According to his grandmother, the good fortune of the Skywalker family could be traced back to Ben’s great godmother, Breha Organa.
On the fateful summer day that would change the Skywalkers forever, Padme was celebrating her baby shower. The presents had been opened, the onesies and stuffed animals had been cooed over, and the cake had been dished out on pretty little plates.
Picking at her slice of vanilla chiffon, Padme felt heavy enough to fall through the center of the earth.
Breha turned to her and asked, “are you alright?”
A lot of people asked Padme that, as if the swelling of her belly made her an easy-to-pop balloon. Usually, she would smile her senator smile and feed them the usual, “of course, I’ve got work to do,” or “of course, what did you expect?” or “of course, I’ve survived worse than this.”
But the soft light falling on Breha’s concerned face struck her as particularly tragic, so Padme told her the truth.
“No,” she said. “I’m not alright.”
She told Breha about the men who pointed at her belly and asked how she could support abortion clinics; she told Breha about the politicians who pointed at her petitions and asked how she could tax her wealthy friends; she told Breha about the assistants who pointed at the factories and asked how she could hope her children and their world would survive.
She told Breha about the husband who pointed nowhere - lost in the maze of his mind.
She told Breha about the reflection that pointed back at her, alone in front of the bathroom mirror.
“You’re not alone,” Breha told her. Then, she took Padme’s hand and pulled it into her lap, a pool of golden fabric in the sunlight.
For the first time in what felt like one hundred years, Padme wept.
When the baby shower had finally ended and the last of their guests had returned home, Padme led Anakin into the garden. It had been a long time since they’d walked, hand and hand, among the flowers.
“When did you plant these?” Anakin asked, pointing to the bushes of delicate white blossoms.
“A few months ago,” Padme answered. “Gardenias. We had them at our wedding, remember?”
He shook his head.
“What do they mean?” he asked.
He knew she possessed a wealth of knowledge regarding the symbolism of flowers. Everything she planted in her garden had some greater significance, a design only seasoned horticulturalists could discover, a purpose only the watchful could see.
“Love,” Padme said. “Truth. Hope. Among other things. What most flowers symbolize.”
“Except butterfly weed,” he added.
It was a running joke between them, how Anakin had once given her a pretty bouquet of the orange flowers without realizing they meant “leave me.”
“Except butterfly weed,” she agreed. They shared a familiar smile.
There, among the blooming gardenias, she told him all she had told Breha Organa. She told him about her sorrow, her solitude, her despair. Released in the open air, the words seemed to taint the floral sweetness wafting about them. She could see Anakin holding his breath, as if to keep the bitterness from entering his lungs.
“Something needs to change, Ani,” she said. “I can’t go on living like this. We can’t go on living like this.” She brushed a white petal out of his hair. “When was the last time you slept through the night?”
He couldn’t answer. The insomnia had begun even before he went off to war. Midnight was plagued by nightmares. Nightmares that predicted his mother’s death, then nightmares that endlessly repeated it - his brain was a feedback loop of his greatest torment.
Lately, his nightmares had been about her dying in childbirth.
“That won’t happen,” she’d say, holding him in the dark. “The doctors say I’m doing fine. We wouldn’t risk it otherwise.”
But he refused to be soothed; comfort had never comforted him.
Now, cupping his face between her hands as they stood in her garden, Padme told him, “you’re afraid you’ll lose me. I’m afraid I’ve already lost you.”
They clung to each other desperately, backs shaking with sobs, petals and leaves crashing into them like waves at sea. This moment, Padme knew, would decide whether they rose from the dark waters together or sunk in a lover’s embrace.
“You need to see someone, Anakin.” She loosened her hold on him, stepping back so she could look him in the eye. His expression was still stormy. “You don’t have to see my therapist. But you have to see someone who can help you stay afloat.”
His eyes darted away from hers, seeking an escape. She caught his cheek in her hand and turned it back to her.
“I mean it.” Her words were firm. “I’ve been trying to carry too many burdens - mine, your’s, our children’s, the country’s. You were supposed to be my partner, my support. But you’ve just… disappeared. I’ve never felt so alone.”
“You’re not alone,” he reassured her in a rush of hot breath.
They were the exact same words Breha had told her just a few hours ago. For this reason, she laughed aloud instead of cried.
“Neither are you,” she replied.
It became a trademark of the Skywalker family to reassure each other with those words. Anakin passed them on to Luke. Padme passed them onto Leia. Leia passed them onto Han. Han passed them onto Ben.
“You’re not alone,” Han would tell him, bandaging his son’s bloody knuckles after yet another breakdown. Ben, still high from the adrenaline of wrecking his mother’s latest party, would automatically reply:
“Neither are you.”
Six words. Eight syllables. Two breaths.
Repeated over and over again, they became a tether, a spell of binding, a circle.
