Her fingers drum the steering wheel as Rey skids down the backroads. She glances at the clock on her dash, and realizes she’s running late again. Her eyes flicker to her phone, but she shakes her head and focuses on driving instead. Cursing herself, she turns down the music when she hears an odd popping sound, then she notices the acrid smell of something burning.
Twisting about to search for a place to saftely pull off the side of the road, Rey slowly peels off to the side of the road and parks. Prying up the hood of her car, Rey inspects the innards. A wave of smoke leaves her coughing. Waving a hand in front of her nose, she leans over, but she can’t make out what’s causing the issue. It’s probably engine trouble, she decides. Looking about, she realizes the desolate state of her surroundings. Grumbling, she pulls out her phone and googles a car mechanic.
Scrolling through her options, Rey finally decides on Millenium Repairs. It has a four star rating and offers to tow cars within the city limits. Hopefully, she can talk her way into getting them to come out here. She taps the call button and waits. The phone rings, and rings, and rings. Rey sighs. Then, a gruff voice mumbles something unintelligible. Rey struggles to translate the jumble of syllables and low-pitched grunts. She hums and haws whenever the voice pauses and tries to guess what he could be asking her. So far, he hasn’t seemed confused or angered, so she thinks this might be working. Finally, she rushes through an explanation of what happened and her approximate location. He huffs and she hears clattering in the background and an oddly familiar voice swearing. The phone goes dead.
Grumbling to herself, Rey calls her secretary in order to warn the poor girl that they’ll have to reschedule their meeting and shift her morning appointments to either this evening or tomorrow morning. The twenty-something doesn’t sound particularly surprised at Rey’s news and hangs up rather abruptly. Blinking, Rey inspects her phone before counting down the minutes until the tow truck will arrive. She’s good at waiting.
A rusty tow-truck with peeling sky-blue paint and a hastily slashed together logo advertising Millenium Repairs screeches down the street and jerks to a stop one meter in front of Rey. Clutching her racing heart and wondering if she should feel thankful for being alive or furious at the man’s racy driving skills, Rey waves frantically and gestures to her car. The left door of the truck slams open and Han strides towards her. Rey gapes. Apparently she can’t escape Solo men; they’re more tenacious than cockroaches. The right door opens and a tall, muscular man with a mop of chestnut hair, bushy eyebrows, and a beard that could make any old sailor jealous hobbles towards her. Han smirks, taking an eyeful of both Rey and her mutinous car, before muttering something to his partner. The man grunts. Rey looks at her phone and debates contacting another towing company. She’s about to dial AAA when Han sidles up to her and plomps his arm over her shoulders.
“So, kid, what happened? You said something about an engine?” Han murmurs, kneeling in front of the car before peering into its depths.
“I heard a pop, then smelled something burning, so I stopped the car and called you.”
“Good choice, that other guy in town, Hutt, he’ll rip you off. Chewie and I, well, we’ll fix her up for a decent price,” Han rambles while banging around under the hood. Rey nods and the guy who probably never saw a razor before in his life, Chewie apparently, seems to smile. His beard and mustache shift upwards, so Rey just assumes that’s his way of grinning. Chewie steps next to Han, pushing him away from the car playfully, and tilts his head towards the engine. Rey marvels at the seven foot man hunched over her car with his ear perpendicular to her engine. In these woods, he might fuel the stories of some drunk teenage campers who’ll go on for days claiming they all saw Bigfoot. Chewie grumbles something, and Rey strains to make sense of the blur of sounds. If she concentrates, she thinks he said something about needing to bring it back to the shop. Han nods, rubs his chin, then glances over his shoulder at her.
“Well, hop in the truck and we’ll drop you off at your office. Looks like we’ll have to take this pile of junk back to the shop.”
“It’s not rubbish,” Rey interjects. Sure, her car could use a new paint job and its age rivals her own, but it takes her from point a to point b.
“Kid, this car’s older than you.”
“No, I’m two years older.”
“Huh… That’s some babyface you have. Still a kid though.”
Chewie seems to chastise Han. He rolls his eyes, turning to face his partner. “Fine, fine,” Han waves him off and smirks at Rey.
“You’re a smart kid,” he laughs. “There, happy now?” he asks Chewie. Chewie grumbles and rolls his eyes, but stiffly walks back to the car. He pulls the door open and waits. Rey blinks, then grabs her satchel, and skids to the car. She settles awkwardly in the middle and Chewie shuffles in behind her after a few minutes of rigging her car to their truck. As he sits down, the truck seems to sink under his weight. Han jumps into the driver's seat and starts the car, blaring Bruce Springsteen and humming along with the windows rolled down.
