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Half in Shadow, Half Burned in Flame

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I.

i.

“Rey.” She prepares herself, knows exactly what he’s going to say before the words come out of his mouth. “Rey. You need to break up with him. He’s fucked up. It doesn’t matter that he’s your soulmate. You don’t deserve him. And he certainly doesn’t deserve you.”

-

Backtrack briefly: two years ago. Rey thinks it’s Finn.

How can it not be Finn?

Finn explodes into her life the way only soulmates can when he hails her Falcon and finally—finally—she’s leaving Jakku. She dreams about him too, in those dreams where Jakku’s a wasteland planet and she’s a wastrel living on it.

Who else could he be but her soulmate when they end up on the Millennium Falcon together like that?

He’s everything, she thinks, that a soulmate should be: funny, kind, caring, brave. He’s even handsome, something that she hadn’t dared let herself hope for because that would only end in disappointment if she wasn’t careful.

But it hadn’t been Finn.

Finn was wearing a jacket that belonged to someone else, and recognized Poe’s driving before the man in the driver’s seat was even visible. And Rey couldn’t even let herself be jealous. Finn deserved happiness. And she…

Well, she’d gotten this far on her own.

And she would find her soulmate. She would. She knew she would.

It would happen.

-

Rey’s sitting on the floor of Finn’s apartment.

Her hair is wet. Everything about her is wet.

It has been raining.

Her hair has come loose from the ties she usually keeps it in because her elastic bands are a little too stretched out to deal with the weight of her wet hair. She is wearing a sweatshirt that belongs to Finn—her t-shirt had been soaked through in the walk from where she’d parked her car three blocks away. For anyone but Finn, she’d have been embarrassed to show up with her tits so visible, but it’s Finn, and Finn is safety in a way that should be…But shoulds aren’t helpful right now.

Shoulds are the furthest thing from helpful.

Ben should not have done it.

Ben should have told her the truth.

Ben should have… should be… should not be…

She swallows.

-

Backtrack again: just thirty minutes this time. It is raining outside, and Rey is grabbing the key to the car she’d met Finn in. There’s rain on her face mixing with tears.

She looks in the rearview mirror. He’s standing in the doorway, watching the car go.

“Don’t follow me.”

“Rey—”

“Don’t you dare.”

“Please.”

She hadn’t stayed long enough to hear the rest of his words. She wanted to scream, she wanted to hit him, she wanted to—the way she dreamed once—slice his face open with a lightsaber. Her phone flashes when she rounds the corner and she sees his text message even though she didn’t want to.

Please drive carefully. The roads are slippery.

Chapter Text

ii.

 

Backtrack: six months. The beginning.

Rey doesn’t live in Jakku anymore. She hasn’t in a while, which can only be described as a good thing. Jakku is a dump and everyone knows it, and the only people who live there have to.

Rey stayed there longer than she should have. Hope that her parents would come back for her had locked her to the poverty stricken dump of a region—and then Finn had gotten in the back of her car and that had been that.

She doesn’t have a soulmate yet. And the dream version of her is unconcerned by that. The dream version of her is trying to learn her place in all this, and Rey…

Rey has a full time job for the first time in her life. It’s still driving, but it’s driving for a company, not to make ends meet with an app that doesn’t pay her enough for the amount of time she spends driving people from place to place. She has benefits and sick time, and everything, and the boss is a little disgusted by how eager she is to have a job, but scavengers from Jakku don’t end up with driving gigs at nice companies the way that Rey has.

“Just…drive, will you?” Han tells her whenever she gets a little too bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

So she does. She drives trucks across the country, seeing places she’d never thought she’d ever see, and listening to songs on the radio that change from region to region. After two months, she can afford rent on her own place, and not long after that she can get a new cell phone—one of the shiny new ones with voice commands. When she tells her phone to help her find the fastest routes, it makes her feel almost as powerful as she does in dreams.

The only thing she worries about when she’s on the road is if she’ll come back to find that Han’s dead. He isn’t dead now—the way he is in her dreams sometimes. But that doesn’t make her any less afraid. “Don’t take the dreams so seriously, kid,” he says. “They’re just dreams.”

Rey inhales sharply when he says that.

He’s the first person to say it to her. Everyone knows the dreams matter. Everyone knows that they can tell you so much about yourself, about others, about the life you will lead. And, most importantly, your soulmate. Rey’s wanted a soulmate ever since she learned that they happened—wanted one almost as much as she wanted her parents to come back for her.

“Soulmates, though…” Rey says and he rolls his eyes.

“Look, you’ve got enough of a brain in your head to know that all that airy fairy stuff is just airy fairy stuff.”

“Your wife would say otherwise,” Rey points out. She has never met Leia Organa, but she’s heard enough from Han to know that she’s speaking the truth.

“My wife has other virtues,” Han replies, “but don’t tell her I said that. She’ll think I’m sweet on her or something.” He makes to leave before turning around. “It wasn’t dreams that told me I was meant for Leia, ok? And Ben’s not going to kill me. So get that question out of your head too.”

Rey has not met Ben.

She is not sure she wants to.

She knows about him—everyone does, and whispers about him behind their hands.

He’s a contractor for the First Order, and had been the CO on a mission that had almost gotten Finn killed—had been the one to put Finn in that situation to begin with, had commanded him right into the line of fire. That alone was reason for Rey to hate the mere concept of him, and she’s glad to hear that his rank in the organization makes it…inconvenient for him to spend time with his family. “The First Order’s bullshit and Leia hates them. Of course they don’t speak frequently,” Poe had told her when she’d asked. Poe gets a black look on his face whenever anyone mentions Ben, and it says a lot to Rey right now that Finn’s too angry to say anything at all.

“He tortured me. What do you want from me?” Poe tells her drunkenly one night.

“What?”

“In the dreams. He tortured me. Though he works for the First Order so chances are if he got hold of me in the real world he’d torture me here too because we all know that they don’t give a shit about any kind of war crimes legislation so long as no one finds out.” Rey knows this is true. Every few months, it seems like someone is suing the First Order. What ever happens in those cases, no one ever really knows. Rey suspects the First Order pays bank in order to keep themselves out of a courtroom. “He’s a fucking asshole,” Poe is continuing heatedly, “Leia…” his voice trails away and he takes another swig of beer. “Leia deserved a better son than Ben.”

“Says the guy trying very hard to be her son,” Finn says dryly, and Poe elbows him.

“I’m not trying to be her son,” Poe said firmly. “Her son’s an—”

Asshole. A murdering snake. A soulless fiend.

Rey had had dreams of Ben before. She’d dreamed he’d murdered his father, dreamed he’d invaded her mind, dreamed she’d fought him in the snow, dreamed he’d nearly killed Finn.

She’d beaten him, though. That was the only good thing about him. That she was stronger and he was weaker.

-

Rey’s strong—but more importantly she’s quick. And that’s something that Han and Chewie see during a pickup she’s helping them make one day. Three goons out of nowhere, and Rey takes them down with a long pipe that’s in the loading bay—easy as pie.

“Do all kids from Jakku learn to fight like that?” Han asks her, raising his eyebrows.

“The ones that don’t have anyone to look after them,” Rey responds breathlessly. Han looks at her through grizzled grey eyebrows that are furrowed.

“This may be the wrong job for you,” he tells her.

Rey’s heart stops. She likes Han—more than likes, really. He more than anyone she’s met before offers her some sort of approving support. That he’d fire her over this, when she was protecting his cargo stung her right in that corner of her heart that hurt when she remembered the retreating license plate R893DZX. “But I’m a good driver—” she hates that her throat is thick and she can hear it, “and they didn’t get—”

“I’m not firing you, kid, settle down. I may know someone who’d be better for you to work for, though.”

-

Rey meets Luke Skywalker the night after she dreams of handing him his old lightsaber and he tosses it over his shoulder and marches away from her, peeved.

The Luke Skywalker sitting across from her in Han’s office is very different though. His hair and beard are trimmed, and he looks tired more than disillusioned.

“I think there’s something to her, Luke,” Han tells his brother-in-law. “She’s quick, and she can take people down fast.”

“There’s got to be more to someone than just muscle,” Luke says quietly, giving Han a significant look.

“She’s eager, ok? All…young and everything.”

“I wouldn’t let you down,” Rey tells Luke firmly, not even entirely sure what job Han is trying to push her towards, but it’s Luke Skywalker. She’s in a room with Luke Skywalker, the head of the Jedi Order. Even if he doesn’t hire her, it’s more than she’d ever dreamed of back in Jakku. “I’ll work harder than anyone—I swear it.”

“It’s not about the work,” Luke tells her, not unkindly. “All work’s hard. It’s about what it might do to you. It’s not just about being able to fight and hold your own. It’s about keeping the violence from breaking you.”

“Jakku didn’t break me. If that didn’t, nothing will.”

-

“You’re signing on with the Jedi?” Finn’s face is shining and he picks her up and twirls her around in delight. If Finn weren’t more determined to put his time with the First Order behind him, he might have applied for a spot there too. He has experience working as a military contractor, after all, and as far as Rey’s ever been able to tell the two organizations differ primarily through reputation. The Jedi Order is the nobler of the two—everyone says so. It is about keeping peace, maintaining safety, and more frequently than not, Jedi are hired as bodyguards. The First Order, though…they’ve actually been hired out as an army sometimes. Finn used to be one of their stormtroopers—boots on the ground, and low level at that. He’d quit after an assignment where too many of his peers had died—where Ben Solo had nearly gotten him killed.

Now, he and Poe work for Leia, and she can see in his eyes that he’s going to be living vicariously through her from here on out. “Let’s get this girl a drink!” Which is how she ends up much too drunk with Finn, Poe, Rose, Paige, and Jessika, stumbling through the streets of D’Qar, slurring her words and laughing a little too hard as they make their way into a karaoke bar.

Not a one of them is a singer, but after a certain point of inebriation no one cares about that. Finn and Poe have had enough that they’re super snuggly with one another the whole time, and Rey’s drunk enough where that flicker of loneliness burns a little brighter than usual.

Finn was the first person who made her not feel lonely.

But she wants what Finn has—a soulmate, someone who’ll love her no matter what, who she moves in time and tandem with, who is and will always be hers, who’ll never leave her—not ever. Finn can be ninety percent of those things.

But Finn has a soulmate of his own.

-

The only good thing to be said of alcohol is it means she doesn’t dream at all. Or if she does dream, it’s fever-like dreams, the dreams where the world is different colors and you’re not you and the story doesn’t make sense, the way people dream when their soulmates die.

-

“Are you sure?”

“Do I seem like the kind of person who’d ask if I didn’t mean it?” Han asks her over the phone.

“I know—it’s just…”

“You worked for me, you’re about to work for Luke, Leia’s curious about you.”

“I know, but it’s a birthday party.”

“You’ll hardly be the only person there. You’re friends with the Dameron kid, right? He’ll be there with his boyfriend as well. You’ll have people to talk to.”

“I don’t have anything nice to wear.” She is already staring at the open door of her closet. She has jeans and t-shirts aplenty, and a ratty old skirt she never wore. She’s never been one for dresses, and had never been the type to go out clubbing in shiny getup or anything. She can manage to look grungy in a cool way that made her feel like her, but that doesn’t seem appropriate to wear to Senator Organa’s birthday party.

“Leia won’t care about that. Just come, will you?”

It’s not a fancy affair—though they are at a nice restaurant high up in a building with a view of the whole city—which makes her relieved because her plain tan shirt and not too oil-stained jeans don’t stand out as much as she’d feared. Neither of the famous Skywalker twins are particularly into spending more money than is absolutely necessary, a great irony for the power that each wields. Rey had spent so much of her youth in such extreme poverty that the idea of being that rich and powerful and not having glittering golden champagne, tuxes, ballgowns, the like, at a birthday party feels strange.

But at least Han hadn’t been lying to her—not that she’d thought he had been. Lying’s the wrong word. Not gauging correctly how the circumstances would feel for her. People are all chatty, and Leia is delighted to meet her which makes her feel really nice, and no one gives her weird looks as makes her way through the crowd with an IPA, trying to find Finn.

(Maybe that’s the constant problem. She’s trying to find Finn in Ben. It’s strange how memory works, plays with your past based on what’s happening in your present. But we are starting from the beginning now. Rey does not know this yet.)

She stops short because he’s right there in the middle of her path, and unlike the rest of them, he doesn’t move. He’s watching her closely with sharp brown eyes, his dark hair falling across his forehead. He has a scar on his face, too—twin to the slice she’d made in the snow. Does he think of that when he looks in the mirror? Or does he remember whatever it was that actually gave him the scar in reality. She feels a shiver going up and down her spine at the thought.

She expects rage from him. Rage, and petulance, and probably some arrogance as well, because that’s what she’s seen of him from under his mask in the dreamworld. Ben Solo will recognize her quite as instantly as she will recognize him. She doesn’t expect the odd guardedness in his eyes as he looks at her.

“Are you going to move?” she asks him when he doesn’t. Rey is not short—indeed she’s always considered herself quite tall. But Ben dwarfs her, and his body is broad enough that she can’t easily slip around him in the crowd.

It takes him a moment, but he does wordlessly and she brushes past him. She doesn’t have a right to be angry that he’s there—it’s his mother’s birthday party. She’d spent over a year working for his dad and had never once met him, had only heard him mentioned on the rarest of occasions. She hadn’t expected him to be there, especially after what Poe had said about him working for the First Order and what that meant for his relationship with his family. She hadn’t expected him to be there because she remembers the way Han caressed his face after he’d sent the red hot blade of his saber through his father.

She thinks that that’s that, that, with a little more beer and a lot more time spent cuddled against Finn, she’ll forget that he’s there. Finn’s always made her feel like home, after all, the first real friend she’d ever had. Except that shiver she got down her spine won’t go away and it spreads a chill across her back to her arms and legs. She finds herself looking out at the door to a balcony that overlooks the park fifteen floors below. She gets to her feet, and goes to it and finds him standing out there, looking out over the city.

“You don’t want to be here,” she says. He doesn’t look around. She sees him raise the bottle he’s holding to his lips.

“Not particularly,” he responds.

“But you’re here.”

“I am.”

“For your mother?”

He doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t know why she’s bothering, really. Except that there’s something…

“I feel it too,” he says quietly, and half turns his head to look at her over his shoulder.

“Feel what?” Her throat is dry again. Adrenaline? Hatred? She’d beaten him, after all, left him for dead…

“It,” he replies and looks back out over the park. “It.”

She doesn’t know what to say to that.

(Perhaps she is afraid to admit it to herself. This has always been her problem. But again, we must pretend not to know what we know already.)

Chapter Text

iii.

Can you see my surroundings?”

“You’re going to pay for what you did.”

“I can’t see yours. Just you.”

-

Ah. Recognition.

That moment of understanding, when hindsight kicks in and Rey clutches her pillow and screams into it.

She wants a soulmate.

She doesn’t want Solo.

She doesn’t want Kylo Ren.

“I feel it too,” he’d told her. Had that been the shiver down her spine, that first moment of seeing him? People spoke of odd chills when they met their soulmate for the first time, but that hadn’t been a chill. She hadn’t been cold. That had been something else.

Finn had burst into her life on Jakku like no one else could have, and they’d stolen a starship together and flown off to adventure and greatness.

And Ben…Kylo…whatever he was supposed to be called…

There was no way that Kylo Ren appearing in visions before her in the dreamworld, talking to her, trying to diagnose why they could talk to one another from millions of lightyears away when the sheer power of what was happening should have been enough to kill her…there was no way that didn’t mean soulmate.

But she doesn’t want to believe it. So she texts Finn.

How do you know when someone’s your soulmate?

How did you know it was Poe?

Not in the dreamworld. In reality.

Did you find him??

Just…just tell me.

What’s wrong?

Please Finn.

I don’t know…I just sort of knew. I had this shiver down my spine, and then the dreams just fell into place.

Rey?

Rey what’s wrong?

Did you find him?

Rey doesn’t know what to say. She doesn’t want to put it into words.

-

It’s not the best thing to go into a new job feeling. She’s barely paying attention during the HR orientation session—when they tell her the resources and benefits of working on the Jedi team. She pays a little more attention during the security setup, where they tell her that under no circumstances is she to do work on her personal computer—not that Rey has one—and that her activity on her work laptop will be monitored. When she’s assigned to missions, she’ll be given a work phone to use and on no accounts should she put personal contacts on there. She has to wear a badge at all time, and it’s common procedure to make everyone badge through a door because infiltration can have deadly ramifications.

They take a picture of her for her badge—she looks remarkably dazed during it—and shakes herself. She needs to get her act together.

Ben Solo is not her soulmate.

She finds herself clinging to the words his father had groused at her. “They’re just dreams.”

But she’d felt that shiver up her back.

Maybe it had just been cold in that room. There’d been a lot of people—maybe they’d just been blasting the air conditioning. Except she hadn’t been cold

And he’d walked these halls, hadn’t he? Hadn’t he worked for the Jedi Order before working for the First Order? Wasn’t that a thing?

Luckily for her, she spends the rest of the day in training, with a stern looking Lanai who keeps taking notes on a clipboard as Rey is put through all sorts of paces. She’s strong, she’s fast, she’s good with a staff—but a blaster would be better, and she’s not used to the kickback the weapon gives and doesn’t aim it as good as she could.

She’s nursing a sore shoulder by the time she sits down in another HR meeting that’s running through the history of the Order, how it came to be, how it nearly went bankrupt during the Period of the Shaken Republic when increasingly members of the order were used as soldiers rather than peacekeepers, but how Obi Wan Kenobi and Luke had managed to dust it off and try to bring what its essential core had been. The trainer ran through the code of conduct, the team culture, the Order’s values—Peace, Knowledge, Serenity, Harmony—before, at last talking about how the Order did the work it did.

She doesn’t see Luke that first day, but that’s ok. It might have distracted her to see him, after the dreams.

She doesn’t have time to look at her phone while she’d been on site, which is a blessing because she had about ten messages from Finn when she finally is in the elevator down to her car.

Rey, you’re freaking me out.

I hope you’re not answering your texts because you’re at work.

Good luck on your first day!

I hope it goes well.

No but seriously, please let me know what’s wrong.

Please—I’m worried.

Reyyyyyyyyy

And a text from a phone number she did not recognize.

It is what you think it is.

Fear creeps up her throat. She knows exactly who sent the text—knows it down in her soul.

How did you get my number?

He begins typing immediately.

My dad doesn’t know shit about cyber security. I hacked his account.

Of course you did.

We should meet. Talk.

She thinks about how he almost got Finn killed. Not Kylo Ren, not the dreamworld’s dark knight—he, Ben Solo, had nearly gotten her best friend killed and she would never have met him otherwise and would still be in Jakku driving for Falcon and scavenging used car parts to make ends meet.

And what if I don’t want to?

He doesn’t reply right away, but she can see the read receipt on the message. She feels ill, sees his face as he’s got her strapped to a chair, invading her mind.

She calls Finn.

“What’s going on?” are the first words out of his mouth. She wishes he were there with her, wishes she could wrap her arms around him. This is not what she wants. She wants someone like Finn, someone brave, and kind, and funny, who instead of sending her cryptic messages and hacking his father’s accounts to get her contact information.

“I think Ben Solo’s my soulmate, Finn.”

Finn doesn’t say anything.

Then,

“Shit.”

-

She waits until she’s home to read the text that he sent as a reply.

I’m not sure want has anything to do with this at the moment. I don’t particularly want this either.

That’s comforting.

Sarcasm, I’m assuming.

However could you tell?

Finn comes knocking on her door by seven pm, looking wrecked. “How do you know?” he asks her. He’s got a pizza with him, and she’s relieved he didn’t bring Poe along. She likes Poe. She thinks Poe is wonderful for Finn, and he’s warm and funny, determined, loves his BB unit—all the things that she responds well to. (The irony, even then, is not lost on her, that she has been landed with someone who is neither warm nor funny.)

“I felt that shiver. The one you mentioned this morning,” she says as she grabs a slice of the pizza. He’s loaded it with toppings and it’s gotten a bit soggy, but she doesn’t care. She’s never been much of a picky eater. Comes from sometimes getting your meals from the bottom of a dumpster. “Up and down my spine for like an hour. And he said something at the party last night.”

“He was at the party last night?” Finn asks sharply. “I didn’t see him.” Privately, Rey knows this is a good thing. If Ben Solo is anything like the dreamworld’s version of him, there didn’t need to be a fight in the middle of Leia Organa’s birthday party between him and Finn—and she knows Finn well enough to know he wouldn’t have backed down from that fight.

“It didn’t seem like he wanted to be there…to be seen…” she says slowly. “But he said something. And then last night…” she swallows. (How hard it is to say the words. To acknowledge the truth she knows in her gut. See? Stubbornness, all the way to her core.) “Last night, I had a dream about him. Just him and me. And…and I just knew.”

She had fired at him with a blaster. He’d tried to control her again. Then the curiosity.

Finn wraps his arms around her, holds her close, and she squeezes him as tightly as she can. “I won’t let him hurt you,” Finn says fiercely.

I won’t let him hurt me. I’ll kick his ass if he tries.”

“Not like that,” Finn says quietly and he pulls away and looks at her, his face inches from hers. Once she might have thought that meant he’d kiss her, but it’s Finn, and it’s not like that. “And I say that as someone who has witnessed his tendency to get violent at work sometimes. There are ways to hurt people worse than just slicing their back open with a lightsaber.”

He killed Han. That had hurt more than she really knew how to understand. Han isn’t her father, after all.

Finn is right—there are ways he could hurt her far worse than physically. Ways he already had, before she’d even met him.

She looks down at her phone. He’s my soulmate, though. Aren’t I…supposed to give him a chance?

I just started a new job so this week won’t work. If I’m alive this weekend, let’s get coffee or something.

This isn’t me saying I like you, or will ever like you.

Works for me.

-

Work is exhausting.

The first month on the job will consist primarily of combat training. The stern faced Lanai who had taken notes about her that first day had decided that Rey wasn’t quite strong enough and needed remedial work, which frustrates her tremendously. Rey is not weak, but apparently driving for a living meant that the muscles she had weren’t quite what the Jedi Order wanted them to be. She begins her training at eight in the morning every morning, and works for four hours until lunch, at which point she is given a thirty minute break to eat quickly and prepare herself for the afternoon, where she sits in on tactical meetings and case reviews.

She likes these a lot. They are interesting—going through old extractions and peacekeeping missions, some of which date back to before even Luke was alive. It’s what makes the whole experience feel real for her, because it’s new. Building her muscles up, she’d learned the pain that came with that when she was a kid. But whatever she’d learned of the Jedi Order on the streets…it’s nothing like sitting there in that room and actually going into what happened in Endor, or in Jakku before she’d been born.

“Rey,” Luke calls to her quietly on Thursday as she’s putting on her windbreaker and getting ready to head home. Her legs are killing her and she can actually feel the muscle growth from her work on the past two days, which is painfully gratifying. She doesn’t flinch as she sits down in the chair opposite the Jedi master.

“Master Skywalker,” she says at once, but he waves a hand at her, cutting her off.

“Luke is fine,” he says. He gives her a beady stare then heaves a sigh. “You’re doing ok. That’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”

Rey waits, her hands resting on her knees, looking up at him eagerly. He’s a legend, and she can’t help but feel the excitement in her heart as she looks at him. “You’re eager,” he tells her. “I remember being eager too, when I was your age. Just…take it easy a bit.”

Rey frowns. “Take it easy?”

“Don’t let it consume you right away. It’s a heavy job, and there’s a lot we’ll be easing you into. You don’t have any experience in the industry, and it’s more than just fighting. I don’t want you getting impatient, or hotheaded.” He gives her a wry smile. “Like I was at your age.” He is watching her, and when he sees that the frown doesn’t go away, he sighs, and his face twists into a sadder expression. “The last time I met someone with your… vigor this early on—vigor and talent, I should say; a lot of kids come through these doors with vigor—it was my nephew, Ben. And that didn’t end so well.”

Rey feels a shiver down her spine again, and it’s like her cell phone is burning in her pocket. She likes not being able to think about…the whole situation with Ben Solo during work hours. But suddenly, she’s aware that he probably sat in this very chair, talking with his uncle, sat in the conference rooms going over tactical plans and analyses, trained under the watchful eyes of the Lanai. It was strange to think of.

“What happened?” she hears herself ask. “With Ben, I mean.”

Luke inhales slowly, and the expression on his face is guarded. “There was…a mission he was assigned to. And there was a bad order given, and he almost died.” Rey inhales sharply. “He quit when he got out of the hospital. I…I can’t say I blame him. I wish he hadn’t. I don’t think Snoke’s been good for him, but you try telling him that and…” Luke sighs and gives her a we’re done talking about this sort of smile.

There’s something in his voice that Rey doesn’t understand, but before she can ask about it he waves her away. “Anyway, take it easy. I don’t want you chewed up and spat out. You’ve got a lot of potential in you.”

-

“Murderous snake. You’re too late. You lost. I found Skywalker.”

“Did he tell you what happened? The night I destroyed his temple. Did he tell you why?”

“I know everything I need to know about you.”

“You do? No. You don’t. You have that look in your eyes. From the forest—when you called me a monster.”

“You are a monster.”

“Yes I am.”

-

On Saturday, she wakes up to a text message from him that came in at 3:30 in the morning.

So. Are you alive, then?

She tries moving her legs. They’re not thrilled but they’ll move if she makes them. And her last dream was, well, confusing. Intriguing. She doesn’t know.

Yeah. I’m alive.

Lunch? There’s a good Rylothan place that just opened downtown.

Unless you’d prefer something else.

I’ll eat whatever.

Noon?

It’s 10:30—enough time for her to shower and hopefully find parking.

Sure.

She still hasn’t saved his number in her phone. She can’t quite bring herself to.

She showers, pulls her hair back into a simple ponytail, dresses in a plain grey shirt and texts Finn.

