It comes out of nowhere, and Rey stumbles with the impact of it. Silence has reigned supreme for months; she’d tried to reach him soon after their parting, and again when General Organa had died, but he had closed the door on her, just as she had on him that fateful day. She assumed he must know about Leia’s death; it had shaken the galaxy to its core, but she had no idea how he felt about it. She’d made a couple of attempts to contact him through the Force bond since she’d returned to base but he’d never responded. She was on the point of giving up. Now, on this memorial day for Leia’s life, she feels him again.
She’s standing by the fountain in the town square. Finn and Rose are next to her, and while she tries not to feel like the third, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that they’re drawing comfort from each other in this time of great change for the New Republic. They don’t need her.
But he does, it seems.
‘Excuse me,’ she mutters as Finn glances at her in concern. ‘I just need to…’
‘Are you all right?’ Rose’s voice echoes Finn’s look. They’ve seen how fragile she’s become since the showdown with Kylo Ren; how brittle.
‘I’ll be fine.’ Rey smiles briefly. ‘I’ll see you back at base.’
It takes her very little time to get back to her quarters. She’s driven by an almost tangible urgency to find him, to connect.
She tries to clear her mind, tries to focus. She pictures him as she last saw him, shaken, alone, a torrent of unshed tears, defeated and on his knees. He’d held out a hand and offered her the galaxy that same day. It is a heartbreaking juxtaposition that still haunts her.
Nothing. Her breath is the only sound in the small room she calls her own. Inhale. Exhale. Beating in her ears. The sense of being alone, truly alone, tears at her.
Still nothing. Rey’s heart thumps painfully in her chest. Could what she felt have been his death? One final disruption in the Force before eternal silence? Is she now truly alone?
Her pulse slows, her breath grows shallow. And then the surge of light radiates through her. She reaches out a hand.
And suddenly she can see him. And her heart breaks all over again.
At first, all she can see is a blur; he’s moving frenziedly, violently, around whichever room he’s in. Those long limbs are lashing out, kicking, punching, smashing everything around him. From the looks of the room, he’s been lashing out for some time. Nothing is whole. Especially not him. The walls show patches of crumbled plaster where he has smashed them, with fists that are running from the knuckles with blood. The bedding is slung on the floor, the bed itself askew from its docking point on the wall. And as he turns towards her, she catches sight of his face, ravaged by grief, a mouth that is meant for gentler things open in a scream that reeks of panic and pain.
She calls out to him, and yet again she doesn’t know if it’s a sound from her throat or a sound in her mind. She can’t hear him yet, and for agonising moments she has to watch his movements in silence, until his cries come crashing into her consciousness almost a beat too late.
She hears his name in her mind, with a deeper resonance this time, and, finally, he hears it too. Time slows down, and the door opens.
‘Rey?’ In stark contrast to height and bearing of his body, his voice is small, wavering, like the frightened boy he once was, and perhaps still is.
‘I’m here,’ Rey lets out a long breath. Her heart shatters as she sees him freeze. ‘I’m here,’ she repeats. Slowly, gently, she stands up. She reaches out a not entirely steady hand to cross the divide, as she has wanted to so many times before. ‘I’m here,’ she whispers.
It feels like an eternity before she makes physical contact with him. Her hand is drawn to the scar on his face, the scar she gave him. She jumps as she realises that the scar is wet with tears.
All around him is in ruin. His eyes are two dark caverns of sorrow. She can feel him trembling beneath her touch.
‘She’s gone,’ he whispers. ‘I felt it. But I shut it out. Now it’s come back.’
He covers his face, pushing her palm out of the way. Undeterred, Rey reaches out with both of her hands and covers his with hers, mindful of his swollen and bleeding knuckles. For a long moment he struggles against the contact, trying to force her away, frightened to trust, to lay himself bare. She feels the Force like a pulse running between them, and her fingers tingle as she holds onto his hands, gently prising them away from his face until she can behold him once more. And what she sees in his eyes makes her gasp. Hooded with pain, bloodshot from crying, he is crumbling fast, losing his foundations and his footings in an avalanche of tears.
‘Why are you here?’
‘I felt you. Through the Force. It told me that you…you needed me.’
‘I don’t need anyone.’ But even as he speaks it, they both know it’s a lie. He is the very definition of need, and she is everything.
An eternal pause stretches between them, with Rey’s hands still holding Ben’s, their fates as intertwined as their fingers. Rey can feel the power of this boy, this man, flowing through his body, and she’s desperate to still the fervour, bring some calm.
‘Come and see,’ Rey says gently as she draws him closer to her.
‘I never see anything but you,’ Ben whispers.
‘This time you will.’ Rey doesn’t know how she knows, but somehow she does. She moves to one side of him, still holding onto his right hand with her left, and the world behind her changes, opens up. Walls disappear for them both, and they are standing in the main communal area of the Resistance’s new port. All around them are people smiling, embracing, dressed in the clothing and emblems of the New Republic. The atmosphere is calm, warm but with the tangible twist of melancholy as befits the death of a great leader, the loss of so much more than a figurehead.
‘They’re celebrating her life,’ Rey says gently. ‘Your mother was an inspiration to many.’
Ben’s jaw drops open at the full impact of what he’s seeing, as if, for all this time, he’s been wilfully blind to the role his mother had. He swallows hard, struggling to articulate just what the scene in front of him means to him.
‘Leia…’ he whispers, finally. Then, so faintly that Rey has to strain to hear him. ‘Mother.’
That acknowledgement, hanging in the air between them, seems to free him a little. Shifting slightly, he turns back to Rey, whose own eyes are brimming with tears for the loss of the woman she knew so fleetingly.
‘You should bind those hands,’ she says softly. ‘They’ll get infected.’ She turns the hand she is holding over to look at his poor knuckles. Reaching for a corner of the discarded bedsheet, she breaks contact with him briefly to run it under the cold tap in the corner of Ben’s quarters. Returning to where he’s standing, still transfixed by what he can see through their Force bond, she gently takes his hand again, wiping the congealing blood from his knuckles and then bandaging it with a little more of the bed sheet. She feels him wincing, but the physical pain is nothing compared to the emotional one.
‘Thank you,’ he concedes gruffly, as she repeats the process with his other hand.
They turn back to the scene they’ve conjured between them and watch for a little while longer. Rey senses Ben’s jaw clenching as he struggles not to keep breaking down in the face of the memorial for Leia.
‘It’s all right,’ Rey says softly. ‘Ben, it’s all right to feel.’
‘No,’ he mutters. ‘I mustn’t. I can’t. I won’t.’ He rubs a hand across sore eyes that in themselves belie him.
‘Don’t lock it all away.’ Rey moves again, so that she is looking Ben straight in the eyes. ‘Please, Ben. She’s worth more than that.’
Ben bites his bottom lip and the breath catches in his throat. As Rey raises a hand to the scar on his face once more, as if driven by some greater force, he lowers his gaze. ‘Hold me. Please.’ His voice is low, gravelly from screaming and the threat of more unshed tears. ‘I need…’
‘I know,’ Rey enfolds him in her arms as he buries his head in her shoulder. The weight of him, the rightness of him, the blending of the dark and light into a shade of grey between them, fills her with simultaneous hope and dread. The last time they’d been this close the galaxy had collided. The last time, he’d been the Supreme Ruler, smashing lives to regain the ascendency. This time, he’s a grieving son, torn apart inside by the loss not just of a mother, but by the father who died at his own hand. This time, she swears, although she cannot drag him there, she will guide him back to the light.