As she clutches her bag to her chest in a desperate attempt to occupy less space, Rey observes Han through the corner of her eye. His salt-and-pepper hair gleams silver in the morning light, and reminds her of moonbeams. His tanned skin tells of a youth spent under the blaring sun, and she notes the distinct frown lines and wrinkles across his forehead and under his sunken eyes. Those doe eyes of his still gleam with mischievous mirth and memorable misadventures. She bets he could have rivaled Tom Sawyer in his heyday. As he whistles along to Bruce Springsteen behind the wheel of his car, Rey can almost picture a younger, less cynical Han flying in a cloudless sky above lush green forests singing aloud and off-key about how he was born in the USA.
Rey never saw so much green as she does in those moments of imagined memory.
Rey stumbles into the studio with her yoga mat resting between her shoulder blades. Luke greets her with a sky-blue glare before clearing his throat and gesturing towards the empty place besides Bertha, who cheerfully waves and rolls her eyes in Luke’s direction. Rey stifles her laugh and weaves between the various outstretched bodies until she finds her place and unrolls her yoga mat.
“He’s in one of his moods today. Obviously someone decided to insert a second stick up his ass,” Bertha remarks.
Grimacing, Rey mimics Bertha’s pose.
“Do you know what happened?” she asks.
“Nope. He’s been tight-lipped about it, but Suzy has a theory.”
“Do any of you know how yoga came to be?” Luke interrupts.
His voice booms across the room and a petite, brunette woman in the first row with a slicked back ponytail who always wears lululemon tights and a pastel colored top jerks and falls flat on her face. Bertha snorts. The prozac-preppy blonde two mats to the left of Rey rattles off about effective calorie burning and increased flexibility with the smug, ass-kissing tone of a straight-A star A-levels student. Luke smiles and nods encouragingly. Then, when the woman stops and smirks over shoulder at Bertha and Rey, Luke opens his mouth.
“Funny. Everything you just said is completely wrong.”
Her pepcid pink lips open in an “O” of shock and she blinks.
Smirking, Luke falls into a lecture about how yoga is a spiritual act and he begins explaining its long history. Rey nods along, while Bertha grumbles.
“I swear, everything he’s saying sounds like he just memorized the wikipedia article. I’ll look it up and send it to you after class. I’m not kidding,.”.
Then, the door slams open with a clatter and Luke’s mouth snaps shut. The wrinkles around his eyes seem to fade away and his eyes burn bright as he stares at whoever is standing in the doorway.
Twisting to look, Rey spots Leia standing regally with her shoulders thrust back and her hair braided into a mahogany and grey streaked crown. Luke’s eyes widen and his blinks rapidly before scowling. Leia tuts and sits down in a nearby foldable metal chair. Clearing his throat, Luke continues his unwanted lecture.
A few women actually correct him, but he glares and fumbles for an excuse each time. Leia snorts at each slapdash answer. Luke’s gaze keeps drifting to her, and, instead of his usual stormy-sea blues, his eyes lighten to the same blue as a cloudless July sky. The wrinkles around his eyes seems to fade away, and Rey can imagine a young, fresh-faced farmer with dreams of adventure under that same limitless, azure sky, instead of the discontent and snappish yoga instructor before her.
As the class comes to an end and Luke dismisses them, Rey slows her movements and strains her ears. Bertha raises an eyebrow, but then a spark of understanding illuminates her nutmeg eyes and she gestures to her phone. Rey waves her away, and Bertha clucks her tongue, but doesn’t complain.
After hugging Leia for a good ten seconds, Luke moves away, clearing his throat and crossing his arms.
“I’m not going,” he states succinctly.
“We need you.”
Leia stresses the word and Luke rubs the back of his neck.
“I… I can’t. Besides, he doesn’t want me there. Neither of them do.”
“Han’s your friend,” Leia interjects.
“Was. He was my friend. The only person who can stay friends with that scoundrel for long is Chewie.”
“That’s not true.” Leia crosses her own arms, mirroring Luke.
“Really? What about Callasian?”
He juts his chin out and raises an eyebrow a fresh smirk painted across his face.
“Well… They were never exactly friends…” Leia hedges.
She glances at the polished, wooden floor before meeting Luke’s gaze.
“Your family needs you,” Leia says, then she pauses and reaches for Luke’s hand.