I’m going to have lunch with him.

Please fake an emergency if I haven’t contacted you by 1:30.

Of course. Let me know how it goes.

-

Ben Solo arrives at precisely noon and moves to the table where Rey is sitting, staring at her phone. He’s wearing all black and his hair is damp, as though he had also just showered. He doesn’t greet her when he sits, and he doesn’t look at the menu either. He just stares at her with those dark brown eyes of his, watching her closely.

“One of us is going to have to speak at some point,” she says dryly, and he shrugs.

“I guess that’s how this goes.” But he doesn’t say more than that. He’s still watching her with a completely unreadable expression. She rolls her eyes.

“So—is this really what this is, then? You and me?”

“I don’t see what else it could be,” he replies evenly. “I don’t know of anyone else who has a Force sponsored connection with someone in the dreamworld. And I got that shiver when I saw you the other night.”

“And it wasn’t a fever?” He gives her a look. She sighs. “I guess it was too much to hope for,” she mutters.

He takes a deep breath, then leans forward. “For what it’s worth,” he says quietly. “I don’t think Snoke’s going to ever tell me to kill my father.”

She glares. “Because I don’t suppose the concept of not killing him ever crossed your mind. Or was it just—do exactly what your Sith Master tells you and leave it at that? No critical thinking in there? Only a soldier following orders.”

His jaw clenches and his eyes harden and he’s about to say something when a Twi’lek comes over, a broad smile on her face. “Can I get you anything to drink? Or are you ready to order?”

“Water’s fine for me,” Ben says without looking at her. The waitress turns to Rey.

“Yeah, same,” she says.

“We’re still working on the menu,” Ben tells the waitress, looking up at her now.

“Take your time. I’ll be back in a bit with your water.” And she’s gone.

“Let me get this straight,” Ben says the moment she’s out of earshot. “You’re hating me in the here and now for something in the dreamworld?”

“You make it sound like killing your dad doesn’t matter,” she hisses back at him.

His brows twitch for a moment, and his lips curl into a disbelieving smile. “And how is that different from ‘no critical thinking’ and ‘only a soldier following orders?’” Rey gapes at him.

Maybe it was something in the family. Han didn’t set store by the dreamworld, and Ben didn’t seem to either. Like father, like son?

“You don’t know me,” he says. “You don’t know anything about me—just like the only thing I know about you is what I’ve dreamed of you, and I don’t know what your dreams have been like lately, but mine have been…”

Confusing.

That Force connection. The way he talked to her in the most recent one, as if amused by her, as if trying to convince her of something…as if she mattered enough to convince of something.

“What happened?” she asks, “The night you destroyed the temple?”

He snorts. “And spoil the juicy drama you’ll learn about at some point soon? I don’t think so. Wouldn’t you rather know about the person sitting in front of you?”

Not really, Rey almost says, but she doesn’t.

“What’s to know? You’re Leia Organa and Han Solo’s son. You used to work for the Jedi Order, now you work for the First Order. You didn’t want to be at your mother’s birthday party, but you came anyway.” She rattled them off, and then, for good measure, “You were the CO on a mission that almost got my best friend killed.”

She catches flash of something she can’t quite identify in his eyes and he shifts in the chair across the table, his eyes boring into her as she continues.

“It’s not just you trying to kill him on Starkiller, it’s him almost dying on your command in this life. Or was that more of you just following orders from higher ups?”

He leans back in his seat. He clearly hadn’t been expecting that, which gives her a grim sense of victory.

“Do you want me to deny it?” He asks at last, his voice a little too dry, and Rey feels herself growling angrily at him. He retreats. “I’m not going to. I take responsibility for what happened to your friend, to the ten men that died.”

“On your command,” Rey added angrily.

“On my command.” His voice was quiet, his eyes were hard but Rey thought she saw the same sort of honesty there she’d seen in her dreams the night before when she’d called him a monster. Yes. I am.

Why was the universe doing this to her? Why did it have to be Ben Solo?

The waitress is back. “Have you decided?”

“Haven’t really looked,” Ben says, giving her an apologetic look. Oddly polite, Rey thinks, despite herself. She’s used to rage, and aloofness, and command. Not some guy sitting in a restaurant, apologetic that the waitress has come by twice and they haven’t ordered yet.

She feels suddenly guilty. She’s not sitting with Kylo Ren. She’s sitting with Ben Solo. Or at least…She’s sitting with a version of Ben Solo who is not also Kylo Ren. Or is he? Maybe he has a code name in the First Order, for all she knows. Finn had had one, but he hates talking about it. He almost got Finn killed, Rey reminds herself, trying to kick her guilt out of the way. But it doesn’t quite work. She wishes it would, wants to be angry with him, but the honest lack of denial had caught her off-guard more than she had expected it to. Oddly, it reminds her of her conversation with Luke earlier that week—when he’d mentioned a bad order that had almost gotten Ben killed.

That’s a confusing thought that she also tries to brush away.

“What’s good here?” she asks him. “I’ve never had Rylothan food.”

“Do you like spice?”

“I’ll eat anything.”

“If you like spice, I’d get the Scutta Fish. If you don’t like spice get the Jabbirl.”

“Thanks.”

She closes the menu, and looks up at him. He’s still watching her, his eyes guarded again. “Can you blame me? You tried to murder me,” she says, deciding it’s easier to turn the conversation away from her own confusion.

“And you tried to murder me,” he retorts. “We both tried to murder each other.”

“The stuff of soulmates,” she says rolling her eyes.

“You didn’t grow up with my parents,” his voice equally dry.

She frowns. “What does that mean.”

“If there’s not a threat of murder at least once a week, the marriage is falling apart,” Ben says. “At least, that’s what Lando always said when I was a kid.”

“But they never actually tried to kill each other did they?”

“No. I suspect not. I do remember my mother saying that my father almost got them both killed though.”

“Not the same. We actually were fighting to the death.”

“Something to tell the grandkids, I guess.”

Rey feels her face get hot and the words that had been on her lips withered and died there.

“I see closed menus. That’s a good sign!” The waitress is back, and Ben smiles up at her.

“I’ll have the Pale Syrza. Seared,” he says, handing her the menu. She repeats it back to him and turns to Rey.

Rey looks back at Ben. “The spicy one,” she tells him, having forgotten completely what it was called.

Ben orders it for her, and the waitress is gone.

She’d been planning to berate him for the comment, but too much time had passed. Instead she scrambles and lands on what, in retrospect, might not be the best conversation choice. “Your parents fought a lot?”

Ben shrugs. “They’ve chilled out in the past few years. But yeah. When I was a kid, they fought a lot. There was always something they were bickering about.” He takes a sip of his water. “As it turns out, war heroes and princesses can marry for love and not live happily ever after.”

“Makes for a less fun story.”

“Something not to tell the grandkids.”

She narrows her eyes at him. “That’s a really presumptuous comment, given that I haven’t actually decided if I’m ever going to see you again.”

“You and I both know you will,” he said. “We’re soulmates, Rey. Get used to it. I’m trying to.”

“And what have I done to you?”

He blinks at her incredulously and points to the scar on his face.

“That you didn’t deserve?”

“And if I don’t think I deserved any of it?” There was a challenge there—it reminded her too much of the dream. Did he tell you what happened?

“Well, you aren’t telling me that because you don’t want to ruin the drama, remember?”

He snorts. “So did your parents fight, then?” The air goes out of her lungs at the question, but he keeps going—which, naturally, makes it worse. “Or were they all lovey-dovey everything’s coming up roses which is why you’re horrified to be matched with a monster like me?”

“I never knew my parents,” she says quietly and his eyebrows fly up. “Or at least—not when I was old enough to remember them.” She remembers them driving away, running after them as long as her little legs could run, hoping for so long that they’d be back, memorizing R893DZX in case she ever saw it again on the streets of Jakku.

“Shit,” Ben says, leaning forward. “I…I didn’t know.”

She shrugged. “Hasn’t come up before in any way, has it?” She remembers him going into her mind in the dreamworld, but he clearly hadn’t thought it had translated over to reality.

“Do you know what happened to them?”

“Other than them abandoning me—no. I spent years waiting for them and they just…never came back.” There’s a lump in her throat.

He doesn’t say anything. It’s clear from his face that he doesn’t know what to say to that. Part of her’s proud of that—that she managed to disarm him just like that. Part of her wants him to say something. Isn’t that what soulmates are supposed to do? To know what to say when you’re hurting?

Finn would know what to say.

This is why he was going to be a terrible soulmate. He doesn’t have a lick of empathy in him.

Then—

“You’re not worthless. Whatever they did, whatever reasons they had for it—you’re not.”

And he even looks like he means it.

-

“I don’t know, Finn. It was confusing. It will probably always be confusing.”

“What’s confusing about it?” Finn asks stubbornly. “I know the guy, Rey. There’s not much that’s confusing about him.”

“Well for one thing, he’s my soulmate.”

“You’re sure of it?”

She knows. She just knows. I feel it too, he’d said. I don’t know of anyone else who has a Force sponsored connection with someone in the dreamworld. It put the nail in that coffin. So she nods, and Finn sighs, and leans his head against her shoulder.

“Does this mean we have to be nice to him?” he whines.

“No,” Rey says firmly. “It means he has to be nice to you.”

“That’s some consolation,” Finn snorts humorlessly.

“But not for a while. I’m…It’s gonna be a while I think before we start….I don’t know. I need to spend time with him just the two of us before integrating him into my larger life.”

“I don’t know if that worries me or not,” Finn says.

“Because you think he’ll hurt me,” Rey completes his thought.

“Because I don’t trust him, and because it’s a classic way to abuse someone, isolating them from their friends.”

“I didn’t say I’d stop seeing you,” Rey retorts. “Nothing could stop me. Not even Kylo Ren.”

“Because with your new job and your new soulmate, you’ll have so much time for us.”

“You had time for me,” she points out, and Finn pauses. “I’m still going to be me. I’m not going to let him change me just because the universe has a dark sense of humor. So if that means I want to go karaoke-ing with you, I’m going to go karaoke-ing with you.”

“And if Darth Tantrum doesn’t like karaoke?”

“Then he can stay home,” Rey says. “I’m not his babysitter, I’m not his housewife. If we’re soulmates, he’s going to have to respect my choices.”

“And you have to respect his?”

She gives him a look, and he gives her one right back. “I’m gonna keep doing this,” he says stubbornly. “Because I love you, Rey, and I’m not gonna see him do what he does best and change you—either by force or…whatever the fuck—I don’t know. He sits with Snoke and that guy’s one sneaky motherfucker. Don’t pretend you don’t follow the shit that the First Order gets up to in the news—and that’s not even half of the shit that goes down behind their walls. They’re rotten to the core, and Solo’s right in the thick of it. I’m never not going to be critical, even if you’re old and grey and have nine kids with the guy.”

“I’m not going to have nine kids with the guy,” she grumbles at Finn. Something to tell the grandkids, I guess.

“Good, because if anyone doesn’t need their genetics passed on, it’s Ben Solo.”

Rey elbows Finn. “I don’t think the problems with him are genetic. He’s got good genetics, I’d say.”

“Oh come one, I’m joking here,” Finn says, rolling his eyes. “I don’t need to hear you saying he’s hot or whatever.”

“I’m not saying he’s hot,” Rey begins, but immediately she’s thinking of the way his dark hair falls into his face, the way he moves like someone who’s made of muscle. Even his height, how he made her feel small when she’s above the average height for a woman, was something that pleased her. “Just that the stuff that makes him…him. The anger, the rudeness, the…”

“Assholery.”

“Assholery. Fine. That isn’t genetic. Nature versus nurture, and he got that from nurture.” He’d said his parents argued all the time when he was a kid. That wasn’t how she’d seen Han and Leia, but he also said they’d chilled out as they’d gotten older.

“So he shouldn’t be the one to nurture your nine children.”

“Because I won’t be part of the picture if we have nine of them?”

“If there are nine of them he’s bound to get his claws into at least one and make it a mini-him.”

“You’re getting ridiculous.”

“Laugh to keep from crying?”

She turns her head to look at him. He’s still resting his head on her shoulder, and she hugs him tightly. “Don’t cry over it. Not yet, anyway. I’m…” She doesn’t know how to finish that sentence, though. So she cops out. “I’m me. I always will be.” (Some assertions are easier to make than others. Rey will remember this one, though.)

-

If her and Finn’s friendship is the sort where they text dumb thoughts to each other over the course of the day, the chat window with Ben Solo on her phone remains silent for most of the week. Work keeps her exhausted and she ends up staying late doing some additional case review, largely, because she’s interested and because, no matter how hard she pretends that’s not the case, she’ll always feel a little bit like an imposter—a girl who didn’t even go to school now working for the Jedi Order. Surely they should be getting people who are better than her, right? She doesn’t have more dreams of him—doesn’t have more dreams at all.

When Friday rolls around again, she texts him, though. She feels like she should. He is her soulmate, and she hadn’t come away from their lunch a week ago feeling as though she’d rather kill him than see him again, so that had to mean something, right?

Are you up to anything this weekend?

She doesn’t get a reply right away. It’s lunchtime, and she goes to the mess and sits on her own, scrolling through a set of memes that Finn had sent her. But the notification bubble for a new text flashes across the top of her phone and she clicks onto it.

It’s been a busy week. It might be my turn to see how I’m doing tomorrow.

Right.

Yeah, let me know.

Sorry.

Unless you’re interested in coming over and binging Knights of the Old Republic with me.

You watch Knights of the Old Republic?

When I’m tired and have time. Call it nostalgia. It’s a bullshit show.

I’ve never actually seen it.

For real?

I did not have a tv growing up.

Oh.

Right.

Sorry.

He doesn’t say anything else but when she gets into her car again at the end of the day, there’s a text from him.

If you want to come over tomorrow and watch it, I’ll text you when I get up.

Knowing that Finn would probably get anxious about her actively going into his house on her own, Rey sighs, and says,

Sure.

-

Up.

Do you want to tell me where you live, or am I supposed to divine it?

Oh. Right.

He texts her his address, and Rey gets dressed, grabs a raincoat because it’s raining outside, and drives thirty minutes to get to the sort of neighborhood she’d only ever dreamed existed growing up. It’s all brownstone townhouses as far as the eye could see, and Rey would have thought that at each house would have a different apartment on each floor, but when she parks her car in front of the address he sent and goes to knock on the door, there’s only one doorbell. Well, he is the son of a princess, she thinks to herself as she rings the doorbell.

She hears a buzzer and pushes her way inside, shedding her raincoat and hanging it on a coatrack by the door, then kicking off her shoes for good measure so she doesn’t track wet across the hardwood floors.

She sees no sign of him and rolls her eyes.

Where do I go?

Sorry. Getting out of the shower. Be right down.

And she hears him moving upstairs—quick, heavy footsteps that carry him through the hallway overhead and a moment later he is descending the stairs, tugging a shirt over his head with just enough time for Rey to catch a glimpse of the muscles rippling on his abdomen. Oh.

“Sorry,” he mumbles when he is standing there over her. “Shower took longer than I had planned.”

“They do that.”

“Have you eaten?”

“I can always eat.” It comes from growing up hungry.

He turns and leads her into the kitchen and opens his fridge.

“I probably should have waited to see if I actually had food before offering you anything,” he says. “I don’t seem to have food. I was out of town for a lot of this week.” He glances back over his shoulder and says, “We could order something, though,” at the same time that Rey suggests, “We could go to the grocery store.”

He blinks at her. “Yeah. Grocery store then.”

They put on shoes, and raincoats and he tucks a wallet into his back pocket and grabs the keys to his car and a they head out together.

“You drive that?” she gapes as he unlocks the sleek black thing parked right in front of hers.

“Yeah,” he says. “I don’t get much from my dad, but driving’s one of them. Driving’s probably it, really.”

Rey slides into the passenger seat. The gearshift has seven gears, and the engine is so quiet when he turns it on—sounding more like a purring cat than the angry tiger her old car sounds like. She listens to it as he shifts the car into first and pulls out and shifts to second, to third, to fourth.

“What’s your clutch like?” she asks.

“It’s good,” he says.

“Is it forgiving?” she asks.

He snorts. “Not really. You have to be precise with it. You drive manual?”

“Yeah. Manual cars are less likely to get stolen in Jakku,” she says.

“That so?”

“Yeah,” she says. “Most of the people I knew didn’t have the patience to learn it, so they couldn’t well steal manual transmission cars. Daree’s cars were stolen six times, but mine never was. The wheels at one point, and I never bothered replacing the stereo system once someone got it, but the heavier hitting parts?”

“Yours was the rust bucket in front of my place?” So he’d noticed.

“Yeah.”

“There might have been other reasons no one stole it.”

Rey gives him a look and decides to go in for it. “The engine is in peak condition, but you need a proper extractor to get it out, which means driving it to the extractor. Because it kept not getting stolen, I was able to replace a lot of the parts in it too, which should also have had vultures circling around it, but they didn’t. It was the transmission that kept them away. The shell’s rough. But the shell’s not what makes the car good to drive. It’s just the surface. Too many cars have a nice shell but are crap to drive.”

“How many cars have you driven?”

“Enough,” she says.

“Did you jack cars in Jakku?” She can’t tell if he’s teasing or not.

“No,” she replies hotly. “But that doesn’t mean I didn’t get to drive other cars. I used to help out in a car shop sometimes. I’m good with a wrench.”

They’re at a red light, and he sticks the car in neutral. “So is that what you do for my dad? Fix his cars and trucks?”

“I don’t work for your dad anymore,” she says and she watches his face twitch in what looks like relief. “I work for your uncle now.”

His hands tighten on the wheel and the light turns green. He shifts into first with a forceful precision and they’re in fourth gear again before he says. “You work for Skywalker. For the Jedi?”

“I do.”

“Since when.”

“Since last Monday.”

“Oh.” He pauses. “You shouldn’t.”

“Why—because you don’t like it?”

“Did he tell you why I quit?”

“Yeah—a mission where you nearly died.”

“That’s what he said?”

“That wasn’t what it was?”

“You should ask him. You won’t believe me.”

“Try me,” she says, glaring at him.

“Legally, I can’t,” he pivots. “As part of my resignation, I signed an NDA. And hating my uncle means I don’t particularly want to be dragged to court and shell out thousands of credits to an order that almost got me killed, thanks. But go on and ask him again.”

The grocery store is full of families doing their weekend shopping, and Rey is acutely aware as they wend their way through the aisles that they look like a young couple here to fill up their kitchen. Well, we’re soulmates, she tells herself for the nineteenth time that day as if hoping that’ll make it easier.

It doesn’t.

Ben fills the cart with random things as they pass through the aisles—pastas and canned vegetables and some dairy products. “Do you want anything in particular?”

“I’ll eat anything,” she replies, because it’s true. It’s standard.

“Yes, but what do you want?”

Rey looks at the cart. It’s mostly food that will store well if he’s out of town or doesn’t cook for himself except every once in a blue moon. Given how quickly he’d offered to get take out, she wouldn’t be surprised if he rarely cooked for himself. He looked as though he could certainly afford to get takeout whenever he wanted.

It’s a nicer store than any she’s ever been in—probably because they’re in a neighborhood where people with lots of money live. Rey turns and heads back to the produce section, where she finds a pile of starblossom fruit. She takes six of them and puts them in a plastic bag and places them gently at the top of his cart.

“Starblossom?” he asks her, and she can’t read his voice.

“Yeah.”

“Do they have a lot of it in Jakku?”

She shakes her head. “I only had it once, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten.”

His lips twitch. “If you ever want to get in good with my mother, you tell her that. She inhales them. She had a starblossom tree in her backyard growing up.” Rey blinks up at him. “They come from Alderaan, where my mom grew up,” he adds by way of explanation.

“Oh.”

She tries to imagine what it would be like having them growing in her backyard. That would require a backyard, for one thing. She wonders what her mother’s favorite fruit was—or if her mother liked fruit. Ben adds some berries to the cart and then looks down. “We set?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

The line at the checkout is long, and Rey watches the people waiting. They all seem so happy—parents bending over their children, wrestling candy bars that had been snuck from the shelves out of their hands. She watched the nearest mother, a young woman with dark skin like Finn’s patiently answering her tiny son’s questions about the magazines that were on the stand in front of them. She couldn’t remember if her mother had ever taken her grocery shopping. Had Leia taken Ben?

Ben pays for the groceries and they carry them out to his car. It’s such a nice car and Rey can’t help herself. “Can I try driving it?”

He looks at her sharply, and she sees him weighing several thoughts. Then he tosses her the keys and rounds the front of the car to sit in the passenger side. “Try not to grind the clutch too hard,” he says as she adjusts his mirrors and his seat. His legs are much longer than hers and she can’t reach the pedals at all until she’s scooted the chair much further forward. She turns the car on and pumps the clutch get a feel for it. Then she glances over her shoulder and puts it into reverse.

“There’s a backup cam,” he tells her as her eyes shoot around the parking lot.

“I get a better sense of who’s coming this way.” When she’s pulled out of the spot, she shifts to first and the engine revs slightly because his gas pedal is much more sensitive than hers but the car doesn’t jerk forward uncomfortably which makes her breathe a little more easily. His clutch is, as he had warned her, precise and unforgiving, but that almost makes it more fun, she thinks as she pulls out onto the road and shifts into higher gears.

“Left up here,” he tells her, and Rey signals as the light turns red.

She looks at him out of the corner of her eye. He’s sitting there tensely, his hands clenched on his knees.

“I’m not going to crash your car,” she tells him.

“I know.”

“So you can relax.”

He gives her a look, but doesn’t relax. If anything, he seems to get more tense. “It’s green,” he tells her, and her muscle memory takes over and she stalls the car trying to shift it into first again.

“Shit,” she mutters, turning the car off and on again as people honk behind her. She doesn’t stall out this time, and can’t bring herself to cast a sidelong glance at Ben. She can see him lean forward slightly in his seat.

“Well?” he asks her after she’s parked in front of his house and given him back his keys.

“Well what?”

“Did it live up to your expectations?”

“Your clutch is stubborn,” she tells him.

“I wasn’t pretending it wasn’t.”

“No,” she agrees. “But the gearshift makes up for it. It’s so smooth.” Ben half smiles in a way that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “What are the higher gears like? I’ve never driven something with more than five.”

“We’ll have to take it out sometime,” he says. “Ideally after midnight outside of the city. Unless you feel like going on a roadtrip somewhere.”

“Does it have a kick?” she asks excitedly. She’s driven fast before, but something can tell her that Ben’s car can move when it’s in a high gear and she wants to try.

“The best kick,” he says and the smile reaches his eyes now. He unlocks the door to his apartment.

They spend the rest of the time unpacking groceries talking about his car again, and by the time they’re done Rey is actually hungry, and she brings the bag of starblossoms into his living room where he has an obscenely large television.

“What do you know about this show?” he asks her.

“Nothing,” Rey says.

“That’s probably for the best,” he says, turning the TV on and navigating to the streaming app. Then he settles down on the couch about an arm’s length away from her and hits play.

-

Rey wakes up to the sound of lightsaber battles, and it takes her a moment to realize that she’s still at Ben’s, and he’s still sitting there next to her, watching television. She’d made it through a good six hours, she thinks—maybe seven. They’d eaten again at some point, and the show was just as dumb as Ben had promised her it would be. If she’d been watching with Finn, there would have been chatter the whole time, the playful making-fun-of the show that would have had her laughing endlessly. She and Ben had watched in near silence, except at the most cringeworthy moments when he’d look at her almost apologetically. “It gets a little better in later seasons,” he tells her, though his voice makes it sound as though he’s not sure that he believes it.

“I’m enjoying it,” she tells him. It’s not wholly a lie. It’s really terribly written, but there’s something compelling about Bastila and Revan that she can’t quite put her finger on.

She sits up. It’s dark outside. He’s put a blanket over her, and he is lightly snoring too, his head tilted back over the top of the sofa. His face is relaxed. She doesn’t think she’s ever seen him look relaxed—neither in the dreamworld nor in reality. It’s engrossing, how different he looks. He’s never peaceful, she thinks, and so much younger. She pities him for it.

She glances at her phone. 11:29.

She knows one thing—she does not want to spend the night at Ben Solo’s house. So she gets up and places the blanket over him, and shuts off the television. He doesn’t wake. She makes her way through the living room and out to the main foyer where she puts her shoes and coat back on. Then she lets herself out of his house and gets into her rustbucket of a car with its forgiving clutch and drives her way home.

Chapter Text

iv.

Rey’s not sure if she has the gall to ask Luke what Ben had meant that weekend—not so soon after their first conversation. So she decides it’s time to explore what files she has access to in the Jedi system. The servers are heavily encrypted and Rey is completely sure that she’s putting a damning trail on herself as she tries to go into files from ten years ago to see what she can find on Ben Solo.

She finds his formal records—highly efficient, diligent, and thorough in his reports. He has glowing assessments from his commanding officers, and seems to have excelled quickly through the ranks of the Jedi. She can see honors being awarded, can see the makings of a fine commanding officer in the Jedi Order.

And then there’s nothing. Just a termination date in the system. No additional commentary, no visibility into his resignation letter—probably because she’s not in HR and that’s kept elsewhere. She stares at it blankly for a moment. He quit when I was just a kid, she thinks. It hadn’t occurred to her how old Ben was—probably because Kylo Ren was such a petulant man that she thought he could only be her age. But he is ten years older than her. It’s jarring. He’s nearer to Poe’s age than her own.

How long did he go thinking he didn’t have a soulmate? she wonders. Did he think he didn’t deserve one?

You’re a monster.

Yes I am.

She shudders and closes the window, clicking instead into the report she’s supposed to be reviewing for her three o’clock meeting. She’d been put on a long email chain about an extraction that required careful planning. And as distracting as Ben was, she knows that she shouldn’t be using company resources to look into him, no more than she would…

No. No, she shouldn’t have that thought.

