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the shadows are whispering (again)

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Year 37 After the Battle of Yavin (ABY), 9th Standard Month -- Naboo 

Rey lets her feet dangle over the edge of the cliff, swinging them slightly, back and forth, bare toes brushing over the rocks and vines that cling to the shear wall below them. Ben sits next to her, their boots off to the side, one arm propping him up as he leans back slightly, the other crossing behind Rey's back and curling over her hip. He knows she spent years in situations more dangerous than this, growing up clinging to wrecks of starships to earn her food, but he can't help the quick tightening of his fingers when she leans forward to get a better look at the forest below. He never developed those kinds of instincts for himself; Rey brings out things in him he didn't think he was capable of. He's still getting used to defending instead of attacking. 

Rey smiles over her shoulder at him and leans back into his chest. His arm supports her as she rests her head just under his chin. He tucks his head and lands a soft kiss in her hair. She sighs, content, and rests her hand over his, squeezing lightly in appreciation. The sun sinks down towards the horizon in front of them, lining the trees with gold. The light turns molten as it fades, and they make no move to leave. They can find their way back, or stay here if they want. This isn’t the first planet they’ve explored since disappearing from the reformed Republic, but it’s one they’ve been heading towards all along. Nights on Naboo stay mild, and not much can bother the Last Jedi and her Jedi Killer. Not after everything else they've dealt with. He still wakes up covered in sweat some nights, convinced he can feel Snoke’s voice in his head, or Sidious’ lightning arcing across his skin. He knows Rey does too. At least now, they can turn towards each other in their shared bed, taking comfort in the other’s warmth. 

Further away, he hears the waterfalls that tumble over the cliffs, a dull roar in the background. They can just be seen beyond the trees. It’s not a good enough view to draw the hordes of tourists that crowd elsewhere, especially since they'd had to hike through the jungle to get here. The scent of warm, damp earth touched with lush foliage settles around them. He watches the fading light trail over Rey's skin, the warm yellows making it look almost liquid, dotted with her freckles and scars. He runs his hand over a cluster just above her wrist, and she tilts her head up to nuzzle into his neck. He feels the moment she notices the figures behind them. She stills, not yet used to them the way he is, then relaxes again, mostly. He's known they were there almost since he and Rey arrived, but the growing shadows show the blue glow of the ghosts more clearly. 

"Have they been there the whole time?" Rey asks quietly. Not afraid but curious.

He nods, chin brushing her hair as he does. "Don't mind them. The Force will let them go soon enough." In all his years of seeing them, he's never fully figured out what calls the Force ghosts to him some times rather than others, but he's accepted it as something he can't change. They won't bother them tonight; they watch the horizon as well, perhaps sensing the sacred feeling of the evening. 

It has taken them some time to come to Naboo, with all of its history, and the ghosts have been stronger here than on the empty planet they came from. His frequent shadows have watched as Rey marveled over the crystal clear waters and rolling hills of the Lake Country, as he stood silent, lost in thought, on the balcony of Varykino, where his grandparents said their vows, and then as he and Rey wandered the storied city of Theed hand in hand with faces covered by scarves. Out here, with the city reduced to a curved skyline in the distance, he and Rey have removed their extra coverings, free with only the setting sun and the spirits that haunt him to watch. 

Rey watches the blue figures behind them a moment more before settling back against his chest, turning her face to soak up the last of the sun. "So you've always seen them?" she murmurs.

He nods again. "As long as I can remember."

Chapter Text

5 ABY, 11th Month -- Chandrila

The child of the retired General Solo, reformed smuggler, and Princess Leia of the lost world of Alderaan, heroes of the Rebellion, arrived screaming into the galaxy shortly after the concordance was signed, finally and officially restoring peace between the Empire and the New Republic. The holonews took it as an auspicious sign, tacking it on to their endless coverage of the peace agreement. "A promise of the new hope for the galaxy," one report said. "Sweeping away the ghosts of war with new life," another claimed ambitiously.