The words would always be there: no matter how high Leia climbed, no matter how far Han ran, no matter how silent Luke became, no matter how far Ben fell. Those words always brought their family back together.
At least, until the day Ben met Rey.
Ben was seeing red by the time he’d parked his car outside of Maz’s little office on Takodana street. On the way over, he’d torn through traffic, roaring with his car horn, flashing his headlights at slow drivers - a bull with horns of fenders and flanks of steel.
The poor soul who’d been trapped with him in the elevator trembled all the way up to his floor, spilling his coffee on his briefcase when he exited (fortunately, he avoided splashing Ben).
Regularly, Ben would be careful to tamp down his anger, an emotion that never left him completely but ebbed and flowed, an ocean in his heart.
But today the ocean tossed and turned, brewing waves so terribly high that they overwhelmed any sense of reason. His logical brain was drowning somewhere beneath his heart’s turbulence.
Surging past Maz’s receptionist, clenching the latest issue of First Order in his hand like a sharp, bloody sword, Ben crashed headlong into a girl.
Gravity was a terrible god and now it dictated that Ben fall practically on top of her. He managed to catch himself at the last second, the palms of his hands slamming against the linoleum tiles.
He only had a moment to stare into her face, their noses separated by barely six inches of air, before she shoved him away.
“Oy!” she exclaimed. “Watch where you’re going!”
The contents of her purse had spilled in the fall: loose papers, plastic buttons, a tube of chapstick, bright blue candies, spare change, and a black pocket knife. She gathered them up so quickly that by the time Ben had come to his senses, the floor was practically spotless.
“You’re lucky you ran into me.” She huffed in indignation. “If a big guy like you ran into a kid or a little old lady - I don’t even want to imagine it.”
Her efforts to shame him rekindled his anger.
“Yeah, well, you’re lucky you ran into me,” he retorted. “Some scrawny little guy - you would have broken his bones.”
She gaped at him.
“This wasn’t my fault! You weren’t being careful!” She still clenched the pocket knife in her right hand. Strangely, the sight of her with that knife mollified him.
Then she picked up the First Order magazine.
“Hey, that’s mine!” he cried, wrenching it from her grasp. “Hands off, scavenger.”
Something cracked behind her eyes. Up until this moment, he hadn’t realized that they were both just barely holding it together. Now, a dozen questions came to mind: what was she doing in Maz’s office? Was she a patient? Had she just finished her session?
Was she broken too?
Beyond the sliver in her chipped mask, he glimpsed something raw and despairing. His breathing stopped.
Then she kicked him in the shins.
“Bastard!” she called over her shoulder as she stomped down the hallway. “Dick! I hope the next thing you run into is a speeding bus!”
The door slammed so hard he was surprised the glass didn’t shatter.
“Ben Solo.” The little wrinkled figure of Maz Kanata had snuck up behind him while he was lying on the floor, massaging his bruised shins. She gave him a mischievous smile. “You do know how to make an appearance.”
“I have a bone to pick with you, Maz,” he hissed through clenched teeth.
“It seems you have a bone to pick with everyone.” She waved her hand in a careless gesture. “Lucky for you that was my last appointment. Come, we’ll talk in my office.”
“I certainly don’t feel lucky.” He glared mutinously at the evergreen tree wallpaper, but still followed along.
“Many people mistake good fortune for catastrophe. They dress in the same clothes.”
“And you’re blind. You are literally blind - it is illegal for you to drive without glasses.” He plopped himself down on the chair she usually reserved for her patients. His family hadn’t employed her in years - not since Grandpa Anakin had stitched himself back together. Following the termination of their professional relationship, she’d become a close family friend, someone he thought he could trust.
He never should have been so foolish.
“Is that why you gave that disastrous interview to the First Order magazine?” He shoved his crinkled issue in her face. It was taped together in several places and even bore various teeth marks: the aftermath of having been fed to Poe’s golden retriever. It took every ounce of willpower Ben had not to set it on fire. “Because you can’t tell the difference between good meddling and catastrophe?”
She regarded the magazine with feigned innocence.
“Open it,” he said. “Page sixty-six. Article written by Armitage Hux.” Gritting his teeth, he added in a dangerous undertone, “it’s titled, ‘Richboy Heartbreaker, Ben Solo.’”
A gleeful light sparkled in her eyes as she thumbed through the story.
“I see they published our conversation,” she said. She had the gall to puff out her chest with pride. “I’m glad. That reporter was not very easy to talk to. Rather snobby man. He looks just like one of the Weasley boys, from the Harry Potter movies.”
“I’m not here to talk about Harry Potter.” Ben was seething. “And I know what that gremlin looks like. He happens to be my next door neighbor.”
“Ah, that explains his vendetta against you.”
