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For Darkness, Stars

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For the third night in a row, she couldn’t sleep. Wedged into the Falcon’s second bunk, the one that didn’t contain porg feathers and the lingering scent of wookie, Rey nudged the blankets further towards her feet, and turned over once more. 

She’d had no trouble sleeping on a stone slab on Acht-To, waiting for Luke to grant her an audience, but the nights were longer and ever more persuasive while the remining Resistance fleet sought asylum as far from First Order reach as possible. It was one thing not belonging in a place where you were stationary, and another altogether when they weren’t entirely certain where to go to continue avoiding the obvious. At last bet, the outer rim was an option that was still being contemplated by General Leia, at worst, the remains of the Resistance had a handful of transports and the Millennium Falcon on standby. In three nights, she’d managed to shut the door on Crait much in the same way that she’d shut the door on him at Crait — Rey closed the thought off, exhaling sharply through her mouth, and inhaling through her nose. Her skin prickled, her attention roving across the bunk's hide interior, the worn scuffs in the wall where it had been kicked too many times in dreams by its previous occupant, Han.

She pushed the thought from her mind with a deliberate, calculated shove that actually rattled a plate and cup across the room, sending it clattering to the floor, slipping between the slats. The cup rolled, disturbed by the ferocity of it. Rey inhaled. Exhaled. Wiped her mind of his face, tipped up at her as he knelt. He might’ve attacked her. He might’ve forced open the door and dragged her out to meet him — conclude their conversation. 

That he hadn’t — that he’d met her stare and let her go — left her tossing in bed once more. 

The bunk was too comfortable, for one: Rey would have a better time of sleeping if she extracted herself from the mattress and curled up on the floor, letting the Falcon’s ridges and dips reshape her into something a little more at ease in her discomforts. 

The bunk was hers, now, and still smelled of its ghosts. The bunk was hers, and for everything she found in Ben, she forced herself to recall that he was the one responsible for her inheritance of the Falcon. That was hard. That made it all worse, somehow, and it was only a matter of moments before she’d swung her legs out and leapt away with nervous energy, stalking back to the little cubby below the table across the room, pushing it aside, and dragging open the drawer. 

Eight manuals waited, their spines facing upwards, their contents available and willing but so far out of reach even though they were right in front of her. No, the way was not lost, but the path seemed all the more difficult to tread given the cirumstances — so much harder, knowing that this was a different sort of solitude to be experienced amongst friends. Alive, alone while surrounded by those that cared for her: Chewbacca, Finn, General Leia, even Poe Dameron, who’s keen overservations and easy smiles kept the darkness between systems from becoming ever-reaching. There was hope, here, but also an acute, echoing absence in her mind: a darkness that spilled open and yawned against the reach of stars that spun around their ships. 

Rey’s fingers hovered, uncertain. She closed the drawer, sitting back on her heels, her gaze level with the split halves of the lightsaber waiting for her, broken, on the table. More things inherited, and more challenges waiting for her as she skirted around them, fearing the obvious: that she couldn’t do this alone.

“Ben?” Rey whispered, her breath little more than a puff that caught in her throat, breaking the single syllable, turning it unbearable in the silence that followed.

She remained there for a time, waiting, though the doorway that linked them remained shut — locked with a knee-jerk reaction to prevent herself from remaking that bridge between them. She'd slammed the door on him too hard, perhaps, and in retaliation, he'd slammed his back in her face. An impasse. Rey swallowed back the burning in her throat and rose, pushing back the tide of oblivion that threatened his absence in her mind, that shut him away from her, that cleaved them apart and broke their tentative companionship. Only death pushed people this far apart. Only death went where she couldn’t follow.

They must be as good as dead to one another. 

She moved across the room and back to her bed, tired in ways that had nothing to do with sleep, and everything to do with the restless, relentless humming in her bones that spoke of dark chasms and cold water; the silence in her head left behind in Ben’s absence, and that strange, uncertain tightness that she fought back just enough to let the Force flow around her. 

Rey sat and crossed her legs, folding them under herself, and shut her eyes — drowning in that hum, that sweet breath that smelled of the ocean and the island and glimpsed only the briefest shadow that rose in memory and dissipated as if on a breeze.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

To pretend he couldn’t hear Hux spitting halfway down the corridor wouldn’t have stopped the burn in his fingertips. He kept a hand on the hilt of his saber, a fact remarked upon silently by the guard that flanked the new Supreme Leader. He didn’t need them. They didn’t speak, but he could sense snippets of their unease as surely as his reflection stalked him around another bend. They were not Praetorian Guard, and for that he acknowledged that he was at least somewhat fortuneful. 

Without the mask, his face swept along on a cloud-swathed in black. He’d yet to rescind his robes. He’d yet to eat or sleep, and the shallow crescents of darkness beneath his eyes revealed his tireless pursuit of things unknown around the base.  

“— Then repair it! Forty-two thousand crew and half that in droids, and you mean to tell me that production halts at the slightest change in the breeze. I want him off this vessel as quickly as possible —”

The doors swished open, and Hux, red-faced, didn’t as much as bother turning. Their shared occupancy was not optimal, but given how the mega-class Dreadnought wouldn’t see another moonrise at this rate, he didn’t pause as he swept past. 

The nudge that sent Hux’s hip into a table didn’t require much thought. The chairs and table followed, forced from his path towards the primary console and window beyond. The guards fell back. The diagnostics hadn’t changed: beyond his reflection, the expanse stretched in all directions, old stars spiraling out of existence as others guttered.

“Supreme Leader —” someone stammered. He didn’t care who.

“What of the tracking systems?” he asked no one in particular, though Hux choked the answer he didn’t want to hear. 

“Offline.” It was a moment before he added, “Supreme Leader. Unfortunately. Still.”

“Each day it remains thus is another measure of distance and discretion you award the Resistance. Each day you fail to find them is another victory you afford to a handful of broken, scattered scum whose numbers remain so few that it would be a kindness to wipe them out.”

“Kylo —”

He silenced Hux with a look. The bob of his adam’s apple was not enough, his collar not restrictive enough to stop the movement from happening. That Hux was still breathing at all was necessary, and yet, regrettable.

“You will find me personally when it is active once more.”

“But, the Dreadnought — system reports are suggesting mechanical failures across at least ten kilometers of the vessel’s hull. It will take weeks —”

“I don’t care about the Dreadnought.” A few flicks of the dash, and it became apparent that they’d not managed to maneuver enough to even make a dent in the protocols that would bring their systems back online. It was too big an endeavor; too ostentatious an attempt. “Find something more suitable, more easily maneuvered for the fleet rather than these grandiose monstrosities that can be split in half in ten seconds or less because they form too large a target,” he spat. “I would be the shadow rather than the thing that casts it.” For this, he added silently. For her —

His fingers formed a fist on the dash, and he spun away, back the way he came. A gesture and the guard broke away. 

“Keep your pets,” he told Hux, not waiting for a reply.

The guard didn’t follow, and the added silence was welcome. Only his footfalls followed him as he returned through the labyrinth to his newly adopted quarters. The former remained in ruins, the results of his return to this damnably slow, archaic station while the Resistance remained — away. Apart. Hidden from him.

The bristle of restless discomfort accompanied him, and that was enough: it wouldn’t do for anyone to see him pacing in the long hours. It made the litany of his thoughts an irritating sort of companionable chatter that swelled and ebbed with his temper. He swept inside, the saber discarded, the broken pieces of his helmet a reminder of his failure and the fractured sense of self in the aftermath of -- he hesitated, the thought forming from the void and breaking apart before he could register -- The loss. 

He discarded his cloak, tearing his gloves off.

The loss. That’s what it was. Not only in the sense of a failure tantamount to the disgrace of his forebears — every Sith Lord that ever looked to those same stars in the window before him, but a disgrace to his family legacy. His grandfather. The loss — the absence, that shallow pool of starlight that winked away from him, leaving the space beyond his reflection dark and silent and endlessly reaching.

The loss, because she had been so close; close enough to taste her breath, to feel her pressed against his back as they fought off the guard’s assault, to clasp his outstretched fingers if only she’d desired it. If only she could see that a shadow cast by a star against the face of a moon only shifted to accommodate the light as they traveled alongside one another.

Too much poetry for what it was.

A loss of potential and possibility that remained cold in the places where he couldn’t reach her: a different argument, a different tactic, a new approach — one of force rather than persuasion. 

He sat, loosening his collar, his buttons, pulling his shirt away from sore flesh leaving him feeling less like a god, less like the Supreme Leader he was, and more naked and alone than he was without his armaments.

Save for the hum of the station, the silence of galaxies remained. Between them, other worlds danced, brimmed over, and died in the span of time that took for him to take an unnaturally long breath. Reaching out with the force never stilled his soul, and why he expected anything should be different now — but he stretched out with his mind, though it pained him to return empty-handed, and felt only the void as it yawned between them.

He heard nothing. He felt nothing but the black. Space. The drone of the force and its unlimited potential. The power that dwelled in the places between him and everything else.

And from a distance, he heard it: almost missing the sound like a sighed breath. It shivered, painted ghostly with distance and impossibility. He turned his head, trying to catch it as it shimmered away from him, too delicate to hold:

Ben.”

He closed his eyes, the connection of the force-bond straining, trying to slip away, and closed his fist around it. It carried the perfume of engine grease and steam, sand and heat and dirt. Sweet sweat. The warmth of the all the suns.

Held on, feeling her drift between his fingers, daring to vanish like smoke. 

With his training incomplete, he’d never been able to engage the bond between them before: it skid like a cord over the notch it was meant to catch each time he tried. He felt it doing that now: moving back and forth but slipping away, ready to escape him again. 

He grit his teeth as if this were some new way to catch her, and opened his eyes. Crescents of red split the skin of his palms, and looking past them, he looked upon a floor in scuffed shades of grey — an ancient ship. Not his, though he knew it well: the gold dice that never belonged to him, dangling from a pipe; the split lightsaber that once belonged to Luke Skywalker, his uncle; and her — Rey. 

She slept on her back, her legs folded before her as if she’d slumped backward while meditating in her sleeping pod. Her palm splayed over her lower belly, fingers relaxed. The other hand rested on her chest as it rose and fell in restless dreams.

Her head tipped away from him, exposing the long column of her throat — pale, soft skin, her pulse steady beneath her skin. Closer, on silent feet, he leaned towards her — impossible that he should find her like this; so vulnerable and soft, so disarmed in slumber. Her eyelids moved lightly beneath the lids, chasing wonders that were kept far from him. A small smile tugged the corner of her mouth up, though it faded as quickly. 

He swallowed, uncertain that he’d heard it at all; that he’d imagined it.

When Rey turned her face to him, he didn’t move from where he’d braced himself against her sleeping pod, leaning in, curious at the impossibility of it all, curiouser that he could smell the heat of her skin off the blankets. She slept on.

She swallowed, the movement convulsive, and he remained rapt. It rose the hair on the back of his arms as she called to him once more in dreams, this time with sadness, “Ben.”

Chapter Text

She left him on Crait. Locked him out of her mind. Pushed him away as easily as shutting that door in his face, as if she were safe here — away from him. Rage curled in his chest, finding purchase in his ribs and clawing at him from the inside out. It shook his limbs, drawing the muscles taut across his back. He grit his teeth against it, but couldn’t stop the pulsing in his temples. Kylo Ren did not know the whys and wherefores — why she was here and not by his side. Why she turned her mind from him. Why she wouldn’t readily admit that she felt their sameness too. Why she couldn’t feel their destinies tangled as hopelessly as he could.

His vision narrowed to a tunneled point.

Why Rey couldn’t see it for herself: they remained on two sides of a darkened mirror, looking between each other and finding not where their parts and pieces aligned, but only their absent potential, impossible to fulfill when apart.

She did this to him. She forced him to find a way back through their bond because she refused to see everything that he could: all those endless possibilities of the world before them. Theirs. Their own. Fashioned as they would have liked. Bent to their wills.

Like his parents, she’d abandoned him. Shut him out.

Instead, he would do it without her. He would cleave her from his world entirely, and with Rey gone, he’d smother the last of the light that threatened to shine into those dark places that wanted to unfurl inside him — to stretch at their leisure.

If you destroy what once was, you can be reborn of something new. He could carve it out of her, refashion her into whatever he desired if he willed it. His hand snapped out, fingers reaching, the force stretching farther than his flesh — and something in him quaked at the speed of it. Kylo Ren clenched his fingers, and his saber snapped to him from across the room, striking his palm with a force that left it stinging. Snoke’s last lesson to him: claim his birthright.

Still, she slumbered. Surely, she must have heard the scrape of metal and the crack as he caught the weapon. Surely, she could feel him so close: seeing her like this, legs unfolded, the skin of her stomach peeking from between the folds of fabric she wrapped around herself, the line of her collarbone as delicate and as impossible to him as the way she smiled in her sleep — remembering some kindness, perhaps — some moment in which she never knew how much it hurt to breathe for fear that she might wake.

How much it hurt to wait for her to open her eyes and see him.

The moments stretched, turning into an ache as he remained taut and still above her. Sound carried in the hallways of the Millennium Falcon. His thumb hovered over the button that would draw the blade. Someone would come. Someone who would see them like this, and he — hesitated.

His fingers left sweaty smears down his saber, it’s willingness to respond to his command making his arm shake with the force of his weakening control over it. If the saber was an extension of his will, his needs, it didn’t help that it could differentiate desire from demand: it wanted to taste her flesh.

He was sweating. His mouth was dry. And he stayed his hand, recalling for just one moment that he’d woken one night to find Luke hovering over him just like this.

She snuffled, her lips parting, and his grip on the hilt of his saber as he turned it towards her turned his knuckles white, the tendons in his arm standing out. He blinked, flinching away from the tremor in his arm, fighting to control two conflicting desires — one that remained unnamed, and the other that only wanted the pain to stop. He saw the inside of the ship with a second set of eyes, bleary with sleep, knowing that three days had passed and nothing had come of the constant, driving need to continue checking over his shoulder. Discomfort in the bones that wasn’t his. A softness he wasn’t used to that shrouded his strength. Calloused hands. Scuffs on his knees and elbows. Strange bruises. A different world that smelled of wookie and blaster oil.

Fresh bread. A single portion. His only meal in two days of scavenging.

Then finally, desperately, hunched over an indecipherable collection of tomes written in cryptic, ancient tongues, nursing a broken lightsaber and not knowing what else to do — he saw himself in her eyes. It was just a flash of feeling and sound, a desperate thought that tightened his chest, made his eyes burn — not his eyes. Hers: that image superimposed upon himself and doubled back so that he understood this picture she painted of him from fresh memories:

Not the lanky, pale, hateful thing he’d become. Not the monster, but the man:

Scarred marble, fierce beneath the blue light of her saber, eyes ablaze and possessing a graze that he himself didn’t think he understood. This was how she saw him as he fought back their enemies at her side. This presence. This body. This man —

Ben?”

Rey’s lips parted, pink and soft, the sound breaking into a sigh. He watched her throat move, and something stirred in his chest, creeping from his stomach to his chest, and settling there: shame.

Ben turned away, shutting his eyes against it as he took another step. He didn’t like how she made him feel this hollow. He didn’t like how this image of him that she carried tightened his chest. How she wouldn’t wake for him, or how bad he wanted to press his fingertips to her throat to feel her pulse flutter under his hand when he grazed a thumb under her chin. How he couldn’t stop wondering, for everything he could pull from the walls of mind and memory, what her lips tasted like because she herself didn’t know.

Rey’s hand moved, dipping below her belly button in sleep and dream and comfort. He fled, turning away from her, shutting down the bond with a force that welted a wall in his chamber as he returned to his ship. He followed the buckling metal with his fist, his lightsaber forgotten.

On the Millenium Falcon, Rey’s eyes snapped open, her room cold. Heart hammering, she tried to place the sound in the distance: knuckles striking metal siding. Disoriented, she didn’t understand the snarl of pain that followed, or the dead hum of silence that reminded her of where she was, nor that she was alone.

 

Chapter Text

The knuckles of her right hand gave a twinge of pain. A glance at the wall beside her didn't reveal any clues, and she flexed her fist, frowning at the strange, phantom sensation as it faded. She wiped her face, distant sounds from down the corridor pulling her awake fully. A squawk, followed by one of Chewie's longer, louder complaints about the prevalence of Porgs that he couldn't eat. Other voices passing in a muffled hush.

Nothing was amiss, but the sensation that something wasn't right lingered.

Down the hall: footsteps. Two pairs.

"Rey? You up?" Poe. He wouldn't come in unannounced, but his proximity made her hurry: the stack of Jedi volumes she'd left scattered around amidst the parts from Luke's lightsaber made her uncomfortable in a way that made it seem like she'd been caught, somehow — like advertising it made it that much worse with Luke gone. Knowing he was at peace was one thing, but how did you explain that to a bunch of people who didn't feel his departure in the same way that she did?

"Just a minute," she called back. She had two minutes. Tops.

"There's food in the galley. Still hot." Something muffled. "Gotta talk about —" Something.

She flung herself from the bunk, gathering the books and tucking them away into the drawer for later. An edge of a smaller volume slipped from between one of the larger covers, dropping to the floor with a dull thud. Red. Rey paused, glancing at the dirt-caked surface. Black ink, old markings in a language she couldn't understand. She frowned, flicking open the cover with a thumb and glancing at the writing on the inside. Cut markings, glyphs, and a script that made her squint. When her finger grazes the hieroglyphics, she jerked. The sensation lingered, tingling in her hand. The cave. It's dark swell. She blinked, and the image cleared.

Rey shifted, dropping to a crouch over the book, wary, suddenly, of its contents. This was no Jedi tome. She licked her lips, bracing, and extended her fingers above it to reach with her feelings a little more gently. What echoed back to her came not from the book — not even from the room — but from across the systems. How far were they from Acht-to? She didn't know, but she felt the darkness in this room as readily as she had in the cave beneath the Jedi temple. Its familiarity didn't scare her, and she didn't understand why that was. All she'd found in that cave was herself. Was that supposed to be what she feared the most?

A silence in her mind, echoing around her head as a reminder of something that she thought she ought to recognize: it drifted so close and felt so familiar to her, that it was a moment before she felt the twinge of missing it — whatever it was. Rey frowned.

"Rey!" Finn this time. "Thirty-second warning if you're not dressed."

Hastily, Rey folded it back into the larger volume, shutting the door on the lot of it. The saber parts were another matter and would keep her preoccupied later. Shaken, she wiped the back of her sleeve across her mouth and swiped at her forehead for good measure. It blotted a cold sweat that sprang out on her brow. A Sith Grimoire. Why did Master Luke have such a thing in his possession? Why would anyone keep it? It wasn't that Luke Skywalker having such an article in his possession upset her — it was that the books, the repair work she didn't know how to even begin, and the sheer, unwieldy impossibility being one of a pair that remained open to the Force at all was teetering on a ledge just over her head, and she didn't know where to begin to escape from under it before it all came crashing down.

"Rey?" Poe was just around the bend. She could hear the smile in his voice. See the flash of white teeth.

She stood too quickly, catching herself on the table. Her knuckles twinged again, and she winced.

"Sleeping funny again?" Poe asked as he appeared in the doorway. Jovial, bright. He walked with a bounce in his step. Finn, behind him, gave her a look that said he was just as uncomfortable with these new developments as her.

"Food's up," he managed, but Rey didn't miss the surly downturn of his mouth. "Meeting Rose," he explained. That and the slope of his shoulders told her enough. "I'll see you guys down there."

She raised an eyebrow at Poe, who shrugged. "He asked for advice," he explained.

"And I suppose you regaled him with stories of your daring do and unrivaled prowess?" she tossed back. She turned from him, trying to rearrange her expression in such a way that hid the quickness to her breath, the too bright greeting a little too brittle around the edges.

He smirked, lifting a shoulder as if to say she'd caught him. "Just tryin' to be helpful. Hey —" He caught her shoulder, pulling her back before she could slide around him. "Everything okay? You're looking a little —"

"Sleep-deprived," she finished for him, laughing without humor. "Sometimes, I have these —" Rey stopped herself from saying 'dreams', because they weren't — not exactly. It felt like it in the way that they lingered, but unlike dreams, they were often only fractured bits of the whole picture. More of a sense impression than an actual image she could recall. This one, however, sounded a whole lot like someone she didn't want to mention around Poe. Not yet.

She carried him with her: that extra layer superimposed on everything that made her want to look over her shoulder — as if she could feel Ben just there; beyond where she couldn't follow —

Rey waved it off, giving him a small smile. "It's nothing, just over-tired."

Something shifted in his expression, like he knew a shadow hovered at the edge of her consciousness, but she wasn't comfortable enough vocalizing what it was. She rubbed her fingers between her knuckles, absently collecting the lightsaber components into a pile.

Poe's gaze drifted to the various pieces, lingering on the kyber crystal a little too long.

"Just don't get too wound up, okay? We're just getting started." He nodded at the door, motioning that she should follow. "Leia's got news." He sized her up, and Rey froze. Could he tell? Did Poe know that she'd fallen asleep thinking about Ben, and the very first thing she'd done upon waking was to find a hidden Sith grimoire tucked amongst Luke's ancient Jedi lore?

Poe didn't notice her discomfort. He nodded, giving her a shrug. "I didn't want you to be caught off guard, but it's no secret that you-know-who is preparing to show up on our doorstep any day now. The General's made some contacts, and it looks like we'll be taking on some new troops. New ships. More breathing room. More weapons. More personnel. More people that stand for the cause. That's all great news." He shook his head. "But there's a beat circuiting the mid rim territories — the First Order is rebuilding that Dreadnought. They are going to get their tracking systems back online, or worse, get their hyperspace tunneling just right, and we're going to have to deal with them directly."

Rey assembled the pieces, trying to better organize them, but not knowing how: she'd scavenged her entire life, trying to make something out of nothing, and here lay a bunch of broken bits of history that she couldn't figure out how to reassemble into something usable. It kept her hands busy, besides.

"There is a large target on your back and it's bright red, Rey," he continued. "Bright red and blinking, even. On all our backs, but yours in particular."

When Kylo Ren sent his entire armada after you and they missed their target, you could be sure that there was a grudge or two waiting to be chucked about.

"I know."

He put a reassuring hand on hers, and she stilled: a reflexive coiling in the mind, spreading through her chest with a calm surety she was beginning to know much better each day that passed. When their eyes met, she felt the Force's ebb roll around him. It was evident that Poe was unaware of it, but like looking into a pit, you could often be sure that it stared back at you. Not that Poe was a pit. Rey flinched at herself. Poe didn't notice, but he didn't take back his hand either.

"It's gotten around that you murdered Snoke. At least, that's what he's telling everyone."

She dropped the pile, exhaled sharply. Poe held on, searching. She gripped him back. "He," she repeated. "He said that I killed Snoke?"

"I know you didn't. But that's Kylo Ren's claim: that you murdered their first Supreme Commander."

"Leader," she corrected.

"Whatever—"

"—And the new administration that wants payback. I get it." She gave him a too-tight smile. "I should be flattered: it's not just that the entirety of the First Order is content to show up on our doorstep at any minute, it's that they're doing it for my benefit. A perfect nobody. Unimportant." Ben's words. Kylo's words — she mentally corrected herself.

He searched her face. "They'll come for all of us, and we will all stand together, Rey. This is not a 'you versus the First Order' and its minions."

She surveyed the pile before her, trying to push the weight of it back a little, along with the feeling that his assessment wasn't completely right. "I know."

"Come on," he said. "Let's go eat." The tug he gave her made her balk. On instinct, she gripped the edge of the table, and Poe's fingers slipped away.

When Poe continued to stare at her, he added cautiously, "Just giving you a head's up. The General is going to go over all of this a bit more diplomatically —"

"I appreciate it — your candor. It was very direct," she cut him off, nodding and giving him a frown, but still nodding and frowning as if she couldn't stop her head from bobbing. Ben — Kylo — had pinned Snoke's death on her. It was leverage enough to convince the entire First Order fleet to come after her, but she hadn't put two and two together. She thought he'd been throwing his weight around, but it made sense: he'd need to tell them something, considering the pair of them had taken out the entirety of the Praetorian Guard.

That didn't quench the bitter aftertaste of the lie. She didn't know why it should, either, except that she'd hoped for something more from him.

"Rey?"

Something better, perhaps.

Rey swallowed. "Sorry, I guess I'm not very hungry."

Poe ducked his head, assessing. The look he wore had a shrewd keenness to it that made her insides flip-flop. She turned away.

"Okay." He took a step back, holding his hands defensively before him. "He said you took out the entirety of his guard too. Single-handed." He raised an eyebrow, daring her to disagree.

"That's really —" She wanted to laugh, really: laugh until her sides split, or someone saw fit to strap her into restraints — tie her arms behind her back and cram her into a padded sleeping pod so she wouldn't hurt herself from being so insanely fierce. "That's flattering." She shook her head at the pile, picking up a bit of pipe and flipping it over in the air. She brandished it. "Likely won't manage it again if I can't figure out how to reassemble this heap, though."

He nodded, giving her a deferring smile as he left her to her work.

"Let me know if you want some company later," he called over his shoulder.

Rey exhaled, deflating as Poe's footsteps faded. She sat heavily, pushing around the saber parts to better slump across the table, her hands tugging her hair back, yanking at her scalp.

She wiped dirt down her face, not realizing it until she glanced at her palms. The saber parts needed a good cleaning. She swallowed, turning away, looking outward but not seeing anything in particular — not that she was trying to focus.

What else had Ben lied about? He'd let her walk out of Snoke's boudoir with almost dejected deference. If anything, the look on his face had made it that much worse: he hadn't put up a fight, as if he'd expected her to walk away to begin with. The worst thing — the worst thing — was that she almost hadn't, if only to persuade him.

Rey swallowed, pulling her lip into her mouth and shaking off the burning feeling in the corners of her eyes.

She exhaled, forced a laugh, and wiped her nose with a sniff.

She needed to focus. How the hell did someone assemble a lightsaber? What kind of tools did you even use to get the fiddly bits in alignment? Rey shook herself, fighting off the urge to fidget as she tried to focus on the disparate pieces that had no seemingly matching connectors.

She could disassemble and reassemble the hyperdrive motivator in under an hour, but this thing made her headache in a way that she was unfamiliar with. It was obvious that the parts would align with each other, nestle together — switches and toggles and cast links, but it wouldn't hold. She tried screwing, twisting, pushing, and winding two seemingly-corresponding bits of tube that might've fit on the inside, before dropping them to the table's surface and stretching her fingers out. They trembled.

He'd let her leave. He'd given her no choice, but he hadn't fought for her to stay. Hadn't forced her.

Rey massaged her neck, shutting her eyes against the tension gathered there. Behind closed eyelids, she could picture what it must have looked like: he would have faked an injury, otherwise Ben — Kylo — might've been implicated in Snoke's death. Her eyes snapped open, trying to push away the strange shift in perspective that rose in her mind's eye at the thought: Ben lying on the ground while General Hux approached, eyes slit and feeling the shift in the Force as Hux shuffled through his clothes for a weapon.

There was a particular silence on the Millennium Falcon, heavy with possibility: the stir of things unseen but ever-present, like the air carried a certain weight of consequence. Rey's eyes snapped open. Somewhere, distantly: laughter. Not hers, but definitely in her head.

Chapter Text

The Jedi might’ve been dead and gone for the better part of thirty years, officially dead as of late, but it appeared that they would stay that way at the rate Rey was mastering her padawan skills. The last image he had of her before forcing himself to turn away included an inverted diatium power cell, inserted into cycling field energizers by hand. She’d blow herself up and spare him the trouble if she kept on the way she was.

That thought sobered him. It smothered his good mood entirely and became a nagging itch that triggered his brooding, which became a relentless pacing, which became a purposeful march towards the hangar as a picture in his mind began to congeal into something that resembled a portent.

“Don’t touch the crystals together,” he thought at her viciously. In fact, he might’ve said it out loud, startling a guard out of his way. The picture of Rey he held through the bond wavered and then disappeared entirely, but by that point — he was pissed.

The elation he felt knowing Rey wasn’t aware that their force bond snapped back into place when her consciousness slumbered was short-lived. It lasted exactly three seconds, and the smile felt foreign on his face, which in turn made him uncomfortable enough to seek out Hux and divulge exactly the route he’d stopped considering and was planning on acting on. Immediately. Right fucking now.

He stopped, the Force sighing around him in a way that could signal nothing good. He felt her at his back, his side — before him even. At all times, she was there with him: a shadow, ever-present and moving about her own life, going about her own business while thinking her absence wasn’t felt, nor her presence known.

Oh, he felt it, alright. It never relented. 

The turn of her head to reveal her profile was a first, however: he hadn’t expected that. Rey stopped what she was doing, ceasing mid-air with two kyber crystals held aloft between her fingertips. She frowned, tensing. 

He stopped laughing, though even in his mind, the sound echoed. 

This was a thin place: when her focus became so narrowed that the wall she’d erected between them stammered. 

There had been other occasions too: If he turned his head just so, if he hung back enough and drew up a veil of disinterest, he remained undetected — he could peer in and catch a moment where she repaired her ship, or took her meals by herself, or sat alone and puzzling over why she couldn’t make the pieces of that lightsaber fit together while something oppressive settled on her shoulders. He knew the feeling; it was a shift in the color of her emotions that smacked of familiarity: the frustration of failure that added slightly more weight to the shoulders. It drags you down. 

Their differences kept her from placing a hand on her shoulder. If she knew he was there, she didn’t turn to him. It was just as well. Explaining to her that she needed to reach out with her feelings — to use the force to draw the delicate components back into alignment to reassemble the saber, rather than her base tools — it would cost him. 

A few minutes of this became a few hours, which became a few days with erratic but unerring frequency — and he, hopeless, impossibly fascinated, continued to watch her, waiting — either for her to acknowledge him, which she didn’t, or to give herself away. That she might slip and reveal the location of the resistance while the Order’s trackers remained offline kept him rapt. It kept him from sleeping. It made his ears ring with mounting certainty that soon, she would reveal herself. 

Sometimes that wall she’d slammed up between them had chinks. Sometimes it wavered because she wasn’t able to focus enough to ensure that it remained intact, in place, barring him from peering into her life and at those around her. Without proper training, what did she expect? The wall was strong but inconsistent because she was strong but undisciplined. In those moments, he found her clearly before she vanished on him again, and he was left breathing hard, irritable, and struggling to regain control of his baser impulses: 

Smash a console. Carve a long scar into the hull of the ship. Crush this godforsaken hunk of metal, jump into his ship, and promptly trip through hyperspace to arrive squarely on top of the Millennium Falcon when she least expected it so he could disembowel that swarthy orange jumpsuit-wearing neanderthal before the idiot could draw his blaster.

To be fair, that only happened once. The swarthy orange jumpsuit-wearing neanderthal appeared unannounced and placed a hand on hers. Before he could stop himself, he’d flung the door of his chambers straight into the hall, clear through the antechamber, and into the elevator. 

It had taken a further half hour to steady himself, but the blade of his lightsaber as he hacked his way through the floor to get off the level he was on remained a crackling, barely-contained explosion of activity for the rest of the day as if it were a reflection of his inner hostility. He’d retained one important bit, however: 

He’d gathered their location based on a drifting thought, left by the pilot — a fact he might’ve been paying attention to sooner, were it not for the fact that the parts of her soul he’d failed to see demonstrated more than just simple tenacity. Stubborn woman. She couldn’t ignore him forever. She must feel the pull too — like a dull throb just under the solar plexus that left him shaky and uncertain and preoccupied.

He swept open the doors to the hangar with a gesture. The infantry was doing drills. Some unloading munitions or cargo or preparing for drills. More than usual. More than he was accustomed too — Hux’s toys.

And Hux himself — a tiny pinprick dot on the radar of his awareness, moving infinitely closer, following him. 

“Supreme Leader!” Hux continued to bite off the words of his newly minted title.

Hux had no sense of propriety. No respect. 

“What — what are you doing?” Hux called after him.

He didn’t stop, but turned, loosening his fist through his fingers wanted to curl into a vice. He would someday snag Hux by the neck, haul him three feet into the air, and leave him there to dangle as the air locked in his lungs and he crushed his trachea without laying so much as a finger on him. Hux quickened his step to catch up. 

“I am doing exactly what you cannot,” he murmured. “Ready my ship for departure,” he said to an attendant. 

“And the fleet with it,” Hux sputtered. He could hear the implied, “Over my dead body,” to which he fixed Hux with a stare intended to quail him. While he wavered, the downturn of Hux’s mouth stuck. 

“What are you doing down here?” he asked Hux instead. 

A whisper in the Force, a furling as tension wound through the General, signaling the preparation for a lie, a half-truth. Hux lifted his chin. “Routine inspection.”

He turned to him, sweeping with sure steps towards him, towering as he drew to full height to hover over the General. Shoulder to shoulder, he stared down his nose, letting the fury seep from him into the air and allowing it to settle over Hux like a mantle. Hux was wound tightly enough that he nearly missed the frisson that shivered through him as he uncoiled his power.

Hux followed him. A glance to the left revealed two troopers — members of the guard assigned to follow their Supreme Leader. Spies.

“I’ve come to a conclusion,” he said beneath his breath. “I’ve seen the girl.” He omitted how the creeping motive beneath his excuse to mount an all-out assault wouldn’t stop him from bringing every Tie-fighter available halfway across the galaxy in a heartbeat. “I intend to follow her, get closer to her, and bring the entirety of the resistance to their knees when they least expect it, but I require discretion. I require stealth. I require arms.” He stared down Hux fully. “I do not require your permission.”

“I am in charge of this fleet,” Hux countered. “I ensure its success, and I determine the correct course of action under circumstances where we are at a disadvantage because of our technical deficiencies —”

Kylo flung his arm out, the ripple of power thrown from his extended hand sending a wave through the ranks of stormtroopers marching drills before it struck the siding of a docked convoy. The side of the convoy buckled from the slap of power thrown against it. With a grinding, shuddering shriek, Kylo bore down on it, the wave of power cresting through the crowd, scattering the troopers like falling dominos as the ship ground in an arc towards the bay’s doors.

“And I will bring the resistance down in spite of it,” he ground out. 

Hux blanched, his eyes widening. 

“Be at the ready to follow at my command.” 

He maintained his stride, moving swiftly without anyone following him: rather, the crowd parted as he swept to his TIE Silencer. The command ship required a crew which Hux was not yet willing to part. Before he crushed the remaining ships like tin cans, he took his leave. A silence descended on him — opening into a chasm to which he was all too familiar. No one could see this, but if there were a single Force-sensitive for miles, they would feel him tearing the Force barrier that separated him from Rey off its hinges. They would feel him hammering a fist against it — the sound echoing with a ferocity through the systems. 

The world swam, redoubling on itself as he turned away, reaching with his mind — his feelings, that part of his heart that sang to the stars, still. It hummed in his bones, growing in intensity as he touched the Force, clutching that thin veil that separated him from her. It felt like gossamer. It felt like starshine. Like nothing at all.

The door to his ship shut behind him, and Kylo Ren allowed her a glance at the world as he knew it; at the stars ahead of him as he threw himself into his seat. All that ever-reaching starlight that lit the world in darkness. He flung open the door between them, left it wide — let her see what was coming for her. 

Her presence in his mind cut him as much as the feel of her beside him once more. 

“Hello, Rey.”

Her inhalation was short — sharp. He could feel her through the bond; how she balled her fists, her joints whitening around the stave she’d carried since Jakku. Tension prickled along the back of his neck like a caress — her attention turned to him at last. He felt her try to force the bond between them closed. The scent of her engulfed him, and he drew his resolve against it. 

“Stop struggling,” he said shortly. “The door swings both ways between us. You close it, I leave it open, you walk through because you can’t help yourself. You still have hope.” He flipped the ready switch, the garbled clearance unnecessarily noisy beneath Rey’s breathing. “Works both ways, apparently: you close it, you fall asleep, the door creaks open an inch. It’s enough, it seems, for me to hear you whisper my name in your slumber across the galaxy.”

“I want you out,” she snapped. “Get out of my head.”

He turned to her in profile — a grey ghost in the shadows of the ship and his mind. He felt her will push against him, brushing against him like a wall. He shut his eyes too briefly, relishing it, the flavor of her persuasion dappled in outright hostility.

His tone level, he returned, “Get out of mine.”

He repeated the coordinates to the ship’s proximity locator, and Rey gasped, “No!” 

They registered on-screen a moment later, but she was already gone. He could hear her footsteps echoing hollowly as she ran through her Falcon, shouting orders to mobilize. The enemy had found them. He was coming.

Chapter Text

Her footfalls clanged through the hall as she whipped around a corner, grabbing Finn and hauling him with her.

"What? Rey!"

She took the corner too tightly, clipping her shoulder. She cracked the wall with her knuckles and didn't stop. Rey let go of Finn, throwing herself into the cockpit behind Chewbacca and upsetting several of his new friends. Porgs scattered, though one remained scuttling around her feet. She kicked it out of the way. Chewbacca's bray of protest made her flinch.

Chewie said something hastily into his comms device, pawing at it to turn it off. A hologram of Maz Kanata flickered out as Rey flung herself into the cockpit. Rey barely registered it.

"Incoming TIEs — at least one, but maybe more," she shouted back at Finn, who caught himself behind her on the chair. "They're on their way. Tell the General! Chewie, we need to jump to hyperspace —"

"General Leia's not here!" Finn cut her off. "She was collected by the away shuttle a half hour ago — she was going to meet the diplomatic emissary for Mandalore to negotiate an agreement —"

"Where's Poe?" she demanded, slapping the button to prime the thrusters. She knew the answer already: he'd accompanied the General. There was no one on the Falcon except for them. They were on their own.

Rey slammed the dash.

Chewbacca swiveled in his chair, informing her if she broke anything, she would be the one fixing it.

"Get on comms! Find the General and tell her attack is imminent," she barked. "Finn, get on the guns. The First Order is about to pay us a visit through hyperspace —"

"But we're cloaked," he protested. "How did they find us?"

She flipped several dials, strapping herself into the chair. "The cloak's not good enough. He knows we're here — exactly where we are because he knows exactly where I am."

"He?! Kylo Ren?" Finn shouted.

Chewie snarled something that overtook her reply that gave her pause. She hesitated only a second — a second too long to throw a look in the wookie's direction. His face remained impassive, not being the most expressive of species, but she thought she saw his lips press together into a thin line around his teeth. The next sound he made was one of pain — the deep sort.

"I know," she said, her teeth grit. She felt it in her chest too; it was just a flash of something from long ago, siphoned through the force: a single image that whipped away from her mind's eye too quickly. A small baby with wisps of black hair, and large, dark brown eyes, held gently in Chewbacca's enormous arms. "I'm sorry."

The spike of sadness stopped midway down her throat. She swallowed it and jammed the thrusters, priming them for the jump. Chewbacca made no more complaints about his long-lost godson after that. Finn, however, had other ideas.

"That's impossible — I was just talking to Poe about it. He adapted the shields to better hide us — General's orders —" Finn continued. He switched to the radio. Rey could hear him strapping himself in.

"Finn! Just trust me!" Her voice was steady, but she remained shaken. Explaining to Finn that it was her fault Kylo Ren was so easily able to track them across the system because of their shared Force-bond was the last thing she wanted to outline when it was apparent that Ben was about to put that vulnerability to use any second.

Chewie said something about the chain of command and how Han preferred the shoot first, talk later approach, but Rey fixed him with a look that only garnered a final warble of complaint.

He didn't mean it. She felt as much. "Evasive maneuvers, then," she suggested instead. "Finn, don't engage unless you have to —"

"What?!" Finn barked. "That low-life, good-for-nothing, self-aggrandizing big head is the reason we're running from the First Order at all. He's the reason half the system is looking for you right now —"

"General Organa," she said into the mic, flipping the broadcast switch. "Our location has been jeopardized. Requesting reinforcements immediately —"

The blast knocked the Falcon from the starboard side, rocking them in their seats. Chewie swore, and the armaments swung as the TIE looped them. She caught a glimpse of Ben in the pilot's seat — not with her eyes, but with another sense: his brow was furrowed, his eyes dark and determined.

"Punch it," she shouted at Chewie — that lingering thought of Ben as a boy chasing her as she felt Finn swing the cannon around to face his ship. The sound caught in her throat, vocalized by Chewbacca as a complaint — a resolute, "Don't shoot him."

What the hell else were they supposed to do when fired on? How could they not retaliate?

Chewbacca had the answer: Take him out of commission. Put him on the ground.

Laser fire clipped the Falcon, and Chewie swerved to evade. The entirety of the ship rocked with it as the TIE barrel rolled, coming up their starboard side.

"I've got him!" Finn yelled, and something struck Rey in the side. She rocked with the jolt of it, tipping sideways in her seat. Chewie remained upright, though he turned to glance at her, asking what was wrong.

Rey couldn't explain it — it was as if she'd felt the Falcon's blast clipping her through the Force connection — it was if she was feeling their own assault as Ben did when Finn fired on him. Heat rose in her face, her knuckles whitening around the handles.

"Something's wrong," she managed.

Reinforcements weren't coming.

"General Organa —" she tried again, shouting into the comm, but her vision spotted over.

Chewie said something about a nearby planet's moon making a good hideout, but Rey didn't hear it: the drone of white noise filled her head, her mouth cottoning. She blinked once, too long, and the world went black as the Force bond took over.

Her fingers grazed across a wall — a mirror — glass and stone. Rey gasped, and she was back in the Falcon. It shook with the force of another blast taken from the TIE.

Ben. It was as if she could reach out and touch the wall between them when she shut her eyes. She felt it like the stoic challenge it was: just try and break me, he seemed to beckon.

Chewbacca snarled as Finn took aim: the TIE was ahead of them. Chewie could clip his wing and send him into the moon's atmosphere; the craft would crash, and that would be the end of it, along with the end of Ben. The Falcon was faster, its guns as accurate as the TIE. Where was Ben's fleet? Where was the First Order?

The Falcon jostled, pitching them sideways as Chewie made a decisive call and pulled upwards on the controls; a deliberate decision meant to throw off both Finn's aim, as well as their enemy's.

Finn yelled something indeterminate into the comms system, and Rey — her eyes on the back of the Tie — acted on instinct: she reached with her mind, her eyes fluttering shut as Ben looped backward on them, a stream of fire arcing towards them as he turned his ship to face them.

Chewie pointed the Falcon towards the moon's surface, and the TIE followed, screaming after them.

The Force whispered in her ears, a stillness sliding through her limbs as Rey found herself weightless, floating above herself, gravity no longer governing her body. She turned, finding him just behind her, his hands fisted around the controls. The world as she knew it redoubled on itself as the Falcon swung into view and she caught a glimpse of herself in the cockpit. 

"Ben," she whispered. He veered the ship left, and stars whirled before them, turning to the thin veil of the moon's atmosphere. The world flashed green and gold, and they burst into the evening over a green carpet of mountains below.

"Ben is dead," he said. "His blood is on your hands."

She shook her head. Though his voice was even, his heart betrayed him: she saw the uncertainty buried within him — such a simple thing, to have hope for something more than what he was offered; more than what he had.

"You don't want to hurt my friends," she said, her voice even and echoing. Her gaze lidded with a calm she couldn't feel within her physical body. "You're not here for them."

Above them: shadows across the sky. The First Order fleet had arrived to lend their support to the pursuit. She heard gunfire in the distance, the scream of an X-Wing as reinforcements arrived.

Ben resisted. Little more than a hand against the chest, it felt like his outstretched fingers stopped her from reaching for him through their bond.

"Persuasion like that works only on feebler minds," he said through grit teeth.

The Falcon cut over the canopy, and the TIE followed, whipping back trees as he descended, accelerating to overtake her ship.

The TIE bucked as it spun to the moon's surface. Enormous trees rose on either side, the Falcon vanishing as it swung towards the heavens once more. Ben did not follow. He eased the controls into a rapid descent, cutting into a wide clearing and whipping back to follow.

"It will not work on me, Rey."

He lifted his hand, and Rey rocked back in her seat in the Falcon — forced out of Ben's mindscape as easily as he might've thrown her out a hangar door. The sensation of falling preceded the jolt and snap of her teeth cracking together as her head snapped back into her seat on the Falcon. Her ears rang with it.

Pain pulsed behind her eyes. The world spun, uncertain which way was up and which was down.

Chewbacca snarled her name, and again. The tips of her fingertips had slipped from the steering gear and had bashed limply against her chair as Chewbacca maintained control over the Falcon. You blacked out, he told her. You were completely gone.

She shook her head, trying to shake it off. Too late.

"I was right here —"

He told her to focus; to get her head back in the game. He couldn't fly this bucket by himself with that maniac chasing them.

She turned her face to Chewie, her eyes rolling. Rey sucked in a breath and swallowed, the violence of the Falcon's sharp turns leaving her short of breath as she tried to shake it off.

"I just need a moment —"

They didn't have one to spare, he growled. Rey stole only a heartbeat as her eyes shut.

She might've slipped from her harness, tumbling heels over head into that darkness that waited for her, falling to her knees behind Ben in his cockpit as her Force-self slammed straight into the glass wall that separated his mind from her, and she brought her fists down through it in one fierce arc. She tumbled into him, their Force bond pulled taut as in the outside world, the TIE clipped a tree and with the pair of them together, the ship spun to the forest floor.

Rey gripped Ben's body, his wide, dark eyes surprised even as she shielded him from the crash with her Force body. His mental armaments shattered, Rey reached with her mind, pulling him to her, protecting him from the harm that slashed at the TIE's windows and gouged its hull.

They came to a stop in the mulch of the forest floor, leaving a long path gouged in the TIE's wake. It smoked amongst the trees.

The world around them shifted, growing silent — growing still.

Rey let go, breathing hard, tears streaming as she staggered away. The frailty of the bond that held them pulled taut, snapping back into place as if Ben himself reached back to grab her hand.

In the distance, she felt her own body wrench as the Falcon dipped into the trees, careening over the treeline and then down — down to the forest floor and grinding to an uncomfortable, unplanned halt in a clearing several miles west.

"You shouldn't have done that," Ben said.

The man who rose to face her in the cavernous room of their shared bond was someone else. He drew his saber to cut through the darkness between them, and facing each other, they stood in the silence of a singular, suspended moment before he raised his blade.

Chapter Text

Ten feet between them and the sound of their breathing echoed in the small space, ragged and harsh. The glow of his saber lit a fire in her eyes.

"This is a first," he said, though the sound echoed as if they were apart from the world — the forest moon, painted grey as their Force bond sung around them, offered only mist and shadows. His lightsaber painted the cramped interior red — a color of old associated with blood and flame. "You've always drawn first," he remarked. "If this is what the Resistance is teaching its disciples, I'd be surprised if any of you survived a fortnight."

Rey took a step back, her hands empty. Another step and her shoulders would strike the viewport, trapping her.

"Where is your saber, Rey?" He couldn't keep the hint of laughter from his voice. It curled his mouth at the corners. His blade crackled — red and erratic, bathing them both in crimson light.

"I'm not here to fight you," she said.

No, she was here to save him from himself.

"That's a half-truth," he said. "You haven't been able to fix it. I've been watching you. I know that you haven't managed to reassemble it, much less repair the damages to the components."

"I want to talk," she said. "Before you do something you'll regret."

She swallowed, her foot placement deliberate as they circled each other as he descended. She wet her lip, her eyes dancing, chasing his gaze. The pair of them in this enclosed space — this wasn't real. It didn't feel real enough to him, and it wouldn't until she was dead at his feet — the consequences wrought of her choices; the consequences of being unable to regret how far apart they actually were from each other. Five feet might've been a hundred lightyears.

He shook his head, his gaze never leaving hers. "I have no further regrets — only that I didn't let Snoke kill you when he was trying to crush your mind along with your will —"

"You don't mean that," she returned. "You're lying. I can feel it — It's the same conflict you've always had, Ben: I've felt it within you before. You keep trying to force something by trying to convince yourself that if you believe in something enough, it'll make it true. It doesn't work like that. You can't put on a mask and decide that there's nothing left of who you were. You can take a new name, you can hide your face, but you can't hide yourself. Not from me."

"When Snoke first connected us, do you remember that I couldn't see where you were: it was only you. Nothing else," he said quietly. Kylo Ren raised his lightsaber, descending to the platform to meet her. Rey raised her chin. "Something's changed. The stronger we become, the more definition there is to our shared reality through the Force. I knew it when I drew away from you while you'd gone to find Luke. It was raining."

"It was the sea," she snapped. "It was the splash of saltwater. I was standing on a cliff face when you found me. The waves were slamming into the island side."

He nodded, slowly. "Interesting how this bridge between us works, don't you think? That these moments only seem together strength the more we share of ourselves with each other."

"I'm not afraid of you, Ben. Not like this." She held her ground. She understood the implied threat. The lightsaber, pointed at her, did not waver even as he advanced another step.

"Aren't you curious, Rey? If we were to do more than just touch like this? What do you think might happen if one of us were to bleed?"

She shook her head, balling her hands into fists. Her frown threatening to turn into a torrent of emotion.

"You saved me from Snoke. You won't kill me now."

"I killed Snoke because he believed I would never be as strong as Darth Vader," he spat. "I am stronger than Vader — more powerful with each day that passes. That Snoke couldn't see it was his greatest failing, and in the end, it killed him."

She shook her head, her mouth taking a determined set. "I can feel the untruth in your words, even if you can't see it yourself." She lifted her hand to him, palm up, her fingers steady. "Ben, please. This is so much bigger than you or I - than us."

It was a long moment before he could choke down the rising tide that buffered him. Such a simple gesture to extend, even now — as if she had yet to give up even after all that had transpired.

"When I reached out with my feelings, the Force brought me to you." It hung between them — open, honest. Not a revelation, but it struck him like the simplest of truths. That made it the most cutting. "That must mean something."

He wouldn't tell her that he was doing his damndest to deny that that path ran in both directions.

"Politicians and their wars. The Jedi and their religion. Prophecies. Promises." He sneered. "You're so enamored by the grandness of this giant, cosmic vision - your lightside ideals are as blinding as staring straight into a star going supernova." He took a breath, pushed his will into every syllable so that she would understand him at last: "There's nothing left of Ben Solo for you to save."

She shook her head. "You're wrong. It doesn't have to be like this."

He noted the tremor in her voice, and dismissed it, crushing it down beneath the heel of his boot where it wouldn't give him pause.

"No, it might all be over in a heartbeat," he said quietly.

The sounds of the approaching fleet as the First Order ships broke through the moon's atmosphere caught his attention. Rey's gaze didn't falter. From her poured a tumult of emotion that washed over him, strengthened by their bond and their proximity to one another. It gave him pause, trying to piece through it all — only threads unspooled and knotted around them, but none drew him back to her as much as a single, shivering chord of feeling that felt familiar to him, and ever so distant: something old and warm, from a time long past that belonged to the boy he once was.

Hope.

He brought the lightsaber to her chin, and distantly, he was reminded of the first time they met on Takodana. "Your friends have found allies."

Something shifted in her expression and at once, he understood: she'd accomplished what she'd set out to do by delaying him. He drew back his saber with a snarl, and her hand rose as if to deflect a blow that surely would have sliced off her arm.

It caught him in the chest, the air flinging from his lungs as she slammed a wall of resistance against him. It punched him backward, throwing him into his chair, five feet into the air. His head snapped, rocking with the force of it. He coughed, blinking stupidly: the vision of her doubling and reconciling as she stood below him.

"Diplomacy," she said. "That's what the Resistance is teaching me; a discussion before a fight," she explained. "I only wanted to talk. I only wanted to see if you'd lost all reason altogether, Supreme Leader." His title dripped with more disdain than even Hux could manage.

Her words carried the weight of sadness — like she'd expected more of him, and he'd somehow failed her.

She reached behind her, her eyes never leaving his as she snapped a wrist at the door. The hatch gave under a burst of pressure, steam jettisoning into the forest as the glass exploded outwards into the forest, and turning in one fluid sweep, Rey leaped backward, dropping onto the soft mulch of the forest floor and rolling. Grey swallowed her, only her face visible in the soft mist as she rose to face him once more — this time, in invitation.

"Then by all means," he snarled. "Let's converse."

He followed her into the cool and the damp as her form turned from him, ducking beneath the shade, and she began to run.

Chapter Text

Pain exploded first in her knee, but there wasn’t enough time to register the initial impact before her forehead struck the metal paneling. The hollow bong-sound made by her forehead as it collided with an obstruction she hadn’t anticipated when turning from Ben — turning and taking exactly two and a half strides at full pelt into what she thought was a forest — was just an added bonus that left a ringing in her skull.

Her vision spotted. She struck the Millennium Falcon’s grated flooring hard enough to wind herself, but it was a full thirty seconds before the spots cleared from her vision and she heard Chewbacca’s braying complaints as he tried to revive her.

Where the hell was she?

“Chewie, stop —” she managed, her head lolling.

Through their bond, a grating tug against her solar plexus signaled that he felt it too, and he would follow.

Finn hovered, trying to shove Poe’s jacket under her head for support. There was no time. Rey blinked against the pain, trying to understand how she could have been so stupid. It had seemed so real, standing feet from him; she could feel his heat, his rage — when she turned, she’d thought she’d had a clear path. She’d opened the cockpit of his TIE… hadn’t she?

“Did the crash do this?” Finn was asking.

Goosebumps rose on her arms as she blinked up at Chewie and Finn — she’d opened the door herself. She’d felt the heat of Ben’s saber beneath her chin, the cold metal against her palm when she pushed open the hatch of his Silencer. They’d never been able to interact with each other’s environments before. How was that possible through their bond?

Chewbacca hovered. Finn’s face tripled. There were so many Porgs. They doubled on Chewie’s shoulder as the Wookie made a sound of protest when she tried to get up. His large, furred hand pushed her shoulder down to hold her in place.

He continued explaining to Finn: Rey’s eyes rolled back in her head. She blacked out. Struck up a full-blown conversation with herself, Chewie was saying. Crazy. Talking to Kylo Ren as if he were right in the room with them.

“Ben Solo —” she winced. Her tongue felt thick in her mouth. One moment she was running from him, trying to lead him further into the forest through their Force bond, the next —

“You ran straight into a wall,” said Finn, frowning. “Why would you do that, Rey? Chewie barely got this heap to land without you. TIE fighter took out the rear stabilization; we didn’t have a choice. The First Order’s everywhere — they came out of hyperspace right on top of us. They’ll be here any minute.”