He untanges his arms and reaches out for her hand as well. He holds her hand in his own like one would hold a bird, or one’s hopes: lightly, but with a hidden strength and determination. His thumb caresses the spot between Leia’s thumb and forefinger.
Rey’s heart thunders in her ears. She feels as if she’s trapped in a wave, being battered about amidst the constant roar of the sea. He’s Leia’s Luke: her twin brother and Ben’s faulty uncle.
And… They really do… She struggles to finish the sentence, instead the words swirl around like water circling a clogged drain.
While staring at the shift in Luke’s face, and realizing that the chiseled stone expression softens to hand-warmed clay simply because of Leia’s presence, Rey finally swallows and accepts the truth.
Then, nodding to herself, Rey realizes that Finn didn’t exaggerate that evening at the bar when she decided to become the Organa-Solo family therapist.
The Organa-Solo family really could star in a telenovela.
Ben glances at his phone, checking the time, then tries to peer through the window. He sees several brown-haired girls with messy buns, but he can’t quite tell if these girls are Rey. Taking a deep breathe, he pushes open the door and resolutely walks to the counter.
A vaguely familiar barista smiles at him. She tilts her head to the left and wags her eyebrows. Ben blinks. The girl behind the counter laughs as she types his order into the POS system.
“She’s here,” she whispers quite loudly.
Ben’s ears warm, and he looks about frantically. Then, he notices Rey chewing on the end of a pen and leaning over some battered book. He fights back a smile, but the edges of his lips continue to tug upwards and eventually he gives up and just ducks his face away from Rey instead. The barista giggles.
“I see a lot of couples, of course, but watching you two is like witnessing a rom-com in real life. I swear, you’re like a puppy or something. It’s adorable,” she gushes.
Ben’s entire face burns. Even in the scarecrow days when his kneecaps poked out and he seemed like all awkward, jutting joints, preposterous, neck-breaking height and Dumbo-the-elephant ears, no one ever called him adorable.
The girl passes him his drink and gives him a shooing motion. Ben numbly passes her his credit card and then shoves a few dollar bills into the tip jar. He marvels at the cup in hand; he never even said his order. Then he squares his shoulders and wishes for the upteenth time to be handsome.
When he clears his throat, Rey jerks up like some criminal in the electric chair and looks about frantically. Then, their eyes meet and she slowly relaxes, although her eyebrows crinkle, forming a wrinkle between both brown brows. Smiling, she takes a sip of her drink.
“It seems like you’re becoming a regular,” she teases.
The gold in her eyes glimmers like light filtering through emerald, forest leaves. Leaving him breathless and dazed, he clutches onto fleeting outlines of fuzzy memories, like some lost, lovelorn boy who woke up from a barely remembered quest.
“They have good coffee,” he sputters.
The excuse falls awkward and hallow, but Rey just raises a brow for a few seconds before shrugging.
“Perhaps this is good practice for you? You did say that you felt more relaxed out of the office,” she offers.
He nods gratefully and tries to hide his cherry-tipped ears.
“Still not that talkative though,” she laughs and swipes away a loose tendril of hair.
“I’m just… Don’t talk much,” he shrugs.
“Yet you decided to become a defense lawyer? What do you do on court days?”
“Hope my client isn’t a fool.”
Rey laughs heartily, and the sound makes his chest feel warm. Her eyes seem to shift, and she smiles for a second before feigning nonchalance. Rey swirls her spoon in her drink, taps it on the edge of the cup, and then thoughtfully licks the spoon. Ben stares at her cherry pink tongue, then gulps.
“That’s a lot of hope for a self-proclaimed pessimist,” Rey retorts.
He snorts, and leans towards her. She’s like a magnet or the sun; there’s something about her that pulls Ben to her side, and he can’t seem to summon the willpower to fight it.
“Even cynics dream,” he replies.
“What do you dream about?” she asks, leaning forward.
Ben wishes for the inches between them to disappear. If he pretended to lose balance, then he could taste the air she breathes out, and, perhaps, even feel her lips beneath his own. His heart races, then when he notices a new freckle. His heart falters.
“The girl,” he mutters, pushing the words through leaden lips.
Rey blinks, biting her lip and slumping back in her chair. She straightens her shoulders and adjusts her shirt. The image of Rey biting her lip makes his stomach twist and his chest warm.
“How is it coming? With her, I mean… The girl from work?” she asks.
