His fingers map the scars and freckles that mar her back, clusters of constellations and the whirling dust of nebulae that he would put name to if he could claim that right as his own. But though her skin tightens and shivers and prickles beneath his touch—his hands are so very cold, even after all this time, a reminder of what he’d been before, what he could be still if he is not careful. Were she to turn over and look at him, there would be placidness in her eyes that he doesn’t recognize, a beatific expression so alien that he cannot withstand it for more than a few seconds at a time without despairing entirely. He knows that already; he’s tried.
She is Rey of nothing, of nobody, of nowhere, and she is so in tune with the Force that there is no room in her for anything else.
His nails scratch gently across the muscled planes of her arms and thighs and his lips follow the red, already fading trails his marks leave behind and she arches for him, moans, calls him by his name—his given name, not the name he gave himself when he was angry and stupid and alone, so very alone, so very fearful of how alone he was—the name he loves and loathes as his own and his burden all the same. It’s so much like how it used to be that he gasps and shudders. Her hands tighten in the pristine sheets of the bed they share and he wishes with all his heart that she would ripple the threads that still bind them to one another as easily she does their simple, uncomplicated linens.
He is Ben Solo of great destinies twisted, of Leia Organa and Han Solo, of Alderaan and Corellia, and the Force is barred to him by his own locks, hard-earned self-control, a cage he’s forced himself into so that he can be here with her and not be subsumed. And yet, he wants.
His teeth sink into the skin of her neck, his tongue chasing the sweat that prickled at her hairline as she writhes against him. She could unpin herself in a moment if she so chose, but she’s always claimed to like the way his knees bracket her hips and how his chest feels against her spine when they are pressed together this way. He’s not so sure of that. Or rather, he senses that her need for the things that had appealed to her Before has changed, mutated or muted itself. When all things in the Light of the Force are yours, what other happiness is necessary? What other sensations? To the bold, thrumming energy of life and death and the balance that can only be found between those opposites, how does the circular press of one thumb compare? Can a kiss sing with any greater volume than the notes of a celestial symphony?
Sometimes, he thinks it might be worth it to ask, to push, to try harder than he does.
The rest of the time, he’s too afraid of the answer to even consider that much, even while her attention dims and wavers as she learns more and more about the strength inside of her. The cant of her head as though to listen for unheard words, the flutter of her eyelids as something greater than him flickers behind them, they speak to so much more than he could ever say. Once, he’d told her that she needed a teacher. Now he knows that the Light itself is her mentor and it is so much more powerful than he could ever be.
He pushes the loose strands of her hair aside and touches the delicate shell of her ear, traces the line of her jaw. His fingertips find her lips and map the delicate curve and soft slope of them. She turns a little to press a kiss against the calloused skin of his palm, but it registers as little more than a trick he allows himself to believe in.
Her hitching gasps as he moves inside of her he would swallow down, consume and carry around inside of him as proof that he can still reach her if he could. In the hours that follow, it will be the only thing that ensures to him that he hasn’t lost her so entirely to the Light that he’ll never find her again. He cannot follow her down that path, he knows that now, not after all the things he’s done; he’s been a fool, but he’s not foolish. Luminous beings, that was what Luke used to call him and his fellow students. He’d pinch them as he said it. We are not this crude matter.
Except for their brief unions in the dark, he feels like nothing but crude matter. His physical body, the vanity of his thoughts, the gift of the Force that no longer heeds his call the way it used to, there is nothing luminous about this. He is no Jedi and he is no Sith. He’s not even Ben Solo, not really. His only consolation is that there’s little of Kylo Ren left in him either. The Light and the Dark is nothing to him, but for these moments with Rey. Only now can he feel the deceptive sweetness of the Light, the scorching heat of it, the sharp-edged shadows it casts against the walls of his heart. Only now does the Dark make its tortured wails heard.
These are his places no longer and Rey—who was never his, never will be will, was never intended to be—doesn’t need him, never did, never has, never—
When she groans, he holds his breath, to better hear and catalog the sound, store it away in the keepsake chest in his mind where all his most important secrets are held. “Ben,” she says, and for a moment, it’s like it used to be, back before she learned what the Light truly is. She could destroy worlds with the power she holds. She could destroy herself. She will not; she is beyond destruction.
The pull to the Light is a painful, disingenuous thing. Light can be veiled, smothered and defeated, by the sheerest of fabrics. Light falls to Dark with the merest whisper of a breath. Light is weak and it is capricious and cruel. It offers its adherents nothing in return for servitude; should one slip even the slightest bit, it will deprive you of its warmth. Rey has not yet learned this fact, but if Ben could only reach her, he would tell her the truth about the Light and the Dark and the balance between the two.
She is not receptive to it. She still believes. Deeply. Truly. Despite everything, she still has trust in the Force. She does not see it as the gnawing, hungry thing it truly is.
Light burns, too. It blinds and shines and stretches across light years at speeds so fast and indefatigable that only the most dogged of intrepid adventurer-scientists could ever have learned how to break its limits. Light has been harnessed and used. Data flows through light the way candle droids float through hallways on worlds the galaxy over.
Perhaps that is a mark against the Light, a sign that Ben need not fear it the way everyone so fears the Dark. It has been defeated, controlled, put to use by mortals and not even powerful ones at that.
Rey has not mastered the Light, but she is enthralled to it. She dies every day in the desert while the Light claims it is the only water she needs.
Ben’s hands could ghost over her skin for eternity and they’d never reach into the heart of her and grab hold of anything more than playful, coruscating sunbeams. Even the maelstrom of emotion that surrounds her cannot penetrate that deeply into her any longer. Whatever poison coats Ben’s skin and permeates his soul, it cannot harm her, cannot weaken her in any way. He could launch a fleet at her—and has—and still she would remain unscathed. To be with her is to be lonely and to be without her is equally so.
She frightens him, sometimes, when she smiles. It is so preternaturally attuned to an aspect of life he cannot access that he cannot fathom her or her thoughts or why she even remains on this plane of existence any longer when there are grander vistas elsewhere and all she has to do is let go of this corporeal form. His fingers could press bruises into her arms, her chest, her face and he’s still certain he would be unable to get at her.
Sometimes, he misses the old days. Things were simpler then. He more easily dismissed her as a scavenger and an idealist. Even with the bond between them, her ability to turn away hadn’t cut quite so deeply. Why it should hurt now, when her smiles are so often reserved solely for him, is another one of those jokes of the Light, that capricious, cruel force of nature.
Light is truly the most callous of monsters, grasping, squirming, all-consuming. It’s not straightforward at all. It demands so much and it tempts just as desperately as the Dark.
“Ben, it’s beautiful. You’re beautiful,” she says and she is not talking about him even though she thinks she is. Her hand searches for his, gropes across the sheet to find his. His bones creak from the pressure she brings to bear on him.
No, it’s not, he thinks and holds just as tightly to her hand. I’m not.
But for a moment, he is devoured by the pretty lie of it.
And he believes.