She touched her forehead, finding a hot, rising lump over her left eye. She winced. “I was trying to convince Ben Solo that he was making a mistake — I was trying to buy enough time for General Leia to return with reinforcements —”

Finn and Chewie exchanged a look. Finn said, “Maybe she’s concussed —”

“I’m not —” When she tried to sit up, the world spun. “I didn’t do it deliberately. I didn’t run into the wall deliberately.”

“I don’t think I need to point out that Ben Solo isn’t lurking in one of the cargo holds,” Finn said.

Chewie said something about getting the med droid.

“There’s no time!” she snapped, pushing his hand off and rolling away. She yanked her foot out from Finn’s grasp as she scuttled backward. “I can’t explain it right now, just trust me. He’s coming — He’s practically on top of us —”

“Rey!”

Ben’s anger was a snarling, reaching wave: a tumult that rose from the star’s core and burst through the surface in hot spurts. She saw red because he saw red: brighter than blood, more firey than molten lava. Beneath that, there was something more: a black and sordid determination that spoke of chasms; a despair so deep that it felt almost tangible. If she reached her hand towards it, it might swallow her along with him.

“I still feel him,” she said.

“Who?” Finn’s voice came from far away.

Chewbacca mewled something plaintive but held Finn back.

“What do you mean it’s not the first time?” Finn barked. “She’s been talking to an imaginary Kylo Ren since when?”

She didn’t hear Chewie’s reply. It hadn’t occurred to her that he’d known. She’d never told anyone —

Darkness rose on a tide, and this time, the sensation came from everywhere: not just their bond, but the Force.

“I have to go!” Rey said.

The world wobbled as she stood. If she blinked a little too long, each of his footfalls through the underbrush burst and crackled in her consciousness. Ben approached from the west. He skirted the largest trees, his feet sinking into the decomposing vegetation that made up the forest floor. Rey could feel his increasing anger as it became harder for him to run; the mud sucking at his feet.

An image of what he would do if he found them flashed before her. The certainty of it spread through her chest like ice, choking her. He’d pick them off one at a time while she watched, saving her for last. He wanted her to know what it felt like to lose everything — to come face to face with that torrent of darkness so that when she had nothing left, she would understand his world; truly, how he felt. Her eyes stung with it. The feeling squeezed her heart.

Beneath that was a wisp of some other understanding: he blamed her for how he felt. It hadn’t been like this before she’d turned away from him in Snoke’s boudoir. This was so much worse.

“You need to go,” she said, batting Finn’s hand from her. “Please. You need to shut the hatch after me and fly in the other direction. There’s no other way. He’s too dangerous — he’s gotten too unstable —”

“Rey, wait!”

She scooted backward, shaking her head. Staggering to her feet, she looked to Chewbacca. Chewie would explain it to Finn. Chewie would understand. She flicked a wrist at the controls, engaging the engines. Chewie turned to the controls, uncertain of what was happening as several toggled flipped on, lights illuminating on the dash. It was enough of a distraction, for now.

“I’m sorry,” she breathed, turning, backing away from her friends. “I’m the only one who can stop this.”

Chewie called for her to stop, Finn tangled, tripping over himself as she staggered away at a run. Rey slapped at the hatch and sprinted into the wet fog that shrouded the world. Her feet stuck, and she took to the felled trees — logs that made bridges into the forest.

She threw a look over her shoulder, and in the distance, a whip of red preceded the crackle of the blade that struck a tree from Ben’s path.

His shout was a battle cry.

She had to get him away from the Falcon; from her friends. The shriek and whine of a speeder in the distance and the faint sounds of cracking branches as the First Order descended into the trees was a mere echo. Overhead, a streak of fire turned the sky green and red, painting the roiling clouds with color.

Rey ran — weaponless, defenseless. Behind her, Finn’s shout cut through the gloom. She felt Ben’s attention shift, and desperate, her feet pounding over the uneven surface of a felled and rotting tree, she spun. She could see Finn standing in the hatch of the Falcon, his face strained, looking after her in desperation. To the West, Ben slashed onward. He paused, turning at the sound: she could feel the spike of his elation through their bond — he’d found a weaker target.

“Hey!” she shouted. It didn’t matter. Ben knew where she was, but he knew what would hurt more. All Finn had was a blaster: Ben had the full arsenal of the dark side at his disposal.

His smile was for her — a half-tilt to the corner of his mouth that buckled her knees when she felt his intention: Ben turned, stalking towards the Falcon, his lightsaber gripped in both hands as if preparing to lop off Finn’s head.

Finn took another step, unseeing. He didn’t feel Ben like she did. He couldn’t see what she did so clearly — Ben’s intent; his desire to destroy the things she cared for most as punishment for abandoning him.

“Finn!” she shouted. Go back, she willed him. Shut the door and make Chewie fly away. She shut her eyes briefly, drawing that invisible thread to her from everywhere — the Force, a sigh, and a whisper, a hum that spun through every leaf and every clod of earth.

Rey swallowed the spike of fear, flinging out a hand without thinking — the Falcon rose into the air, the hatch still open. It tilted sideways with Finn with it, clipping a tree.

“I’m sorry,” she said again, though they could hear her. “Go, please. You need to go.”

Ben’s attention swiveled.

He understood. She would keep them away from him if she had to — she would hold that blasted bird suspended for as long as she needed to so that he couldn’t harm them. It was petty, really — utterly silly, this little game of keep-away, but it was effective. Finn clung to the side of the hatch as the door began to close. Rey felt his anguish — that constant desperation to help her.

She had to help herself this time. It wasn’t his fight — this was between her and whatever remained of Ben Solo.

The engines fired, singing the trees as Chewie engaged the engines. If he could clear the treeline, he could help the other Resistance fighters. She hoped that Finn had the sense to get on the guns. It would be safe for them in the air than on the ground.

In the distance, something crashed into the forest. She felt the swell of the earth as it shuddered with the explosion. A ship, perhaps.

To her left, a tree cracked. The shove of Ben’s will as he snapped the trunk startled her, clipping her bodily and brushing past her mind in warning. She caught a glimpse of him before she dove to the forest floor, descending into the wood for cover before he could throw something else at her from a distance. The groan of the tree as it toppled, its trunk snapping as it tipped pulled its roots from the earth. Its canopy rushed towards her, falling with the intent to crush her beneath it.

Rey flung a hand out, buffetting its girth with only feet to spare. Its weight surprised her. She grit her teeth, pushing against it with her mind — her will — every fiber of her being. She strained with both her mind and her muscles.

A buffer of air held it aloft, but it dripped lichen to the ground around her. It felt as if her muscles would give out beneath it, her mind with them.

“You’re straining,” he called, mocking. “Why? You could lift an entire ship without batting an eyelash, but when you’re surprised you falter.”

It was a show of Ben’s strength: he’d felled it at a distance, like giving her a little shove. He released his hold on the tree, and Rey rolled it from her with a sweep of her hand. It struck the wood bridge she stood on moments before and bounced away with a splintering crash.

“This bridge between us could be a source of power, Rey. Together you and I could be unstoppable.”

Her arms ached. She hadn’t used them to climb, to lift — The wood swelled around her, bursting with life — rising, falling, decaying, and bursting forth again. She felt it all around her; the Force. There was a lesson here, and damn him for trying to force it on her. It came with a vision; little more than a sense impression of a thought, a dream — fractured and faceted — the pair of them, shoulder to shoulder, looking out over an empire in flames. She blinked, and the image disappeared. All that remained were two souls who stood at odds.

“That’s not what I want,” she returned.

Ben approached like a shadow, sweeping aside the tree and leaving her exposed. Yards away, she could see the effort it caused him: a sheen of sweat covered his face. Flushed and glowering, he shoved a boulder out of his path. It crashed into a copse nearby, but his attention was fixed upon her.

“I know,” was his only response.

Something wrenched in her chest, but it wasn’t a feeling that belonged to her. Her fingers found the spot — a soreness, an ache beneath the ribs. Not a physical hurt, but an echo of what the admission cost Ben.

Rey frowned, trying to rub away the sensation that something inside her was broken. Not her. She squeezed her eyes against it, opening them to find that Ben stepped from the ground to a felled bridge. It bounced beneath his weight, but held them both aloft, facing each other at last.

“Something’s different,” she said.

“The connection between us is tenuous,” he said. “I don’t understand the bounds of it.” His mouth took a downturn, but he held her stare. “It doesn’t matter. We’ve not come here to explore what it means, nor what it could be.”

She swallowed thickly, uncertain why there was a lump in her throat.

“You feel it too,” she said, probing. “It’s changed. There’s more of me in you than there was days ago. That’s why I was able to interact with your TIE. It’s why I was able to shield you; to open the door — it’s changing, whatever this is — whatever Snoke did.”

A haunted look crossed his features. The thought rose in her mind, unbidden: dreams. Rey saw herself in a blink from his perspective — just a flash of memory — Rey sleeping on her back, a whisper into the void between them, and Ben, watching. Rey gasped and took a step backward. She shook it off, searching his expression. Ben’s features didn’t reveal any more than she would have expected. He didn’t know or didn’t sense that she could read into him more than she had before.

“You removed your friends from the equation, but they’re not safe,” he said. “The Armada is here.” As if to punctuate the statement, the scream of descending fighters broke the atmosphere. In the distance: collisions. “It’s not a battle you can win, Rey. You’ve lost. Stand down.”

She shook her head, her eyes burning. She held her ground.

“You’ve no weapon,” he pointed out. She balled her fists. His saber turned his eyes to fire.

“I’ve faced you with nothing before,” she returned.

“And as I remember I offered you a mercy then. I won’t now.”

She clasped her wrists together, lowering her head. The wood whispered around her — secret, ancient things tumbling through the vines and the mist, the forest floor lush and fed by decay. All of it surrounded them, and amidst the verdure and the shadows beneath splayed tree roots, something else… it breathed through her, lifting her limbs as if to draw her into its ebb and flow; as if she were one with it. It shifted in patterns of shade and light -- sunshine, moonlight, starlight, and the spaces in-between where there was nothing at all but quiet -- Rey breathed it in, unafraid.

Something shifted in him: an awareness, perhaps. Ben raised his saber.

“As you say,” Rey said. She smiled at him, just a little, as Ben grit his teeth and broke into a run towards her.

Chapter Text

Moss sloughed off from the tree bridge with each step. Three yards between them. Twelve paces.

His feet had no need to touch the enormous trunk — it might've been four feet across and a mile high before it fell, but each strike of his soles rocked the surface. At the end, she waited for him. Kylo Ren took a breath, loud in his own ears, and tried to reconcile the familiar look on her face in the seconds he had before he struck.

An eerie calm had settled on her, descending suddenly as the night as satellites rose overhead: twin moons shining dimly. These details he took in along with the scent of mud clinging to his legs, the damp in his limbs, the sweat turning his skin cold. The gloom swirled around them, mist and shadow twisting with the disturbance as humidity became cloud, obscuring the earth below.

There was blaster fire in the distance as the resistance fell to the forest floor, and the First Order followed. Lights splitting distant clouds in half, torn by the gunships. The sound of it surrounded them as the fight closed in around them.

Someone shouting behind him — shouting her name.

Seconds. Three steps in a heady rush, as behind him, a tidal of darkness swept him up, choking his breath, turning his vision dark. The force of it washed away his will, rising with every ounce of anger, of fear, of hatred — he possessed. The brief flashes of jealousy when he thought of the pilot touching her. The look she gave him when she shut the Millennium Falcon's door in his face. The brief, stinging surety that he would have joined her for — for what? For nothing at all. All over in a heartbeat.

Nearly upon her, Kylo Ren raised his saber behind him in a sweeping arc, meant to maim — to split her in half from the core. There was no choice in this, he told himself — what he always told himself.

The familiarity of her stance finally struck him at the moment she opened her palm, sweeping her hand across her body to flick to the side briefly with two fingers. He knew that look on her face — he'd seen it worn by his old Master.

His eyes widened as the gesture and all the power behind it flung his arm away. Surprise registered, but his grasp on the saber faltered. It shushed into silence, the glow of the blade disappearing, throwing them both into the blue-grey shroud of gloaming. The saber spun from him, his arm flung wide as, with her other hand, Rey seemed to catch his body mid-air. Flying into the trees, the saber struck wood with a sickening clatter that he felt in his bones.

No, he thought, but he didn't have time to form the word.

She hadn't touched him, but the wall of her influence seemed to wrap his chest as his momentum continued carrying him forwards and into her. He stopped, his toes dragging as her force hold on his body kept him a foot away from her, his arms thrown wide, his saber tossed aside so carelessly so that only their wills and their bodies were the only weapons left.

He hung so close to her that he could see the small, cinnamon flecks in her eyes alight with fierce determination. He could smell the memory of sun on her skin beneath the dirt and engine grease.

This happened in exactly one suspended moment.

She grit her teeth in a grin, and then as the moment unspooled like a thread and Kylo Ren's surprise caught up with him, she shoved back.

Chapter Text

The surprise on Ben's face as he choked a gurgle made her stomach clench. There was no pleasure in it. She didn't relish it. She wasn't trying to hurt him, she told herself — it was defensive. There was an ounce of poetic justice in it, that she'd siphoned this bit of skill from him through their force bond: She'd seen him use this move — she'd experienced it herself. She batted him backward into the air like he'd done to her on Starkiller Base.

A smack from the center of her palm, backed by a whoosh of power that swept through her, leaving her breathless, and Ben Solo flew.

He rose high into the trees, but rather than smacking into a trunk, Rey reached after him, guiding his body with a nudge of the force so that he skimmed the trees but no branch clipped him. She didn't want to fight him, but if he forced her to defend herself, she would — for herself, for her friends, for the entire Resistance if it came to it.

Still, she second-guessed her own intensity and hoped he'd land on something soft. His expression… the farther away he sailed, his eyes didn't lose the veil of hurt surprise that made them shine.

It wasn't too forceful of a shove — at least, she hadn't thought so, or perhaps she just underestimated her own control. She winced, watching Ben recede into a dot in the distance. The darkness swallowed him, and then the underbrush as he descended in an arc, his arms splayed, legs akimbo. When he struck the earth a few hundred yards south, it came with a splash and a squelching sound.

She breathed a short sigh of relief, leaving his saber behind as she followed after him at a quick clip that, when he didn't rise, turned into a jog, that became a run. Rey sprinted over logs and trees and brambles; felled branches that snagged at her ankles, moss-covered stones and boulders covered in slippery slime and run-off from the swamp. Green and stinking, still brown water with mist clinging to the enormous roots that rose from the water.

His name caught in her throat, along with her heart.

Where was he?

His snarl of anger burbled. A splash followed, and Rey, cresting a ridge made by two collapsed tree trunks set above a rocky outcropping, exhaled her relief sharply, setting her jaw as she slowed, knowing that she hadn't hurt him too badly. She paused to look over her shoulder: Blaster fire between the trees — a mile away, at least — as the fighters dropped into the forest for cover. The sheer size of the destroyers ensured that the battle waged outside the moon's atmosphere stayed far enough away, but it was obvious that some of it had spilled onto the moon itself. She couldn't see the Falcon from where she stood, but if she paused long enough to reach out with her feelings, she knew at least that Finn was safe, and that Leia had returned with reinforcements given the number of ships in the air.

Knowing that they might've tried to escape through hyperspace instead of facing the First Order meant that this was a show of strength: the General would want to demonstrate that their numbers were growing, that the Resistance was strong despite all that they had lost.

They were not defeated.

A tree branch snapped, and a black, lurching thing rose from the muck of a swamp. Rey climbed to the last ledge of the felled tree trunk, looking down at a sodden, spitting Ben Solo.

"It's a good thing you weren't wearing your cloak," she said. "You might've drowned."

He turned blazing eyes up to her.

"Where did you learn how to do that."

It was hard to take him seriously like this. It took everything in her not to laugh. Something stopped her: a pinch of shame — a tightness around the eyes she felt when she looked at him. This wasn't how it was supposed to be between them. It wasn't supposed to feel so strained, so fraught. There was a tightness in her chest that had nothing to do with running hard through the forest. It accompanied the uncomfortable inability to look away from him when he stared at her like that.

Rey swallowed the little lump in her throat before she lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug, feigning nonchalance. Her stomach gave a twist to match the knot in her chest. "You."

His jaw ticked, teeth grinding together as he wiped some of the filth from his face. It sloughed from him in streams, leaving muddy smears down his face. "Another 'benefit' of this bond between us," he sneered.

Ben wiped his mouth before he spoke again, glowering up at her. "Let's see what else you've stolen from me."

The strike caught her off guard, clipping her in the chest. The world spun as Rey slammed backward, Ben hitting her with the full brunt of his rage. The echo of the sentiment followed, hitting her in a wash that left her seeing spots.

Shame. Pain. Hurt. Denial. Regret. Rey gasped: the full force of his feelings rushing over her.

She blinked, staring up at the sky as the world overhead spun, the stars streaking by. Rey coughed, her lungs aching from the punch to her chest. The back of her head throbbed — Ben hadn't been so careful. He wasn't concerned for her well-being, not now that he had something to prove to himself — she sensed it easily: he felt he hadn't earned his title. He'd claimed it by chance, but for a moment, the Supreme Leader had had another agenda, and now he wanted to avenge himself for the trouble. For feeling like she'd fooled him.

That was the lie he was telling himself; what he'd convinced himself to believe when she rejected his offer to stand beside him and reshaped the galaxy to his liking.

Didn't he understand? Did he understand nothing of what she stood for? That if he forced her hand, she'd fight him until the ends of time if it meant breaking down a little more of his mental armor; if it meant chipping away at this facade. This wasn't what she wanted —

"You didn't want to do it alone."

Something crossed his features — the ghost of some realization; that she'd struck a nerve and it stung. Rey saw it in the way his eyes darkened. Ben's lips moved, biting down on a harsh reply. He swallowed, and she watched as he struggled with wanting to confess to it — to scream it at her. Ben held it back, his anger a growing cloud around him. If Rey reached out, she thought she could almost touch it.

Rey swallowed. "Your pride is hurt," she informed him, gleaning a better understanding of his reasoning through their bond: a snarled tangle of bitterness and hurt, anger, and rejection. He didn't get it. "You don't understand at all, do you?" she asked. "You think this is about you and I — such a small piece of the puzzle." She shook her head. She wanted to laugh, it was so absurd: he'd kill her because when she walked away, it made him feel small. Unimportant.

Rey rolled to her side as Ben climbed from the bog, a dripping mess, breathing hard from the effort. She pulled herself to her side, hoisting herself onto her elbow.

It hurt. The physical pain of her injuries was magnified by something else: that dark tangle of emotions that pushed Ben forward another step. Their hurts swirled together, making her bones heavy. He had half of it wrong: she didn't want to rule the galaxy at his side, but she never said that she didn't want to stand there. Rey's eyes burned.

She shook her head, pulling herself up further. "I feel every ounce of your pain, Ben Solo. Don't you dare think for a second that I can't see you for who and what you are."

Ben's shoulders heaved, but he continued to stare at her as if he'd sooner smother her light than help her up. Rey struggled to her side, lifting herself up with a wince. Her head throbbed in two places, and her hip stung. Her entire body felt like it had been shaken and tossed around.

"A monster," he whispered, the faintest hint of a smile twisting his mouth.

He struck out a hand, reaching for his saber, his eyes on her as he advanced. Rey flung an arm up, slapping him to the side and blocking him. This time, he was ready — this time when Ben sailed into the underbrush, he snagged her around the ankle with an invisible hand and dragged her after him.

Rey yelled when she hit the ground, rocks and branches and water swallowing her as Ben's force grip on her dredged her body through the swamp. Rey struggled not to choke on the water that poured over her head, submerging her. She thrashed, her limbs snapping down as he pinned her below, yanking her towards him so that he loomed overhead — a shadow, his arm extended, a vice-like grip imagined around her throat as he pushed her into the silt of the swamp and held her down.

Her lungs burned, her throat aching with the sting of stirred sediment. Rey could feel the vicelike grip around her legs, razing her over the bottom of the swamp; striking each stone, bone, and branch that had sunk into the silt. Bits broke away, and still, others sliced at her. Her side clipped something fiercely jagged, and unable to help herself, Rey opened her mouth to scream at the flare of heat and pain in her ribs.

Water in her mouth. Water in her throat. Water in her nostrils. Water in her lungs. She'd grown up on a planet that never saw rain, and yet, Rey would drown in three feet of the filthiest water in all the systems.

The pain in her lungs was impossible, and desperate for air the longer she stayed below, the more her body fought. The movement in her throat was involuntary — a contraction of the muscles that begged for air. So much mud swirled over her head that Rey couldn't even see his figure standing above her — she could only feel him; his impossible strength, the steady burn of his power, and the impossible quiet of her underwater tomb. In that blackness, as the spots dancing before her eyes began to grow dark, she felt a stirring in the world around her — a steadfast roar that released in her limbs, turning her arms and legs light. She stopped fighting, and all around her, the burble of something more between the roots and beneath the stones called to her through her fear.

A flash of memory forced her eyes open wide, and Rey thought of the cave on Acht-to: alone in the darkness. Alone with herself. Over and over and over again — echoing in that hollow despair that she felt so acutely — forever alone, always wanting for the family she never knew. It called to her like it called to him. It echoed in him like it echoed in her: their shared solitude. The yawning abyss between them. Theirs — for all the worlds, that was something they both knew and shared.

His fault. Her fault. Neither. The void between them existed regardless, because neither was willing to cross that divide. Rey understood. Either would need only to take a step forward — or both. They might both fall, or — she considered distantly, apart from herself and no longer afraid — perhaps they would both fly.

She felt the force's pull as surely as she felt her soul begin to drift, and she called it to her from the place that understood that deep well of shadow.

Her hand lifted of its own volition, rising from the swamp, dripping water to gesture not at Ben — but beyond him to the sky.

The stars overhead lit with fire — blue and crackling, as sharp as ozone, electrifying the moon and lighting even the darkness behind Rey's eyes. The hold on her released, and she rose as if reborn to the night. The forest was alive around them, lit by a crackle of lightning so bright that it made even the fear in Ben's eyes pale by comparison.

Rey did not relish it, but she understood what she needed to do. Ben turned to her, trying to understand this manifestation.

This was not a power that belonged to him. It did not owe itself to the light, and yet, that definition and boundary that separated light from dark hardly mattered when she lingered on death's doorstep.

Rey shook her head, trying to clear it of the fog that settled on her. He'd tried to kill her, and the force had responded — retaliated. Her lungs seared, burning as she coughed, dragging in another lungful with a wheeze, spewing water. Rey crawled to her knees, her eyes streaming.

Ben said nothing, staring down at her before staggering away a step, and then another. "That's impossible," he managed. She shook her head. Her fingers trembled as she lifted them from the bog.

Had she done that? Had she somehow manifested force lightning to save herself? Her fingers looked normal. They didn't feel any different. She didn't feel any darker for it. Rey shook her head, turning wide eyes towards him as if to apologize. "I didn't mean to —" she managed.

Ben, his eyes wild, shook his head, splashing away from her but not turning his back.

"You were going to drown me," she said, trying to explain. Anger bubbled. He'd tried to kill her. Ben swallowed. Whatever he said next was lost in the storm.

A crack, followed by a thundering boom shook the ground, sending ripples around them. Rey, panting, swam in Ben's confusion, envy, fear — all of it hit her like a wave. She gripped her head.

"Stop," she whispered. Too much. There was too much passing between them — his thoughts and hers, his feelings tainting her own. His powers — hers. Light and dark and something in between —

Another crackle of blue-white lit the trees, and she could see beneath the gloom that Stormtroopers advanced through the underbrush towards them. There were TIEs on the ground in the distance. An Interceptor. It figured: the First Order wouldn't leave their Supreme Leader unaccompanied. She looked behind her through to a clearing, desperation mounting quickly. The fight approached — nearly upon them. She and Ben stood at the center point of an encroaching battle.

That this wasn't normal was evident: she felt him screaming down their bond — He was afraid of her — no. Afraid for her. He was furious at himself. He was furious at her.

"I knew it. I sensed it." Triumph. Triumph and fear for what it meant for him — for them. For the fact that she'd denied him. He shook his head. There was no time.

"You wanted to kill me." Her voice faltered beneath the thunder.

Rey turned her face up to him to find his eyes wide and shining, Ben shaking his head as if the mere gesture negated the obvious. "That's not a light side ability."

Had she hurt him? She didn't know.

His surprise thrummed through her veins, matching the rhythm of her own mounting panic at what that might mean.

The forest lit with lightning again, and the boom of thunder shook them from overhead.

"Why did you kill Snoke instead of me, if this is how we're going to end up: constantly fighting each other," she whispered. She couldn't be sure if he heard her, but something in Ben stilled. "Why didn't you just let me die." She swallowed hard, her vision blurring. She shook it off.

"Because when you said that you saw I would not bow to him anymore, I thought that's what you wanted," he said, strangled.

Rey shook her head, staring. She couldn't stop the quiver in her lip. He'd nearly drowned her. She couldn't resolve what she felt from him, and what he was so intent on doing. He might've dispatched her on the spot.

Ben took a step towards her, raising his voice.

"Because you were not his to kill," he said sharply. "Because he tied our two souls together; because that can't be undone so easily."

Ben approached her, dropping to his knees, intent that she should look at him. Rey shook her head.

He ripped off a glove, holding a hand towards her, his fingers shaking. Her own were held in fists on her knees to keep from shaking. His fingers were so long and so pale, glistening and flecked with dirt. It occurred to her that they'd never physically touched before — it had only been through their bond. Rey pulled in a breath, and Ben's feelings flooded her so quickly and so hard that it hurt to breathe.

"'The darkness rises, and the light to meet it.' We are two halves of a whole — two binary stars, circling each other — our forms meeting each other at the midpoint and swirling together. Can't you feel it?" he asked. "Or has it never felt right when you pressed your fingers to mine? Say you don't feel it too — how everything around us hangs suspended and so fucking precarious, but when you're here like this, next to me, everything is right — every damnable star aligns like the universe is conspiring to carry you and I."

"Balance," she whispered, swallowing hard against the tears that threatened at the corners of her eyes. And it hurt so much because they were still fighting it; fighting each other.

"Yes," he breathed, and the sound shook against her lips.

A nearby tree snapped, the scent of smoldering wood filling the forest as the trunk exploded into scorched splinters. Shouts in the distance as the storm overhead swirled the clouds black and grey, roiling with it. The groan of splintering wood followed a loud snap that echoed amongst the trees. Ben turned, too slowly, as the tree spilled towards her, it's trunk cleaved by the lightning. It burned as it fell.

Rey watched him raise his hand, struggling to catch it in time before it would strike them. Its descent was slow at first, but gathering momentum. It would crush them both before she could even get to her feet.

Its branches were on top of them — the trunk enormous, swallowing the whole world.

"No!" she breathed, and for the first time, Rey lay her hands on Ben Solo — shoving him out of the way as the tree slammed into the swamp.

Chapter Text

There is an otherworldly beauty that lends itself to destruction. A silence that fills the space between moments as they stretch — growing taut in anticipation as you wait for destiny to arrive. It was a distant thought that he remembered from his childhood; a yearning that often drew his eyes to the horizon and the galaxy beyond, watching for stars. His father used to say Luke often looked to the sky in his youth, before the burden of responsibility weighted his shoulders and cast his attention towards more practical things.

Kylo Ren looked to the sky as it fell, the sounds of the forest becoming a roar as the clouds broke open, the air thick with ozone and electricity, the scorched tang of burning wood, and he watched as the heavens descended in a blaze. He raised his hand to it, the breath caught in his throat — Rey’s sheer, desperate power wrapped around him still, and he couldn’t breathe for it:

Beautiful. Terrible. Touched by the dark. Stronger than he’d ever imagined. 

There was no time to savor the fear that followed, though it rose in them both.

His reflexes had never failed him so thoroughly before. Surprise, not skill, stopped him as a deafening crack and the sound of shattering wood overpowered the falling rain. Plumes of flame lit the descending dark. A shout from his left snatched at his attention.  

She’d summoned force lightning. He was certain of it, though the storm that followed couldn’t have been her doing. There were light side abilities that allowed the Jedi to commune with animals, but never nature — not that he’d ever heard of. She’d siphoned some of his abilities before, too; doubtless a result of their bond. An unexpected exchange between them resulted in gleaning some of her memories, and she, some of his skill. This, however —  this particular feat was beyond his expertise. 

Too slowly, Ben turned to find Rey’s eyes wide as she flung herself towards him. The look of panic she wore raised the hair on the back of his arms — electric, that feeling — that her concern was for him and not herself, though he’d only moments before tried to uphold his promise: destroy her. Destroy it all. And he — foolish and pouring confessions, those things left understood but unsaid between them ringing in those self-made silences since she’d left him in Snoke’s throne room — could do nothing but marvel at the way this nobody from nowhere ran towards him as if he were somehow worthy of saving.

There wasn’t the time to think on it. The moment as the tree fell towards him hung suspended as if on a caught breath. There wasn’t the time enough for anything, and then, everything sped up. 

The world tilted and him with it as she slammed her hands into him. Falling, he slipped from the log, his feet no longer finding purchase on the slimy surface. Rey turned, flinging an arm up to ward off the crushing blow of the falling tree. Struck by the storm, the tree brought flame with it, lighting the night sky red — swallowing the world in a blaze. Rey leaped after him but not quickly enough. She wrenched, twisting in pain midair as the branches struck her in the back; the side. Flung sideways, she crumpled, buffeted off the largest of the branches on her way down. He felt a slash of sympathetic pain in his side, buckling his ribs. It arrived so suddenly that he thought he’d been clipped. It only registered a moment later that it was impossible. 

Ben didn’t feel himself hitting the swamp, though his leg bleated pain and water closed in over him in a cold rush that left his lungs seizing in shock at the temperature change. He surged upward, a throb of heat rising from his side as he gasped into it and took a mouthful of stagnant bog water for the trouble. 

A twin splash matched his own as, overhead, the log he’d just stood on caught the flaming tree. Wood cracked, the branches lashing downwards onto them. Sparks fell hissing into the water, sending up plumes of steam. The heat grew, splashes in the water around him as parts broke off and struck the surface. Yards away, Rey pulled herself to her hands, gasping enough to manage a snarl of pain.

He didn’t say anything. Didn’t call after her when she lifted her head, her arms shuddering, the pale fabric of her clothing darkened with mud, and something else — blood.

Ben gripped his side, mirroring Rey’s movement, but where her fingers came away smeared with red, his were clean. Ben shook his head, sloshing backward, trying to put some distance between him and the crackling, consuming flame that spit and hissed as old wood struck the water around him — trying to understand the pain in his body. Had he struck something in the swamp?   

The girl could barely hold herself up. Even from where he dragged himself to his knees, one foot sinking into the sediment of the swamp, he could see that she struggled with her injury. A phantom pain bit into his ribs as Rey turned, struggling to haul herself up, and Ben swore at the same time as Rey cried out. It hurt him when she moved. 

“Stop,” he gasped. His vision spotted.  

He could leave her. He should leave her. Weakened as she was, he could thrust her face-first into the swamp and drown her right there. She wouldn’t have the fight left in her to fend him off. The felled tree crackled as the trunk began to split, the roar of fire catching despite the damp. He swallowed a breath, tried to dampen his uncertainty as she turned dark eyes onto him, seeming to give him a nod as if to say she didn’t owe him a damned thing for the trouble. She wasn’t asking for his help. She wouldn’t plead with her eyes — not this time. 

But something was wrong. Something that pulled in stitches at his side, like being bitten by the bolt of a crossbow, but worse because he knew with all certainty that he hadn’t been hurt and he was feeling a mirror of her injury — a phantom pain that bled through their bond with surprising and sharp clarity. Ben shook his head, opening his mouth to try and tell her not to move any farther because she’d only make it worse for both of them. 

A flash of green laser fire struck the trunk of a tree just past her shoulder and Rey’s attention whipped around. He sensed the garrison as they arrived on foot. Speeders in the distance. Fighters descending from overhead and into the trees, past them to the south. Rey flinched, ducking, her teeth grit together in pain and surprise. Several shots fired, and Kylo Ren strained, searching for the source.

Three stormtroopers appeared ghostly through the gloom, clambering over the trees towards him. Their radios crackled, signaling for backup. One gestured in his direction. 

When he turned back, Rey had staggered into a run, splashing onto higher ground. She wouldn’t make it far, not while bleeding as she was. A stitch in his side gave a throb. 

“Wait!” he cried, but she did not stop. She didn’t know that their connection had somehow dug a little deeper, drawing them more tightly together. She didn’t know that their bond was forging itself into something new. 

Kylo Ren stood on weakened legs and sloshed through the muck, following after her, not wanting to lose sight of her. He reached after her with his senses — his feelings — and touched her anxious panic: a muddle of emotions that tumbled together, limned with an obscuring mist as she tried to dampen her own mounting fear at her injuries. 

If Rey struggled onto solid ground where it would be easier to escape, he’d lose her.

Orange jumpsuits in the distance. Resistance fighters. Blaster fire speared the trees around him as he side-stepped the burning branches, his drenched clothes warmed by the flame but otherwise un-singed. 

He blinked and caught a glimpse through their bond — a sense impression rather than a complete picture of the girl: warmth spreading down her left side, clothes leadened by water, making each step heavier, each breath searing her lungs, her throat raw from his baptism by the swamp.

Ren forced the sensation away, clambering after her onto a log and hauling himself up to standing. He surged forwards as the wood became interspersed with jagged stones; the remnants of ancient structures rising from the gloom of the forest: forgotten temples, broken buildings, remnants of a jungle civilization that flourished and faded. 

Rey’s path was clearer now through the trees: she became a receding grey dot in the distance, running for one of the TIE fighters that had touched down in the clearing a few hundred yards away. 

“Rey!” he roared. She did not stop. 

Overhead, an X-Wing grazed the treetops, pursued by several of his own soldiers and raining leaves and debris through the trees. Ren’s own craft was a wreck, and Rey escaping him in the condition that she was seemed more an insult than anything else. 

If he couldn’t kill her, he could at least use her as leverage against the New Republic that so desperately would not die; at least he could separate her from her ragtag pack of allies long enough to sort out just what exactly was binding them… and how to put an end to it before she figured out the depths of the problem for herself; before she realized that their bond made him a First Order security liability. 

It was a sensible solution, Ren decided, hauling himself forward at a surer march — determined now that his path felt clearer. The bog became sodden grasses, high and twisted with felled woods. He emerged onto an embankment that edged the clearing in time to see the girl surge for the nearest ship — nestled between the stone faces of some archaic ruin that the trees had not yet claimed with their vines and verdure.

Rey, in the distance, had sped to a run that should have been far faster than her abilities allowed her. He snarled as he watched her clamber into the cockpit of a TIE.

Gesturing for the troopers following him to pursue, he grit his teeth against the phantom pain in his ribs. But no sooner than he had given the order and struck out his hand to summon his saber to him than a shot grazed his arm. He spun, staggering into the clearing, as from behind him in the trees, blaster fire knocked two troopers off their feet. The wound stung, the joints numbed to prickling pinpoints. Useless. Ren tried to flex his fingers, but the hand had become a club of meat as numbness from the blaster’s stun setting crawled up his arm.

“Not another step,” FN-2187 warned after him. With wild eyes, throwing a harried look at his friend’s escape attempt, the traitor approached him — trying to buy Rey more time to escape. 

Ren took a step, but another spear of blaster fire striking a tree trunk behind him halted his approach.

“Back off!”  FN-2187 snarled. He gripped the blaster with two hands. The Wookie must have landed the Falcon not far from the battle site. Fortunately, the traitor had come alone.

Kylo Ren straightened, turning and tucking his useless arm behind him. 

“Have you come to save your girlfriend, traitor?” he sneered. 

The former trooper regarded him with a mingling of anger and determination that set his jaw. Where had that determination been when they’d programmed him, Ren wondered. In the cockpit, Rey flipped several switches as the windshield descended.

FN-2187 turned back to him, his jaw set. “Whatever I have to do to keep you away from her; physically, or otherwise.” His Adam's apple bobbed. Interesting, Ren thought. “I don’t know why or how you managed it — I don’t know what kind of weird wizardry you’re using — but you’re going to leave Rey alone.”

He knew about their force bond, but not because Rey had confessed to it — that much was clear. It was obvious that Rey wasn’t revealing all their secrets just yet.

“Whatever it takes — we look after our own,” FN-2187 affirmed. How noble. 

An oblique smile pulled at his mouth as Kylo Ren’s lightsaber struck his palm. 

“You never were particularly good at taking orders, FN-2187 — as demonstrated by the fact that she deliberately tried to keep you from harm’s way, and you somehow seemed to find your way back to it.”

He slammed the saber into wakefulness at his side — a violent red that lit the gloom. He wondered if Rey knew her best efforts had only brought her friends to the killing floor. The former soldier was no match for him, as demonstrated by the last time he and FN-2187 had tangled. 

“My name is Finn!” Two shots fired, both deflected with ease. He sent them ricocheting into the trees.

“I don’t care!” he roared back, striking out his weakened, tingling hand as if to swipe the traitor to the side into the trees. It was as restrained a kindness as he could manage, especially since the other, more obvious option would require better articulation of his thumb before he managed to raise the man into the air by his throat.  

Rey’s scream, however, didn’t acknowledge the gesture.

Advancing on the TIE as the cockpit door shut, her pale face stood out in the darkness, eyes haunted as her gaze flicked up to meet his. The machinery lit around her, revealing with stark clarity the smudges beneath her eyes and the blue cast to her lips. How much blood had she lost? The pain in his side throbbed like it was becoming an old friend. He saw her wince and was certain the expression on his face wasn’t dissimilar. She marked him, confusion mingling in with adrenaline, weakness in the muscles, pain and blood loss, flicking the switches to turn the TIE on. She could fire on him from where she sat, swing her guns around and try to sizzle him into a scorch mark, but he knew she wouldn’t. 

A roar and a crash from the trees, and FN-2187 was on his feet. 

Ren didn’t turn. The traitor wasn’t his objective — like a persistent gnat, he was merely a distraction meant to irritate, to delay, to allow Rey an open opportunity to escape.

Ren would carve her out of that TIE Fighter like it was a roast shatual, toss her over his shoulder, and cart her back to base and lock her in his own chamber until they got to the bottom of their bond’s limits. The phantom pain in his side pinched. He hissed, dragging his sleeve across his forehead. He was sweating. Even the hand that held his saber didn’t grip with the strength he was accustomed to. This was very, very wrong.

A warning blast from his left drew his attention back to the traitor. It clipped his saber, sending the device spinning away from him. He watched it sail away with a frown, disbelief turning him slow. The world doubled, his throat closing. Numbness coated his tongue as the blood rushed from his head all at once. The world tilted, and Kylo Ren caught himself before he could stagger.

“Hey! Supreme Leader!” the traitor yelled. “Why don’t you pick on someone who’s still able to fight?” 

This was very wrong. Ren touched his side as his strength ebbed back to him. He was certain: he was experiencing Rey’s injuries in bursts through their force bond. He wasn’t certain how it was possible, but the strain on her was affecting him as well. 

“You’re not a part of this,” he snapped. “It doesn’t concern you.”

The idiot in front of him had no clue. The TIE raised a few feet off the ground, hovering a second as Rey gathered her bearings and her strength. When Ben looked back to her, her teeth were grit in a snarl, her knuckles white on the controls.

Finn raised the blaster as Ben raised his hand toward him off from firing.  His shout of, “No —” came exactly a millisecond too late. From the corner of his eye, Rey’s TIE had lifted overhead, about to clear the trees as the blast hit Ben in the left shoulder. It flung him backward, spinning with the force of it. 

Stunned. The traitor had set his blaster to stun. His first thought was, “How pathetic,” followed quickly by paralytic surprise that he’d been shot and too weakened and too slow to deflect it. 

Eyes open, Ben took a moment lying in the wet grass to process what he was seeing overhead. The pains of his body were a distant consideration as the TIE veered left sharply, spiraling into a sharp bank that sent it careening into a nearby tree as spun Rey out. Limbs frozen, Ben knew just as quickly that he’d been forgotten as the traitor noticed that there was something wrong with the girl. 

Too quietly for anyone to hear, Ben managed to breathe the word, “Rey” as their force bond snapped taut, and he saw her: the whites of her eyes too wide, the waxy sheen to her complexion giving her a sallow cast. Worse, he could see her straining knuckles, her palms sliding off the controls from the sweat as she struggled to keep control. 

She favored her left shoulder — the same spot he’d been hit. It must have startled her. She must have lost her grip as she felt the same slap of pain that had struck him. It hurt, but it was nothing like the persistent throb in his ribs that she’d sustained earlier. The surprise of it must have been too much. 

The sound of crunching metal as the TIE clipped a tree filled the clearing as the right wing broke off the craft and Rey spun back to the forest floor. By some small mercy, the tree she’d struck buffered her fall, its branches turning her descent into a jagged lurch towards the earth. Rey made a noise in the back of her throat — half a whine, half a bid for control over the vessel as her muscles gave out. Ben’s vision spotted and went black. His muscles slackened, and he struggled to regain consciousness before his slipped from him as Rey’s had.

He felt the impact in two places: in his head, and through the forest floor beneath his back. Ben jerked to full wakefulness, the smoke and explosions of the encroaching battle turning the air acrid. Smoke plumes over the trees. The guttering, hollow sound of First Order guns. Stormtroopers flooded the clearing. 

He rolled to his side, then to his stomach, fighting back the inkblot of unconsciousness that threatened — her unconsciousness. The TIE had crumpled between the trees, becoming little more than a flattened wad of scrap. FN-2187 was distracted, blaster fire meeting his as the Resistance fighters joined the fray.

Ben Solo pulled himself to standing, and hobbled forwards to the wreck without a backward glance. They wouldn’t touch him. He gripped his side, his bones jabbing into his vital organs, shifting in pain with each step. He bared his teeth, struggling towards the TIE, lightsaber out. Darkness threatened behind his eyes. His lungs burned as the acrid waft of burning fuel as the ship smoked and sparked. The scent reached his nostrils, and Ben’s eyes began to water.

In the cockpit, Rey had slouched to the side. Blood slipped from her forehead in a stream. Her right side was a dark contrast to her pallor.

His limbs felt as if they belonged to someone else as he plunged the saber blade into the wreck, slicing out the crushed locking mechanism that crunched and pinged. Something in the hyperdrive was clicking viciously, a sure sign of an impending explosion as the machinery guttered and a flame licked up from the dashboard. The compressor was overheating. That was where the smoke was coming from.

If he didn’t hurry, the TIE would become Rey’s coffin — and his as well by the looks of it. 

The latch gave with a ping, and with failing strength, one hand still numbed, he hauled at the door. Stuck. It wouldn’t give more than an inch.

“Rey!” he shouted. Voice hoarse, he bellowed her name through the glass again, but she remained unmoving. Unconscious. He dragged the saber through the reinforcements, bellowing for her to wake up. The door remained wedged, pummelled so thoroughly that he could only try to slice a hole. 

Inside the cockpit, smoke began to pour from the machinery. There was no time.

An answering roar from his left hardly gave him pause as a furred hand came down on his shoulder, pulling him away from the wreck.

“No!” Ben bellowed, but Chewbacca’s answering snarl stopped him. The wookie shouldered in front of him, continuing his work and hauling the door clean from its hinges. Ben didn’t have a chance to breathe a sigh of relief as Chewbacca collected Rey from the seat, tearing the belts from their latches and tossing her over a shoulder.

 The message he roared at Ben was clear — they needed to move. Now.

Ben staggered backward, his lightsaber snapping off in the darkness as unconsciousness threatened again. The world around him doubled, growing blurry. Ben felt his legs buckle, their shared injuries all at once becoming too great for him to endure. She was safe, at least — no thanks to him, he thought distantly. 

Chewie yapped a protest, a hand snapping out to clutch Ben’s arm before he collapsed. One blink too long, and his body sagged — matching Rey’s prostrate form. The wookie snatched at him, yawping a startled complaint. A furry arm circled him, pulling him upright even as his head rolled back on his shoulders. His fingers wound into fur as the wookie hauled him into a staggering, half-conscious run to clear the impending detonation.

Ben could feel himself sinking, and, unable to stop it, he managed desperately, quietly, “Thank you,” as the world blinked into darkness once, twice. A glimpse of the forest. Chewbacca said something he didn’t catch. His feet tangled, roots and vines catching at him as the wookie half-carried-half-dragged him and Rey both. Darkness again. A glimpse of his father’s ship, the bay door open and humming. The sound filled Ben’s head.

Something boomed in the distance. Rey’s stolen, felled TIE. The interplay of shadows and light behind his eyes swallowed the world, and then unconsciousness claimed Ben Solo.

Chapter Text

Darkness eddied around her — the thickest parts making the dream feel like she was drowning; so real that when she opened her eyes, the world that stretched before her was unlike anything she’d ever known or even thought possible. There was a familiarity to the black stone beneath her feet — its shined surface reflected her pale features back to her.

It reminded her distantly of the cave on Acht-to, but that’s where any similarity ended. Rey looked up, finding herself on a hillside cresting over a merciless and sweltering valley. Niches in the rock bubbled red; cracks in the planet’s surface revealed it’s burning, molten core. Lava ran in flows off the cliffside, bleeding into a river that circled the expanse. As black as ash. A world both dead and fiercely alive at once. 

It felt real enough to seem as if she’d been there before: distant, but sincere inasmuch as she could tell that the vision wrapped her gently, waiting for her to accept it as a possibility to consider — a future uncertain that it might yet happen. Unafraid, she stepped to the edge of the cliffside and saw that her garments flowed around her, lifted by a wind that was as warm as the air standing still. Ash flurries dusted the ground. 

The sky was similarly painted, the clouds scorched, and all around her, she felt potential, power seated just beneath the planet’s crust. Nothing would grow here, but when she placed her fingers on the ground, she could feel the warmth radiating from beneath her — volatile with possibility. Alive. Waiting for her to break through — to feel for herself what such power might do by those who could wield it. And beneath that, deeper, something more: patient, ancient, and resonant… waiting for her. Rey drew back her hand and found that the coloring of her garments had changed. No longer the dun-colored wrappings she’d used on Jakku as a matter of function in the arid desert climate, but black to match the shadowed landscape around her as if she’d partaken of it, and it of her. 

The air burnt her mouth when she breathed it in; left her nostrils prickling from the heat.  

“Where am I?” she thought. 

A whisper brushed the shell of her ear and Rey turned. Out of the corner of her eye, she sensed rather than saw that this wasn’t all that there was to this place. Searching out whatever stirred her senses — whatever she was meant to see — she found that a figure drifted through an enormous set of doors behind her. A blink and she caught a glimpse of a robed man, brown hair settled on his shoulders. Dark eyes and olive skin. 

Come and see, he seemed to invite her. 

She gasped, her gaze straining higher and higher as she took in the spires of a fortress that loomed overhead. In another blink, the hem of his robes disappeared as he retreated inside. Left momentarily with only a feeling — Rey pressed a hand to her chest, her mouth cottoning at the roiling power that trailed him. A force wielder, though she could not tell: light or dark, perhaps both — so strong that the hair raised on the back of her neck. Then that too vanished, beckoning her to follow. 

What waited beyond those doors thrummed with power. Hesitating, Rey knew she was meant to follow — that this was an invitation rather than a demand, and she was free to remain should she choose, but hesitate too long and she would rescind the opportunity. It was the sacrifice of things: sometimes hesitation carried the greatest cost. She wasn’t certain, but she thought she sensed where it might lead: deeper into the planet’s core to the vaults below the massive castle, and further still to where an unimaginable force stirred in the caves beneath. Rey gasped, having never felt anything like it — such strength, such raw possibility, such fire — a power that could change the universe. It crackled in her fingertips, making her nailbeds burn in a way that she discovered she rather liked. It felt like strength, this aspect of the Force: it felt like endless possibility.

The rise and fall of her shoulders tightened with tension as Rey moved to take a step after the man with the shaded eyes. She felt the first subtle shifts of the Force around her as a hand descended on her shoulder — a warm weight that she felt to her core, gentle but firm, and familiar.

Rey looked back, finding Ben considering her with a look that warmed her belly. The gooseflesh rose on the exposed skin of her arms as his fingers trailed to the three inches of skin between her wrappings and shoulder, his thumb stroking a small circle — knowing that such a small gesture carried an intimacy that only those who understood each other in the small spaces where they found themselves alone would know. Three inches of skin that he’d claimed for himself so easily. He touched her like he’d done it before, and she’d liked it.

His mouth softened, the ghost of a smile turning fierce with pride as he gestured to the vast, burning, churning planet before them — and beyond, to the distant stars that spun to their deaths overhead, their light long diminished before they fell. 

“Ours to rule,” he said, drawing her to him so that the press of his chest into hers joined the twin beats that lingered there. His hand slid down her arm to her waist, the heat of his palm through her clothes lighting a fire in her skin — hotter than the lava flows that sparked and sputtered below on the burning plain.

His thumb grazed her chin, cupping her face with a gentleness that stirred an old ache — a yearning so great that, even with all he offered, she found the one thing she longed for more than anything fluttered to stillness as Ben descended, tipping her chin as his mouth claimed hers. 

Rey gasped awake to darkness, the thick humidity blanketing her with more surety than the thin covering that draped her. Starlight spackled the sheets that had tangled around her legs while she dreamed. She blinked, not understanding the distant night sounds of a world she did not recognize — a world painted in the blue and purple night-blooming hues of an ancient, tropical jungle.

Croaks and caws and grinding insect noises filtered into a darkened room where she found she was sprawled on an enormous bed, its numerous pillows flung to the floor and to the foot of the various posters that held a canopy aloft above it. Lumped with decadence, soft, and stretching in all directions.

A pool of sweat dampened the sheets below her.

Panting, Rey blinked into the dark, waiting for the shapes of the room to resolve themselves into something recognizable. Something familiar. In her mounting distress, her heart fluttered in her throat. Her skin was flushed, hot to the touch, but not with fever — the ache in her side remained a dull throb that reminded her of freshly knit bones and sinew still struggling to regain their strength despite the med droids that had obviously seen to her injuries. 

How long had she been out?

How had she arrived here?

Where was here?

The dream fogged her mind, a sharp intake of breath muddling things even further when, she realized with a touch to her lips, that the dream felt like more than fancy. It felt much like the Force vision she’d had of Ben weeks ago, but with the particulars filled in: Them. Together. Again. But — Rey shook her head, trying to clear it, trying to rid herself of the feeling that not all was right with the Force or with her or the various scuffs and bruises and pains her body was wracked with, and beyond all that, even as her fingers trembled against her mouth, she found herself trying to hold that sensation there as it faded.

A kiss. 

His kiss.

Such a simple thing even when faced with the possibility that she was destined for something so tangled; a future intertwined with impossibilities she wanted nothing more than to reject. She knew of that power; she’d felt it in the cave on Acht-to. She’d felt it wedged against the light, tempered but ever-present. That she’d touched it felt like… it felt like the dark side knew her too; like it had turned its attention to her, and now they were familiar somehow. Acquainted. 

Her arms, free of their wrappings and bandaged in places, prickled with gooseflesh that bled into a shiver. It hadn’t scared her then, and it didn’t scare her now, and she wondered distantly if it should —

Her fingers trembled as she raked them over her hair, touching her face, then gripping her arms to ground herself back into her body. Her left shoulder gave a twang though she didn’t recall being hit. Rey shook it off, trying to recall the details before they faded: There was another — a different man whom she did not recognize though she strained, a familiarity to him that she felt in her bones. He’d wanted her to follow him into the fortress — but, to whom did such a black place belong?

A breeze tumbled over the stone balcony, pushing the heady scent of flowers and waxen leaves wet with dew into the room, and Rey looked into the night outside; at the moons hovering over a shimmering, black lake and towards the ruin of a castle that she’d recognize even if the First Order had taken measure to obliterate it. She stared, uncertain, but allowing a picture to become clearer as she filled in the blanks with memory. 

A turret of stone here. A reinforcing wall there. 

Slowly, the remains of an old statue revealed itself in the gloom as her eyes adjusted to the night. It had stood in front of this lakeside refuge for a millennia or more, its arms spread in benevolent welcome to all those who might seek shelter in the castle walls. 

The first time she’d seen green. The first time she’d seen so much water — as if there would never be enough in the world. 

A sound drew her attention to her right and down to the lumped mass occupying the other side of the massive four-poster bed. Rey stilled completely, her heart seizing once in a skip of surprise that she wasn't alone. She knew it to be impossible — she knew that whatever this was, it was surely the cruelest of jokes that she should find herself here, injured, but alive, on this planet of all places — beside a sleeping Ben Solo.

Chapter Text

Pre-dawn light veiled the peaks with mist. It was only a glimpse: the world painted in a ghostly patina of green and grey. When he took a breath, Ben pulled the mist into his mouth. It tasted fresh and salty, like the sky on a cold morning. Mountains rose between the clouds, jutting out of the soft grey blanket. One foot propped on a mossy stone, a multifunction bo clasped in his fist to help his ascent, Ben looked out over it all. 

The sun had not risen enough to wholly chase the stars away, and two moons remained barely visible — one white, one red. But besides them, he had the sense that he was alone in the mist for miles. It dampened the fabric of his garb, like he’d been waiting for something in this haze — waiting for the first tendrils of morning to reveal the path to his destination. It wasn’t that he was lost, per se — a blanket of calm settled over him, lending his presence on this ancient world a sense of surety and purpose that eased his mind. 

He blinked, and the vision changed: 

Another mountaintop. The same planet. Here, lichen and verdant green fungus blanketed pools of stagnant water that stood in the gaps between old stone; remnants from a more civlized time when there had been more than just ruins jutting from this peak. Someone had razed the temple long ago, the broken carvings that once formed the features of a noble statue, hands gripping an archaic lightsaber, was the evidence that this place had once been a formidable enclave for the Jedi before they were known as such.

Je’daii. The word arrived on a breath, brushing his consciousness and settling into his understanding. The archaic pronunciation. Ben turned, searching for that silibant sound that seemed so familar to him: it was if the stones and moss breathed the word, as there was no one for miles. He turned inward, contemplating his solitude — the vast emptiness around him. Somehow, he knew that in spite of it, he was not alone. He was… seeking.

He’d studied the histories. There were only a handful of planets to which the lore might’ve pointed, though many had been lost — destroyed by the early Empire. Others were so old that only dust remained of their early peoples; dust and the Force.