She seems to pluck the words nervously, and they hang there disjaringly. It reminds him of a beginner tapping out piano notes with shakey index fingers and creating a sound more poignant for its absence and that instinctual knowledge of its lacking than the notes themselves.
“Umm… We talk, but… I don’t think she sees me in that way… Not yet,” he sighs, chancing a glance at her face and wishing for a blush, but accepting a tanned mask of professional compassion.
He swears he smells hand-sanitizer, so impersonal and clean. He wants coffee and vanilla, something intoxicatingly domestic, instead of this clinical disinfectant.
“You just need to keep talking to her. Once you both get to know each other a bit better, I’m sure you’ll find the situation to be quite different. Not to mention, you do tend to underestimate yourself and your self-worth.”
He stifles a smile, and then he takes a sip of his coffee.
“I don’t think it’s underestimating myself when I’m just being truthful here,” he edges.
“Ben!” she chides, nearly swatting him on the arm, but then stopping mid-way and awkwardly tucking her hair behind her ear instead.
“I am an asshole. It’s simple fact. You said it yourself,” he shrugs and takes a sip of coffee.
Rey looks away, and he swears he notes a hint of pink dusting her cheeks.
“I never said that you are an asshole exactly. Besides, that was the first time we met and I wasn’t in a particularly charitable mood,” she mutters. “I say a lot of things I don’t mean when I’m angry or stressed, like the other day at the grocery store. I was running late and I took that out on you. I completely disregarded your progress…” she rambles.
Benm shakes his head, but guilt seems etched in Rey’s features. Then, her gaze drifts away to memories of a time before him, and he wants to reach out and tug and her thoughts, instead of letting them float away like some helium balloon.
“You might not have said asshole exactly, but you meant it. If you think I’m an asshole, then she obviously will,” he laughs mirthlessly.
It tastes bitter on his tongue, so he chokes down black coffee to distract himself instead. Rey rolls her eyes, but smiles faintly.
“Once she gets to see the man behind the mask, she won’t hate you,” Rey states unwaveringly.
She sounds so sure. He wishes it were that simple. Ben doesn’t know if there even is a man behind this mask of his anymore. At this point he’s sacrificed everything he once was in an attempt to fill the shoes of a figure more myth than man. He killed Ben Solo.
“What if… What if what’s behind the mask is worse than the mask itself?”
“I doubt that.” She answers immediately, like vollying back a tennis ball.
“I wouldn’t. I’m a monster, and she’s… She’s not. She’s light,” he stresses the words, hoping Rey will understand.
Her eyes just grow brighter and her mouth just becomes smaller.
“Ben, you aren’t a monster.”
Her voice reminds him of a sword: sharp and metallic with an unyielding strength.
“Yes, I am,” he growls.
Rey’s eyes flash and she clenches her jaw.
“There’s light in you, Ben Solo.”
She leans towards him; her hand reaches out, as if to grasp his own. He aches to take her hand in his, but then past regrets and disappointed faces eclipse this desire.
He remembers how Luke spat the word and swung. He recalls his mother’s down-turned mouth. He hears those frantic, whispered conversations between Han and his Mom in the kitchen that were so electric that the hairs on his forearms stood up. Finally, Ben accepts the truth: even his parents consider him a monster, so how can this plucky therapist who reads his mind like one might the Sunday paper think otherwise? He’s irredeemable.
“Funny, you’re the only one who seems to think that,” he spits.
He dons the depression and bitterness of his past like a beloved cloak.
“Maybe they just don’t say it,” she insists.
He feels torn between laughing at her naivety or thanking her. No one ever fought for him, yet here she sits, doing exactly that. And he loves her for it. He loves her. But, he’s not good enough for her. Besides, she doesn’t love him.
“Rey, they always expected me to go down this path. They were waiting for it. They transformed every single mistake of mine into a sign of my falling to the darkness, or whatever melodramatic shit they think of it as,” he chokes out.
He slides on the mask of his youth, hiding hope behind dead eyes and a still face.
He wants her to stay with him. He needs her to continue smiling at him with those mood-ring eyes of her’s. But he knows that soon she’ll regard him the same way everyone else does. Soon, she’ll stand up and walk out that door. He can’t let that happen again.
Ben pulls a hand through his hair, tugging at the irksome strands and quelching the itch begging him to either punch something or grab her hand. The buzzing itches increases in pressure and he feels like a volcano about to burst, so, instead of exploding, he runs.