“If you realized he holds a grudge against me, why the hell did you do this interview? You’re endorsing this libelous garbage!” He snatched the magazine back and jabbed his finger at the headline. He read aloud: “‘Ben Solo: reclusive translator of Japanese and Chinese poetry by day. Wealthy playboy by night. Hear all about the exploits of this millionaire cheater from close friends and old flames.’”
He threw the magazine down on the floor with the violence he reserved for venomous snakes or burning crosses.
His anger was stoked by the eerie sense that he could hear his father’s obnoxious sniggers playing like a laugh track in the background.
Early this morning, his dad, considerate man that he was, made Ben aware of his situation via a kindly phone call.
At first, Ben thought Han was having a stroke - he could barely breathe from laughing so hard.
“I had no idea,” Han wheezed on the other end. “My son, the lone-wolf academic. The boy who spent most of his childhood with his nose stuck in a book. The man who spends most of his adulthood meditating in Taoist temples. Who woulda thought such a guy was secretly cruising around at night, throwing away his inheritance on booze, drugs, and one-night stands?”
He had proof his dad was finally going senile.
“...What?” Ben asked.
“Kid, you’ve gotta read the latest issue of First Order magazine.”
Dutifully, Ben had gone down to the drug store to buy the latest issue of the garbage tabloid. He wasn’t proud of the inhuman screech he uttered when he saw a heavily Photoshopped version of himself leering from the front cover.
Glaring down at his sleazy magazine doppelganger lying on Maz’s floor, the schmuck giving him a wink from behind dark glasses, Ben was certain his scholarly reputation was ruined. That resignation to his downfall had inspired a revenge-filled suicide mission. Ben’s first stop was Maz. His next stop: Armitage Hux’s apartment, armed with a gallon of lighter fluid and a box of matches.
“Why did you do this to me?” he asked Maz, kneeling down on the floor. He was actually quite miserable. His parents said he was lucky to be born into a family possessing lots of old friends. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have any.
“Now, now, Ben. It’s alright.” She patted his bowed head. Ben knew she would use the same gesture to cheer up an unhappy dog. “It came to me in a dream.”
“I had a dream of that interview. Me, saying those exact words: ‘he will be a heartbreaker.’” There was a mystical tone to her voice and a faraway look in her eyes. “This was destined to be.”
Maz, like Grandpa Anakin and Uncle Luke, possessed a self-destructive belief in all things supernatural. Prophetic visions were her favorite past time.
“You ruined my life… because of a dream.”
“Stop being so dramatic. Your life isn’t ruined. In fact, thanks to my dream, your fate has been altered in a most fortuitous way.”
“You said I’m going to be a heartbreaker.”
“Is that mutually exclusive from happiness?” She smiled at him, pulling him up from his kneeling position on the floor. For such a small woman, she was surprisingly strong. “Hearts are broken and they are mended. Some things are better from having been broken. More brilliant. More beautiful.”
“Kintsugi,” he muttered.
He looked at the kintsugi piece of pottery she displayed on her bookshelf. It was a piece he had given her, a souvenir from one of his trips to Japan. The deep black bowl was laced in golden fault lines, cracks that glowed like golden stars. Kintsugi was hope bleeding out of hopelessness, light sobbed in great tears by the dark.
Solace greater than he would ever know.
As she led him to the front desk, he said, “I’m letting you off the hook this time. You didn’t know any better.”
She gave his elbow a tender squeeze. Expelling a despondent sigh, he turned to the door, but just as he was opening it, the front desk receptionist called out, “wait!”
The receptionist waved something at them. A wallet. “The woman from before. The one you… bumped into.” Even in Ben’s surprise - he’d forgotten all about the violent scavenger - he wryly noted the receptionist’s delicate wording. “She dropped this. Must not have noticed it, hidden and all behind the potted plants.”
“Oh dear,” Maz said, taking the wallet. As she rifled through it, Ben glimpsed a few dollar bills, crumpled receipts, several photos, dog-eared cards, and a license. “Look at this. A piece of mail with her address. We do have the fates on our side.”
Then she turned to him.
“Ben. You should bring this back to her.”
“What?” Ben was flabbergasted. “No, why would I - can’t you just call her? Tell her to pick it up?”
“She can’t drive around without her license,” Maz pointed out, choosing this moment to indulge in cold logic. “And this mess is your fault. You’re the one who bumped into her.”
“She also bumped into me.”
Ignoring this, Maz raised her hand in a magnanimous shushing gesture. “No arguing. You will go straight to your car, enter this address in your GPS, and return this wallet to poor Rey.”
That is how Ben found himself hurtling down the highway at 90 miles an hour, bracing himself for an inevitable collision with the fierce woman with a pocket knife.
He peered down at the little wallet lying on his passenger seat. Rey’s photo smiled back at him.
“Rey,” he said, testing the name in his mouth. Then he drove on.