Luke? It seemed like the sort of place that his old Master might seek out to whither away in solitude, but doubtless, Ben sensed he would not find the old man. He’d felt Luke expend himself on Crait weeks ago, and he was no less sorrowful for it. Something else drew him forwards, searching for something he felt in his bones, as bound to him as the blood in his veins. 

But what — he couldn’t be sure, other than to be without it was an ache that filled his chest.

Ben searched the felled pillars surrounding him for confirmation. Toppled slabs that had once been walls, shaken off the cliffside by some earthquake or another and spent down the mountain in tumbles that had long-since overgrown, offering only mysteries. This was no island. No one at all lived here and hadn’t for milennia. 

Where was this place?

No sense impressions remained of the planet’s dead — the Jedi that had once inhabited these residences were no longer here. These were not tombs, but still, he felt the elders around him — eveywhere. In every stick, leaf, and clot of soil. Vines and moss overtook the stones, the forest swelling over the manmade constructions, returning it to earth. 

Ben wrapped his fingers more tightly around the quarterstaff, resting his forehead against it, puzzling over its origins: He’d never held such a tool — something that served as a weapon as well as a walking stick. It had been fashioned with crude parts and bleached by the sun, but the whole of it was sturdy, sure, and tested. The scuffs and scrapes it bore were marks of earlier trials that he himself had not known. It felt familiar to him. 

He turned, brow furrowed, and considered the various pieces of the vision for what they were. A temple. A city in stone. A… center? A nexus. Ben laughed, the sound echoing. The smile pulled at muscles in his face he hadn’t used in some time, and distracted, he dampened it down as if it were a disrespect. 

There was no temple here, and the disappointment carried with that fact made his robes sag on his shoulders. Something was not right — he knew he was looking for something beyond relics of the Order, but he would only find it when he found — 

A word tarried out of his grasp, turning to smoke in his mind’s eye as if it were something he ought to know, but the thought had been misplaced.

Ben blinked, and the vision changed once more, becoming less discernable at the edges, but the shape and smell were familiar in a way that stirred something in his chest, some old desperation that made him think of sun-worn metal and dry desert heat.

He turned in a circle, standing on rocky terrain, grass and moss rippling in a breeze. The nearness of the knowledge he sought became an inscrutable ache between his eyes, frustration welling in the places where he couldn’t will it away. He breathed into it, trying to clear his mind of the fog that wanted to settle on him and darken behind his eyes. 

A whisper on the breeze caressed his cheek. Ben shut his eyes against it as if he could almost feel the lightest press of fingers on his skin. A comfort. A gentle touch with calloused fingers. And then, the same sensation — the warmth of a hand pressing against his chest.

“Bogan,” she breathed in his ear. 

A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he raised his hand to clasp the phantom touch that warmed his heart. 

“Yes,” said Ben. That was the word — but it remained incomplete. Like an enchantment, it felt unfinished because ‘bogan’ the first word of a pair. He swallowed, his throat working convulsively as he turned, feeling for what he was seeking rather than straining for it with his perceptible knowledge: 

He’d been searching the mountaintops for some old monastery. A place inaccessible and treacherous for those not fit for their Trials. Je’daii. Jedi. A nexus of power — an omphalos, a seat of the religion before it became dogma. 

Ben opened his eyes, looking at this shifting world of possibility anew, and felt the drifting shift of the force as it spun between each singular blade of grass. He breathed it in, and realized with a lightness he hadn’t felt in a long time, that he had always known what he was looking for. 

Crevaces in the earth opened over the vast field of green, turning the ground harsh with unsuspecting wells where he might snap an ankle. The sky was as grey as if he were standing in a cloud. Ben took another step, and the earth opened before him. A waterfall that sped in trickles between the stone fissures sailed into the open air over a structure hewn from the stone. It sat not on top of the mountain, but within it: a clever disguise. 

Ben looked down into the carved canyon, numerous niches burrowed into the walls surrounding an enormous, ancient structure. It’s hollowed windows bled green tears — a mixture of minerals and salt water turning the stone green with age. Spires rose a thousand feet into the air, and Ben stood above it all, looking down on the lone figure who sat cross-legged before the steps, waiting for him. 

Ah, he realized. Find her, and he’d find an answer. 

He blinked, and he stood on the steps of an old temple. The stairs were empty. Ben knelt, collecting the dun-colored shroud that remained of the seated girl from where it had fallen on the steps, sticking to the stone as if she’d left it behind for him to find. 

Freshwater poured off the cliffside, raining down in streams that had not yet dried up. The sound of the water striking the pools below echoed off the cavernous walls. Buddleia and fern sprang from between cracks. Each stone had been carved and placed an age ago. Each niche and alcove carved with precision and fastidious care. Even standing before it, he knew this place was older than any other temple across the galaxy. This was where the Jedi were born. 

Before him stood a door splayed open, revealing blue-grey shadows within the temple. Above the lintel, two words were carved. The first he recognized. The second was a blur lost to the elements.

She said from his left, “The aurebesh carved into the temple walls is old, but I’ve been studying it.” 

A smile pulled at his mouth, though he didn’t turn to face her yet. Her presence slipped around him, a balm for a wayward spirit. He traced the lines with his eyes, gesturing to lift some of the grime gently from the facade so it would emerge clearer to him.

A single word craved above the left side: Bogan. 

“Why can’t I read the other?” he asked.

She laughed softly, the sound folding into her chest as if she were ducking her chin. “The path you’ve taken is always the one that’s the most clear.”

He turned. 

A soft light emanated from her as she stood at his side. A glow that haloed her body, her features near-transparent. Ben swallowed, realizing that he could see the stone stairs through the girl who stood at his side.

Her smile deepened, her cheeks dimpling with mirth as she took a step backward, away from him as if she meant to leave. 

“Rey —” he reached for her though the gesture was futile. He couldn’t follow where she might lead him, though he’d come this far. What had happened — what had transpired between them for it to come to this?

“I will wait for you, Ben, but this is where we must part. You must walk this part of the path alone.”

He glanced at his sleeve for the first time, noticing in detail the vestments he’d equippped himself with for his journey. Pale linens wrapped his arms, a cream-colored tunic belted in the old style, and a hooded robe besides. A whining hum filled his ears.

A desperation rose in him, tightening his chest, closing his throat with emotion. This was not how it was supposed to end — like her life had been a trade for him to return to the light. She’d kept her promise to help him, but she hadn’t stipulated what it might cost her to draw him back.

“You’ve come so far,” she said, as if that was some sort of consolation.

Was it his dream self who had expected more? Or was it his physical body, someplace else, experiencing this vision and the pain that came with it? His two selves swirled together, the desires and despair of both halves unable to reconcile into something whole and intact. 

Rey faded, a phantom hand rising to cup his cheek with a touch Ben could not feel. 

“I’ll always be with you, Ben.” 

It’s not real, Ben told himself, staring at the empty spot where fern grew from between the cracks; where she’d stood a moment before. It was only a possible future — not a guarantee. A vision clear and strong, but lacking in the obvious tells that would lend it substance. It was a vision that belonged to someone unskilled in recieiving them. He swallowed, studying the details even as they smeared and faded into forms indistinct that he would only partially remember later. 

This was not his vision. This was Rey’s.

He turned back to the temple door, knowing suddenly and with clarity what that word inscribed above it meant — knew it and felt it as it stole into his blood, turning that tinny, frightened hum in his ears to a roar:

Bogan. Darkness.

Ben gasped awake, understanding slamming him full in the chest. The vision Rey said she’d had — of them, together, standing at each other’s sides; that he’d turned back to the light — She hadn’t specified then the nature of their alliance. She hadn’t said that she’d died or sacrificed herself or led him on a wild hunt across the galaxy only to find that she’d left him after all.

She hadn’t told him that it had been too late.

She hadn’t told him that they’d been friends — more. He gasped a shocked laugh, knowing it was true in the way his heart squeezed. Yes, there had been more behind the familiar way in which she reached for him, the teasing whispers, the playful smiles. Those quiet intimacies pointed at something that pinched behind his eyes, making them burn. He gasped a breath, unaccustomed to that particular feeling — the despair that rolled over it when it was ripped away with the reality of what he was to her in this world. 

“A dream,” he choked. Soft and bittersweet. 

A cold sweat clung to him, and gasping, he clutched at loose sheets that he’d torn up from the bedding. Pre-dawn light cast long shadows in a room that was dewy with humidity, the subtle sounds of a stirring jungle growing in intensity from a balcony that stood open to the elements.

Ben stilled, gulping another pained breath, and realized his hands were trembling. He willed himself to stop, to resign himself to the truth: that visions and dreams were only that — illusions cast off with waking. 

He didn’t know which was worse: the possibility of what he’d seen, or the reality of what was not. 

He wiped his mouth, and, upon returning to himself, found that he was in a sprawling, unfamiliar bed. Bandages wrapped his chest. A plaster covered his shoulder. It smelled of masticated herbs — some folk remedy meant to stave off infection. He reached for his saber, and found himself weaponless. A glance around the room revealed a style of furnishing that seemed familar — a motley assortment of artifacts and furnishings from multiple systems. Two chairs in Uscru style. A small table from Aldera. Couches that might’ve been pilfered from Ugnorgrad. Threadbare rugs covered stone floors. Large, heavy wood antiques flanked the walls. Quite a collection. 

He frowned, disorientation making the pains of his body redouble upon themselves as he looked up and into the gaze of a livid woman, very much alive and present — her legs folded under her, hands resting on her knees with measured calm.

Rey did not move as she glowered at him, the blaze in her eyes turning them molten as the sun rose. Too quietly, the anger trickling off her, she demanded with forced evenness, “What the bloody hell have you done.”

Chapter Text

Her mouth was dry, her tongue sticking to the roof of her mouth as Ben raised himself to a seated position, the sheets puddling at his waist. He wasn’t laughing now — rather, he assessed her with caution, trying to piece together what had happened just as she had upon waking. Something haunted crossed his expression as he raised his eyes to meet hers, his mouth parting as if wanting to say something, and then — his lips shut. He swallowed it down as he cast a furtive look about them, and then returned his attention to her more stoic than before. 

She’d never seen him falter like that. He’d never once shown hesitation. 

Irritation twitched her fingers, but she remained resolute — coiling a surprisingly hostile spool of anger in her stomach and trying to swallow down the urge to shout at him: Ben Fucking Solo. Tousled, sleep-mussed, his dark hair flopping in his face, sheet-creases in his cheek. Shirt off. Why was it that she always seemed to catch him with his shirt off? 

It was obvious given their shared confusion that he knew just about as bloody well as she did what they were doing there, but it only served to stoke her ire.

He swallowed, wincing. Gingerly he touched at the wrappings binding his ribs — bandages that matched her own. 

“Where —” he began.

“Takodana,” she bit out, interrupting him. She gestured behind her at the rising dawn as it crested the jungle, illuminating the ruins left of a great castle. “Don’t you recognize it?” 

He’d laid it to waste — him and the First Order. Destruction followed in his wake. She bristled at his lack of expression. Ben’s quiet assessment and contemplation of their situation wasn’t helping matters, but she could feel his interest pinging down their force bond like this situation was a curiosity; like he’d forgotten that he’d recently tried to drown her.

Ben’s head snapped to the door, sensing something. He winced as he swung his legs over the side of the bed, teeth grit in pain. He stopped his forward motion, fingers touching the mirror injuries to her own at his ribs. Both this shoulders bore matching anti-inflammation packs. She’d assessed all of this and then some while he’d slept, biding her time. Their weapons were conspicuously absent, but someone had seen fit to pull them off that forest moon and jump them to the Tashtor sector. Someone who thought it might be amusing to lock the pair of them into a spacious suite after some cursory healing — enough to not die from their injuries, but not enough to set them free. 

She suspected the choice was deliberate.

Ben flinch-marched to the door, trying the knob first with his hands, and then with the force as he tried to guide the lock free.

“Tried that,” she informed him blandly. “And there aren’t any exits, save for a hundred foot drop off the balcony and down a cliff. Manageable with climbing gear, but there aren’t enough bedsheets to string together to do it.”

He swung around, his expression calculating, pulling the pieces together with the skill of a seasoned tactician.  

He noticed, at last, that she was in a similar state of undress — her wrappings binding most of her torso and loosely covered with a light fabric. Barefooted and sitting ramrod straight, she continued to glower at him.

Something shifted in his gaze as he took her in, running his eyes over his body in a way that seemed as if he were almost concerned.

“You’re hurt,” he murmured. “I saw that tree clip you as it fell. There was so much blood.”

Something ticked in her jaw — a bomb working its way down to detonation. Her fingers curled into fists. “Right. Before I saved you and after you attempted to drown me,” she ground out. 

“I tried to pull you out of that TIE fighter after you crashed it,” he countered. 

“I wouldn’t have gotten into the TIE in the first place had you not been chasing me.”

He stalked forward, grazing the stones and tapestries of the walls with long, thin fingers, trying to find another way out. A hidden panel or secret door, perhaps. She didn’t stop him as Ben continued rolling around the possibilities in his mind: who was to blame and how might he extract himself from her company. She’d done the same. 

“The Wookie did this. He brought us here. He helped me pull you from the wreckage when the door stuck — he carried us both and flew us all the way to the Western Reaches —”

Her eyebrows shot up. Rey, incredulous, shook her head with measured slowness — a warning. “Do not refer to Chewbacca as ‘the Wookie’ in my presence, Ben Solo. He’s my friend. He was your godfather. And if he saw fit to save your sorry hide then you ought to be grateful enough to call him by name.”

He smirked, returning back to the room, taking in their surroundings. A light glimmered in the depths of his dark eyes, faint amusement, incredulity, and something else that might’ve been mirth in any other person who found this situation amusing. 

“I was trying to stop you from doing something worse to both of us,” he informed her, his gaze resting heavily on her injuries. 

Rey pressed her lips together, pressure building behind her eyes. She felt herself flush, unable to stop herself. “Do not blame me for trying to save you from yourself.”

“That’s not what I meant —”

“It’s more than you deserved,” she snapped. 

He moved to the balcony, looking over the side to confirm the drop. Something shifted in his expression, understanding: “This was deliberate — this isolation. Someone’s stuck us together here, locked us in. Why.” 

Ben turned back to her. With the rising sun large and red, spilling over the trees and painting the world with fire, Ben’s expression was lost to shadow. He approached her, piecing things together as she had only moments before.  “I can feel your sincerity. The confusion. You didn’t do this. You’re just as baffled as I am, but I think —” he stopped before her but not within striking distance. “I think there’s a purpose here.” 

He rolled something over in his mind, deliberating if he should be forthright. The turmoil was palpable, and she knew with no uncertainty that between the forest moon and now, something had shifted. She swallowed, flexing her fingers, and wondered if any of it had to do with her desperate desire for self-preservation and what she’d drawn from the Force as a result. And even more, behind that knowledge lingered the wisps of a dream that called the heat to her face though she tried to suppress it. She found her gaze had settled on Ben’s mouth.

Rey blinked, shutting the image away — mentally throwing it into a box and locking it before the warmth in her could spread; before Ben felt the tension where it curled in her belly.

She turned away from him, focusing on a fixed point on the wall above the bed’s headboard to avoid his scrutiny; the way his attention slid over her features as they felt each other out. Rey ground her teeth together, a muscle in her jaw working, trying to quiet the chatter in her mind that felt his gaze on her face. Like a caress, Ben’s interest always had a heat behind it that should have made her uncomfortable. Now, it just made her mad. She blinked, trying to stifle the intensity of it. It didn’t work. 

“Rey.”

She snapped her gaze to his as he eased into a chair beside the bed. With difficulty, a hand on his ribs, he leaned forward. 

“Don’t you think it peculiar that we’re bandaged in the same places — that our injuries mirror each other? I felt the same pain when that tree hit you, slicing into your side.”

Eyes up, she commanded herself, fixing her attention on a spot between his eyes. Her breath turned shallow as she realized how close he’d sat beside her. Waiting. 

“What.” 

He reached out a hand, the backs of his fingers ghosting her shoulder. She felt the heat of his touch, but not the pressure. “Your friend shot me with his blaster. Here.” 

Her breathing turned shallow. Rey found that the space between them shrank, the room growing smaller by increments as the warmth of his almost-touch tingled, even as he drew back. Something heavy settled on the air -- she felt the pull of it through the bond, amplified by such a small brush of skin. 

Rey swallowed, breaking eye-contact. “I must have hit it in the TIE when I crashed.”

“You crashed because of it,” he corrected. “The shock of it was too much — I felt you lose control of the craft. That’s why you pulled left into the treeline — because you were feeling the injuries in my left shoulder. Blood loss, pain, and disorientation —”

“Which I might’ve avoided had you not attempted to kill me, to begin with.”

It was a moment before he said, “Your anger sits just beneath the surface. There’s so much fire there, I can hardly believe how you’re containing it at all —” He didn’t deny it. He didn’t apologize. Worse, she couldn't feel any remorse from him. If Ben so much as flinched with guilt, she would know it. Of that she was certain. He wanted to kill the past. Interest simmered in his gaze as if he’d pull her apart to better understand the root cause of what transpired between them. He kept himself in check, but the heat remained.

“I saw you, Rey. In that forest — I saw what you did. What you’re capable of. And I see you now.”

“You will not lure me to the dark side,” she snapped, whipping towards him so quickly that she sucked in a breath through her teeth, her ribs squalling in pain. “Stop trying to goad me,” she bit out, her eyes watering. “It won’t work.”

He frowned, his gaze turning predatory. “As I recall, the original offer had nothing to do with any pre-established systems; light and dark.” There was something dangerous in the way he promised, “We don’t need those things, Rey. Not you and I.”

Her dream — that vision of flame and shadow — simmered just beneath her skin, turning molten. Of the dreams she’d had, none had seemed so clear… save for one: the very vision which had driven her to confront him once more, believing he would turn. She had been so certain…  

“There’s more to this connection between us — it’s growing. Getting stronger.” He tapped his ribs, gesturing to their matching bandages. “What’s yours is mine now.”

She shook her head. They’d been in a battle. Plain and simple. She’d miscalculated, thinking that there was still something to be salvaged between them — in him — but Rey had no doubt that had she not somehow distracted him mid-way to murdering her, she’d be dead and Ben would be reveling in the gore. She was just scavenging for pieces of what Ben Solo might’ve been, once, a long time ago — 

“Search your feelings,” he pressed, his gaze turning hungry. 

A hum was building in the base of her skull, growing with intensity the more she considered what he was saying: there was something there, siphoning from each to each, and they’d not stopped themselves in crossing that bridge that Snoke had built for them. He was in her head, and she in his, and the more she lingered there — the closer he drew to her — the more of him he shared with her, willingly or not. These were his feelings. His shadows. His sadness and frustration and loneliness amplified. She was nothing like him. Nothing like Kylo Ren — Nothing. No —

“No!”

She pushed the feeling away from her, and with it, Ben and his chair whipped backward, crashing into the stone floor and shuttling away from the bed a few feet. The tapestries on the walls lifted and fluttered, the curtains guttering against the balcony, blowing out into the open air. 

From the floor, Ben barked in pain, gripping at the back of his head where he’d clipped the floor. A bite of pain assailed her, blooming into a dull headache behind her eyes. Hoisting himself to his elbow, Ben rubbed at the same spot, wincing. She grit her teeth. He grit his. They stared at each other, their connection pulled taut, and Rey knew what Ben said to be true.

Before she could consider it thoroughly, a sound rasped through the door. From the hallway came a scrape, and breathing heavily, they both snapped towards the noise emerging from behind the locked door. 

“Someone’s coming.” 

Chapter Text

He was on his feet in a heartbeat, his pains forgotten as he placed himself between her and the door. It might’ve been a protective gesture, or it might’ve been self-preservation. Both? Hard to tell, harder to process given the state of things. Rey rolled to the side to get a clearer view, though she already suspected who was responsible for their care. 

The door swung open and from where Rey sat, the hall appeared empty. It shut a moment later to the sound of tinkling glasses, and, in a room nearby, a complaining wookie.

She felt Ben’s incredulity through their bond. His shoulders tensed, then relaxed — the muscles roiling in a way that was actually a little bit hypnotic. Rey frowned, snapping her attention forward. 

“You will release us at once,” said Ben, gesturing as if to compel their four-foot tall captor.

Rey pinched the bridge of her nose in the stunned silence. After a moment, Maz snorted. The clatter of glasses and plates as a tray hit the table preceded her laughter. 

“Ben Solo.” 

Rey shivered, the name reaching into her memory, reminding her of the first time she met the diminutive owner of the thousand-year-old establishment across the lake. Maz had hollered his father’s name with the same inflection, rendering the whole scene uncanny.

“Had your father been a Jedi, no doubt he would have tried something similar. Your force powers do not work on me, child. Now. Sit down.”

Ben frowned, looking back at the door. 

“Of course you could run for it,” she informed him. She went back to the door, turning the knob and pushing. The door swung on its hinges, opening into the rest of a large house. “Or just walk.” 

She looked him over, her eyes narrowing at his fleeting surprise. “Sometimes I find it helpful, however, to push rather than pull when a problem seems particularly stuck.” 

Rey swallowed a smile. 

“Go on, check for yourself. There’s no forcefield holding you here. No laser cage, either, or spikes in the walls.” Maz flapped a hand at him. “You’ll want to remain, I think, given the nature of your problems and how they appear to be evolving. The Force works in mysterious ways, Young Solo, but in this case, I suspect it’s developed a sense of humor with respect to your destinies.”

Ben swung around, circling away as if their captor would bite. Something stopped him from exploring further, pushing him back a step, but Rey did not have the chance to see for herself what stopped him. That Maz had used the plural — “destinies” — was not lost on her.

Maz Kanata turned her attention to her, climbing atop a low bench that spanned the foot of the bed so that she and Rey were at eye-level. Searching her face — her eyes — Maz nodded to herself as she flicked through her lenses. 

“Hello Maz,” Rey said. 

“I’m glad to see you are well, all things considered,” she informed her. A small, knowing smile lit her expression. 

Ben whipped around. “You know her?”

Rey fixed him with a dour look. Maz touched her cheek, and Rey felt her face burn with embarrassment. “I’m sorry,” Rey managed. “About running, the last time —”

Maz waved it away. “Fate has a way of catching up to you, whether you wish it or not, dear child. Think nothing of the hasty departure; I understand that sometimes the visions — memories — can be a bit of a shock when you don’t expect them. I apologize for not being able to prepare you better for it.”

Rey gestured to their surroundings. “This isn’t your castle.”

He leveled it. I found other accommodations. Called in a few favors. You can still see the ruins from across the lake.” She gestured. “Oh, there’s too much sun on this side, but at least we have an all-seasons beer garden now.” She nodded. “I’ve found over time that sometimes you need to wipe the slate clean to be able to build anew atop it.”

A warbled complaint emerged from the darkened alcove, and a glance down the hallway revealed the disgruntled form of Chewbacca, stalking towards them. Ben backed up another step, his hand trailing to his side where Rey could see the faint hints of a bowcaster scar beneath his bandages. Chewie’s work. Neither had forgotten it, apparently.

“You’ve met my boyfriend,” Maz said to Ben. “Chewbacca delivered you both to me after some deliberation.”

Chewie made a noise of greeting that Rey couldn’t help but feel was just a little bit embarrassed. 

“You’ve been talking to Maz,” Rey realized. “I saw her hologram in the Falcon only yesterday —”

Chewbacca made an offhanded comment about not knowing what she was talking about, but it was wasted on her. 

“How long has this been going on?” Rey demanded.

He retorted with something to the extent of “you’re not the only one allowed to have covert tete-a-tetes,” followed by a disparaging remark about who she chose to chat with that Rey waved away.  

In his arms, Chewie carried a stack of books and a sack of broken parts. The whole of it smacked the table as he dropped the pile, rattling the old wood. From where Rey sat, she could feel what was in the bag. Ben too, judging by the way his attention snapped towards it.

Maz watched her, knowingly. Chewie had planned this, had seized the opportunity, and Maz was facilitating it because the diminutive woman knew more about Rey and Ben and their destinies than she was willing to let on.

“Chewbacca expressed some concern regarding your —” Maz’s chewed over the word. “Progress.” She lifted an eyebrow as if questioning. “When it became clear that there was more to the situation than you cared to reveal to your friends, Rey, I suggested that perhaps a moment to collect yourselves and re-situate might be beneficial to you both, especially given the direction you’ve been taking: racing down the same path side by side and occasionally trying to injure one another.”

Ben’s gaze flicked up at her. “What is she talking about.”

“Chewbacca delivered you to me to ensure that neither of you would end up dead by each other’s hand,” she clarified, rounding on him. “That is not your fate, Ben Solo, so long as the Force wills it. You’ve both been so preoccupied with your end destinations that you’ve neglected to notice that the door to arrive there is the same. Neither so different, both utterly devoted to their causes, and yet, there is an undeniable divide though you are bound together. I’d call it ironic, but your feelings are plain.” She pursed her lips, searching each their expressions. “Both of you. Only the illusion that it must be a battle keeps you from progressing — from taking the next step.”

Ben paled. When he glanced at Rey, something shifted in his expression as he struggled to regain composure. He shook it off a moment later, but the look on his face was not something Rey would easily forget. 

Ben glanced between them, looking for confirmation. “The First Order will come for me,” he said, his Adam's apple bobbing. 

“No, they will not,” Maz assured him. “No one knows you’re here. This is a rare opportunity for you both to better understand what the Force bond demands of you the safety of a neutral zone, without the interference of either of your respective politics interfering.”

Ben snorted.

“It’s an opportunity for you to save each other,” she finished.

That sobered him. It sobered them both. Maz might not have been able to wield the Force herself, but her sense of it hadn’t been wrong yet.

“No politics,” Maz repeated. She pointed a finger at him. “This is a neutral zone, untouched and undefined by neither politics nor religion — no matter how archaic. No Sith. No Jedi. No Empire, First Order, or Old Republic. Believe me, I’ve seen it all — every aspect, every facet. Only rarely does anything surprise me, and I assure you that the only interest I have in your combined well being is to see the scales settle into balance; that should you set your feet upon the path you remember that the only way is through.”

“Do you know what’s happening to us?” she asked Maz. 

The smuggler narrowed her eyes, considering. A small smile quirked her lips. “I am only familiar with the patterns, child: the ways of the Force will become clear if you only look ahead.”

Ben seemed to consider this; contemplation bending his head. Taken in the literal, there was one obvious, brooding option standing squarely in front of her for consideration. Ben seemed to have gathered as much:

There was no going back. 

“The Force didn’t bind us,” said Ben. “Snoke did. This was his design.”

“And who is to say that the Force was ignorant of the opportunity — light and dark, tethered together?” She smirked. 

Rey surveyed Ben’s injuries and her own. She drew a shuddering breath, centering herself for the inevitable. Maz was right, of course. Rey’d run away from it before, but she had returned to try and find her way. Choosing to find Luke Skywalker had been a step forward on that path, but she wasn’t entirely sure if it was one she wanted to walk alone. She knew Ben didn’t. She knew that’s why he was so intent on hating her for continuing to deny him. 

His throat worked. This was not how he expected things to go. This is not what he had wanted when he’d made her the offer of standing by his side in Snoke’s throne room, and Rey knew it. 

Chewie was watching her. When Rey looked at him for confirmation, his guilt dragged at his shoulders. The wookie mumbled an apology, though Rey suspected it was less for the deception, but more to the fact that she had to regain her wellness around Ben. 

“You knew about the bond,” she accused him. “And you didn’t say anything.”

Chewbacca growled something in response.

“I know you’re not blind!” she retorted. “What about Finn?”

Chewie mumbled something unintelligible. Sheepish.

“I meant does he know about this,” she gestured between her and Ben, “this thing that connects us. Not —” Rey clutched the footboard. “What do you mean ‘you left him’?”

Ben’s eyebrows shot up, turning to the wookie with newfound appreciation. He folded his arms across his chest. 

Maz watched him, ever-shrewd and suddenly aware that she’d found a fly in her web. “Come here, Ben Solo.”

He stiffened, his posture straightening so that he loomed above her, enormous — as engulfing as a black hole. “That is not my name. Not anymore.” 

Maz pursed her lips, her eyes narrowing as she stepped off the stool, stalking towards him with a newfound purpose that had Ben backing up, shuttling backward until the backs of his calves caught a low sofa and he toppled backward into its plush surface, sending up dust. 

Maz climbed up beside him, scrutinizing. 

“Your family’s legacy is a weight you bear: a heavy mantle that you cannot seem to shake off, though at times there’s nothing more you desire than to be free of the burden. I know your eyes.”

Ben stiffened, unable to look away. His jaw flexed as he stared right back. “You don’t need to tell me that they’re my father’s.”

Maz’s smile was as thin as a razor. “No. They are the eyes of someone who once brought balance to the Force.”

His breathing became ragged, surprise settling on him as Ben opened his mouth to retort. Closed it. He looked to Rey in panic or elation, she couldn’t tell. He shook his head, mouthing the word that caught in his throat. No.

“Darth Vader was not two people, Ben Solo. He led two lives, but at his core, he was always Anakin Skywalker,” said Maz. 

“That’s not true,” he argued. “Obi Wan Kenobi — even Luke Skywalker said it was a matter of perspective — the Jedi records said —”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “It is. Just as you have always been Ben Solo and Kylo Ren. Two halves: the light, and the darkness, unreconciled and unable to coexist because your idolatry blinds you.”

“But I haven’t —”

She receded, drawing away. “Curious then, that you no longer need to wear that mask to hide the person you truly are; I suspect the going is easier when you can see where to put your feet. Look ahead, Ben Solo. Not behind. Don’t be so preoccupied with what you most desire that you forget that which you’ve been born to — that which must be reconciled to become whole once more.”

His expression shuttered, and silent and observant, Rey watched the struggle play across his features: felt it thrumming down their bond. Plagued with a choice, Ben could not reconcile himself. He didn’t know how. Snoke had wanted him to be his new Vader, but in killing his Master, she’d thought he rejected it: the heir apparent. Now, Rey wasn’t entirely sure. That Ben had likewise murdered his father in a similar effort to stomp out the light in him had only furthered his problems. She could feel the conflict wrapping him -- an undulating, troubled fog that lingered over him.

She’d felt it before — his desire to be something other than what he was would destroy him if she couldn’t guide him. Her fear sat like a stone in her chest, and Rey turned from the struggle that played across Ben’s face. Maz had once said that when the opportunity presented itself, she would have the choice to help another — to bring them back.

At the time, she thought Maz had meant Luke. Rey smiled a little at that, though it tasted bittersweet.

She turned back to find Ben’s gaze on her.

“Look at you two," said Maz, "so preoccupied with what other people wanted for you that you’ve forgotten to ask what you want for yourself. The Jedi — the Knights of Ren? Orders belonging to an older world, another time.” She took her glasses off to better see their eyes, looking between them. “Your eyes reveal who you truly are — what you most desire, what you most lack right now. To be whole, that is what you must acknowledge for yourselves: Not what has been taught, but what you’ve learned.” She tapped Ben’s chest, and he frowned into it.

Maz withdrew, giving Rey a small smile.

She hopped off the couch. “You are free to leave, or free to stay to regain your strength as I happily offer board to those who might benefit from the island’s therapeutic properties,” she said to Rey. “Chewbacca has brought everything you need. The rest, you’ll find here already.” She pressed tiny, orange fingers to her chest. The gesture wasn’t lost on Rey. 

“He was right, you know.” She nodded at Ben, shoving her hands into her pockets. “You can destroy the past to build something new upon the ashes.” She tipped her head, giving him a small smile. “But you might also rise anew above it, if you can figure out how.” She winked at them both. “There are many ways, many paths, but the Force remains. Always.” She shuffled off the couch, disappearing behind the mountains of blankets and circling the room. The top of her orange head bobbed, reappearing by the door. Maz dropped her hands into her pockets, rocking back on her heels. “And the Force is a constant. It never changes. Only seeking one thing to right the scales between light and dark… bringing those together who might manage it.”

Rey swallowed, turning her head just slightly so that Ben’s leg occupied part of her field of view. His darkness, to her light: a shadow across the moon. Starlight and sunshine. 

“Balance,” she whispered.

“No person is ever truly one thing over another: we have parts of the whole within us — facets, like a kyber crystal. Some magnify the light, others, shadow — but we can never truly exist apart from either.” The door swung open on its hinges. “You might notice it if you stopped fighting against each other so much.”

The door shut behind Maz as she left them, but her laughter trailed down the hall long after they remained, sharing the stillness, in silence. Chewie’s responses were muffled through the stone as he followed her. 

Rey heard Ben swallow. “I thought she was a pirate queen,” he muttered. “Not another Master Yoda.”

Rey turned to him, finding Ben paler than usual and contemplating her with equal measure. Without much fanfare, Rey arrived at a decision. It did not bludgeon her over the head, and the earth didn’t suddenly shift beneath her feet. Rather, she made a simple choice, the tension shifting a little as they considered each other — weighing the numerous possibilities that sat between them in a loaded silence.

Quietly, Rey asked him, “What do you know of Master Yoda?”

Chapter Text

She wasn’t asking because he wanted him to be her teacher, but — she wanted him to teach her. Ben swallowed, the nagging thought that a prolonged absence would inevitably stoke Hux’s fervor. There would be a coup. A hostile takeover within the First Order. Undoubtedly that ginger-headed tyrant would appoint his cat Admiral, and he would claim the Supreme Leader title for himself. Foolish. 

Ben rubbed his jaw, his composure fraying. There too remained a vision of himself in death-shroud white and her ghost. That specter lingered on the periphery of his mind, hiding just out of sight as if he needn’t focus on it long enough to make it real.

Stand together. Work together. To what ends? His vision of the future didn’t offer shades to work with: she was with him or against him, and in his version of events playing out, the galaxy was theirs and theirs alone. 

Ben couldn’t shake it off — the assault of all the reasons to reject this mania was giving him a headache. 

Rey had only turned away, trying to hide her disappointment before he’d even said a thing. He could feel it, though: as heavy as heartache — her expectation was like a stone in her chest. Consequently, it felt like a boulder in his, and he was having a time trying to negotiate it.

“Not master and apprentice,” he said after several long, grueling minutes of silence.

Rey didn’t look at him, but he could feel her sigh — the tension unspooling from her so that she seemed to melt a little into her chair.

“No,” she replied with forced lightness. “Just two people working to solve a problem.”

His agreement to her was further silence, which collected around the word “problem” as it dropped from her mouth and made it into something bigger than it initially was. A problem. Theirs.

 Interesting way of putting it.

“And then what?” he asked.

She shook her head, still avoiding his scrutiny. “I don’t want to think that far ahead,” she admitted. “Let’s not linger on the things that have yet to pass. Not yet.”

She still had hope for him, he realized. She nurtured that small spark like it was a tiny flame in a gale, cupped and cradled against her chest where he couldn’t snuff it out. Similarly, he found that the advantage to this situation was that it afforded him the opportunity to draw her to him. He might persuade her yet to see things clearly — to see how right he was about their alliances and allegiances, and how much better things might be if only she joined him.

Restless, Ben was unable to remain at the table where she spread the books out between chunks of sweet meiloorun and other fruits that the small, orange prophetess had seen fit to serve them. He stared at the twin suns rising, his hands clasped behind him, and did his best to tuck in each wild thought that pulled at his composure.

Suddenly afforded all the time in the world, he didn’t know where to begin.

“Okay,” he said instead. And that was that.

Rey, now perched on her heels and wired with nerves, had found clothes in an armoire — silky, loose garments suitable for the climate and conspicuously sized to fit a woman of small stature, like herself, and a man of his towering height. She’d pulled something as pale and flimsy as a cobweb over her bandages, but it still showed every curve and every muscle, and he stared fixedly into the distance, sensing the subtle currents of the Force around them.

 She’d laid linens out for him on the bed. Grey tunic. Grey pants. The suggestion of their forced neutrality was pulling at his already frayed nerves. 

Maz said that he had his grandfather’s eyes, but did that mean he possessed Anakin’s weaknesses as well? Ben brought a hand over his mouth in a telling gesture. He pulled fingers through his hair next, tugging at the roots. This truce of theirs would prove even more challenging than he’d anticipated, were that a consideration to factor in.

Rey glanced at him, altogether too aware of his tensions, just like he was of hers. She cleared her throat.

She tapped a crude writing instrument on the desk. “— N’Kata del Gormo,” she recited. “Who trained Master Yoda, who trained Count Dooku, who trained Qui-Gon Jin, who was master to Obi-Wan Kenobi, who trained Anakin Skywalker, who trained Ashoka Tano —” She looked up. “And that’s where the line stops.”

He didn’t nod. 

“Obi-Wan trained Luke Skywalker. The line splits. You’d find that Yoda trained many more padawans before his self-imposed exile on Dagobah. It’s just what the Jedi did, before the Empire.”

The books held his attention. The bag too, but he chose to ignore the pull of the broken weapon within. Unwilling to get too close to them, he explained in a monotone and at a distance as Rey made efforts to have a sensible, polite conversation that was somehow dragging him back to his old pains through no fault of her own. 

The power that rolled off the stack of ancient texts kept him lingering, held back and hovering in the dawn as it crested the patio. So reluctant, he found himself, that Ben couldn’t even pluck the shirt from the bed to cover himself. He was laid bare for her, and as long as their bond persisted, he expected that it was just going to grow in strength. So what was the point of trying to be coy?

“Where did you get them,” he asked finally and with complete and utter unwillingness to know for certain what he deduced for himself. “The books.” 

She licked her lips. “Luke kept the library,” she said like a peace offering. “He’d found the oldest Jedi temple — still intact — on Acht-to. That’s where I found him.” Two pink dots spread over her cheeks. “I took them.”

Ben made a small noise in the back of his throat. Wisps of his dream settled beneath his skin. Searching his feelings, mingled with Rey’s tensions and his own fraught control over his emotions, he was still able to determine that Acht-to and his dreamscape were not one and the same. Different planets with Jedi temples, and yet, Luke had found the first. There had once been hundreds. He shook it off.

“Do you know what you stole?” He indicated the small stack of texts.

She stiffened. “Scavenged. I scavenged what was not wanted anymore,” she corrected him. “They’re ancient Jedi texts, written in a language that’s too bloody old to decipher. At least there are notes…”

“They have names,” he muttered. “They are the stuff of legends whispered about when the lanterns are dimmed and padawans should be sleeping.”

“Luke never showed them to you?” she guessed. 

He was losing control over his expressions as well, he surmised. Regret crossed Rey’s face almost instantly as she realized that Luke Skywalker hadn’t trusted his nephew enough to allow him to see such delicate Jedi secrets.

Ben forced himself to stop grinding his jaw. 

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t realize…”

Ben shut his eyes for a bit longer than a standard blink, and opened them a little more wearily than before. Something tightened in his chest. Maybe it was the way she seemed to look through him when she was concerned — the warm glow suffusing her gaze, reddening her cheeks, and softening her expression. Not pity — he’d have sensed that. Concern. Plain and simple, and tinged with a warmth that startled him. She clamped her lips together as if her earnestness was making him uncomfortable. 

“I am not a faint and fragile flower,” he muttered, circling back to the bed and snatching up the shirt for the lack of anything better to do with himself. He settled on the edge of the bed, staring at the new day dawning outside their window. “You will not cause me undo injury by stating the obvious. The past is dead. I’ve shuttled it into the farthest reaches of space to be frozen.” He waved vaguely. “Like a giant block of ice-crusted space rock.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose as if a small but concise headache intent to form behind his eyes. Too much to speak of, to think on, to consider. Too much to carry for one person.

Rey cleared her throat. “Could you read them? They’re not written in any language I understand,” she asked too quietly. “Maybe there’s something in one of the books that would offer a better explanation for — this. Us.” She stammered. “Whatever this is. The bond.” She looked away. In profile, the column of her neck exposed, he thought he could see the thrumming of her heart beneath that fragile expanse of pale skin. “I just feel like if what Maz said was true — if we’re connected in such a way that we’re feeling each other’s injuries, then…” She trailed off. 

He murmured, “What if one of us were to die? Would that sever the connection, or would the other die too?”

Rey blanched. “I’d rather not experiment with that theory if possible,” she said too quickly.

He didn’t smirk — the tendrils of the dream were too fresh, too clear in his mind’s eye. The vision of Rey’s Force Ghost superimposed on the flesh-and-blood girl before him. He’d been alive in the dream, however, so perhaps there was some truth to it — or perhaps, in that reality, they’d solved the riddle of their connection before she’d crossed over. He wasn’t certain why that bothered him as much as it did; the not knowing, or the potential, or the possibility that the vision was right and he would turn to the light at the cost of her life. 

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Rey asked, her brow furrowing.

He answered quickly, “I thought you were the self-sacrificing sort.”

The look she fixed him with almost made him smile: like she might’ve flayed him on the spot with her mind alone, then put him back together wrong out of spite. 

“I do what’s necessary,” she said.

Something crossed her expression that made him stop and pause, considering, for a moment, that perhaps he wasn’t alone in wanting to suppress his secrets. Her eyes dimmed, her lashes brushing the tops of her cheeks, her expression shuttering. It was like watching a moon pass before the sun, eclipsing everything that was bright in her.

“Maybe it’s time we stop judging each other based on our preconceived notions.” Her throat worked, choosing her words carefully. “What happened in the forest was — unexpected.” Her chin dipped, and chewing on her lip, she managed, “For both of us, I think. Maz isn’t wrong. I —” She caught herself, glancing at him, and then away. 

Ben stood and took a step forwards, edging closer to her opened spread of books. Notes cribbed the margins in several of the texts, and some of the writing was distantly familiar to him. The page she’d opened to contained a catalog of Force powers, judging by the illustrations.  

She tapped on a small sketch: jagged lines emanating from the hands of the stick-figure adept. Ah. Force lightning. In this case, Sith Lightning was scribbled in a disparaging mark beneath it. 

There was too much of the light in her, for certain, but the shadows behind her eyes spoke of another knowledge — a different understanding, one that he understood. 

“You’ve touched the dark,” he said quietly. “Not just this one time. It calls to you.” Like the light called to him. 

Rey licked her lips. Nodded once. They both knew that there was no sense denying it — he would sense the lie, as would she if he tried to deceive her. “It’s strong,” she said. 

He sank into the chair opposite her. She didn’t look up. 

“You’ve felt it call to you before — in the cave on Luke’s island. It doesn’t invite anyone to it unless there’s something there to be learned. You don’t need to be a Jedi to know that.”

She nodded, eyes unfocused and staring at some distant spot. “It didn’t scare me then. It was Luke’s reaction that was terrifying.”

“But you still sought it out. Why.”

She flicked a nerve-pitted glance at him that didn’t meet his eyes. Avoidant. Skirting the large, pink, fluffy rancor in the room. 

“I wanted answers. I wanted to know who my family was — where I’d come from.” She glanced at him. Turned away as if ashamed. “We know the answer to that at least.”

It didn’t matter. Didn’t she understand that? The silence stretched between them, growing uncomfortable with the weight of the last thing he’d said to her on the matter lingering in both their minds:

You’re nobody, he’d told her. But not to me. 

She knew it too, whether she’d believed him or not, it hadn’t been enough to make her stay. Now, all it seemed to do was cause her pain. 

You don’t need anyone to tell you that you’re special. The words caught in his throat, coiling on his tongue. He grit his teeth, willing himself to stay silent on the matter, to keep the words in. It hadn’t mattered to her before, why should it be any different now?

“An inheritance like mine comes with a weight most people don’t want,” he said instead. “It doesn’t make things any easier. Sometimes I think it might be better to create your own shadow, not stand in someone else’s.” A truth. One of many, picked like a meiloorun, and handed to her like a peace offering. She picked at a pear, pulling it by its stem and dropping it into her plate, staring at the fruit.

“It’s the stupidest thing,” she scoffed. “When I was in that cave, and I asked to see my family —” She shook her head. “I saw a shape forming out of the shadows in the distance, behind that wall of mirrored stone. I thought it might’ve been you.” She lifted a shoulder in a half shrug, picking up a knife. “Ridiculous.”

He gestured on instinct, halting her from avoiding him further by levitating the pear into the air. It floated over the table, rotating in a gentle spiral. She watched it, and by extension, drew her gaze up to meet his, just beyond the fruit. 

Rey exhaled through her nose in a long sigh. She shut her eyes and opened them again, steadier this time. She glanced at him, and he felt the way she searched his features. Was he so transparent that she could see it had hurt? That she’d chosen her war against the First Order over him? 

Ben wiped his mouth, trying to gather his self-control. He said more evenly than he felt, “The dark side should scare you.”

He gestured for the pear to land on his plate, and deftly slicing it in two, he levitated half of it once more to send back to her. Rey speared it midair with a fork. 

Rey frowned, thinking it over. She bit into the fruit with almost savage aplomb, holding his gaze as she chewed. “It doesn’t.” She raised an eyebrow, saying around a stuffed cheek, “You don’t scare me. Not like that.”

The gooseflesh rose on her arms. He could see it from where he sat. A half-truth then — perhaps ‘fear’ was too strong a sentiment for what she felt towards him. In the mix of her feelings carried to him by the Force, Ben sensed something more from her: anticipation? Expectation? Nervousness, surely — that was evident in the way she tucked into her bravery, fortifying herself against what she was truly feeling. Curious, he thought.

Watching the way her mouth moved as she chewed, the purse of her lips as she tried not to smirk at him, Ben settled backward, steepling his hands before him. 

“That’s why you shut me out,” he pressed. “After Crait. You shut every mental door you had in my face to bar me out. Because you weren’t afraid.”

“Angry,” she said, swallowing. “I was —”

“Anger is also a path to the dark side.”

She froze. 

“As is fear,” he conceded. “But these are not your concerns because you were not raised with the same sort of crippling dogma that controlled most Jedi from their youth. It didn’t stop you when you sought out answers in the cave on Acht-to, and it didn’t stop you from reaching out to me afterward.” 

“Luke was furious,” she continued. “He thought you were trying to lure me to the dark. He thought I wasn’t strong enough to resist it, to resist you —” She scoffed.  “I didn’t understand why he was so angry.”

“Jedi dogma.” He sneered, standing. He pushed away from the table to resume his pacing.  “There’s as much power in the dark as there is in the light — wisdom that no Jedi Master is willing to teach their Padawans. The Order was founded on tenets of control, discipline — hoarding their knowledge and doling it out only in dribbles for those they saw fit to wield it. They picked and chose who would be trained in their Academies. They selected their advancements and carefully controlled what they’d allow their younglings to learn. Dogma. Bullshit.” He chuckled. “A power trip meant to exercise control over potential threats so that they might not be led by the wrist to the dark side.” 

“What else?” she asked, rooted to her chair. “What else leads a person to the dark side of the Force?”

Something skirted on the edges of his understanding — an uncanny familiarity that he felt he should know for how it felt to him. Why was she so curious all of a sudden? A slivered vision echoed in his mind’s eye — a piece of the puzzle fitting into alignment. All he needed to do was push, and the whole of it would become clear to him. When he shut his eyes, he saw fire. He saw darkness and flame. He felt its power — the unyielding pull of it — and he saw that burning reflected in her eyes. 

She sucked in a breath, and Ben returned to himself fully, his heart hammering. Mustafar?

Rey had seen the onyx fortress. Rey, who was only inquiring about the dark side and all its potential. Rey, who knew its pull because she had stood above those lava floes over an unyielding landscape. Ben knew how the vision ended because it belonged to him.

He stopped his relentless march, slowing to a halt before the slatted beams of sunlight now spilling into the room and across the bed where they’d lain beside each other for hours in the night, not knowing how close they were to each other.

“Passion,” he said over his shoulder. He heard the clink of silverware as Rey misplaced her fork. The sound was loud even in the cavernous room. 

Understanding settled on him, drawing the corner of his mouth into a small, interested smile as he turned to her and found her cheeks reddening through to the tips of her ears.

“But you would know that, Rey,” he said. “You shared my dream.” 

Chapter Text

She flung the door open, stalking into the hall. It banged after her. Ben would feel her frustration — it sat like a tight knot in her belly, making her palms sweat and skin prickle, and not unpleasantly at that — not really. Oh, hell, she wasn’t sure. Occupying the same space as him for more than just a little while, knowing what she knew, feeling what she felt, feeling what he felt with all those things unsaid between them left her muddled; charged like an overclocked power oscillator ready to overheat. 

Their shared awareness of each other charged the air, making it crackle — and the way he looked at her — like he could peer into her soul with his will alone. She had to get out of there. 

Ben didn’t call after her, but the weight of his gaze was a living thing between her shoulder blades. She could feel laughter that wasn’t hers bubbling in her chest; echoes of his amusement at her embarrassment. Something clattered to the floor, and with chagrin, she kicked at the quarterstaff as it rolled from her, nearly tripping her up in the process. Someone had left it against the doorjamb.

His words fell around her, and she bristled. “No wonder Luke was so concerned that you’d be seduced by the dark side. He didn’t understand that it was literal.”

“You stay where you are. I want to be alone,” she snapped, breaking into a quick march.

She glanced over her shoulder, and found that he lingered in the doorway, eyebrows raised. Smirking. He still hadn’t put on a bloody shirt.

Heat bloomed from her belly, creeping all the way into her hairline. She swatted at nothing, starting to sweat from the humidity and the embarrassment that sat like a pall upon her, the air thickening with heat as the sun rose, turning her skin sticky. Windows peeked out onto a lightening landscape, but Rey didn’t take notice.

“It was your vision,” she spat, as if transferring the responsibility of ownership made it any less awkward. “And I am not embarrassed by it.” 

She flung herself around, quickening her pace as if making a hasty retreat to who-knew-where would somehow staunch the sound of blood pounding in her ears. The scrape of her quarterstaff as he picked it up was obvious. He set it back in place as if the time it took to do so allowed her to put additional distance between them. 

“You shouldn’t be. It was a good kiss —” he said after her.

She swiveled on the spot, shouting at his form, still lingering in the doorway to their room. “— That hasn’t actually happened!”

Ben cocked his head, correcting her, “Yet.” 

She wasn’t entirely sure where she was going, but she pealed around a corner at a too-quick clip and tucked behind a wall to take a breath just the same. She just needed a little distance. A little clarity. A little space between the imagined feeling of Ben’s mouth on hers and the reality of his steady, dark gaze dragging over her lips in real life. 

Frowning, Rey looked up at the ceiling, her heel ticking against the ground, trying to sift through the swirl of emotions surrounding the vision and her memory of it. His impressions cobbled together with hers made for a heady, confusing cocktail that heated her and made her altogether too aware of each garment of clothing she wore, brushing against her skin. 

Exhaling with a shudder, she tried to calm her mind. “Just a dream,” she reminded herself, exhaling through her nose. She cricked her neck, wincing at the sound. “A possible portent, nothing more.” 

“The thing I find the most curious about it,” Ben said from her right. Rey started, jerking away a step. She hadn’t even felt him approach — too embroiled in her own discomforts. “Is not the context of how we find ourselves, but that in both your vision and mine — regardless of how different the place and outcome are — we are —” He searched her face, his gaze roving. “Together.” 

She didn’t dare nod. 

“You shared my dream? You saw yourself return to the light?” she asked.

He inclined his head, not seeming the least bit put off by it. He didn’t waver or falter at all. “Yes.” 

Rey blinked twice, not quite processing this revelation. “And?” she demanded. 

Ben frowned. “Neither and both are true. The will of the Force directs the tide.” 

“But you admit there’s a possibility —” She gulped, taking a step forwards. The air between them seemed to constrict, turning molten. Ben folded his hands behind him, his attention rapt. 

“I admit our desires aren’t taken into consideration by the Force.” 

“But there’s light in you, I can feel it —”

“And darkness in you,” he said in a breath. “I feel it too.”

She shook her head, trying to shake off the possibility that he was right. “Master Yoda could summon Force Lightning too — and he never wavered in his alignment.”

“The book said that?” he asked. “That’s why you asked about him,” he deduced. 

Rey nodded once. 

Ben frowned, considering. “Could you do it again?”

She pinched her lips into a straight line. “I’d prefer to not repeat the experiment by having you attempt to murder me, if at all possible.”  

He conceded to that, his eyes dropping to her bandages. He looked at his hands, the scars on his knuckles. Ben frowned. There were other things that needed to be explored once they’d healed — the limits of this bond that mirrored their injuries, for one. 

Her throat worked. “I’m not going to turn, Ben,” she promised him. For a second, the pride she found in the steadiness of her tone bolstered her. “Does that disappoint you?”

His eyes gleamed in the gloom of the hallway. “Why should I be disappointed when I’ve been offered nothing but time, here with you, to persuade you otherwise?” he murmured. 

She felt the heat spread in a fury, lighting her face and making the skin tingle. Oh no, she thought, swallowing the knot of nerves that settled in her chest. 

“You’re breathing hard,” he informed her, taking a step back to give her a once-over. “Let’s get some air.” 

The first time she’d felt the tumult of Ben Solo’s emotions, it had been a terrifying affair: he’d claimed the very weapon she carried now for himself, leaving her unarmed, cuffed, and alone with him in that elevator on the Supremecy. She’d found her bravery then — wrested it from the swirls and eddies as the Force wove around them, drawing them a step closer together. 

Rey swallowed, searching his face — the manner in which she’d marked him apparent in his scar, but in other ways too, less visible to the naked eye. She felt his invisible wounds instead, and it made her mouth dry. It was no less terrifying than the first time, she found, that some of that consideration in Ben’s emotions were afforded to her.

Maybe more than she’d hoped.

“Rey,” he said under his breath, that long, searching appraisal keeping her rooted. She shook herself. 

She nodded sharply, pivoting and resuming her march. “Air. Right.”

She’d taken not less than three steps before drawing to a halt.

“I don’t know where I’m going,” she said over her shoulder, the weight of his attention like a caress down her back. 

She heard his smile as he said, “Neither do I, but the destination isn’t really what matters, is it?” 

He stepped alongside her, drawing a swath of flimsy grey fabric over his shoulders to cover himself. It did little to keep him modest, but it was better than nothing. 

“I hope our host didn’t expect us to stay sequestered.” He ducked his head, peering down the hall into the shaded stone walls beyond. The hall turned around the next bend, though light spilled from the other end. 

She frowned. 

“I don’t sense anyone else here,” he said. “Was this place abandoned?”

“Reclaimed, I think.” 