The child nestled in his crib on Chandrila didn't know anything about the stories being sent across the galaxy, couldn't yet understand the legacy surrounding him. But as he opened his eyes from his first fitful nap, a haze of blue hovered above him. He blinked, eyes not yet recognizing the figure from the strange blur. He remained quiet, dark eyes staring upwards with unnerving intensity.

"They named him after me," Obi-Wan said softly, not wanting to disturb the boy.

"It's only right," Anakin replied just as softly. He stared back at the boy, face torn between an impossible mix of emotions: guilt, hope, fear, joy, features shifting from one to the next.

Padme leaned in with a hand on his arm. "He's perfect," she agreed.

Another couple stood on the other side of the crib, the man's arm around the woman's back. Anakin didn't look at them, but Padme offered a grateful smile. Other figures, some familiar, some not, crowded behind. Glowing forms of varying brightness filled the room, from nearly solid to nearly translucent. Anakin and Obi-Wan shone the brightest, looking little different from their living selves, lit up with pale blue from within. Padme and the couple next to her flickered occasionally, their glow duller, not fully there.

Another figure appeared behind Obi-Wan, and he glanced back to meet the eyes of his former master. Qui Gon smiled, then looked around him to the child and nodded. "He'll have a long journey, this one. The galaxy won't rest yet. It will be good for him to carry your name along that path."

Obi-Wan looked back at the boy. "May it be smoother than mine," he murmured. Hesitantly, he reached down and smoothed his hand over the boy's forehead, as if to brush back the scattered dark curls sticking there, but they remained stubbornly in place. "I'm glad they chose Ben," he said. "And not Obi-Wan. Let him be hope and let my failures rest." Anakin flinched next to him, but Obi-Wan didn't look up. He brushed his thumb over the boy's forehead, and Ben watched the movement, eyes locked on the source of light. Obi-Wan withdrew, and Ben protested with a small whimper.

"Shhh, it's okay, angel," Breha whispered, but Ben wouldn't be comforted. His small face scrunched and his tiny fists drew up to his face. Breha murmured sadly in another language, trying to reach down and soothe him. Her hands passed over him, not quite touching, and his fussing built up into a frustrated cry.

Padme watched from near the foot of the crib, face drawn in sorrow. "I wish I could hold him," she said. "I never—"

Anakin's expression matched hers, filled with regret. "I know."

The door to the nursery opened, and a man stumbled in, rubbing the stubble on his chin as he yawned. The ghosts moved aside for him as he walked to the crib and he passed through them, oblivious. He bent over his son's cradle and caressed his head.

"What's the matter, little man?" he asked.

The ghosts watched as Han talked to his son, all other conversations silenced to listen.

“It’s you and me, kid, remember? We’ll make it okay.”

37 ABY, 6th Month -- Outer Rim

When they push open the door to the cabin, it becomes clear that Lando hadn’t been exaggerating when he said he hadn’t used the place in a long time. Dust covers every surface, visible even with the windows covered. Rey walks in first, setting her bag on the table before feeling her way around in the dim light to slide the covers off the windows. The additional light reveals a small front room with the bare minimum for a kitchen: a heating and a cooling unit, a synthesizer, and table and chairs made from the same wood as the cabin. The basic tech isn't what he associates with his uncle, owner of a cutting edge robotics company, and he supposes that's part of what's kept Lando from using the retreat, though he could update it if he wanted.

But Ben suspects that his uncle didn't much enjoy the location either and decided to keep this hideaway in reserve. In Ben's mind, he sees Lando at home in the shining spires of Cloud City, not this backwater world in a less frequented sector. It had been a challenge to set the Falcon down in the wooded forest that surrounds them, and he hadn't been certain the coordinates were right until they got close enough to see the gap in the trees. The forest covers the mountains around them like a thick sweater. Their cabin sits on the slope of one of the peaks, made from the same wood that surrounds it, like it grew the same way the rest of the trees did.