Except she had had that thought, and the moment that it occurs to her a horrible, dark curiosity unfurls inside her. I could probably look up my parents.

She could look into criminal records, might be able to access digitized birth certificates—if she’d been born in a hospital. The most likely route, of course, was that she could look up the license plate number that was burned into the back of her brain and had been since she was six and see where it took her. She could do that.

But she isn’t going to. She can’t let herself. If it’s not appropriate for her to be looking into Ben’s history with the Jedi Order without permission, it’s even more wildly inappropriate use of company resources, and she’s new, and if she was likely going to get into trouble looking up Ben in the internal system, looking for her parents on external systems was only going to lead to twelve kinds of trouble.

So she squares her shoulders and opens up the report she’s supposed to be reviewing.

If Ben thrived in the Jedi Order because he was thorough, then that at least is something Rey can emulate, even if she doesn’t want to take on any of his other characteristics. There’s nothing wrong with doing her job well, especially when she’s so new in the position. She does want to excel. She wants to show the world just how far she can go, that she’s not just some little girl sobbing for her parents because they must have forgotten her, they surely didn’t leave her on purpose.

-

“Rey, a word,” Luke says, calling her into his office at the end of the day on Wednesday with a little hand gesture. Rey follows him into the room, and he closes the door behind her. “I’m sure there’s a good reason for you looking at Ben’s history the other day.”

Rey stiffens. She remembers from her onboarding that what was done on company computers was tracked, but she also remembers the IT’s assertions that no one has ever gotten into too much trouble for that. She swallows and looks at Luke. His expression is somber as he leans against her desk.

“It wasn’t anything that wasn’t in a public file,” she tells him—which is true. She didn’t have any sort of know-how for breaking past cyber-security—certainly not the casual ease with which Ben had stolen her phone number from his dad.

“I know,” Luke says. “You’re not in trouble. I just want to know why.”

Rey swallows. Down one road is a series of lies—that she was curious, that she hadn’t believed Luke when he had told her what had happened, that she didn’t trust Ben Solo, any number of which could spiral out of control. And then there is the truth.

She decides on the truth.

“Ben’s my soulmate,” she confesses to Luke, whose blue eyes bug out of his head in surprise. “I learned about it just when I was starting up here. And I…I just wanted to know more.”

“He put you up to checking?” Luke asks.

“He implied there might be more than he could let on because of an NDA,” Rey says, her heart quickening. Is Luke going to tell her what happened? Why Ben quit? Why Ben’s the way Ben is?

“Well, at least he’s respecting that,” Luke mutters. “If the details are protected by an NDA, I’m afraid that they are similarly classified for your rank.” His voice is gentle—and Rey hears a hint of relief in there. He gives her another look. “You’re really Ben’s soulmate?”

Rey nods, and Luke heaves a sigh.

“Well…I won’t say I’m not surprised—because I am. But…maybe this is a good thing. You could be a good influence on him.” He sounds as though he doesn’t quite believe it and he waves her out of his office.

Rey’s phone is in her hand immediately and she’s texting Ben because somehow, she knows that he’ll be angry about her telling Luke and—just as she’d rather prevent a lie from spiraling out of control with her boss—she’d prefer not having one blow up in her face with Ben. Especially given what she knew from her dreams of Kylo Ren’s temper.

I let slip to Luke that we’re soulmates.

I’m sorry. I know we didn’t talk about it and I know things are…tricky with your family.

He begins typing at once.

You did what?

Fuck.

Then nothing for a whole forty-five minutes while she drives home, checking the screen every time she’s at a red light to see if Ben’s replied.

He texts her right as she’s getting home.

You and I are invited to dinner with my parents on Friday.

Is this an instance where I should fake some prior commitment to give us more time?

There isn’t enough time in the world.

I’d rather rip the band-aid off.

Friday works.

Are you angry with me?

He doesn’t reply.

“Well, fuck you too,” she mutters to her phone and heads off to take a shower.

When she gets out of it, she sees two missed calls from Ben.

So she takes a deep breath and calls him back.

“Sorry—I was showering,” she explains.

“Oh.” He doesn’t say anything.

“Ben?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Are you angry with me?” she asks again, and he takes a deep breath.

“There’s nothing involving my family that’s not going to make me angry. I will always be angry about them.”

“Yeah but—”

“You grabbed a livewire,” he says. “And I thought you were avoiding me when I called. That had me mad.” She hears him take a deep breath. “Look, I’m trying, this is hard,” he says defensively.

“I don’t understand—” Rey begins but he cuts her off.

“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. No, I’m not mad at you.”

And he hangs up. Rey stares at her phone. He’s a giant overgrown child, she thinks angrily it, then calls him again.

He picks up.

“I wasn’t done,” she says, and now she’s the one who sounds angry on the phone. “‘Look, I’m trying, this is hard’ goes both ways. And I know you’ve got anger problems—I know you do,” she says, lacing her voice with the memory of him in the forest, beating the wound at his side to keep him angry while he fought Finn in the snow, “But don’t treat me like that.”

“Like what?” He sounds genuinely confused.

“Like some funnel for your fucked up. I don’t exist to make you feel better, even if I might actually be beginning to care about you. I’ll put up with it if I think it’s worth my time, but I’m not lying to you and I’m not trying to fuck you over. Don’t fucking lash out at me.”

“I wasn’t,” Ben snaps.

“You were catching yourself on the tail end of a mistake, and managed to do it anyway,” she hisses into the phone. “I’m not here for you to chew up and spit out because you are unable to handle your own goddamn bullshit.”

She hangs up the phone and throws it across the room. And to think she’d actually been feeling maybe kind of ok about maybe kind of getting to know him.

She hears her phone buzzing from the couch where it had landed, and she rolls her eyes, knowing that it’s Ben before she picks it up.

But right as she starts to pick it up he ends the call—too soon for it to have gone to voice mail.

She stares at the phone, unsure of what to do. Is she supposed to call him now? Is that what’s supposed to happen? Or had he decided better of calling her when he was angry?

She hopes it’s the latter. And she’s not going to deal with his fucking bullshit if he’s furious right now. She’ll sit that one out, thanks.

She puts on a t-shirt and some shorts to sleep in, cooks herself a quick meal and is halfway through it when she hears her phone ringing again from across the room.

She gets up, and picks up.

“Are you going to talk?” she asks Ben because he doesn’t say anything.

“I’m sorry for lashing out,” he says, sounding somewhere between a child who was caught misbehaving and as though he actually meant it. “It’s a livewire.”

“I know it’s a livewire,” Rey says, taking a deep breath. “That’s why I told you what had happened. I didn’t want to blindside you.”

“Yeah,” he mumbles. “Yeah, I get that. I know you weren’t being…whatever.”

“What?”

“Like…trying to get me to talk to them, play nice with them. I know you weren’t.” Rey frowns. She hadn’t been, but she would also like it if he did play nice with them. She likes Han and Luke, and only slightly knows Leia but she seems nice enough. How is Ben part of that family? she wonders. Maybe families don’t work the way she thinks they do. Maybe they can be fucked up even if your parents don’t abandon you in a parking lot in Jakku.

“No,” Rey agrees because—at least when it happened, it was the truth, “No I wasn’t.”

“So Friday works?” he asks her, breathing shakily on the other end of the phone.

“Friday works,” she replies.

-

At 4:43 on Friday afternoon, she gets a text from Ben.

Should we go over together? Should I pick you up?

Rey is still angry with him from the other night, and is tempted to tell him no, that she’ll drive her rust bucket and meet him at his parents house. But she also knows that going into this dinner angry is not a good plan, and the most likely route to her calming down is seeing Ben first and knowing whether—or rather, in what way he’s going to be completely impossible tonight.

The universe sure does have a sense of humor, she thinks, remembering her wishes for a soulmate who was funny, and kind, and tender—and ideally not a kettle of rage that was on the verge of boiling most days. At least he’s hot, she sighs, remembering his eight-pack, and the way his hair falls into his eyes. Without the personality, he’s definitely hot.

Yeah, sure.

She texts him her address.

I’ll be by around 7.

And he is, ringing her doorbell and…bringing flowers?

She raises her eyebrows at them.

“I’m sorry, ok?” he rumbles, rolling his eyes.

“You got me flowers?”

“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when you’re apologizing?”

“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t gotten an apology from someone who would bring me flowers before.”

Ben shrugs. “Do you have something to put them in?”

Rey frowns. “We can cut the stems down and put them in water glasses, I guess.”

“So no flowers next time,” Ben mutters under his breath.

“Ideally, no next time,” Rey mutters under her breath, and he gives her a look, knowing that she’d heard him and knowing that she knows he’d heard her.

The flowers look nice enough in the cups which she puts on her kitchen counter and then, because why not, brings one into her bedroom to put on her bedstand.

“If you really wanted to get in good with your mother, you’d have brought her the flowers,” Rey points out as she locks the door to her apartment.

“I have flowers for her in the car,” Ben replies tersely. “It’s one big Ben’s An Asshole And I’m Sorry night.”

“Are they mad at you?” Rey asks sharply. It feels like a low blow if his parents are mad at him for not telling them he had a soulmate when they’d only just learned themselves.

“It’s a baseline,” he says. “You’ll see what I mean if my dad gets too drunk tonight.”

Rey frowns as she slides into the passenger seat of his car. There are indeed flowers in the second seat—a larger arrangement than the one he’d brought her.

“My dad always brought flowers to my mom when she was angry at him,” he says at last. “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, so just assume if I try something it’s because the only frame of reference I have is my dad being a dick and apologizing to my mom, ok?”

If there’s not a threat of murder at least once a week, the marriage is falling apart.

“Ok,” she says and, after a pause, “They were nice flowers.”

No one had ever brought her flowers before—period. It would have been nicer if they weren’t apology flowers, but still…

She can see Finn glaring at her. Don’t go putting a nice spin on him being an asshole to you, Finn’s voice in her mind told her. Don’t you dare.

He is trying, though, she can’t help but think. That’s a positive sign, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

-

They arrive at a very nice house in a very nice part of town and Rey’s out of the car and waiting for Ben as he grabs the flowers from the second seat.

“Is this the house you grew up in?” she asks, looking at it. It’s huge, and made of stone, and it has a front yard and probably a backyard too.

“No,” Ben says. “They moved around the time I started working for Snoke. I have a room here but I’ve never used it.”

“Heya Kiddo,” Han says jovially when the door swings open, holding out his arms to give Rey a hug. “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes. I hope Luke isn’t beating you up too much.”

“Not too much, no,” Rey smiles.

“Those for your mom?” Han asks Ben, eying the flowers in his hand.

“Yes,” Ben says, handing them to his father.

“Leia. Look what Ben brought,” Han calls, gesturing them inside. Ben closes the door behind them and shrugs out of his jacket, throwing it on a chair by the door. Rey does the same and together they follow Han into the living room where he’s handing the flowers to Leia.

“They’re lovely,” Leia says, getting to her feet slowly, her hand at her lower back.

“Do you need your meds?” Han asks her, and she glares at him.

“I’m fine. I’m just getting old.”

“I couldn’t tell if you were hurting,” he says, raising his hands defensively. “Just trying to be concerned.”

“Rey, can I get you anything to drink?” Leia asks, ignoring her husband, shifting the flowers in her arms so she could see Rey more easily.

“Water’s fine for me,” Rey says, smiling.

“Ben?”

“Rye.”

“Han, I’ll leave that to you, then,” Leia says as she makes her way off to the kitchen. Han moves over to a little bar in the corner of the living room and pours an amber liquid into two glasses without ice and brings them back to where Rey and Ben are standing.

“Sit, sit,” Han says as he gives one glass to his son and takes a seat himself. He turns to Rey. “So Ben tells us this has been going on for a few weeks.”

Next to her she hears Ben make a little annoyed noise. “Yeah,” she says. “We worked it out at Leia’s birthday party, actually.”

“Don’t start without me,” Leia calls from the other room, irritated. “Come on, Han.”

“Just chatting,” Han calls back.

“While I’m busy with these flowers—you couldn’t hold on for five minutes?”

“Ben, go help your mother with the flowers,” Han tells his son, who is accordingly on his feet and out of the room in a heartbeat.

Han watches him go. There’s a stiffness to his expression. He looks back at Rey, and gives her a half-smile as though they share an understanding, but she frowns back because she has no idea what the look means. “You haven’t gotten him to consider leaving that place yet, have you?” Han asks.

“The First Order?” Rey asks, and Han nods. “No, we haven’t talked about it.”

She can see resignation in Han’s eyes before he shakes himself and looks back at her with a softer expression. “The gang all misses you. Chewie wanted to make sure I let you know that the new driver we hired on after you left is not as good as you are.”

“Aw, Chewie. I miss Chewie,” Rey says, smiling fondly. She and the Wookiee had shared several routes together, and Chewie had told her she was the only driver who’d been able to hold her own when it came to eating at roadstops.

“Should have invited him,” Han says, “But he gets a bit…” he jerks his eyes in the direction of the kitchen. “About Ben killing me in the dreamworld. Doesn’t like being around the kid.”

Rey shifts uncomfortably. She remembers Kylo Ren taking off his helmet, how close he stood to his father, the way that Han had caressed his face when he died. “Doesn’t matter how many times I tell Chewie that I forgive him.”

“I haven’t actually killed you, dad,” Ben says, coming back into the room with Leia. Behind them on the dining room table, Rey can see the flowers that he’d brought in a vase. He’s carrying a glass of water which he hands to Rey as he sits down. “But that doesn’t mean it’s off the table.”

“Please don’t joke about that,” Leia says, which makes Rey’s stomach twist because it hadn’t sounded like Ben was joking. “So,” Leia turns to Rey. “You were saying when I was in the other room. You two met at my party?”

Rey nods. “Yup—and I didn’t really know what it was. I had to ask Finn—my friend—afterwards what it was—”

“That’s Dameron’s boyfriend?” Han asks.

“Yes. Finn and Poe,” Rey says, smiling at Han. “Anyway, I had to check with Finn to be sure, and it was what it was.”

“Didn’t want to check with Ben first,” Han glances between the two of them.

Rey looks at Ben, whose jaw is tense. “Why would she check with me first? I’m the one who killed you in the dreamworld, remember dad?”

“Vividly.”

“I’m a monster.”

“Ben,” Leia says and he turns to look at his mother, and there’s an odd look that Rey can’t read on his face. He bites back whatever he was going to say behind a sip of his rye. Leia watches him for a moment before turning back to Rey. “That’s a major discovery to make right before starting work. I hope it’s all been manageable.”

Rey nods. “It’s been a lot. Work’s exhausting.”

“Luke works his people down to the bone. I remember when Ben first started,” Leia says. Ben takes another sip of his drink. He’s nearly finished the glass. If he keeps going like that, Rey’s going to have to drive him home because like hell would she let anyone behind the wheel of a car if they’re drunk.  Somewhere in the back of her mind, she remembers being in a swerving car that smelled of beer.

“Yeah,” Rey says, shoving that thought away. “Lots of training. I actually felt my muscles double in size that first week.”

Han and Leia both chuckle. “Won’t be too long before you can beat him up,” Han says, jerking his head at Ben.

“She already has—don’t worry,” Ben mutters.

“What was that?”

“I said, she already has. At least in the dreamworld.” He’s not looking at Rey.

“Avenge my death?” Han jokes.

“Han,” Leia intones. “Please.”

Ben gets to his feet and goes to the bar and pours himself another glass of rye—this time with more of the drink in his glass.

Leia notices it too, but doesn’t say a word. “Now, your family,” she says and Rey stiffens.

“Rey doesn’t have a family,” Ben says with a hard edge to his voice and Rey can’t tell if she’s glad he was the one to say it or if she wishes he’d be quiet. “She handled Jakku all on her own for a few years there.”

“Oh right,” Leia says, shaking her head more at herself than anything else. “I remember you telling me this, Han,” she glances at her husband. “And you’ve never been able to find out what happened to them?”

“No,” Rey says. Apart from being tempted to see if I could find them using Jedi resources. But based on this dinner alone, maybe families weren’t all they were cracked up to be. Maybe she is better off with karaoke nights with Finn, and Poe, and Rose, and the rest and leave those wistful wonderings of what it would be like to have a family in behind. “No, I don’t know anything.”

Leia makes a hum of sympathy and reached over and pats Rey on the knee. “Well, I know you and Ben are still sorting things out, but I hope you know you can always come talk to me if you need anything.”

Rey blinks, and there’s a lump in her throat, and she finds she can’t look away from Leia’s warm, brown eyes. She has the same eyes as Ben. She feels gooseprickles spread across her skin, and a sting in the corner of her eyes and she gives Leia a half-smile. “Thank you,” she whispers, and takes a sip of her water.

If the pre-dinner drinks were uncomfortable, dinner is another matter. Ben is silent most of the time, his eyes guarded as he listens to Han tell Rey stories about the firm, or Leia and Rey chat about Poe’s work antics. Rey has never worked alongside Poe—has only really spent time with him when spending time with Finn, so hearing about what an insubordinate little shit he can be is fascinating and amusing.

“You’ve always had a thing for insubordinate little shits, though,” Han tells Leia.

“I just wish he’d get his head out of his ass and learn what battles need to be fought the way he thinks they do and which ones require him to grow up a little more,” Leia says.

“I’ll see if I can work that theme into our next karaoke night,” Rey jokes.

“I can’t imagine him karaoke-ing. Does he have a good voice?”

“A good voice, but he’s not always hitting the right notes,” Rey says. “But he’s got good gusto when he sings, which is the most important part of karaoke anyway.”

“Dameron’s flashy—so I can believe that,” Han says. “What’s he like at karaoke?” he jerks his head at Ben.

“I don’t do karaoke?” Ben says quietly.

“Even if your soulmate’s asking you?”

“She hasn’t asked me yet. Probably because I don’t give off a karaoke vibe.” Ben’s looking at his father.

“Well, when you do bring him to karaoke, I want a full report on my desk by the following Monday,” Han jokes.

Ben takes a sip of his drink and doesn’t say a word.

“He’s behaving better than I thought he would,” Leia murmurs to Rey as they’re clearing the dishes into the kitchen. “After cocktails I was sure your first night here you’d be privy to a Solo Family Throwdown, but he seems to be controlling himself tonight.” She sighs and gives Rey an even gaze. “I don’t envy you.”

“It’s…” Rey begins, but stops because she doesn’t know what to say.

Leia shakes her head and raises a hand. “I know what it is. I know my son. Or I knew him. He doesn’t really let us know him anymore—ever since he signed on with Snoke. But he’s my son in there somewhere.” She sighs. “He’s hard to like, but there’s a difference between like and love. And I’ll never not love him. Even when he’s—”

Oh for god’s sake, Ben!” Han’s voice blasts through the door.

“There we go,” mutters Leia, even as they hear the front door slam.

Han comes into the kitchen. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” he says before Leia can ask him what happened. “He’s just being Ben.”

Rey’s phone buzzes in her pocket.

I’m outside. Too drunk to drive, but I’m not staying in there because believe it or not I don’t actually want to murder my dad.

I’ll be out in a sec.

“I should probably…” Rey says apologetically to Han and Leia.

“Go, go,” Leia says giving Rey a hug. When she lets her go, Rey can read that I don’t envy you in her eyes.

“Thank you for the lovely dinner,” Rey says, bobbing her head to both of them before hurrying out to the entryway, grabbing her coat, and stepping outside.

She makes her way to the car, where she finds Ben sitting in the passenger seat. The car isn’t on, but the key is in the ignition and to her surprise he has moved the seat forward and adjusted the mirrors for her.

“How did you remember?” she asks him, confused.

“It lets you save the driving settings of up to three drivers. So I saved yours when we went to the grocery store.”

Rey looks at him. He’d been accounted for her driving his car again sometime. She hadn’t expected that.

She turns the car on, and sits there for a moment with idling in neutral, her hands on the wheel. She’s not tired. If anything, she feels more awake than she has any right to on a Friday night after a full week of work.

There’s something gnawing at her and she can’t quite shake it. Maybe it’s Ben and the way he’s been behaving all night, the way his mother had said she didn’t envy Rey’s position as his soulmate, the way he and his dad had traded jabs over rye. Or maybe it’s that she’s aware she hasn’t seen Finn in two weeks—the longest she’s gone without seeing him since she’d first met him. Or maybe it’s that she had wanted family from her soulmate as much as she’d wanted a soulmate and her soulmate hates his family, and has to be dragged to see them, and drinks himself into a rage and storms out. The universe has a sense of humor.

“Do you want to go for a drive? Or are you too drunk?”

“What did you have in mind?” he asks her.

“Somewhere I can try driving this thing fast.”

Ben looks at her, and his eyes are glazed and glassy from drink. Then he nods, and reaches over and plugs some coordinates into the GPS.

-

Ben’s car drives like a dream when she’s not struggling to get it into first gear. The engine purrs quietly as they pelt along the highway headed out of town. The speed limit is fifty five miles an hour, but Rey’s going ninety and is in a gear higher than any she’s ever driven in before.

“What’s the fastest you’ve taken this out for?” she asks him.

“One forty,” he says, and Rey presses a little harder on the gas. It feels like they’re flying through the night together. If it weren’t for the overhead lamps of the highway, it would be like she was flying through galaxies.

“My parents like you more than me,” he slurs at last. “They were always going to.”

Rey doesn’t take her eyes off the road, can’t bring herself to when she’s going this fast. It’s for the best, she thinks, because she can’t be sure if she can trust herself to look at Ben’s face. He says it so matter-of-factly that she almost can’t hear that undertone of bitterness. But she hears it.

“You’re not exactly a walk in the park,” she replies.

To her surprise, he laughs. “No, I’m not.”

“Does it hurt?” she asks him. “That they like me?”

Ben doesn’t reply right away. He’s thinking, or maybe he’s just staring drunkenly out of the window while she drives. “I think everyone’s expecting you to change me,” he manages. “My dad, my mom, uncle Luke. They all took one look at you and went oh thank fuck someone who calls Ben on his shit, because they’re all tired of doing it.”

“Well, I do that,” Rey tells him. She thinks of Finn. She really should see him. Tomorrow, she tells herself. I’ll propose karaoke tomorrow. We’ll all go out. And Ben can come if he wants. She suspects he won’t want. And she’s not sure that Finn or Poe are ready to have Ben Solo join them on a karaoke night, but they’d do it for her. They’d all do it for her. And she understands what he’s saying. “But they think that…”

“They think that by your blessed influence, they’ll get the boy they should have had from the getgo,” Ben growls. “They’ll get the Ben Solo who’s worthy of Han Solo, Leia Organa, and Luke Skywalker. And not…me.”

(There are many moments that Rey will remember from this night. This is one that will hide itself beneath all the rest until much, much later.)

“I’m used to it,” he mutters. “I don’t like it, but I know what it is. It’s why I don’t go home a lot. Two trajectories—the Ben they want, and the Ben they have—and they’re never going to intersect.”

She hears him shift next to her and he continues. She hadn’t expected him to be a talkative drunk, but here he is in the passenger seat of his car, just talking at her. “Is it fucked up that I’m jealous of you?”

“Jealous?” Rey asks.

“You don’t have anyone who expects shit of you. Your piece of shit parents got out of your way before you were old enough to wonder what you could be to make them happier.”

“That’s not true,” Rey flares. “I wonder every day what I needed to be not to be abandoned. You don’t know what you have.”

He doesn’t reply immediately.

“I don’t have more flowers,” he says.

“Flowers don’t make an apology. You not doing it again is what makes it a real apology.” She pauses and her voice is thick and she presses on the gas even harder, pushing the speedometer up to one-fifty as she says, “God how is it that you know less about how to be a person than I do and you had a family growing up? And you’re older than me.”

“Because I spent too much time assuming that everyone I met would hate me the second they saw me,” he responds, and she can tell that even in his drunkenness it’s the truth. “Because if I disappoint my parents, how the fuck am I not going to disappoint everyone else I encounter? I don’t stand a fucking chance.”

“So why bother, right? Why bother trying to be good to other people?”

“It’s just going through motions,” Ben says. “It’s meaningless.”

“It’s not meaningless,” Rey snaps.

“What’s the point of putting the effort in if you’re just gonna wind up alone anyway? That’s what I’m saying. I’m just gonna wind up alone anyway. Or I was. Then you came along.”

“I haven’t decided if I’m staying yet.”

“You’re gonna stay,” Ben says and there’s an intensity in his voice. “I can see it. You’re fascinated by me. Or by Kylo Ren in the dreamworld. Or whatever. You’re afraid of being alone just as much as I am. Can you honestly say you’d pick being alone for the rest of your days over whatever the fuck we have?”

“Yes,” Rey says firmly. “If you’re as much a monster as I think you might be.”

He doesn’t reply to that. He doesn’t say anything at all.

“Then I guess we’re fucked,” he mutters. “And I guess all this was a pointless exercise.”

“I didn’t say you were a monster.”

“You have more optimism on that front than I do.” He sounds more and more sober by the second. She can’t tell if that’s a relief or not. “You know what I do for a living. Who I work for.”

She does. She swallows. “That’s not like the First Order in the dreamworld,” she says, even if in her heart she knows that’s barely an excuse. She’s read the news articles about them, she’s seen the way her colleagues roll their eyes about the place, she has heard Finn’s stories about how far they’re willing to go for a job, blowing past the “morally dubious” and landing themselves squarely in the “criminally destructive” territory.

“Let go of the dreamworld for a second. Just in our world. In reality. You know what the First Order is. You know what the Jedi Order is. Not so different, no matter what my uncle Luke says, but even so—you know what I’m good at. That alone’s enough to make me a monster. I almost got your best friend killed. Me. And it’ll turn you into one soon enough unless you quit, so you’d better find a different way of judging my caliber or else you’ll turn into as big a hypocrite as my uncle.”

Silence fills the car. It’s just their breath and the thrum of the engine as Rey pelts them along a highway towards wherever the fuck they end up.