Drawing abreast of her, Ben raised himself to full height, falling quiet — reaching past her with his mind, seeking out possible threats in their desolate surrounds. Standing so close to the eye of the storm that made up his power was the most disconcerting thing of all; at the center of Ben’s being, beyond that torrent of raw, unbridled energy was an eerily calm center. A dead space that hummed white and static, but brimmed with a potential to explode into chaos. 

“The planet is ancient, this peninsula in particular,” he murmured, his gaze cast into some far off point. “I sense the Force is strong in this place — jagged cliffs spilling to white sands, crashing waves, miles of jungle.” He wet his lips. Rey noted it. “Clear pools of cool water, and deep, dripping caves.” His brow furrowed. “I can see the water reflecting off the ceilings of ancient caverns. There’s something we are meant to find in the jungle — it’s calling me.” A smile tugged at his mouth. Sweat beaded his upper lip. He took her measure. “You’d sense it better if you calmed your mind.”

A sharp intake of breath was all she managed, ripping her gaze away from that serene look on his face; the impression of clear, crystalline water spilling over her skin from above was so shocking that she gasped. 

“Waterfall,” Ben clarified. He wiped his brow with the back of his sleeve. “Due south. There’s a path right to it if we can get downstairs without Maz intercepting us.” 

“What —”

“It’d be a good place to cool off,” he explained, drawing ahead of her. He didn’t look back. “I think we could both use it.”

Her side gave a twinge, but she followed after him, throwing only a cursory glance behind herself. Though she had once been familiar with Maz’s fortress, this structure was different — unfinished. A work in progress. 

It was possible that it would once reopen to the hoards of smugglers, thieves, and traders who Maz had befriended over the centuries, but besides she and Ben, the occasional chirrup of a bird outside, and mountains of abandoned building equipment, the place appeared deserted. A work-in-progress, the hallway gave out to open air as they turned the corner. She stopped at Ben’s shoulder, the pair admiring the drop to the jungle floor below where the trees had been cleared to accommodate the construction. There was no rail, but a scaffold ran up the side of the building amidst the jagged stones that served as brick.

They stood on the second level, the jungle reaching for miles beyond them. The lake occupied the other side. A second sun had rose, which explained the heat.

Ben squinted into the distance, frowning. “How did she get up here?”

“She must have called in a few favors to see that this place put together, but it’s obvious why she selected this wing to put us up.” 

There were no stairs. Rey frowned. “Maz has a jetpack.”

Ben nodded, appreciative. He eyed the scaffolding, glancing at her, considering her injuries, and his as if already reaching a conclusion. “Do you sense it?” he asked. 

Looking down, she found that patio stones occupied part of the clearing, and several benches and tables had been set out amidst the ferns and flowers that spilled over from the jungle. Dim and blue in the shade, the stones were damp, appearing inviting and cool. What was she meant to find that he had discovered so clearly?

“No,” Ben said. “Not with your sight.” 

Rey shuttered her gaze, giving him one final, uncomfortable look. Ben took a step back to be polite, but this was a test. 

“Show me what other of my skills you’ve scavenged from me, Rey.” The smile in his voice set her teeth on edge. 

She shot him a glare, her hands fisting on the balustrade.

“Well, you’ve certainly siphoned off some of my temper —” he said.

Rey snapped her gaze forward, her pulse thrumming, her skin too hot. The shirt she’d taken from the armoire stuck uncomfortably to the sweat trickling down her spine. She forced out her anger with a sharp breath, sucking in a lungful of humid air. It didn’t steady her. Ben’s presence at her side was a wall of static, bristling and hot.

“Could you take a step back, please?” 

He hesitated. “Am I distracting you?”

Through clenched teeth, she forced herself to unwind; tried to remind herself that there was some of him sliding through her mind, lurking in the shadows of her consciousness, coloring her responses. Ben himself remained constant, steady, and altogether too knowing; as if he knew that her various bodily complaints were his fault — the physical and the mental anguish of the moment. 

She squeezed her eyes shut, ignoring the whisper of his presence that kept her body involuntarily angled towards him. With her feelings, she shot a hand into the distance, searching, reaching. Rey exhaled, long and steady, as she felt the cool spray of water brush her skin. 

She sighed out loud, forgetting her immediate tensions. 

Cool darkness reached back — a stillness and quiet so profound and inviting that her shoulders sagged with it. Restful calm mingled with shadows. The lap of water.

“A grotto,” she breathed. But more than that —

The Force pooled in this shaded enclave, but it was neither dark nor light, and at the same time, it was both. How curious. It tugged at her, drawing her forward a step.

A hand touched her shoulder, halting her, pulling her back to herself. She opened her eyes to find Ben’s fingers resting there, grazing the bandages but not the skin. 

The drop to the ground was several hundred feet. She raised an eyebrow, giving him a pointed look. He lifted his hand, not reluctantly. 

“Path,” she murmured, because sure enough, a small inlet opened into the jungle down below. She felt the journey necessary to get there. Ten minutes at most through the jungle. 

Now that she knew where it was, she had the solution. Regretfully, she hadn’t the necessary gear to make it easier on them. 

“Well,” she said, eyeing the scaffolding. “Perhaps we might guide each other,” she suggested. “An eye for an eye.”

He didn’t comment, but she felt his hesitation.

“Maybe the next lesson is one of practicality,” she explained. She glanced at him askance, one hand on the railing. Something stirred in her as she toed up to the edge, peering over the drop. She’d scaled taller ships, more complicated and fragile than this stone foretress, and she’d done it without proper rigging thousands of times. 

The look of cautious reluctance on Ben’s face made it almost worth it as she raised her chin, her eyes narrowed in challenge, and said, “Follow me.” 

With that, Rey vaulted over the edge, hands gripping, feet hoisting her off the side of the building. 

“Rey!” Ben shouted after her, throwing himself after her with arms reaching. 

She slipped from his grasp with an old, familiar grace. It was a ten-foot drop to the next ledge, at least, but with the bricks jutting from the mortar as they were, she scaled to the next handhold with ease. She laughed, turning her face up to his stricken expression.

It was reminiscent of her first forays into the ship graveyard on Jakku when she’d been but a girl, she thought: back in the days before she’d earned her climbing gear from Unkar Plutt. 

The strain on her knuckles was a familiar ache that she relished, even as she tossed a careless smile at a shocked Ben Solo. He paled at the descent even as he leaned over the rail to watch her let go, dropping to the next elevation off the side of the building, throwing up stone dust as she struck the scaffolding platform. 

“It’ll be harder climbing back up, I promise.” She beamed at him, dusting her hands on her pants. “Come on, Ben.”

Chapter Text

Regardless of what he thought of the man, Ben Solo was appreciative of exactly one thing he’d inherited from his father: Solos could fly. They were born to the cockpit, and while it might’ve been a skill he’d honed to impress dear old dad once upon a time, he’d never regretted it — never regretted trying to best either Han or Luke while in the air, regardless of his mother’s stern reprimands. 

This, however, wasn’t flight — though a loose stone might make something of it if he fell.

The height didn’t bother him as he skittered down another level. Thirty feet left to the soil, maybe. It wasn’t far. But for muscles that weren’t accustomed to scaling megaliths? A body that would have preferred a cockpit instead? His heart kept pounding as he imagined splintered bones and sheared skin, crumpled into an uncivilized heap at the foot of the fortress. 

His bloodied, stinging fingertips gnarled into the brick? Fine. He’d deal with his shrieking joints later. 

The thing that was eating at him was the fact that without as much concern for him, she’d flung herself at a steady rappel down the side of the structure and launched herself fifteen feet to the ground without as much as flinching, while he clung to the last ledge like it were a lifeline. 

One misstep and both of them might bite it. 

Rey clearly hadn’t embraced the repercussions of their Force Bond, though the evidence was right in front of them:

It was why, for example, Ben took his sweet fucking time picking over every stone, every handhold, and every niche he jammed his toes into on his way down. One false move, one poor choice, and both their lights would be snuffed. Painfully, at that.

Worse, a lingering suspicion grew in him: 

As he descended, he folded over the echoes of her vision and what it might mean for him:

A dead Rey might fulfill the vision as a prophecy. Fat load of good that would do him.

It served him better to keep her alive, to be patient, and to examine their bond to the fullest extent to avoid recanting on his previous accomplishments under Snoke’s tutelage. He was master of himself now, no longer the apprentice, no longer the fool’s errand boy — and he had no intention of losing his way, rescinding his power, or yielding to fear. 

He wasn’t meant for the light. Conflicted or not — that was not his path, no matter how much Rey hoped for it. He would be greater than Vader. He would not make the same mistakes — and he would not let her die to fulfill some crapshoot vision of the future where she wasn’t standing by his side, alive and well, and brimming with power. 

Both of them — just teeming with it.

It made his head swim just thinking about it:

They could reshape entire systems. Together.

No more politics. No more war. 

A legacy of absent parents, families torn asunder, ruined potential and decades spent in solitude because of an unending battle between light and dark —

It could all be over so quickly. It could all begin again in a heartbeat.

It could be perfect.

Ben steeled himself against the pull he felt, glancing over his shoulder to find Rey waiting for him, her arms folded across her thin chest, scrutinizing his technique. The twin dots of pink gracing her cheeks spoke of other considerations, however — the sort that turned her gaze dewy and liquid; that painted a flush across her collarbones.

Was she thinking about him, he wondered? Her lips parted, the rise and fall of her shoulders suggesting she was breathing heavier. Her eyes fluttered as she turned away, unsettled.

He found he rather liked it when she turned back to him, heat settling in her gaze; curiosity tinged with the faintest hints of desire though she tried to steel herself and all of her tells. 

If they were playing a game of Jhabacc, she would have lost at least twice by now. Pity they weren’t placing bets.

The only way through this was to ensure that he kept her alive, then he would not turn — and maybe, perhaps, his vision of the future would crystallize into the true path for them both.

It stirred something in his chest, that knowledge, threatening to unlock a door which had been shuttered for many years. The emotion that sat behind it roared, slamming into his will over and over as if to get him to unleash it, but Ben kept that door closed. For now.

He dropped the final several feet out of sheer accident, distracted by the vehemence in which she endeavored to resist him. 

His shins shuddered from the impact of hitting the ground, knees screaming as he stepped backward to redistribute the shock.

She winced in sympathy.

“This way,” she said, jerking her head at the undergrowth flanking the property.

He couldn’t help but notice her limp as she took a few steps forward. It vanished quickly, but he knew she felt the impact he’d suffered only moments ago.

She made no comment that he’d taken three times as long, and he felt no irritation from her. No disappointment — only resignation that he was capable of keeping up with matters that didn’t involve a lightsaber. 

Ben followed, his fingers aching, his legs still shuddering from the strain. He walked straight and proud, unmindful of the pains of his body. 

It was cooler on the jungle floor, but the humidity clung like clouds to the ground. 

“It’s calling you, isn’t it?” he said to her back. He felt it too — whatever waited for them at their end destination hummed through his bones, setting the rhythm of his heart. They closed in on it, their paces quickening along with their blood. 

Through their bond, he could feel Rey’s heartbeat — her anticipation was heady. He couldn’t feel her fear because she felt none herself.

There were answers waiting for them. 

This was not a call either of them could deny.

She looked behind her just once, not to be sure that he followed or that he kept up, but to give him a nod of encouragement. It took him aback. Ben nearly stumbled.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

He shook it off. Shocked at himself, it occurred to him that her simple concern — that easy, determined acknowledgment that she saw him as her peer, was almost amicable. When had he last felt something similar? Ben couldn’t recall.

Something passed between them then — amidst their differences, their diverging hopes, and their past failings. All was not all right, but for just a moment, Ben felt something in the tumult of his mind that he hadn’t sensed in an age:

A stirring of warmth for the girl and her small quirk of a smile.  

She turned away to hide it, but it didn’t matter:

It kept him moving. 

“The Force is strong here.” Its thrall tugged through his solar plexus, and Ben had to stop, shocked by the strength of it.

When Rey turned to see if he’d sensed something similar, her wild-eyed stare set his heart beating faster.

She licked her lips. “What is that?”

A smile threatened as Ben ducked beneath a palm, pushing aside the wet leaves. 

Throughout the jungle, the Force sank into the forest floor — it sloughed through the dirt and silt, pushing through the root systems and twining around the trees, turning the dappled sunlight to shimmers where it found water. The whole of the jungle dripped life, replenishing itself in one unending, cyclical microcosm.

The roll of Rey’s shoulders was sinuous as she tried to shake off some of the tension, snagging at his attention. There was a knot at the base of her neck. Her side was bothering her, and the shoulder where she felt the faintest echoes of Finn’s blaster shot was tender. 

He knew all this because he stood beside her — this close, and the Force divulged all her secrets in whispers, including the way the sweat trickled in rivulets down her spine. 

To stand beside her, his own aches and pains dulled to a distant roar in the background. A calm settled on him, eerily persuasive. His head cleared in increments like a breeze trickled calm through every fiber of his being the closer they stood together.

“Strange,” he murmured.

Beneath the shade, the heady smells of tropical flowers. A garden nearby. 

Ahead, and below, and above, there was something else. Something more.

“Do you feel that?” she asked.

He did:

Shadows and light, playing together.

Ben swallowed, his hand reaching for her wrist involuntarily. Too tender a gesture, he stopped himself as she swept away from him, driven by forces unseen to find the source of this shimmering magic, flowing as if from an unending stream.

The path curved left, jutting into a rocky outcropping that banked and swerved into a vine-latticed portal. A mountain of stone rose above them, jagged and unforgiving. Birds cawed in the distance. Sunlight fell through the trees, but no beam struck the entrance to the cave before them.

Silence rang true and constant from beyond the curtain of greenery that covered its dark entrance.

“Wait,” said Ben, listening hard. He held out a hand to draw her back, and Rey, rapt, remained still with some effort.

“I’ve felt this before,” she whispered. “But not exactly.”

He nodded.

“The dark draws you in when it means for you to learn something new — to face a fear, to shift your perception. Every Jedi hears the call at least once.”

“You did?” 

He nodded, straining to see into that fathomless black. “More than a few times.”

She pressed fingers to her chest. “It’s like it’s pulling at me.”

“Are you afraid?” He glanced at her, searching for the truth of it.

Wide-eyed and dewy with perspiration, she turned her face towards him. Rey’s lips parted. Her shoulders rose and fell as if she were trying to hold her breath to hear something better — something beyond normal perception. She shook her head just once.

“It’s calling both of us.”

She took a step forward and this time, Ben didn’t stop her.

“You don’t resist it,” he marveled. “Because you don’t understand it as wrong.”

She shook her head. “It feels like it simply is. A counterweight to the light — necessary.”

“Necessary,” he repeated.

She froze, jerking to a halt. Rey crouched. “Wait — did you see that?”

Ben frowned, pressing ahead and drawing back the curtain of vines. It lifted with some difficulty; millennia of growth firm and sticking. With some effort, he managed to tug open a hole — a task far easier accomplished with his saber in hand, but given their decision for a temporary truce, it seemed ill-met to extract it from the sack Chewbacca had left them atop all those ancient books. He felt its presence, its comfort reassuring — even if it was not immediately on his person. 

“See what?”

“Maybe I should go first,” she volunteered, too quickly.

Something stirred in the recesses. Her mounting anxiety echoed the pulse of his heart in his ears as Ben discovered his palms had begun to sweat. 

When he’d been a boy, he’d visited with the dark in one such hollow. The lesson had been simple, surreal in its soul-rending accuracy: he would die forgotten and alone in a nameless grave. Powerless. Impotent. Subservient.

His worst fear.

He would become nobody. He would remain… nothing.

As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he weighed her offer. “Your fear is an illusion,” he said. “You fear that I will judge you for what I see of you in here. I am the monster, remember? What dwells in the dark should remember to fear me.”

He pushed ahead, Rey close at his heels.

“Ben,” her voice hitched. “Wait —”

Not ten paces in and Ben understood her reluctance: the dense surface of the cave dipped, pitted rock lost to centuries of debris piled into the entrance from the forest. A soft bed of crushed verdure coated the floor, making him sink with each step. Darkness reigned — it’s muffling hum devouring as he gasped, too late, and the floor gave way beneath him.

He felt Rey snatch at him, her reflexes like lightning, but in the dark where they were both unaccustomed and straining to discern forms from the gloom, her hands closed over air.

And Ben fell.

His heart hauled into his throat, his arms shooting upwards as vines and bramble broke away beneath him to scrape at his arms and face. The freefall shot everything into a weightless plummet, his internal organs rising as his body dropped. The light from the cave’s mouth silhouetted her body as Rey shot out over the hole he’d made, struggling to keep from tumbling after him. Ben couldn’t see her face, but he felt her desperation clawing after him; saw her fingers straining to clasp his.

Light exploded beneath him — just a flash, blue and white and shining. There wasn’t a moment to arrive at the realization that he was about to die, not when her terror shot down their bond, swallowing him — seizing his heart in a vice and squeezing as if she might stop his fall.

His feet struck first with a slap that closed around his legs, his waist, his chest in a cool rush. It took a gasping moment and a lungful of cool, clear water to shock him back to his senses. Ben thrashed, kicking, launching up to the surface.

His head broke the pool with a splash and a gasp, followed by the choking pain of water in his nose and throat. He coughed. Spat. Coughed. Kicked upwards again, and blinking blurring streams from his eyes, gagged on air.

Alive after all.

“Ben!” Rey screamed after him, her voice echoing into the chamber — amplified a thousand times and echoing in the semi-dark. 

He blinked water out of his eyes, trying to piece together what he was seeing:

Vines dripped from the ceiling over a starry pool, cerulean in the dim light and casting reflections up the walls, illuminating a large chamber. The cave walls had long been hollowed out, the floors wet and walls shining. Ochre markings from an eon ago painted figures on the walls with rough smears. Thick leaves, green and dripping, filled in the spaces. He was alone, save for the echoes of Rey’s harsh breathing and his own hammering heart.

“I’m okay,” he called back, wiping the water from his eyes.

Freshwater. Clean and cold.

He barked a throaty laugh.

“It’s a grotto!” he called back to her. “I landed in a pool.”

He looked up and found her face lit from below as if with blue flame.

She glowed — a moon against a starless night. 

“There’s something in the water,” she said.

He looked down, finding that as he tread in place, tiny stars erupted around him in the water, churning with the tidals he kicked up.

“They’re bioluminescent,” he said. “Microscopic aquatic life.” He looked up. “It’s fine. I’d sense it if they were dangerous.”

Something clung to the ceiling amidst the vines. 

Ben let out a breath, squinting as some of them winked out. As blue as the water, and as bright as the night sky. Glow worms.

The Force pooled in this place --

“A vergence,” he whispered. No wonder the pull was so strong — the grotto hummed with it. The sensation dancing across his skin was unlike anything he’d ever felt, and he was bathing in it. This must have been a temple, once, long ago. 

“Why are you smiling?” she demanded. Her voice cracked on the last syllable.

Her chin wobbled. Rey swatted at her face.

“Come down here and see.” Gentler, “The water’s deep. Not cold. You can just drop right in.” 

She shook her head, sucking in a breath. 

“Rey.” His throat worked. Softer, he said with hesitation, as if it would be the last thing she’d want or need of him — “I’ll catch you.”

Strained and two octaves higher than normal, she managed, “Okay.”

Was she crying? He puzzled over this, struggling to better see her face, though it was a wasted effort: backlit by whatever clung to the roof of the grotto, he’d never catch more than a fleeting glimpse. He could still feel her, however, and if the tightness in his chest was any indicator, he could swear that she was — in relief or in terror, he wasn’t sure. A bit of both, perhaps. 

“Rey,” he said again.

“Stop it,” she sniffed. “I’m not afraid.” Not for herself, he concluded.

He swam backward, clearing the space for her.

“Just take a deep breath,” he said. He suspected that on a planet like Jakku, diving into deep water was an uncommon occurrence. Still, she’d survived something similar on Acht-to without much concern for herself and hadn’t drowned. 

“I can do this,” she muttered.

“You had no trouble the last time,” he reminded her, staring up at the opening. Her legs stuck out over the side as she shuffled into a drop position. 

“Last time I didn’t have a choice. I don’t generally drop myself into suspicious-looking bodies of water with glowing bits of microscopic marine life. Are you sure it’s not acid? The glowing bits aren’t eating through your skin?”

“That’s a lot of confidence you’re demonstrating.”

She snorted.

“Get back, I don’t want to land on your head.”

She struck with a splash that lapped up at his face. For a moment, Rey was little more than a dark blur beneath him in the water, arms struggling to pull herself upwards. She might’ve managed to spare herself from drowning on Acht-to, driven by the pull of the Force, then, but now — now Ben dove beneath the surface, hands catching her at the waist.

A shock rolled through him at the touch of her skin, finding her warm and yielding beneath his hands. She stilled, her face a blur that turned towards him, muscles loosening at his touch as he drew her up. A palm found his chest; the other, his shoulder. Her fingers grazed his neck, and the jolt to his midsection turned her touch electric. 

Forged together, the Force sang through her skin to him. Ben’s grip tightened, not understanding at first the boundless, bottomless song that filled his ears and caught his breath in his throat. 

She arched into him, the sensation magnified through their bond. Loose fabric spun around them, lost in the swell of the pool and lit by so many small, illuminating dots of phosphor.

It was as if they swam in stars.

It was her, he realized. Every molecule of his being turned towards her, churning from him like the tide upon finding the moon and roaring against the shore, determined and unstoppable. Upon contact, their bond became a bridge — steadfast and sure, with no uncertainty, it felt as if half of himself that he’d lost had returned to him. He felt… whole.

And yet, there was a microcosm between them. He couldn’t pull her close enough. 

Together, they became a universe in miniature, slowly revolving as stars burned brightly for a moment, reaching into the impenetrable darkness that could do nothing but wait for them to expire, snuffed out in an instant only to leave stirred echoes behind. 

Light burned so brightly in his mind that Ben forgot that he floated with her in this vast expanse of nothing that was so full of potential. Only they remained, forever and onward, two halves of a whole made complete by each other. 

As her forehead touched his, Ben knew that this was their inheritance: their shared destiny bound together and strengthened by their Force Bond. He hadn’t even known how much of himself had been broken; how much he’d missed.

She glowed the brightest, and because nothing had ever caused him so much pain to wish for more, he pulled her tightly to his chest as if he could enfold himself within her. 

Rey consumed him — swallowing all of the universe’s wonders and magnifying them as if she were a lens that refracted the light on him in a spectrum. 

Her hands clenched around the fabric of his shirt, and she was the one to draw away — pulling him with her out of the darkness to break the surface, gasping.

The spell ebbed but lingered in his bones. Awakened and aware of her, still tangled in his arms.

In that eerie blue glow, the pulse of the Force swirling on the surface of the water, clothes heavy and impossible, Rey hauled at him, taking a sharp breath that mingled with his own. Their legs had twined together, somehow, but the water buoyed them up.

The lights above dimmed, but still, he saw her eyes as she gasped through a smile.

“I see you,” she whispered, and he tightened his hold on her.

He nodded, and a whisper of some distant memory brushed past him:

---

Rey, small legs dangling off the side of an upended AT-AT, gazing at the moons over Jakku.

Rey, scratching numbers into a wall — counting down the days to the inevitable moment where someone came for her, finally.

Rey, curled into a shape so small and unnoticeable that the dunes might swallow her.

Alone. Alive, but never truly living.

An existence carved from the refuse of someone else’s war.

Rey, set on one purpose alone —

Rey, bound and strong, resisting his demands as he invaded her mind. 

Rey under the snowfall, teeth bared, eyes alight, driven by a greater purpose that shaped her into something new and fierce and determined — he had done that.

---

She swallowed hard, lifting a dripping hand to place on his cheek. 

“I see you see me,” she said, her voice breaking.

Her touch was warm on his skin, callused hands delicate and tracing the scar she’d left on him.

Ben couldn’t respond. The sensation doubled on itself, and he could feel the rough stubble on the planes of his face through her touch. The slight pucker of his scar beneath her fingertips. The water that ran from his hair in rivulets. His flushed skin. His firm grasp on her waist, tightening as he realized the sensation made her want to arch into him. 

Her impressions of him offered a three hundred and sixty degree view of two souls suspended in the darkness of space and time — something greater than either of them imagined ensuring that they found each other. 

The bond echoed all of it to him in an unending loop that split with the feeling of the backs of her thighs on his, the press of her chest against his, the heat that settled against him — as warm as the desert sun —

Their breaths mingled, the rise and fall of each their chests moving together against one another. She licked her lips, and he felt the stirring of the Force between them as if in anticipation. His mouth so close to hers, he might’ve felt her tremble.

She didn’t move though they were so close, hovering over some precipe above which there was only an endless abyss. 

The stars in her eyes shone all around them in their weightless moment. 

And the darkness in between, silent and watchful.

He saw himself in her eyes as if the past replayed for himself:

---

Ben, a small boy, running after his father with a toy blaster. Han boarding the Falcon, the door shutting after him without a backward glance.

Ben’s mother kissing him goodbye before disappearing for weeks on another diplomatic mission. Ben, turning his cheek.

The company of droids. 

Hand and Leia arguing, the volleys of their disagreements carrying through the walls.

Chewbacca’s brief company, his inability to make any of it better because the wookie didn’t intervene in his parents’ disputes.

A voice in the dark, calling to him in dreams, promising him the power to change what seemed impossible. Power to get away. Power to escape this life. Power to make the world anew as he wished it.

Stars falling to their deaths in the night sky while he watched their endless cascade. So many of them while he stood stranded, alone, beneath them as they fell. He’d long stopped trying to catch them; to spare them pain.

---

Rey gasped. Ben’s eyes stung. She didn’t pull away. 

His throat constricted, but he did not let go. “I see you too.”

She nodded, searching his gaze for some meaning to what transpired between them. The tightening in her chest was an ache in his own; a struggle that cleaved him. He’d had a taste of this when their bond forced them to share a trickle of themselves with each other. This was a flood.

Rey’s lips parted, her chin crumpling. She shook her head, water rolling down her cheeks, mingling with her tears as she cried for the boy that he'd been.

She didn’t need to say anything. He felt her compassion for him renewed, knowing the boy that he’d once been had been lost. She’d shut the door on him before, and even knowing that, Ben curled her into him, holding her as she cried for him. For them both. 

Rey had shone a light into the darkness to see what lingered there.

What Rey found was fear and pain of a young boy who’d never fully healed. She traced her fingers against those scars, and placed a kiss where it might be felt long after as if that alone might make it better.

“I’m sorry,” she said as she withdrew. “I’m so sorry, Ben.”

Something shifted between them: a removal of some barrier that had kept them apart, and Rey turned from him, her head bowed, pressing herself away from his chest. She hesitated as if she didn’t want to let him go, but she would — Ben knew it with a desperate certainty that he would not be able to hold on to her either. 

When she released him, swimming to the other side of the pool, the light seemed to fade. Only darkness remained, shadows stealing back to him in increments.

Suddenly bereft, Ben tried to piece together what just happened. In a heartbeat, she’d come to some conclusion. Now, his arms drifted. Empty. 

Without her touch, the cave fell to shadow, a weight settling over him once more as if to let him sink into the pool. 

For a moment, Ben wanted nothing more than to drown without her.

A flash of recent memory struck him: 

Rey standing in the opened door of the Millennium Falcon while he knelt in the control room of the base on Crait, holding onto his father’s Sabaac dice. Their eyes meeting before she closed the door on him, and their bond. The gesture was absent anger, but she had no sympathy for him either. Where she went, she would not let him follow.

“You shut me out,” he said. “Just as you’re doing now.”

It was a moment before she replied. “I had to,” she returned. Her voice turned hollow, tendrils of darkness creeping into her words. Ben felt cold. 

“I want to help you. Don’t you see that? I want you to stand by me, but I can’t change your mind for you. I can’t convince you to be something your not; to become someone else. That’s a decision for you to make. Regardless of whether I stand by your side while you make that journey, it’s your journey to take. My being there is not enough to change you. I realize that now. Don’t you see?” 

The grotto around them darkened.

“And when you’re ready, I will be here, Ben.” 

Chapter Text

-
For Darkness, Stars
Chapter 19: Secluded Spaces
-

He had a certain gravity to him that continued to pull her in. 

Turned away, Rey placed both hands on the wet stone and hauled herself, dripping, from the pool. His gaze was a living thing, heavy on her shoulders, wanting to pull her to him — that desire was so great that it became an ache. 

His memories swirled inside her mind, settling in places where they closed off her air. Made her want to scream. She pushed them back, acknowledging them, but setting them aside for later. Yes, she had seen him — the whole of him.

In the absence of Ben’s touch, all she could feel was his despair. Beneath that, layers of old scars mottling a scared young man who’d been left alone too long. It was almost cruel to deny him, but she hadn’t — not really.

Ben’s darkness was blacker than a starless night. It eclipsed him, swallowed his light entirely, though she knew if she were to hammer at him long enough, and thought it might break her in the process, she could shine some light through the cracks.

That was not the way. 

You couldn’t remake someone who was already broken by beating at them further.

She swallowed, shaken, shocked at herself for holding firm to what she believed and hating herself just the same for having to say it:

“Where you go, I can’t follow. I cannot follow you into the dark. I cannot draw you back. Only you can do that, and when you’re ready, I will be here. Waiting.”

She raised her eyes to him, her limbs shaking from the force of their bond — the pain that flooded her from the rejection, and steeled herself, gritting her teeth. For them both, she needed to be strong, no matter what she felt for him.

No matter how much it hurt.

His eyes turned flinty. He didn’t understand. He didn’t want to.

“I have all the patience in the world Ben. All of it. That’s all I’ve ever had, because that’s all I’ve ever done: wait.” 

“I never asked for your help.”

The splash was enormous as he heaved himself from the pool. His shirt clung to him, making every muscle a cut line on his physique. Raw power. Unbridled anger. It spilled from him in a torrent, catching her in its wave.

They were at odds again — sitting on opposite sides of the equation despite what they’d only just felt for each other. 

There was more to this than either was willing to admit. Worse, it was her fault that he felt this way. 

Turning him from her was not what she wanted, but it was what he needed.

Rey bowed her head, exhaling long and hard, trying to stay strong. She could cry for him all she wanted in private, but here and now, he needed this. 

Ben Solo needed to return to himself without her help, but she could walk beside him the whole way. She could stand by his side and be his light when the darkness became too great. She could wait for him at the end of the path: a beacon for him to follow.

There was no choice. 

If she gave in to it for just one second, his vision of the future might as well be real:

The knot in her stomach was not enough to keep her bowed over. She straightened with difficulty, taking all of his pain, his anger, his hatred, his disappointment, and his desire for her: his need to not stand alone that burned the greatest. She took it, she bore it, and she looked him dead in the eye.

In the pool between them, and image swirled into form: 

Prophecies were possibilities. Turn them a little to the left or to the right, and they became more or less probable, depending on how they were approached. That the Force would show her this over and over lent some truth to what Ben believed: 

The shape of it held its truth, and it gave her hope like it was an ember in the depths of the darkness, so small that under the torrent of his emotions it might wink out. It burned in her, the picture: their hands entwined, fingers laced together. Ben smiling down at her with a light in his eyes. She couldn’t see their surroundings, only them.

It was only ever them that she needed to see to believe that it could be real.

She felt… peace. 

“This was your plan all along,” he said. “From the moment the blocks you placed on our bond weakened, you’d decided to tempt me. You baited me with your kindness like it was a lure, only to abandon me when I thought —” He was breathing hard. 

“I am right here, Ben.”

His attention was viper-swift. 

Rey swallowed, drawing her legs beneath her. 

The image between them in the pool shifted, becoming swirling shadow.

His voice turned raw. Plaintive. “We are meant to be together. It’s the will of the Force.”

She nodded. “Yes. But not like this.” 

He stood on one swift motion, his clothes sticking to him.

“You’re going to be waiting an awfully long time, Rey,” he said. “You’re making a mistake.”

The smile she gave him was sad. He hesitated, trying to piece it together. Another second and his scrutiny might’ve shattered her.

She couldn’t speak, so instead, she swallowed, nodding as she stood. “Maybe,” she offered. Her voice was tight. She lifted a shoulder in a half shrug. “But even if I’m waiting forever, it’s still something.” 

His throat worked. She felt his anger ebb enough for him to see past it just enough to understand that she was still here. She wasn’t running. She wasn’t turning him away — not in the way that he imagined. 

“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.” 

His brow furrowed, and taking a step, he tried to decipher this stubborn determination that left her rooted.

“Why,” he begged, taking a step around the pool. “If I’m such a monster. Such a snake,” he spat. “So irredeemable that you left me lying there, amidst enemies — for a man who would have me dead. Why would you even bother —”

He loomed over her, and Rey only turned her face up to him, her eyes stinging. She unclenched her hands, extending her fingers and placing them without hesitation on the skin of his chest.

Ben gasped, his eyes widening in shock as he gripped her wrist — their Force Bond smashing the equivalent of a hyperspace tunnel into place between them, opening it wide.

“It doesn’t have to be about choosing a side,” she breathed, and with that breath, she unleashed her feelings on him:

Her desolation, her loneliness, her starless nights, her solitary mornings in the pre-dawn light. The sound of wind through her shelter and the grit of sand pooling at the corners of her eyes. The endless quiet of the desert and the scorching sun, burning away everything but the thoughts that remained constant, and she, in the midst of it — knowing that home was not a place. It was a comfort; something to return to. It was family and friendship, the touch of a hand clasping hers. It was care. It was an ache for love so strong that it lit a blaze in her like none other, and it was the knowledge that it was out there — and it was waiting for her too. She showed him what waited for him. 

She showed him the end of the path and the hope that blazed there, unwilling to doubt him, but unable to carry him to the end.

She showed him that she would not falter.

She showed him a vision of what waited for him when he was ready to return to the light, for when he realized that she never found him wanting. As if in a dream, Rey rose to the tips of her toes, pulling him towards her in the darkness of the grotto. She brushed her lips against his with such tenderness that the kiss was hardly more than the brush of a butterfly’s wing, struggling against a gale. In that singular touch, she poured the heat of a thousand suns, a million burning stars that shone brightly enough to push back the night. It was over in a second.

Ben gasped, his knees buckling from the force of that promise. She gripped him. 

“Why would you do that?” 

“I know who you are, Ben. I know your heart.” Her voice broke. “But there is a divide within you that needs to be reconciled — so you can be whole again. And only you can mend it for yourself.”

Rage trickled from him, building as if without pause. 

“Snoke said much the same. He said killing Han Solo cleaved my soul in half,” he spat, derision twisting his mouth. She hadn’t meant it as a criticism — it was only the simplest truth.

“I’m not Snoke.”

“You’re worse,” he hissed, tearing away from her. “You’d leave me crippled and broken, unable to fight; unable to stand like a man at your side because you want that power for yourself.”

“That’s the darkness in you speaking,” she said quietly. “You don’t believe that.”

Rey glanced at the pool again and found a glimpse of two people drawing into form between the ripples — a man and a woman who most certainly were not them, though they embraced with a similar sort of desperation.

She shook her head, trying to place where she’d seen the man before. His eyes were familiar, and so was his scar, but she was certain that she knew him somehow. He wore black leathers, but his lightsaber — 

She sucked in a breath, turning from it as the man walked away from the woman, now weeping openly as he left her. It seemed like it wasn’t the first time. It certainly felt like it would not be the last – for either the couple in the pool’s vision, or themselves. 

The vision rose the hair on the backs of her arms. 

“It’s all I’ve ever done,” she said, defeated. “I’ve become something rather of an expert at waiting for you to come home.”

His stare anchored her, kept her rooted. She felt too full, too hot, too willing to buckle under the weight of his heat, and yet she remained. His jaw worked, his expression shuttered, though behind it, a torrent of emotion spilled; anger, disappointment, defeat, and desperation swirling together. There was a ringing in Rey’s ears, the strain of everything between them threatening to go supernova. 

She was afraid to move. If she did, she might recant everything — close the five feet of distance between them, and fling herself onto him. Never let go. 

“You —” The sound shuddered through him. He flinched, squeezing his eyes shut, cutting off the wetness that sat in the corners before tears could fall. “You presume too much.”

He was like a wounded animal — threatened and alone and afraid, and if she came too near, he would tear her apart. 

Finally, after what felt like minutes, Ben turned away. The breath that Rey sucked in nearly choked her, but she swallowed the flood of words that threatened.

He raised his face to the sky, the dim glow of phosphor painting him ghostly. All his scars were plain to her; all the pieces discordant and rubbing together too painful to bear. 

“You’ve nothing more to say that I want to hear,” he said far too quietly. A needle of danger lanced through his tone. He didn’t look at her, but Rey marked him for what he was: standing there exposed and broken, some fallen creature who’d lost the ability to fly. 

He leaped from the knees, bending and lunging upwards through the opening in the floor. 

Overhead, the ceiling shuddered as he escaped their shielded, private grotto in a single bound.

Rey bowed her head, wrapping her hands around her elbows, and stared down at the pool. No further encoded messages presented themselves, save for one that disappeared with the ripples in a heartbeat:

Shadows and flame, both of them robed in black; a perversion of everything she wanted most. They vanished, replaced by the man with a scar, his face darkened under a roiling, red sky.

“Why are you showing me this?” she whispered to thin air.

There was no response. Not that she expected one. 

A few minutes later, she followed him, opting to climb instead of using the Force to leap to freedom. It was longer, her palms stinging from cuts left by the leaves, but Rey climbed and crawled, and hauled herself from the grotto and back into the cave, thinking that Ben had long since left her behind.

Silhouetted in the mouth of the cave, backlit with daylight, she found him waiting, his expression stony.

A moment later, she saw what blocked his path:

Maz Kanata sat on a rock, a blaster pointed at Ben Solo to accompany her thousand yard stare.

“Hi Maz,” she said. 

The look Ben fixed her with might’ve melted off her skin. 

Maz mused, “I asked him nicely to assist you in getting out of that hole. He refused.”

“I managed.”

Maz lowered her blaster, but she narrowed her eyes in such a way that suggested although she knew Ben wouldn’t stick around, she wasn’t entirely impressed with his transparency.

“I don’t expect your journey will be easy,” she said. “Because working together doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get along, nor agree. But rest assured, you are making it worse for yourself the longer you resist it.”

Maz gestured to the path, indicating that Ben’s way was clear.  

Ben glowered at them both, marking them. He opened his mouth to say something then thought better of it, snapping his jaw shut.

He stalked away without another word, his shoulders rolled as if to shield himself. The forest seemed brighter for his departure.

“You hurt the boy,” Maz remarked. “Those are deep cuts he wears. Just like his father; unable to own up to it. Too proud, these Solos.”

Rey looked after him, branches slapped out of the way of his thundering exit. She suspected that if he’d had his lightsaber, there would be more than a few felled trees along the path. Ben Solo: First Order tyrant; also effective at clearing paths through the underbrush.

A small smile quirked the corner of her mouth.

Catching herself, she turned back to Maz, who, with her hands in her pockets and her level scrutiny, seemed to be piecing things together for herself.

“He’ll recover, I’m sure,” she said, not making direct eye contact.

“What did you do, Rey.” That it wasn’t phrased as a question should have been the first clue that she was asking for trouble.

She sucked her lower lip into her mouth, chewing on it. In the distance, the top of Ben’s head vanished through the trees. From here, she wouldn’t be able to see him scale the wall, but she wasn’t worried. He’d managed admirably before.

“I took something I shouldn’t have,” she admitted. “A memory. From Ben.” She glanced at Maz, not half as guilty as she might’ve felt, given the situation. “So I gave him something in return.” She lifted a shoulder. “To say ‘thanks.’”

Maz’s eyebrows raised in increments, the weathered patterns of her face crinkling. 

“Oh,” was the only thing she said before she leaped off the log. “That explains why he was so red in the face.”

She ducked her head, smiling to herself: a small, private thing to be nurtured while it was still possible to do so.

Maz continued down the path, tossing over her shoulder as Rey followed, “Out of curiosity, what was the memory?” 

Rey sobered, remembering the scent of cauterized flesh as acrid as if it were carried on the breeze. Rey turned her head, searching for it in the distance, though the sense impression lingered in her mind:

Sweat and blood.

The tang of electrical fires as the equipment in Snoke’s boudoir burned.

Dark eyes, mirroring the hatred of Snoke’s scarred face, seated on his throne, as Ben gazed down at her, his lightsaber angled towards her chest. Her fear, sudden and sharp in his nostrils.

Rey shook it off, trying to turn away from it, but the flood of emotion was too strong: Ben watching silently, his blood hammering in his ears while he was forced to watch Snoke raise her bound body into the air, tearing into her mind, feeling the residual pain of it in flickers down their bond — rage slamming into the walls of his mind over and over, begging to be unleashed, an implacable force driven to madness as he listened to her screams. 

Nothing had ever cut him so deeply.

When the white-hot calm settled on him, he saw nothing but his desire to ensure that no such pain should ever threaten her again.

Rey swallowed, the power of the memory making her heart pound.

They’d reached Maz’s citadel, and Rey hadn’t said a word in minutes.

Maz looked on with a patience cultivated over centuries of waiting for young people to make up their own minds.

Rey cleared her throat, her hands wound into fists, nails cutting her palms.

“I sensed what Ben felt for me when Snoke wanted him to kill me. I felt his resolve — that he would protect me, no matter what. He —” She looked into the distance, finding Ben had scaled the wall halfway, and was clinging to it hard. Rey grit her teeth. “He would sacrifice himself if he had to. He couldn’t hide the memory from me.” She glanced at Maz. “That’s how I know,” she said, swallowing the lump in her throat. “— that at the end of this, he’ll come through.” She blew out a breath. “I just need to wait until he realizes it himself.”

Maz considered her, her expression implacable. 

Finally, she made a noise that she’d at least heard Rey: “Hm.” 

She nodded, turning. 

Rey blinked after her. 

“Maz?”

She carried on down the path, gesturing for Rey to follow. With another glance at the ascending dot on the citadel wall, Rey grit her teeth and followed even though her attention wanted to linger; to ensure that he made it over the rampart okay.

“That is not all,” said Maz. “You’re withholding something.”

Rey frowned, nearly tripping over a wayward tree root in her effort to follow as Maz wandered into a thicker bit of the brush. 

Maz glanced over her shoulder, her expression knowing. “You had a vision,” she guessed. 

“How did you know that?”

Maz smirked. “You’re not the first person to have ventured into that cave, child. The pool is a nexus of power in the Force — something the Jedi liked to call a ‘vergence.’ They are rare things now, though at once time, entire planets were centers like the grotto. That’s why the Jedi chose them as the locations for their temples; they were said to right the balance in the Force when the wielders shied too far to either side — too close to the dark, or too close to the light.”

“Like Acht-to,” she guessed. 

Maz kept walking, though the long, searching look wasn’t lost on Rey. She turned back and kept walking. “And there were others, now lost: Jedha, Ilum, Ossus, Vrogas Vas, Tython —  and those of the Sith.”

A large leaf slapped at her, and flinching, Rey had to duck to Maz’s height to follow. Still, branches vines caught at her, slowing her progress while Maz meandered easily around a bend. 

“Sith,” she repeated. “I’ve heard stories about them, from the Old Republic —”

“Just another manifestation of the Dark Side,” said Maz. “Long dead, but not so easily forgotten. Evil has a tendency to rise from the ashes, no matter how staunchly one tries to stamp out the embers.”

She considered this, thinking of all she knew of Ben. “He’s not — Ben Solo isn’t Sith —”

Maz didn’t turn around this time.

Whispers in the underbrush pulled at Rey’s attention — a swath of shadow cutting between the trees, snagging at her awareness. She turned, seeking it out, feeling as if it were somehow familiar but not entirely. Rey frowned, knowing that the it was merely a ripple in the Force. Like a pebble dropped into a vast ocean, it was barely discernable but the sensation remained: it felt as if she was being watched. 

“That lightsaber you found,” Maz said, turning left towards the citadel’s bulwark. “Has it shown you anything else?”

Rey drew to a full halt. When she’d touched it for the first time, she’d been assaulted by a series of visions — experiences that were so real, she thought they were prophecies. It hadn’t occurred to her that they might’ve been memories.

“The kyber crystal within the blade was bound to an owner who understood both sides of the Force, though it nearly destroyed him. He is the one who is trying to reach you.”

The world ground to a halt then shuddered into precarious motion again beneath her feet. It was such a sudden revelation that Rey nearly tripped.

“But it was Luke’s lightsaber,” she protested. 

“It belonged to someone else before him,” Maz replied. “Obviously, he has a message that you’re having difficulty hearing.”

“But I broke it.” Well, not entirely her — but the specifics were more of a challenge to dissect; the responsibility of whether she broke the saber or Ben broke the saber being of debate, but Maz apparently wasn’t asking for the particulars.

Lips pinched into a flat line, Maz repied, “Perhaps that’s why he’s seeking other means of communication as an alternative.” 

The lightsaber’s owner was making a piss poor show of it, but perhaps that was her fault.

A cold stone settled in Rey’s belly. She’d neglected to repair the saber. She’d tried, of course, but she hadn’t the skill to mend what had been broken, and so it had remained. An embarrassed flush crossed her cheeks.

“I don’t have the skill to repair it,” she said. “I’ve tried, but it’s not like any hardware I’ve dealt with before — I even searched through Luke’s texts.”

“There is another way,” Maz said, her eyes narrowing. Her statement led her to scale a stump so that she might better assess Rey at a vantage that wasn’t uncomfortable. Maz flicked through several lenses, eventually pulling the glasses from her face with a frown and rubbing them on her shirt. She squinted at Rey, pinching the bridge of her nose. The whole show made Rey feel terribly impatient. Nothing but cool indifference radiated from the woman. 

“How?” she prompted.

“He’s rubbing off on you, girl,” Maz murmured. “You’ve gotten more impatient.”

The heat of the jungle became oppressive: a think blanket that could smother if you lingered amidst the heavy leaves too long. Even here, only traces of the sun reached the earth. Maz had led her to a place of shadows and tall trees.

“Another way that requires setting aside your pride for a time,” Maz explained. “Asking for help.”

A small frown curved her mouth. “You want me to ask Ben for his help in repairing the lightsaber.”

“He is a skilled warrior; masterful in the ways of the Jedi and the Force, regardless of where it has led him. In some ways, it is not knowledge we lack, but technique.” She raised an eyebrow. 

Rey opened her mouth. Closed it. Then said, “And this man from my visions — he was in a dream I drew from Ben,” she said. “The planet we were on was a… vergence? A Sith vergence? I felt its power, even in the dream.” She shuffled the pieces around — thinking over Ben’s reaction to the saber, his zealous fervor. Rey needn’t ask the question: the answer spread in her chest like a lava flow. 

“The saber once belonged his grandfather,” said Rey, feeling the blood drain from her face in a rush. Her hands went cold. 

“Anakin Skywalker,” provided Maz, a thin smile narrowing her eyes. 

Rey concluded, “He fell to the dark and became Darth Vader.”

“A Sith Lord,” added Maz. “Once light, then dark, and then light again.”

“But he died —” Rey echoed, needing suddenly and very desperately to sit down.

“His redemption came at a cost,” said Maz, turning fully to face her. “It was the will of the Force. He yielded to his fate for love for his son.”

“Luke,” Rey whispered. From father to son, the lightsaber had been passed along in the family. No wonder Ben wanted it so badly for himself. He was next in line.

But why would a lightsaber belonging to a former Dark Lord of the Sith forge a connection between her and its previous owner? Why would it choose her?

There was a warning in Maz’s words that remained unspoken.

“You’re not concerned about Ben’s alliances,” Rey gathered. She braced herself against the trunk of a tree, finding the ground swelling up to meet her. The world wanted to tilt under her feet.

“You are young and have much to learn, Rey — that is why you find yourself resisting, still. Your mind reels from it. It’s why you meted out such a harsh lesson to your friend, so you might direct him down a different path, even if you cannot make him walk the road yourself. There is a lesson here: Surrender is the key.”

Rey sank to a tree root. Now eye-level with the diminutive woman, Maz’s smile practically gleamed in the dark. “Encouraging things in one way or another is not giving yourself to the will of the Force,” she said. “You must let it guide you.”

She hadn’t meant to, but it was apparent now that she had directed Ben: she’d pushed him away. In her immediate concern for him, she hadn’t thought of how that might impact herself in the long run.

Rey thought of the dream: the pair of them standing on a Sith planet in front of Darth Vader’s fortress. The man who’d escaped her had been Anakin, she was certain — the same man she’d seen in the grotto’s pool, not more than an hour ago. And his lightsaber had called to her, claimed her as if it were her inheritance and not Ben’s.

She swallowed. In her dream, she’d turned to the dark, with him at her side. She’d thought it was because Ben had led her there. Now, Rey wondered if it had been the act of turning him away that had done it.

Something weighed on her; an unvoiced concern that was rapidly growing into outright fear. 

“Search your feelings,” said Maz.

Rey didn’t need to: it sat just below the skin, so close she could call the emotion to her with ease. Fear, and the thing she skirted around; the feeling for him that she avoided because of what it might mean if it were to spread, becoming something more that she couldn’t contol — 

“If I fall in love with him —” Her throat worked, piecing through the emotions that tied themselves to the dream; their comfort with each other, their lack of resistance, their kiss — “If I fall in love with him, will I turn?” 

A dull ringing filled her ears; a drone like the sound of whirring machinery in a hyperdrive that was threatening to break down. 

Maz placed a hand on her arm, comforting.

“There are many paths,” she said. Knowledge, like an unseen shadow, passed across Maz’s gaze; Rey found it in the way the lines of her face crinkled around the eyes and her mouth — carving lines of remorse into an already weathered face. Maz gave her a small, but comforting smile, as if to say all would become apparent in due time. 

“The will of the Force has many facets.”

“Like a kyber crystal,” she echoed Maz’s words. They felt hollow.

Maz cupped her cheek. 

“This is an impasse until another possibility reveals itself, and it will.”

“What do I do?” Rey asked.

Maz considered, weighing her words carefully. Rey suspected that even this much wisdom was too much intervention. She didn’t want to tip the scales in either direction. 

“For now,” Maz said, “you must do nothing — because that would be the truly neutral path.”

A lesson Luke tried to teach her. Rey exhaled sharply, smiling a private, rueful smile for him. She exhaled, tipping her head back, looking at but not quite seeing the dappled sunlight struggling through the canopy overhead. A knot sat in her chest, but it loosened, just a little bit.

“Repair the blade,” Maz advised. “Trust in the Force.” She tapped Rey’s chest at a point below her throat. “Trust in this.” Her heart. 

Rey nodded, trying to fight the weight that settled on her shoulders. 

“We hold on to our ideals too tightly, and sometimes we let go of ourselves in the process,” said Maz, giving her a knowing look. Be cautious, she seemed to say. Tread lightly.

Rey wiped at her face, exhaling a breath she was unaware that she’d been holding.

Sounds of the jungle crept back in gradually. 

“And if he returns to the light?” Rey asked, worried now that there was another aspect of this she wasn’t considering. “If I yield to everything and let myself be —” She shook her head. “—Carried along? Let the Force work its magic? Trust in it? If Ben Solo turns, then what happens?”

Maz stepped back, fixing her with a long, searching look that ended in an unconvincing shrug. “You should ask Ben Solo.”

With that, Maz turned, leaping off the stump and disappearing around a large, splayed root. 

Rey stood, the jungle stilling around her. Even the crunch of leaves dissipated. 

In her peripheral vision, something moved, snagging at her attention. Rey’s breath caught. She searched the trees:

Nothing moved between the shadows, but the knowledge that she wasn’t quite alone left her guarded, considering the other aspects of the Force and all the things she didn’t know enough about. It left her vulnerable. It left her wondering if those visions could be made manifest if she thought about them long and hard enough, like a shadow in the back of the mind made into a nightmare.

A branch snapped to her right, and rather than investigate further, she jogged, crashing, after her host.

“Maz!” Rey cried, finding her at the end of a vined tunnel that ended in a bright, sunlit clearing.

The woman turned, her eyes pinched with a pained expression, as if she was thinking on matters that were altogether more difficult than she wanted to contemplate. 

Exasperated, Rey begged, “Did I do something wrong?”

Galaxies were born and winked out of existence in shorter time than Maz took to weigh her answer.

A small smile. “No, child. You did exactly everything the way you were meant to.”

Birds flew overhead, arcing across the partially constructed turrets of Maz’s new home. This side of the fortress appeared to have been completed, and an archway sat in welcome to future visitors. 

“How do I know what I’m supposed to do next?” she called after her, hoping for some less-nebulous guidance. 

Maz continued her forward amble.

“Choose whichever way has the least resistance,” she suggested, waving.

Rey remained, rooted. “Which way is that?”

Maz shrugged, pushing through the grand entryway that opened onto a courtyard beyond. Rey squinted, frowning at what she saw beyond the opened doors.

“Maybe try taking the stairs,” she suggested, gesturing.

Chapter Text

Soaked and with squelching steps, he tore through the halls, stalking back to their room. The door stood open, the interior undisturbed. A breeze gusted the curtains outward into open air as if they might escape. Water pooled at his feet, droplets still clinging to him as his shoulders heaved, his hair still plastered to his forehead. 

He was so angry even his fingertips burned. He’d heard Luke in her voice — with her presumptions, just like his old master; if Rey could be so convinced that he would turn, she could wait forever for all he cared. Acting like she was better than him; like he was wrong to feel this way, to be who he was, to know what he knew. His pants stuck to him, the wrappings of his bandages utterly ruined. Ben didn’t care. He flung himself into a chair at the table with a determination that was single-minded.

He gestured — a quick snap of the wrist, and the books spread themselves across the table, the old pages fluttering open. 

He grit his teeth, trying to collect himself and focus on what he needed:

A way out of this mess. 

He would find the key to undoing the damage their bond caused. He would cut her off, slicing her out of his mind as if she were a malign parasite intent on harvesting his every thought and feeling. Ben slammed his fist into the table, rattling the contents. He dragged a book towards himself, breathing hard through his nose. The edges of his vision blackened, the storm inside him a cataclysm. He couldn’t stop his heart from pounding, nor the words blurring together on the page. He couldn’t focus, not with this burning in his lips where she’d kissed him.

He pushed away, toppling the chair, snarling as if he might rid himself of the feeling. He roared, gripping at his hair, wanting to slam his fist into a wall over and over and over to divert the pain of her sudden and abject absence; her unwillingness to see what she did to him. Her inability to understand… him.