Not his uncle's style at all. But it suits him and Rey well, for now. They still have so much of the galaxy they want to explore. Naboo tops the list, influenced by the stories his family's spirits have been telling Rey during their journeys on the Falcon. He's not as eager to return to his family's old haunts, but Rey will give him time. And he admits to wanting to see how the world lives up to his biased memories. There's plenty of others they want to see too, ones Rey had heard of from travelers during her years on Jakku, or from her companions in the now-disbanded Resistance. But in the vaguely panicked haze he'd gone into when Rey had told him she'd be leaving the newly formed Republic with him, anywhere far from Chandrila had been his only priority. His uncle had cornered him after a council meeting and passed him the access card with the coordinates and a wink, before sweeping off again, cape fluttering in his wake.

Now, as he watches Rey explore the small cabin, picking up the few items there and examining them, an instinct she must have learned as a child, he sends a silent 'Thank you' to his uncle across the galaxy. Here they can finally be alone for a while, with no expectations for their next trip besides what they’ve set for themselves. And by some miracle, no ghosts have followed them inside. Perhaps they've sensed his growing frustration, or maybe, for once in his life, the force has decided to grant him a break. Possibly the same miracle that led Rey to come with him rather than staying with her Resistance friends. Whatever it is, he's not about to question it. He takes the few steps across the cabin to come behind Rey, wrapping his arms around her waist and nuzzling her neck through her hair. She laughs, the sound making his heart leap in his chest, and his eyes fall closed.

"Do you like it?" he murmurs, words half buried in her hair, but she hears.

"It's perfect." Her voice rings with joy at the statement, more sincere than he thinks he's ever heard. The fact that being here, alone with him, made her sound that way is beyond his comprehension.

He doesn't have much time to dwell on that before she turns in his arms, puts her own around his neck, and jumps to wrap her legs around his waist. He catches her, like she knew he would, bracing his weight to slide his hands under her thighs. She grins at him, their faces nearly level.

"It's just us now," she tells him. Something about the words sparks at his memory, but she cuts off his unproductive thoughts again by pressing her lips against his.

He's started learning about her kisses, in the months since they've become a thing between them. She goes after him with the same determination she does everything, putting herself into exploring affection between them wholeheartedly (and with the full agreement of other parts too). They've been taking things slow, in a way, both learning about intimacy as they go along, but the way they touch doesn't come close to chaste.

They both needed to adjust to such casual touches, but now Rey drops light kisses as they pass on the Falcon, brief stars of touch that send part of his mind into failure every time. They land on his cheek, the corner of his lips, his neck, occasionally with teeth coming out for a quick nip. Sometimes he wonders if she does it just for his reaction, but he can't mind, even when his father's ghost gave him a pointed wink. He does his best to reciprocate, twining their hands together casually when they sit side by side, brushing his lips against hers when the mood strikes him, which is unsurprisingly often, but her eyes sparkle back at him every time.

He doesn't know how his lips feel to her, but she takes every chance she can to bring them to her own, or other parts of her body, so he figures he has to be doing something right. The noises she makes are just as encouraging as her undiminished enthusiasm, and he can't say he hasn't wondered what she'd sound like once they go further.

He's held her to him, their hands unable to stay still when they kiss, felt the curves and ridges of her body as she's done to him. But they've held back until now. Personally, he doesn't like to think too hard on the couples who have shared the Falcon's cabin before them. Not to mention the ghosts that lurk there far too often, the perils of its long and rich history. Here, however, is a space all their own, with not a hint of blue in sight. It feels like they've been waiting for this, and Rey's next words echo his thoughts as she pulls away a bit.

"What do you think the bedroom's like?" Her lips curve into a smirk and his twitch in response.

"Subtle," he says dryly. She shrugs, unrepentant.

"You were thinking it too."

He can't deny that, so instead he tightens his grip on her and walks them out of the kitchen down the single hallway to the bedroom. She starts kissing him again, lips pressing harder against his, tongue darting out to taste him, which makes it more it more of a challenge to navigate, but thankfully the door at the end stands open and he sees a large bed covered in a thick blanket inside.

He strides in and tips Rey back onto the bed, following her down as she bounces slightly, bracing himself over her. Their next few kisses miss, her teeth hitting his chin and his tongue dragging over her cheek, but she laughs against him and he smiles too. They settle back into what's become a comfortable rhythm, though it has a new and thrilling edge knowing there's nothing to interrupt them now. The bed smells a little musty, and dust clings to his hands, but Rey doesn't mind, so he wipes his palms on his pants and kisses her deeper.