“I can’t tell if you’re trying to make me run or convince me to stay.”

“I can’t either.”

“Should I run from you?” It’s the first time she’s asked him, and she feels almost as though a weight has lifted from her chest as she does so. Above them, the lights from the street lamps on the high way create streaks—it’s almost like she’s flying at light speed.

“Maybe,” he says quietly. “I don’t pretend to be anything other than what I am. And I know I’m not easy. Maybe that’s too much for you. It’s too much for me, sometimes.” His voice cracks in the last word, and because the highway is so straight, Rey looks over at him. He’s just sitting there, leaning back in his chair and staring out the windshield. As though he can sense her gaze, he glances at her and she understands that gaze a little too well. “It’s not easy dreaming you’re Kylo Ren,” he says at last. “It’s not easy dreaming who I turned into in the dreamworld, of feeling it happen to me to make me that, everything being ripped open since I was a kid. My dad…he’ll talk about how it’s just mumbo jumbo shit. And maybe it is—I want to believe that sometimes. But then he acts like it’s not…like I’m not…like who I dream I am can’t possibly be me.”

“Is he?” Rey asks quietly.

“Are you?” Ben retorts. “Rey from Jakku, some scavenger girl who is surreally powerful with the Force?”

“I am,” Rey replies. How she needed to be—dreaming of her own resilience had gotten her through her teenage years, had made her square her shoulders when she was dumpster diving just to survive. But that Rey couldn’t be her. That Rey didn’t dream that she was the Rey driving down the highway. “But I’m also not.”

“Yeah,” Ben says. “I’m not him, but I’m him. I got all the threat of what he is laced with my own…” his voice trails away. “He’s a part of me. And I don’t hate him. Or maybe I do—but that kind of hate that’s sometimes almost like love.”

She sees him tilt his head out of the corner of his eye, can tell he’s watching her. That kind of hate that’s sometimes almost like love…like the two of us when we dream. She feels that shiver up her spine. She doesn’t think she knows what it is to love Kylo Ren, but maybe she is starting to.

“He made things worse with your family, didn’t he?” she asks.

I made things worse with my family,” Ben mutters. “Because he’s me.”

“They hate him.”

“They think he corrupted me, and don’t like hearing me talk about him as a part of me even though that’s what he is. My mom avoids it by saying she thinks Snoke corrupted both of us which...” He makes a noise in the back of his throat. “But my dad…he just…” Ben sounds angry again. “It’s a livewire,” he mutters at last.

“You keep saying that,” Rey points out.

“It’s not a lie,” Ben snaps. Then he sighs. “In the dreamworld, my dad thinks the Force is stupid. Like that it’s all some sort of fairy tale superstition. Even if my uncle is the strongest Force user alive and my mom’s powerful with it too, my dad’s still skeptical. And that’s part of me—bursting out of my ears when I’m a kid, and my dad just…” he swallows, and Rey begins to notice that his words are sounding a little less slurred now, “he made me feel like shit by not caring for it. I was a kid and didn’t know what to do with it. And then my mom—who did understand—sends me away. And then my uncle—” he cuts himself off, shaking his head. “It doesn’t matter. Sounds like I’m just a whiney kid anyway.”

“But all that seeped into your relationships with them in the real world?” Rey asks at last.

“Yeah,” Ben mutters. “You could say. That, and work, and just growing up—mom’s busy all the time, and dad and I just…don’t get along the way we should. And I think that it’s easier to blame that shit on the fact that in the dreamworld I turn into the Jedi Killer than on…I don’t know. I just don’t like my dad. He makes me feel like shit. And then I push it back at him. And then he pushes it back at me. That’s just how it goes. And the dreamworld only makes it feel like fate. Like this is how it was always going to be. Like your parents abandoning you.”

Rey swallows. She can’t remember what it had felt like when she’d dreamed her parents leaving her. Maybe it had felt fated. Mostly she remembers just wanting to cry.

“It’s lonely,” he says at last. “It’s always been lonely. And you make me feel less alone. Because I am less alone.”

She swallows. It is—it is nice not to feel alone. She wonders if, when she goes out karaokeing with Finn tomorrow, even if the plan is unconfirmed, if she’ll feel that same aching loneliness that she’s felt for so many bouts now. Somehow, she suspects she won’t. Somehow, she knows, that if the loneliness creeps up on her, that she could call Ben and he’d be there for her. Because she’d be there for him if he called her lonely.

She takes a hand off the steering wheel and reaches towards him and a moment later, he is lacing his fingers through hers and she feels that shiver up her spine again.

“I think,” she whispers to him, “that that’s it.”

“Why the universe chose us?”

She nods. “The rest is…is a joke in a lot of ways. We’re so different. But that loneliness…” She chances a glance at him.

Their loneliness isn’t identical—she knows this. Ben would never know what it was like to stare after his parents’ car through tear-filled eyes, just as she’d never understand how he could possibly have the relationship he has with his parents where his own mother said she didn’t envy Rey being Ben’s soulmate. But that contour created in each of them the same sensation—the same ache in their chests that seemed a little easier now that he was holding her hand.

She pulls the car into a rest stop—how slow the world seems as she brings the car back to a reasonable speed—and parks it near a picnic table, away from the streetlamp overhead. Ben still has half a tank of gas, which is lucky because there isn’t a gas station at this rest stop. There isn’t really anything—the convenience store looks like it’s closed. His is the only car parked there.

Rey gets out and stretches her legs, stretches her arms overhead, and behind her, she hears Ben getting out of the car as well. “It’s so still,” she murmurs, craning her head up to look at the stars. They are spattered across the sky, pale and sparkling. There’s no moon out tonight, which makes the stars seem that much brighter. She wishes that there weren’t any streetlamps nearby so she can just look up at them. “Do you ever just come out here at night?”

“No,” Ben says truthfully.

“I forget,” she says, looking over the top of the car at him. “Jakku in the dreamworld is so miserably desolate, and I’m forever glad that I didn’t grow up on a desert, but… It’s so peaceful to be far away from everything.” A breeze rustles at the trees, and Rey shivers, pulling her coat around her a little more tightly. “Though I do like it better when it’s green.”

Ben comes into view, having come round to the driver’s side of the car. Rey looks up at him, and he looks down at her, his dark hair falling into his eyes. She reaches out and takes his hand again. His skin is warm against the chill.

(She will remember the stars most about tonight, the way they frame his head, the way he is etched against them when his lips drop to hers.)

He kisses her, and she rises up on her tip-toes to meet him. Her free hand comes to rest behind his neck. She’s kissed people before—she’d kissed Jessika drunkenly at karaoke a week before she’d met Ben—but none of them send the shivers down her spine like when they hold hands the way that Ben does when he kisses her. She can taste stale alcohol on his breath, but she doesn’t care because she likes the feel of his lips against hers. He’s not exactly a good kisser, and she suspects based purely on the way he’s been talking that night that she might be the first person he’s ever kissed. It’s not abnormal—for people to wait to kiss until they’ve found their soulmate, just as it’s not abnormal for people to date and fuck around until they stumble upon them. She hadn’t known what to expect of Ben. But this doesn’t surprise her.

She realizes she’s been holding her breath from the moment that their lips had connected and she lets herself exhale into his mouth in a small sigh. His hand that’s not still holding hers comes to hover just at the curve of her waist, and there’s a tentativeness she had not expected of him. She pulls his lower lip between her teeth, nipping at it slightly. He has such full lips, she’d never really thought about it until just that moment, feeling the plump flesh between her own.

He lets go of her hand and pulls her closer to him, his hand roaming her back, rubbing it just along the line where she gets her shivers. She lets her fingers work at the muscles of his neck and reaches up to rest a hand on his chest, feeling his firm muscle there beneath his shirt. The heat of him pressed against her is almost unbearable, the unyielding height of him against her so that she has to stay on the tips of her toes to keep their lips together, to have it so her own heart is pressed against his chest, so she can feel his breathing lungs as she snakes her tongue into his mouth to find his, tasting that stale rye again.

His hands go still when she deepens the kiss, and she can feel him breathing hard through his nose, his exhalations brushing at her cheek. It is instinct that sends the hand on his chest upward to cup his cheek, to brush her thumb across that scar, and he moans into her mouth when she does it and she feels his fingers tighten on her hips with a grip strong enough to bruise. She rubs her tongue along his, runs her hands through his hair, sways into him because even with him holding her in place, she’s still on her tip-toes.

Then his hands slide down and cup her ass and he picks her up and turns her around so that he’s pressing her back into the driver’s side door of his car, her legs snapping around his hips and she feels a bulge that can only be what she thinks it is as she rocks her core against him. A very different sort of shiver is crossing her skin now—sensation that’s expanding from her groin through her stomach and up, up, up towards her heart. She finds herself panting as she breaks her kiss away from his mouth and sucks on his neck, clinging to his shoulders as he rocks his hips into hers. It feels so good—it feels so right, and when she opens her eyes she can see galaxies above them.

“Back seat?” she asks him, and he shifts her over, opening the car door and placing her on the seat. She scoots in and begins to toe off her shoes and shimmy her jeans down over her hips. Ben watches her, his hand resting on the roof of the car, his eyes too dark to really see properly, but he helps her with her shoes and with the jeans before he crawls into the car, hovering over her.

“You sure you want this?” he asks her, and there’s a thickness to his voice she had not expected, a nervous breathlessness that he tries to swallow out when he’s done speaking. You sure you want me?

“I don’t know what I want,” she whispers. “But this…” She reaches up and pulls his lips down to hers, and doesn’t let herself finish the thought aloud. It’s enough for him. He pulls himself up her and she hears him mutter something under his breath about how the seat’s too narrow, and it’s true—it is, but only because he’s built like a brick house—broad shoulders that connect down to thick muscles of his stomach. His fingers slide down beneath her underwear and he slides one inside her with the fumbling ignorance of a man who’s never touched a cunt before.

Rey reaches a hand down to guide his while using the other to cup his face, to stroke his scar, to run through his hair as she gentles his touch and guides his hand over the surface of her, introducing him to her. She rolls herself into his fingers, and when his touch seems a little more understanding, she traces her hand along his wrist and then jumps it to the buttons of his jeans, sliding her hand beneath his waistband until she finds his cock.

The skin is so warm under her hand. She marvels at it for a moment—that it can be so soft, and so warm. She’s used to her own skin being soft and warm, of course, but when she’s touching herself, she’s wet. Ben’s skin is dry as she runs her hand over his shaft until she finds the tip of him. She brushes a thumb over it and it twitches in her hands and his lips are at her neck, sucking at her skin more intensely than before and when she swipes her thumb over his tip again he moans her name.

That, more than his fingers up her slit, her hand on his cock, makes this real. The way he moans her name into her neck, the way his body seems to roll over hers as he loses himself in the sensation of it all. She kisses his chin, his shoulder, his cheek, his ear—whatever she can reach as she strokes at his dick, she arches her back into his chest, needing to feel as much of him as she can, wishing she’d had the sense to strip off her top as well as her bottoms when she’d gotten into the car. She wants to feel the skin of his chest against her—but that is not for tonight, it seems. Tonight is for him moaning her name into her neck, for his fingers learning what she feels like, for his cock twitching in her hand.

“I,” he whispers and she turns her head to look at him. In the dark, she thinks he’s blushing, but she’s not sure. “I want you,” he whispers. “To be in you. To fuck you. To…” Whatever else he was saying he says in kisses to her neck and Rey cants her hips up into his hands again. She’s dripping all over the back seat of his car and the realization of that makes her even wetter because when next he cleans his car, he’ll think of her, think of this, and remember that they are neither of them alone.

She guides his tip towards her slit and he pulls his fingers out of her. She feels them against her own on his cock, feels the dampness of herself on them. Then he’s pushing into her and she gasps because his cock is bigger than she thought it would be and it stings a lot more than either of their fingers as she stretches around him. She tries to widen her legs, to ease some of the sting, but the problem with being in a car is that one of her legs is stuck against the back of the seat and the other one can only extend out so far because of the front seats. He keeps pushing and she wriggles underneath him, trying to wrap her legs around his hips instead. That works a little better—and soon she’s rocking into him, holding his face as she kisses him, pushing her hips against his because she’s aching with the need of him—and there he is, filling her up, pushing into her—slowly at first then faster, harder than she was expecting.

“Ben,” she whispers into his lips, “Ben, Ben, Ben,” in time with the thrusting of his hips.

Ben groans, and every time she says his name he goes faster, and faster, and faster until Rey can see stars.

Chapter Text

v.

That night, curled up in her bed after he drops her back home, she dreams of an elevator—and how he will turn on Snoke, she knows it, she has seen it. And she dreams him telling her that she’ll be the one to turn.

How strange it is to watch his face, to see the way his eyes flicker when she calls him Ben for the first time.

-

Poe is a fantastic person to go to karaoke with. She hadn’t been lying to Leia when she’d said it. He’s standing there, hamming it up, singing in a light tenor the lyrics to some pop song that Rey thinks she’s heard before, but can’t place where. When he reaches the chorus, he blows a kiss to the audience, and is met with cheers, and Rey snuggles into Finn’s side, grinning when her friend wraps his arm around her.

Every time she shifts in her seat, her cunt twitches, remembering the stretch of Ben’s cock the night before, remembering the speed of his thrusting until he’d come apart inside her. His eyes had been extra bright when he’d kissed her, and it wasn’t until a few minutes later when he’d panicked and asked her if she was on some kind of birth control. (She is, at the recommendation of the Jedi Order, though she hasn’t been for very long. She doesn’t know that it’s too soon into her first pill cycle to truly be without risk of pregnancy. But this isn’t that sort of a story, and it never comes up.) She had invited Ben to join them, and he had declined.

I’ll go if you want me there.

I want you there only if you want to be there.

Then let’s do something else at some other point. I don’t need to watch Dameron work a crowd.

K.

Have fun.

I’ll be thinking of you.

She wonders if he is. She hopes he is. She’s thinking of him, after all.

Poe finishes up his song and makes his way back to the table, and leans over Rey to give Finn a kiss. Then he leans back against the booth and tosses his hair out of his eyes. “My work here is done,” he tells the table.

Which isn’t entirely true, because half an hour later, Jessika is dragging him onstage again so they can sing a duet, which earns their table a free round of beer.

Rey drinks it down greedily. Booze at the Solo-Organa household while meeting Ben’s parents had seemed like a terrible idea. Drinking herself blind with her friends while they sing increasingly horrific interpretations of the greatest pop classics of the age is a wonderful one.

“I’ve missed you,” she slurs at Finn as they go up onto the stage to sing together. “Work’s been so busy and I ache all over.”

“Well, you get what you sign up for,” Finn grins.

“And some stuff I didn’t,” she says a little evilly and Finn’s eyebrows fly up.

“Oh?”

“Ben’s dick is really big,” she giggles into his ear.

“I will never be drunk enough to hear you talk about Ben Solo’s dick,” Finn moans. “Never. Please don’t ever do that to me again. This is a guy who practically destroyed the desk unit I sat at because he was pissed off.”

Rey laughs and wraps her arms around Finn and the attendant looks at both of them and hands them microphones and they begin to sing.

This is what family’s supposed to feel like, she thinks as she screeches into the microphone with Finn. Feeling safe with someone, feeling warm with someone, feeling giggly with someone. It’s not supposed to be slamming your way out of your parents’ house. It’s not supposed to be finding an empty AT-AT in a dumping ground that looks like it’ll be safe to live in for a few months at least. Family is supposed to be Finn Finn Finn singing about how he’s got her back back, and how she’s got his back back, and how they’ve got each other’s backs backs. Backs backs. It’s supposed to be doing little hip movements as they sing that leads to a whoop from Poe back at their table, and feeling like she’s flying even when she’s not driving one hundred and fifty miles an hour in Ben’s car.

It’s the first karaoke night that she doesn’t feel lonely as the night wears on and Finn and Poe get more cuddly with one another than with her, and Jessika goes off to find someone at the bar and Rose gets tired and calls a Falcon to take her home early.

It’s because of Ben, she tells herself in her drunken haze and pulls out her phone to text him.

I don’t feel lonefy and its becusee of oyuu

She’s impressed with how few typos there are, knowing that her autocorrect has done what it was supposed to. The words are blurry on the screen, but even in her drunkenness, she can tell what she meant to say, even if her fingers were too sloppy to actually do it properly.

Having fun?

Ye

I wand to be where you here

“Are you being careful?” Finn asks her from Poe’s arms. Both of them are looking at her seriously, despite all of their insobriety.

“I’m on the pill,” she tells him, and Finn closes his eyes. “What—I wasn’t talking about his dick this time.” She can’t stop thinking about his dick, the way it had felt in her hands the way it had felt inside her. Next time she wants to try sucking on it, some drunken corner of her brain tells her. It feels dirty to admit, but he’s her soulmate, if you’re supposed to suck someone’s dick, it’s your soulmate’s right?

“Can you not talk about Ben’s dick?” Poe says this time, looking pained. “He and I used to play together as kids and I really just…don’t want that mental image if I’m trying to get used to the idea of you and him. Especially on top of all the other mental images I currently have to deal with regarding him and his masked dreamself.”

“I’ll contain myself,” Rey promises him. And she’ll even try.

“You’re being careful?” Finn asks again.

“Yes,” she tells him. “I am not going into it blind, and I’m being careful. I’m starting to understand him better, and I think he’s starting to understand me. That’s good, right?”

“I guess,” Finn doesn’t look happy though. “I just…I just really don’t think I’ll ever like it. And I’ll never not be worried.”

“I can take care of myself,” she hears herself saying petulantly. (Later, when she is hungover, she will text Finn to thank him for his caring, she will ask him to never stop. Because that’s what family is, isn’t it? Never stopping caring?)

“Just…just keep coming out with us, ok? Don’t get isolated. Promise me that,” Finn implores.

“I’ll never stop karaokeing,” she promises because that’s the truth. Ben may make her feel less lonely, but he’s a far cry away from making her feel like she has family. She looks down at her phone again.

What?

Rey?

oyuu wouldn’f be hapy here so im glad you’re not here. But I wish ouy wer here.

I wand to be where oyu are.

Come over.

No. Too drunk.

Soon.

Gonit

Is that goodnight?

Ye

Goodnight, Rey.

-

She may still be getting used to Ben as a person, but sex with Ben is exactly the sort of thing that she would have wanted from a soulmate.

Rey spends the next month fucking him in the perfect combination of intimate and raunchy—learning how to read him as he learns how to read her, moving as one with him because somehow they can anticipate what the other wants in their own needs.

(Rey tells herself that this must be the stuff of soulmates. Surely there is more to it than just a shiver up your spine, and a story in the dreamworld. Surely it has to be sexual too. But she does not ask Finn, since he has stated he wishes to know nothing about Ben in bed.)

Sometimes, he’s lying under her, watching her with stars in his eyes as she writhes on his dick, other times he has her bent over the counter in his kitchen, rawing her until she’s breathless and shaky. She learns the taste of his cum, the sound of his gasps when she’s teased him to the edge of oblivion but won’t finish him just yet, the feel of his teeth on her nipples—dancing back and for the across that line of pleasure and pain.

Sex with Ben is never the same way twice—not because they don’t repeat positions, but because on any given day, during any given fuck, Rey doesn’t know which Ben she’s going to get. Sometimes he’s playful, sometimes he’s intense, other times he’s emotional and trying to keep a stiff upper lip about it. Sometimes she rides him, other times he rides her. Sometimes they lie there lazily together, sharing the sensation of each other until one of them cums as if by accident.

Sex with Ben is easier than the rest—than the dreams where he is now Supreme Leader of the First Order, trying to blast her out of the sky in the Millennium Falcon, than days where he’s silent because he’s on a mission and that dark lurch in Rey’s stomach knows that he may be coming home with still more blood on his hands. You’d better find a different way of judging my caliber or else you’ll turn into as big a hypocrite as my uncle. On days when she finds bruises or healing cuts on his skin from whatever it is he is doing for the First Order, she kisses her way along them, as though by kissing them she can reclaim him from whatever conflict had put them there. She doesn’t ask what he’s done to earn them. She can’t bring herself to.

She’ll take sitting on Ben’s face until she collapses into his arms any day over thinking about how many people he’s killed, or the fact that he hasn’t mentioned his parents even once since they’d had dinner together, or the fact that Finn texts her about twice a week just to see how things are going—an act that wouldn’t have concerned her until she’d learned that Ben was her soulmate.

Work continues. She has grown used to the physical demands of it, and on the day that Luke calls her into his office and tells her it’s time to begin training with a lightsaber, her heart stops.

“Lightsabers are real?” she had asked him breathlessly when she’d first learned about them during her orientation.

“Oh yes,” Luke he had replied. “Still not necessarily the most efficient weapon on the planet, but always useful for deflection, which fits our MO here at the Jedi Order quite nicely. They tend to draw blastfire to them and change the shot’s trajectory, rather than the user relying on the force to know where to place the blade. But still. Lightsabers.”

He has a boyish light to his eyes as he passes the weapon to Rey. It’s so light in her hand, and when she ignites it, there’s a familiar hum to it.

Luke gives her a serious look. “Since you’ve used them in the dreamworld, your waking body may have muscle memory for how to use it. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

What Rey has is muscle memory. She is strong, quick, and the only thing that felt more natural in her hand than the lightsaber is a staff. It’s exhilarating.

I got to use a lightsaber today.

Oh? I assume muscle memory took over.

Like you wouldn’t believe.

Oh I believe it. Happened to me too.

Do you use a lightsaber at work?

From time to time.

The same one from the dreamworld?

Yeah.

You’re using the blue one?

Yes.

Take good care of it. It’s my grandfather’s.

She does. She keeps it in a locked box in her locked filing cabinet, and runs a hand gently over to it. The saber belongs to the Jedi Order, but she can somehow tell that Ben had used it when he’d worked here. It feels like she’s carrying a part of him when she’s training now, as though the weapon at her waist is connecting her to him.

She tells him so when she sees him later that week. They’ve moved past weekends only and into weeknights sometimes too—largely because both of them spend too much time thinking about one another naked. The increased time together means they end up watching more Knights of the Old Republic—it’s really growing on Rey as a show, and sometimes she and Ben get into spirited discussions about the story which always make his eyes light up so beautifully—and from time to time they’ll go to late closing nights at the art museum and explore their way through exhibits that Rey hadn’t even known could exist when she’d been a kid. They order food if they’re at his place or cook if they’re at hers, shower together, eat, and then will fuck one another into the mattress until they’re both too spent to move.

His eyes go soft when she tells him, and he doesn’t say anything for a moment. Then his lips are on hers, and he’s kissing her breathless as he lifts her up and carries her to bed, kissing his way down her chest, down her stomach to her cunt and licking her there until Rey can’t remember her dreams at all. She returns the favor in kind, sucking him until his fingers go tight in her hair and he chokes out her name, and it’s the first night that he spends in her apartment without slipping out as she’s falling asleep.

The next morning, she wakes to find him curled around her, his face nuzzled into her neck. She’s kicked the blankets off her in the night—he’s a furnace as it turns out—and she rolls herself over so that she can bury her face in his chest.

It’s nicer than she had expected, waking up next to him. It feels almost like…like he’s her soulmate. She won’t use the word family—there’s still too much that’s tricky with him, and family is supposed to be easy like Finn—but this at least, his arms wrapped around her, the way he’d made an indistinct noise when she’d shifted but had settled down again when she had—it makes her feel wanted.

And that is enough to make her heart swell up as she presses a kiss to his chest.

She’s not used to feeling wanted.

Finn wants her around, but that’s not wanting in the same way, not wanting in the way she wants to be wanted. She aches to be the center of someone’s world, of someone’s heart, knows that nagging pain down in the darkest corners of her mind that tells her that if her parents didn’t want her, who possibly could. She hadn’t let herself think about it for years, had focused too much of her energy on hoping that her parents would come back for her. But Ben’s broken the dam somehow because Ben wants her—the exact way she wants to be wanted. He even understands, she thinks, even though she’s never told him. Ben, whose eyes had gone so soft last night when she’d told him that his grandfather’s lightsaber reminds her of him, who is holding onto her in his sleep, who looks so peaceful.

She hadn’t dreamed last night, which means he probably hadn’t either. That’s for the best right now, given how their dreams are. She dreads dreaming of Ben, dreads that they’ll be fighting to the death the next time she sees him, dreads that he’ll be torturing Poe again, or slicing Finn open, or whatever horrible thing he’ll find himself driven to next. He’s part of me. And I don’t hate him. He looks so peaceful when he sleeps, and how good his arms feel wrapped around her.

Does he love my dreamself? She wonders. She remembers Kylo Ren’s extended hand, the way he’d implored her to join him. And she hadn’t. She couldn’t. Because it would mean destroying everything she’d built for herself. She couldn’t bear to destroy the past if it meant destroying Finn, and Leia, and the hope they had in her as well.

That’s part of him, she wonders. Part of him, the same way he is holding me now. She presses her lips to his chest, trying to reconcile the two in her mind. She doesn’t know if she can. But the taste of his skin on her lips eases her mind, which she thinks is what it’s supposed to do.

He’s not Kylo Ren, even if that’s part of him. There’s light in him too. Her dreamself had believed that of Ben Solo. But her dreamself was determined not to be heartbroken about him again. Surely Rey didn’t have that to worry about in this world—especially when he was always stressing the difference between reality and dreams.

She nuzzles at his chest and she feels his lips in her hair. “Good morning,” he whispers to her.

“Good morning,” she whispers back, and she looks up at him. His eyes are hooded, and barely open. She hadn’t really expected him to be a morning person, and this confirms it for her. But he doesn’t look frustrated with her having woken him up. On the contrary his arms tighten around her and she wiggles herself up his body slightly so she can rest her chin against his shoulders.