Ben’s vision blacked out, smothered entirely for how long — he couldn’t be sure.

When he returned to himself, panting, he found himself on the balcony, his knuckles raw. Fire lit his veins, but it was beginning to ebb. He’d hit something, but he wasn’t sure what exactly. There was blood, but not much. His hands trembled. His palms burned. He felt cold.

He’d held her with these hands. For a second, it had been almost perfect.

But she wanted him to mend what was broken. 

Ben drew a shaking breath.

That would mean admitting to it first. He wasn’t sure he could do that; not now. Not after trying to stamp it out of himself for so long. Was he truly that damaged? He wasn’t sure anymore. The uncertainty made him grit his teeth, drawing his hands into fists to steady himself. 

He would not be rendered helpless. Not by her. Not when Rey could not admit to what she felt for him herself. Such repression left a desperate, clawing rage in its wake — a frustration so immaculate that it might’ve driven him mad if he lingered on it longer. Her want of him settled beneath his skin with a fever, her desire so fastidiously controlled he might’ve missed it for the lie she veiled it with. Clever girl. Clever, false creature — a Jedi through and through for all the secret desires she tried to hide from him, but their bond revealed all truths. Even the sordid ones she couldn’t keep from smoldering in her gaze. 

It left his mouth dry.

The room behind him was a mess: the books — those ancient, sacred texts — were scattered across the floor like trash, their pages flapping. He swallowed, returning with steps that couldn’t be delicate enough. Some part of him that retained its childlike fear that he might earn Luke’s disapproval felt shame at those ragged, delicate pages blown around like autumn leaves. 

There, in the midst of it, he found something out of place: its dark thrum was a whisper that rose the hair on the back of his neck. Like a cloud drawing across the face of the sun, the room seemed to darken as he approached the small, red book — half exposed between the pages of a larger tome, as if someone had secreted it away. 

He knelt, reaching for it, recognizing the aurebesh in the title though much of it had been rendered indecipherable by handling. Recognizing it instantly through his many lessons with Snoke, Ben ran his fingers over the title: 

Book of Sith. 

Laughter threatened. The hysterical, impossible sort that made his lungs ache. Darkness pulsed behind his eyes, forever at war with his other half. Light and dark were two impulses that took up residence inside him, and with so much of both aspects intent on tearing him apart, he wasn’t entirely sure which to listen to anymore — the light side that wanted him to remain objective in this clusterfuck, or the dark, which declared that finding the book was a portent. It came to him. It was fated. 

“Fuck,” he said aloud to the room, nearing an exhausted sort of defeat. 

Ben sank to his knees, hunched over the tiny volume, and opened its cover to find inscribed on the first page a note from his former teacher.

This time, Ben did laugh aloud at the absurdity of it: the words on the inside cover belonged to Luke Skywalker. It was little more than an excuse for his possession of the artifact, and scoffing, Ben rose and returned to the table, flipping through the pages and finding further markings left by other adepts who’d had it in their possession. Names he recognized, their lineage so close to his: Bane. Ventress. Malgus. Sidious. Vos… As well as a handful of Jedi.

He slowed, passing over several notations on recanting death left by one Darth Plagueis, but stopped altogether upon finding two pages annotated at the top with a few words that left him cold:

We are bonded in the Force, though not through spirit alone. 

Inscribed in a delicate, feminine pen, Ben stared at the words, his heart pounding.

He set the book down, his skin itching where his bandages rubbed at him. Wet from the pool, everything grew uncomfortable. He hesitated, considering what water damage might do to the small volume if he wasn’t careful.

Dripping wet from his impromptu dip in the grotto, Ben looked down on himself, ashamed. Hi tipped against the wall, pulling off his sodden boots and throwing them clear against the balcony rail outside, letting them pool in the sunlight where they might dry off. His clothes clung to him — what remained of them. A glance at the armoire revealed where he’d made a dent — the door puckered open, splintered where his fist had tried to punch through it. 

He pulled clothes absently from inside it, tossing a pair of loose pants and a shirt of some sort over the footboard of the bed as he worked at his bandages — far enough from the table that he wouldn’t ruin the pages, but not so far that he couldn’t read the words inked on the page.

He tugged at a knot around his bicep, loosening the fabric and peeling it from his skin as he frowned down at the text. Parts of it were marred into oblivion; unreadable and worn into a pallor with time.

More than shared feelings, thoughts, and images, it was at the prompting of the Jedi Council that I encourage the bond between us, but unaware and unskilled in such mastery, it quickly became apparent that the bond in and of itself wasn’t the greatest challenge to be faced, but a growing sentiment between us that fused our souls together. It was my failing to not remain objective, but R-[indecipherable]’s response encouraged it, and between us the bond deepened, growing into something that could not be undone. 

Distance nor time will not weaken it. My search for Malak took me across the galaxy, and not even that had the power to undo it. I felt him in my limbs, my mind — he compels me. His strength becomes my strength. His passion, mine. The bounds of our destinies impossibly intertwined, woven so closely together that I cannot determine where I begin and he ends. To pull the thread is to undo us both.

And so do I sip from his power, and his weaknesses.

Absently, skin damp, Ben read on, noting the description of the practitioner's symptoms as he dropped the bandages from his shoulder to the floor. The wound that remained on his skin was hardly a burn, and loosening the wrappings on his chest, he began to peel them from his skin. A breeze rolled over him, warm from the sun. 

The aurebesh was underlined in the same hand. He squinted, trying to translate it as best he could:

Force… mesh? Force… merge? A joining of two souls, fused so that they could no longer be held apart of one another, read the notation next to the words. 

Absently, he unfastened his belt, peeling away his leathers from his skin as he loosened his trousers. Ben flipped the page, searching for more. 

Who was this Jedi, who’d so brazenly made her confessions in a book belonging to her adversary? There was no name, and the recipient of her affections the same. R-something. 

He frowned. 

“Meld,” he mouthed. A Force Meld? He’d never heard of such a thing.

Ben pulled the book from the table, his wrappings trailing him, tangling around his arm. He flapped at it, struggling absently to bind it into a wad that might be disposed of. His pants were about as challenging. They stuck as he pulled them off.

That I fell to the dark side was not a result of our joining, but rather, the collusion of events leading to an inevitable fall. My faith remained. I remained… strong.

“A joining of two souls, fused so that the could no longer be held apart of one another,” he re-read aloud. No limitations, and nothing to obscure its meaning. This person’s bond with another, a creation of her own making, was lasting. Permanent. And she had turned to the dark side, and returned to the light. 

He found the thing he sought on the next page where the text scrawled into hasty ruin:

Not even in death.

Enduring.

He flipped to the previous page, hoping to find something of relevance to clarify her identity. Enough Jedi had fallen over the years. That wasn’t the surprising part. What was interesting to him was that she had presumably changed allegiance more than once, particularly for the man with whom she’d shared a bond — a Sith of the old world, surely, in a time before there were bonded pairs of master and apprentice. Perhaps there were clues to this woman’s story that might inform what to do with Rey.

He was so absorbed that he didn’t even hear her footsteps as Rey stormed into the room headlong and at a determined clip. With her head down, she was too intent rehearsing her rhetoric as she began talking at him.  

“I know this isn’t an ideal situation,” she was saying. “I know you’re frustrated, but just hear me out while I can still get this straight. It’s hardly worth the effort of arguing about it when there are too many things at stake, and two too many conflicting opinions about what we ought to be doing to fix it. I just think, that given our particular predicament, we should try to remain as detached as possible — that’s why I said what I said when I did.”

She didn’t turn to see him standing in the middle of the room, his bandages clasped in one hand before him, the Book of Sith sagging in the other.

“It’s better if we stay objective.” She tipped her head, looking about herself at last. “Ben?” She turned, not finding him at first, and then discovering perhaps too much.

Ben remained standing by the armoire next to the door, barefoot in the sunlight, unmoving save for his eyes as Rey’s gaze rose from his bare ankles, up his bare legs, to the swath of bandages bundled in his fist against his groin, up his bare torso, and stopped — her face flaming red through to her ears, her mouth hanging open only a little bit — and gaped at him in his nakedness.

Standing stock still, contemplating the tsunami of feelings that flooded over him from her hammering heart, Ben raised an eyebrow in question. 

Rey fish-gaped at him, her eyes roving, unable to catch herself in time as she tried to turn away. Something kept her rooted, however, and it caught Ben low in the stomach; a tightening that spread deliciously outward, warming him and making his skin hum. Her desire pooled in her belly, and he felt that delicious knot of tension as if it were his own. 

“Oh — oh stars. I —” she tried.

Ben exhaled long and evenly, and set the book down on the table beside him, not lifting his gaze from her face.

“I didn’t think — the door was open —” she continued to stammer. She tore her attention away, and to his amusement, looked back at him once more as if to be sure she was trying to memorize every line and every scar that marked him. She shook her head as if trying to deny herself, but she couldn’t do it — not really. Not even when her eyes darted away and back a second time. She covered her face, then her eyes, then looked down. Then folded her arms across herself. Then uncrossed them. Then stifled a noise of surprise as if the realization that she was alone with him, naked, hit her a second time and she looked back as if checking to make sure that what she was seeing was real.

“I’m so sorry —” 

Rey backed up, trying to shield her face, but uncertain where she ought to put her feet, she stumbled backward into the footboard, trapping herself between him and the bed. Scuttling sideways, she edged back onto her tiptoes and acted as if she wanted to shrink from him as he advanced. 

He felt what she felt: Every ounce of smoldering, confused, heated interest that spun from her, heady and addled with surprise. The truth of her wanting him gave him a sliver of satisfaction, knowing that she had kissed him with this private, secret yearning tucked away as if it might not slip out. In his anger, he hadn’t sensed it — he’d only felt the sting of her teasing him and then snatching it away. 

He didn’t say a word, letting his proximity do the work for him as he corralled her against the footboard, looming and warm, and close enough that she could feel the heat rolling off of him. She shuddered, her eyes closing involuntarily as he leaned over her, and whispered her name into her ear, eliciting a little shiver. 

Her eyes fluttered, dragging from his chest to his face with effort. Her throat worked. Her mouth parted, and he felt the small, stolen breath she managed before saying:

“Yes?”

Leaning closer, he set a hand on the footboard beside her, his fingers closing around cloth as he murmured into her hair, “You’re leaning on my trousers.” 

He couldn’t help smiling against her ear, the tension wrapping her limbs almost narcotic as he forced himself to draw away, pulling the clothing he needed roughly from beneath where she’d settled. 

The sound she made caught in her throat. Eyes widening in surprise, she caught herself, gripping the wood before she could tilt over. That he could throw her off-balance so assuredly was somehow more reassuring than thinking she felt nothing at all.

This? This was something he could work with.

Her throat worked as she swallowed, trying to collect herself. “Sorry,” she managed.

Could she be seduced to the dark side after all? Ben lowered his lashes, peering at her through half-lidded eyes, watching her redden as he folded his clothes to him but not truly with the intention of covering his modesty. Not yet. 

“What do you propose?” he murmured, weighing the way she forced her gaze to meet his. “Because I definitely don’t have a cowl this time,” he teased, deadpan. “‘To cover myself up.’”

Her nostrils flared.

“You can walk around like that all you like,” she bit back, her eyes smoldering in challenge. Rey straightened, collecting herself. “I have a proposition. In light of — thing. Everything.” 

Her feelings gave her away, however, and tipping his head, a small smile playing around his mouth, Ben licked his lips in invitation. “Something mutually benefitting, I hope.”

He didn’t think it possible for someone to redden any further. 

“I need your help,” she said, trying to remain diplomatic. “Your particular skills.”

Ben could think of several hundred ways in which they might ‘help’ each other; in which his supposed ‘skills’ might directly affect the heavy cloud that had settled on the room upon her discovery of him. “Oh?”

Rey winced, regretting how loaded her words sounded. He felt her embarrassment almost immediately, and free of guile, but not entirely willing to stop baiting her, Ben shifted his weight, letting her take in the line of his thigh along with everything else.

He’d have laughed outright if it not for the tremulous way in which she gripped the footboard to steady herself. How had he missed this? Had he been so clouded by his own feelings that he’d forgotten to sense this candid struggle Rey seemed to be suppressing?

She leveled her gaze on him. “I need you to show me how to repair Luke’s lightsaber.” 

Disappointing, he thought to himself. Not altogether unexpected, but still — if she was certain that that was all she wanted. 

“My lightsaber, you mean,” he corrected. 

“It came to me,” she countered. “It chose me.”

He shook his head. “We can argue ownership later.”

She took a steadying breath. “Will you help me?”

He pursed his lips, recalling a number of different reasons why this was a poor idea, but something stopped him from refusing her outright. A tug of his attention back to the small, red book on the table, and all the secrets it held. He refused to believe that this force bond was the only way, but a glance at the bruises on Rey’s knuckles demonstrated that they might be stuck with each other for a while — given the precedent set by the two mysterious characters in the book, and the fact that they were still wearing the same injuries. 

And still, there was a further avenue he’d yet to explore:

“What will you give me if I help you?” he murmured, his voice hardly a rumble in his chest.

Her throat worked as she tried to come up with a viable answer. She had nothing to offer him, and she knew it — nothing he wouldn’t want her to yield to him willingly. 

Still, he waited, some part of him wanting to see how she might close that gap between them. 

When Rey grew upset, he was learning, her chin had a distinctive way of crumpling that made it appear as if she were wrestling with a particularly bad idea. Something twisted in his chest at that — a little spike of pain that he’d cause her any more grief, putting her in a spot that made her uncomfortable because she couldn’t yet see the truth of what he offered; everything.

Absolutely everything. He let out a breath. The stars and everything in between. 

Rather than watch her struggle, Ben turned away, a heavy knot clenching under his ribs as he turned his back to her and searched for a place to retreat to.

He was about to tell her to forget it when Rey forced out too quickly and with too much raw honesty, “Anakin Skywalker is trying to communicate with me because the blade came to me and its imbued with his memories and experiences, but I can’t understand what he’s trying to tell me. So I need to fix it so I can understand him better because it's clearly bound up with my destiny.” She took a breath. It hitched. “And yours. You were in the visions too.” 

He nearly dropped his pile of clothes as he turned around to face her.

“It’s distracting,” she added with a little huff, covering her mouth.

“What?” he managed.

She opted to stop breathing entirely, her voice rising an octave. “Your arse is really quite bare, Ben. It’s taking the ammunition out of what I’m trying to tell you, parading that thing about.” She swallowed, knowing she had him on some level -- yet, she clarified, enunciating, “It’s distracting.”

Chapter Text

Curling and uncurling her hand, she frowned at the pink skin of her knuckles. There was no visible wound, but judging by the state of broken skin on Ben’s hand and the small smear of blood he’d left on the armoire, she could put together what happened fairly easily:

She kissed him as a show of good faith. She set a boundary. He flew off in a rage and then took it out on the furniture.

She’d only meant to offer him a promise: she would wait for him on the other side of this — whatever this was. His darkness. His descent. Rey rubbed the tender skin, looking down from her perch on the balcony rail to the vast, green valley and lake beyond Maz’s fortress, but not really seeing it. She’d offered him that promise, but she’d made a critical misstep: she’d kissed him as if it were some sort of incentive. She’d kissed him without really thinking it through — what it might mean, how it might echo beyond that moment, or what it might feel like in the wake of the kiss’ absence. She hadn’t considered what it might do to her, or where such a small, tender gesture might lead her. 

Something waited in the darkness for her when he looked at her. She knew it as sure as she’d felt the call to the cave on Acht-to. She blinked and the shadows in her mind receded, leaving behind a formless, hollow ache. 

What did the Force want of her, she wondered, that its will could be so much stronger than her own sheer, stubborn determination to not become the creature of Ben’s vision?

Goosebumps dotted her arms, and she folded into herself, drawing her knees up to her chin and hugging them to her chest. 

She could feel him behind her. She could always feel him — somehow, someplace, no matter how far he was. Ben’s movements sent a ripple through the cosmos, and unsettled in his orbit, he gave her a wide berth as he stepped out to join her. Dim stars dotted the gloaming sky. Like ghosts of what they might become, she watched them, wondering what worlds lingered so far, out there — worlds so far from each other that their light hardly reached her.

“I’m decent,” he offered. 

His presence sat heavy and solid to her left, just out of the field of her vision. She could feel the breeze trying to buoy her upwards from her melancholy contemplation, her wet garments discarded for lighter robes that lifted like clouds on her skin. 

The Force was at work here. The Force and its will, and Ben was the satellite that slipped between her and the sun. 

She sighed, tipping her chin onto her shoulder to appraise the broken contraption in his hands. He turned over the saber, its parts cradled in a greasy blanket. It didn’t call to her like it had the first time. Rather, the device waited to see what she might do with it — what she might become if it was wielded by her. He was thinking about her confession: that she’d seen him in her visions when she’d touched the saber the first time. 

Rey could feel his turmoil — he wanted to know more, and yet, he pushed the desire away because it crippled him. It made him beholden to her. She frowned. 

“It’s had two owners before,” he mused. “My grandfather, and Luke Skywalker.” He fixed her with an impenetrable scrutiny, unmindful of the fact that his claim that he was “decent” meant Ben had chosen garments that hung open, baring most of his chest anyway. Rey pressed her lips together into a hard line, making sure to stare at the spot squarely between his eyes rather than anyplace else. 

He pressed, “You said it came to you. How.”

The wind lifted the hair from his face, the light of the two suns casting him in a ruddy glow that set twin flames dancing in the darkness of his eyes. She felt nothing but his disappointment that it hadn’t come to him, though he thought he’d earned it after so many years under Snoke’s tutelage. Jealousy, too — a covetous blackness that pinched at a spot below her ribcage. Failure. He thought himself unworthy; that he’d failed his legacy, somehow, but wasn’t yet ready to admit it for himself. 

She gave him a small, sad smile, and swung her legs back to the stone balcony. She leaned against the rail, considering. “Maz had it here — or, rather, in her old castle across the lake. I heard someone say my name, and when I went to investigate, three floors down into Maz’s hoard, I found it in a chest.” She lifted a shoulder in a half shrug, reaching as if to graze her fingers over it. She tilted her head, hesitating before making contact. Rey withdrew her hand. “I don’t know why it chose me,” she said, waiting for the storm clouds to clear from his expression. “You said it yourself: I’m nobody. Right?” she repeated. “But it’s obvious that it hasn’t left you out of the bigger picture, because when I grasped it the first time, I saw you — just a boy.” She searched his expression. “I saw you with Snoke.”

His frown froze the planes of his face into a mask of restrained pain. It halted, frozen in the moment as if the snag of memory had pitched him backward into someplace she could not follow. 

“I heard —” She hesitated, not sure how to explain it. “I thought I heard someone calling to me. He called me ‘sweetheart.” She swallowed. “I don’t remember anyone ever calling me that. I’ve never been anyone’s —” She shook her head. “And I saw you again, later. You were older, and you were with your Knights on a battlefield following a slaughter. Someone spoke to me through it, when I touched it the first time, but not since. Never after. Not until now — and it's not the same.” She tore her gaze away from his scrutiny, pulling back from him. “I heard him too.” She chewed the inside of her cheek, glancing at the saber. “Thought at the time I didn’t realize it was Darth Vader’s breathing I was hearing — bit distinctive, that. Once you know, you know.” She hesitated, glancing at him. “You know?”

“I never met the man.” 

“I know, but…” She trailed off. 

He searched her. “You sensed him through the Force. I have too.”

“No,” she said. “I sensed Anakin.”

He considered this, Maz’s words an echo between them: Anakin was a man who led two lives; who brought balance when it was needed. The particulars of how and why remained unexplored. 

Something was at work here.  

He knelt, spreading the cloth out on the terrace right there. The parts were a collection of small failures between them; a testament to the fact that their desires had gotten in the way of whatever the Force had planned for them, and now they were left to pick up the pieces.

It could be repaired, she thought. There might be answers yet if they could work together; if Ben could set his pride aside and he was willing to help her. She couldn’t be sure that he wouldn’t try to claim it for himself, but she had to have hope —

Rey hovered over him, worried that if she pushed too hard, the angry part that crackled and flared as Kylo Ren might shut her out. He glanced up at her, his fists knuckled on his knees, trying to find some meaning in those broken parts.

“Show me,” he said, looking up.

“What?”  

Gloveless, unadorned, he knelt before her with an intensity she realized she was beginning to find familiar. He held out his hand, palm up.

“It was easy enough when you poured you memories and feelings into me in the grotto. Do this for me now.” 

“You’re serious,” she said.

“Touch my skin and share what you saw with me,” he insisted.

She folded her arms across her chest, raising her eyebrows at him. 

He gave her a look that was half-incredulity. “You didn’t have a problem with our little ability to show and tell before.”

“Yes, but that was with a decided purpose — an ends.”

“—That justifies the means. Sure.” 

She balked, recoiling with a humorless laugh. “That’s not what I meant.”

A smile played around his mouth — a devilish sort of thing that made her insides twist, not unpleasantly. What was he angling at?

“Why?” 

“Call it an exhibition for the purposes of authenticity.”

He held his hand out to her. Somehow, he always seemed to be doing that. 

“Maybe it’ll give me a better understanding of what you saw and why,” he explained. “Maybe there are things you saw to which I might offer insight.” 

“Why it passed you over, you mean.” She regretted it almost immediately. Rey clamped her lips shut. 

Ben’s hand dipped, faltering. He fisted his fingers, dropping his arm as he turned away from her. A knot of pain settled below her ribcage when she realized that this was the third time he offered her his hand, and the third time she turned him away. They’d keep doing this over and over again, she realized. He was never going to stop offering to build a bridge between them. So what kept stopping her from meeting him halfway?

Ben frowned out towards the bay, seeking some indeterminate point away from her. She did the same. The air grew heavy, their shared discomfort a residual weight that thickened the air.

“Sorry,” she muttered. “I didn’t mean that.”

She stood awkwardly over him, not sure what to do with herself. 

“I’m used to doing things alone,” she said finally. “I have always —” She frowned, struggling with the confession a moment longer. “I have always been alone. I have always figured out a way to take care of myself, to solve the problems I faced, to take care of myself when no one else would. I’ve always managed by myself.” 

She hesitated a moment longer, debating, and finally, she sank to her knees in front of him. Folded her legs into a position that was comfortable. Meditative, almost. Rey swallowed and flicked her gaze up to his. 

Ben tracked her every movement, curious at this new development. 

“And that’s why you’ve held me at a distance. This is self-preservation, isn’t it?” he asked. “You’re so tired of being alone but you’re afraid to be anything else.”

She didn’t answer, but the truth burned like an ember that caught on her skin, smoldering there with just enough pain to pinch. 

“You can still keep doing that if you need to,” he said. Too still, too watchful. “I’m not offering you the galaxy, only a partnership born out of necessity.” 

She frowned, bristling. That wasn’t entirely true, and she knew it. They both knew it. So why recant now? Because she wouldn’t stand by his side? Because she didn’t believe in the same things as he did? Guileless, he held her gaze. 

She’d hadn’t assumed he was asking for more than the obvious: a few memories that weren’t even hers. Still, she hesitated.

“There’s no reason to fear me as much as you do,” he said.

That was it. She’d had enough of his arrogant, patient deconstruction. Simmering, she snatched at him, grabbing his wrist and yanking him forward so that she could glare at him from within the circle of his personal space.

“I am not afraid of you,” she seethed. 

Dark eyes flit between her gaze and her mouth, the feeling of his interest snaking into her through her fingertips, and elsewhere: Ben’s will pressed against her, and Rey grit her teeth against it, pushing back in a test of might. His mouth quirked at the corner.

“You’re afraid of what you feel for me,” he whispered against her lips. “You’re afraid of what I might see if you let me in too deep,” he taunted. “You can’t hide the truth from me, Rey. I can feel all your secrets. What you fear. What you most desire… It was one thing to pull these things from the walls of your mind, but because of the bond between us, you offer them to me freely —”

Determined to not be bested, certain that she had nothing to hide from him, Rey flung open the mental wards of their bond, throwing open the doors of her mind and calling forth the stomach-to-floor sensation of falling as the vision replayed itself for him. Ben recoiled, trying to pull away from the sudden, vertigo-inspiring swoop of the vision, but Rey held onto him, her teeth grit. His fingers found hers, and she pulled him to her. She caught herself against his chest, watching Ben’s expression shift from surprise to anguish, to steely understanding.

Something swirled between them — a hazy, foreign picture that didn’t belong to the saber.

Ben ground out, “You ran away from it though it called to you.”

She barked a laugh, her nails digging into his arm. “I’m not much for prophecies when they come out of bloody nowhere.”

He grit his teeth, clutching her hand, trying to parse through the barrage of images she flung at him. “Your destiny called you and you walked away.”

“I was waiting for my family,” she shot back. “I thought I had a purpose.”

He gasped a breath. “Your purpose is beside me.”

“No,” she ground out. “It’s not.”

“Still fighting it. Still resisting — why? Am I so loathsome?”

She bared her teeth. “I will not turn to the dark side to stand beside you.”

He drew back as if slapped, something occurring to him that Rey couldn’t parse for the fleetingness of the realization: there and gone in a heartbeat as whatever it was left Ben’s expression. He opened his mouth to argue, it seemed, and stopped himself: stung. 

Breathing hard, Rey waited only a moment for him to recover. 

She shoved at him, trying to untangle herself from his legs. They’d both managed to sprawl alongside each other. Each panted, Ben regarding her with newfound interest. He shook his head, searching her.

“Memories of the saber,” he managed. “And something else.”

She flapped. “Yeah. Tell me something I don’t know.” 

He glanced at the parts, wiping sweat from his upper lip. “A future — our futures —”

She shook her head. “But not the path.”

He wiped sweat from his face, propping himself upright. She joined him, though the exchange of energy and memories had knocked the wind out of her. 

“If we reassemble it, maybe it will be more forthcoming,” he said. “There has to be something more.”

He intended to show her how to reassemble the lightsaber. A chord of interest plucked at her, enlivening her. Scrap, she could manage. Laser sword scrap? That caught her attention.

“You’ll show me how to repair it,” she said.

He waved away the comment. “Not in so many words,” he said, resettling himself. He pushed the hair out of his face, shaken. Ben took a breath, searching her, a sly edge to his expression that made her stomach flip flop: like looking down a long drop before taking a step into open air. 

Before Rey could protest, his fingers closed around hers once more. His hands were calloused, rough and tender and warm all at the same time. Ben looked up, and it hit her like a shockwave: a blast of memories from his distant past as a padawan. 

She understood — not so much how the pieces fit together, that was by instinct, but that it was the approach she’d gotten wrong. You couldn’t use tools. You couldn’t even use your hands. Rey caught a wisp of some distant image: small hands outfit with white wrappings up to his elbows, sleeves made of some scratchy material. The clink and tap of metal parts and the glint of kyber crystals beneath a vast dome — a classroom — as other students around him manipulated the various parts, bringing them into alignment as if they were planets in orbit. 

No hands. Rey sensed Ben’s feelings — his childlike elation, and beneath that, a determination to execute the operation cleanly, and with a grace his classmates could not.

Then, something else crept in, unbidden:

A rush of wind rolled between them, and from a distance, Rey sensed a memory flowing at her in equal exchange for what she’d offered him: the room was familiar to her because the memory was new — hours old, only. Minutes. 

Ben stalking into their room, just behind where they sat. Rey saw Ben’s first point perspective as he flung his fist into the armoire. A flash of bloody knuckles. Books strewn around the room, shuttled about the table in a haphazard array. Something small. Something red.

Words she’d never read floated into her mind’s eye, but more — the feeling that sat behind them carried to her over distance and years, ages separating her from the feeling of someone scribbling down the words in a book that was forbidden:

A joining of two souls.

Rey gasped, her eyes snapping open. She let go, tumbling backward to the stone floor, breathing hard.

Just as quickly, it was over.

She found herself sprawled backward, staring up at the sky in confusion. 

A moment ago she’d sat before him on her heels, upright if a little bit stressed from the experience, but not as baffled by the dopey, floating array of fat clouds overhead in the pink-tinged sunset. One of them looked rather like a porg.

Rey blinked.

She saw the small, red book in her mind’s eye. She sensed it nearby.

Ben hovered, hair falling into his face. “I didn’t mean to do that,” he said by way of apology.  “I expected the transfer of memories might be a little less shocking as we adapt to it.” It was a moment before he realized he’d given her more than he’d wanted.

“Rey —” he started, realizing he’d shared too much.

Hair hanging in his face, Ben regarded her with a panic in his eyes that left him trembling. He fisted his hands, trying to steady himself. Shake it off.

Rey shook her head. She knew that red book — hidden in Luke’s ancient Jedi texts. She’d stashed it away to look at later, but hadn’t returned. She knew its name.

“You found the Book of the Sith,” she croaked. 

Guilt flashed across his features.

“You found something about our bond in the book. You meant to keep it from me,” she accused him, kicking backward and hoisting herself to her elbows. 

“Rey —” he said after her. “I was only waiting until the right time — until I found something conclusive; that there were no other options —”

A half-truth. She couldn’t concern herself with that now. Ben failed to confess that he wanted to know more before saying anything; that part of him had wanted the upper hand.

“Wait,” he said. “You knew Luke had a Sith text?”

“I didn’t read it,” she objected as if offended.

“No, because you’re still skirting the dark side as if there’s nothing there it might teach you,” he shot back. 

She shook her head, a creeping fear raising the hair on the back of her arms. “The bond is irreversible, isn’t it?” They were stuck with each other in this uncomfortable half-limbo, spying on each other, sharing each other’s emotions. No secrets. No solutions.  

His Adam’s apple bobbed. He nodded once, holding her gaze. His concern was a sour wave that spilled over her in a flood; what she might think of him now that they might as well have been stitched together at the wrist — fused for eternity and maybe beyond that, two souls intertwined. Part of her wasn’t surprised. Mostly, the pique of anger that he thought he could conceal it from her turned the sensation in her chest molten with anger.

“It seems like it,” he managed. “If the account in the book is to be taken seriously.”

She forced out a breath, trying to clear her mind of the sudden fog. It wasn’t like her, she realized — she was siphoning off his emotional reactions to things. Rey shook her head, running her fingers into her hair, wiping away the sheen of sweat on her brow. She filled her lungs with cool air. Exhaled. Did it another three times, trying to center herself.

Something more tickled at her — some other bit of understanding that she’d gleaned from him.

“Your emotions are impossible,” she informed him. “Erratic. Your fear, your anger — you’re too quick lash out. I’m getting all of it. I experience all of it.” 

He blinked and then scoffed, incredulous. 

“This is not the way I think,” she complained. “This is not how I respond to things.”

Ben searched her. “We’re picking up each other’s feelings through the bond. That would make sense. But — that’s just your fear you’re feeling, Rey. It’s not mine.”

She frowned, sensing conflict, but unsure which of them it belonged to. 

“Would it really be so bad —” he began. 

She cut him off before he could muse about the possibilities of being mentally and telepathically and physically bonded for all of eternity: 

“I want to see the book.” It came out more sharply than she intended. 

He frowned, then nodded. “They’re just notes cribbed into the margins — someone’s hasty scrawl. It’s a confession not of the original text.”

She shook her head, brushing at herself. Everything prickled with uncomfortable energy. The knowledge that some whisper of him would always be with her — she pushed the thought away. That couldn’t be right. That couldn’t be the way things were supposed to go. She squeezed her hands into fists, trying to put her own strength back into her limbs and finding herself weakened by the revelation. Was this the will of the Force that Maz was talking about? Because it seemed like a cruel joke.

“It makes sense if you think about it,” he said quietly. “When we fought beside each other, we drew from each other’s strengths. You only screamed like that when attacking me the first time on Starkiller Base. You channeled those same energies against the Praetorian Guard…”

She shook her head. “Show me the book, Ben.”

He wiped his mouth, rolling back onto his heels. Something warred within him — frustration and disappointment, a tension so great that it made her temples pound. 

“There’s more than what you’re letting on, you know,” he said, sweeping past her into the room. He overturned a pillow on the bed and extracted the small volume. He’d even hid the bloody thing. She scoffed again. 

“If you’re not afraid of me, then you’re scared of everything that I represent. That’s why you’re responding this way. That’s why you’re afraid.”

He was wrong.

She caught the small tome when he tossed it, cracking the spine with a harsh snap that didn’t give her pause. She flipped through the pages, hasty in her search, but reading quickly those same words:

A joining of two souls, fused so that they could no longer be held apart of one another… Not even in death.

“Who wrote this?” she whispered. 

That I fell to the dark side was not a result of our joining, but rather, the collusion of events leading to an inevitable fall.

Rey dropped the book. Ben merely watched her.

“Your feelings color the air around you,” he murmured. “I sense everything, something more clearly than others — but I feel the shifts in the Force as subtly as if you’d put your hands on my body.” He knelt, meeting her at eye-level, far too close for comfort. 

Whoever this was that made this confession so long ago — this person turned to the Dark Side because of their Force-Bonded partner. Rey wanted to laugh, hysteria bubbling up inside her chest as she looked towards Ben. Her hands shook, Maz’s words redoubling on her: she had no will of her own. To fight against the current was to drown. Worse, Rey wasn’t entirely sure she knew how to swim.

She searched Ben’s gaze, willing him to understand her mounting panic without giving voice to the things she feared the most: no choices, no actions, no efforts, no fight — only what was meant to be. Only surrender. Only to be directed as she was meant to be. 

No ego. No self. She exhaled shakily. The Force would endure even if the Jedi wouldn’t. The Force would endure after they were gone. It would use them as required, making vessels of them because of this bond — because it was their destiny. Allegiances and alliances be damned. Her throat closed, and for a moment, Rey couldn’t make a sound at all. 

Ben slowed. He lips moved, and for a moment, she thought only that brushing her thumb against the swell of his lower lip would be the nicest thing… the simplest and easiest of gestures, because what were they but starlight, ready to dissolve into that endless dark? 

“If the Force wills it, then it doesn’t really matter what we do, does it?” she said, helpless, and smiling with sadness weighing the corners of her mouth. “We’re only carried along as far as we succumb to it.”

“Rey,” he began, cautious. “What are you talking about?”

Her eyes stung. Some part of her was breaking, unable to hold on to what she thought might’ve made her into who she was. Good. Light. 

She considered, staring into the fathoms of Ben’s dark eyes, and knowing whatever darkness dwelled there also regarded her: maybe loving him wasn’t the same thing as saving him. And maybe it didn’t make a damned bit of difference either way. 

Her hands trembled, and this time, she didn’t try to stop them.

“What are you so scared of?” he implored her.

Rey could only shake her head, his vision of the future all too clear in her mind’s eye: the darkness inside me, she wished she could tell him. In that obsidian mirror of his eyes, she saw herself reflected back in them, enshrouded in shadow.

The Dark Side whispered to her through him.

What was she so scared of? 

That she could hear it's constant calling her, and that someday, she would answer back. 

Chapter Text

Even when she’d emerged from the cave on Acht-to, Rey had been more forthcoming. Unpracticed in deception, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, sniffed, and fixed him with a hard look that wavered at the edges.

“It’s nothing,” she said as if to squash further inquiry. “I should work on the saber.”

He remained still and watchful, contemplating the tumult circling her: the Force and its machinations were one thing, but her feelings were far too plain for him to ignore. Something had shifted in her, leaving her distress to simmer into something dangerous. 

The dark side was at work here. It took her fear and her sadness and wrapped her in it like it was a warm embrace. He was familiar with such things, but to the untrained, those emotions became impossible to wield. They overwhelmed the mind and eradicated all sense. You could drown under it. You might not ever resurface. And what one might find there, sinking into that endless abyss —

Power. Unimaginable power. And he’d only ever dipped his toes into that pool.

His heart pounded. Half of himself waited for this opportunity. The other warred with the desire to nurture it into something greater: a compassion to help the girl; the same compassion that led him to slay Snoke on her behalf coupled with the knowledge that they might be greater together than apart.  

The galaxy was such a vast expanse, and Rey was within his immediate grasp. Ben sensed her weakness in the way she faltered and turned inward, heavy with sorrow for things unsaid that she dwelled on. Old pains made her bow inwards; crushed her spirits.

Kylo Ren could turn her. Kylo Ren could carry her, show her that there were other ways to shed her sorrow. He could nurture that seed of shadow nestled so close to her heart, easing her anguish by encouraging its replacement with something more potent — something stronger and more enduring, so that the power might be the only thing that would fill her too. He could guide her deeper, further into the dark where amongst the shadows, she might bloom like a moon-touched flower. He could shape her potential into something so much more. 

He could spare her from this — he could, if she would only just —

Let go.

He drew a steadying breath. Fisted his hands. Unclenched them. Tried to say her name and found that he could not. He held back, hesitating. 

It took his breath away, lingering so far apart from the girl who turned from him with such a heavy heart. Her pain sat crystalline and raw atop her as twilight fell. Ben felt its cold reach as surely as he knew that he wanted her to stop feeling it so unfiltered and pure and painful.

He was at war with himself: he wanted — he wanted

He wasn’t sure. He couldn't’ rightly be certain anymore, not with Rey sitting there, looking like that. Not knowing how she felt with so much sadness slipping through their bond. It shrouded her in a despair that he found he wanted to brush from her so that she’d sit a little straighter, step a little lighter. 

Disappointment wiped the dream from his mind, and with it, a vision of the girl: Rey, strong and ruthless, cutting and fierce. Rey, robed in shadows, eyes smoldering as if she ruled the night. A Rey who no longer could be Rey, for all that was bright in her, and all that could gleam with a singular flash of her smile would be eclipsed. She wouldn’t be her anymore — 

He stopped himself, snagging on the lie he told himself: She wouldn’t be his. Bound to him but forever apart.

But he wanted —

What?

Something he wasn’t yet ready to admit to himself, hovering just past her shoulder, his fingers faltering as he struggled with his desire to reach for her; to comfort, to offer the warmth of his touch, knowing that she might push him away if he tried? 

Ben made a fist.

She wiped her nose with the back of her hand and glanced at him through tears. A sense of defeat seemed to settle on her, and swallowing, she stared back at him: unashamed and vulnerable and brave, but something more: some part of her hurt in ways that she couldn’t mend.  

“I don’t fear you,” she whispered. “I see who you truly are, Ben. I know what lives in your heart — if light was a singularity… there is something in all that darkness, kindled there. I feel it each time we touch.” She swallowed. “I don’t fear who you are, Ben Solo,” she repeated. “Only what you’ve become after forgetting that spark was there. Only that I might forget too, if I allow myself.” She exhaled. “And what might become of me if I do.”

 For all her strength, she remained untrained. A Jedi master would have told her to set aside such preoccupations, as they led enough astray. Too late for the likes of them, he supposed: the Force bond saw to that. Perhaps Rey sensed as much too — hovering so near the edge and unwilling to move closer should either of them fall. 

His throat worked. He nodded. It took a special sort of power to consume a person — to devour everything that made them into who they were. While Ben Solo couldn’t say he was unfamiliar, he’d done his damnedest to forget what those feelings could do: the threat of that particular weakness stayed his hand.

“I never offered to train you in the arts of the Dark Side,” he said quietly. “Do you remember, on Starkiller Base?”

She looked at the assortment of lightsaber parts before her, not seeing the immediate problem, and not entirely focusing on the task. 

She shook her head: a slight negation, trying to remember. “‘I can show you the ways of the Force,’” she recited, under her breath. His words exactly.

Ben licked his lips. 

“Was it all meant to happen this way, even then? Have we never had a choice at all?” she whispered. 

He wanted to reach for her. He wanted to give her comfort. He wanted to take away this bottomless loneliness that left room for nothing else because it ate away at her sunshine. Instead, she surprised him, she reached for him first, whispering, “It doesn’t matter.”

Small hands wrapped into the thin fabric of his shirt, and she drew herself up to him, falling a head shorter even on her knees. He remained, arms opened and stunned as he felt her fingers slip around his midsection. Even as she tucked herself under his chin, hunching into herself, he couldn’t quite piece it together. She slid to a crumple between his knees, clutching him — trying to draw comfort through proximity. By increments, the buzzing in his brain began to still, but his thoughts cycloned anyway.

“Maz told me to yield; to surrender to it,” she sniffed. 

Surrender to what? To him? He frowned. This wasn’t political. It was never political between them — he wanted to eradicate everything that had come before. It was so simple. So easy. It wasn’t about choosing a side: it was about rising over everything. 

“She said I was resisting the will of the Force, and I — I think that means what you saw in your vision, too —” She swallowed, making a small noise that accompanied a sniff. “I feel it, Ben. I feel the dark side calling me whenever you’re near. And I can’t —” She hunched her shoulders, shaking. Tentatively, he lowered his head to hear her better, gently resting his hands on her shoulders as if she might break. “It doesn’t stop. It won’t. Everything that I’ve fought against,” she said, sniffing. “Everything you represent.”

He stiffened, his hands tightening on her shoulders, and forcing himself to ease his grip at her whimper, Ben slid the flats of his palms down her back with a shaking sigh. She feared that she might become… him. It appeared that he was not the only one conflicted. He wanted to laugh. He wanted to scream. He wanted many things — many of which sat at odds, tangling him into a bizarre paradox that constricted around his chest and squeezed so hard that he couldn’t breathe.

Quieter, she confessed, “I’m afraid of losing myself.” 

Not to him, he realized: but to the dark side through him. 

Against every ounce of his better judgment, he grit his teeth, tried to keep the words in; trying to stop himself from offering the reassurance, no matter how genuine, but that was the problem: He couldn’t. Fucking. Help himself. Not when it came to Rey. Not when he could feel what she felt for him, like this: not when he understood her will to fight it was slowly slipping. He felt it too: this thing that was becoming impossible to resist. 

Into her ear, he murmured, “Surrender does not always mean succumbing.” Smiling bitterly into the night sky as the stars began to wink overhead, he understood: she might try to save her friends, save him, save the entire fucking galaxy — but that didn’t mean she could save herself while doing it. Ah, yes. His vision haunted her. 

She froze, her hands fisting into his shirt.

Ben pulled her closer, pressing his mouth against the shell of her ear, lips brushing the soft flesh of the lobe, offering flashes of connection: impressions that lingered. 

“I am not the hero of this story, Rey. My salvation will never be your responsibility, and if you lose yourself to the darkness in the process of trying to resist not helping me or guiding me or whatever it is that is making you so abysmally sad, then you and I will not be alone. Ever.”  

She sobbed, then. “You won’t bring me back to the light, if I fall.”

He grit his teeth. “No. I’m sure you’ll do that all by yourself.”

She sobbed a laugh into his chest, and something unwound a little between them: looser now, he notched his fingers into her hip. She socked him lightly on the arm.

“Monster,” she sniffed, sinking into him. 

He shut his eyes, savoring her proximity — her soft warmth and smell of sunshine on her skin. Breathed her, and remembered why it felt like such a cataclysm to pull apart: the world might’ve been standing still around them, for all the quiet in his soul.

 It was several long, quiet moments, unmoving in the descending dark that they sat there like that as the stars winked into wakefulness overhead. Rey’s breathing evened out, the rise and fall of their chests falling into sync, and, if he listened for it, so too did the beat of their hearts. A Force Meld. He wondered at it — such small rhythms between them falling into place, becoming mirrors of one another. He didn’t dare move, lest he disturb the moment, but the goosebumps on the skin of her neck became hypnotic. Ben kept his eyes lowered, his breath rustling the downy hair behind her ear. Rey had closed her eyes some moments ago, lost in some faraway meditative thought. The shift in the Force around them was not so subtle as to go unnoticed, but selfishly, he wanted a little more before they broke apart. 

“Perhaps you’re not meant to turn to the dark side, nor am I meant to become light.” The thought harried at him, sitting just behind his teeth, wanting to be given voice if only to allow her this happy lie as comfort. Perhaps their visions were warnings of the Force: intended for them to remain as they were, unchanged. Perhaps this was the balance as it was prophesized; as it was intended. It felt wrong in so many ways, and so he kept the words in.

These thoughts plagued him, and as Rey shivered in his arms from the nearness of his mouth against the delicate flesh of her neck, Ben felt something else too, coiling between them as he hovered there in that space where her pulse thrummed so close to his lips. Tightening his arms was as possessive and instinctive as the way she sighed as her head rolled towards him, her eyes fluttering open. 

Her brow furrowed in question. “This feels…” she whispered, and the heat of her breath against his lips made him altogether too aware of how his long fingers stretched around her ribcage, and how his thumb slid in a lazy circle from her hip to the top of her thigh. 

It felt right.

Mouth dry, he watched in fascination as her gaze dropped to his lips, and returned to search his eyes. No invitations this time, only the beat of their bodies and the steady rise of their matched heartbeats. Maybe that was invitation enough. Ben stopped thinking, wanting to push the ascetic good senses of Kylo Ren aside, and cross the two-inch divide between them to press his mouth to hers.

As if it would offer relief. As if she would return to him after holding herself apart for so long.

Her lips parted in shy invitation, and he opened his eyes briefly to find a small smile at the corners of her mouth as she looked up. The world sat breathless on a knife’s edge, the blade poised and ready to divide once more. This time he found himself unable to excuse gravity for drawing him down upon that sharp edge: Ben yielded to it first.

A tentative brush of his lips against hers, wanting to remember what it felt like between breaths: a specter of what it might’ve been if he were someone else who understood the cadence of such things — someone who hesitated less; who was less concerned about how she felt in his arms; who took what they wanted instead of asking permission. Someone who spoke the language of sighs and long looks and wasn’t thrust together with a girl who’d grown to abhor everything he’d made for himself so he would no longer be nothing. Someone who was every bit the monster that they promised themselves they would be so that they would not hesitate in times like these.

“Ben,” she whispered, brow furrowed. 

He shuddered at his name, eyes opening to find that the space between them was a gulf, and fear lingered in her eyes: fear of whatever potential these silences held, fear of his touch and what it evoked in shivers and sighs.

“You’re doing it again.” 

He shook his head.

“I — I can feel your hatred.” Her voice cracked. “Your self-loathing. Stop. Please.” 

The Force found the empty places, the cracks, and pieces that they hid from themselves — it worked its way into those fractures, pushing those halves farther apart while simultaneously gluing them together. 

Her hand splayed against his chest. Halting. He sensed she didn’t want to draw away. He knew that she would.

“I’m sorry,” she said, pulling back, leaving him stranded again. It felt like tearing away roots from a wall of rock; they stuck, pulling and causing pain as they tried to tear free. Ben grit his teeth in surprise but didn’t let go. Instead, before she could escape the circle of his arms, his fingers splayed over her back, drawing her back into him. She resisted halfheartedly for only a moment. He folded her into his arms the next, fingers sliding up her back and into her hair as she shuddered against him. His arm encircled her waist, and he pulled her flush, thighs notching together, wrapping her small body into his larger frame, protecting her as she began to shake. 

“No,” he said into her hair, his mouth finding the skin of her temple. “No more apologies for the things that can’t be changed.” 

She shuddered on her exhale, repressing tears.

“Nothing is set. Nothing is solid,” he told her, betraying himself and everything he’d thought he’d desired. Her fingers uncurling against his chest was a balm. Ben stole a breath, believing for a moment that his heart might stop from such a small touch. Her hand, small and warm against him, gave him strength. He continued, “Two souls. Two people. Two halves. Light and dark. Distinct and separate, but arriving at a precarious balance.”

“But it means we change,” she argued, muffled, from beneath his chin.

He bent his head to her ear, sheltering her from the things beyond her that threatened. He pulled her closer, fingers finding her hip. Rey’s breath emerged tremulous and uncertain. 

Her curves were slight, her bones delicate. He found skin and his eyes shuttered at how warm she was; how supple. 

“Rey,” he said into the shell of her ear. “Everything changes eventually.”

Damn him, but it felt good to feel her thighs brush his as she shifted, pulling backward an inch. The tips of her fingers traced the scar that ran down his face, over his neck, and to his chest. A trickle of feelings sped through the bond at her touch: concern, restraint, longing, and a sliver of memory that flashed and faded as quickly:

Her heart in her throat, watching him fall as she reached for him through vines: a stab of panic that at once seemed misplaced, and at once made all the sense in the world to him.

All the things that sat behind the wall she’d constructed and placed between them — those feelings pushed against it, warring to break free. 

“Why would you be so upset to have lost me?” he asked. “In the grotto, when I fell. It would have been one less concern if you were rid of me.”

She pulled back roughly, her hands fisted into the folds of his shirt, staring. Shock marked her — surprised that he’d gleaned something new that she hadn’t intended. 

“I was worried that you’d died,” she snapped. “You just dropped like a bloody stone. The floor of the cave fell out from under you, and I couldn’t stop you, and I couldn’t catch you, and —”

“I’m fine,” he breathed. “It was fine.”

“It wasn’t,” she insisted.

He’d felt her fear, clawing at her throat: fear for him, laced with the immediate disbelief that she’d somehow found her counterweight in the universe, only to see him snatched away before her very eyes. Ben understood.

Rey’s arms unlocked. Sinking towards him, he followed the planes of her face into the hollow of her throat, watching the rise and fall of her chest; marking the subtle change in her pulse. As if the question made her nervous. Too much skirted the precipice — the possibility of these confessions shivered at the edge of all things rational and sane, and threatened to draw him over the edge with her. 

“When you touched me the first time, the world stopped spinning,” she whispered. “Everything stood still. It was like every part of me that had ever been hurt stopped aching. Every memory touched by pain was eased. Everything that was hard was made so much easier —” Her breathing hitched. “Because there were two of us to face it.”

He swallowed, drawing a shuddering breath. He couldn’t move for fear of breaking the spell.

“It was like there was a window opened between us, and I could see — everything.” Her voice cracked. “All of you. And —” She strained, breaking. “It was beautiful, Ben. You are —”

He didn’t offer her the opportunity to finish the sentence. Drawing back enough to angle her face towards him, he descended with a possessiveness that stopped her breath. Mouth claiming hers, he unspooled into her as Rey sighed into his mouth. Her eyes fluttered shut, her lashes brushing his cheek, and he collected her to him bodily, standing and drawing her with him so that her toes lifted from the ground as she yielded to him. He parted her lips with his tongue, claiming her. 

The world around them stilled, softening the roar in his head to a quiet simplicity that he met with warmth and somnolence. His knees threatened to buckle, but instead, Ben found the strength to hold her up even as their bodies sank into alignment with each other. 

Her fingers found the nape of his neck, her thumb brushing past his ear, and the sharp, demanding tug of a woman’s hands in his hair; a woman who wanted all of him. Rey moaned into his mouth, and Ben struggled to hold himself together.

He lifted her, pulling her closer so that their mouths could align as her arms found his shoulders, pulling him closer. A tentative step back into the room found her legs dangling between his, and smiling into the kiss, he felt her shiver at the display of strength.

“I have you,” he said into her mouth, but the words her stolen with her sigh and the warm dart of her tongue brushing his, steeling him. Her knees found his hips next, wrapping his waist. Ben gripped her, the puddling warmth of her midsection against his waist stopping him; making him sway on the spot.

“Ben,” she gasped, and he understood why:

The sensation redoubled upon him, their bond pulled taut, flooding him with the knowledge of what she felt pressed hard and sure into the underside of her left thigh. 

She felt his need, and he, her desire — the heat of it seared, molten and sure and slow. 

He walked her into the room, shaking the hair from his eyes as he strode with a new sort of purpose, carrying her as her lips traced patterns of her breath against his collar. He felt her shiver with wanting for him, her skin turning to fire at his touch as he shifted his grip and he settled her onto the couch — first at his side, and then forgoing propriety, shifting her into his lap as his teeth snagged at her lower lip. She gasped into his mouth, her lips parting, and Ben found the opportunity to tip her backward onto the soft cushions in surprise as he claimed her mouth anew, deeper. He held himself above her, hips connected with hers. He shifted. She arched, and Ben found the press of her breasts into his chest too much to ignore as his hand slipped lower, discovering the valleys and peaks that pressed into his touch with so little prompting. 

Rey’s eyes fluttered open in surprise, and watching her, he soon found that kissing the small hollow beneath her ear produced the most wonderful, shivering sensation that hummed like white noise when he ran his tongue against the flesh he found there, tasting sweat. Tasting her desire as it flooded him. He groaned into her throat, and he felt her chuckle, breathless and lightheaded. 

He caught her shuttered gaze. The flutter of lashes. The small, pink pucker of her mouth parting and wet and swollen, and he pushed into her with another kiss to part her lips with his own, just so he could feel her groan against his chest. That rumble made the whole planet shake. 

She pulled at his shirt, small hands brushing the muscles of his abdomen, the contact surprising him. He flinched with pleasure, the movement jerking him against her. She moaned, then, and he all but lost his mind to that vast darkness behind his eyes, dotted with stars. 

“Ben —” That name again. His name on her lips.  

“Say it once more,” he whispered.

And she did.

Chapter Text

Her cheeks tingled with heat; an ongoing reminder that Ben — now seated across from her — had selected a loosely draped shirt that revealed more skin than it ought, and his trousers clung to the muscles of his thighs in a way that snagged at her attention.

She knew what those legs felt like, tangled with hers. 

Warm and firm, hooked under her knee and pressing her leg higher up his hip, his mouth against the hammering pulse in her throat; the shivery rise of goosebumps over flesh exposed by too loose clothing, haphazardly pulled and tugged from its proper places, leaving her partially exposed and hungering for the feel of his skin against hers — 

Her mouth went dry. Rey struggled with the desire to tug the folds of her robe shut across her chest, but it was already closed as far as it would go. His silent, still regard was a weight that slid from the flush that she could still feel tingling in her cheeks, to the unfurling warmth that puddled lower as his gaze roved over her. 

Three feet of physical distance between them was barely a stopgap. 

Her eyes fluttered, and Rey sank her teeth into her lower lip, hoping the pain would help.

“Focus,” he said for the fifth time. Rey grit her teeth. Her face burned, the skin prickling.

She gestured, frustrated by the array of parts as they hovered before her. More frustrated that she hadn’t realized, in her efforts to clap the pieces back together, that she ought to have used the Force to begin with.

A cylinder hovered past, spiraling in a corkscrew. She forced a breath out, struggling to find a calm center that she might fill with the quiet stillness of the Force; not the jumpy, charged, kinetic awareness she’d suddenly developed in his proximity. From where Rey sat, it was easy to see several bold marks she’d made on his neck as if they’d fought.  

He’d pulled her on top of him, shielding her from the impact as they spun from the couch to the floor with a grunt. 