He crashes through the door and skids down the street, fleeing from the singing in his veins that chants of fists flying and blood flowing, of crumpling walls and wrecked electronics, of sprays of scarlet turning this black world red in the haze of his passion.
Digging her elbows into the wooden bar and clutching her temples, Rey sighs and pulls her hair out its excuse of a bun. Poe quirks a brow and waits. She just shakes her head. He deftly passes her a menu with a sympathetic smile, then waves at someone she can’t quite see.
She tries to read the menu, but his face keeps eclipsing her vision. His warms eyes dimmed when he declared himself a monster. The word itself sounded both like a curse and a charm: simultaneously condemning and protecting. Then his face blaunched and he stormed out of the store as if it were on fire. She dejectedly slams the menu shut.
Questions flutter about like a flock of birds in her mind, and Rey can’t seem to sate them: if she had just reached out and taken his hand, would he realize that he isn’t alone; could she have saved him from sinking deeper into this despair? This unnamed need makes her fingertips tingle.
Rey inspects her hand: the thin, splayed fingers, her honey-brown tanned skin, the calluses on her palms, and those raised-white scars running across her knuckles.
She wants to use these hands to heal. She wants to scrub the blood off one deed at a time, but she can never seem to get rid of that rust-colored sin mocking her from under her fingernails. She failed him today. They were off hours, so Rey could have reached out and taken his hand, but instead she faltered.
Next time she won’t make that mistake.
She can’t let another life slip through her fingers.
A heavy arm plops across her shoulder and twists to its owner.
“You alright, peanut?” Finn asks with furrowed brows and worried eyes.
“Yeah, I just… Couldn’t help someone,” she sighs.
Finn squeezes her shoulders, then takes one of her hands in his.
“Rey, you know therapy is incremental. It takes time to address your client’s issues and help formulate a plan to help them. You can’t just heal them in one session. Don’t beat yourself up anymore,” Finn stresses the words as he stares into her eyes.
Her shoulders tense, and she fights back the urge to snap at him.
“I just had a patient nearly open up to me, but instead we lost that progress and I feel that I just didn’t do said patient justice. Instead, the patient spiraled.”
She struggles to explain the scene playing on a film reel in her mind. It just keeps repeating itself, and, each time, she notices more instances in which he begged to be saved. Ben stared at her so intently, as if she were a lifesaver in the middle of the ocean, and she fucked it up, leaving him to drown in his insecurities.
Her hand itches, but she ignores the instinct to destroy. She fell for that siren-call long ago and learned the futileness of punching the waves. It will never bring her peace. Instead, she motions for Poe. He sidles up to them, sending Finn a questioning glance, before turning to her.
“You alright?” he asks.
“Everyone is asking that today. I’m fine,” she snaps.
Poe blinks, looks over a Finn, and then nods slowly.
“So, what would you like to order?”
“What I always get, I guess,” she shrugs.
Drumming her fingers on the bar, she waits for him to leave. Part of her regrets even coming to Resistance. She should have made up some lousy excuse and ducked out of their weekly meeting. But Finn would have worried and he’d have fretted the whole evening instead of enjoying his time with Poe, so here she sits, growling at strangers and friends alike in a bar and reminding herself that drinking away her problems won’t solve them.
“Okay,” Poe nods.
He jots something down in a notebook, and then races off to the cash register.
“You didn’t need to do that,” grumbles Finn.
Rey twists around to face him.
“Do what?” she growls.
“You know,” Finn insists.
His jaw tightens and she suddenly notices the shadows under his eyes.
As she stares at her hands, she forces the words out, “I’m sorry.”
“Tell him,” Finn says, jerking his head towards Poe.
Rey nods, while biting her lip. Poe currently talks to someone by the entrance, gesturing about grandly and laughing with the exuberance of a child. Guilt plucks at Rey’s heart for snapping at Poe earlier. Then, she looks at Finn and finally sees him: new wrinkles age his youthful face and he has purple smudges under his eyes
“You alright?” she asks.
Finn blinks, then he smiles softly, “Some days I leave the office, but my heart’s still there.”
Rey pats him on the shoulder.
“I know,” she whispers, her voice almost cracking on the words.
She smiles softly and leans her head on Finn’s shoulder. He twists a strand of her hair between his forefingers thoughtfully, then smiles faintly.
“You’re the closest thing I have to a family, you know that?” he confesses.
“You’re mine as well,” she replies, choking on the jagged edges and swallowing down the bitter dream of two lean figures with blurry faces returning for her. They sit there in silence, and Rey finally lets the tears fall.