Because it is a Thursday, they climb from the bed when Rey’s alarm goes off, and end up in the shower together. Ben frowns as he stares at her shampoo.

“You don’t like my shampoo?” she asks him dryly.

“It’s…” he sniffs.

“Cheap?” Rey asks, elbowing him and snatching the bottle from his hand.

“I was going to say sulfate based, which is worse for your hair.”

“Is it?” Rey asks. She does love his hair—it’s so soft.

“Yes,” Ben says.

“And how did you learn this?”

“My mom wouldn’t let sulfate based shampoo in the house growing up. Drove my dad nuts.” It’s the first time that he’s mentioned his parents since they’d started sleeping together. “So naturally, I only use it. Which, it turns out, is good for my hair.”

“Well, I only have sulfate-based shampoo,” Rey says, “So you may be stuck this morning.”

“I may buy you new shampoo,” he retorts.

“Is there something wrong with my hair?” Rey demands, hands on her hips.

“No,” Ben says. “I like your hair.” As if to prove his point, he reaches up and takes some of it, rubbing it between his fingers. “I like the little buns you tie it in, too.”

He ducks his eyes slightly, and she sees a flush creeping up his cheeks. She stands on her tip-toes and kisses his cheek.

Later, when they’re getting dressed, Ben seemingly uncaring that he’ll be wearing the same clothes—and rumpled—to work, he says. “My mom. She likes playing with different hairstyles all the time. So I just noticed how you tie yours. I didn’t think about it, I just…did.”

Rey tugs a shirt over her head and takes a deep breath. “I’ve always tied my hair like this. I…I think that my mom did it for me when I was little, but I don’t remember. I just kept on doing it after,” her voice breaks and Ben rounds the bed, “after they left.”

He takes her hand and squeezes it, resting his forehead against hers.

“You’re not alone,” he whispers. Not anymore, she thinks. It had been Finn that had first shown her that, not Ben. But Finn could still leave her lonely sometimes.

“Neither are you,” she replies and his eyes flicker. She squeezes his hand this time.

“They aren’t worth the air you breathe,” he tells her, kissing her forehead. “You are their greatest success, the only good thing they ever did. And their greatest mistake was not seeing that. And your greatest strength has been persevering through it.”

There are tears in her eyes when she looks up at him. Her throat is tight, and she presses her face into his neck, wrapping her arms around him. He holds her—holds her until she’s done crying, until she has put that pain away again.

(He’d hold her for as long as she wanted, for he needs to hold her too—she knows this.)

-

“You’re doing well, Rey,” Luke tells her when he’s going over her three month review. “Star of the show in the making. Only person I’ve seen with this much natural talent is Ben. Which makes sense, all things considered,” he gives her a look.

In the dreamworld, he has died fighting Ben. In the dreamworld Rey is leading forces against Ben’s, dreading meeting him in combat again because she knows she’ll have to put him down, but fears she’s too weak to do it, just as she’d been too weak to do it on Snoke’s destroyed bridge on The Supremacy. He still comes to her sometimes, tries to talk to her, but she refuses to listen. She doesn’t like that. And she can tell Ben doesn’t either.

They never talk about it.

“I think it’s time,” Luke tells her, “for your first mission.”

Rey’s heart swells. “Really? You think I’m ready?” Rey asks. Luke’s approval means everything to her—and his confidence…it means more than she knows how to articulate.

“I think you might be.”

He opens a drawer of his desk and pulls out a folder, which he hands to her. “Read that here. Don’t take it home. It’s company policies involving injury and the like. It’s also in the HR drive if you are too young to want to read something on paper.”

Rey nods, and tucks the folder under her computer and looks up at Luke eagerly, expectantly. He doesn’t speak immediately. He’s clearly thinking about what it is that he wants to say, his mouth slightly open as though waiting for words that aren’t quite prepared.

“First things first,” Luke says after a moment, and he gives her a steady look. “I know you’ve sat in on meetings and have done case reports and the like—I want to make it explicitly clear: your life is important to us. The mission I have in mind for you shouldn’t be dangerous at all, but this is a blanket statement for any future missions—you are in command when you are on your mission. You have your orders, we trust you to get them done. But don’t you get yourself killed trying to complete them. We trust your judgement—train you to use it, and you’re on the ground—”

He was babbling and Rey shifted in her seat. He froze when she moved, and it was her turn to say, “You’re telling me to defy orders if I think it’s the right thing to do?” she asks, confused. Something in that feels, well, wrong. They’re a contractor, after all. It feels like it’d lead to a business failure if people started defying orders all the time.

“I’m telling you to keep yourself alive. And if you’re ever out there with a team, to help keep them alive. We’re not like the First Order who doesn’t care about how many of their recruits get brought home in body bags. And I—” He cuts himself off and shakes his head. “I can’t talk to you about it,” he sighs and there’s an exhaustion to his face now. “You don’t have the clearance.”

“Ben?” Rey asks quietly and she knows before Luke even has a chance to react that he’s thinking of Ben.

“Keep yourself alive,” Luke tells her firmly. “That’s your primary order. Keep yourself alive. Ok? You’re more important than the Jedi Order—we’ll handle any failures you might grapple with if it means that you don’t die in the process, ok?”

Rey swallows, and nods, and Luke shakes himself.

“Now, your assignment,” he says, turning to his computer.

-

The details of the mission are simple. She’s going to be accompanying a diplomatic envoy to Wobani for a week and a half. Luke thinks it shouldn’t be too dangerous, and Rey finds herself working late nights reading everything she can find on the place. The diplomatic mission itself is about agricultural trade—nothing that should lead to any sort of violence. But the ambassador is jumpy and would feel more comfortable with a Jedi on the trip.

“We just won’t tell him you’re not a full Jedi,” Luke says, winking.

I’ll be gone for a week and a half. I have an assignment.

She sends the text twice—first to Finn so he won’t worry, then to Ben, because Ben should know even though she’s dreading it.

Awesome! Let me know when you’re back safe

Is Finn’s immediate reply.

Ben’s doesn’t come until it’s nearly ten o’clock and she’s starting to get ready for bed.

Be safe. Be wary.

It’s so cryptic, so emotionless that Rey is sure that he’s spent the past few hours blowing off whatever head of steam the news had given him. At least he’s not flipping out at me this time? She thinks. It’s not particularly comforting, and she spends too long that night thinking about what the hell might be going through Ben’s mind, and wishing he could control himself away from her the way he seemed to be starting to be able to around her.

-

Per Jedi Policy, she brings a work phone and a work phone only with her on her mission, which, as Luke had predicted, is an uneventful mission as far as missions go—compared to the case reports that Rey has read through. Rey handles everything with great care, submitting her reports on time, and charming everyone she speaks to.

It is oddly peaceful to be on this mission. She had expected more…fighting, or active defense, or something. A mission that almost got Ben killed. Or something like that. She still doesn’t know the truth of what was behind his NDA, but if it is anything like the dreamworld, she suspects that there is some miscommunication involved. In her dreams, Luke had been weak and had had to face consequence; Ben had seen his uncle trying to kill him.

She can imagine a reality in which that had happened when Ben had worked for the Jedi Order.

She thinks about Ben a lot while she is lying in her bed, the ambassador safely snoring in the next room. She imagines him lying there next to her and curled against her chest, but finds herself feeling incredibly alone without his cell phone number to text or call. The Jedi are allowed no personal attachments while they’re on duty, so she doesn’t have the exactly two pictures she’d taken of him—the first of him asleep, looking more peaceful than she’d ever thought to see him, the second of him trying to swipe her phone camera away because she was trying to get a picture of him over some shared takeout at his house with a ridiculously over the top sex scene between Bastila and Revan on the television behind him. His eyes are glinting in that one. He doesn’t like having his picture taken, but he hadn’t seemed angry with her for trying.

One night, she image searches him just to see his face and wishes she hadn’t. What pictures were there are ones of him in his First Order uniform, and there is none of the tentative warmth in his eyes that she has grown used to when he looks at her. He looks everything like what she expects of Kylo Ren, the asshole that Poe and Finn so hate, cruel, cold, commanding. He isn’t the Ben she knows.

And yet he has to be. Because that is part of Ben.

She puts the phone away and presses her face into her pillow, hoping the strange smell of the hotel pillow will put the thought from her mind.

It doesn’t.

While she was gone, that was the Ben everyone knew, that was the Ben everyone saw. Did people see a dumpster rat from Jakku when they look at her?

She can’t contain herself and reaches for the phone and image searches herself as well.

Nothing comes up.

She is relieved at that, she supposes. The only good thing about having no parents at all was that they can’t post pictures of you online, and the only jobs she’s had before getting a job with the Jedi had been driving for Han and driving a Falcon—hardly glamorous. Finn is the only person who would tag pictures of her online, but image searches like this tended not to yield private social media profiles.

Rey grimaces, her fingers hovering over the keyboard.

Then she switches windows to a regular search and types in jakku license plate r893dzx. She doesn’t know what she’d expected but a whole slew of records pop up, most of them from shady looking websites offering to sell you that license plate if you wanted it. She tries to refine her search, putting in the dates her parents had still been around. It doesn’t help. She types in her last name then pauses.

She’s never really thought about her parents’ names. They’d always just been mummy and dad. She must have known them, once. She has to have heard them call each other by their names. But she can’t remember. She can’t remember what they were called at all.

Her head hurts, and she puts her phone down again. This is all useless. And it isn’t giving her information. And you’re not using a formal data search. You could when you’re back in the office.

But she isn’t going to do that. She knows she’s not. She’s only doing it now because she misses Ben, and Finn, and karaoke, and family, and she feels so alone all over again. I’ll have to ask one of the others how they deal with being without their soulmates on missions, she thinks. She’d ask Ben, except she knows that Ben won’t know. He hadn’t had a soulmate to worry about before her anyway.

-

The week is less uneventful than Luke had predicted ultimately, but only by accident. On the drive back to D’Qar, they blow a tire, and Rey helps change it. While they’re all bent over the side of the car, someone on a motorcycle shows up with a blaster and tries to mug the clearly rich looking group and without waiting for him to finish his sentence, Rey ignites her lightsaber and slices through the blaster, pointing the blade evenly at the man.

“Walk away,” she tells him.

“I’m going, I’m going,” he squeals and he’s back on his motorcycle and gone before Rey deactivates the blade.

The ambassador is not pleased. “You should have taken him into custody!” the man snaps at her from the backseat of the car.

“I’m not a police officer,” Rey informs him.

“He was violent.”

“I was a mugger,” she replies. She doesn’t feel like explaining to the ambassador that she can tell from the way he’d sat on his bike just what sort of a man the mugger had been. She’d known plenty of him in Jakku and he wouldn’t be back because he’d realized that he’d found a prey too big for him to eat.

“He was trying to kill me.”

“He wanted your car, and your wealth. Not your life,” Rey responds, more impatient with the ambassador, somehow, than with the mugger.

“I will be reporting you,” the ambassador snaps.

“Go ahead,” Rey says. “The Jedi keep peace but we aren’t empowered to arrest. Did you really want him sitting in the second seat with you for the next six hours while we brought him to D’Qar?”

That shuts the ambassador up, and he’s huffy the rest of the way. We should have flown, Rey thinks. She’s never been in an airplane before, and wants to. Someday she will, she’s sure.

Whether or not the ambassador plans to actually report her, she doesn’t know, and can’t bring herself to care. She knows that Luke will understand if it comes up, and doesn’t regret not making the scavenger’s life worse than it already is. He’s wrong. He doesn’t know that that life already is the punishment.

Bitterness flares in her.

She collects her things from the office, answering the curious, “How’d it go?”s from her colleagues.

“Pretty relaxed,” she says by way of response, shrugging. She checks her phone. She has so many notifications that she doesn’t know what to do with them all, and knows she shouldn’t while she’s in the office.

But she fires off two texts, the first to Finn,

Back! Missed you. Can’t wait to see you.

Then to Ben,

Hey, just got back. Missed you—you free anytime soon?

It’s the first time that Ben has ever replied to her faster than Finn.

I’m free tonight and tomorrow. Otherwise not free until the weekend.

Come round to my place. I won’t be staying until the end of the day.

Are you ok?

Just tired and taking advantage of having worked for a week and a half to take tomorrow off.

Finishing up some stuff here though.

And you’re ok?

She smiles at her phone.

Yes, I’m fine.

I’ll come by your place when I get off work.

Her phone buzzes and it’s Finn this time.

YAY YAY YAY I MISSED YOU

Karaoke tonight?

Seeing Ben. Tomorrow?

Works for me but let me check with Poe.

Rey finishes her paperwork and is out of the office by four. She takes the longest shower of her life and decides she’s not even going to bother getting into pajamas because she rather likes the idea of opening the door to him completely naked, so she lies on her bed and catches up on the notifications she hadn’t checked at the office.

Finn texts her around the time he usually gets off work.

Tomorrow works for karaoke.

Excellent. See you then.

Half an hour later, there’s a knock on her door.

She peeks through the eye of the door to make sure she’s not flashing someone who’s not Ben, then does her best to keep her face straight as she opens the door to let him in.

Later, when he’s resting his head on her chest and her cunt is sore from him, he murmurs into her skin, “I tried not to worry about you. But I’m glad you’re ok.”

“It wasn’t a dangerous mission,” she tells him, running her fingers through his hair. His eyes drift close and he sighs and turns his head to give her more access to his hair. “I was fine.” She tells him as much as she thinks she can, given the nature of privacy on the job. “The most exciting part was nearly getting mugged on the highway. The ambassador was not pleased with that, but I took care of it.”

“Why wasn’t he pleased?” Ben asks, raising his eyebrows. She combs her fingers through his hair. It really is so soft. Maybe he’s right about the shampoo thing.

“He wanted me to arrest this guy. And sure, he probably should be arrested. But…”

“You don’t think he deserves it?”

“I put him out several hundred credits by destroying his blaster,” Rey shrugs. “I think that’s good enough.”

“You have a weird sense of justice,” Ben snorts.

“Sometimes you need to see the people in the systems,” she says. “That’s how it is in Jakku, anyway. Everyone’s so poor that punishing you through the police system…it’s overblown. The life is the punishment as is.”

“So you think that thieves and murderers should go away unpunished?” Ben asks and she can’t tell if he’s joking or not.

“That’s what I’m saying—in some cases the punishment can be tailored to their lives more specifically than locking them up, or fining them, or whatever.”

“Broken system?” Ben asks her quietly. “Sounds like you want to burn it all down.” Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.

Rey gives him a serious look. “I didn’t say that the system Kylo—you wanted to destroy and replace wasn’t a bad one, or worth the work of changing it. It wasn’t worth the cost, the lives lost,” she says. “And I still think that,” she adds stubbornly. Because she does.

Ben doesn’t reply, and he bends his head slightly so she can’t see his eyes at all. This is the closest they’ve come to talking about what their dreamselves are doing since that first lunch in the Rylothan restaurant downtown.

“It’s strange that they’d send you on your own for your first mission,” Ben says at last. His voice is distant, as though he’s trying to pull himself back to the hear and now.

“Is that not standard?”

“It wasn’t when I joined.”

“Maybe they knew it would be easy enough for me to take on my own. Apart from the mugger, really nothing happened.”

“Skywalker assigned you to it?”

“Yes. That’s his job, to do the assignments.”

Ben doesn’t say anything. “I was hoping someone had taken it over from him.”

“What is it that you’re not telling me? Is it that he tried to kill you, like in the dreamworld?”

She hears Ben’s breath catch in his throat. When he does speak, his voice is hard. “He ordered that we not retreat,” he says at last. “It was a bad order. Three of my squad died, and I almost did too. He knew the risk and he made us stay anyway. We’d have all been fine and the mission would have succeeded if he had let us retreat.”

“He couldn’t have known,” Rey says.

“He did know.” Ben’s voice is colder than she’d ever heard it—even colder than it had been at his parents’ house. “He did it anyway. Anyway, always take what he tells you with a grain of salt. They weren’t the first to die on his watch and wouldn’t be the last.”

Rey is suddenly very glad that she isn’t going into work tomorrow. She knows herself well enough that she’d confront Luke about it, and she’s not supposed to know—and knowing will only get Ben into trouble. But things start to connect. His parents still love Luke—does that hurt him when, when he has only ever referred to his uncle by his first name when he’s drunk? Han had gotten Rey the job—he clearly still trusts his brother-in-law, despite his son’s near-fatal experience at his hands. His father, who thinks that it’s the Kylo Ren dreams that have made his son so unmanageable. And his mother…

“How did you meet Snoke?” she asks him at last. She knows Snoke in her dreams—remembers Ben cutting him down with trickery. “Why did you go to him?”

“I met him at some thing my mother hosted a while back. I was a kid—sometime in high school,” Ben says. He turns his head so that she can see his eyes, and they’re still hard. He’s defensive. Of course he is—he knows what I must think of Snoke from the dreamworld. How could he not also think of Snoke that way? He hasn’t ordered him to kill his father—he won’t order him to kill me. Ben’s always been better at putting the dreams down than I have been. “He’s…always been around to some extent. Made comments about how I’d excel in the First Order, how there’d always be a place for me. And I thought that was terrible—because the First Order is the antithesis of what the Jedi Order should be. Except that it’s not in the end. My uncle’s a hypocrite. I’d rather steer clear of hypocrites.”

Chapter Text

vi.

Rey sleeps for most of the next day, and it’s an early and low-key karaoke session after Finn and Poe get off work. It’s just the three of them today—no Jessika and no Rose. And it’s early enough in the evening that they aren’t drunk enough for it to be the fullest of full-on karaoke sessions, so after each of them does a song for the half-full bar, they sit and talk.

Rey’s into her second beer when she asks, “Do you think the Jedi are hypocrites?”

Poe frowns, and Finn raises his eyebrows.

“What’s got you asking?” Poe asks, leaning forward.

“Something Ben said,” Rey responds vaguely.

Finn grimaces and glances at Poe. “Everyone’s a hypocrite, Rey. It’s what makes us human.”

“Yeah, but—”

“Was he trying to convince you that the First Order isn’t hypocritical?” Finn demands.

“More that the Jedi Order is.”

“Why, because blood gets shed when keeping peace? Because people die for good causes sometimes?” Poe asks, rolling his eyes. “He’s really not one to talk.”

“I don’t think he was denying that the First Order is fucked up,” Rey says. They aren’t getting it, but then again, neither is she, completely. “It felt more like…more like he was saying they’re not as different as all that.”

“And I worked for the First Order, too, remember?” Finn says hotly. “Maybe not as high up as Darth Tantrum over there, but I worked there. I cleaned the floors, I did my time, I almost got killed. They’re not in the same league as the Jedi Order. If the Jedi are fucked up, it’s because they fuck up. If the First Order is fucked up, it’s because it’s fucked up. Like I don’t know what’s got his ass going about the Jedi, but I could tell you for a fact that Hux would stick a knife in his back no problem and be done with it.”

“Hux?” Rey asks.

Finn gives her a look, and Rey could tell he had expected her to know Hux—from the dreamworld, maybe. “He’s one of the senior commanders—reports directly to Snoke. And he and Solo hate one another. And I don’t know what kind of shop Luke Skywalker runs, but I don’t think he’d foster an environment where two of his high-ups might be fine sticking a knife in one another’s backs. So the simple fact that Ben thinks that it’s tolerable…” Finn raises his eyebrows again and lets her follow his train of thought all on her own.

Rey sits there, staring at her beer. Ben probably preferred the honesty of someone who was at his throat, rather than an uncle he thought was trying to get him killed secretly. Ben hadn’t said that out loud, but she knows enough from the dreamworld to be sure that he had spent years wondering after that too. It has to be a misunderstanding, Rey thinks, Luke wouldn’t do that. Or if he did, it was like in the dreamworld, where it was…a devastating failure. She thought of Ben’s bitter relationship with his father, the strain with his mother, his comments about not having to pretend… If he doesn’t expect them to like him, he doesn’t have to pretend to be likeable.

That’s not a way to live.

How is it that he just doesn’t know how to be a person? Is it that he’d been alone the whole time? Does he even have friends? He never talked about them if he does.

Her phone buzzes on the table, and she glances at the text from Ben.

What are you doing tonight?

Come over?

It isn’t that late—but she is a little bit too drunk to drive.

I’ve been drinking with friends.

I’d pay for your Falcon.

I can pay for my own Falcon.

So you’re coming?

She looks up at Finn and Poe. “Calling it a night?” she asks them. They share a knowing look and she knows it’s at her own expense.

A twenty-minute cab ride later, she’s letting herself into Ben’s house. She finds him in his kitchen, cleaning a blaster and stops short.

He looks up and the blaster clatters from his hands. “Just cleaning it,” he mutters. “Nothing…nothing major.”

He doesn’t look away from her, and there’s a jut to his jaw. Rey takes a deep breath. I have a blaster too, she reminds herself. She keeps it at the office, though, and never brings it home with her.

“From a work trip?” she asks him, nodding to it.

“A trip, yeah,” he replies. “I procrastinated cleaning it and might need it tomorrow.”

She frowns. “Are you going away?”

“Just a day thing. Might extend into two. It’s why I wanted to see you.”

He rounds the counter and kisses her. It is a gentle kiss, one to sooth. And Rey lets herself be soothed.

-

She can’t shake the mental image of him cleaning the blaster when they wake up the next morning together before dawn. He kisses her shoulder as she brushes her teeth using his toothbrush. She has a key to his house now, but they keep forgetting to get a toothbrush for her, and she can’t really care too much. They exchange enough saliva at this point. She takes it more as a sign that Ben never goes to the damn grocery store and is remarkably incapable of taking care of himself, and Finn’s voice in the back of her head tells her that she’ll be damned if she picks up the slack on that front.

She leans back into his bare chest, and locks eyes with him in the bathroom mirror. His hair is tousled and he looks like he’s not fully awake and there’s purpose in his gaze when he looks at her.

But there’s a strange feeling she can’t shake. A bad feeling, she thinks. She doesn’t know why, doesn’t know where it comes from—just that there’s something off about Ben, and there had been ever since she’d come back from her mission. It’s probably just that he doesn’t like my going away, being assigned by Luke. He’ll never like that.

She wishes he’d trust her, though. Sure, it’s not the dreamworld, but it is her—he knows how capable she is, doesn’t he? Except that he’s the one always telling her to let go of the dreams, to focus only on the here and now. And the here and now is where things are strange. The dreamworld has confused visions of love on the opposite sides of a war. That’s oddly easy—her dreamself knows Kylo Ren. And she thinks she knows Ben, has known him better and better as the months go on, but then why can’t she shake this feeling?

She thinks of the casual ease with which he’d been cleaning his blaster. Did he keep one in the house? And why was she fixating on it—she’s used blasters too.

-

The weekend passes uneventfully. Whatever has taken Ben out of town keeps him there, so Rey spends most of the weekend cuddled up with Finn and Poe, watching reality TV shows and laughing. If she’d thought that it would be enough to ease her, she’s wrong. The only thing that ever keeps Ben out of town is work related and there he is again in her mind with that blaster or, worse, swinging his red lightsaber with the ease and grace of one who has trained with it since he was a little boy.

“You ok?” Finn asks, nudging her with his shoulder.

She smiles at him, but doesn’t say anything. She knows what he’ll say. He wraps an arm around her and she lets her head fall onto his shoulder and feels better.

-

Back—that took longer than expected.

You around tonight?

Yes!

Come round when you’re done with work?

He doesn’t reply, but he’s sitting on a bench outside her apartment building when she parks her car in the lot and the kiss he gives her is long, and deep and so gentle that she can only smile into his lips, her hand wrapped around the back of his neck.

“Missed you,” he whispers to her, and swallows. There’s an odd look in his eyes, and Rey presses another quick kiss to his lips.

“Missed you too. The assignment was ok?”

He shrugs. He can’t go into detail, she knows—no more than she could go into detail herself. She finds herself glad of that in this instance as she lets them both into her apartment and his hands rest on her hips almost immediately after the door closes.

The Ben she gets today is a gentle Ben. There’s no frantic rush to get her clothes off, no kiss so desperately deep that she loses her breath. He’s slow and thoughtful brushes her hair out of her face, and when she straddles him, the pace he sets with her is almost achingly slow. He looks up at her as though she is the moon, as though she is the world.

He hugs her to his chest when they’re done, holds her close to his chest and kisses the top of her head. “You’re everything to me, you know?” he whispers to her, and she tilts her head up to look at him. She stretches her neck out and presses her lips to his again. Why does this all feel wrong?

She’d wanted nothing more for than exactly this for so long—her soulmate to make love to her, to tell her that she’s everything, to be the first person he calls when he’s back from a trip, to look at her with eyes softer than Finn’s when he is sharing moments with Poe. She doesn’t understand the lump in her throat.

His arms tighten around her, and his eyes flutter closed and it’s not too long before he’s asleep.

Rey stays awake a good while afterwards, watching the way his face shifts into unconscious peacefulness. He is so beautiful when he’s peaceful.

(The problem, of course, is that he is so rarely peaceful.)

-

Rey takes a deep breath and looks around the office.

She’s nearly done helping finalize a contract for another bodyguard mission that Luke wants to put her on. “This one,” he had told her, “might be a tad more dangerous.” Rey’s stomach had jolted with excitement when she’d heard him say it. That she was going to be assigned something harder than last time, that she was being trusted, that her growth was being recognized…all of those make her heart swell.

She tells Finn about it, who is appropriately excited on her behalf.

Ben doesn’t respond when she tells him that she’ll be on another mission soon—shorter, but harder.

Maybe it’s because he doesn’t respond, maybe it’s because she still feels weird from the last few days, maybe it’s because she’s feeling more comfortable than ever in her job—whatever it is, she is feeling reckless.

She opens up one of the search engines and plugs in R893DZX, with date brackets around the time that her parents had abandoned her.

