'Di ba sinabi mo
Basta tayong dalawa'y sasaya ang mundong mapait
'Di ba sinabi ko
Gagawin kong lahat upang tayo parin sa huli
Didn’t you say,
As long as it’s the two of us—happy, this bitter world
Didn’t I say,
I would do everything for it to be us in the end
--- Sana, I Belong to the Zoo
The gutters had all been blown away by the storms, the walls were soggy from the morning rains. The door hung on its bottom hinges, and it opened to the inside—an obvious fire hazard. The orphanage was as disorganized and dilapidated inside as it was on the outside.
His mother was already there, and he hesitated to step in. He could already hear them.
“You’re already there, Ben. You’ve planned this for months. Your mother is proud of you. I’m proud of you.” Rey’s voice was heavy with sleep. Not for the first time that day, he wished she was there with him. He heard her giggle in his head, light-years away. This planet had been so remote and the people so spread thin that it didn’t have an official name, only coordinates. He could feel Rey bury herself in his sheets, and then she was asleep again.
So he ducked his head, wiped his soaked boots on the mat by the entrance and lifted his head to the sparse room. It was very crowded. There was barely any floor space—it had all been taken over by beds and mats. The air was heavily humid. The children sat in a circle around Leia, entranced at whatever tale she was telling them. He thinks he knows. Their faces spoke of hope, fascinated by the funny, strange woman that was his mother. But their eyes also shone with tired loneliness, guarded against hoping too much. Leia felt him, and lifted her face to give him a small reassuring smile.
A harried thin woman approached him, carrying a wailing child that she was failing to shush. She was Fel, one of the few missionary nuns that took care of the young ones.
“Senator Solo, thank you for coming. You don’t know how you and your mother have saved these children with your help.” The Apelle Orphanage was the only one in the city—if this place could even be called that. It housed mostly problem children, too young to jail for minor crimes. Fel was an old friend of his mother’s, a Hapan lady who pledged her life to serving the far reaches of the galaxy. Once, she was part of the Rebellion too. He gives her a brief smile. All of them would be in Corellia tomorrow.
The child was still crying, the sound so piercing in his ears that it woke Rey. She sat up, curious. There had been no other humans as young as her on Jakku, so children have always fascinated her. The girl looked up at him, teary amber eyes and curly hair. He felt Rey’s heart clench, and so did his. The child had stopped crying. Rey felt it, too.
“She is strong with the Force. She’s beautiful.”
Do you want to hold her?” The old woman’s voice broke through their thoughts, and so many reasons to refuse flew past his head that he couldn’t have decided on one until the child was being placed his arms.
She couldn’t stop looking at his face, like it was something strange her young mind couldn’t figure out. Then, he felt the slightest push—like the Force rippling in the gentlest of waves. The child was reaching out to him.
“She arrived last week, her mother died shortly after she was born.” He saw harsh light and prison bars. It smelled rank and moldy. The child’s lips twitched downward, and her small hands fisted on his robes. She was sharing her earliest memories with him. Ben was used to having Rey in his mind that he didn’t realize it until Rey gasped.
“What’s her name?” He was breathless now, and he asked to distract himself from whatever Rey was feeling.
“We named her Sen.” Treasure.
The kid pulled on his hair. Rey laughed. Force, he missed her. He can’t wait to come home already.
And then the child was reaching out to her, too.
“Children, this is my son.” They looked up at him curiously. One boy was looking somewhere near his hips, where his robes were lifted as he carried Sen. The boy was staring at Rey’s lightsaber.
“Are you a Jedi?”
He has talked down war generals until they choked on their tongues, manipulated his own master to his doom, and in the Senate when he starts speaking in his low tones everyone else shuts their mouth.
For this child, Ben Solo had no words.
Fear laced his spine, and he stared at his mother in panic. The rest of the galaxy knew who he was, his face and name the holonet couldn’t get enough off. On one hand he was the Jedi Killer, on the other he was a major force in bringing down the First Order and now the Senator who pushed forward the most radical changes the galaxy direly needed.
Kylo Ren was a curse on Coruscant. On the Outer Rim, he was the Good Senator.
The children stared at him with expectantly.
He looked away.
What does he say?
The child in his arms reached out to touch his cheek, smiling. Rey’s voice, a million stars away.
"There is no more Kylo Ren here.”
“I’m Ben Solo. I’m a Senator.”
He walked with his mother along the shore. Coruscant held nothing but metal and electric lights, and they took whatever reason to get out of the Galactic City to breathe. It was silty, and seaweed clumped everywhere. The lone sun was too bright and he was baking under his robes. His mother’s hand curled on his arm. They walked very slowly, Leia’s proud knees not what they once were.
This was... nice.
The horizon held the sunset, but his mother was looking at him.
“She would be proud of you, you know?”