“It’s fine,” he said into her mouth, but she felt the hollow connection echoing in her chest. She pressed her fingers to the spot, her knees twinging from the stone, and rose above him an inch, his lips parted — wanting more. His frustration that such a small thing as rolling off their perch twinged through her, their connected breaths sharing the unspoken secrets of their skin through touch.

“It’s fine,” he insisted, fingers dancing over her ribs, crumpling fabric in his fists. 

“I feel what you feel,” she reminded him.

A rare, small smirk as his eyes darkened. With deliberate care, he eased his palm flat against her skin, fingers dragging a delicate caress over the gentle swell of her breast, brushing a thumb in a considering arc that she felt in her belly. 

“Oh?” he pressed, his lips more swollen than before, parted slightly in invitation. 

His heart pounded under her fingers, skin dewy from the contact. 

Ben lowered his lashes — thick and dark against his cheeks, his other hand tracing the path his mouth had made moments before across her lower lip; biting his own. 

The sensation redoubled upon her, and she must have squeezed her thighs around him, because when Ben chuckled, his fingers finding the back of her head to draw her mouth towards his, all Rey felt was the swell of their shared sighs as they locked together once more. 

“Good,” he murmured, his attention on her rather than the parts. “Ensure that they are in alignment —”

Rey sucked in a breath. If Ben noticed, he didn’t comment, but his gaze smoldered. She couldn’t help herself: her attention dipped to his mouth, and the pieces of the saber shivered mid-air. 

“—Hold them steady. Now tell me what’s wrong with the components.”

She frowned. Sweat pooled in the small of her back. Her fingers were cramping from the effort. She hadn’t really gotten control over her breathing either, and the combined efforts of keeping a handle on the task while Ben made efforts towards leeching every ounce of her control was wearing on her.

Ben made a noise of displeasure in the back of his throat. She wasn’t doing something to his liking. Obviously. 

Dark eyes weighed heavily on her; a deliberate distraction. Just like the clothes he’d chosen. Her knuckles stung, to boot: thought Ben wasn’t admitting it, she knew he’d struck something in frustration when he’d left her in the forest when Maz had intercepted. His anger was a stalking, heated thing that simmered below the surface of his attention, along with something else: something newly revealed with their brief collision. 

He’d drawn back, hair sticking to his forehead, eyes like coals, arms trembling, and she gripped him, trying to hold him in that space where they could fall so easily — tumbling entwined in that heady oblivion where she poured herself into him and he into her. 

There was nothing so stark about the inner working of Ben Solo as the universe in his eyes: all that he had seen. All that he had known in those long hours spent alone in contemplation, wanting to find a greater purpose, to finally be worthy of the legacy that had found him — and yet:

Ben’s lips were pink. Soft. He’d made a noise in the back of his throat where she’d daringly sunk her teeth into the lower pillow of flesh. Not that she was trying to hurt him, no — this was something else. Something that shoved every last bit of good sense aside, that outside her skin, that pulled at his hair and found it black and silky between her fingers. Something that lived inside her — that had been waiting for him to gingerly touch his tongue to hers in a furtive, shy caress as if testing the sensation for the first time. But his groan — stars. His groan tightened every fiber inside her, pulling taut, becoming frantic as she trembled with the need to hear him make that sound again.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said into her mouth.

That was fine. Neither did she.

And yet, they guided each other, somehow — a bridge of sighs and moans and breathy exaltations reverberating through their bond in a way that made the galaxy hum in ever-arching, suspended bridges as those ties between them pinged taut, drawing them closer together. And together, they found a rhythm that began rough and desperate and slid to clumsy desire, so filled with sensation that laughter wove between their kisses, and then, something else: a dance meant only for them, their movements became fluid — echoes of each other, each sliding into the hollows of the other, filling those empty spaces entirely with small, resounding gasps, of “Yes,” and “There,” and “Please.”

But it was best when he said that word into the shell of her ear — so different than the last time.

It burned through her, wanting to catch on something and ignite. She felt his surprise, his acknowledgment that he found her capable, and — something else. Some new understanding between them shared through this endeavor.

“You’re not concentrating.”

The bastard couldn’t keep the smile out of his voice. Something lit in the depths of his gaze. Rey swallowed, blinking too long. She swatted at a bead of sweat that threatened to blind her.

“You’re distracted,” he said.

She pinched her lips together. The hovering pieces of the lightsaber faltered, shuddering mid-air. With a glance at him, they clattered to the cloth she’d spread on the floor between them. A muscle ticked in Ben’s jaw. His amusement pinched below her solar plexus. Fire in his eyes.

“Could you stop that?” she bit out. “I can feel exactly what you’re thinking.”

The corner of his mouth lifted in a smirk, but his attention didn’t waver from her face. 

“Younglings learn how to assemble their lightsabers before they’re even let out of the temple.”

“You’re saying I should know how to do this without even being trained.”

“I’m saying you should sense it,” he shot back. “You should feel what’s out of place; know why your repeated attempts aren’t working.”

“You’re letting me fail.”

“I’m letting you learn from your mistakes.”

She balled her hands on her knees, which ached because the floor was stone and Ben was stubbornly keeping to form: so they continued to kneel opposite each other as if they were both playing at being Jedi knights, of which neither of them were.

“We can stop,” he said.

“We can stop,” he said, barely a rumble against her chest. She gripped his arms, all that corded muscle beneath her hands hard and fast and firm, bridging him above her like the horizon over endless sands. 

Maybe if she said nothing at all, he wouldn’t feel the hitch in her breathing at his words.

Endless night skies could fill his eyes. Starless. 

“You don’t want to stop,” he breathed.

Somewhere along the lines, Ben had lost his shirt. She suspected that the tatters she found the garment in on the floor to their left were her fault. 

Rey licked her lips, searching his expression to see if he felt the same: that bottomless, unfilled yearning between them: a vast abyss. Even being this close to him wasn’t enough — there was more here to be explored, and every endless moment hovering so close to that knowledge ached. Rey swallowed, but couldn’t form the words to deny him. She should. She had to. 

Selfishly, her hands shivered from his shoulders to the wide swath of hard flesh that filled her world, delaying the inevitable for a moment longer.

“Mm,” she managed — a choked, restrained sound of pleasure and pain at stopping herself as her fingertips shivered over his chest, finding the lines of his pectorals led to new planes and ridges down his stomach. The sound caught in her throat. His muscles jumped beneath her exploration.

His hands wrapped her waist from thumbs almost to forefingers. He sighed at the featherlight caress of her fingertips, his breath tremulous as his eyes fluttered and opened again. 

The edge of his thumb grazed just below the waistband of her trousers, pushing down the fabric less than an inch as if testing the tender skin just out of reach, and Rey gasped in surprise, shifting her hips as the shock of it turned sweet. Ben’s answering groan caught in his throat, his fingers gripping her harder as if to prevent the full range of her rolling hips.

“Sorry,’ she breathed.

He shook his head, lips pinched into a flat line. Through grit teeth, he managed, “It’s fine,” and dipped his thumb a half inch lower. 

Warmth pooled close to his touch, tense and demanding. 

She grit her teeth, trying not to whimper, but he was making it exceedingly difficult to restrain herself.

He caught her waistband with his thumb, watching her through half-lidded eyes, and pulled it down with tantalizing slowness. With Ben’s other hand holding her hip rooted in place, this unvoiced question was as much a dare as it was a request to continue onwards. 

She scoffed, but too slowly, she pushed the image of his bared body from her mind. The traceries of his scars sung to her, seared in her mind’s eye as if they offered a map to all his former wounds; pathways to journey between one patch of alabaster skin to the next. So pale. Like marble. 

Rey cleared her throat, met his stare dead on. “You realize the quicker we get this done, the quicker I might have a solution for us. For this —” She gestured between them. 

Black eyes glittered at her from the shadows, his satisfaction a sliding, silken thing that rippled over her like gossamer. 

“What?” she demanded.

“If there is a solution, as you say, I’m not entirely certain I want to know what it is.”

She swallowed, and the memory of that mouth trailing along her collarbone made her shiver. 

“We can’t be sure that repairing the saber will yield any better conclusions than we’ve already gleaned,” he added. 

She made a noise. “You want to know as much as I do what the visions mean.”

He looked away. A flash of something through the bond — Rey felt it like a pinch on the arm. Her brow furrowed as she tried to make sense of it: it was a veiled feeling, not wholly honest. Like he was carefully omitting something. 

She tipped her head, considering him as Ben’s attention turned back to her, as heated as before. 

“You lack focus,” he said, redirecting the conversation.

She bristled.

That smirk again. He was keeping something from her — and not just what was wrong with the saber. She felt it in the way he kept perfectly still, as if, should he move, everything would come clattering down around him and he’d be discovered. Ben had a secret, and it weighed on him so precariously Rey thought a prod in the right direction might unsettle it enough to shake free. 

“You’re staring at the wrong thing,” he murmured. Sweat still clung to his skin. She had done that. Why was he so composed, then? 

Rey narrowed her eyes, undaunted by a challenge. “I can sense your thoughts, you know. I can feel when you’re angry or when you’re thinking something particularly —” She stopped, clamping her mouth shut. Finally, Rey turned away from him. Would her cheeks never stop flaming? She might be better off if her face melted off, for the show she was giving him.

“What?” he pressed. 

Rey swallowed, managing without looking directly at him, “Sordid.”

His amusement thickened the air, tickling her senses like a teasing caress. 

“There’s something you’re not telling me,” she muttered. “I feel the deception through the bond.”

He made a noise of interest. “That’s hardly surprising, given that I could feel your interest when you walked in on me naked an hour ago.” 

Rey fumbled the crystal pieces — split halves that she couldn’t forcibly rejoin. They dropped with a clatter. The other pieces of Luke’s old lightsaber shook and fell around her like shrapnel.

Rey raked her fingers through her hair, turning away from him to hide the heat in her face. She propped an elbow on her knee, hugging her leg to her chest. Her foot tapped.

“I’m not,” she began — and stopped. “You’re trying to distract me.” She glared at him. 

“I will only assume half the responsibility of making you so tense.” He arched an eyebrow, settling back on his heels. The movement pulled the fabric of his pants taut over his thighs, and for a moment, all Rey managed to do was blink at the marbled muscle below the thin fabric. She’d touched those legs too. She’d raked her nails down them to see if they were as hard as she imagined.

“This isn’t normal,” she muttered finally.

His throat worked. He nodded. When Ben spoke again, she didn’t miss the falter in his tone. “It’s strong.”

She wasn’t certain if he meant the bond, or the heat between them, or the desire to reach over the pile of junk to him so they could pick up where they’d cut themselves off. 

She had to ask, “Is this… is this what the dark side is like?”

Something unsettled pinged between them, his composure flagging for just a second. He fisted his hands on his knees, and never taking his gaze off hers, leaving her pinned like a struggling insect, he shook his head abruptly, only once:

 “I have never felt anything like this before. This —” he hesitated. “This is an entirely new sort of power, Rey.” 

She sucked in a breath.

He ripped the belt from her waist with a jerk. A sweep of his hand had undone the knot keeping her robes closed, and the movement left her crying out in surprise. 

She could barely see over the top of his head: the ripple of muscle down his back, firm arms drawing her up to meet him, though her head fell backward as she arched upwards into his mouth. The warm sweep of his tongue left a firey line from her throat to sternum, and, as he hesitated, she felt his breath cooling the line of moisture on her skin as he considered her.

“Rey,” he said, and the sound was strangled. 

Her nipples puckered, the skin prickling with the breeze. Her eyes shuttered open, and she pulled herself up to meet him, clutching his shoulders. Attention rapt, eyes unfocused, Ben tore his gaze away from her bare chest to her face. His hand cupped the top of her thigh at the juncture where, if he shifted his hands a little to the left, he would feel the heat of her core at his fingertips. Maybe he already did. 

He swallowed, and dark eyes turned upwards to her face.

His limbs shook as if he was restraining himself from taking too much.

She wanted to tell him not to stop. She wanted to shift a little into his hands so that he could feel what he was doing to her.

His breath was fire against her breast, lips hovering close to the skin. Was this what Maz had meant when she had told them of their destinies? Was this where they were meant to find themselves?

Ben licked his lips, the pair of them panting, and Rey gripped him as the movement brushed the sensitive skin that rose and fell so close to his mouth. She nodded. Still watching her, his tongue laved her nipple as if tasting her skin. She bucked, unable to stop herself as the contact sent an explosion of sensation between them — lust, desire, shadow, heat, wet, roiling — his and hers, both: their feelings swirling together and arcing into one infinite cataclysm. 

Panting, Ben held on to her, and Rey gripped him back in wild-eyed wonder.

“You feel the pull to me, don’t you? We’re barely feet from each other and —”

“It’s still too far.”

She looked away from him before he did, but his attention burned along the column of her throat. It felt as if he was thinking about laying a string of searing kisses along her skin.

“Yes.” It was little more than a whisper.

What had they started?

“You don’t seem as worried about this as you should be,” he mused. 

Focus, she cautioned herself.

“Why should I worry,” she said, far too lightly. “If both of us agree to be seduced.”

He chuckled — a heady sound that curled in the pit of her belly, warming her. 

“I suspect that’s an appropriate way of canceling out each others’ agendas.”

Her fingers hovered over the pieces, the pads of her fingers itching — something was here. Like a word held at the tip of the tongue that went unremembered; that, if you struggled for it long enough, it only managed to slip away further. Rey settled. Stilled. A forcible calm emanated from her center — cooling her nerves and settling the jittery uncertainty that had plagued her since she’d stumbled upon Ben and his immodest presentation. 

“We have those, don’t we,” she whispered. 

He replied simply, “Yes.” And there was the plain reason why there existed a divide between them now. Eventually, that reality had to come crashing back in.

She wet her lip, finding it swollen between her teeth when she chewed on it, thinking.

“What?” he asked, because in the process, some barrier had been obliterated between them. There remained only the suggestion of restraint — perhaps that was Ben’s attempt at decorum, that they hadn’t managed to break any furniture or shred the entirety of Maz’s closet contents in the process of arriving at this particular point: not exactly friends, neither entirely enemies; more than what they had been, less than they could be. 

She glanced up, finding a certain unsettled comfort in his appraisal now.

His nakedness had distracted her. It had rendered an awareness that she was certain had been there before but amplified it from a dull ringing to a scream. Part of it, she was certain, was that she’d never felt the sort of connection that had involuntarily been thrust upon them with another soul. Part of it was the knowledge that she was fighting a losing battle when it came to Ben; she understood that there remained a certain finality to their connection. Like it had always somehow felt inevitable.

In the cave. On Acht-to. Even when they’d fought together, side by side. It was why she sought him out. It was why they found each other, no matter the distance. No matter her desire to close him out initially. She believed in Ben Solo. And no matter how ridiculous it seemed, in his own shadow-cast way, Ben Solo believed in her.

Rey tipped her head, surveying him, reaching out with her feelings. 

“You saw an opportunity to shift the tide, and you didn’t take it,” she said.

His mouth quirked. “Reading my mind, Rey?” 

“Your touch is much more honest than that,” she said simply. 

“It seems unfair that I should draw you to the dark side while you would not draw me to the light.”

“So we’re at an impasse.”

“No. We merely… are. As we were.”

“But not unchanged,” she said, too quietly. 

His tone dropped an octave. “No. Neither that.”

She felt it too — and there was the difficulty. This was not a thing that would leave them so easily, and though there was some comfort there in the heat of him, the scent of his skin, there was more veiled by Ben’s sheer fortitude. He was calmer, and perhaps he’d gleaned that resoluteness from her through their bond. 

“Why did you kiss me?” she asked abruptly, as awkward as the moment she’d demanded why he’d killed Han Solo. Truthfully, part of her didn’t expect an answer. Ben was good at evasion. He could sidestep an honest response easily, but he wouldn’t truly be able to hide the deception from her. Not anymore.

“Why did you kiss me back?” he returned.

“You’re not telling me to stop,” he breathed into her mouth.

She shook her head almost imperceptibly, holding fast to his shoulders though her muscles quivered. His hands remained as they were — everywhere and no place. It was enough to drive her mad with yearning for him to just move a fraction of an inch, press into the soft, warm places where she wanted his touch the most. 

She nipped his lower lip, and his grip on her thigh tightened. 

“I should,” she said. “We should.”

His arms shook, his eyes almost black with lust. “Ask me, Rey.”

Stars, she didn’t want to.

He swallowed. “Then tell me why you think it’s fair that I should have you in my arms, when you’ve only lost a little hope for yourself? That that’s what drives you to this.”

She squeezed her eyes shut, sucking in a breath. “It’s not like that.”

“I felt your despair — it was swift and quickly gone,” he said into the shell of her ear. He hands loosened but didn’t leave her. “Despair for yourself that you were no better than me. That the darkness within you made this permissible.”

She pulled back, eyes wide. 

He regarded her with that level fascination. “Search your feelings, Rey. You know it’s true.”

Rey shook her head. “This isn’t about how we ally ourselves.”

Ben dipped his head, a small frown pulling his mouth down at the corners. His lashes lowered, and he looked her over, smiling sadly. His arms slackened, falling to her legs, and then her sides, holding her loose so that she might escape him if she chose. As if that’s what she wanted now that he was reminding her of their complications.

She pressed her fingers to his heart, feeling that strong muscle beating in time with hers. 

“Ben.”

“When you stop fighting against me, the tide of the war matters less than if its won.”

He was right, of course: with his hands on her, the stillness was resolute. Everything else in the galaxy seemed far less urgent than whatever passed between them in those moments: it was as if together, they could be forged whole and new, but pulled apart, everything broke again. 

“Why are you doing this?” she asked.

When he smiled, touching her face with his fingers. “Because you’ll want me to, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.”

“Because,” she said, unable to withhold the belligerence from her tone.

He raised an eyebrow. “That’s not an answer.”

She huffed, flicking some of the finicky bits on the blanket, tossing a compressor out of the way to keep her hands busy. “You know why,” she said without looking at him.

“I know you enjoyed it. I know it was like surrendering to something you’d been holding back from. But I don’t know why. Not really.”

She glared. “Because the only way I can overcome my fear of things is by confronting them,” she snapped. “It might not be a battle I can win, but it’s the only way to get passed it — you face it.”

“You said you weren’t afraid of me.”

“I am afraid of what I feel when I am around you, Ben Solo,” she near-shouted. “I don’t know if that’s because of the force bond, or whatever the force bond is becoming, or if you’re bleeding into me or amplifying my sentiments, or if it’s me that’s doing it — but this bloody connection between us demands that I am aware of you, whether you’re nearby or across the bloody galaxy. And you are extremely hard to ignore.”

She smacked the blanket, making the pieces jump. 

“Are you satisfied?” she snapped. 

He paused, taking a breath. Her face burned. She turned away, but not too quickly. 

His touch on the back of her hand was featherlight — giving her pause. It was the brush of his fingers across her reddened knuckles; the caress of a phantom, barely there.

Rey found she was breathing hard. Ben withdrew, settling back on his heels, emotion melting back into his keen neutrality. He nodded and said, “Never.” 

His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed, collecting himself. 

“I was thinking about surrender,” she said, her voice small. “And that if it’s truly the will of the Force that we are joined, as we are, then resisting the connection may cause more harm than good.” Her eyes burned: a sudden, embarrassed urge to cry tightening her throat. She held it in check, but only just.

“That’s not a weakness, Rey,” he said quietly.

Rey sniffed. Nodded. “It’s not giving up hope, either,” she corrected him. 

It was another moment of Ben’s quiet contemplation before he cleared his throat, saying a little more strongly as if to ease the burden of her confession, “If you attacked the problem like you continued to attack me, that saber would be fixed by now.” 

They stared at each other for a long moment: the shift of emotions between them a little more recognizable now: Desire. Longing. Determination. An almost-purpose that colored the tension that filled the space between them. And — something else. Something that Ben left unsaid and only partially concealed because he wasn’t being forthright. There was time, yet. She felt that all would come to light, eventually. She pushed the thought aside.

She huffed. He was right, of course. Rey looked back to the pieces before her, trying to focus once more. 

She’d solved enough difficult and intricate puzzles on Jakku — instrumentation was only that; parts of a whole that, when arranged just so, could produce new and interesting results when cobbled together. 

“You could just tell me, you know: what’s so difficult about that. Insert item a into slot b and turn clockwise,” she mused. 

“Then you would walk away without the lesson.” 

Hiding something. Toying with her to keep her from the obvious. Something close to the surface of his control. Something she should know. 

“Do you like lording your knowledge over me?” She drew the pieces of the saber, frowning at the two distinct halves of the kyber crystal. Had they always been like that, she wondered? No.

No, and here was the problem. Rey’s mouth quirked as she leveled her gaze on him, floating the two halves of the split kyber crystal between them. 

Ben gestured, spinning the halves so that the rough edges were revealed. 

“It’s irreparable,” she said. “The crystal can’t be re-used like this.”

“So what’s the solution?” he pressed, a fervor in his eyes turning him hungry. Her heart pounded, the pair of them leaning towards each other. He watched her as he spun one of the crystals mid-air with the slightest gesture. 

Rey’s shoulders sank. “I’ll have to find another.”

He sat back on his heels, considering. Some bit of mischief glimmered there — there was something more he wanted her to figure out for herself. “That’s an option. But it presents a problem,” he said. 

She thought for a moment, considering the pieces: the mechanics could be reassembled and reconfigured and rebuilt easily, but the heart of the device would still be broken. To replace it would be like removing the soul of the lightsaber — and along with it, those that had wielded it.

“The saber’s memories of its previous owners are imbued within the kyber crystal,” she said. “Just because the crystal is broken into halves, doesn’t mean the memories within it are severed?” she wagered.

Ben nodded, satisfied. “What’s the alternative of the original configuration doesn’t work?”

Rey pressed her lips into a flat line. “If I build a new one entirely, won’t the purpose of regaining the memories from the old lightsaber be lost?”

He shook his head. A whisper of something down the bond: how else might one repurpose salvage while keeping the central components as true to their intended nature? 

“Same kyber crystal, same memories,” she said to herself.

Rey frowned. She might preserve the core of the crystals, but the housing would need modification. Following Ben’s gaze, she peered over her shoulder to the corner where someone had placed her quarterstaff against the wall. 

An alternative arrangement, then. 

“Dual blades,” she whispered.

The force of her intent spun the quarterstaff into the air, whipping it across the room so fast that Ben ducked as it struck her palm, leaving her grip stinging. 

“I can rebuild it,” she said. 

He nodded, the echo of his eagerness sent a ripple between them, making the hair on the backs of her arms stand upright. She shivered, and this time, she wasn’t certain if it because of the electricity between them, or because of the knowledge that while he watched her with a new, fierce sort of pride, she knew that he believed she could do it too.

Rey blushed, smiling secretly to herself as Ben sat back, and watched her work. 

Chapter Text

Ben awoke alone and with pre-dawn in his eyes, his feet sticking off the small couch. He'd given Rey the bed, though he suspected that in her defiance, she'd elected to sleep on the floor beside it in the end, if the pile of blankets and the cushion were any indicators.

He knew that's how she'd spent her nights on Jakku: sand and steel to lay her head. While he wasn't overly fond of luxury, given the militaristic penchants of the First Order, the stone flooring of Maz's castle would've put a kink in his neck the size of Yavin Prime.

He lifted himself to his elbow, peering into the blue-grey morning, listening for any clues as to where she might've gone. He closed his eyes, trying to put aside the assault of images that thinking of her conjured:

The line of her neck. The slight taste of salt on her skin. The brush of her lips against his. How soft her hair was when he pulled it from her buns, running his fingers into it.

Instead, he thought of the sound of her breathing: as soft as sliding sands through the fingers. He thought of the sun on his face. He thought of that burning pinch of what it felt like to be blinded by it — all the sense impressions that he could cobble together that made Rey who she was. Somewhere in the distance, Rey gasped. It echoed to him where he was, drawing him to sitting, a small smile pulling at his mouth as he reached for her with his feelings somewhere, out there in the mist.

He felt her greeting, rather than hearing it; a soft shape of the words: "Good morning, Ben."

She was well, at least, though he got the impression that she hadn't slept too much. A restless night for them both, perhaps.

"Where are you?" he asked the empty room. There was no answer, though he knew from the brief flashes their bond allowed, she'd taken the saber she'd rebuilt. Waxy leaves and morning dew. Soft earthen smells. A clearing in the forest, perhaps? A place to train where the Force was the strongest: nature's temple was the place where one might re-center themselves.

True, they were both a little off the mark, after last night.

Ben opened his eyes, looking at the day as it dawned, the aches and hurts of the previous day's pale specters of what they had been. His ribs remained tender, his shoulder bruised, but his heart had learned a new cadence that made the rest of those hurts a little more manageable. He supposed he had Rey to thank for that, though no promises were offered, and none were taken.

He rose and walked to the balcony, knowing that she was someplace to the west of him, but not exactly sure where. It was a strange sensation: another layer of complexity added to an already challenging problem: the strength of their force bond was changing, the dynamic shifting and adjusting to accommodate them. He'd felt something similar when she'd devised a new design for the lightsaber; part of the applied skill had been her own knowledge, and part of it, he was sure, she'd drawn from him. It was as if doors in both their minds had become unlocked and now stood ajar and beckoning. While he wasn't keen on testing the theory, he suspected that this time, if he flung himself over the parapet wall, he might rappel it with more ease than he had previously.

From the edge, he saw a diminutive figure strolling over one of the connecting bridges overlooking the forest. Little more than a three-foot-tall dot, he surveyed Maz from on high where he was the least intrusive. It didn't last long, however: as if sensing his attention, she turned her face to him: a tiny orange speck squinting into the sky. She beckoned him with a finger, a small frown suggesting she didn't mean to be denied. She folded her arms across her chest as if she had all the time in the world to wait him out when he hesitated.

When he lingered, the woman rolled her eyes at him — magnified behind those enormous goggles of hers — and pointed into the forest before her at a part he could not see. As he settled his mind, he felt Rey's presence, however. Maz only had the better vantage point.

"You'll want to see this, Young Solo," she called, her voice echoing over the treetops. Clearly, Maz wasn't interested in subtlety.

Sighing, he threw on the remains of his shirt and his shoes, and stalked out to meet her.


Stopping ten feet from her, Maz didn't bother looking at him when she said, "I don't bite, you know."

He ducked his head, not that he was properly cowed, but because with growing certainty, the woman knew what had transpired in the early hours in her guestroom. Indeed, he expected that she'd planned for nothing less.

How had she known to throw them together, he wondered? While he suspected there was more than what Maz Kanata revealed about what she knew of their bond, he could tell she was at least sensitive to the subtle movements of the Force. Her light shone a little brighter than those that were closed to it.

He peered over the crenellations into the forest. Below, on the flags of the garden path, a sweep of blue light cut the gloom over and over and over as Rey swept through her forms. The dual blades cut arcs around her as she found her rhythm — a dance that she'd known for years, and had found a weapon worthy of her natural rhythms. She knew the quarterstaff, and while she'd demonstrated proficiency with the saber, it made her awkward. It was a foreign weapon that demanded a patience to which she was not predisposed, and thus, it never cut as quick, as fast, or as hard.

To see Rey with her staff? That — that was an art.

Blue lines blurred around her as she whipped the stave through the air, slashing between leaves without cutting a single one. She leaped, parried, and jackknifed mid-air to land in a steady, strong crouch. She rose, balanced on the tip of a large stone, the blades lighting the dim forest around her. Spectacular.

Without thinking, he set his elbows on the lip of the ledge, leaning over to better survey her. It brought him much closer to Maz's scrutiny.

"It's a beautiful thing, isn't it? To see someone discover their potential," she said, far too carefully for his liking. It was as if she was testing him — applying the right amount of pressure to garner a reaction.

Ben set his jaw, his gaze fixed.

"Why did you welcome me into your home so easily?" he asked.

He'd leveled her last sanctuary: a "castle" she'd called it. He hadn't destroyed it himself, personally, but anyone would hold him responsible.

"My home has ever been a welcome refuge for those in need of it. I do not pick sides, child: once the door is open, I will not turn away those who cross my threshold."

He peered at her, askance. Too shrewd, Maz squinted at him.

"You must admit all manner of criminal and villain."

He heard the smile in her voice. "Only the worst sort."

"You're generous," he remarked.

The touch of her three fingers on his wrist was warm and dry — strangely comforting, and as surprising.

"And you're a Solo," she said. She withdrew, leaving behind a faint, grandmotherly tingle where she'd touched him. He looked at the spot as if there remained some sign of the gesture, but there was none. Strange how such a small thing could make his chest tighten, the memory of some old comfort lost to childhood making the feeling stand starker against what he'd become.

He warred with it a moment, the pain of understanding sweet and suddenly burning.

"And," she continued after a moment, sighing. She lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug. "Sometimes, Solos require an extra push."

His heart gave a small, impossible ping of familiarity at that. Something else as well — something that carried the slightest pall.

She watched him, and Ben knew he was rapidly losing control over the play of emotions across his face. That thing inside him that was beyond repair reared its ugly head, and he clenched his teeth to stifle it from roaring through him.

"My father," he said tightly.

Maz smiled, remembering something from some distant past. "You are so much like him," she agreed. "But it's your mother I see in your eyes when you look at Rey as you do now."

His throat closed. Hands fisted to stop himself from some old hurt, he held his breath for a moment longer than necessary as if to stop the swell of feeling that came with it. It hurt, and hurt was a foreign thing he'd long replaced with anger. Trying to call on that tide of darkness was a straining effort now, and for the life of him, Ben Solo didn't know why.

Exhaling sharply, he gasped a laugh that lacked humor, and his eyes stung with it.

Blinking away the sting, he looked at the little orange witch as if she was responsible. Maz only shook her head, shoving her hands in her work pants and smiling down at Rey, who had resumed her forms with the saber.

"You've grown to care for the girl," she remarked. "The austere knight, sworn to the dark side — Kylo Ren."

Ben stood up. Stood straight. That Maz said his name as if Kylo Ren were becoming some vestigial part of him he no longer needed gave him pause: it stung, then burned, then fizzled. He couldn't find an argument to counter it.

"We are tied together," he said instead, because it was still a truth; easier to handle, perhaps, than a direct agreement with her assessment.

"But that's not why you spared her over Snoke."

True, he'd made his choice, though the outcome wasn't exactly what he'd envisioned for them. They were together, after a fashion — but he couldn't be certain for how long. Something stirred in the currents of the Force between them, and it smelled of change.

He nodded, because saying the words were too damning.

It satisfied her, at least.

"It's a lesson learned over many years," she said, "when to nudge and when to hang back. A lesson Rey understands, but you've yet to learn."

He cut a look in her direction, sharply.

She explained, "Rey has braved the darkness for you before, and I know she will do it again."

She faced him fully, her small stature of little consequence when she drew herself up and stared him down. Something churned in the Force around the small woman: even a lightweight sensitive would know it. Ben shrank back against the barrier, holding himself against it as if bracing for impact. She held her ground, intimidation coupled with ancient knowledge and buried in her silence. It was less challenging to recall the woman lived over a thousand years — had seen the last hours of empires; had lived to see them forgotten.

Maz Kanata knew things, and most distressing of all, Ben decided that whatever it was, she'd known for an awfully long time. She'd only been waiting for this moment for him to show up and take it as it was delivered.

Her anger was swift and sharp, catching him by surprise:

"She would go so far into the dark to draw you back that she would give her life, and she will do it bravely, because that girl, no matter what befalls her, will protect those closest to her against all odds. It is her nature: she has an unfailing hope in her, and a determination that has allowed her to endure a lifetime of sorrow and disappointment — and you —"

Rage simmered in Maz's silence, her small fists curled into tiny, non-threatening weapons against him. She shook with it, the tumult of her emotions pouring over and sweeping him back.

Maz exhaled, her shoulders sagging as the fury ebbed from her. "You must remember who you are." She turned from him. "If you are meant to save her."

His palms left sweaty smears on the ledge behind him. "You know of our visions," he croaked.

"I know that nothing is so permanent as to fall and not to fly." She didn't look at him. "To surrender to your destiny is the easiest and hardest thing of all when you remain willfully blind to where the path might lead you." She pursed her lips, adding disparagingly, "Your father's son, after all." He thought he saw her roll her eyes, muttering, "Solos: forever the most stubborn family in the universe."

He had to hold himself upright, looking down to where Rey skillfully butchered a tree stump into smithers. What else did Maz know of them and their bond? Their shared prophecies, their inevitable futures where the path forked and finally divided them? Though it was warm under the sun, Ben's skin felt clammy.

Who was he? It was a question he'd struggled with for years, and perhaps that's what rendered him speechless at that moment, that such a thing remained unresolved and he was no closer to the truth — a truth that Lor San Tekka had reminded him of with a death rattle — that was his family.

"She fixed Luke Skywalker's lightsaber after all," Maz remarked.

Faintly, Ben tried to correct her: "Darth Vader's lightsaber."

Maz waved it off, impatient. She gave him a look that suggested she believed he was an utter imbecile, and that she'd finally lost patience with him.

"Anakin's," he corrected, swallowing. "It was Anakin Skywalker's before Luke's."

Maz narrowed her eyes at him as if this were a test, and he was barely half-assing a pass.

"Rey said the original saber was in your possession," he tried, curiosity finally getting the better of him. "How —"

She held up a finger in warning, and Ben fell silent.

This was torture. He was a child again, and his droids were berating him for stealing one too many cookies before dinner.

"How I came to possess a lightsaber that was lost in a duel years ago is hardly a concern for you, especially now that it's claimed a new owner and diverged entirely from its bloodline. It is rarely the weapon but those that wield it who shape the direction it takes when finding its way to new owners," she glanced at him, and away. "It's a vessel," she explained. "And clearly, it thought you unready to be its master."

He swallowed the bitter lump that accompanied the revelation. He knew as much, of course. He'd never truly inherited the thing; he hadn't deserved it. It didn't stop him from wanting it, however: this talisman. It was part of the legend and lore from which he'd descended. He wanted to deserve it. He wanted to be worthy of it. And he wasn't. If he was, the saber would have revealed its memories and visions to him when he touched it, and not Rey.

"It felt like hers." It sounded pathetic, but it was the truth.

Frowning at him, at least the decision to let Rey have the damnable thing met Maz's approval. Ben lidded his eyes, turning away before the woman might sense his shame. This was humiliating.

"Why did you help her repair it?" she asked.

He frowned, a tightness behind his eyes as he wrestled with the need to confess at least this, knowing how vulnerable it made him seem, and hoping that, somehow, this ugly little truth that made him feel weak might offer some small sliver of absolution:

"Because I want to be worthy of her. And I'm not."

Maz considered this, frowning at him as she tasted the confession, and found honesty in his shame.

"It was retrieved by the then Baron Administrator of Cloud City on Bespin," she admitted, quieter. "A man who once, too, betrayed your father." She tipped her head to the side. "How it came into my possession is of little consequence, though I've always thought it was the will of the Force that allowed me to —" She pursed her lips, a mischievous smile in her eyes. "Pass it on?"

"I'm of the persuasion that lost things are sometimes better left that way," he muttered. He squeezed his eyes shut a moment, and opened them to squint into the suns overhead. Lost literally and figuratively: because surely, by now, Admiral Hux would have deployed enough search parties to overturn every last rock in the known galaxy in pursuit of him: whether he was alive or a corpse, Hux was a thorough sonofabitch who made it his prerogative to assert absolutes.

"Things that are lost often find their way home, child. One only needs to cultivate the patience to allow souls their meandering paths." Her mouth pinched into a thin smile. "But should you wish to remain undiscovered, you might endeavor to be like a star in the daytime sky: hidden in plain sight."

There was a hint of suggestion to her words: a sly knowing that suggested she knew him better than he did himself. It left him rattled, itching in places where he wasn't interested in investigating further.

"What do you mean —" he began, but was quickly cut off by a plaintive and all-too-familiar growl from across the complex.

Ben looked up in time to see the wookie gesturing after Rey. She'd slipped out of sight and into the brush, but Chewbacca lingered in vantage point atop a parapet, bowcaster in hand, surveying the goings-on of Maz's castle-in-progress. Probably checking up on his friend and captain. Ben froze, the wookie's gaze locking on him. Even with all that fur, Ben could have sworn Chewbacca raised an eyebrow at him as if to say, "What are you going to do about it?"

Ben glanced at the bowcaster, recalling what it felt like the last time his surrogate uncle had aimed that thing at him. At least this time Chewie wasn't using him for target practice. He'd missed anyway, though Ben still bore the scar and the knowledge that some sentiment had likely stayed his hand. He suspected that the wookie wouldn't be so forgiving if Ben put a toe out of line around Rey.

He swallowed, wishing belatedly for his own lightsaber just the same.

"He's been giving you both space," Maz said, watching him for a reaction. "He hasn't left."

"Of course he hasn't," Ben muttered.

"He won't leave her either."

"Of course he won't."

Chewbacca's attention remained on him. Waiting. As hard as stone. Ben swallowed.

Maz fixed him with a stern look. "By defining my castle as neutral territory, you might try a little conversation. Perhaps a light game of sabaac in the bar as a distraction."

Ben couldn't stop the frown from pulling at his mouth, but the sudden pounding of his heart was expected. The wookie's long look reached a thousand yards and still managed to make him sweat.

Maz huffed, sticking a pointy finger into the meat of his thigh to get his attention. Ben looked down, fighting the urge to find cover. "Perhaps you've forgotten, Ben Solo, but that wookie loved you once. Like a son."

He fought the urge to flinch. "Okay!" he barked, pulling his leg out of her reach and taking a step away from her.

"Do you agree to act with civility under my roof?" she demanded.

"He can't kill me," Ben shot at her. "Rey and I are bonded. The injuries she sustains, I feel, and vice versa. If that furball maims me, he might as well put a blaster to Rey's head." He pointed.

Out of the corner of Ben's eye, he was fairly certain he saw the wookie bear his teeth.

"Do you?" She advanced on him.

"I do, but what about him!"

Maz stopped. Scoffed. Snorted a laugh and slapped her thigh. "You need a stiff drink," she chuckled, passing him. "Come along, Ben Solo. It will take the edge off."

He lingered, pushing the hair off his forehead. The stress left a cold sweat on his skin. The wookie had vanished, descending out of view and into the castle to intercept him, no doubt. Ben glanced to the forest floor, and though he sensed her, he couldn't see Rey anymore. Pressing his lips into a thin line, he scanned the forest to no avail.

"Maz," he called after her.

"She'll be fine. Rey has her feet on the path facing the correct direction now."

With a lingering glance, he followed. "Wait -"

"Tell me about this bond of yours," Maz said, strolling onward down a set of steps and into the cool stone and shade beyond.

She glanced at him when he didn't reply. It occurred to him that she wasn't asking, but rather, giving him a very direct command. He bristled.

"You're not the first two people to have been joined through the Force, Young Solo. Stop looking so surprised that I might have some additional insight." She fixed him with a thin, sharp smile — as cutting as any blade.

"There were others. You've heard of them —"

She bared her teeth in a smile.

"Nothing so indirect."

It was like the air had been punched from his lungs. She'd known the two mysterious Force users documented in the Book of the Sith.

"Who," he demanded, quickening his pace to keep up. "Who were they."

She stared him down. "Answer the question."

Still, he hesitated, chewing over the words, uncertain how damning they might be. When it appeared that Maz might turn and walk away, disappointed or out of patience — whichever — he blurted, "I can touch her mind." He drew a breath. "And she mine. Like an invisible bridge is built between us. She's exhibited new strengths — skills I'd learned in my youth that no one would have taught her because she was never trained. Her skill with a lightsaber. She demonstrated the forms, though rudimentary at first, but as our power grew, so too did her abilities. At first, the connection wasn't deliberate — it wasn't by choice. I would see her, and she would see me, and then I began to sense the characteristics of her environment: a splash of seawater, the pile of her blankets tangled around her feet as she slept."

"And?" Maz pressed.

The words collected behind his teeth — a private thing he didn't want to share yet, because it remained theirs and theirs alone.

"She reached out for me," he breathed. He swallowed down the lump in his throat. "Such a small gesture, but —" His throat closed, remembering. He fisted his hand, looking at it as if it held the secrets of the universe.

"An equally enormous one," Maz supplied.

Ben jerked his gaze up. "Yes."

"And as your strength in the Force grew, so did hers. Equal light, equal darkness."

He nodded, collecting himself, his head bowed.

"Too much perhaps — we've partaken of each other's powers because the bond doesn't discern light from dark."

"It only is what it is."

He nodded, frowning. "I sense it distresses her, to be so close to the dark side because of me. She feels the intensity of its pull, and perhaps its shadow obscures the world too much for her. She —" He thought of the Force lightning. He thought of Rey crumpling into him in despair. Her sadness, and how much he wanted to shoulder that weight for her. "She can't always stay the tide. It frightens her now."

"It did not before."

He shook his head.

"A child does not fear flame until they are burned by it."

He nodded. "It isn't a burden she should carry," he said quietly.

"There is something else," said Maz. "As plain as day: you share your strengths, but so too are you sharing your… weaknesses."

His bandages were evidence enough of that. Admitting to it was a liability, of that he had no doubt. To hurt Rey would hurt him — to kill her, perhaps, would permit an unfortunate end to befall the new Supreme Leader. He leveled his gaze on the pirate queen, and she matched his.

The pair waited a beat, and neither moved, tension thickening the air.

"They lived an age before my time," Maz said finally, and Ben deflated a little. "But one does hear stories." She appraised him. "Heroes of the Great Galactic War, both of them, though they fought on opposite sides at first: enemies, thrust together by the strength and will of the Force. Her name was Bastila Shan, a Jedi Knight of the Old Republic."

The name wasn't familiar to him. He opened his mouth to say as much, but Maz continued, "The other you'll recognize, perhaps," she said drily. "His given name has been lost to the passage of time, but he was renowned amongst the Sith Empire before he became the savior of the Republic." Maz folded her hands behind her, bowing her head. "Bastila brought him back from the brink of death, you see — and in saving him, she created the bond that shackled them together."

A Sith Lord who turned back to the light, because he'd loved a woman that had saved his life. Ben waited.

"The Jedi Council thought it best to remove a selection of his memories to ensure that he might remain under their control, but when faced with the choice when the darkness offered its shroud once more, he refused. He remained." She glanced at him. "For her."

She lifted a shoulder in a shrug. "He too wore a mask," she said, vanishing around a corner and descending a narrow, half-finish stairwell.

"Wait," Ben called after her, squeezing into the space and doing his best to follow.

"They died long ago. More than an age has passed. Others have found similar bonds since, but never as strong, and never between two souls so severely at opposition with each other."

"But who was he?"

"Does it matter?" she asked. He couldn't see her in the ichor. Ben crouched, hunkering as the passage narrowed. The ceiling was low enough to scrape the top of his head. He hunched into himself. "The Force doesn't consider one's name, nor where one might come from. It only directs where one might find themselves so they might choose to rid themselves of the constraints they've built to hide behind."

"I am not hiding," he snapped.

"No? Then, who are you, really?" she pressed, her disembodied voice raising the hairs on the back of his arms. His neck prickled with eerie familiarity. Could he answer that question honestly, and still hold on to everything he'd built for himself?

Ben scuffed his arm against the wall, and swearing, he rebounded, his feet tangling. He gasped a curse, but gravity claimed him as it would a falling star, yanking him forward into the pitch so that he skidded the last few steps at a stagger as a door opened around the bend. He flung into it, his feet unsure, and tumbled out into a sparsely decorated hall.

Maz peered down at him, curled into himself at the bottom of the stair. She crouched, bringing herself to eye-level where Ben remained sprawled on the dusty floor.

"Not that it matters, but he is remembered as Revan," she said. "Darth Revan to many, but not all."

She gave him a pat on his shoulder that was too affectionate to be patronizing, but still spoke of her age.

Standing, Maz added, "Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to rewrite the history by which they're remembered, don't you think?" she asked. "How about that drink?"

She left him there, his pride a little bruised, his heart pounding, and her words echoing in his ears. What kind of power would one need for such a feat, he considered, hoisting himself to an elbow — to be so great that they might recast themselves in their own legend?

A plaintive growl cut the silence, and Ben squeezed his eyes shut, his heart giving a chug of panicked surprise at the sound.

"Yes, yes, I know you're thirsty," Maz was saying, ambling around the bar and reappearing a moment later after finding a step stool. Her head only poked a foot over the countertop.

Wincing, Ben found several low tables with dilapidated chairs near an unfinished structure that might've passed for a rudimentary cantina bar. He'd found himself in the room that would undoubtedly become Maz's new tavern, judging by the location at which the Wookie had stationed himself. He glowered at Ben, two empty cups in hand.

Chewbacca said something else that Ben didn't catch, but carefully, and deliberately placed his bowcaster at a safe distance from him on the bar so that it became apparent he wasn't about to pin him to the floor where he lay.

The Wookie glowered at him as Ben dragged himself to standing, waiting at a good distance, hands slack at his sides. His palms stung.

Glancing between them, Maz brought out a bottle, placing it on the bar with a loud thunk.

"Don't break anything," she warned. And then she left.

Ben's jaw worked, every muscle in his body considering running back the way he came, but he held his ground, and Chewbacca didn't move. They stared at one another for a moment that grew and stretched, flinching at the sounds of Maz's departure as silence descended once more.

The Wookie sniffed and warbled a derisive, deliberate insult.

Ben blinked, piecing together the vowels and long noises in the translation. It was rusty, but he understood:

" I missed."

Ben swallowed, the air catching in his lungs. "I'm not sure if I should thank you," he managed.

Chewie snapped his jaws, not pleasantly, and not to be threatening. There were other ways that Wookie's demonstrated their anger, and it wasn't by smacking two empty glasses down at a dejarik board along with a bottle. It definitely wasn't by dragging out a chair and pointing at it.

He hesitated, cocking his head at Ben. He pointed at the door, raising both furry brows in warning. Rey. He was trying to indicate the girl. Chewbacca snapped his teeth a little more firmly, this time, with an unsaid threat. He threw himself into the chair opposite Ben, a low growl rumbling in his chest the entire time. Still glowering, Chewbacca poured the amber liquid into both glasses.

Carefully, with cautious steps, Ben lowered himself into the chair across from him and accepted the drink that was offered.

He cleared his throat, nodding at his uncle, and acknowledged the promise of violence should he let her get hurt in a small, tight voice, "I know."

Chapter Text

 

Hers and not: residual echoes of what the saber was and to whom it belonged stirred around Rey as she moved with it, carving the morning air around her: it felt a little as if she were chasing ghosts in the pre-dawn; their whispers filled her ears, though their memories strayed just beyond her — too quick to catch.

It felt as if she were waiting for something bigger than herself, and it was only just out of reach.

Touching it alone after having repaired the saber produced no further visions. She'd expected something more, but the blade had not been as forthcoming as the first time she'd found it stashed away amongst Maz's treasures. Ben's disappointment was enough to keep her awake into the long hours of the early morning. Finally, having given up on sleep entirely, she'd taken it with her and ventured outside where it was easier to separate her thoughts and feelings from his restless dreams.

She spun the quarterstaff over her knuckles, twin blue blades cutting the darkness with a humming vibration that she felt all the way to bone. It was not apart from her — but an extension of her limb as she spun around, the Force a sigh of air that moved with her, buoying her up so that it felt as if her feet hardly touched the ground, weightless.

It felt so far removed from the person she once thought she was: so small and alone, isolated in the wasteland of the Jakku dessert. This world was full of things unseen; full of potential that beckoned.

Eyes half-closed, a small smile pulling at the corners of her mouth, she stopped, sliding her foot in a crescent and thrusting the blade into the mist. She reached forward with her feelings, finding her mark before raising her hand. Breathing even. Controlled. Smooth as she pivoted, bending leaf and branch in the gentlest and most persuasive of gestures.

The small smile she wore grew.

The sensation of connection filled her lungs. It slipped beneath her skin. It moved with her and through her; turning her steps light, as if she could float.

The twin blades danced around her in a wheel of that bled from blue to white, cutting arcs before and behind, leaving laughter ringing through the trees. It felt whole.

The canopy dripped fat droplets of dewy water, and it became a game to catch them before they might strike the earth — hissing and evaporating on either given end of the lightsaber. The speed at which she caught them was impossible — the control otherworldly that she could stop the strike before cleaving through a tree.

Rey stopped, breathing hard, feeling the weapon as a part of her now; it's legacy a song that touched the heart. It was familiar to her. It whispered secrets she couldn't quite hear.

She opened her eyes, catching glimmers of sunshine falling between the trees, dappling the shade with mottles of gold. The forest floor was thick and rich, decaying matter giving new life in green shoots that sprang upwards and tried to capture the suns' light. There was balance here, if she left herself open to it: it felt… as it should be, which troubled her less than the other things that she could feel on the periphery.

Ben's momentary confusion while waking was a ripple that turned her body in his direction. His disorientation was tinged with concern, and as she lowered her lashes, she breathed him in — pulled his essence through her, and exhaled his relief as she sensed him reach back, his awareness brushing hers.

"Good morning, Ben," she said aloud to the empty forest.

His tension banked and unspooled. Another question formed, but it was looser — too unfocused for her to decipher as quickly. He was — less worried now, but curious, still. She tried to concentrate, holding it, but it slipped away. She sighed, blinking her eyes open to peer in the direction of Maz's castle where the impressions of a too-short couch and a kink between his shoulders left her contemplating the way he slept as she's snuck out of their room:

Shirtless. Dreaming.

Interesting, Rey thought. Was this the result of yesterday's prolonged contact reinforcing their bond, or was she so lust-addled that she'd dropped her guard entirely following that kiss? She blew out a breath. It had been quite something.

It wasn't her imagination, either: the bond was growing stronger. Echoes of his presence occupied her mind, a shade slipping amongst her thoughts. Rey felt his attention — he sought after her. A flash of Ben, sentinel and looking out over the forest canopy, but too far from view for the naked eye. A small smile tugged at her mouth, and she turned away, blushing at the other more secretive thoughts that crowded between them: sensorial things that she could almost feel grazing her skin like his fingers had.

She pulled her lower lip into her mouth, smiling and swinging the quarterstaff, trying to work through those residual impressions of lips and tongues and teeth and hands, protective arms holding her close, his skin siphoning off the worst of it — replacing her fear with warmth; warmth turning into desire.

There was something more than shadow to him; beneath the rage and frustration, she sensed something more lingering there; something pure and shining that he'd tried to snuff out. Light lived in him, still; just as, she sensed, darkness dwelled in her.

Would both halves grow to overtake them, she wondered?

To her left, something moved amongst the trees. Rey turned, her senses sharpening to a blot of shade between the trees. The leaves of the ferns swayed as if brushed like someone had stood amongst them only before. She stood still, the sudden kick of her startled heart knocking against her ribcage. Rey swallowed, unsticking her tongue from the roof of her mouth, and drew herself up, positioning the staff before her so that the blade's ambient light illuminated the gloom.

"Hello?" she called. Her voice didn't waver, but neither did her heart stop pounding in her ears. Someone was out there. Watching her.

Beneath her foot, a branch snapped as she took a step. Wincing against the sound, Rey eased forward, determined to remain unafraid and strong. Anyone could be out here. The forest and its wild growth was the prime place for smugglers and derelicts, and there was no question that Maz kept all manner of acquaintance. With Ben conspicuously absent from First Order headquarters, she had no doubt the fleet would be trawling the universe, searching for their absent Supreme Leader. Anyone might be out there, lurking in the bush, waiting to ambush her.

Uncertain what she was seeing at first, Rey hesitated: something lingered amidst the mist-strung forest, just around the trunk of a large tree. It lit the area around it with a faint, ethereal glow unlike anything she'd seen before. The problem was, Rey realized, she had sensed this presence before in the Takodana brush, and elsewhere too — she'd born it with her for so long, she almost didn't realize how close the feeling was to her: like a shadow, ever-present, and so close that you might lose it beneath your boot heels.

She sucked in a breath, and followed.

Not more than a few paces ahead, the light dimmed, the forest falling to blues and greys — a concealed inlet where the daylight couldn't reach because the trees grew so close they became a cathedral ceiling. The grotto had possessed the same stillness and calm; an anticipatory potential that made her grip the quarterstaff a little harder, her jaw setting as her gaze darted around the clearing.

The Force was at work here, and stronger than she'd ever felt it, but it wasn't the place; that was only part of it — and part of her, she realized. The same preternatural calm that filled the clearing seeped into her bones, pushing her to the balls of her feet as if ready to spring. Something was here. Something watched her. She felt its attention as surely as the small hairs on the back of her neck stood up with attention. The urge to run was becoming overwhelming, but still, she held her ground.

This place was special, but she hadn't felt it before — perhaps the repaired saber somehow allowed itself a conduit: amplifying her senses to allow her better… Force reception. Rey frowned, feeling ridiculous.

"Hello?" she said again, this time, a little more sharply.

Nothing moved between the trees.

The saber's light revealed nothing of note on the trees or stones nearby. She expected something far grander: more than vines and ferns and corded roots that snagged at her ankles; something like the tree on Acht-to, the reach of which might've grazed the stars for how high it stretched, and how deep the roots. This place felt similar: it felt like raw power — an exposed electrical wire.

She flipped the quarterstaff, its hum filling the silence as she turned on the spot. In the gloom, it's blue-white glow was almost blinding.

"Who's there?" she demanded. Her voice didn't quaver, for which she was grateful, but she was breathing hard without exerting herself. A cold sweat trickled down her spine.

Nothing there. No one here but her. She swallowed, frowning, and tried to calm her hammering heart.

"Ridiculous," she muttered, shaking herself. She stood to full height when a further search of the trees around her revealed nothing unusual. If Ben were here, she suspected her little paranoid display might actually extract a laugh from him. She exhaled, her shoulders sagging, and puffed a breath as she closed her eyes briefly, trying to center herself, and shut off the saber entirely.

Impenetrable silence descended around her, but the dim glow of light remained in the clearing.

Her brain worked to process what her eyes were seeing, but self-preservation pushed her legs into motion before she really registered the sight before her. It was another moment entirely before she realized she'd stopped breathing and her vision was spotting over with the first urge to panic and then pass out.

Her heels hit the rock behind her before that happened, and she spilled backward, arse over elbow and smacking into the soft earthen floor before even that.

The staff flew from her grasp, striking the ground a few feet before her and rolling into the toe of a man who wasn't a man: men were solid and didn't glow from the inside out. Men had mass and form and solidity; you couldn't see the trees through their torso.