The car had been taken to an impound after the imprisonment of Nara and Zed Johnson for stealing and putting fake plates on it, and Rey felt her stomach twist. Nara and Zed. That was what they’d been called. The names she’d forgotten. The names she hadn’t let herself remember. She remembers now.

Her head is hurting suddenly, a headache out of nowhere, and she gets to her feet and goes to the med kit in the kitchen and downs some pills. When she returns to her desk, she plugs the names into a criminal search.

Car jackings, drug possessions, robbery…They’d each been taken into custody several times, and her father had served five years in prison for an assault, too. She can see his mugshot in the database. She has his eyes.

Down the files she reads, down she goes until she reaches a connected record and clicks into it.

Her heart stops.

They’re dead.

She reads over the report, taking in words like “unknown culprit,” and “likely gang violence,” and “blaster shot,” and “burn wounds.”

It had taken place less than a month before.

I could have found them. If I’d just…if I’d just…

She feels ill and stumbles from her desk to the bathroom to retch. Her head is splitting open and memories that she had suppressed flood back in—her mother screaming at her to stop crying and whining, her father hitting her mother, both of her parents drunk and not listening to her complaints that she was hungry. She was so hungry.

There are tears on her face and she retches again. They left me, she thinks, gasping for air and reaching a shaking hand for some toilet paper to wipe her lips with. They left me behind.

How long she sits on the bathroom floor she does not know. She closes her eyes against the bright fluorescent lights, and it helps the pain in her head a little bit.

At some point, she pulls herself to her feet and rinses out her mouth. She probably vomited up the pills she’d taken for the headache because it’s not going away, so she goes back to the kitchen and takes some more.

Then she goes back and sits at her desk again, staring blankly at the screen of her computer.

“Rey? Everything all right?” Luke asks as he passes her desk.

“Headache,” Rey rasps at him.

“We’ve got medicine in the kitchen,” he tells her.

“Just took some.” She tries to smile at him, but it comes out more a wince.

“If it’s too bright, go into the conference room. We’re done in there.”

Rey nods and grabs her laptop and goes into the darkened room. She dims down the backlighting on her computer and reads through the record of their death—their murder—one more time.

She takes more in this time. The police had decided that it was definitely a homicide, but they were still piecing together parts of it. The shots that had killed them had been blaster fire, but there were strange burns across their faces—as though someone had held something very hot close to them—as a threat? To torture? It was unclear. They’d been found in an alleyway behind Ergel’s Bar in Cratertown—a place known for bar brawls, which could explain how the homicide had occurred. It did not, however, explain the burns, which according to the coroner had been sustained within an hour of their deaths.

Rey takes a deep breath and clicks into a picture file of the burns themselves and gags. They are long, thin strips of melted skin that look almost as though the skin has melted over some sort of cut, and she slams her laptop shut, but the image is burned into her mind.

She gets up, and goes back out into the main office, her head spinning.

“I’m taking off this afternoon,” she tells the first person she passes, “Not feeling well.”

It elicits a coo of sympathy that Rey barely notices as she grabs her jacket and heads out to her car.

She finds herself driving, not home, but to Ben’s.

She knows he’s not there, she knows he’s at work, but she can bury her face in his pillow and smell him and maybe that will make her feel better. Her parents are dead, but she has a soulmate who says that she’s everything to him, and if she focuses on that maybe it’ll stop hurting and maybe memories—nicer memories, now, memories of her mother singing her to sleep, of her father showing her how to use a wrench—will go away again. They’re dead. They’re dead and they abandoned her and they are dead now and she’ll never get to ask them why.

She lets herself into Ben’s house and climbs the stairs to the bedroom. His bed is messy—it always is, he never makes it—and she kicks off her shoes and climbs onto the side that he usually sleeps on. The smell of him is there, just the way she wants, and she pulls out her phone and sends him a text.

I’m at your place. I just needed to be here.

He doesn’t respond right away. Rey doesn’t care though. Her heart is calmer just by being here.

Outside, it begins to rain.

It soothes her.

The smell of him soothes her.

It had been raining the first time she came over here, when they’d watched Knights of the Old Republic together and had gone grocery shopping—the first time she’d driven his car.

That was her life now—the Jedi, and Finn, and Ben. Not her parents. Not her parents who had left her without telling her why.

The memory of the picture of those burns flashes across her mind as her phone buzzes in her hand.

What’s wrong? Did something happen with Skywalker?

She can read the concern there, the fear, the anger.

Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering…

Where had that come from? The dreamworld? No one had said it to her in the dreams, but it sounds like something someone had said once there.

Hate leads to suffering.

“Traitor!” she had heard Kylo Ren scream in the snow when Finn had wrapped his arms around her. She had pulled herself to her feet, had reached with the Force for Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber because he had sliced open Finn’s back in furious retribution for…for what? Kylo Ren didn’t care about the treason of a lowly stormtrooper. He cared about You’re not alone her You need a teacher. She sees the strip of Finn’s burned back after the crater opened between her and Kylo, cut right through the back of the jacket he’d got from Poe—seared flesh, sliced and cauterized and melted…

For the third time that day, Rey finds herself pelting for the bathroom to vomit, her throat burning, her heart screaming, her head splitting open as the ground on Starkiller Base had split open, creating a chasm between her and Kylo Ren so that she could not kill him for what he had done to his father.

She sits there, clutching the toilet and shaking, and there are tears on her face.

Her head has stopped hurting, oddly enough. Or rather, it’s no longer splitting open, but it’s been reduced to a dull ache, as if she had vomited out the pain of it. She remembers from far off Jessika telling her that happens sometimes.

Rey gets to her feet. She wipes what vomit hadn’t made it into the toilet up and flushes. Then she goes back into Ben’s room and puts her shoes back on.

It’s still raining. It’s getting dark outside too.

She has to go, has to leave, has to get away from here. And he’ll be home soon, unless work keeps him late for some reason today, and she suspects that he’ll be leaving early if he’s worried about her.

She lets out a bitter laugh that no one will hear.

You’re the only one I need to worry about.

Finn had been right. Of course he had been. He hadn’t willed himself to see light where it wasn’t there, hadn’t blinded himself to the truth as Rey had done—had always done, ever since she was six years old and sobbing at R893DZX thinking that maybe, just maybe her piece of shit drunkard negligent criminal parents would come back for her.

She’s reaching the front door when it opens and Ben comes through it, his hair damp from the rain. He takes one look at her and reaches for her. “What’s wrong?” his voice is worried, gentle, but she shoves him away.

“Did you kill them? My parents—did you kill them?”

His face goes blank.

“Rey—”

“Answer the question!” she screams at him, her throat already raw from her retching breaking as she does. “Did you? Did you do it?”

“They were filthy junk traders.” Did he say that? Or was that her memory of the dream of Kylo Ren? “They left you—they abandoned you.”

And Rey shuts down. She knows all this so well—knows it more than he ever can. He’s still talking, but she can’t hear the words. It’s like her ears have gone fuzzy, like they’re ringing. He reaches for her hand, but she slaps it away.

She skirts around him for the door and throws it open.

(And now, what you knew was coming.)

“Don’t follow me.”

“Rey—”

“Don’t you dare.”

“Please.”

And off she goes into the evening rain, everything hurting.

Chapter Text

II. 

vii.

“Rey.”  She prepares herself, knows exactly what he’s going to say before the words come out of his mouth.  “Rey.  You need to break up with him.  He’s fucked up.  It doesn’t matter that he’s your soulmate.  You don’t deserve him.  And he certainly doesn’t deserve you.”

Rey swallows.  Her throat is still sore from screaming, from vomiting, and it burns as she moves it.

“I left him,” she whispers.  It doesn’t feel real.  Maybe because she can’t hear the words he’d been trying to say to her when she’d left.  Maybe because she feels like she’s in a dream.  Or a nightmare.  Not the dreamworld.  And yet paired with a monster all the same.

“Rey,” Finn says as she starts to cry again, pulling her into his arms and squeezing her so tightly.  Finn, the only family she’s ever had.

The only family she will ever have.

Even Ben’s own mother had told her, “I don’t envy you.”

That only makes her cry harder.  Leia had told her that she could come to her for any reason at all.  Rey never had because Ben’s family was a livewire.  Now she never would.

She cries herself to sleep that night in Finn’s apartment, curled up on the bed between him and Poe.  When she wakes, she doesn’t go to work.  She calls in sick, saying the migraine from yesterday hasn’t gone away, and then presses her face into the pillow again and lets her misery have at her.

She does not check her phone. 

She does not want to know if Ben has texted her. 

(She does not want to know if he hasn’t, either.) 

She stares at the ceiling of Finn’s apartment long after he and Poe had left for work, and wonders why it is that nothing can ever be good.

He was supposed to make me feel less alone, she thinks.  He was supposed to be part of my future—someone at my side for all of it.

Let the past die. Kylo Ren had said to her in one of their shared visions, and then again in Snoke’s throne room.  Kill it, if you have to.

“Who the fuck does he think he is?” she yells at the ceiling.  Her throat is still sore from yesterday’s vomiting and screaming.  “Does he think he’s above the law?  Does he think he can do whatever he wants because he can?”

She’d never be able to ask them why?  She’d never be able to find out if they looked for her.

A small thought crosses her mind—that surely Ben would have asked before he killed them.  But she squashes that one down, because he still killed them—but not before more tears leak from her eyes.

Finn comes home from work before Poe, and he’s got a bag of fruit for Rey to eat.  She eats the starblossoms he had brought her, hoping their sweetness will make her think of how Finn is the only person who’s ever truly understood her and not how she and Ben had bought them during her first visit to his house. 

“I was worried—you didn’t reply to my texts,” Finn tells her as she eats the fruit.

“I didn’t want to look at my phone,” she replies, her voice low.

“Has he texted you?”

“I haven’t wanted to look.”

Finn goes to her phone.  She can’t read the expression on his face.  “Do you want me to block his number?”

Rey looks at Finn and feels a white hot rage in her as she nods.  Good.  She prefers rage to crying.  Rage she can control, and push down into that corner that once she had reserved for the pain her parents caused her.  Now she can keep it for Ben too.

“Are you worried he’ll try and talk to you?  Visit you at home?” Finn asks.  “Should you change your locks?”

“I’ll do it this weekend,” Rey says, thinking of the key she’d given him with a smile and how soft his lips had been when he’d—no.  No she wasn’t thinking about his lips, or his smiles, or his anything.  She was thinking of the way he’d been polishing a blaster when she’d come back from her first assignment.  Had he done it while she’d been gone for a week and a half?  Had that been the blaster he’d killed them with?

“Do you need me to go and get anything from his place for you?”

She couldn’t think of anything that was there of hers.  Some underwear, maybe—and a t-shirt or two, but Ben was welcome to do with them as he pleased.  Other than that, they hadn’t been quite at the stage of leaving things at each others’ places just yet.  The only thing of his she had in her apartment was the sulfate-free shampoo he’d bought in the end.  She could throw that out just fine.  She didn’t need to think of how smooth his hair was whenever she washed hers.

“No,” she says at last, realizing that she hasn’t said a word.  “No, there isn’t anything.”

-

Whether Ben tries to contact her again, she doesn’t know.  She’s glad Finn blocked his number on her phone.  He doesn’t seek her out in person, and she doesn’t even get inquisitive questions from Luke about him.  It’s a relief, she thinks, that he isn’t close to his family.  He probably hasn’t told them, she thinks, when Luke assigns her to another mission, this one more dangerous and involving some reconnaissance work.

She sustains a minor injury on her arm during this mission, which earns her two days off work per company policy, and she spends it moving the furniture around her apartment despite her shoulder screaming at her.  She doesn’t want to just sit there, and she hates that she wakes up sometimes in her bed and wonders where Ben is before she remembers.

Karaoke nights are the way they were before Ben now.  Rey gets drunk and sings duets with Finn, or Rose—and sometimes even Poe.  She feels great until they’re all getting cuddly without her. 

Sometimes, she’s tempted to do what Jessika does and find someone at the bar to hookup with.  She even goes so far as to let some guy with blond hair and green eyes buy her a drink, but the second he gets close enough to kiss, she starts crying and she doesn’t know why (except that she does) and that puts a damper on the whole affair. 

She spends her free evenings with Finn and Poe; she thinks about getting a dog to keep her company in her bed because she’d gotten too used to having Ben there and misses the warmth sometimes; she can’t bring herself to masturbate though sometimes she feels this ache that she wants to act on but every time she tries touching herself her mind is flooded with Ben so she stops.

Rey is one for self-control.  It’s what got her through her years on Jakku. Don’t let your heart run away with you.  Keep your focus on that one thing and you will persevere.  And Rey is determined to persevere.

So she sets her mind on work.  Because she can excel in work while the rest of her life may feel like a stale shadow of what it was before Ben murdered her parents.

-

Fast-forward: Skim over some of the repetitive ache of mourning.

The months wear on, punctuated primarily by missions.  Rey has done bodyguard work, but she is finally being placed in the sort of tricky situations that she’d thought she was signing herself up for when she’d beaten those goons who were trying to rob Han’s truck.  It feels like a million years ago.  She had been plucky, spunky, and so very eager.  Now the energy comes from elsewhere—the same place it had come from in Jakku, maybe, the desperation to survive.  How nice it had been to live for something she was building towards, rather than to feel like she was keeping herself alive with every ounce of strength left in her.  But all good things come to an end, she supposes.

More and more of her missions take her to the outer rim, and at least twice she ends up on a holdup that she makes her way out of primarily because she has a lightsaber that draws blaster blasts to it.  She does manage to knock one of her assailant’s teeth out with the butt of the weapon, though.

She stares long and hard at the saber after her fifth mission.  Once she had told Ben it made her think of him.  It had belonged to his grandfather.  But she also knows that she can’t just go and put in a request for another lightsaber just because she wants to.  And besides, then she’d have to explain what was happening to Luke, and she doesn’t want to do that.  That would require opening the dark box in the corner of her mind that contains her parents’ corpses and Ben lying between them.

It becomes a non-issue, though.  A misfired blaster manages to shatter the hilt of the saber, leaving her only with the crystals inside.  Take care of it.  It was my grandfather’s.  She and Luke spend the next week using the crystals in a weapon that Rey designs—one where the blade extends from both ends and she can use it like staff or sword as she pleases.  The damaged crystals make the blades white.  She no longer thinks of Ben when she ignites the blade on her next mission.

-

She moves out of her apartment in late spring to a nicer place.  She can afford a nicer place, and a bigger one, and Finn, Poe, and Rose come help her move.  Her bedroom is bright with southern facing light, and Rose brings her a bunch of plants as a housewarming gift which she lines the window with.  The green is calming for her.  It’s the green, more than anything that makes her aware of how far she has come since Jakku.

She waters them lovingly every morning, watching as the soil they’re planted in drinks the water in and the leaves bob gently in the shifting air by the window.  The air in her apartment feels fresher, clearer, healthier.  The breath in her lungs as she falls asleep is lighter.

-

Rey goes on another mission that ends up wounding her—this one ending in a tussle between two rival gangs.  She gets shot in the gut and wakes up in a hospital, a heart monitor beeping in her ear.  The lights are bright, and sterile, and they hurt her eyes as she looks up at them, and she tries to turn onto her side but that hurts more and she feels a hand gently take hers.

“Try and stay still,” murmurs a voice and Rey’s eyes fill with tears as she turns her head and sees Leia Organa sitting there next to her, her eyes—the same eyes as Ben—so very gentle. 

“Why are you—” Rey begins but Leia cuts her off.

“Luke called me.  I know you don’t have other family, so I came.”

Questions bubble forward in Rey’s mind—does Leia know that Rey has left her son?  Does Leia care?  Does Ben know she’s here?  Does she care if he does? 

“Ben’s off on a work trip,” Leia says by way of answering the confusion that’s probably in Rey’s eyes.  “And even if he weren’t…” her voice fades and she looks at Rey.  “Something’s going on between you two, isn’t it?”

“How could you tell?”

“Because I know my son,” Leia says.  “And he was almost calm for a few months.  And now he’s not.”

Rey looks down at her hand.  It’s still in Leia’s.  “I can’t do it,” Rey whispers.  “I can’t.  I’m sorry.  I did try.  I did want to.  But I can’t.”  Not the way he is.  Not the way he’s determined to be.

Leia squeezes Rey’s hand again, and Leia’s words catch up to Rey.

“How did you know if he was almost calm?  And now he’s not?  He said he’s not close to you and Han.”

“He’s not,” Leia says.  “We text, though.  There’s something in the tone he uses that you just know after however many years of knowing him.  He’s terse.  He stopped being quite as terse.  Now he’s terse again.”

Rey closes her eyes against the light again.  She feels as though she’s disappointed Leia, somehow, even though she barely knows her.  She hates that feeling. 

Leia squeezes her hand again.  “I don’t blame you for leaving,” Leia says firmly.  “I can’t.  If I blamed everyone who couldn’t handle Ben, I’d hate my husband, my brother, and myself far more than I can currently bring myself to.  I love my son—I always will—but he’s hard.”  He’s a monster, Rey wants to say, but doesn’t.  “He drives away everyone who tries to help him.  It’s Snoke’s doing, I think, but he doesn’t want to hear that either.  And he’s certainly tired of hearing it from me.”  Leia’s voice changes.  “Are you all right?”

Rey takes a deep breath.  She thinks of her new apartment—just around the corner from where Finn and Poe live, with it’s lovely line of plants on her bedroom sill.  She thinks of work, which, apart from when she got gutshot, makes her feel like she is actually amounting to something.  She thinks of Rose’s smile, of karaoke nights, of rainy days that don’t make her think of Ben.  “I’m getting there,” she says at last. 

“He broke your heart?” Leia asks quietly, and Rey can hear the tampered curiosity underlying the forced casualness of her question.

Rey can’t bring herself to tell the truth.  She knows it—knows it and will never not know it—but she can’t bring herself to say it aloud more than she already has.

Leia heaves a sigh.  “I meant it when I said you could come to me for anything,” she says at last.  “That stands, even if Ben’s not part of your life.  I know you don’t have parents.”  Rey’s throat constricts horribly.  “And I know that you don’t have a soulmate you want to share your soul with.  I won’t push you towards him.  But…” and she sounds suddenly so sad.  “But you walked into my son’s life and I had this moment of such hope for him.  And for me.  I wanted a little girl, and there you were after years.”  There are tears in her eyes.  “And I know you’re not my daughter, and never will be, and I’m not your mother…”

If Rey could turn and hug Leia, she would.  Instead she holds onto her hand as tightly as she dares.  Her grip is strong after months of training with her staff, and Leia’s getting old and she knows that bones grow weak.

Leia stands and kisses Rey’s forehead.

“Family comes in all forms,” Leia says at last.  “I can be your family if you need me.  I’d like that, but it has to be your choice.  You’re cursed with having to choose your family, not having them always there for you.”

That’s what Ben wanted, Rey thinks.  To choose his family, not to have the one he had. 

How could he not choose Leia?

-

Rey is in the hospital for several more days.  Finn shows up with a bouquet of daisies, which he puts on her sill to remind her of home.  “We’re watering your plants, don’t worry,” he tells her.

“I knew you would,” Rey tells him and he smiles at her. 

“Couldn’t let your babies die.  Even if you could replace them.”

Rey narrows her eyes.  “And how do I know that you didn’t let them die and just replaced them.”

“You’re too clever for that,” Finn sighs melodramatically.  “You’d probably notice the different growth of the leaves or something.”

That makes her laugh.  “I definitely would,” she replies.  “Distract me.  Tell me about work.”

And he does.  He tells her about how the Senate is waffling over some peace deal, about how there are going to be tax cuts—again—even though the budget can’t take it, about how the Senate is planning on doing an audit of military contractors because of some of the more recent high-profile violations that the First Order has brought to light.

“What’s going to happen with the audit?” Rey asks.  She hadn’t been following most of what he’d been saying until then.  He’d gotten way more invested in politics ever since Poe had come into his life, because Poe is so invested in Leia and her work.  Rey cares insofar as it affects her, and she cares because she cares about doing the right thing, but the machinations, and legal definitions, and all that…Maybe she was too much some lost little orphan from Jakku, and the political realm feels like a whole different existence from her own.

“It depends on how much Snoke’s bribing people to ignore the First Order’s infractions.  Some people are going to try and shut down organizations with too many violations, while others are just saying they’ll need to change their ways.  I know that Leia’s working as hard as she can to protect Luke and the Jedi, but she’s out for blood when it comes to the First Order.  They—”

“I don’t care what the First Order does,” Rey mutters.  She couldn’t let herself.  That would mean thinking about Ben.  Finn’s face grows still, and Rey leaps to add, “I care about you.  And I know you want to see them go up in smoke, so I care about that.  But…you know why I can’t care.”

“Yeah,” Finn replies.  “I know,” he sounds sad.  “I hate him for this.  For making it hard to talk about some things with you.”

“It’ll get better,” Rey says, anger at Ben flaring in her again.  One more thing he’d taken from her, apparently.  “It’s already better to some extent.  Time will wash it all away.”  She’s determined that it’s the truth.  He doesn’t have the right to have any affect on what she talks about with Finn when he is no longer a part of her life.

Chapter Text

viii.

Rey takes Leia up on her offer after getting her number from Poe.

Is it possible to do this without talking about him?

We can try. I don’t back down from a challenge.

Rey smiles at the words. She doesn’t either.

Which is how she finds herself at Leia’s house the following weekend, sitting on the couch while Han and Chewie are in the backyard planting a new tree because one of the ones they’d had back there had died over the winter.

She tells Leia about what of her work she can—something that is surprisingly easy because Leia’s sharp eyes are all too knowing when she describes the daily runnings of the Jedi Order to her. “I’ve had Luke in my life for years now. I know what he has to contend with,” Leia says, pouring tea for Rey. Rey has never been much of a drinker of tea. It doesn’t have enough caffeine in it to feel useful, and there are too many flavors of it, but there’s something nice about the way it seems to dry her mouth even as she drinks it. “What’s it like as a job? Coming from where you come from?”

Rey pauses, and thinks of the empty loneliness that had been her life in Jakku.

(She does not let herself think of the reasons why it had been empty and lonely. That is off the table, especially in conversations with Leia.)

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be used to it. And yet somehow I also am,” she says at last.

“How so?”

“I’m valuable,” she says. “I get assigned to things because I’m good at them. I’m not scrambling to survive. I’m…I’m prioritized. And that’s new to me, given…given how I grew up. But at the same time, that is treated as the normal thing. Luke assigning me to missions, the reports I submit being seen as useful rather than a waste of time and paperwork…It’s so matter of fact.”

“It’s how you should be treated, rather than how you have been,” Leia says.

“Yeah,” Rey replies. “I guess that’s it.” She reaches for one of the starblossoms sitting in a bowl on the table. They are sweet and soft as they explode juice into her mouth.

“That’s good, then,” Leia replies, tilting her head to one side. “Being treated how you deserve to be treated is always good—and hard when you’re a woman in a man’s world.”

“I…” Rey pauses, “I guess I haven’t experienced that. It was always the poverty that was harder than being a woman. But maybe that’s because I’ve always had a mean left hook.”

“A luxury I never got to develop, I suppose,” Leia sighs. “I shouldn’t call it a luxury,” she adds, correcting herself. “It’s not like you didn’t develop it for a reason.”

“No, you just developed your tongue,” Han says, brushing his dirt-covered hands on his pants.

“Didn’t hear you come in. Is it planted?” Leia asks.

Chewie roars that it is.

“Good. Now you can both go and shower and not track dirt all over my house, please.”

Han rolls his eyes. “She does have a mouth on her,” he replies.

“Comes from living in a man’s world, nerf herder,” she replies.

If there’s not a threat of murder at least once a week, the marriage is falling apart, Ben’s voice flits across her mind and Rey’s face contorts in frustration at the memory and amusement at assessment.

“I don’t know why you call me that. Why does she call me that?” he directs the second part at Chewie. “I’m not the one who grew up on a farm. That’s your brother.”

“And yet, somehow you’re the nerf herder, not him. I know. I’m shocked too,” Leia says dryly, waving him away. He and Chewie go off and she smiles, rolling her eyes at Rey. She looks like she has something to say, but bites it back.

“What?” Rey asks.

“It’s not helpful, and it breaks our challenge. It’s more about Han, but it could be construed as about Ben.”

“Oh,” Rey says. “And if I refuse to see it as about Ben?”

Leia gives her an even look, considering, then says, slowly, “Things haven’t always been easy with Han. Our match, I think, came out of…I don’t know. Working towards the same thing, maybe. Caring about Luke and getting confused with each other. We’re very different people, and that’s been challenging. I’ve kicked him out of the house more than once. But as I get old and grey, I’m glad he’s here to annoy me sometimes.”

Rey reaches for her tea and takes a sip. “This isn’t like that,” she says quietly at last.

“We’re not talking about Ben,” Leia says firmly. “That’s why I didn’t want to bring it up.”

Rey nods and takes a deep breath. She tries to think of something—anything—that she can talk to Leia about, but her mind is blank. She wants Chewie and Han to come back downstairs and break the now awkward silence. She wants Finn to text her.

As if the fates had heard that last thought, she hears a phone buzz, but it’s Leia’s. She reads the words on the screen and glances at Rey. “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to kick you out. Something work related.”

“Of course,” Rey says, trying not to sound as relieved as she is as she gets to her feet.

“Rey,” Leia calls after her and she turns.

“I’m still up for the challenge. I don’t give up so easily.”

Rey smiles at her, and nods, and leaves. She doesn’t give up so easily either.

-

Rey gets a text from Finn towards the end of the week.

I’m going to be out of town for work for a few days. Don’t want you to worry. Keep an eye on Poe for me while I’m gone? Take that boy out singing.

So she does—just the two of them at their usual bar drunkenly singing every song they can think of dedicating to Finn and his trip. “It’s a classified trip,” Poe says. “And one he’s suited for. He should be more than able to handle it. But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t worry about him.” He throws an arm around Rey’s shoulder and she leans into him in the booth, sighing. “It’s weird being here without him. Kind of…lonely, I don’t know,” Poe says. “Is this what it’s like coming here without soulmates?”