They had been fighting so, so long. Both the First Order and the Resistance had been mostly grounded, grasping at whatever they had left on ground troops. He and Rey were wounded, so many cauterized scars that they couldn’t feel the pain anymore. In the beginning they raised their lightsabers against each other, and then he was raising his hands—collapsing his own star destroyers’ mainframes. His mind was racing too fast that he barely knew what was happening.
There had been no words between them yet, only pleading the Force. For strength, for hope, for each other.
“Rey, where are you?” He barely had any strength left to keep his eyes open. His hands were shaking, there were still too many around him and the adrenaline was fading.
“Rey? Rey, please.”
There she was, spinning her saber staff too slowly now.
The pain was unlike the piercing of a bowcaster. It was painless before it burned. This, this was pure agony.
They were probably aiming for the sky, but the TIE fighter careened too fast—shot by a falling X-wing not too far away. Both exploded in his surprised rage.
Rey fell to her knees.
The clouds were spinning.
He was everywhere. He was all she could feel.
“Shh, Rey. Not too far away now. Hold on.”
“Ben, I can’t—” Her eyes were closed. She was seeing through his eyes, watching herself being carried in his arms. They were too entwined in the Force that she couldn’t tell them apart. A proton torpedo was meant for other ships. Ben was holding what was left of her together. She could feel herself slipping.
“Please, Rey. Just a bit more. Force, please. Just a bit more.”
Ben Solo, half-alive, kneeling in his dark robes and the broken Last Jedi in his arms, begging his mother to save her.
He woke to the sound of her rifling in the kitchen. Hunger was probably so ingrained in her that she was like this even now.
She seemed to have lost interest in the food, and she comes into his room with a pout. Dressed in a simple shift of white with her hair down, she looked radiant in the moonlight.
“You have nothing in there, again.” Her eyes were searching for something in his. He looked away.
“I’ll get to it tomorrow, I promise.”
She gets closer, and he shifts sideways to make room for her. She settles down next to him, her head on his chest, her hand on top of his heart. She could feel it beating and she smiles. They fit together perfectly that it always makes him wonder if this was what the Force intended.
“You have to take care of yourself, Ben.” Her voice was so soft that in his exhaustion, he almost didn’t catch what she said. He threaded his fingers through her hair. He could almost feel it.
“I’m trying.” For you, he doesn’t say. But she knows. She always knows.
“Not just for me, Ben. You have to do it for yourself, too.”
They were quiet, after that. She was comfortable. The night almost steals him away.
“I’m afraid.” I have this, I have you. I didn’t know I was waiting for you until you were there. The universe has always been cold to me. I am happy. Finally, I am happy.
“Not like this, Ben.”
She raises herself on his pillow, tucks his head under her chin and puts her arms around him. He could almost feel her breathe.
He knew torture, reveled in it, back then. This punishment was beyond what he believed he could take. He held her closer. Her form glowed with the moon.
Stolen sunlight, this.
She could feel his heart breaking.
He was always quiet when he cried. He barely even sobs. He put his hands over his face, hiding himself away. She didn’t have enough strength to move them, so she sits up and lets the tide pass him by. When he lifts his arms, he was a dreadful mess. She attempts to wipe his tears. They stay on his face. She keeps touching him anyway.
“Was this what you saw?” His voice so soft, so quiet. She doesn’t answer, because he already knows.
He tries to touch her face. He swallows a sob.
“It’s been three years today.”
“I don’t regret it. I don’t regret choosing you. But you have to let me go, Ben. It’s been so long.” You can’t keep chasing my shadows. You deserve better than this.
“Better than you?”
“Better than ghosts. You shouldn’t have to mourn me forever.” I wish it was different too. I wish I could have you any way other than this, and this is what we have, but this can’t go on. You know that. I’m dead, Ben. I’m not coming back and I’m sorry it had to be this way.
“I wish—” I wish I had been brave to love you enough to—
“You are. You love me. You’re strong enough. You can be happy, Ben. But not like this.” We may never be able to pay for all our sins, but you can’t keep living like you’re in Chaos already. You can’t keep carrying the world on your back. It’s alright to feel the regret. But you can’t keep punishing yourself for what I’ve already forgiven you for.
“Let me go.” There is no death.
He doesn’t speak for the longest time. He leans forward. His mind is quiet. There was only her. Rey and him and this kiss. Their first, their last. It hurts. But it was different now. He hopes. There is the Force.
“I love you.” You won’t be here tomorrow, won’t you?
“We have tonight.” Rest, Ben. He holds her.
They dream of the past, of suffering and blood and ashes. They dream of the present, the pain and what could have been. They dream of the future, of her hand in his. Never alone, never again.
I miss you, already.
Good night, Ben.
He cradles Sen in his arms, looking towards the ocean.
Sleep well, Rey.