Funerals happen quickly during wartime, even funerals for high-ranking generals.
They barely made it back to the base in time. She’d had, at least, a full night and day to come to grips with Leia’s death. It hit Chewbacca, who’d known the general so much longer and who’d already lost so many friends, harder. Rey watched helplessly as the news brought her companion to his knees with a wail of despair.
Chewie’s mournful cries broke Rey all over again.
“I know, buddy,” Poe said as he wrapped an arm around the Wookiee’s massive shoulders. Finn, who’d been all but joined at the hip to the pilot since their daring escape from Crait, gave Rey a knowing look.
The former stormtrooper had barely begun his training but even Finn, new to the Force as he was, must have felt the severing that tore through it with Leia’s passing. Rey gave him a small nod of acknowledgment.
Who would take over Finn’s training, now that Leia was gone? Who would finish her training? Who would lead the Rebellion? Who would be the light that-
Rey clamped a lid down on the bubbling pot of doubt that was her mind. Finn wasn’t the only one around who might pick up on her emotions, she reminded herself. Force-sensitive Maz was undoubtedly around somewhere, among others. All Rey could do was hope they were too wrapped up in their own grief to focus on hers. She had to appear strong.
She had to be strong.
It became harder and harder to be strong as she followed the others to the long marquee that had been erected for the occasion. Several heads turned their way as the group passed. Rey fixed her gaze on the end of the aisle lined on either side with as many Resistance members as the tent could hold. She couldn’t bear to meet anyone’s eye; couldn’t stand the look of pity they gave her.
Yes, in their short time together, Leia had become like a mother to Rey. Mother. It was the wrong thing to focus on. Leia might have been the only mother figure in Rey’s life, but she couldn’t forget that the woman had a child of her own – one Rey tried her best not to think about.
Impossible at such a time.
There was a familiar ripple in the Force, then he was there. Rey didn’t have to see Ben’s dark waves or haunted eyes to know he was with her.
“Rey, I…” It didn’t take Ben long to realize where he was. She couldn’t see his surroundings but the strangled gasp he gave told Rey he could see hers.
She felt the air shift as he moved to stand beside her. For a long moment, they stayed that way, silent. What was there to say? What could be said?
Poe squeezed Rey’s shoulder as he stepped around her, surprising her. She’d forgotten anyone else was there. Ben had that effect on her.
At least no one else was aware of his presence. There would be chaos if they had. Although… Finn did give Rey a quizzical look as he stepped around the seemingly empty space Ben occupied. Chewie hung back, staying near the entrance, as if seeing his old friend lying in state was simply too much.
Rey knew how he felt.
“I can’t do this,” she whispered. It was a plea in disguise. Please, don’t make me do this.
Ben, whose struggle had to be infinitely worse than Rey’s, offered his support. “Yes, you can.”
He didn’t have to whisper the way Rey did, yet Ben’s voice was low, reverent. It touched her that the scourge of the galaxy, Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, could be so considerate. So supportive. So… caring?
You know there’s more to him that that, Rey scolded herself.
Yes, she knew. She just didn’t want to see it. She needed him to be the villain, to justify turning her back on him when he begged her to join him.
Except, at that moment, Rey needed him to be something else; she needed the man she knew Ben could be.
“Will you…” she felt cruel saying the words after pushing him away for so long, “…come with me?”
His sharp intake of breath told Rey she’d surprised Ben as much as herself. She dared a glance in his direction. A muscle jerked in his strong jaw.
“Yes,” was all he said.
Together, Rey and Ben made the agonizing trek to Leia’s sleek, black coffin. In unison, they peered through the clear, glass top at the woman they loved. Even in death, Leia looked both elegant and powerful, royal to the last.
“I never wanted this,” Ben told Rey, his voice heavy with regret.
She could have pointed out that it was a ship from his fleet that had fired the killing blow, but the turmoil Rey felt through their bond held her tongue. Guilt beat at him. It wasn’t enough to garner forgiveness, but it was something.
“I feel as though the last flicker of light in the universe has gone out. I shouldn’t tell you that,” he admitted, “shouldn’t feel that, but it’s true.”
Ironic, that the one who had brough so much darkness to the galaxy could say such a thing, could feel such a thing, but his words were true. They – Rey, Ben, the Resistance – had gathered to say goodbye to more than just one person; they were saying goodbye to the brightest light in the galaxy. Their greatest hope.
What hope did they have without Leia? What did they have without hope? What hope did they ever really have? The First Order was too big, too powerful. They didn’t stand a chance. They would be-
Rey was falling, hard and fast, into an ocean of despair. As the first wave broke over her head, she struggled to stay afloat. Hope. There was no hope…
Then, a hand slid into hers, anchoring her in place. Rey closed her fingers around Ben’s larger, softer ones, and held on for dear life. She turned to give him a grateful look and was surprised to see a single tear slide down his cheek. Her heart broke all over again, this time for the man who couldn’t even attend his own mother’s funeral in person.
They were both so damned lost.
A least, for that one moment, they didn’t have to be alone. Tomorrow would be another story… No. Rey would take the comfort Ben offered. For now, she would take it and she would give it back in kind. Tomorrow…
Well, they would deal with that tomorrow.
As they stood there, clinging to one another like frightened children, there was movement inside Leia’s coffin. The Force swelled as, inn the ancient way of the Jedi, Leia’s spirit left to body to join the ones who’d come before, and the one’s who would come after.
Ben’s grip tightened. A sob caught in Rey’s throat. General, princess, mother, hero, leader, legend... Gone. They were on their own now. If they wanted light, they would have to make it themselves.
Rey lifted eyes full of unshed tears to look up at Ben, heedless of the many curious gazes she was getting from the other mourners. Unlike her, Ben wept openly, his expression more unguarded than she had ever seen it. There was something more than grief, remorse, and pain in his gaze – something that didn’t scare Rey the way it should have.
For a moment, she thought Ben would kiss her.
For a moment, she wanted him to.
But Ben didn’t kiss Rey. Instead, he lifted one corner of his lips in a small smile. Then, he disappeared, letting the Force pull him back to his present. Rey closed her hand into a fist, already missing his touch.
Would he come to her again, as he had so many nights before? Did she want him to? Did she… hope he would?
She smiled, even as tears streamed down her cheeks. No, hope was not dead. It burned like a tiny sun, deep in her heart. With one last glance at the now-empty coffin, Rey turned and left the marquee.