“Yes,” Rey responds.

“That sucks. I’m sorry we keep dragging you here.”

“Please. As if I don’t initiate karaoke nights,” she says.

“Do they make you lonely?” Poe asks.

“Sometimes,” she says. “Not all the time,” she adds as a lie. It’s not a lie. She hadn’t felt lonely when she’d been texting Ben. “I miss him too.”

“Come on. Let’s sing him a rendition of ‘Only in Your Dreams’ he’ll be able to hear all the way wherever he is.”

“Deal.”

-

Rey is nursing a hangover the likes of which she hasn’t had in months the next day. Poe, it turns out, can drink her under the table when Finn isn’t there to moderate him, and Rey stares blankly at her computer screen for thirty minutes before remembering that she’s working on a comparison report of two missions that she’d gone on recently. She forces her way through it, has a light lunch, and think she’s starting to feel better.

Then, because she is curious, she texts Leia.

I understand if you can’t answer this, but what differentiates a mission that you send your own people on versus one you send the jedi on?

Leia is slow to respond, and does so with an invitation to dinner at her house that night, which Rey accepts.

“It’s a matter of…discretion,” Leia replies. “And I wish that I could say it was a consistent matter of discretion, but it can be case by case. Sometimes there are things we want to be able to plead ignorance on—discretion—and sometimes there are things we don’t under any circumstances want to leave the knowledge of a select few—discretion.”

“I think she flips a coin,” Han says at the other side of the table, and Rey smiles at him.

“You of all people know I don’t flip a coin,” Leia says, rolling her eyes. “Pass the stew, please.” Rey does.

“And how do you pick who goes on it—of your team, I mean?”

“You’re asking about Finn?” Leia asks.

“Yeah,” Rey responds.

“Finn because he’s pragmatic, and determined,” Leia says, lifting some stew to her lips. “He’s got a good head in a fight, but is a defensive attacker—or so his combat reports claim. That’s always good to have on a mission. It’s part of why I stopped sending Poe ages ago.”

“You stopped sending Poe because you want to groom him for leadership,” Han says.

“That too,” Leia sighs. She gives Rey a smile. “But you knew that.”

“I did,” Rey responds, remembering the battle on Crait, and how, according to Finn, it had been Poe who had led them to safety. “Do you think Finn could be a leader?”

“I think he already is, but doesn’t know it yet,” Leia shrugs. “Takes a lot of guts to be what he is, and to make the choices he makes. Different sort of leader from Poe, or you, but—”

“Me?” Rey asks.

Leia laughs. “You’ve got the spark in you. I can’t describe it. But people will follow you to the ends of the earth and back. Luke’s got it too.”

It’s a thought that warms her when she climbs into her bed that night, cuddling into her pillow and imagining herself in charge of…something. Anything. Quite a far way to come from someone who used to drive Falcon in Jakku.

-

Rey’s phone is ringing in the middle of a meeting and when she looks at the screen as she mutes it, she sees Poe’s number. That makes her frown. She and Poe don’t text, particularly, and he certainly wouldn’t call her unless…unless…

When the meeting is over, she listens to her voice mail and goes numb.

“Rey, it’s Poe—I’m…I’m…I’m at the Resistance base right now. Finn’s been…he’s being held hostage or something. I don’t know. There’s not a lot of info and—and—”

Rey calls Poe back, but this time his phone goes to voice mail. She hurries into Luke’s office.

“I need to go,” she hears herself say. “Something’s happened to Finn, and I need to go. I need to—” her head is spinning, and it’s reminding her horribly of the day that she left Ben.

She calls Poe from her car. He’s at Leia’s house now, and Rey heads there immediately, sprinting up the walkway across the lovely lawn to the house.

“Poe?” she calls as she closes the door behind her.

“In here.” His voice sounds empty and Rey joins him on the couch, wrapping her arms around him so tightly.

“What do we know?” she asks him, looking around. There’s no sign of Leia apart from the tea on the coffee table.

“She’s in her office on the phone,” Poe said. “I…”

“Do you want me to go get her?” Rey asks.

“No,” Poe replies. “She’ll kick you out. She kicked me out too. I…” he swallows. “All we know is they’re trying to extract a ransom for him and another prisoner they took—not someone Resistance.”

“Who is ‘they’?” Rey asks.

Poe’s lips twitch sadly. “Classified.” He sounds so broken. He takes a deep breath. “Anyway, the Senator’s…she’s trying to see…well…they don’t know if they can ransom him. Like maybe something else, but the case is…the case is…”

And there are tears in his eyes, and Rey pulls him against her, squeezing him tightly. Keep an eye on Poe for me while I’m gone?

And who would keep an eye on her? With every sob coming out of Poe’s chest, her heart twisted even more. Finn wasn’t her soulmate, but he was the only thing like family she’d ever had, and at this point ever would have, and if she lost him…lost him too…

-

“Are you all right?” Leia asks her. Poe’s gone to the bathroom, and Leia is sitting with them now. Her brown eyes are soft, and concerned.

Rey swallows, and her lips twitch downward and Leia gets up and comes and sits next to her on the couch.

“When I first met Luke in the dreamworld,” she says quietly. “I had to comfort him because he’d just seen his teacher murdered in front of him. My whole planet had just been destroyed, but I was comforting him. It was…it was nice to distract myself, I think.” Her son had just murdered her husband, but it was Leia comforting Rey, not the other way around when she’d arrived with the Falcon back on D’Qar. “Or maybe I was too numb to it. Or more practiced at hiding how I felt. I don’t know. You have a right to worry about your friend, even if he’s not your soulmate.”

Rey looks at Leia with heavy eyes. “Should I be worried? I don’t even know where he is or what he was doing. It’s classified. I don’t even know how afraid to be, just that I am.”

Leia squeezes her hand. “Try not to worry,” she tells her. “We’ll think of something.”

“The fact that we have to has me worried,” Rey points out.

Leia invites both her and Poe to stay over that night, which Poe takes her up on immediately. He’s not one to hide his emotions and Rey can see on his face that he can’t go home and face the bed he shares with Finn while Finn’s fate is so unknown. Leia gets him set up in Ben’s room—the one he’s never used—and puts Rey in the guest room—something that fills Rey with relief. She knows Leia did it on purpose. What a strange game to play with sleeping arrangements.

She tosses and turns the whole night. The bed is too soft, and she ends up pulling the blankets to the floor, but that doesn’t end up helping as much as she wants it to. She goes to the bathroom, washes her face, pees, and then goes and checks on Poe.

“You awake?” she asks him.

“Can’t sleep,” he mutters, his voice still sounding empty.

She comes into the bedroom and clambers onto the bed next to him, trying to do all she can to block out details of the bedroom—like how the furniture is arranged very much the way the furniture in Ben’s house is, and some of the art on the wall that she’s fairly certain he’d drawn when he was younger which unhelpfully reminds her of evening trips to the art museum. She wraps her arms around Poe’s neck and he holds her and they drift off to sleep in one another’s arms.

Sleep is not comforting.

Sleep is full of the dreamworld, and Kylo Ren, swiping his lightsaber at Poe. She doesn’t understand why, she missed whatever had caused it, but she’s screaming, commanding, begging him to stop. Thoughts are flooding her mind—that Poe had been flying the Falcon, that Ben’s mother’s final words had been to Poe, that Poe was there with Rey now—what must Kylo think, that Poe had everything that had supposed to be Ben Solo’s? Did that hurt him? She grabs her saberstaff and ignites it and he begins to laugh at her. But he doesn’t sound like he finds it funny in the slightest.  It sounds like his heart is breaking—which makes her heart beat that much harder in her throat.

He’s still laughing when she runs at him, swinging the silver blade at him, and when Rey jerks awake there are tears in her eyes.

-

She doesn’t go into work that day. She stays with Poe, who has been commanded by Leia not to come into the office. She sits there, holding his hand, trying to be solid for him because in being solid for him she doesn’t have to worry about her own heart palpitating every time she imagines Finn locked away somewhere.

Are they beating him? Is he awake? Is he thinking about them?

“I’m going to make tea,” she tells Poe, getting to her feet and going into Leia’s kitchen. Leia had invited them both to stay in the house while she was gone, and she is glad that they both had. The house is clean, large, and familiar enough to be comforting. Poe trails after her as she digs through the cabinets in the kitchen to find tea leaves.

When she puts the kettle on, Poe looks at her. “Did you dream last night?” he asks her cautiously.

Rey stiffens. She doesn’t want to talk about it with Poe, she really doesn’t. Poe grimaces. “Yeah,” he mutters. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up.” Rey turns to the kettle, willing it to boil faster. Then Poe mutters, “It’s the first time I haven’t thought about Finn in hours—thinking about that dream.”

Rey swallows. “Me too,” she says quietly. Which is the lesser evil? Worrying about Finn or remembering everything about Ben, the way she had stood over him in the rain having defeated him again.

She feels Poe’s arms around her and he says into her shoulder, “I’m sorry it’s like that for you. I really am.”

He’s trying to comfort me? Rey wonders. So he’s not thinking about Finn?

“I’m so afraid of Finn dying. I…I know the nature of the mission he’s on, and it’s just gnawing at me. And I can’t imagine what it must be like, knowing that someone is going to have to put your soulmate down, even if it’s in the dreamworld and not the real one. Even if he hurt you. It’s…”

“I didn’t kill him last night,” Rey says. “I let him live.”

“I know,” Poe begins, but Rey cuts him off.

“That version of me—she thinks there’s something in him to bring back to the light.”

“Naïve,” Poe says.

“Maybe. Stubborn too,” Rey says.

“Do you think…think that that’s something…”

Rey looks at Poe seriously. She imagines if Ben were in Finn’s place and she doesn’t want that crushing feeling in her gut to spread to her heart but it does and she closes her eyes. The rage and pain she feels at what he’d done falters beneath it. It does not die, but the horror in her heart…

“No,” she says. “I don’t know what he could do to make me forgive him.”

“It was that bad?” Poe asks, the curiosity that he’d undoubtedly felt ever since Rey had turned up waterlogged and numb on their doorstep getting the better of him.

“I’ll never forgive him,” she replies. “Not ever. And that’s Ben, not Kylo Ren.”

-

The week drags on. Leia spends most of it in the office, Rey goes into work for a few hours each day. The team is very understanding about her distraction, and Luke downright tells her that he doesn’t want her there if she can’t be focused. His eyes are gentle when he says it, and she’s flooded with a rush of warmth towards the man. Her job is not in jeopardy.

It’s on Thursday that Leia calls the house, her voice thick with excitement. “He’s back. He’s in the hospital now,” and Rey drives Poe to the hospital downtown, where they find Leia looking grim.

“Is he bad?” Poe asks immediately.

“He’s fine,” Leia says tersely. “Or he will be. He’s in stable condition.”

“Then what’s—”

“Go on,” Leia cuts him off. “He wants to see you and has been through a lot. The situation beyond all this is…difficult, but we’ll talk about it later.”

They find Finn in a room connected to about twelve beeping monitors. His face is a wreck and he’s clearly been beaten, and badly. Poe’s eyes fill with tears at the sight of him and he pelts across the room, kissing Finn’s forehead since his lips are split. “You’re home,” he whispers. “You’re safe.”

He takes Finn’s hand and clutches it so tightly, and Rey wonders if maybe she should let them have a moment before Finn looks at her and holds out his other hand and she comes and takes it.

Tears fill her eyes. “You’re all right,” she says. “I was so worried, Finn.”

“I’m all right,” he replies.

“How did you get out of there?” Poe asks. “Leia said that they weren’t…that they might not pay your way out…”

Finn’s gaze turns from Poe to Rey and his face twitches in a way that fills her with a sense of foreboding. “Finn?” she breathes.

“I don’t…I…Ben was there,” he tells her. She stiffens.

“Solo did this to you?” Poe demands, fury filling his voice.

“No,” Finn says quickly. “No, he…they caught him too. Someone had contracted the First Order with a similar mission. They were trying to extract information from him too.” And the words were spilling out of his mouth faster than Rey knew how to process them. “They tortured us both—especially once they learned that we might have different information. But it also meant that they didn’t expect us to work together. He…we…we had a plan to get out, to escape.”

“He helped you get out?” Poe sounds even more stunned.

“Yeah,” Finn says.

“So is he here then?”

Finn swallows and he looks back at Rey. “No, he’s still there,” he says. “They cottoned on, and he helped me get out but he’s still…”

And Rey feels suddenly sick—her stomach rolling, the light too bright for her eyes as she gets to her feet and stumbles down the hallway, looking for a bathroom to retch in. Leia’s expression when they’d arrived at the hospital suddenly makes sense. She rinses her mouth and pulls out her phone.

Hands shaking, she goes into her settings and unblocks Ben’s number.

Her phone begins buzzing in her hands as unrecieved texts.

Please drive carefully. The roads are slippery.

Rey, can you tell me that you at least got wherever you’re going safely?

Can we talk?

No. No I guess not.

Do you want any of your things back?

Are you at least going to reply to logistics?

That’s the last text. She can feel the bitterness rolling off it, remembers the way he’d sat drunkenly in his car next to her and how hopeful he’d seemed that she could, that she might love him.

And now he’s sitting in some prison cell, being tortured and Rey hates what he’s done, hates it so much she wants to scream, but she doesn’t want that for him. She can’t bear it. Why can’t she bear it?

She tucks her phone back into her pocket and goes back out into the hallway, forcing herself to breathe deeply. She finds Poe standing there. “Rey,” he begins but Rey cuts him off.

“I’m going to find Leia. Stay with Finn.”

“But—”

“He got back safely. Be with him. He’s been through a lot.” Her heart twists as she wonders what they might have put Ben through once they learned that he’d helped Finn escape to begin with.

He helped Finn escape. Why?

Ben had no particular taste for Finn, had barely seemed apologetic about nearly getting him killed—and Finn certainly didn’t like Ben. He said they’d worked together but…

Her feet are moving quickly and she finds Leia outside, smoking a cigarette and staring off into space.

“Is he alive?” she asks and Leia turns around.

“They’re still trying to get money out of the First Order,” she says. “I don’t think they will if they haven’t at this point. So I imagine it’s a matter of time before they kill him.”

“Why don’t you think they will?” Rey asks. She needs to hope, needs to believe that they’ll pay to bring Ben back. Luke would, if she were the one there.

“Because they already would have done it if they had been planning to,” Leia says. Somewhere, through a haze, she remembers Finn telling her about how Hux hated Ben. But surely that wouldn’t mean Hux leaving Ben to die, tortured and alone, did it?

“Did you know he was there?” Rey asks, knowing the answer.

Leia shakes her head. “They didn’t give us his name, and I don’t think they realized he’s my son or else they’d be trying harder with it. The First Order uses code names. Kylo Ren,” she laughs humorlessly. “He probably chose it. It makes me that much more glad that the dreamworld version of me never broadcast widely the truth about my son.” She looks at Rey and she looks so tired.

“There has to be something we can do.” Leia looks at her, and there’s an emptiness in her eyes that frightens Rey.

“You know,” she says, “I know he’s much older now, but when I think of him back there, I remember him as a little boy and…and I just freeze. There has to be something we can do, but I’m…” Rey wraps her arms around Leia and holds her tightly. Leia squeezes her back. She feels the older woman shaking in her arms and knows that she’s crying.

Rey takes a deep breath.

Maybe Leia’s distress is settling her, or maybe she’s pushing her own fear, her own pain down and burying it in the sand as she had done for so many years. But her mind begins to move quickly, and her aching, confused heart…it grows too weak to combat the control in her mind.

“I’ll figure something out,” she tells Leia. “Let me do it.”

Leia’s eyes flicker. “What are you going to do?”

“Trust me,” Rey implores. “Please.”

She lets go of Leia and turns to go back into the hospital. She finds Finn and Poe in Finn’s hospital room, sitting there quietly.

“Finn,” she says and her friend, her brother, turns to look at her as she closes the door behind her and hurries across the room, settling in the unoccupied chair next to him. “Finn, I need you to tell me everything.”

Chapter Text

ix.

“I’m going,” Rey tells Luke firmly.

Luke gives her a hard look, appraising.  “This is already wildly against protocol,” he tells her.  “It could get you both killed.  It really would be better to—”

“Send another Jedi?  You know Ben.  The easiest way to get him to cooperate is to send me.  He won’t trust anyone else you send.”

Luke sighs and leans his head back against his seat.  “It’s going to be dangerous, Rey.”

“I can do it.”

“You already have a high rate of injury on missions,” he replies.

Rey sets her jaw.  “I’ll be careful.”  Then, more tearfully than she wants, “It’s Ben.  Please, Luke.”

Luke looks at her and there’s a simple exhaustion in his eyes. 

“And you trust the information coming out of your friend?  You don’t think he’s been addled from what he underwent.”

“I trust him,” she says.  “I trust Finn with my life.”

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Luke tells her.

“I don’t care.”

He lets out a little huff that would be amused if he didn’t look so serious. 

“All right,” he relents at last.  “We need to decide on a rendezvous point to get you both the hell out of there.”

-

Rey meditates the entire flight out.  She’s had trouble sleeping, but meditating—that’s good.  That’s control.  She needs to control herself.  She needs to control her fear.  She can’t let herself be afraid for him—especially since she certainly isn’t afraid for herself, though she should be.  Fear means she might make the wrong choices.  And she can’t afford to do that. 

Finn’s information had been good, and when she descends from the transport she quickly takes her surroundings into account.  It’s heavily wooded and very rocky—dangerous if Ben can’t run fast, which she shouldn’t count on.  If they have dirt bikes, that’s the best chance.  Rey’s ridden motorcycles before, and thinks she could manage a dirt bike.  Could Ben?  And if he’s not conscious…

She can’t let herself think about that now.  She can’t let herself worry about what state he’ll be in.  He’s been here for three days longer than Finn at least

The compound is large, with huge concrete walls and barbed wire at the top.  Barbed wire is easy enough to cut, especially with her saber, but the climbing might be hard.  She can only know when she gets close enough.

Finding a patch of darkness, she approaches the concrete walls.  Sure enough, climbing them will be impossible, unless she wants to grapple her way to the top.  She looks up.  The wall is tall enough that she can’t see if anyone’s up there, and certainly can’t hear footsteps.  It’s a risk, but it’s easier—if it works—than trying to slip through a guarded door.  So she takes the grappling attachment to her blaster, turns the mute on and fires.

The hook attaches to the wall and she tugs on it briefly.  It will hold her weight and seems secure, so she starts to climb.  When she reaches the top, she slices her way carefully through the barbed wire, slides through the gap, and crouches down low on the walkway. 

There are four buildings—one clearly a sleeping barracks, an office building, a shooting range, and what looks like a shack with a guard outside it.  That’s the one that Finn had said they had been held in—if they hadn’t moved Ben after Finn’s escape.  She’d cross that bridge when she got there.  She grabs the hook attachment from the wall and put it back in her pack, then drops herself down below into the compound, moving her way through the shadows around the compound, her heart thudding in her throat.

She reaches the back of the little shack and stands on the tips of her toes, peering in through the tiny window.  It is so very small.  And the bars look like they’d been recently put in, which makes sense from how Finn said they’d removed the bars carefully.

“Ben,” she whispers into the dark, not daring to raise her voice.  She holds her breath.  Does she hear breathing in there?  “Ben—can you hear me?”

She grabs hold of the bars and pulls herself up to get a better view.  There’s definitely someone tied to a chair in the shack, head lolled forward, apparently unconscious.  Carefully, Rey ignites one end of her staff again and begins to cut through the metal.  She drops the bars on the ground quietly then heaves herself through the window, landing quietly and tiptoeing to crouch down in front of him. 

His face is even more beaten up than Finn’s.  His nose has been clearly broken, both of his eyes are swollen, his lips are scabbed and bloody.  He’s shirtless and she can see welts on his chest and bruises on his gut and along his ribs.  “Ben,” she whispers again and his eye cracks open, causing his face to flinch.

It takes him a moment for his gaze to focus, and another moment to process what he’s seeing.

“What are you doing here?” he asks thickly.  His voice sounds like he’s been screaming, raw and raspy. 

“Rescuing you,” she breathes. 

“They’ll catch us,” he says.  “Go.  Get out of here.”

“Not without you,” she says stubbornly.

“Rey.”

When he says her name, her eyes fill with tears and she glares at him because she’s not supposed to be feeling anything right now, she’s supposed to be in cold control of everything, but here she is and here’s Ben, beaten and bloody and telling her to leave him behind.

“They’ll see the bars,” she says.  “They’ll know you were trying to get out again and it’ll be worse for you.”  She takes a knife out of her pocket and cuts the ropes that are tying his ankles—his feet are bare and covered in blood too—to the chair he’s sitting in, then cuts the ropes at his wrist.  “It’ll be bad no matter what.  Let’s try for the one where we get you out of here.  Can you stand?”

She gets to her feet and helps him to his.  He sways dangerously for a moment but leans against the chair, breathing shakily.  “My saber,” he says.  “It’s on the table.”  He raises a shaking hand and points to the table on the other side of the bars.  Rey ignites her staff again and cuts through the lock.  She takes his saber in her hand, the heavy black thing with the fiery crossguard. 

“How are we getting out of here?” he asks her.

He’s still not steady on his feet, she can see that much, and she pauses thinking.  She’d thought a dirtbike, but now she’s not sure. 

Then the solution comes to her and she laughs quietly.

“And here I thought that getting out of Jakku meant I’d never have to jack a car for my own survival.”

-

She knocks the guard out.  It’s not hard.  He certainly wasn’t expecting anyone to break out of the little prison shack through the front door.  She steals his uniform and helps Ben to the shadows, leaning him against the wall while she scopes out which car would be best to jack.  She decides on something that is clearly armored—an all terrain vehicle with huge wheels that should be able to handle the rocky terrain outside the compound.  They’ll likely encounter blaster fire, and she doesn’t think Ben’s going to be particularly useful as far as offense goes in his current state. 

It’s surprisingly easy to crack the lock mechanism and load Ben into the second seat, covering him with a blanket she hopes he won’t bleed through.  Then she dons the uniform that she’d stolen, hotwires the car, and climbs into the front seat, throwing it into reverse and driving casually towards the front gate.  It’s nearly dawn, she can see the way the dark sky is starting to get lighter outside. 

The guard at the gate stops her when she approaches and she lowers the window. 

“What’s going on?” he asks her.

“They thought they saw something in the woods.  I’m going out on patrol.”

“And you’re going in this vehicle?” he asks, raising his eyebrows.

“The carburetor on the other one’s busted—I grabbed the closest keys I could find.” He gives her a condescending look and Rey feels a flash of annoyance.  Vaguely, she remembers Leia talking about having developed a tongue to take down men like these, and since she can’t exactly punch him… “Look, you want to explain to them why you’re holding me up over taking a non-standard vehicle to investigate a potential threat?  Because I’m sure they’ll be thrilled if we end up—”

“Fine, fine.  Go on.” 

She drives and when she’s out of sight of the compound, she turns off the road in the opposite direction of the rendezvous point.  Because they’d given her trouble, she has to change plans.  They will likely follow the car when she doesn’t come back in a timely manner and she’d rather send them on a wild goose chase rather than something that will put her and Ben in their grasp. 

When she decides she’s gone far enough, she puts the car in park and, because she hadn’t exactly used keys, leaves it on because why not as she climbs out of the car and opens the door to the second seat.

Ben’s sitting up and she helps him down from the car.  He keeps the blanket wrapped around himself and she takes one of his arms and slings it over her shoulder. 

“How far do we have to go?” he asks her. 

“Farther than you’d like.”

“Ten feet is farther than I’d like,” he responds.

“Probably about five miles.”

She feels him trembling. 

“Well,” he says at last.  “Let’s get going.”

His weight is heavy on her they stumble through the breaking of the daylight.  She catches sight of his feet, bare and bleeding, and horror fills her.  “I should have taken that guards boots,” she says.

“Least of my pains,” he mutters. 

“But we have so far to walk.”

“I don’t think shoes would make a difference in how much they hurt.”

“Maybe not, but you wouldn’t be risking infection with every step.”

He doesn’t reply to that.  Instead, he asks, “Do you have water?”

“Yes,” Rey says at once and he leans against a tree while she digs a canteen out of her bag and hands it to him.  He drains it and hands it back to her sheepishly.

“My mother hired you?” he asks as she puts the canteen back in her pack.  “With the information from Finn?”

“No,” she says.  “I came on my own.”

“You what?”  He sounds like he’s almost too tired to be angry.  Almost.

“Well, I got Luke to supply me,” she says. 

“And Skywalker just let you prance out here on your own and—”

“Well, the First Order wasn’t going to come get you,” she snaps.  “And they weren’t offering a ransom for you to your mother because they don’t know who Kylo Ren really is.”

Ben stares at her with swollen eyes.

“Why?” he asks now.

“Why what?” she steps towards him and grabs his arm, throwing it over her shoulder again.

“You made it perfectly clear that you wanted nothing to do with me ever again.  So why are you here?”

“I just am.”

He snorts.  “Are you really going to do that?”

“Do what?”

“Pretend like that’s all there is to say.”

“Right now,” Rey snaps at him, “my primary focus is to get us out of here alive and ideally in one piece.  So I don’t really want to go down the emotional rabbit hole of you murdering my parents, and unpacking why I am here because I don’t want to get distracted.  So keep walking.  There’ll be plenty of time to talk in the transport.”

“And we’re actually going to talk?” he asks.

“Yes,” she snaps, exasperated.  “Yes, we’re actually going to talk.  I—”

“All right, hands up!”

Rey’s blood goes cold.  There are four men with blasters surrounding them.  She glances at Ben.