Rey mouthed the word, but she knew there was no one near enough to help even if she managed more than a croak.

He towered over six feet in height at least — cutting an imposing form that was made even more striking by his broad shoulders and dark robes. A scar marred the left side of his face, slicing his right eyebrow but only grazing the eye. They were a clear, sharp blue beneath heavy brows, and they regarded her with an admiring understanding that rippled with power.

He lowered to a crouch, tipping his head as if to admire her work, and nodded with appreciation at the dual-ended saber she'd fashioned from the body of her old quarterstaff.

There was something about the manner of his dress; the robes were of an archaic style. 20 years old at least. No one wore a tabard anymore — she'd only seen that style of dress in pictures. No one wore a tabard anymore — because it was the attire of a Jedi knight.

"That's innovative," he murmured. "I'd love to see how you adapted the original construction with a split kyber crystal, but unfortunately —" He waved. One of his hands were concealed by a glove, but Rey suspected he wasn't indicating the cybernetic arm the leather covered. "In my present condition, manipulating physical objects can sometimes be rather challenging."

She reached out with whatever strength she had — whipping past the boundaries of her body quicker and with more vehemence than she'd managed before. The impact of her telekinetic thrust smashed through the dead man's torso without as much as making a ripple and hit the tree behind him, ripping it up from the roots with a groan.

Rey snatched back her hand, kicking her heels into the earth to gain momentum to escape him. He didn't move, surveying her with raised eyebrows and a faint smile.

"You're not real," she whispered, her legs twitching with the desire to snatch the lightsaber and bolt. "Ghosts aren't real."

He raised an eyebrow, lips curving in an altogether too familiar, unsettling way.

"Oh stars," Rey whispered as the similarity struck home:

The dark eyes, the shape of his mouth, the breadth of his shoulders, his stature, his height — even the way he carried himself. Ben. All of him — not exactly alike, because there were pieces of Ben that were decidedly inherited from Han Solo, but she could see the bloodline as clear as his smile when he grinned. She saw Leia in his eyes, and in the way he smiled at her — with the experience of hardship, and with a boyish shyness that the man he'd grown into had not entirely lost.

The man she'd seen in the grotto's pool. The man from the lightsaber's memories.

"I know you," she whispered.

He ducked his head, hair falling into his eyes, abashed. When he looked at her through his fringe, understanding glimmered in the darkness — and with a little sadness.

"I regret to say that… my reputation precedes me."

Rey sat upright, looking him over. She swallowed, her mouth dry, and tried to reason with the possibility of what she had been brought here to witness. She crawled to her knees, inching forwards so that she knelt before him — the pair of them almost eye to eye; she in wonder, and he with the patience of eternity.

Rey shook her head, her eyes trained on his. Her lip quivered. This was not the Dark Lord she had expected. Where was his breathing apparatus? The imposing black armor? The legends said he'd been mostly parts, in the end — hardly human.

"Master Skywalker?" she breathed.

He watched the play of emotions on her face. "You've nothing to fear from me, Rey. The blade you possess belonged to me, and my son after me. He sends his regards."

It hit her like a punch in the chest. "But Luke's —"

"Moved on," he supplied when she faltered.

Rey shook her head. This was impossible. She raked her hands into her hair, peering at him from between her fingers. When he didn't vanish in a cloud, she pinched herself for good measure.

Anakin. Anakin Skywalker. She dared not say his name, but this was the clearest representation of everything Maz had told them:

"Maz said you were two people —" she said. "You're… as you were when you began your Jedi training?" she ventured.

"Wiser, I hope," he said drily.

She swallowed, shaking her head.

"How is this possible?" she asked, reaching out as if making to graze his face.

He held a hand up as if asking for patience. "The Force and its mysteries, but I regret there isn't much time to relay the cost of this effort." He hesitated, "Rey."

She shook her head. "I don't understand — why have you come here, now? Why to me? Why not —" Ben, she wanted to ask. Why not his grandson?

He held his hand over the blade. "I have always been with you, for as long as my lightsaber has been in your possession. I have seen everything. I have fought alongside you." He searched her gaze. "I will be with you for as long as you have need of me, your guide. Do you understand?"

She shook her head, terrified by the implications. "No," Rey said.

"Ben is… closed off to me," he said, looking into the trees and beyond them, she suspected.

"And I'm not."

Anakin shook his head. "It's the nature of darkness to see only so far as you cast your light." He smirked to himself, folding his hands into his robe sleeves. When he looked up to her again, those shadows that deepened his gaze held her rooted.

Ben hadn't changed, then. There was light enough in her that Anakin could speak with her because of the saber in her possession, but there were no ties now between them. The thought left an ache in her chest.

"I don't understand," she whispered. She thought that through their bond there had been at least some progress, some shift in his desires —

"Search your feelings, Rey. When no Jedi remain, the Force must be your teacher. You must heed it well; go where it guides you, but first, you must learn to listen for it."

She frowned, touching the staff, drawing it closer to her as if it held the answers. It didn't. That which threatened her the most was the thing she feared. If she yielded to it, she would fall. If she didn't, Ben would never return to the light. Deeper still was the very true possibility that her feelings for Ben would be the very catalyst that prompted to lose herself entirely. Maz had said that she needed to yield to the will of the Force, and the current had swept her straight into Ben's arms when she did. Through him, she could almost feel it reaching out to touch her — that shadow of worry and doubt that said a nobody would remain… nothing, and all would be lost: the war, her friends, herself, and Ben Solo —

"But I feel the Dark Side calling me." She looked up into those eyes that had seen both sides of the Force, and had not survived either.

"The Dark Side beckons because there is knowledge there that a Jedi needs; the skill is in remaining touched but unconsumed by it. Balance is a tightrope that not everyone can walk, but I see you want to try."

"You won't caution me against it."

He lifted his gaze, assessing. "If I did, would you listen to me, or your heart?"

She ducked her head, her face reddening.

"Your feelings for him are the reason we are speaking now, Rey," he said to her. "You care for him, and you would see him restored in the light."

"I would," she said firmly.

"Why."

It was a simple question, but it struck her in a way that stung.

"Because it's right."

Anakin shook his head. "There is neither right nor wrong when confronted by the will of the Force. It does not wane; it only shifts to compensate for great losses and great gains, rising power and enormous defeats. It strives for only one thing."

"Balance."

"Balance in the Force," he agreed.

"And I must yield to its will."

"Wise words for someone so young."

They weren't hers, but she still didn't understand how to do it without losing herself and everything she believed in the process.

"Why," he said again. "What is your true motive in nurturing that kernel of light in him?" he pressed. "For the war? To turn the tide? For political advantage?"

"No!" she choked, but that wasn't wholly true. She'd said as much to Luke on Acht-to, hadn't she? It hadn't been to save Ben — his soul, his spirit. It hadn't been to return him to his mother who missed him. It hadn't been to spare his heartbroken father before it was too late. She'd failed to see the man, and only the mask and all that Kylo Ren represented.

And Anakin knew it: he knew her heart, and that small machination became so much worse than what she'd ever intended. Rey sank back down onto her heels, not realizing she'd risen.

She covered her mouth, tears threatening.

"Something more, perhaps," he offered, coolly. Did he find her wanting? Unworthy of the task? Misguided in her intentions?

She felt like it.

There was more to it, though: that wasn't all Ben was to her — a means to an end. Not… anymore. She wasn't quite sure when it had happened, but their bond was a building block onto which she heaped her hope.

There was no manipulation when she'd escaped Acht-to and sought him out on the Supremecy. She'd gone after him because she believed in that the tiny speck that burned inside him, and how that wonderful, small light deserved to be protected; Ben Solo deserved another chance. He deserved happiness, or at the very least, the opportunity to experience it where there had only been loneliness before. She... cared for him, and she wanted -- she wanted to see him whole. 

She might not have been able the one to accomplish such a feat, but she would be damned If she quit before even trying. And if Ben Solo found himself incapable of beating back the darkness that held him in its grasp, so help her, she would carve open an escape hatch so he at least had the option.

"What am I to do, Master Skywalker?" she asked.

He offered a mournful smile, looking for all the world as if he'd lived for more years than he'd been given. Rising, he gestured that she should follow, bringing the quarterstaff with her. "Face the trial every Jedi before you have taken: it is a confrontation you may not win, but it is the only way to vanquish your fear of it: walk out to meet your fate. Sometimes one must descend before they can rise."

"But I don't understand —" she tried to argue.

"The Force has given you direction, hasn't it? In what way is a dream not unlike a map?"

He drifted, his robes trailing as his light left the cathedral of trees. In the gloom, his body dimmed to a speck, and then only his voice remained along with the feeling that his presence lingered, still.

"Journey to Mustafar. Pass the test," Anakin said simply. "Save my grandson."

Rey waited for the sensation of his presence to fade, lingering in the dispersing mist as the day grew warm, her clothes growing damp the longer she sat there, thinking:

Save Ben Solo: that part was clear. He did not, however, tell her to 'save herself' too.

And that, perhaps, was a lesson that separated Jedi from Padawans — sometimes, Rey thought, it was the silent instruction that was the most important, if not the most difficult to master.

 

Chapter Text

The lightsaber at her side remained silent, as if Anakin himself were waiting for her to make up her mind about things, and he was hanging back to let her think it all through. 

Mustafar. Somehow she knew that the star would be the same as the one from Ben’s vision: a bleeding, barren wasteland where the Sith Lord once reigned. Her skin prickled with gooseflesh. Something awaited her there, and she suspected that whatever dwelled within the halls of Darth Vader’s former fortress possessed a rigid finality to it all — the visions, the limits of her bond, Ben’s fate and hers. 

There were answers in the dark; that’s why she’d sought the cave on Acht-to. It called, and she had answered. Now, it was doing it again and with insistence. 

Would she deny it? 

Rey blew out a breath.

In the shade, the castle remained as still and silent as a tomb, and she paused at the door as if waiting for some sign of life. The large palms swayed, brushing the scaffolding with their leaves, but the forest beyond was still. And yet, she couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched — like Anakin remained close by though she’d lingered alone in the clearing for what felt like hours. The suns were higher now, and insistent — pouring their heat to the planet’s surface. 

There was no disguise for the weight on her chest. Ben would sense the disturbance; her inability to shake the knowledge she now carried with her. He would know, and he would question her, and she hadn’t the faintest idea how to lie to him about who she’d spoken to or why.

Her palms left clammy smears down the warm doorway as she pushed it inward, slipping quietly into the castle’s shade. The longer she dallied, the worse it got: She feared she was neither strong enough nor worthy enough to carry him if the truth became too much for him to bear; that she was meant to be the mechanism of his deliverance, and that his grandfather had bypassed him to give her the message.

The door banged against the wall, and echoes reverberated against stone. The Force breathed, turning the darkness oppressive. It welcomed her, ushering her forward as if greeting an old friend, and Rey eased into it, her grip on the saber tightening as she struggled to adjust to the gloom. 

Rey’s head snapped up, her senses screaming at the curling quiet: it wound itself into a tight coil that curled into her belly. Something was wrong.

Two presences flared brightly in the distance — the one bound to her jerking her forward, her feet hammering against the floor as she sprinted towards the mounting tension that exploded into fury. Frustration. Anger. Ben’s. A bellow in the distance. Chewie? 

Rey took three steps into the darkened castle and began to run.

Ben’s responding snarl rendered her almost senseless. Heaving for breath, she pelted towards the feeling of him, her heart in her throat trying to claw its way out as she ran to intercept the fight:

A crash punctuated the last volleys of an argument, as far as she could tell. The sound echoed, coming from everywhere. She jerked around in a circle, trying to find the source, until finally, desperate seconds passing, she felt the yank in her solar plexus that pointed her Southward. Rey clipped a wall and bolted towards them. She skidded around a corner, nearly missing the rail and flying into open air where the construction of the floor remained incomplete. 

A wide gash in the stone opened before her, revealing unexplored sublevels. She scraped backward, shuttling herself a few feet to gather the momentum, and flew at it. She whipped across the five-foot gap and smashed into the other side, her knees crumpling as she rolled to standing and staggered into a jog. Panting, she whipped around — left and then right as the hall presented three corridors. She sucked in a lungful of thin air, squeezing her eyes shut for just a second, and reaching with her feelings — and then her hand, her fingers splayed wide as if to give herself just a few more feet of advantage trying to find him.

“Ben!” she hissed. “Where are you?” 

A flash of something nicked her, and she winced against the image as it burst behind her eyes: laced and bittersweet, she could feel Chewie’s keen beneath her shout. She saw the bowcaster notched. She saw the wide, brown eyes of a child; pudgy pale arms reaching, small fingers tangling in her fur. She saw Han Solo go limp and brown eyes grown flinty with age and pain in a face she no longer recognized. She felt the death of her friend and the loss of her godson as if he’d torn out her heart along with his father’s all over again.

Sharp. Brutal. Blinding. And gone.

Fingers pressed into the stone walls, Rey shut her eyes for a bit longer than a standard blink, wondering if she should wait it out, knowing that delay might present a hazard to either of her friends. The disorientation lasted a full second, and the world listed to the side as a wash of dizziness bowled her over with such strength her knees nearly buckled.

Ben? She staggered forward, reaching for him through the bond as if their connection snaked through the lower levels of Maz’s castle, pulling her forwards into the cool shadows that waited in alcoves beyond the daytime glare; that darkness that whispered to her there, making promises. 

She saw something else, then, amidst the muddle of Chewbacca’s feelings: a headstrong boy with ears he would never grow into, smiling so hard his cheeks dimpled. A memory from before the days where he remembered the sullen, angry teenager that Ben would become — a handful of years, better days spent under golden skies while Chewie could still make him laugh — when he could still pick him up in a hug. 

The sense impressions that accompanied the Wookie’s protest were muddled, and worse were Ben’s — sluggish, uncertain, and a little bit irrational. Both seemed to be experiencing spikes in their aggression and competitiveness. 

She surged forward, her eyes adjusting too slowly. 

“Ben!” she cried, her voice echoing back to her. “Chewie!”

Rey scrunched her nose, a slight headache pinching the spot between her eyes. The transition from the forest to full sun and heat, and then the cool alcoves of the fortress should have helped — but a heaviness sat on her shoulders that she couldn’t shake. It left her cold and contemplative, detached from her steps though knowing she was moving towards the fight with the sort of apprehension that reminded her vaguely of dealing with Rathtars. 

No one was dead, yet. That much was clear. Also: Maz hadn’t discouraged them from throwing the furniture; a fact reinforced when a chair flew into the hall and struck the wall to her left. Splinters fell at her feet. 

Ben’s curse echoed through the first floor, loud enough to beat back anyone even remotely curious as to what was happening. Rey approached the entryway to a vast chamber, sidestepping the chair. 

She paused before the door, wiping her forehead. When she lifted her hand, she found her fingers trembling. It wasn’t because of the state she found Maz’s bar in either:

Chewbacca towered over Ben, the pair of them faced off across a dejarik board in which the holomonsters were midway through slaughtering each other.

“That move’s illegal!” Ben pointed with a bottle of amber liquid.

Chewbacca’s responding roar raised the hair on the back of her neck. 

Rey lingered in the doorway, the impossible sight before her feeling vaguely as if she were cracking up: 

“You will not rip off my arms and beat me with them just because you’re bigger,” Ben shot back. “Your threats won’t work with me, old man.”

Chewie snarled an order at his Savrip, who lumbered over to Ben’s Grrk and proceeded to use it like a hammer, pounding Ben’s Monnok into the board and effectively removing two combatants from the game.

“No!” Ben bellowed, hands ripping into his hair. He fisted them over his mouth.

Chewbacca raised his arms over his head, triumphant and howling. He pointed at Ben, his laughter rattling the glassware behind the makeshift bar. 

Swearing, Ben flung himself back into his chair, pulling a long swig from the neck of the bottle. He slammed it down between them, joining two others that they’d already finished on the table’s surface. 

Chewie barked something between laughs, slapping the board with a fist and making the remaining players flicker. 

“I am not a sore loser,” Ben groused, pointing. “You cheated!” 

This time, Chewie’s responding snarl was edged with a threat. 

“Go on. I dare you,” Ben snapped. 

The entire table canted left, bottles spilling. Ben raised both hands, his legs splayed and covered in muck. He patted at the mess to no avail, glowering at his opponent.

Rey only stared, the pair of them oblivious to her spectating from the doorway. The tension between them made the air crackle.

It was a moment’s beat, and the superimposed impression that glanced off her was strong enough to make her slouch into the wall. She held onto it for support as, amidst the drink and the garbled protest lost to translation as Ben stood, flicking his hair from his eyes and glaring with imperious hostility.

Chewie snapped his jaws in warning. 

Ben bared his teeth, growling back. 

In two strides, the Wookie towered over the man that had once been his kin. A single swipe of his hand and Ben sent the table careening into the bar, crackling with a small detonation as it connected. Fried circuitry and sizzling electronics popped in the following silence while the pair of them silently promised each other violence. 

The roar that followed was met in kind, and Rey watched as the Wookie and the man opened their mouths and howled at each other in a dialect she couldn’t possibly guess at — some old instinct that predated language. 

Chewie bumped Ben’s chest, and dwarfed by the sheer size of him, Ben staggered backward, shocked. He responded by shoving at the Wookie with both hands, bypassing the Force altogether in favor of using his own strength. 

The air thickened, the momentary banter lost to something unspoken that flared, rearing its head: Rey felt it in the room as surely as she’d felt Anakin Skywalker’s presence only hours before — 

Here, the ghost was only a memory; a conversation that went unshared; a final goodbye left unsaid, and all the bitterness that went with it in those left behind remained, ready to explode.

Chewbacca’s roar tapered to a lilt of pain. An accusation hung between them — their playful competition lost all at once.  

Ben’s shoulders heaved. He glared right back, fingers curled into fists. 

“I know who he was!” Ben shouted.

Rey stilled, her fingers twitching as if a sweep of her arm would fling them apart. 

“I know —” He faltered, his jaw working. A shine to his eyes that hadn’t been there before welled up, making them glimmer. Ben caught himself, straightening. Rey heard him clear his throat though he turned away. He held his hand out as if begging for Chewbacca to stop the direction of the conversation as it veered from the game to the bantha in the room.

Chewbacca’s response caught her in the throat, choking off sense and replacing it with a flood of pure feeling: a wall of despair rising like a tsunami and crashing over her. She gasped, but neither paid attention. Something burned between them: the topic of conversation gone untouched for this long now bubbling to the surface in this crucible of spirits and sadness. 

The Wookie only needed one word, and the singular syllable came out broken: "Why?"

Ben couldn’t look at him, so Chewie repeated it loud enough to split her eardrums.

He shook his head, not making eye contact.

She couldn’t hear Ben’s answer, but Chewbacca’s protest as he advanced on him was as clear as anything: 

"He loved you."

“I was never good enough for him!” Ben rounded on him, spitting the words.

"That’s not a reason!"

“Let the past die,” Rey whispered, feeling the surge of pain through their bond — crystal and clear. She’d never understood before; not even when she’d asked him directly and he’d evaded the question — she’d never really understood why either, until now. “Kill it, if you have to,” she echoed his words.

Pale and wide-eyed, Ben whipped around to face her, finding her clinging to the doorframe, watching him as a piece of the puzzle slid into place between them. 

“Only then can you become what you were meant to be.”

And it had cleaved his soul. And she was tasked with mending what remained of Ben Solo after he’d tried to shake off the trappings of his former life. 

He’d failed. He’d failed to become something more than what he was. 

Chewbacca drew Ben’s attention back to him. He called him a name that Rey couldn’t translate directly — not nephew. Not godson, exactly. Somewhere in between, and something weighed much more heavily because it meant so much more to him. She didn’t know the Wookie word for “beloved,” but Rey thought, that might have been it. 

“I thought I didn’t have a choice,” Ben said weakly, but he was cut off by the muzzle of Chewie’s shoulder as the wookie dragged him forwards into his arms, braying a long, mourning keen that buckled Rey’s knees. 

She tipped back against the wall, sagging to a seat. Her legs splayed out in front of her, her breath escaping in a long torrent as she brushed the hair from her face, finding her cheeks wet.

She wasn’t crying — she’d spent her tears for Han Solo. They weren’t hers.

Ben’s hands hung limp and loose at his sides for a moment in the stillness, the air filled with the sounds of the wookie’s howls. Though he was so much smaller than his uncle, she felt him clearly even as Chewbacca’s arms swallowed him up in his embrace:

A torrent buffered up against a dam that was beginning to leak — the insistence of all that pressure hammering away against his self-created protection as the wall Kylo Ren built to keep himself separate from his past began to sag, then bend outward under the weight. She felt him heave a breath down, but for all the world, Ben felt like he was choking on the sudden impossible roar of silence left in his father’s absence.

“He’s gone!” The words were muddled, but there was such power in them that they struck her like a blow.

Chewie clutched him harder. "But you’re not."

Rey clutched at her chest, crumpling the fabric of her shirt in her fist as her eyes burned: a sympathetic sensation that was both hers and his. She felt every ounce of it with twice the insistence. 

Through Ben, she felt the Force wake with it — the feeling redoubled on her, and with a gasp, it felt as if she’d struck a live wire: the full shock of it slapped her head back into the wall, and gaping and open and raw, she echoed the scream muffled by Chewie’s shoulder: Ben howled as finally, that awful void in the Force presented itself to him so he might understand what he had done:

The place occupied once by Han Solo in the Force had not healed. 

What remained was a black hole, pulling in all the light around it, and Ben felt every ounce of it as if it were fresh and raw and waiting for him to confront it.

And there, in that blackness, amidst all that pain — a singularity. Only a small glimmer, but growing in intensity: Ben.

Rey gasped her eyes open. Moments had passed. A ringing filled her ears. Before her on his knees, Ben turned his red eyes and wet face to her, still clutching Chewie’s legs. The Wookie had collapsed into a chair, a large hand covering his face. One gripped Ben’s shoulder. 

These were strange days, she thought distantly. Numbness sped through her limbs, old aches apparent in the aftermath. She couldn’t pull herself to standing with the weight of Ben’s emotions on her, so instead, she crawled towards him, catching him before he could crumple to the ground completely and break his nose. 

Her fingers found the back of his neck, wiping away the cold sweat that slicked his hairline; pushing it back from his face as she pulled him half into her lap. 

He shook his head as if to tell her to stop, but he didn’t have the words to express what she felt when she touched him: he didn’t deserve such kindness. Not now. Perhaps not ever. Not after what he’d done. It wasn’t true to say nothing had changed because those subtle currents cut away wide swaths of fortifying walls when they ran long enough, even at a gentle trickle. She felt it at work here; the stream of the Force clear, and running true.

“It’s never okay,” she whispered into his ear. “But we learn to live with the loss.”

Her parents. His father. His life. Their destinies. And still, it wasn’t too late for Ben Solo — Rey knew as much from the first moment they touched hands through their force bond. She wrapped her arms around him, holding him with a tenderness that no one had ever shown her, not until she’d met him. It was only fair. She pushed the hair back from his face. His expression regained its neutral passivity; but his emotions were a cyclone, threatening to drag her under. 

Rey blew out a breath, clutching at the level center — the eye of the storm as if she might anchor her own feelings and keep them both centered. She strained, but managed. Not everyone knew kindness, but it could be learned if it were offered freely. Not everyone was offered mercy, but it might be known when things were more dire. Not everyone knew companionship… but Rey could give that to Ben Solo without ever asking for anything in return. 

Rey grit her teeth, her hands on Ben, keeping him tethered through her. Something in her chest eased, growing loose. She breathed out. Breathed in. Ben’s fingers stopped clawing the floor. She pressed her fingers to his chest, and his hand found hers, gripping her wrist with his long fingers, and then lacing them together with his; wet to the touch, their tears caught between their palms. 

Rey slumped, and Ben squeezed her calf in thanks without saying a word. She nodded, and the woozy feeling that had assailed her when she first entered Maz’s castle returned. Furrowing her brow, she tried to dissect the sensation a bit better — she wasn’t particularly familiar with it, but it wasn’t long before she sorted out the disconnected, too-slow feeling filtering through the bond beneath all that bleak emptiness:

“We’re out of liquor,” Chewie said. That’s when she smelled it: it was practically oozing through Ben’s pores, hanging about the pair of them in a rank miasma. 

Rey’s head snapped up. She fixed the wookie with a dour look. 

Ben’s words were muffled against her thigh. It sounded an awful lot like, “I’d still out-drink you old man.”

A knot loosened in her chest.

“You’re both drunk,” she breathed, and then, firmer, “You’re both drunk.” 

Ben’s eyes moved behind the lids, a wry smirk quirking the corner of his mouth. The sorrow didn’t abate, but it did slosh around a bit. His cheek pressed into her leg, he muttered, “We were taking the edge off getting reacquainted.”

Rey glared at Chewbacca, who wasn’t anywhere near as trashed as Ben, but he at least had the good sense to give her a sheepish shrug as if to say, “Guilty as charged.”

“That’s all you have to say for yourselves?” she demanded.

“We were thirsty,” said Ben, which earned him a swift shove with the heel of her boot and a swat as Rey stood, glowering. She wiped her hands down her slacks, glaring as he slanted a dark expression towards her through half-lidded eyes. 


He should have said, “Thank you for the leg-pillow.” Perhaps that wasn’t his first mistake, but amongst the thoughts sloshing around in his brain and in her heart and in between them in the tidepools of the Force that seemed to gather between them when they were together — he… what were they talking about?

Ben hefted himself to his elbow and squinted up at the two Reys that hovered over him. She had that damnable saber with her, which meant she’d only just returned from trying it out. She might’ve been gone hours or minutes, but something seemed… off: there were the residual bits of emotion clotted up from when they touched, but if he let the alcohol take over, they were muted at least by half if not more.

A glance at the wookie confirmed it: there would be no maiming today, but an old ache had taken up residence beneath his sternum that he was choosing pointedly to ignore in favor of the downturn to Rey’s mouth. 

What would happen if he tried to smooth out that tiny pout with his tongue, he wondered?

Ben shut one eye and Rey came into focus.

“Hi,” he ventured, because single syllables were easier negotiated.

“You were just at each other’s throats,” she accused.  

The blush cresting her cheeks blotted out the constellation of freckles that held his attention. They swirled together the longer he admired, blurring as if he were making a prolonged hyperspace jump. He listed, righting himself. 

“Yes,” he agreed, because being agreeable seemed to be the better thing to do when Rey’s anger prickled over his skin. It sobered him, but not nearly enough to dispell the swoon of Maz’s Tevraki whiskey collection.

To prove to her that he was more than capable of holding his own, he brought himself upright, draping his arms over his knees and wiping the hair from sticking to his forehead.

“We’re fine now.” He waved at Chewie, who disagreed: apparently the wookie remained parched and that was cause for displeasure. 

“I hardly think so,” she shot back, incredulous. “How do you leap from one extreme to -- to this?”

"Solos," said Chewbacca, by way of explanation. 

Ben tried to imbue the look he shot him with venom, but it was a losing battle. 

Rey, however, looked about ready to skin him.

He frowned. Was he doing something wrong? Ben opened his mouth to protest, but something struck him as odd. He tipped his head, surveying her with particular, deliberate care. “Why are your knees muddy?”

He might’ve been set to a slower operating function than normal, but he could smell the earthen tang of the forest on her — dirt crescents notched under her fingernails and muck blotching her trousers as if she’d been kneeling. There was a levitation trick he might show her for those occasions where she wanted to meditate, but something about the way her eyes darted around the room spelled guilt rather than peaceful contemplation.

“What were you doing out there for so long?” he asked. It seemed innocent enough, but Rey turned, shaking her head. It almost seemed as if she were hiding her face from him so that he might not see the lie cross her face.

Instead, Ben felt it:

Different from her other thoughts and emotions, it snagged like a barb, tugging at him until he grew uncomfortable with it. He collected himself — centering his feelings on one thing alone, blotting out the rest of his surroundings: it eased the effects of the drink besides. 

“Rey?” He reached for her as if to draw her back, to feel for himself through the honest touch of her skin what thoughts warred within her. 

“Meditating,” she said, smiling too tightly. She glanced away. “I’ll wash up. Feel free to — carry on.” She waved him off. 

Chewbacca’s complaint echoed his own, even as she slipped through the door without a backward glance. They stared after her, the wake of her feelings lapping at him, but no less diluted for it. 

"She felt different."

“What, you’re Force sensitive now?” Ben asked him.

Chewie clacked his teeth. "Smells different too." Wookie's had particularly large canines, Ben noted.

He sighed, hauling himself to his feet. He swayed a bit, glancing at his surrogate uncle. “I didn’t realize you’d spent so much time with her to know her so well.”

Chewie’s next criticism didn’t fall on deaf ears. It amounted to the fact that he knew her far better than Ben, and funny enough, not at all now that their souls seemed to be fusing together more readily each time they were together. He managed not to brood for long on it. 

“Right,” he said instead, ready to escape his uncle’s litany at last.

Chewie made a sound of warning: "Look out for her."

Ben followed Rey into the hall, throwing over his shoulder, “I know,” he said. “I will.”

Standing, Chewbacca followed him, his hand clamping on Ben’s shoulder; buying Rey a few moments alone, maybe to collect herself. He wasn’t sure, but he knew something had unsettled her out there, and the longer he delayed, perhaps the greater the divide between them grew, the longer she struggled with it on her own.

Frowning, Ben looked from Chewbacca’s hand to his face — the discomfort between them hadn’t abated. There were other things that needed to be said, but perhaps it was best that Rey had interrupted when she did. He nodded, knowing that this wasn’t finished, and knowing that the tightness in his chest would live a little longer in him after this.

Chewie opened his mouth to say something further, but thought better of it. Instead, he only waited, giving Ben a moment more to consider how long it had been since anyone had hugged him — anyone who’d ever been family. 

He schooled his features, trying to wick away the pinch of pain that came with it.  

Chewbacca thrust his chin after Rey. “It’s what your father would want.”

Though he didn’t flinch, something clenched in his chest at the wookie’s words. He nodded, drawing away from his touch which had only been supporting. Ben kept his head bowed as he nodded. 

Disarmed more than he was willing to admit, Ben Solo followed after her.

Chapter Text

For Darkness, Stars
Chapter 27: Rubicon
...

Praying for myself
These thoughts I try to hide
I have faith in me and hope this will survive
But it's tearing me apart
I can't hear the words by which I guide
So I must ask again, who will carry me?

- "Rubicon", VNV Nation

...

Reluctance was not her default state, but contemplating the offering before her was causing Rey to hesitate, her fingers hovering over fabric: bruised as the midnight sky; darkness thwarted by stars. It shimmered when it moved on the hanger and dripped like starfall when it spilled into her fingers; as sheer and light as rain.

She'd found a bath drawn in an adjoining room, along with a plate of simple fruits and cheeses, fresh bread and a churned spread that tasted rich and salty. She'd never had any ration like it, and she'd ate her fill of the exotic food Maz had left for her. She'd done so quietly to sate her body's need for sustenance, but part of her wished she could have enjoyed it more. Thoughts hummed like insects, keeping her shoulders tensed with such an intensity that not even the steaming water could coax away the visions that harried at her.

This, though — she was unworthy of this garment, and yet, it was the only and last she found in the armoire. The others had been cleared away, save for a few functional linens that she'd shut down almost immediately for how dark they seemed in the drawer: as if they were made of shadows themselves.

Rey took the dress instead, thinking the other clothes a portent.

No scavenger would ever wear a dress like this.

Sitting cross-legged, the length of fabric pooled in her lap, her knees sticking out to reveal her boots, Rey chewed on a nail as she flicked through the red book, searching for something in her restlessness that didn't want to reveal itself to her. Frankly, she thought she'd had enough revelations for one day. A solution might be more welcome.

She didn't look up as he opened and shut the door behind him, finding her in the late afternoon haze on her balcony perch.

He was exerting some serious mastery over himself and his slurring when he said, "If you're interested in learning about the dark side, there are a thousand better ways to go about it than from a book."

She frowned into her chest, the account on the page was about as revealing as Ben was suggesting.

"I'm not in the habit of slaughtering entire villages just to test any 'grass is greener' theories," she muttered.

He slumped beside her, his elbow brushing her thigh as he leaned over the balcony's rail, peering down past the castle to the forest and lake beyond.

"There are other ways." He shrugged, raking his hair back. "Not all quite so bloody."

His ears, she noticed, were slightly out of proportion to the rest of his head. Uncertain of what possessed her to do it, Rey reached out and drew a finger down the shell, drawing a shiver from him, followed by a very long, and very keen stare. A ripple of something fluttered between their bond: his surprise at her bold touch, a twinge of embarrassment as apparently, his ears were a sensitive topic. A stirring of some darker emotion between them followed: one she was already acquainted with. It warmed her from the inside out and prickled her skin.

"Nice dress," he said, his voice a low rumble in his chest. The sound pulled at her midsection in a way that wasn't altogether unpleasant, but strong enough that she turned away to hide the rising flush in her face.

"It was the last thing I could find in the closet," she said by way of excuse. Rey cleared her throat, turning back to her book — to which both her hands were now firmly attached. "My tunic's missing. Bloodied beyond repair probably," she explained.

There was enough of her skin exposed for him to see that she no longer wore the bandages from their earlier altercations, but the skin was still sore; her muscles still a little tender. Everything else was just as fraught as ever.

"I see."

He wasn't half as drunk as he had been an hour ago. As if sensing the change in her, he rose so that they were eye-level, his attention blazing a trail along her neck to her face, down to her collarbone, and back to her mouth. The clarity with which she felt his attention shocked her a little. It had never been so strong before.

"That was quite a show down there," she said, trying to divert him. If Ben wavered, she didn't sense it.

"Maz suggested that Chewbacca and I attempt civility while under her roof."

She cut a look in his direction. "She requested that of you or Chewie?"

He didn't so much as frown. "Me, most likely. She's soft on the Wookie."

She had to smile a little at that. "I've heard."

He continued staring.

"What?" She frowned at him — at his intensity. Less the arrogance, Ben's focus was a rapier, and he was doing his best to pin her with it.

"I'm waiting for you to tell me what happened to you out in the forest rather than trying to extract the information from you by force."

She blinked. "That's a different tactic. The last time you wanted something hidden inside my mind, you were willing to gouge it out." She paused. "Are you still drunk?" She wrinkled her nose. It smelled like it — then again, it appeared he'd spilled half the bar on his trousers in the fight with Chewbacca.

Ben waited a beat, then sighed. "Not everything needs to be a battle."

"And not everyone wears their scars," she snapped, too quickly.

Rey stared straight ahead, squeezing her eyes shut as if to douse the feeling of prickly irritation that made her knee bounce.

It wasn't him. Not really. She blew out a breath. With the momentary distraction the altercation passed, she found herself circling back to the weighted possibilities that clung to her, pulling her down to earth: Save my grandson, said Anakin, as if the task hadn't been her responsibility before, though she'd denied it. She chewed on the inside of her mouth. If it were such an easy thing to shoulder, she'd not be lingering, she supposed. The difficulty was that Ben didn't want to be saved even though she thought there was some light left in him, and she didn't know if she was at all strong enough to bully him into it fully. Worse still: part of her knew that he wouldn't do the same to her, and that knowledge squeezed her ribs inward around her heart, deepening an already black mood to pitch.

She huffed a breath out her nose, shut her eyes gave her shoulders a squeeze to her ears to release the tension knotted into the base of her neck.

Maz wanted her to yield to her destiny. Anakin wanted to take charge of Ben's. Both created a paradox that was doing a fair number on her muscular tension. She put a hand to her knee to stop it from jiggling.

It was a moment before he said softly, "I sense your fear. There's something at work in you and I don't rightly know if I'm the cause. Rather than extract those confessions, I'm asking you to pour them out." He hesitated. "Let me help you sort them through."

She almost scoffed: it was as if the pair of them had switched places — she glanced at him. "I'm not being reticent," she said, defiance making the words sound haughty. And then, softer, "It's not you." Not directly.

Part of her wanted to tell him that it hurt to think of him as Han Solo's murderer. Part of her wanted to tell him that he was changing, and she didn't need the Force bond to inform her of the fact. Part of her wanted to press her fingers to his neck and drag his mouth to hers, so she might spill everything that weighed on her into him: every truth, every care, every concern, so that she wouldn't have to say the words herself: Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber was a bloody conduit, and sorry, no, he doesn't want to speak to you because you haven't distanced yourself enough from the Dark Side. Oh, and by the way — I'm supposed to help with that.

She watched his Adam's apple bob, her gaze drifting to his mouth: the particular shade of pink in his lips, how large and soft they had felt against hers; how demanding but never hurtful — the same as his touch; the same as his careful consideration of her now: he would wait for her to take the next step. For everything that circled around him when Ben's emotions were at their most explosive, the calm of his storm was a quiet she was coming to appreciate.

Rey shook her head, turning away from him and staring out into those trees. She couldn't lie to him, and she couldn't hurt him further. Part of her worried that she would drive him farther away in telling him the truth of his grandfather's appearance, and what Anakin Skywalker wanted of her in this whole mess.

She'd thought maybe Maz would have had more answers, given that she'd been in possession of the thing for so long, but she took the woman's conspicuous absence as a sign that she was meant to figure this one out on her own.

Rey glanced at Ben, who hadn't faltered. He only waited patiently for her to come to her own conclusions about him.

"Would you take a walk with me instead?" he asked. Something hesitant in his voice gave her pause — a lilt of vulnerability that hadn't been there before. He cleared his throat, explaining, "If I couldn't fly, I would walk to center my thoughts."

She blinked. "On… the First Order star destroyers?"

He didn't as much as bat an eyelash. "We have very large ships."

The stone stairs were more forgiving on the dress than a rappel down the scaffolding might've been. Though she declined to take his arm when he offered it for fear of grazing his skin, she accepted his company and his quiet as they slipped beneath the gloaming and onto the garden path.

Plants were scattered in pots, waiting to be rooted.

"I didn't take this route into the forest before," she said, frowning at the large ornamental fountain. A sculpture of some water-dwelling creature she'd never seen before peered back at her with globulous eyes. The fountain was dry.

Ben hung back, hands balled into fists in his trouser pockets. There they'd remained since she'd refused his arm.

He gave her a tight smile. "We're north of the castle."

She looked up, trying to mark the suns and how their light fell, but the canopy made the light's direction deceptive. She must have encountered Anakin on the other side of the castle entirely — well, that wasn't wholly accurate: he was with her whenever she carried his old weapon.

"You didn't bring the saber," Ben remarked.

She repressed a shiver at the mention of the blade, but managed a shrug and an altogether too light, "No belt loops to hang it."

Lingering a little too long on his expression, she decided that Ben's naturally self-deprecating amusement was a look that hinted at sinister things: hidden knowledge and meandering thoughts that made her want to squirm beneath his scrutiny. She could feel the draw of his interest, but he only trailed his metaphoric fingers over the line; toeing it but not crossing, waiting for permission.

She exhaled, turning away, hands dancing over her hips and feeling an acute sense of nakedness now that his attention had dropped lower to where the lightsaber would have been had she not deliberately left it and its owner out of this conversation. Whatever might happen, she didn't want Anakin spectating while she broke Ben's heart. One betrayal seemed more than enough for one day, thank you very much —

The wall of her control might as well have been glass, for all the good she was doing hiding her anxiety from him.

The dress, however, was not a suitable enough distraction, no matter how much the silken fabric clung to her hips.

"What are you not telling me, Rey?"

Giving him a warning look, she swept past him, her skirts brushing his ankles.

"I thought you said we were walking."

The warmth of his hand grazed her shoulder; a caress that was more of a daydream than actual touch to the exposed skin of her back.

Though she felt his hesitation and that brush of desire like it was a moth's wing, she didn't turn around.

"The back of your dress is missing," he said after her, a strangled clip to the statement forcing him to clear his throat.

Rey collected the hem, pulling it up so that it wouldn't drag and that she wouldn't trip. Out here, flags had been laid into the earth, setting a winding path into the deeper parts of the forest. The fabric slid over her skin like water when she turned to look back at him, finding him hesitating on the periphery of trees.

She opened her mouth to remind him that someone had thought it amusing to limit her wardrobe choices, but the twin points of color in his pale cheeks stopped her. The way he looked at her then, haloed by the day, a hunger wetting his lips and tracing over her in trickles — as if between them, entire galaxies spun in and out of existence leaving only their dust and memories behind: it was like a small cataclysm.

Rey found herself held together by the press of her own fingers against her stomach, stalled at that moment as it stretched, turning taut.

Ben took a step forward with a practiced grace, sliding to shadow — his face the moon.

She felt his hunger, and hers responded in kind.

"Please don't misunderstand," his voice tumbled to her, little more than a throaty purr, "I'm not complaining."

She turned away, her face afire. Pressing trembling fingers to her mouth, she did her best to pull away from him, moving further down the path. Every inch of her screamed to stand still; to wait for him to catch her up in that growing warmth that followed her. She'd let the heat of him burn her up so that nothing remained but her will and a small pile of ash, left to drift.

"You really have had too much to drink —" She forced a laugh, laced with nerves.

"It's been hours," he dismissed it. "I've never been more right-minded in my life."

Rey swallowed, throwing a look over her shoulder. Whispers in the Force spun through the trees — indiscernible thoughts that hushed away when she tried to focus on them. Without the bridge of their skin touching, she only caught wisps: something secretive in Ben's smile gave her pause.

It was then that she saw what he carried in his hands: the Book of Sith. "Why did you bring that?" she asked, puzzled.

"I don't drown myself in whiskey without reason," he said, glancing at the book, indifferent. "Thought I thought we might trade information, given the conversation with Maz I had earlier." He pursed his lips. "It was — enlightening."

"And a good reason for drowning, apparently."

He dipped his head, giving her a pointed look.

Rey held her breath, turning away. It took two of her own steps to match one of his, but Ben trailed behind her, keeping his distance but staying within orbit. His attention was a constant presence, following her like a satellite.

"I suspect there will be a time when there won't be secrets between us anymore," he said. "I hoped that there were limits to the bond, but it manifests differently for each pair of Force users, depending on their skills."

She searched him. How did he know such a thing?

"We're not so unique," she hazarded.

"No," he agreed. "Though there have only been two others so diametrically opposed." He held the book out to her. "The ones mentioned in that pathetic scrawl of a diary entry. Anonymous and lost to the ages. Or so I thought."

She nearly crashed into him, she turned so fast.

"You found out who they are?"

Ben stopped, the rise and fall of his chest an impenetrable wall before her. Rey hesitated with his skin so close. She frowned up at him, twisting her hands behind her and taking a careful, deliberate step back to put more space between them. It was noted.

"Were," he corrected. "They lived during the Galactic Civil War. The first one."

"But — that was almost four thousand years ago."

His smirk made her stomach twist. Ben leaned forward. He brushed hanging leaves aside where they dipped too low, threatening to catch her. It was… nice. Strange, being unaccustomed to such gestures, but she sensed he meant well: it was even a little… Gentlemanly.

"Who were they?" she asked, not that it mattered. They'd never find records. They'd never find further accounts now —

"A Sith, and a Jedi," he said. "No others bonded in the Force were anything but light side practitioners: masters and padawans who trained together. Until us."

"That's not what I meant —"

He appraised her. "You want an understanding of who they were and what made them so special, but it doesn't really matter, does it?"

"Of course it does —" she began, but he stopped her.

He searched her face as if willing her to understand. "We are the chosen now. It's senseless looking for patterns, as if the past has something to teach us that we can't figure out for ourselves. Fate draws us forward. Trying to master it while it shuttles you along does nothing other than impede its flow."

She frowned. "I'm really beginning to despise the whole concept of 'destiny'."

He grinned at that. "You don't like ceding what control you have over your free will any more than I do, and yet, you're not fighting it either."

She could feel her mouth pinching into a tight, firm line as she glared at him. He was right, of course: but he was missing one crucial part of this whole ridiculous 'will of the Force' thing: he was doing a fine job of infuriating her to the point of actually, willingly doing something about the little Dark Side problem he had.

Ben narrowed his eyes, leaning in as if further proximity might burst the bubble of her control, and he was willing to test the theory.

"You've had a vision since you repaired the saber," he said. "I know."

She glowered up at him. "You really don't, Ben."

"Tell me." He closed the distance between them by a fraction of an inch. Rey's skin prickled, tension driving her heart into her throat. "And I will tell you their names in exchange, if it really interests you that much," he offered.

She hesitated a moment longer. Her bravado crackled, turning her confidence brittle. He didn't want this, she reminded herself. This would destroy him, and that part of Ben that was still good deserved protecting. And yet — there was no denying the truth of their Bond. There was no hiding it. No secrets. Her eyes burned.

"You will hate me for this," she whispered.

He searched her gaze, an echo of some sentiment softening his features. He murmured so softly she almost didn't hear. But for the puff of breath against her lips, she knew it wasn't merely her imagination: "I would never, Rey."

She steeled herself, nodding, and placed her palm to his cheek, grazing the thumb along the scar she'd given him. "I'm sorry," she whispered, and dropped her control over her the barrier that separated them:

It felt a little like stripping off a bedsheet, ripping it away from between their minds: that was all it was now, too — just a flimsy curtain that hid each their secrets, casting shadows and blurry impressions of their thoughts and feelings. It was surprising how little strength it took to whip it away from herself so that he could see all of her and all she knew:

Ben's eyes widened, his lips parting in surprise as she shared the details of his grandfather's face with the young man that resembled him so strikingly.

His hands found her waist, gripping her hip to hold her in place, watching his expression change.

It ended as suddenly as it began, his mind closing off like a door sliding shut and blotting out the sound from an adjoining room that she no longer had access to. She fell back with a gasp, her knees threatening to buckle with the strength of the vast chasm of silence that remained.

Closing off the bond left an arching emptiness behind, a hollow echo of his surprise and wonder, and only a trickle of hurt.

"I see," he croaked, and cleared his throat, blinking too rapidly. He ducked away, trying to hide the hurt the vision inspired. She let him draw back, but he didn't release her. Rey waited. Watching.

Ben wiped a hand down his face. Frowned at himself, and found her face again. He stared as if seeing her for the first time: two feet shorter than him and scrawny. A nobody — an inheritor of nothing, tasked with something far greater than she thought herself capable.

"Mustafar," he breathed. "The Jedi wants you to go to Darth Vader's fortress — for what? To face your trials? To prove yourself worthy? To who?" he demanded, so quiet it made her flinch. "There are no Jedi left."

She hesitated, wanting to touch him — to press her fingers to the spot on his chest above his heart to feel how hard it was beating, but she didn't. It was too invasive to take that from him, to seek out his feelings to make herself feel better about it all.

She wanted to say she was sorry — again — knowing that it wasn't enough, and knowing that through some misplaced sense of blame, it really wasn't her fault: his choices were his alone. These were the repercussions. She needed to be strong in the face of that. She needed to remain rooted — for him. Rey lifted her chin though she felt like shriveling. Met his searching, pinched gaze.

"I've always found it darkly funny that the things I most desired have been always just out of reach," he said, his voice pitched so low she almost misheard. "From every chapter of my life." He gave her a small, sad smile. "It's driven me forward. Always straining for something more, because I was never good enough the way I was."

Her chin crumpled. "Ben," she managed.

She felt his hands tighten around her waist, and it occurred to her that he had not let her go. Instead, he drew her closer, hesitation making him tremble as if holding back a torrent. Dark eyes and heavy brows, a weariness that urged his despair into a roar. His jaw worked, and Rey traced the quiver in his lower lip as she felt him quicken. The rise and fall of his chest was hypnotic. She curled her fingers into his shirt, trying to hold on as she felt him slip, the forest surrounding them growing oppressive in its silence.

Whatever weigh lingered in his gaze did not clear as he said in a tight rush, "Their names were Darth Revan and Bastila Shan. She saved him from death, and in sparing him, rewrote their combined histories by forging a Force bond between them. The bond spared him, and the bond broke them both to be rebuilt far later as something else. Stronger and weaker for it, both." He glared at the book in his hand, tossing it away in disgust.

"Ben —" she tried again, her eyes welling up as he began to draw away from her.

Something simmered there. "Don't," he warned.

"I didn't ask for this —"

"But you will rise to it when called. Anakin said as much: you will be tried, and if you fail —" He shook his head, a small sneer twisting his mouth. Something else curled behind it, pooling into the absences of light, growing bigger when unobserved. She felt its presence course through him, and lap at her as if tasting her fear: the Dark Side. Ben seethed, "It's the Jedi way: the needs of the many outweigh the desires of the few."

His words were a slap, but the accusation wasn't against her.

"You're angry… At him?"

Ben shook his hair out of his eyes, blinking rapidly, and scoffed, throwing his head back. It dawned on her that it hadn't been Anakin Skywalker that Ben had so revered — it had been the legends of the man's second incarnation that had kept him enthralled.

His voice rang around them, echoing off the trees. "The Jedi never give a thought to what they demand of others: the calling asks you to rise above simple feats, demanding superhuman deeds — impossible tasks, sacrifices that are too costly for an ordinary soul to pay — why. Why is that? And why does it have to be you."

"If I fail in this, then you are truly lost, and if you are truly lost, then so am I because you know just as well as I do that the bond mirrors our pains, our injuries, our emotions: you feel it too. I know you do," she countered, grappling with her resolve once more.

He released her then, and it was by some sheer miracle that she didn't stagger from the loss of his touch. "You don't understand."

"Ben," she gasped, hating herself for the weakness she found there — the tightness in her chest a crushing pressure on her ribcage that made it suddenly so hard to breathe.

He shook his head, holding a quivering hand out as if warning her to stay back.

The slash of red was blinding in the dim light of the forest: a gash of red that sprang from nothing as Ben withdrew his saber. He turned, the blade arcing in the air as he swept at a tree with a snarl of pain. The slice was true — straight through the trunk. She hadn't even realized he was carrying the weapon.

Panting, they remained in tableau: Rey, behind him, stock still and breathing hard, and Ben hunched over and waiting as the trunk slid forward an inch, and groaning, its uppermost branches dragging through the treetops, careened southward into the clearing. It fell with a crack and a bounce, taking far too long to settle as it rolled.

The lightsaber swished off in a hiss, returning them to darkness. Ben panted. Hard.

Hunched, he turned to glower at her over his shoulder, hands fisted. Ben shook himself, his gaze hard as he swept the blade under the hem of his shirt. It wasn't so much that he softened, but his actions ran in direct contradiction to the overwhelming wash of feeling that sped from him to her through their bond:

Not anger, but fear.

"I want you to send my grandfather a message," he said, swallowing as he snatched up the book from where he'd thrown it, shoving it into a pocket and away. His jaw working, he approached with looming surety. Rey held her ground, her pulse thready at the display. A light sheen of sweat dotted his forehead, and he searched her face with feverish intensity, roving over her as if to memorize every plane and contour. He swallowed, bringing his hand up to hover fingers lightly against her cheek. "I will not pay the cost of returning to the light." He trembled, holding there, his breath turning thready. "It's too dear."

Rey frowned, a lump settling in her throat. Her eyes burned, not entirely understanding, but the sensation didn't abate: Ben Solo was scared of something; a budding, hopeless terror that swelled as he took her in. He nodded as if something unspoken was decided, and none of it made an ounce of sense to her. "I can't accept that." It still felt like a defeat.

"I know." His voice cracked on the second syllable.

She'd expected his resistance, but trying to negotiate the reasoning behind it wasn't working. The impossibility of the task against his resoluteness to remain Kylo Ren was momentarily crippling — the weight of it an anvil on her shoulders. She let out a breath, and a tear along with it.

Ben watched it for no longer than a second, catching it before it might roll down to her collar. The brush of his skin fluttered, rushing at her with the shreds of a vision she recognized because it was her own: a green planet with old stones, and Ben in white robes standing before a temple, gazing down at her at his side. She could hear her own laughter echoing through the small sliver she gleaned from his touch.

Somehow, knowing that it wasn't what he wanted stung nearly as much as she found she desired it.

His jaw worked as the pair of them hung there, a conflicting swell of emotions wrapping them: absent were the things she expected — anger, jealousy, envy, even — none of those black feelings were directed at her. It made his statement all the more perplexing.

"There must be other ways to balance the fucking Force," he muttered, more to himself than to her. He searched her face, fingers hovering, a frown battling with a small smile. When he swallowed, Rey thought for a moment that he meant to trap her mouth beneath his; that he meant to draw her into him and shield her from whatever it was that threatened them. She gasped when he ripped away.

The choked laughter that followed was a brief relief, but the weight of the moment didn't quite disappear, and nor did the knowledge that he wasn't going to make it easy on her even though his grandfather remained an ever-observant third-party player in their little, tangled mess.

A shadow lingered in his gaze as he watched her, walking backward, leading her further down the path. He held a hand out for her to follow, but as shaken as she was, Rey hesitated to take it. Ben shook his head, warring with something he refused to reveal. She thought for a moment he might beg her again — it lingered in his eyes, that heartbreaking word: "Please."

"What are you not telling me," she said after him, but Ben only shook his head, dropping his hand, turning away with a curse for the trees.

Following, Rey felt as if she need only reach for those long fingers. He wouldn't deny her if she delayed. She stole a breath and followed as he turned off the path and into the damp verdure of the forest.

She cleared her throat, trying to catch up but falling behind. "Maybe there is a bit the light and the dark in us both," she ventured, hesitating. His interest was a beam through the gloom, piquing at her words. "Perhaps that's why you've never felt you've been wholly rid of the light. You hear it's call to you." She licked her lips, her voice breaking on the admission, "Much like I hear the dark calling to me."

He watched her, shrouded by shadows and considering with a new light in his gaze.

"Maybe there's a piece we're missing — that through us there might be something intentioned by the Force that neither the Jedi nor the Sith ever considered."

A smirk threatened at the corner of his mouth.

"What?"

"Light side or dark is merely a choice, Rey. It's either or. Never both." He swept away from her, crashing through the underbrush off the path. "You can't put your feet on both paths. You must choose one to walk at a time. Anything else is —" He shook his head. "Grey."

"Ben?" she called after him.

Trickles of amusement at her hubris meandered through their bond. He was laughing at her, she realized.

Incensed, she hiked up her dress, stomping after him. "I'm not saying they were wrong — I'm not being arrogant," she countered, his silent mockery fluttery and indistinct.

"No, Jedi are never arrogant," he tossed back.

