s eyes lingering on him as if they were all poised to attack. The only people who weren’t threatened by his presence was Luke, Leia, Rey, and the Calrissians. Everyone else, however, tried to go on like normal but he could sense the disdain rolling off of them like fragrant clouds of must.
Rey was telling them all a story about one time when she saved a fellow scavenger from a gang in a Star Destroyer. It was a riveting tale that had everyone gasping and utterly transfixed by what Rey had to say.
When she was finished there were murmurs of appreciation and comments on the story. And then suddenly Poe stood, a glass of amber liquid in one hand.
“I’m not one for sappy speeches,” he began, “or eloquent conversation but I just wanted to say,” he pointed toward Ben, “I want to thank you.”
Ben slightly smiled.
“I want to thank you for helping to rescue General Leia. I know that…you’ve done some bad things in the past but she may not be here if it wasn’t for you and Rey and Luke and I just am grateful for your help.”
Rey smiled as Ben replied, “Thank you.”
“Is there anything you’d like to say?” Leia asked Ben.
He found himself at a loss of words as everyone’s attention once again focused on him. He was about to say something when Admiral Sterk stood, wearing an annoyed expression.
“Let’s just stop the charade here,” she stated angrily.
Now everyone was throwing their attention on her.
“I’m not trying to bust anybody’s bubbles or make this a bad evening but let’s stop pretending here. We have a murderer in our midsts.” She pointed straight at Ben. “This man who you’re thanking Poe Dameron has killed countless innocents. Men, women, children. Our friends. Our families.” She began pointing at everyone in the room. “Everyone sitting here today has cried because of him. Because of what he has done.”
Leia stood too. “Sterk, that’s enough.”
“No,” the admiral snapped. “I will not stop! The fact that we’re sitting here choosing to ignore what he really is is ridiculous. He was an agent of the First Order. One of the highest, by the way. Are we really supposed to believe that just because he saved one person means that he’s a good man now?”
Now Rey was standing. “Yes he’s made mistakes and yes, he has killed people we cared about but he’s changed. He wants to do better.”
“Oh, so now you’re speaking for him?” Sterk said. “What happened? Does he have you under his mind control too?”
Ben jumped to his feet. “Actually I can speak for myself.”
“Oh, the murderer finally says a word. You know, I might believe you had a change of heart if you gave yourself up to the Resistance for imprisonment. But you won’t do that, will you?”
“I don’t have to prove anything to you,” he said.
“Ben, let’s just go,” Keeli said, placing a hand on his arm as she joined his side.
“How would Han Solo feel about this, huh?” Sterk continued. “Oh wait a minute. He’s not here to say anything because you killed him.”
Ben couldn’t handle Sterk’s words anymore. He unfurled his lightsaber, making as if to charge the blond-haired admiral. Sterk raised her blaster, aiming it directly at his face. Before she could pull the trigger Poe had knocked her to the ground, yelling for her to stop while Rey unleashed her own blue lightsaber, blocking Ben’s way forward.
The ex-stormtrooper jumped to his feet, pulling the young woman with slanted eyes and dark hair out of the way.
“Stop it, Ben!” Rey yelled. “Stop it!”
Ben was too angry to listen though. He pushed past Rey’s defenses only to be stopped by Luke and Leia who held him with the Force.
“Get him out of here!” Lando said, gazing at Ben with a stern expression.
Keeli appeared in front of him, placing her hands on his face. “Ben, listen to me. Calm down. It’s over.”
His gaze focused on Keeli’s who in turn stared at him with worry in her light-brown eyes. He began to relax, the anger that had washed over him slowly dissipating. He felt Leia and Luke’s grip on his body release and he let Rey take his lightsaber from him.
“Come with me,” Keeli said, leading him away from the room where Sterk was still barking mad.
She led him through the building before taking him out into a large courtyard where the cold breeze rolling off of the ocean hit his face hard. He sighed a long, deep breath.
“I was afraid this would happen,” Ben said.
“When you’ve done the things that you’ve done you will always find those that aren’t willing to forgive or forget the past,” Keeli told him.
His jaw clenched. “Every day I have to deal with the mistakes I made. It doesn’t feel good to have those mistakes thrown back into your face.”
Keeli nodded. “I’ll admit when I saw you again after so many years I was scared of you.” A small smile touched her lips. “But then after a while, I realized that you were the same person I knew as a young girl.”
He looked at her. “That’s the problem. I’m not the same person.”
He began to storm away when Keeli grabbed his hand, forcing him to look at her.
“You keep telling yourself that but I know the truth,” she said. “The man named Kylo Ren would not have gone to rescue his mother. The man named Kylo Ren would not have stayed to help the Resistance when we needed it. The man who did those things is the Ben Solo I once knew. The Ben Solo who was my friend.”
A strong gust of wind ruffled her curly hair and as he stared at her he found himself realizing how beautiful of a woman she had grown to be.
“And what would the Ben Solo you knew do right now?” he asked.
Keeli stepped closer to him. “He wouldn’t run away,” she said.
His jaw clenched. “Why do you care so much?”
“Because you were and always will be my dearest friend.”
Before he could react she leaned forward and kissed his cheek. He was shocked into stunned silence. He gazed at her.
“Why did you do that?” he whispered.
“To show you that there are people in this galaxy who actually do care about you.”
Suddenly there was the unmistakable noise of a ship’s motor and when he looked toward the sky he saw a circular craft flying by. His dark eyebrows scrunched.
“Were you expecting any more visitors?” he asked Keeli.
She looked at him. “No. No, we weren’t.”
Without another word, they ran in the direction of the ship.
Tensions were high after what had happened between Ben and Admiral Sterk. Sterk was still boiling mad from not being to give Ben a full piece of her mind while everyone else was exasperated by the situation. The night, which had been meant to be a peaceful evening among friends, had become the exact opposite.
And then, Vobot entered the room, her gaze centered directly on Lando Calrissian.
“Sir,” she said. “An unscheduled visitor has arrived.”
Lando’s eyebrows furrowed. Rey immediately approached Vobot.
“Take us,” she told Vobot.
The mysterious ship landed by the edge of the city. Ben Solo and Keeli were already waiting for whoever was set to exit the ship. Keeli had her blaster ready for an attack and Ben stood alongside her, holding the second blaster that she had loaned him.
As the ramp opened his body tensed but then almost immediately relaxed as a diminutive alien with orange skin and large glasses exited the ship. Ben immediately recognized the alien from a few visits to Takodana as a child with his father, Han Solo. Keeli’s blaster lowered.
“Maz Kanata?” Keeli gasped.
“Why am I always greeted by those standing with blasters aimed at me?” Maz Kanata said, waddling forward as she fixed the pack slung across her small body.
Keeli was about to speak when a man emerged from the ship. His hair was reddish-blond, he was of average height and dressed in the adventurous garments of a bounty hunter, but there was something familiar about him. It was almost as if Ben had known him all his life.
Maz Kanata suddenly noticed Ben and gasped. “Wow, so the stories are true. You’ve joined the Resistance.”
Ben looked at Keeli who smiled at him. “Yes, I guess I have.”
“Then you’ll be surely excited to meet this young man,” Maz said with a knowing smile.
Ben’s gaze met the young man’s who regarded him with little kindness.
“And why is that?” Ben inquired.
Maz grinned. “Ben Solo, meet John Skywalker.”