“Hands up,” the man says.  “Do you really think you can fight your way out of here?  We’ve got you surrounded.  Come quietly.”

Neither of them move.  Ben’s looking at her through his swollen eyes, and she’s looking at him still. 

“Don’t make me ask again,” the man with the blaster said, and Rey moves, quick as lightning, her saber staff in her hands and igniting.  She feels Ben’s hand fumble at her belt where she’d clipped his lightsaber and a moment later it’s in his hands, and she feels the heat of it at her side. 

“Were I you,” Rey says quietly, “I’d turn around and leave now.”

“You think we can’t take you both?” laughs the man.  He points a blaster at Ben’s arm and fires.  Rey spins her staff lazily and blocks the blast. 

“I think I can take all four of you,” she replies easily.  “And I think you’re lucky he’s wounded or else you’d already be dead.” 

“How do you think we got him the first time, little lady?” the man with the blaster laughs.

She doesn’t look at Ben, but feels him shift next to her—she thinks, she hopes into a defensive pose.  Don’t do anything stupid, please, she thinks at him.  I can handle this.

And she does.  She moves forward, quick as lightning, and slices two blasters in half with one swing of her saber.  She blocks a blast from another and has her silver blade pressed against the lead’s throat before he even knows what has happened.

“I’d leave now,” she whispers.  “Take your men and go.”

He spits in her face.

Rey knees him between the legs and brings the metal part of her staff down hard on the back of his head, knocking him out.  She hears another blast firing and hitting Ben’s saber and deflecting off into a tree.  She swings her staff around lazily, glancing at each of them.  “Are any of you going to take me up on my offer?” she asks.

“You’re not going to kill us?” asks the man with the blaster, bemused.

“She won’t,” Ben says.  “But I will.”

Ben,” she says sharply.

“And I’ll make it painful, Jagan, I promise.  You don’t know what sort of pain I’ll put you through if you don’t do what I want.”  The way he says it sends a shiver up Rey’s spine because it sounds like he’s quoting.  The man’s—Jagan’s—face blanches. 

Rage floods her and she brings the metal of her staff down on his head too, knocking him out as well.  She rounds on the other two men and they stumble backwards, unarmed and afraid, tearing off through the woods.

“You should have knocked them out too,” Ben tells her, and she hears him disengage his saber.  “They’ll only bring more people.”

“They don’t know what direction we’re going in,” Rey responds.  “So we can’t know that.”

Ben bends down over Jagan’s body and tugs off his boots and socks.  He slowly sits down on the ground and tugs the socks and boots on.  “A little too small,” he mutters, and Rey helps him back to his feet.  He tests his weight on his feet.  “But probably better,” he adds grudgingly.

“Come on,” Rey says, sliding under his arm again.  “We’ve got a ways to go.”

Ten minutes later, she asks, “He tortured you?  Jagan?”

“He was one of them,” he replies.  “Got Finn more than me.”

Rey’s stomach twisted.  “Finn…he said you helped him escape.”

“He could make it out when I couldn’t.  I wasn’t going to fuck him over.  I may not like the guy, and he may not like me, but I’m not gonna have him dragged back to be tortured when he might make it back to you.”

-

They reach the rendezvous point around midday, and she helps Ben sit because he is on the verge of collapse and she doesn’t want him to hurt himself anymore.  She pulls her phone out of her pack and turns it on and calls Luke.

“We’ve reached the rendezvous,” she tells him.

“You got him?”

“Yes.”

“How is he?”

Rey glances at Ben.  His eyes are closed now, and she wishes desperately she had more water to give him.  “Not good,” she replies.  “Alive, but not good.  They also know we broke him out and we got away from a group of them, but they know we’re not far.”

Luke doesn’t respond immediately.

“So it’s a risk of being seen by daylight versus waiting until dark when they might catch you in the intervening time.”

Rey’s eyes are still on Ben.  “Don’t wait until dark,” she tells Luke.

“Keep your eyes on the sky, and stay alert,” he replies.  The line goes dead and she turns the phone back off.  She crosses the clearing and sits down next to Ben, taking his hand, and squeezing it lightly.  He doesn’t squeeze back.

“Are you awake?” she asks him quietly.

“Technically,” he replies. 

“Are you hungry?”

“I feel nauseous, actually.  I don’t suppose there’s more water?”

“No,” Rey replies, squeezing his hand.  “Is there anything I can do?” she asks him, “To make it easier?”

“You just left,” he replies.

“You murdered my parents,” she retorts.  “Did you honestly think that was something I wasn’t going to leave over?”

“I didn’t think you’d find out,” he says slowly, sheepishly.

“So you were going to lie about it forever, let me love a monster and—” she fumbles for words, “and if you think I can just forgive you—”

“I don’t need your forgiveness,” he replies.  “I don’t regret it.”

Rey is speechless.

“You don’t…”

“I don’t regret any of it.  No.”

“So you’re as much a monster as he is.”

He opens one of his eyes and looks at her and she sees heat there, anger.  “He and I are the same.  You don’t get me without him.”

“But you decided that that was reason enough to kill my parents?  Why, Ben?”

His face cracks into such a strange expression—as though it should be a bitter smile but everything is too smashed in and bruised and bloody for it actually to be a bitter smile.

“Will you believe it, I actually was trying to do something nice for you.”

“Killing my—”

“I was going to find them, and try and help them reconnect with you,” he says.  “I have a shitty relationship with my parents.  That hurts.  But you were right—it’s not the same thing as being abandoned in a parking lot by your parents.  You wanted them so much, Rey, and I figured, fuck it.  I can probably find them.  So I did.”

“And you killed them?”

“Why do you think I killed them?” Ben asks wearily.  “On a whim?  Insatiable blood lust?”  His expression grows brutal—all the more so because of the bruising.  “I found them,” he says, “I found them in a bar in Jakku.  I introduced myself, I said that I was their daughter’s soulmate and I’d come to find them and you know what they said?”  Rey can’t breathe.  “Didn’t have a daughter.  Weren’t interested in her.  Didn’t even pretend to care about you, or the pain they’d caused you, or any of it.  Oh, they got intrigued when they saw that I had money—that got their attention fast.  But you?  How strong, and brave, and compassionate and loving you are?  That you still love them even though they left you behind like garbage?  They didn’t care about that at all.  And I saw red, I’ll admit that.  I probably shouldn’t have done it.  But I don’t regret it.  You didn’t need to find them and hear them say that themselves.  You’re the one good thing that’s ever happened to me and they’re the only people on the planet capable of hurting you more than me.  They didn’t deserve to breathe the same air as you.  My mother, in one evening, cared more about you than they ever did.” 

Rey is numb and there are tears on her face.  She stares out over the rough terrain, registering only dimly that her hand is still in Ben’s.  Her mind has drifted to Leia’s, to afternoon tea with her, and hugging her outside of the hospital they’d put Finn in—her fear for her son, her love for him, that she wanted Rey to be part of her family even when she’d left Ben. 

She tries to remember her own mother but finds she can’t. 

She can only remember the images that she’d seen in that police file of what Ben had done to her. 

“I’ll never forgive you,” she whispers.  She knows it’s the truth.  She can’t forgive him, and even if she could, she wouldn’t.  “It was murder, Ben.  And you can’t even write it off as being for your job, or in self defense.  It was murder.”

“Yes.  It was.  And like I said, I don’t need your forgiveness.  I don’t regret it.”

“You don’t regret hurting me?” she demands.

He makes an exasperated noise.  “There was no way for you not to be hurt by the situation,” he replies.  “Especially since now I know you were going to go looking on your own.  If it means you never have to look your piece of shit father in the face and see how little he cares about you—yeah, I don’t regret hurting you, because I know that pain and I don’t think that what I did would hurt you nearly as badly as that.”  He takes a deep breath.  “I know I hurt you.  I know that.  And I do hate hurting you.  I hate it more than anything I’ve ever done.  But I’d have hated letting you walk into that even more.”

Rey closes her eyes.  The wind rustles her face, and the sun warms her skin, even though she still feels an odd chill up her spine.  “It would have hurt.  But I’d have had you.  You took yourself away from me when you did it.  Don’t you see that?”

He doesn’t respond to that.  They sit in silence for Rey doesn’t know how long.  Her mind is comfortably blank as she stares out over the rocky ridge.  Were it not for everything that he’d just told her, everything she’d helped pull him from, she’d feel almost peaceful in her numbness.  She lets herself sit on the edge of that almost peaceful for as long as she can.  It’s easier than whatever else it could be.

“I don’t know what to do,” she whispers.  Next to her, Ben is silent.  She glances at him.  His eyes are closed, his breathing is labored, and he doesn’t seem to be conscious.  She stares at his face, and memories flood her heart, his smile, his lips against hers, his arms around her, feeling not as lonely at karaoke, feeling loved, feeling not alone.  He killed them, she reminds herself.  He killed them, and yet she can’t deny how good his hand in hers makes her feel.  How can she balance the two?  The Ben she loves and the Ben who is too dark for her?

Because she wants to balance the two—wants it as much as she wanted her parents to love her, wants it as much as she wanted Ben before he’d killed them.  Why could she never have what she wants?

I thought I didn’t want him at all when it started.  Yet here she is now, holding his hand, her head and heart hurting because she’s so confused.

She hears the sound of an engine overhead.

“Ben,” she says, prodding him.  “Ben, it’s time to go.”  His hand snaps to grab her wrist, twisting, and when he opens his eyes it takes him a moment to recognize her.  He looks feverish.  He probably is.  She heaves him to his feet and his hand reaches behind him to lean against the rock they’d been sitting under. 

The transport lands, and it all happens very quickly, Rey helping him up the gangplank and the blast that comes somewhere behind them and strikes him in the shoulder, knocking him down.  Rey whips around, her saberstaff igniting as an onslaught of blasts rains down on the transport.  She counts maybe fifteen men?  Twenty?  And she can only swing her staff so quickly. 

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Ben fumble for his own saber from where he’s lying on the ground.

“No!” she yells at him and she kicks his saber up the gangplank.  “Get up there. Now!”

She can’t bend to help him, she can’t take her mind off the volley of blasts and she hears more than sees Ben begin to crawl up the gangplank.  Rey backs up slowly and a moment later she hears footsteps and a roar and it’s Chewie who’s standing at her side firing his bowcaster out at their assailants.  “Inside!” she hears someone behind her shout and she and Chewie, still blasting out at the crowd, back up the gangplank as it begins to rise.  The transport lifts into the air and Rey turns and sees blood on the ground and no sign of Ben.  But she doesn’t have far to look, the trail of blood takes her into the main hold of the transport where she sees a medic bending over Ben, putting an IV into his arm.  Ben is not conscious—she can see from the way his head is rolling and she can’t stop looking at it. 

She startles when Chewie rests a hand on her shoulder and she looks up at him.  He makes a throaty, comforting noise and she wraps her arms around him, squeezing him tightly.  Then he leads her towards the cockpit.

“They hit him?” Han asks her.  They’re high enough up that he doesn’t seem concerned with looking out the front windows.

Rey nods. 

“Chewie, take over,” Han says and he’s on his feet heading back to the main hold.  Chewie sits in the captain’s seat and Rey’s feet take her after Han.

“How’s he doing?”

“I think being unconscious is a blessing,” the medic is saying.  “He’s severely dehydrated, so that’s what I’m working on first.  We won’t be able to know if they did any internal damage to him until we’ve got him properly in a hospital.  For now I’m just working on minimizing the pain of what I can see and doing some disinfection.”

Han’s nodding.  He’s staring at his son and Rey wonders if, like Leia, he’s remembering him as a little boy. 

“I’ll leave you to it,” Han says at last and he goes back to the cockpit.  “You should rest,” he throws over his shoulder at Rey.  “You did good, kid.  But you should rest.”

-

Rey jolts awake as they land, and watches as the medic helps roll Ben’s stretcher out of the hold.  “You going?” Han asks her, since she’s still standing there.  “I gotta get this thing back.”

She nods wordlessly and hurries off the craft and onto the hospital’s helipad, practically running to catch up with the orderlies who are taking Ben inside. 

“Miss,” one of them says to her when she keeps following them into a care unit, “You’ll need to wait here.”

“But,” she begins, I’m his soulmate, please you have to let me through.

“He can have visitors when he’s stable,” the orderly tells her firmly.  “The waiting room’s down the hall.”

Rey hates waiting.

So she marches past it and steps outside, and hails a cab to take her home.  She showers, changes into normal clothing, grabs her personal phone from where she’d left it on her kitchen counter and returns to the hospital in a Falcon, tipping the driver heavily when she is dropped off.

Back.

Poe’s response is immediate.

Is he ok?

I don’t know.  I think so?

Are you at the hospital?

Yes.

They aren’t letting me in to see him yet.

Go see Finn.

It was such a perfect idea that Rey could kiss her phone.  She hurries to the second floor and finds Finn sitting there, watching television.

“You get him out?” Finn asks breathlessly.

“Yes,” Rey says.  She goes and sits on the bed next to Finn, lying back and leaning her head against his shoulder. 

Finn leans his head against hers.  “I’m glad he’s ok,” he says. 

“I don’t know what to do, Finn,” she whispers.  She wants him to tell her what to do, to be the guiding voice in her head the way he has been every step of the way in her relationship with Ben.  Rey.  You need to break up with him.  He’s fucked up.  It doesn’t matter that he’s your soulmate.  You don’t deserve him.  And he certainly doesn’t deserve you.

“Yeah,” Finn says, “I don’t know either.  And if I’m confused, that can only mean you’re more confused.”

“Thanks,” she mutters dryly.

“Look, I don’t like the guy.  I don’t think I ever will.  And I do think he’s fucked up, and that you don’t deserve that.”

“But he saved your life,” Rey finishes his thought for him, and he nods. 

“Things don’t get to be easy, do they?  Isn’t the whole point of soulmates that it’s a black and white issue?  Either someone’s your soulmate, or they’re not and that’s the end of it?  Why does it have to be more complicated than that?  That’s not fair.”

“Life’s not fair,” Rey muses, thinking of the tears she’d shed over her parents.  She couldn’t remember them, even the memories that had broken through the day she’d learned what had happened to them are evading her now.  She supposes, belatedly, that that was her protecting herself.  Had she known, even before they abandoned her, that they didn’t care? 

She had to have known that.  They abandoned her.

“You shouldn’t have to have a shades-of-grey soulmate.  You deserve easier than that,” Finn insists.  “You deserve the nicest guy on the planet, who’ll cherish you, and protect you, and… and love you more than anything on this earth.”

Rey closes her eyes.  “The hard thing is—apart from the nice bit, I think that’s him.”  She takes a deep breath.  “And…” she swallows. 

Finn squeezes her hand.  “I think that’s it,” he says quietly, and there’s something bitter in his voice now.  “That’s the whole problem.  You love him despite it all.  You had to shut it down while you’d left him, but that was because your morals, not your heart.”

Didn’t have a daughter.  Weren’t interested in her.  Didn’t even pretend to care about you, or the pain they’d caused you, or any of it.

If she had met them and learned this…what would she have done?  Would she have been able to control her pain?  Would it have overpowered her?

They’re dead and he killed them.

But it is a weak protest, somehow, in the back of her mind.  She doesn’t know why—just that it is.  Maybe because she has known him as Kylo Ren, or maybe because he helped get Finn—Finn, the only real family she’s ever had, more real by far than the locked off memories of her parents—out of there, or maybe because she knows he’s dark and that he’s dark so she doesn’t have to be…

Can I love my darkness? she wonders.

She thinks of her parents, and realizes that she already does.

-

Rey leaves Finn’s room when Poe shows up with non-hospital food for him to eat for dinner.   Poe gives her a rib-cracking hug before she makes her way back downstairs to the information desk.

“I’m looking for Ben Solo,” she asks the nurse behind the counter, who begins typing away.

“Relation?” the woman asks.

“He’s my soulmate,” Rey says evenly, which is good enough for the woman. 

“He may have some guests in there.  Some came by for him earlier.  He’s limited to two at a time.”

Rey expects to find Han and Leia there—instead she finds a very tall blonde woman and a not particularly tall red-haired man standing over Ben’s bed, talking quietly.

“Can I help you?” Rey asks, and they both whirl around, taking in the fact that she’s very much not in any sort of medical uniform.

“We’d…heard that Solo had been extracted, and came to wish him well,” said the man, giving Rey a one-over.  “But he seems not to be awake.”

“I’ll let him know you stopped by,” Rey says, coming into the room.  “He can only have two guests at once.”

She rounds the bed and sits down in a vacant chair.  Something about the way the man is talking makes her skin crawl.

“Oh,” that had thrown the man.  “Yes, that would be…kind of you.  Let him know that Hux and Phasma stopped by to see him.”

So this is Hux, she thinks, feeling her eyes harden despite herself.

“I will.  Have a good evening,” she responds pointedly.  They glance at one another and then leave, Hux glancing over his shoulder as he closes the door.

She reaches over and smooths the blankets that are covering Ben.  She rests a hand on his forehead—it’s too hot, and she tries not to worry about that—before she settles back down in her chair.  She watches him sleep, and it’s not long before her own eyelids begin to flutter, and she drifts off to sleep.

-

Rey wakes to a blanket being wrapped around her and opens her eyes blearily.  Leia is sitting there next to her, with Han hovering in the door.  It’s dark outside now, and hospital visiting hours are undoubtedly long over, but somehow it doesn’t surprise her that she’s been allowed to stay, and that the Senator and her husband have been allowed to break the two-guest maximum rule.

“I brought it for Ben,” Leia says.  “I don’t trust hospitals.  Every time I’ve been in one, I’ve been much too cold.”

Rey nods blearily.  “Has he woken up at all?” she asks.  Her voice is very dry. 

“No,” Leia says.  “But the doctors aren’t worried about it.  They hopped him up on painkillers so that’ll keep him under for a while.  He’s got three broken ribs, some broken toes and fingers—and his nose of course.”  She heaves a sigh.  “He avoided too much internal damage, apparently, but it’s there.  The rest will heal with time, but they are more worried about his organs.”

Rey turns to look at him again.  It’s not possible to say that he looks peaceful lying with his face all bashed in like that, but he looks cleaner.  The blood’s been wiped away, and there are bandages on his face as well.  She hates that he’s in pain, that his pain will last, and is relieved that there’s some drug keeping him asleep.

“How long will they keep him out?” Rey asks.

“I think they plan to let him wake up tomorrow.  He was physically exhausted, dehydrated, starving, the whole nine yards.”  Guilt wracks her.  She’d made him walk so far on broken feet.

Leia catches her expression and leans forward, smoothing her hair out of her face and kissing her forehead.  “You did an incredibly brave thing,” Leia tells her.

“You did good, kid,” Han says again gruffly.  His eyes are on his son, and on his face is an expression Rey’s never seen before. She’s struck suddenly, and in a way she’s never been before, by just how much Ben looks like his dad.  His hair’s darker, and his nose is different, but the shape of their long face…And the way that Han is looking at his son, confused, hurting, but still loving somehow…she’s seen that look too.  She wonders if Ben ever has.

-

When Rey wakes next, there is dawn light creeping through the window and Ben’s eyes are open.  He is watching her, blinking at her slowly as she sits up—her hand floating to the crick in her neck that came from sleeping in a chair.  “Hey,” she whispers, her mouth fuzzy. 

“Hey,” he replies.  Rey gets up and crosses to the bed, tucking one leg up underneath her and taking his hand in hers.  There are needles sticking out of it, attached to various tubes, and she runs her thumb gently along the length of his since she can’t squeeze it. 

“How are you feeling?” she asks.

“Shitty.”  That doesn’t surprise her.  “My head’s spinning a bit from whatever they put in that.”  He doesn’t move but his eyes jerk towards the IV.  “It hurts to breathe.”

“Is there anything I can do?  Do you want help sitting up, or—”

“No,” he says, “No.  Just…just stay.”  His voice cracks on the last word and she sees heat creep up his face. 

“I will,” she tells him.  “I will, I promise.”  His breath catches when she says it and she bends down and rests her forehead against his, worried his lips are too battered for a kiss to feel good.   “Ben,” she breathes.

“Look,” he says, and he sounds nervous, “I know what I did was…well it hurt you.  I know that.  And I am not saying you were wrong to be hurt by it.  But…but if you leave again because of something I do…can you at least, can we…” his nostrils are flaring, “Can we talk?  Please?  I… Being dead to you isn’t like being dead to other people and if I’m going to be dead to you I need to…never mind, it doesn’t matter,” he mumbles.  “It’s stupid.  If I’m too much of a monster for you, I don’t have a say in that.”

Rey takes a deep breath and sits back up.  “Let’s be clear about one thing,” she says and his eyes snap to hers.  “What you did broke something in me.  We’ve talked about how I’ll never forgive you for it, because I won’t and that will always be true.  But I find that I somehow manage to love you anyway.  That can’t happen again—the breaking.  It can’t.”

“It won’t,” he vows fiercely.  “Rey, I promise—I—”

But she reaches up and presses a finger to his lips and the words cease.  “I’m not saying it can’t because you won’t.  I’m saying it can’t because I don’t think there’s anything you could do that would break me that way.  And maybe I’m wrong, but that wrongness has to rely on your ‘won’t.’” 

His lips twitch against her finger and she realizes he’s kissing it.  

Her throat is thicker than she expects it to be.  “And if something happens where I’m… where I’m leaving, I won’t just run out like that.  I won’t.”

He closes his eyes and his lips are trembling and she can tell he’s trying not to cry. 

“That’s why, by the way,” she adds and she leans forward again, resting her head in the crook of his neck this time. 

“Why what?”

“Why I came to get you.”  She kisses his neck, realizing that, miraculously, it’s not bruised.  She kisses it again because she can, because she knows he’s always liked it when she kisses his neck.  “Because of all the hurt I was feeling, the idea of you being hurt, of you dying…that was unbearable to me.”

He’s shaking next to her, his breathing ragged, and she knows he’s crying now.  She kisses his neck again, and feels his hand rubbing against her side because that’s what he can reach without tugging at the tubes attached to it. 

“I didn’t think it would happen,” he gulps.  “I didn’t think you’d…we’d…I was just sitting there and they were threatening to kill me and I was like, well what’s the point?  Who cares?  I think that freaked them out and it kept them from killing me.”  Rey nudges his neck with her nose.  “I couldn’t believe you were really there when you appeared.  I thought I was hallucinating you.  But there you were.”

“Here I am,” she breathes.

They sit there quietly, the room growing lighter and lighter around them.  It’s not until Rey hears footsteps outside the door that she remembers—

“Hux and Phasma came to see you,” she says.

“Did they?” Ben’s voice is hard.

“Yeah.”

“Couldn’t get rid of me cleanly, and wanted to see if they could cover my face with a pillow, probably,” Ben snorts. 

Rey sits up, and Ben rolls his eyes.  He winces at the action, then winces even more because the wincing clearly hurt him too.

“They didn’t pay my ransom.  They could have.  It was definitely within their budget.  But they didn’t pay my ransom.  Hux definitely wanted me to come back dead.”

Rey frowns.  “Ben,” she begins slowly, but Ben cuts her off.

“I’m not going back to work, don’t worry,” he says. “I’m just gonna stop showing up and see how long it takes payroll to notice I’m not there.  Like what Finn did.  I think he got a whole month’s pay out of it—with all this shit, I might get more out of it.  I’m done.  I’m done being surrounded by people who hate me.  I’d rather spend time with you.”

“I’d rather spend time with you too,” she murmurs, ducking her head and resting it against his forehead again.

He tilts his head and his lips find hers and they’re scabbed and split, but when his tongue slips into her mouth it feels like home.

-

“Come on,” Poe says loudly, “You’ve gotta.  We’ve all gone.”

Ben shakes his head, glowering.  “No—I really don’t gotta.  I don’t sing.”

“So?  It’s not about whether or not you can sing.  It’s about whether or not you want to have fun.  Don’t you want to have fun?”

Ben glares at him and Rey takes his hand.  “Come on,” she says.  “We’ll do a duet.  That way you won’t be alone your first time.”

Poe guffaws and Rey kicks him under the table. 

Ben looks at her and heaves a long suffering sigh, then lets her drag him up to the stage. 

He hasn’t got the best singing voice, but he can carry a tune at least which means that even if he’s not particularly charismatic on the stage, no one will think he’s really bad.  He’s looking at her more than at the audience anyway, and Rey holds his gaze because it’s dumb and they’re both a bit tipsy but she can’t look away.

His bruises have faded.  He’s still limping a bit because of his broken toes, and he has to be careful how he moves sometimes because of his ribs, but he’s standing there with her, singing some dumb love song from when his parents were young and she gets oddly emotional at the softness in his eyes and the way their voices overlap with one another against the shitty karaoke backdrop.

He kisses her when they’re done singing, and the patrons of the bar clap as they descend from the stage and make their way back to the table.

“See?  Wasn’t too bad,” Poe says.

Ben glares at him as he wraps an arm around Rey’s waist. 

“You’ll get used to it,” Finn tells him.  “The more you do it.”

“Yeah, the more you do it, the more the performance issues go away,” Poe adds.

“I don’t have performance issues,” Ben retorts automatically before the double entendre catches up to him and his face flushes. 

“It’s ok!  No need to be self conscious,” Poe laughs as Ben’s hand tightens on the beer bottle.  “Here, I’ll show you how it’s done.”

Ben grumbles as Poe makes his way back to the stage, earning a round of applause from the patrons who already know they’re in for a good show.

Poe selects his song, winks at Finn and blows a kiss to Ben, whose eye twitches in annoyance and Rey leans over and kisses his neck.

“Do you want to sit through this?” she asks him.

“Not particularly.”

“Want to go work on your performance elsewhere?” she teases.

He gives her a look and she watches his annoyance at Poe’s jab fade into a heat.  Rey gets up and throws a twenty on the table for her and Ben’s drinks, sneaks his keys out of his coat pocket because she likes driving his car and they head out into the night.