"I'm not a —" she stopped herself. His smile through the gloom struck something in her, vanishing a moment later as he bowed his head, demurring. Something indistinct and slippery wound between them; the knowledge that she remained incomplete becoming a burden that she was shouldering quite admirably, and yet, he still noticed. He still knew. Ben offered no comfort and no assurances, only the understanding that those uncertainties that plagued her, he felt as well.

"I feel it too," he'd said once, without preamble or prompting. Maybe she was beginning to understand him better for all the pain it caused trying to force it. This hurt less — this being as they were, trying to navigate it… together.

"I want to show you something," he said in answer. "If you'll allow yourself to see."

She hesitated, a slithering sense of foreboding at his words sliding around his ankles and speeding across her skin, leaving goosebumps in its wake. Somehow, she knew what it was: she sensed it as surely as he didn't need to speak it. He wanted her to see another possibility for herself; another world he'd envisioned where green trees and stone and a Ben in white robes were the paths not taken; a world he feared for reasons she couldn't understand.

"Why," she wanted to ask, but she knew he had no truths he would admit, and the answer she already knew — the alternative was not something he was willing to consider.

"Don't fear it, Rey," he said to the trees. "All our souls are shadowed, but the darkness that touches us is in varying degrees. Even amongst the noblest and bright of the knights."

Her heart chugged a fretful beat that pulsed in her temples. She might've dropped a stone from her midsection as he vanished around a bend. She'd walked away when faced with this possibility before, but the draw to it remained, and through their Bond, she felt a stricken sense of inevitability at it all: this was what Maz meant when she said surrender.

Rey stole a breath that rang loud in the quiet.

Wariness made her hesitate. The tug to her midsection came unbidden, pulling her after him a little like the draw she'd felt towards the cave when they'd both fallen headlong into the grotto. This feeling wasn't so dissimilar, but it was laced with something… other. It reminded her a little of a grave: dark and still and silent.

She swore, hurrying to catch up.

Blue light filtered through the trees, the patches of sky above gossamer-thin with clouds and purpling with the final dregs of sunset. She ducked beneath the overhang of a heavy branch and emerged onto the unexpected: a leafy, choked clearing set with a stone plinth at its center — gilded with moonlight, pitted and pale with age. Gnarled vines tried vainly to pull it to ground, but its columns kept an old, vaulted roof aloft above it all. Steps to the center revealed benches similarly strewn with vine and moss, but it was all around them in the old, forgotten garden that life shimmered amidst the trees in pinpricks of softly illuminating light, like earthbound stars. Fireflies.

Rey slowed, finding Ben resting with his arm against one of the stone columns, peering at the sky through the choked canopy.

Quieter here, she noted. He glanced back to her, offering the smallest, most hesitant smiles that she supposed was meant to reassure her. She felt nothing but burgeoning hope down their bond — so different than the melancholy contemplations and brooding tumult she was used to. Perhaps there was more to their shared affinities than she'd allowed herself to believe. Perhaps she was responsible for the change in him, as he was in her.

It transformed his face in a way that caught her breath with a furtive sort of magic that threatened to break if she moved too quickly. She slowed her steps. There remained something altogether too young in the man's face that recalled the vulnerability of his youth, from a time before he was Kylo Ren. He turned away, and the feeling faded.

Their surrounds put them squarely in a part of the forest where the castle was no longer visible, and with night falling so quickly, she hesitated. It would turn full dark soon, but she suspected he knew as much. Despite that, she couldn't deny the elegant decay of an old garden that the forest strove to reclaim. It did not belong to Maz, though it was clear that the construction of her new estate would not encroach so far into the wilds of the planet where only ancient stones remained, build by peoples long lost. There remained a certain beauty to it, especially under the first streaks of starfall overhead. Clouds encroached, and Rey regarded them with keen trepidation, knowing the light in the clearing wouldn't last.

Ben watched her as she marveled at it.

In a hush, she asked, "How did you know this was here?"

His eyes glittered with something unfathomable. "Can't you feel it too?"

The pinpricks of light amongst the trees seemed to falter, swirling away from them into the forest, leaving the garden dimmer for their absence. A cloud seemed to pass across the faces of the moons, drawing the shades nearer to where she stood.

This time, she needn't have reached out for it. It was already there, waiting as if a shroud on the world was ready to be pushed away — a tangle of sheets around the ankles while in the arms of sleep. It caught her and clung. With it came a stirring as gentle as a breath against the back of the neck, raising the downy hair over her skin.

It began as a thrum in the bones: a sibilant whisper that had her turning on the spot, searching out the origin of the sound. There were no words to it, but the call was the same: it was one she was growing altogether too familiar with.

The clearing fell to black, the stars blotted out overhead, and Rey felt her heartbeat kick up a notch in anticipation. Darkness, impenetrable and encroaching, crept closer: a rustle amongst the trees as night creatures stirred arose from her left, but when Rey turned to the sound, she found the velvet press of night too much: her eyes saw nothing, but she felt the world around her anew. She stared blindly around her, her heart hammering into a rough staccato, her breath growing uneven.

Whisper thin and uncertain, she croaked into the black, "Ben?"

Raising her arms as if she might stagger towards the spot she remembered him to be, she couldn't hear for the ringing silence in her ears. Rey swallowed, her ears popping, and tried for a half-turn, but who could say for certain if she remembered his position exactly? Who was to say if she overshot herself entirely.

"Ben," she tried again, unable to stop the quiver that broke a single syllable into two. "Where are you?"

Nights on Jakku were never so dark. A dim glow on the horizon allowed for the desert sands to give off some ambient brightness, and when the night seemed to crawl too close, her AT-AT served as fortress enough against it. This was a different sort of dark. It lapped at her mounting fear, seeming to savor it.

"Here," the rumble of his voice from behind her right elbow was more comfort than she'd let herself admit. She struck out for him, gasping at the contact as he caught her elbow with gentle fingers:

A flash of feeling down the bond made her gasp, but Ben switched his grip before any more of it could flood her. It lit like fire — flashing like a beacon before it dimmed. Rey sucked in a breath as the press of his fingers against the small of her back anchored her.

"You're going to hyperventilate," he murmured. "Calm yourself. Find the center."

She shut her eyes, but it made no difference. The darkness was inside her too, coating the insides of her eyelids. She groped for him, fingers twisting into the fabric of his shirt, trying to find contact with his flesh again: his touch was the answer. His touch was the bridge she needed to beat back the dark —

"It's always there, you see," he explained. "Much like the shadow that hides beneath your boots when the noon sun is at its highest. That is the nature of the Dark. It comes immediately when it's called, because it's never truly far from you."

She pressed her lips together, repressing a shudder. She found his hand, and though he held her lightly, he gripped turned her from him bodily so that she faced the night.

"Why are you showing me this?" she whispered, baring teeth, fearing the impossible things that sprang from her imagination and crept forwards though she could not see them.

"Because it's easy, Rey. Because that is also its nature. And because, even when you open your eyes wide, trying to look into this power when it's at its most intense, you decide if there's something there to fear."

His fingers were gentle, the touch of his palm warm as his calluses slid against hers. She almost collapsed with relief, but his wards remained in place: cutting her off from the equilibrium his touch brought. Interlacing her fingers with his, she squeezed. Hard. But they were only hands — Ben's hands. Not a power to chase away the things she feared out there — and within herself. Just hands:

Hands that held her. Hands that carried her. Hands that restrained. Hands that drew her power out. Hands that touched her with a tenderness that made it seem as if she might break if they pressed too hard. Hands that had tried to kill her. Hands that had pleaded with her — Hands that were open.

How much of that was Ben, and how much of it was the Dark Side magnifying all of his fears and pains and old hurts?

"Open your eyes, Rey," he murmured into the shell of her ear.

She didn't want to. She didn't want to know what she might find if she did —

She shook her head though he couldn't see her denying the press of that insistent pull. The Force around them swelled, churning and powerful, pulling at her limbs and siphoning through her like an unseen wind. She gripped him, because as long as he was there, she felt as if it couldn't sweep her away in its ebb.

"You can never be certain of who you are unless you face down the things that terrify you. Only then do you know you'll survive them. This is the lesson — this is why every Padawan learner must eventually face their shadow in the cave. You can't fight something you can't see, unless you know you're only fighting yourself. Rey. Open your eyes."

Sometimes you must descend before you can rise. Anakin's words superimposed on the churning sensation of falling as her toes lifted, grazing off the ground by a hair. She felt weightless, suspended by the unseen things that circled through and around her — drifting and detached from everything she thought she had to be: that girl in the desert, waiting for her parents to come home. The disciple to the last Jedi. The hero of the Resistance. She was none of these things. She was nothing and no one.

And she was free for one brief, shining second as that power that surrounded her grazed her heart as if begging entry.

"Reach out with your feelings, and prove to yourself that you are greater than the things that you fear." She shivered, the sensation turning violent as it shook in her belly. She let out a low noise that sounded far from her.

He wasn't trying to harm her. He was making her stronger.

Straining, blind, she stretched her fingers out into the dark with trembling muscles — seeking him out and gripping him by the wrist with her other hand. One reciprocating grasp was all it took, as if he were a key notching into a lock.

She was nothing amidst all that darkness; no one, except to him.

With a gasp, the tidal of the Force struck her fully as she opened herself to it. She gripped him as her knees buckled, darkness swallowing her as she threw her head back, eyes and mouth open wide to the night. The Dark Side reared up around her, and in that darkness, she saw a manifestation of the thing she already felt buried so deep and fast beneath all his shadows:

A singularity. A spark.

She found herself breathing hard, face pressed into the folds of Ben's shirt and hands fisted in the cloth. She'd sunk to her knees — a fact now apparent with clouds shifting overhead to reveal the night garden in its silver cast. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth, but the shadows sped away from the light of the moon, receding into the trees and curling there amidst fern and moss and rock to wait.

The Dark Side, she realized, was a patient creature.

She swallowed, her eyes adjusted to the gloom. Turning her face to him, she found Ben regarding her with level consideration. Not fear. Not pain. Nor pride. As if he was already certain that meting out her education wouldn't have broken her anyway. He lifted an eyebrow, as if to suggest she remained, whole and in one piece, despite the challenge.

A lesson, then: one that was hard won.

She licked her lips and unstuck her tongue from the roof of her mouth.

"There's light in you yet, Ben Solo," she managed.

His appraisal curled warm and interested in her belly, and she bristled, unlocking her hands from the death grip around the fabric of his shirt. He raised an eyebrow, frowning at the v of exposed skin she'd left down his front. Torn buttons. Bared skin.

Somehow, she suspected he wasn't about to accuse her of rallying for the Dark Side because she'd flayed open his shirt.

His appreciated agreement was almost a purr, "And darkness in you."

She pushed back from him, putting an arm's distance between them, and hauling herself to her feet without tangling around her dress. She slapped at it, the tiny jewels catching the moon's light and turning the swath of fabric into a twinkling mess of elegant starfall. He watched her straighten, slapping unseen dirt from the backs of her thighs, and eyeing him warily as she did so.

Rey wanted to ask him what he was staring at so intently, and why he suddenly felt so… bloody… level.

"You used me as a tether," he said. "You reached back to grab my hand and —"

"Yes."

His throat worked. He nodded. "I felt the same when you kissed me the first time."

Searching the starless pools of his eyes, she found no dishonesty there, only mild wonder and newfound understanding.

He echoed her thoughts, "We are… partaking of each other."

Her knees felt as if they might buckle. Their good qualities and the bad, their hurts and their triumphs, their strengths and their weaknesses both: a little light for the dark in him, and a little dark for the light in her. Just a drop, perhaps, but it was there now — she felt it as acutely as the things in the forest that watched them.

"Yes," she said again, feeling ever more resolved that she was an idiot for denying it before.

He waited for a beat. "That's why you brought down force lightning to defend yourself when you were pressed," he said carefully. "But you didn't yield to the impulse, regardless of the circumstance. You didn't give into it."

He meant during his attempt to drown her. She nodded, rooted to the spot. Ben caught her fingers, drawing himself up at an arm's length away. His grip loosened on her just enough so that she could pull away if she wanted. She didn't.

"I was afraid that if I opened myself to it — it would take me."

"I know." He hesitated. "I wanted you to see that you are stronger than that for yourself. I wanted you to see that it's a choice."

His gaze shifted to their surroundings, jutting his chin to the tangle of the forest surrounding them. "I wanted you to see this, so you would know: there is darkness, but through it —"

She turned, following his gaze to find that on the periphery of the wood, there was something she'd missed before in the gloom: unfurling with languid grace, shimmers lifted on the air as heavy petals dropped open around them, blooming to the night as the moons reappeared once more overhead. Blue and veined with purple, iridescent and gleaming; others silver and streaked with dew as they shook open. Enormous flowers. Pollen lifted on the air, crystalline and shimmering in swirls. He stepped closer, shrouding her with his presence. The warmth of his body kept the damp and the chill of evening at bay.

"Night blooming," he murmured beside her ear. She shivered anyway.

"It's beautiful," she whispered, though she noted that they only appeared where the shadows pulled aside for the barest hints of starlight to peek through.

She felt the chuckle in his chest at her back. "Most of them are either poisonous. Some carnivorous. They protect the glade, I suspect: A tactical choice for planting made by those who built the temple."

Cutting a look in his direction, she struggled with a frown.

"They only reveal themselves in the deepest parts of night."

The garden waited. "This is a Sith temple," she surmised.

He hesitated. "Would you see it differently, now, knowing as much?"

Rey turned back to the ruin; nestled in the pensive shadows of the forest, overcome by age and neglect, and protected by enormous, poison blooms. More flowers opened to the dark as she watched. Their perfume turned the air lush and heady. Others flowered in the canopy overhead, sinister and pale in the moonlight — and utterly beautiful.

"Our presence here helps them," she said as a fern uncoiled near her feet. She stepped back in case it too was poisonous. "They sense our power."

Ben watched her, his hand a weight at her hip. "You know that because I do," he murmured, and he was right. Somehow, the shared breath of their knowledge came to her in bits and pieces. "Much in the same way that I know how many painstaking marks you made into the hull of that AT-AT on Jakku." His lips brushed the shell of her ear. "Five thousand one hundred and eleven."

She felt her face warm as she tipped towards him a fraction, like it was the most natural thing to do so. "We're stronger together," she breathed.

His murmur of agreement rolled in her belly, warming her through her chest as a flush crawled up her neck.

"You saved me, on Endor. It's not in your nature to attack unless threatened — even amongst Snoke's guard: You defend. You protect. You shelter."

"And you don't."

He shut his eyes, brief and fleeting, as if it stung. He opened his mouth to argue her, but after a moment, nodded instead. His eyes spoke fathoms: a dark chasm that invited her into its miles-deep descent.

"I am your antithesis," he said, and added almost bitterly, "By design."

"But that's not entirely right, and you're not correcting me either," she countered. "You've convinced yourself that you're some malevolent presence — trying to live up to someone else's expectation but not truly seeing yourself. You saved me from the TIE."

Ben offered only the smallest and most self-deprecating of smirks. "Technically, that was Chewbacca. He pried open the door."

"But you made the initial effort. You threw yourself at the ship when I crashed it," she argued.

"Because you would have killed us both if you died."

"You don't know that."

"You can't be certain of the contrary."

She chewed her lip, willing him to see that he wasn't as bad as he felt.

"I think that maybe that's the point in all this. We're meant to compliment each other, that's why Snoke chose us: equally matched and polarized," she said.

She turned into him a bit more, his hands gliding over her skin and fabric both. His touch was a steadying presence that warred between keeping her breathing even and making her heart quicken.

"Sparing the people you've sworn to destroy is hardly a Dark Side impulse," she continued.

"I can't tell if you're teasing me when you stick your bottom lip out like that."

She lifted her eyes to his, half-veiled under the fan of her lashes, and let the corners of her mouth curl upwards a hint. She felt his grip on her tighten, the muscles in his arms contracting as if he meant to sweep her closer. Her heart hammered, and Rey found her fingers trailing up his sides of their own accord.

Ben heaved a breath, and her gaze dropped to his mouth.

"You're changing," he managed, though the sound was strangled. Hair fell into his face as he leaned down, his head dipping towards hers. Fingers knotted into the fabric, and Rey found that sweeter traces lingered on his breath as it mingled with hers.

"What am I, then," she whispered against his mouth.

The Force hammered them, pushing them steadily towards each other as if expecting a collision. She felt it breathe against them, shifting in subtle currents, turning louder as they pressed together and their heartbeats aligned. The brush of his hands against her dress as Ben's fingers trailed along her spine nearly made her knees buckle, but he held her against him, waiting for permission — waiting for that inevitable synchronicity that seemed to lock into place whenever they touched, and not wanting to rush it because the moment felt as if it should be savored.

Night's garden unfolded around them, pooling sweet and heady in the inlets, and the darkness watched as Ben replied, "What are we." A small smile threatened, dark eyes glittering. "Neither and both, dark and light tainted by each other and threatening to turn a different shade. Made whole as one."

It fit. It notched into her as if the thing that had been disjointed was somehow trying to find its way back to where it belonged. There was a surety to his words that she understood, and between their shared breaths and that tremulous place where they found each other, she knew, all of a sudden, what felt so familiar about it:

She stuck him in the chest, chortling loud and triumphant, "HA!"

Ben fell back, arms open as she leaped back from him, snatching at her skirts as she bounced backward. Rey held a hand, and slapped it to her mouth, smothering delighted laughter.

"I understand!" she managed between her fingers.

Fixing her with a look, Ben managed a noise of confusion, but not much more than that before she grabbed for his sleeve.

"Ben," she said, beaming, "It's just another path — I didn't understand it at first when I saw it — I didn't realize that all these visions were pointing to the solution and not the problem. The answer's been right there the entire time."

His brow furrowed. "You had a vision."

"No! That's just it! I saw it at the Jedi temple on Acht-to. Luke tried to explain the Force to me, and I didn't understand what he meant by 'Balance'. I didn't realize what it meant, though I begged him to teach me — but the answer was waiting for us to stumble into it, and I did — I mean, we did. That very night. I was there at the right place and the right time, and all I wanted —" She ran her fingers through hair, shutting her eyes briefly in her elation. When she opened them, Ben wore a look of such baffled consternation she nearly laughed again. Rey clapped her hands to her mouth, and approached him, holding them out to him in invitation. "It was a mosaic in the temple floor," she said with reverence. "Both halves — light and dark — the Balance is within."

A shadow sped across his features. "He never showed it to me."

She smiled — letting the joy that suffused her fill every ounce of it. "But I would."

To his credit, he didn't flinch when he asked, staring at her offered hands, "What was it that you wanted, back there, on Acht-to?"

She heaved a breath. "I wanted for someone to show me my place," she breathed. "In all this."

She swallowed, willing him to understand. "And you were the answer that the Force provided that very night."

Ben searched her features, taking a hesitant step forward, though her fervor had clearly left him cautious.

"Come and see," she said, encouraging. "Please."

Still, he hesitated, familiarity drawing him to her — she felt as much in the way he pulled forward. His slow steps faltered, but worry for that sort of trepidation was beyond her. It was impulsive, sure — she'd been so sure once before, and had been entirely wrong about what he'd wanted, but this was something else. This was greater than either of them.

"I wasn't worthy of his island," he whispered. "Much in the same way that I'm not deserving of my grandfather's council." His uncertainty hovered like a moth near a flame — he wanted so desperately to draw nearer to it, and yet, it hurt him to try because he'd convinced himself that it wasn't the way for him. He still thought himself a monster.

Impatience flared quick and sharp, and Rey smothered it. His influence in her moods, now that she recognized them, she thought might be controlled at least a little if they remained aware.

"Take my hands, Ben," she said, a little firmer. "I promise you that there is no one left in this world who will judge you for it save yourself."

"It's sacrosanct," he muttered.

She lifted a brow, and he quailed.

"It's also a dead religion," he added, looking to her as if the comment might upset her. "And there are enough Force Ghosts to play judge and jury." With that, the rough pads of his fingers slid against hers.

A sharp exhale, and the image of the cliffside temple flared blue and misty and green in her mind, and with a nudge and a gasp, she felt as the image of the stone mosaic rose to the forefront, so clear she could almost smell the salty sea air rolling in through the cliffside gallery where Luke had taught her to sense the Force for herself.

"Not dead," she countered. "Only different."

It spilled through her like a sigh and moved over Ben with the same patient calm. The muscles in his face relaxed, worry slipping from his brow, smoothing the skin like a caress.

"Neither light nor dark. Neither the left nor the right," he murmured. "And both at once."

She smiled, eyes shut, seeing what he saw: two halves in one body, depicted so simply in one ancient piece of artwork, from someone else who understood the mystery long before they were even stardust, waiting to be swirled into being by the Force.

"This was what we were meant to achieve?" he asked her.

She nodded. His hands were warm and dry against hers, rough to the touch where his thumbs ran across her knuckles. Stillness reigned — power and quiet in the Force surrounding them, the night ever watchful.

"I think so."

Her eyes fluttered open, and Ben regarded her with some old hurt in his eyes. "I was never worthy of this — Luke would have never —"

"Luke was only afraid of your potential," she said, drawing a step closer. The feel of his presence anchored her, and the closer they were to each other, the stronger it thrummed in her bones; a delicious feeling that filled the hollows with something more than she might've been by herself. It was him, Rey realized: that missing piece of her destiny that she hadn't been able to put a finger on. "Luke couldn't have known that two broken halves might fit together to make a whole."

Fire trailed along her cheek where he drew the backs of his fingers down he face, coming to rest beneath her chin, tilting her up to meet him.

She wasn't ready to walk out to meet her fate. Not by herself. But maybe, with Ben by her side —

They were meant to walk two paths. They were forged in opposites, and that compliment set their destinies alongside each other. Where they met in the middle wasn't so much a compromise as it was an inevitability — she felt that now. She knew it in her blood when he touched her, because together, everything was so much clearer.

"Are you afraid?" he asked, searching her for some sign that this wasn't how it was meant to happen.

This was so much bigger than she could have possibly imagined. So much greater than the small, dark corner of the galaxy where she'd begun. Firebugs flared, returning to the glade around them, lighting stars in Ben's eyes.

"Never," she whispered against his mouth.

And Ben descended, pressing his lips to hers with a gentle request that Rey met with warmth, opening to him as easily as did her soul.

Chapter Text

For Darkness, Stars
Chapter 28: Forever
...

Take some solace in these words, take notice of this place.
Hollow whispers that they are, like the wind upon my face.
Sing softly in my ear and look at me with wonder.
I will try to ease your fear as the darkness pulls you under.
I will walk this ground forever
and stand guard against your name.

I will give all I can offer,
I will shoulder all the blame.
I am sentry to you now,
all your hopes and all your dreams.
I will hold you to the light,
that's what forever means.

- "Forever", VNV Nation

...

The press of her hands against his chest lit a fire where he'd been cold. Rey's touch was hesitant, gentle, though as she opened her mouth to his, Ben felt the dart of her tongue, seeking his. When she gasped into his mouth in surprise, it was at her boldness. He fought the urge to grip the flimsy fabric of her dress, pulling those gossamer strands apart in the effort to bring her closer to him. His restraint was honed from decades of Jedi training, working to keep those raw, eager feelings at bay.

His self-control was flagging now, wilting under the warmth and wetness of her mouth, pulling him down the long, dark tunnel that heated his skin and made his limbs tingle with the need to pull her closer. When Rey's fingers dragged trails of heat down his ribs, he growled against her mouth. She stopped, hesitating at his waist, and Ben gasped a breath as his stomach muscles twitched.

"I want —" she managed, gold flecked eyes fluttering open. A pale blush scorched her cheeks, and mesmerized, he tried to rub some of that flush away beneath his thumb. Freckles remained like small constellations, and where his fingers tried to map them, he found he wanted nothing more than to do the same with his mouth. He wondered where other smatterings of small galaxies might be found on her skin.

"What?" he breathed.

Watching her wet her lip — that dart of her tongue — made the effort to hold himself back from pulling the fabric from her shoulders a trial:

She pulled her lower lip into her mouth, and Ben's hands fisted at the base of her spine. She moved with him, thighs sliding between his as he stepped forward, trying to press the length of himself into her — to find where her sunset met his moonrise.

When her lashes fluttered against her cheeks, he watched, hypnotized and wondering at the impossibility of this restraint: such temperance was the stuff of an order he'd long left behind, and he hated the restraint now as much as he'd hated it then.

"Say it," he said, pushing a lock of hair from her temple.

She shivered into his touch, the small brush of skin opening a brief window into some long lost horizon, on a burning planet, from some other life that she'd experienced but they now shared. The sensation was disorienting, but not unpleasant.

"I want more." Something dark pooled in her eyes — an awareness and heavy weight that he was altogether too familiar with: it sung to his soul like a hymn from the shadows, following the paths of her palms like worship. Like flame. Like she was marking him. But it wasn't enough. "I want to know—"

"The breadth of this?" he asked, hovering and impatient. Her smile was fleeting, her breath sweet and warm as she laughed huskily. Something darkly possessive skittered through him at the sound, demanding that he press her against a tree, pull her legs around his waist as his hands puddled her skirt at her waist. Smooth strokes of his palms sliding up her thighs, as warm as summer —

He stopped himself, but her eyes widened as if she'd caught a glimpse of what lingered in his mind.

"It's as if there's only the slightest boundary between us, but it could be miles."

They were wearing far too many clothes for the look she gave him. He understood.

"Are you sure?"

She pulled at one of the buttons on his shirt, baring skin and scars, and the spaces in-between where she spread her touch, warm and sure, against the pounding of his heart. Two moments superimposed on one another — the intensity of her gaze driving all doubt from his mind. In memories, she whispered, "I'll help you." In the present, she sent him a fleeting, ephemeral gasp of a vision that struck him low:

Legs entwined, head thrown back, hands grasping sheets: darkness and light slipping together, and that humming, perfect synchronicity between them — that power that hummed through his bones whenever he was with her amplified a thousandfold.

"This is what I've been resisting," she whispered, pushing onto the tips of her toes to catch him in another kiss.

Ben couldn't be sure exactly how it was that he'd swept her into his arms, legs tossed over an arm and another slipped beneath her back. The slit in the dress fell open, revealing more celestial traceries on her thighs, and he nearly staggered from the number of them. So many to map. He chuckled as she wrapped her arms around his neck, the surprised parting of her lips too inviting.

"You're not afraid?" he asked.

Rey's features chimed in fractals: the flutter of lashes, the sweetness of her breath, the sweep of rose across her cheeks. "Of course I am." She held him at arm's length. "I -" She hesitated, searching his features for something he didn't quite understand at first. His attention rapt as she licked her lips, she fixed him with an earnest intensity that made his chest tighten and not unpleasantly. He wanted — he wanted to please her. Relieve her of those anxieties. Make it so that nothing sat between them. He would give her the entire galaxy on a platter if only she asked.

"You can tell me," he said.

She flushed bright and hot — a star going supernova. Even so, she didn't shrink from him as he grazed his thum along the edge of skin and fabric where the strap of her dress hung over her shoulder, dripping in a v that plummeted towards her heart. He stopped short of being too forward, feeling the driving rhythm of her pounding heart under his hand.

Rey cleared her throat, trying shake off her uncertainty.

"I've never — what we're about to do — what this is — I —"

Ben stilled, his fingers wanting to touch her more than anything, but finding some lingering ascetic restraint to leverage, he drew back enough to search her features. His desire for her didn't yield, but he could hold it in check. He could stop himself if that's what she needed — if she needed time — wait… What they were about to do?

A flash through the bond: a sensorial impression of teeth and hands, tension unspooling —

Oh. Oh.

"This — you and I —" she fought for words. "This feels —" Her chin quivered, and automatically, he cupped it between his thumb and forefinger, trying to smooth away that worry. Right, he realized. It felt right.

"Rey —"

Her hands wrapped his shirt around her fists. "I am tired of fighting the bloody current," she managed.

"Then yield to it," he said. "Surrender to me. If you want to." He swallowed.

"It's not — this isn't ruling the galaxy or overthrowing the First Order or —"

He almost laughed. This felt so much larger than that — so much more powerful. He pushed that thought into his touch as he caressed her side, slipping from fabric to skin and willing her to understand that the absences between his heartbeats were spaces meant to be filled by her.

She nodded, her grip unwavering.

"Do you want to?" he asked. It was a simple question: one filled with fragile hope.

Her head snapped up, eyes dark and filled with something new and dark she was barely keeping harnessed. Passion, he realized. Strength. Fury. Desire. Her need for him was a flood: a primal torrent that spun around them, turning the air electric with unsung potential.

"Yes," Rey breathed.

This time, when he kissed her, it was like kicking in part of the wall of his self-restraint: hungrier this time, he parted her lips with his tongue, demanding entry. Images fluttered between them, his groan trapping her surprised shock of an inhalation as she gripped him tighter, her fingers winding into his hair, sending electric tingles down his spine and across his shoulders.

The feeling that they'd done this before was not so foreign that as he walked with her over the path they'd come from the castle, he was reminded of another distant time in this forest.

Rey pulled back, her expression searching his. Her brow furrowed. "You don't have to carry me," she said against his mouth. He smirked. Stole another kiss. "I can walk," she insisted.

"Not through poison nightbloomers," he murmured into her mouth. "Besides, this is practically a ritual of ours."

She pulled back. "Shouldn't I be in a Force-induced coma, then?"

He shifted her closer as if she weighed hardly a thing, nudging her chin away and exposing the pale column of her throat. "Mmm," he agreed. "Perhaps only a little incapacitated then."

With that, Ben drew the flat of his tongue from the hollow of her collarbone in a long, warm sweep up the softest and most delicate patch of skin to her jaw. Rey stilled, her fingers clawing him with a sharp, radiating gasp that he felt echoing down their bond, prickling his skin in a way that almost made him stagger. It was followed by richochet of solmnolescent warmth that pooled from his groin into his chest, flooding his brain with such pleasure he almost didn't understand what was happening — until he did:

The goosebumps that covered Rey's arms. The grip of her hands around his neck. The dark pools of her eyes. The shuddering rise and fall of her chest. Her parted lips. Her gaze fixed on his mouth though one small gesture made her eyes roll back.

Her desire echoed between them, a redoubling of his own, mingling when they touched.

"That's dangerous," she croaked. "You nearly dropped me."

He steadied himself, realizing that there was a tightness in his trousers that hadn't been there before.

"Ben," she tried again. Delicately, she put trembling fingers to his cheek with deliberate intention, passing a single image between them that required for him to find someplace softer with much more maneuverability.

She wanted him to do it again, that was clear, but… But this time, with renewed purpose, Ben set off at a dead march to their castle quarters.

Shaking, she stumbled backward into their bedroom, a rush of breathy sighs and wandering hands locking them together at the mouth, the hips. He pulled her to him as he shoved open the door behind her, half carrying her dangling feet over the ground as they stumbled into the darkened room. Starlight lit the furniture, painting everything pale and silver, and were it not for the insistent pull towards him, she felt she might've staggered.

He caught her again, and she felt his desire hard and hot against her belly when he clutched her to him.

"Rey," Ben whispered into her mouth, his stubble razing her upper lip, leaving the skin flushed and tender. He kissed the parts of her mouth that he'd bruised in their shared ferocity to get closer to one another.

The dress was driving her mad. Like a shield against his touch, it tangled around her legs and tripped her up as she tore at the buttons of his shirt with a whimper.

"I know," she managed, and she did: the bond bridged them with every touch, siphoning pieces of their pasts that shimmered and flit between them — starlight and sunsets and shadows, altogether — ephemeral pieces that gleamed for moments, remembered through Ben's eyes when he looked across Chandrilla's skyline at twin suns. She remembered echoes of childlike laughter from long ago. She remembered longing for something more that felt as if a portion of her soul had been slipped slightly out of place, and more: she knew those twin suns herself, and she knew the feeling of how they burned when she sat beneath them, watching the horizon as if waiting for those things that were missing to be returned to her.

"Home," he whispered, cupping the back of her head so that he bowed to her mouth.

Yes, that's exactly what it felt like to touch him:

It felt like home.

"More," she growled, and in his generosity, lifted her by the backs of her knees, minding one promised vision from the forest well as he tacked her to the wall beside the door, using their aligned hips to notch her between him and the cold stone wall.

Rey gasped, fingers curling into fists as he smiled against her mouth. Ben rocked his hips, and she all but smacked her head against the rock as she threw her head back, gasping for breath as she felt him lock against her most sensitive parts. Tender and enflamed, the sensation of his length pressed against her and separated by so much cloth was maddening. Terrifying. And craven, she rocked back against him so that he knew too, that that puddled heat between her legs welcomed the contact.

He growled against her throat.

She shivered, feeling those shifting pieces that defined each their boundaries were trying to come into alignment, and it ached where she strained for more.

Other things slipped between them, softer than stolen breaths: with his kiss, he pressed a sense impression into her skin. It might've been a fleeting thought, but it lingered, growing in strength as Rey focused on it: a dream of what it might be like if they were closer — how strong they might become.

Her boots dangled off his hips, hitting the backs of his thighs, her legs shaking. Ben's hands, now freed, travelled up her sides, thumbs smoothing crescents over her ribs, making her shiver. He cupped her breast in the large v between his palms and fingers, squeezing lightly. She arched into him, his fingertips grazing skin and raising goosebumps.

"Yes," she whispered, the smell of him in her mouth as she breathed, taking in residual hints of space and stardust — cold ozone and warm musk, hints of leather, and the raw sweetness of the smoky whiskey he'd drank earlier still lingering at the corner of his mouth. She caught his bottom lip between her teeth, holding him gently, but with enough pressure to make him groan: a sound that reverberated through his chest, making her head hum with muzzy abandon.

His other hand fisted her dress, pulling the fabric away from her thigh, sliding higher and growing more assured as Rey was unable to stop the flood of thoughts that crashed over her and struck him as fiercely — it was a fleeting thing that caught her breath, the realization that she hadn't found wrappings or fresh underclothes that weren't visible through the gossamer fabric. Ben's fingers touched the juncture where her thigh met her hip, and his movement stalled to a halt.

Breathing hard, he drew back to search face, feeling the bare skin where there ought to have been something more modest covering her. His fingers trailed soft skin, thumb grazing the most sensitive part of her.

Rey swallowed, searching his darkened gaze, and finding only the thought as it sped from him to her in crystalline sharpness:

You've forgotten something.

She nodded, unable to make a sound, and instead a flittering nervousness gripped her as she gave him a tentative, fleeting peck on the corner of his mouth, drawing back to watch the peculiar way in which his pupils seemed to swallow the brown of his irises. Beneath her hands, it was as if she could feel him quicken: the low, steady throb of his heartbeat swelling to engulf her thoughts as something else shifted between them, now.

Ben released her skirts, letting the fabric settle around her legs as he lowered her to the floor. When he swallowed, Rey could feel the sudden knot of nerves mingling with his desire for her. She didn't remove her hands from his chest because keeping connected to him was the only thing that kept her from shuddering. A pressure built behind her ribcage: like a frustrated, scared animal, it wanted to be freed at last, and his sudden reticence as he drew back made it howl.

Rey reached for him, and he clasped her fingers before she could stumble after him.

"Wait," he said, and her heart stalled. It's hammering staccato resumed, but she felt lightheaded from the lack of contact.

Ben looked down at himself: his shirt hanging half-off his shoulder, and the wet smear down the front of his trousers, before he looked up to Rey to catch her blush. He gripped her fingers, and smiling a rare, contemplative smirk, he drew her towards him as he backed further into the room, saying, "I feel it too."

She wanted to think it was something clandestine that carried her forward, following as gentle fingers ran up her arms, turning her in a gentle crescent as if this were a dance, and they were the only two stars to follow this particular orbit.

The Force spun between them — a strong, winding current that pulled them into its path and wound their trajectories tighter. Rey smiled, feeling for once as if what Ben felt was reflected in her: a dark mirror to her light.

His pallor in the darkness as she pushed the rest of his shirt from his shoulder elicited a sigh, as soft as the hush of silky fabric as he slid the strap off her shoulder. Trailing the backs of his fingers down her arms, he lowered his mouth to the skin he revealed there.

"They're like stars," he murmured against her skin, placing a kiss that was far too chaste for the heat she felt in him against the smattering of freckles. "And there are so many of them."

She drew back as he watched her, looking for a moment as if she'd leave him bereft at the foot of their bed. A nervous flutter trembled her fingers, and though she set her jaw, the thought of him looking at her — truly seeing her as she was — made her hesitate when he bared all his scars so easily.

She looked at those traceries with new eyes: marks she'd left on him not so long ago, that he'd healed but not completely as if he might remember how she'd touched him the first time — with violence. With a brutality and strength that rivalled his own. And now this:

Rey stole a breath, and slipped the gown from her other shoulder so that it fell to the floor in a whisper.

Ben struggled, but briefly: trying to hold her gaze as if what she offered him was some unreality, and the quiet center of his torrent of feelings wouldn't hold him anchored for long. Three feet away from him, her nipples pebbling in the breeze from outside, Rey raised her chin with a look that was far braver than she felt. She allowed her hands to hang at her side, and so unadorned, she remained as if she'd made the first move towards something more terrifying and more fraught than any battle she'd seen yet.

This was a harrowing, she thought, her breath hitching as she started to second-guess such a bold parry. His chin trembled, his lashes lowering as finally, Ben's gaze moved over her body, his breathing hitching as he took her in with tortuous slowness. His gaze had more weight than his hands, his attention fastidious, thorough as if devouring every inch of her, and finally, breaking the silence, he croaked something in three syllables that she didn't understand until he took a step forward to take her hand.

Beautiful, echoed between them. The one word was full of wonder, and a terrible fullness that made her eyes well up.

Rey exhaled with a shudder and a half-smile, closing her eyes as Ben pulled her to him, his fingers ghosting over her skin as if touching her too hard might break her.

"Here," she said, drawing him into the circle of her arms. Between them, an electricity crackled, budding and slow, and warming them both as she cupped his cheek, lifting herself to her toes to better reach him. His hands hovered, and he made a pained noise as if restraining himself was somehow the best course of action, given the circumstances.

Rey found his mouth, pressing her lips to his gently at first, and then with more insistence. Ben trembled, holding himself back, still.

"Ben," she breathed into him, willing him to understand that it was okay.

Her fingers found fabric, and she pulled the rest of his shirt away from his skin. The shivering touches along her hips and sides were tortuous, leaving her shuddering where his hands left her.

Please. She poured her frustration into the bond, pushing the word towards him as if he were the only person in the world who could understand it. It was their word, in a way, and though it hadn't yielded anything expected before, she hoped that it might still be reclaimed. Please, Ben.

She couldn't be certain where it began or who started it, but some resolve slivered in him as Ben's arms wrapped around her, warm and solid and strong. They took a step, and Ben stopped short of the footboard of the bed.

"I feel your reluctance," she murmured. "Why?"

Cool air sped between them, prompting her eyes to flutter open. The dark pools of his gaze glittered as he wrestled with something he managed to withhold from sharing with their chests pressed together as they were.

He pushed a strand of hair from her face, large hands spread down her back in languid strokes as if ensuring she was real. His touch befuddled; it left her warm and wanting more.

"I —" he began. "I am unaccustomed to -" he tried, breathing hard through his nose. "This sort of —"

He shut his eyes for a bit longer than a standard blink, his frustration with himself an anvil.

He was holding back, she realized: feeling his reluctance and hesitation; his fear that he was doing something wrong — that he would hurt her because he'd never done this before either.

Oh.

Holding back. Holding on.

She smiled, slow and careful. It was so simple, she realized: all they'd ever needed was to let themselves be guided; carried by the Force, and it would lead them where they were meant to go. She smiled, understanding that she'd been trying to fit into a place that had long since been empty, but not realizing that forcing it had been wrong.

"I'll help you," she promised, feeling again that somehow this was the way it should have been, and the certainty of it shone brighter than any sun.

Ben remained uncertain, so Rey showed him instead, placing a kiss to his palm and allowing the brush of her thighs against his as her hands descended to his belt to be their guide.

"Rey —" he said, a note of strain stopping her.

When she looked to him for guidance — to find out what caused him such pain — she might've flushed red to her toes. He pressed his reasoning into her hip, staying her hands with fingers that drew her arms away, placing them on his chest so that his hands could fall down her skin like rain.

"If you do that," he managed. "I am not going to last."

She dragged a breath in, but it was all she managed before Ben descended, following her hope with his mouth and arms, pulling her feet from the cloth pooled on the floor and carrying her the remaining distance to the bed where they spilled onto the sheets, together.

It began slowly, at first: a tentative press of his mouth against her jaw, his hand splaying across her stomach as he lowered himself to her side, shielding her from the breeze that wound from the window onto them. He pushed her face to the side, exposing the column of her throat long enough to place a line of searing kisses that he coaxed away with his tongue, leaving her shivering. The warmth of his touch trickled across her breast, and then down, leaving a molten trail beneath her skin, lighting her up as he stopped just short, letting the muscles of her stomach quake in expectation. Her thighs shuddered, but not with the chill.

"You're cold," he murmured into her collarbone, and shaking a laugh, her hands sliding into dark locks to draw him back to her mouth, Ben hovered above her, shielding her from the night. Something dark unspooled in his gaze as he lifted himself over her, pressing her knees apart with his thigh.

Rey shuddered, the weight of him kneading her core as he slid down — the disparity in their heights forgotten as the weight of him curled around her, protective, like a darkened sky arching over golden desert sands.

"Is this okay?" he asked, hesitation slowing his ministrations.

She whimpered in response, canting her hips upward and grinding into his hip in answer.

He caught her by the back of the knee, large hands wrapping her leg and pulling it upward to notch over his hip as he drew himself lower, pulling her hands from him and pressing her wrists together over her head and away so that he could explore her body without distraction. Rey strained against his grip, protesting, but he'd loose her if she gasped anything other than the incoherent noise she managed when he lapped her nipple. It puckered, stiffening as the breeze brushed it. With rapt attention, Rey watched him as he remained mesmerized by that tiny mound of pink, rising and falling with each labouring breath. Heat built in those three inches between his mouth and her skin, but Ben's Jedi training had cultivated a patience in him that echoed when he turned coal eyes up to hers, something devilish skittering across his expression as he dipped his tongue down, flicking it again.

Rey gasped, arching upward as he slipped away, placing another trail of patient, deliberate kisses down her sternum, watching her squirm with all his feelings bundled behind a wall of self-control.

He stopped at her belly button, finally releasing her hands to slide a palm down the trail he'd left with his mouth, stopping at her hip to run furrows down her thigh. Rey fell open to him, nudged easily further with gentle, firm hands.

His mouth dipped, the sensitive skin below her bellybutton shuddering. Heat unspooled from her core, turning her breathing ragged. Still, he waited — those dark eyes watching her squirm with each touch.

"I like the way you look at me," she managed. It was a feeble, broken confession that lacked strength. Most of her self-control had settled between her thighs along with Ben, and the rest she still possessed she put to use to keep from whimpering.

He dragged a thumb along the sparse patch of hair and moisture that waited for him between her legs, and Rey stopped breathing. She trembled, hands twisting into the sheets with the delicious sensation that accompanied his slow regard of her desire.

He lifted those dark eyes to he once more. The accompanying rumble in his chest strummed against her core, and unbidden, Rey tried to squeeze her thighs together — a feat made impossible by the fact that Ben pressed his mouth against her thigh, clamping his other hand around her knee before she could thrash against the building knot of tension he'd created at her center. And still, he strayed near, but not near enough.

"I want to see you," he murmured. It was a request that settled over her like velvet: soft, and dark, rustling with some primal energy she had sensed in him before but hadn't really known. "I want to taste you." He moved higher, pressing a kiss to her thigh nearest the juncture of her hip, sighing with a long breath that rustled her awareness of how near he was to that slow, budding throb of pure need at her core. He held her in place, and finally, unable to help herself, Rey let out a low moan.

"Say it for me," he whispered, his breath highlighting how wet she was when it brushed against her folds. "Say it again for me, Rey."

"Please."

She felt his smile against her before she felt his kiss, and then, the groan that tore through him as his tongue followed in a long, deliberate caress that drew a quake from inside her like she hadn't known before. She seized, her limbs locking, her breath caught as he pulled her towards him, slipping his tongue into her without regard for the noise she made when he brushed against the nub of nerves at her apex. Again, he dragged his tongue against it, and Rey realized she gasped his name.

He paused, looking up at her with concern.

Rey gasped a shrill laugh. "Please, Ben," she said again, writhing when he lowered his mouth once more, fingertips slipping into her wetness with a groan as he spread her with his tongue.

She didn't know how her hands had twisted into his locks, only that when Ben nudged that spot again, something tightened in her like a wound coil, hauling the rest of her body along with it.

"I'm going to touch you, now," he said, and she nearly let out a whimper. "Tell me —" he said, dark eyes earnest. "Tell me if it hurts. I'll stop."

Stars bloomed behind her eyes, his tongue sweeping inside her, testing. Rey arched, trying to find more of him, to pull him deeper, but this time Ben yielded to her demands by dragging his tongue against her again, clamping his mouth around her clit as she bucked against him. He rolled his tongue against it, creating distraction through the mounting tension of her middle.

A finger brushed her, dipping into her wetness and creating a delicious friction. Trying to reposition herself to capture more of the feeling, Ben stilled only for a moment.

"Is this okay?" He waited, and Rey nodded, each breath leaving her lightheaded. He pressed inwards. Resistance met him — uncomfortable at first, but he eased away as she stiffened. The absence of his touch dragged a whimper from, and she grabbed for him. "It's okay," she managed. She needed to feel him. She wanted him closer — all of him. He needed to be beside her. He needed to be inside her.

He pressed against her, laving her clit with a short, abbreviated stroke. The noise she made — the feel of his mouth near-worshipful as he strummed at her nerves, quickening her breathing and making her thrash against the bed. He did it again, and stars swirled behind her eyes as every muscle from her toes to her stomach tightened in anticipation. More, she pleaded. Please. Words failed her, her mouth hanging open as he —

"Fuck," she managed, head thrown back and back arching as he slipped his finger inside her. It burned a moment — too tight. Too full. Too much — Kriff, but Ben had long fingers — but it was a distant thing as something else seemed to burst all at once as his finger curled, beckoning some part of her forward. Her world shrank, coiling inwards for one ever-arching, impossible moment, and then it exploded:

A feeling unlike anything she'd ever experienced struck her, lifting her off the bed in an arc. She cried out, the sensation an explosion that rolled over her in a wave. It struck once more — a flood of pleasure. Clutching at him, she tried to hold on as she gasped for breath, but it dragged her under again, and the feeling resumed, rocking her into him. Reaching for him, he slipped his finger out, and then in once more, triggering a fresh roil of sensation.

Rey whimpered, straining for his wrist, not sure if she wanted him to stop or keep going.

"Are you okay?" he asked, concerned.

She cursed by way of response, bucking against his hand, riding out the feeling. Her orgasm had an unintended effect, however: any tendrils of self-control she'd managed to maintain over herself slipped, and then shredded. Ben's gasp was the only indicator that he'd been caught in her flood: her feelings slammed into him with the strength of a tsunami, knocking him down even as Rey began to collect herself. The hazy afterglow rolled over her, ebbing out, but maintaining a strength that bubbled satisfaction through her limbs, leaving her tingling. Laughing and breathless, Rey reached for him to draw him to her, but Ben's wide eyes and gaping mouth as he collapsed beside her stopped her cold.

It was a moment before she realized what was happening: the stiffness, the gutteral groan of release that followed. Panting, Ben stared up at the ceiling. His chest heaved a laboured breath, and a fine sheen of sweat matched her own. Breathing hard, she lifted to an elbow.

"Ben?" She hadn't even caught her breath.

He shook his head, blinking at the ceiling and still breathing hard. Swallowing, he turned his face to her thigh, examining that swath of skin as if it held trouble.

"If that was an echo," he swallowed. "How strong was the original?"

He flicked dark eyes up to her, and grinning, she dragged herself to sitting to hover over him. She flicked her gaze to his trousers.

Ben shook his head, guarded. Dots of pink tipped the peaks of his cheeks. "Worse things have happened," he said.

She did her best not to smirk, really. His answering growl suggested she wasn't altogether successful.

"This hardly seems fair," she said, lowering to him. "You've lavished me with all the attention and taken none for yourself."

He stilled, regarding her with a mixture of desire and trepidation. "You think now is the best time to tease me."

She brushed her lips over his, delicate — barely ghosting over him. Lingering sense images flit between them; ghosts of the original memories that were drowned out by the afterglow. Her perfume lingered around his mouth, but it was sweet and salty, and not at all what she might've imagined.

"We're not done," she murmured, pressing a tender, searching kiss to his cheek. "Unless you're utterly spent," she said, giving him another on the opposite side.

Ben's gaze darkened. His hand slipped up her arm, across her shoulder, fingers spearing into the tangle of her hair. Gently, he tugged her buns free from their wrappings, massaging the scalp below. She sighed into it. He watched her.

Rey opened her eyes, hovering above him and tentative as she admitted, "I feel that there's something more waiting for us to be discovered —"

She pressed her lips to his wrist, shivering as he drew fingers across her skin, memorizing the shape of her face with his touch.

This would sound insane, to him, she was certain: Demanding, even. Rey swallowed, trying to best describe how these interlocking pieces of them felt that they should fit together, and how something would only be made right once they had arrived there. Something more, yes -

"I need -" she began, struggling with it. Ben stopped her with his mouth, rising up to claim her, drawing her down to him where he lay spread across the bed.

Her hands slid down his chest of their own accord, finding the plains and ridges of his abdomen a fascinating study in marble. He tightened under her touch, even as he gripped her to him, delving deeper into her mouth where she could taste herself on his tongue.

Unfastening his belt was quicker, loosening the garment and pulling away fabric from flesh. Her hands worked blind, as she had done in so many times before in awkward positions while working a particularly delicate component from difficult confines, with less maneuverability and but perhaps less distraction.

She drew away from him, his breath against her throat as she pulled herself over him, his mouth finding her inner thigh, hands sliding up the backs of her legs to cup her arse, squeezing in encouragement. His fingertips brushed her folds, finding her still wet and warm. Rey swallowed, trying to focus as she straddled him, but the work was harder than it looked: his trousers clung to his hips stubbornly.

Ben's breathing turned ragged when she realized what she was attempting.

"Rey —" he began, caution making him hesitate.

"I want to." And that was answer enough, he shifted his hips, helping her, the warmth of him beneath her thighs making her heart pound. From the angle he lay, he could see all of her.

"Come back here." His words were strangled, his thumb glancing against the soft, warm places he'd explored with his mouth moments before. Rey's eyes fluttered at the sensation — that brush of his touch, teasing and possessive, searching as his thumb slid the length of her and brushed the nub of her clit.

Her legs nearly gave out, but determined, her mouth dry, she looked away from that vision of him staring at her from between her own legs long enough to shove his trousers to his knees. Pale thighs, strong muscles — she ventured lower, enjoying the way the muscles tightened when she ran her fingers over them — exploring his body the way he'd explored his, as if it were her right to do so but someone had forgotten to mention it.

The mess Ben had made wasn't inconsiderable, but manageable. Rey licked her lips, swallowed once, and breathed over the part of him that she'd freed from his undergarments. His cock twitched. The man groaned, almost desperate when he managed, "You don't have to —"

But by then it was too late, and tentative, Rey licked at the glistening pleasure she'd coaxed from him. His groan rumbled through her, his hands gripping her hips.

No, she didn't have to, but to hear him make that noise again —

She lowered her mouth.

The world went black, spinning worlds from cataclysms as their bond snapped taut — the transference turning to a rush as she was assaulted by a vision she knew:

She stood before an ancient temple, garbed in a soft-spun robe and tabard, the carry on her back demanding. In her hand was a familiar stave — her quarterstaff and old friend, but the fingers that gripped the weapon were wrong: larger, the palm broad and callused.

The clarity of what she saw rang sharp and crystalline, damp air heavy with moisture filling her mouth when she breathed, taking in the age-old stone smell of the place: a temple before the dawn, jungle drawing old stones to earth.

This was Tython, a name she now knew because Ben learned of the fabled planet in his youth, their memories fuzing — travelling the bridge between them easily now that their souls sped together, married in the Force. She breathed, and it tasted like salt. Two doors sat before her/him, and she looked at the words inscribed above with fresh eyes that revealed secrets in the words she hadn't known before:

Bogan, on the left: the path to the Dark. Ashla, on the right: the Light. The latter fuzzed a little, the meaning lost to Ben, but she understood its meaning with simple and perfect clarity.

Two paths. Two choices.

Her and his, both, but only one body to walk them.

Brow furrowed, he/she turned as one as the sound of a woman's voice she felt she might recognize, saying, "I've been studying them."

A soft light emanated from the figure that stood at their side. A glow haloed her body, her features near-transparent. They swallowed, realizing that they could see the stone stairs through the girl.

The part of Rey whose soul remained intertwined with Ben's saw herself, smiling back at them with a tranquility and peace she might not've known if not for Anakin Skywalker's interference — his brief introduction in the Takodana forest a lesson and a portent.

She felt Ben's sadness constricting his breathing like a vice, pressing his sadness into a hard knot in his chest. Bittersweet at the sight of the girl he'd chased across the galaxy to this point in a search for something that remained beyond his reach. It ached, his throat tightening so that he couldn't speak.

The vision redoubled, sending the world careening left as she gasped at the understanding: the translucency, the vibration through the Force that signified her presence as a ghost. Rey looked onto her own self, dead, and realized with no uncertain clarity why Ben's ravings about changing their destiny hadn't made sense to her at first:

In her vision, she'd delivered him to the light, but at the cost of her own life. But only ever seeing her own perspective and not through his eyes, she'd missed the one critical detail that left him terrified at the prospect of losing her to gain his own redemption:

Anakin was right: She needed to die to save him.

A strangled sob choked her, the Tython temple dimming to a star-streaked room on Takodana. A tousled Ben remained on the bed above her, confused and clearly distressed, and she on the floor as reality righted itself. She felt cold stone beneath her, her legs tangled in the sheets she'd pulled from their bed. Rey struggled to free herself, naked on the ground, tears burning.

Through their physical contact, she'd seen his salvation: a stolen piece of a puzzle that only she might solve in a world where only some things were as they were supposed to be, but not in the manner of her imaginings. But he’d known. He’d seen what she couldn’t, and he’d kept it from her.

"Rey, what's wrong?" he asked.

And crying, her hands trembling, she could only stare, knowing that he hadn't told her to protect her, and knowing too that it was the most damning thing of all that he'd failed.