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in; out

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She feels his touch on her skin before she’s even begun to register the pain.

Absently, she thinks— she knows— that it has to be impossible for him to have run across a battlefield like that, in a matter of seconds. Even using the Force, there was no way he could have reached her before she was sinking to her knees. There’s sand, too, bogging him down— she imagines sand whisking through the wind as his footfalls bring it up in tufts— they’re on Akiva, fighting for different sides as the Resistance and the First Order clash for the umpteenth time. Though it may be her, another part chimes in. Her perception of time has become quite warped over the past few seconds— minutes?

Still, he moves quickly, slicing the lone stormtrooper in two with a clean swipe of his saber, and moves across the clearing in time to catch her.

“Oh.”

It’s the first word she’s said since the blaster bolt has seared her side, but something else stronger, fiercer, overshadows it. His breath, shaky and through gritted teeth, shudders through his whole body, and she can feel it, because he’s pressed up against her, arms wrapped around her back. Initially, she can’t figure out why he’s acting this way— bent over her, eyes wide in abject horror, even his lips are shaking— but then she remembers. Oh. I’m injured.

That’s when the pain really starts to kick in— flaring up her side like hot flames, burning brighter and brighter, engulfing her whole. She can feel the entry point of the bolt like a pinprick, a thousand pinpricks, between two ribs. She’s breathing hard now, too, and it hurts, it hurts too much.

Oh.”

She hears shushing, and remembers who’s arms she’s in. His eyes still show her fear, and terror, and all that loss, but there’s something else there too, as she tries to soothe her. Absently, she knows he’s feeling this too, all this agony, because of course he is, the bond between them wouldn’t sit this one out. She can’t think about that now, though, because it’s taking a distinct amount of concentration now to stay awake, to keep upright, to keep breathing, in and out. It hurts to breathe, now, but she knows she has to. She’s always survived, hasn’t she? That’s what she’s doing here— fighting. Surviving.

She hadn’t planned on seeing him during the battle, really, wasn’t even sure he would be on the ground fighting, but glimpsing his hulking presence across enemy lines had brought her a strange comfort, not the anxiety she had anticipated. The battle, like any battle, had morphed into incoherent chaos, and they had both somehow ended up away from the front lines, defending scattered clusters of stormtroopers or Resistance fighters. She never got to close to him, and he her, the unspoken yet comfortable boundary between them persisting and shifting as the fight thundered on.

But that boundary has been severed now.

“It’s okay. Just breathe. There.” His voice now is low, really low, and warped, too. “In and out— you’ve got it.” Strangled, maybe. She doesn’t have the energy to spare on deciding what’s real and what’s not right now. In and out, like he said.

She’s being lowered, she realizes— that much she knows is real. His arms around her were keeping her upright, her feet planted in the ground, just a minute before. But now she seems to have lost all control over her limbs— this terrifies her for a split second, and her lack of agency sends her arms flailing, but he knows immediately, and, even better, he knows what to do.

“It’s okay. I’ve got you.” His arms are tighter around her now, but she trusts him, and lets herself relax. “Hold on to me.” She obliges, gripping his shoulders as they go down. “Keep breathing.” Right, in and out. “I’ve got you.” It’s okay. “I’m here.” In and out.

She feels the sand sink in beneath and around her— it’s warm, almost uncomfortably so, but it reminds her of home, or what used to be home. As much as she detested it, it was home. She’s here now, though— in his arms, and she’s still breathing, and she’s okay. She’s got something wet on her cheeks, and he does, too— sweat? Blood?— she keeps looking up at him, her own blurred vision making out those eyes, shaded beneath strands of raven hair. It makes her sad, and she can’t place why— “In and out.”— right, in and out— it’s the scar, she decides, all that pain and misery and loss and longing, leaking from a fissure bisecting his face, and she’s wresting her arm from his grip to graze a finger across it, to close that crack for good.

He freezes, then— all the heavy, hollow breathing and quivering eyes and lips— and lets her. She starts at the scar— that’s all she intended, really, but it goes further— and, with his hands keeping her firmly in his lap, as close to him as he can get her, those fingers graze his cheek, then his neck, across his nape and up through his mane of hair, pushing that out and away from his face, only for it to fall back. He only looks back at her, his eyes poring into hers, before lifting a hand to take her own, pressing his palm softly against her knuckles and wrapping his thumb around her fingers. It goes down gently, and he tucks her hand closed, against the side of her that’s up against him, the side that isn’t injured. His movements are slow, deliberate, careful, and she watches attentively, focusing on it.

“I’m sorry.” She doesn’t know why she says it, only knows that it comes naturally and when death is this close— death is close, isn’t it— there’s no filter, nothing keeping you from speaking truth to the lies you’ve surrounded and comforted yourself with. “I’m sorry I didn’t take you with me. I was waiting— waiting for it to be right.”

His head shakes, just an inch left to right. “Stop.” It’s gentle, if a bit choked. “You don’t have to apologize to me.” His voice is just a whisper, rasping against his throat and past his lips, and she realizes hers is, too— shallow, silent words.

“I don’t have to.” She has to stop to stifle a cough, but he pauses, long fingers brushing over her shoulder in a soothing motion, and waits for her to continue. “I wanted to.”

His brow knits together for just an instant, just long enough for her to notice. “I’m sorry, too.” Her vision is blurring again, and he sounds farther away than before, but she knows he’s crying now— maybe it’s the bond telling her that, maybe her instincts— and that hurts, too. She tries to reach up again, to stop him— how, she never really considers— but his hand is still there, and it closes around hers, holding it there. She squeezes back. “Nothing went— nothing went the way I wanted it to.” His lips press together, eyes breaking contact to bow his head for a split second. And then she can’t see him because his face is to the sky, to the stars, as if searching for the universe for some answer to an unspoken question. She feels a tear land on her skin. “Rey… I just wanted you.”

She can feel the arm keeping her in his lap tighten around her shoulder, bringing her closer. He’s embarrassed, she realizes, and ashamed, at this candid admission of compassion, but also scared that he’ll lose her for it— that if she could, she’d jump up and run off, if he wouldn’t stop her. That hurts, too, especially the more she dwells on it. Snoke probably taught him to banish compassion, banish any feeling for his family, his past, that wasn’t contempt or wrath.

She’s honestly shaken by what he said for a moment— she has to stop to breathe, always about breathing, which is getting harder— and when it comes back to her, she doesn’t know what to say. He must know that, because when her mouth opens in response, he shakes his head, shushing her again. “You don’t have to say anything— anything at all. Right now is enough.” His lips lift just enough to be a smile, and she smiles too. “Just breathe. I’ve got you.”

Maybe he was ashamed before, and that palpable despair is still there, persisting between them, but he feels… freer to her somehow. Unencumbered by something. He’s not the monster she met on Takodana— maybe he never was. Maybe she’d never seen him, really seen him, until just now, until he ripped free of every trial and test and heartbreak, and bared his whole self to her. And now she knows.

She can’t speak anymore— her breathing is almost gone, too— so she squeezes his hand with her own, tucking it against her torso, as if to keep him with her. He responds in kind, his arm pulling her up from his lap and towards his chest, letting her head rest against his bicep. With what little energy remains in her, she calls upon the Force, summons it around her and into her, into their bond.

I loved you.

She’s fading, even now, but she has enough strength for this.

I love you.

His head comes down, hair falling across a face contorted in his own misery, to rest on her stomach just as the last light in her blinks out, and she feels the depth of darkness swallow her whole.