The only thing rushing them is their own excitement, and before Ben knows it, Rey's hands have found their way under his shirt, exploring bare skin and pushing the clothing off of him. He lets her, then returns the favor. Her hands go wandering again. It doesn't take long for them to be bared to each other, both heaving heavily and drinking in new sights with greedy eyes. Hands follow eyes, testing and teasing, the bond flowing openly between them as they learn.

When he sinks into her, they lay on their side, her legs tight around his hips, barely room to breathe between their chests. Their eyes lock on one another’s, and he swears the entire galaxy stops. His mind blanks, the only thoughts left incoherent ones of pleasure and Rey, Rey, Rey. Her own ecstasy pours down the bond to him, and they build each other up into a tempest, like the entirety of the Force has centered between them. He doesn't know which of them falls over the edge first, their shared rapture too hard to separate before they both drown in it.

Still wrapped in each other's arms, touching wherever possible, they lay panting, minds still finding their way back to their bodies. Rey tilts her head up to mouth at his jaw, not quite enough energy left for a real kiss. He hums in response and strokes a heavy hand over her back, both of them sticky with sweat, cum, and dust. She arches into the touch and sighs.

"I love you," he whispers, before he fully realizes what his mouth is doing. The words give her another spark, and she turns her head to smile at him, eyes crinkling, hair clinging to her face.

"I love you too," she says, and he can't think how he could ever accomplish anything better than this moment.

He presses his forehead to hers and his eyes close, overwhelmed with feeling. Their breaths mingle between them, warm, while the air cools the sweat from their skin. Rey eventually shivers, and Ben pulls the blanket from behind her over her and draws her even closer.

They drift in and out of sleep over the course of the day, bodies exhausted from the excitement of getting here and then all they've done since. Space travel messes with perception of night and day, but they'll have time to adjust here. Right now, he feels no need to leave the bed with Rey for days, maybe longer, for anything other than necessities. They wake in turns, sometimes talking, sometimes nipping out to use the fresher or grab some water or meal bars (better quality than either of them is used to). He promises to cook for her when they finally get up, and she laughs and says they have time. They continue exploring each other, and he's grateful that the bed is as big as it is. They fall asleep at some point with her hugging his back, limbs entangled, then later with her back to his chest, his hands happily covering, protecting her peaked nipples from the chill she's more sensitive too. Finally, they sleep for real.

When they pull themselves from bed at last, they don't go far. Ben pulls on his basics and Rey his shirt, and they make their way to the porch at the front of the cabin. He stops to grab some more food and water from the stores they managed to bring into the kitchen, then heads outside to find her basking in the sun.

She sits on the edge of the wooden platform, toes brushing the grass below, and something in his chest swells with that sense of happiness and belonging and awe all wrapped up in Rey. The guilt comes quickly on its heels, as always, but time and distance have dulled it somewhat, and instead of lurking in the doorway, feeling unworthy, he steps out across the porch and sits behind her. His legs fit on either side of hers, her back settling against his chest, and she tilts her face back towards him, smiling. He meets her in a gentle kiss, a brush of lips, and she leans back against him with a satisfied hum.

They look out across the landscape, old mountains overrun with lush forests, the trees younger but still centuries older than most sentients. Years have worn down the mountains' peaks and sunk the trees' roots deep into their sides, and Ben breathes deeply with the peace of it all. Scents of wildflowers and pine drift over them as the late summer morning settles into afternoon, bright golden light spilling over the peaks and valleys before them. The sounds of insects and several arguing birds fill the background of his thoughts, and Ben reflects again on how this world could possibly be part of the same galaxy as the ones where he spent most of his life. No ships fill the air, not like they could even land. Even on Chandrila, where they prize the natural beauty of their planet, it never seems as isolated as this.

The heat keeps rising as the sun peaks above them, and he lifts Rey's unbound hair off the back of her neck. As he thinks, he absentmindedly starts passing it back and forth between his hands, twisting here and there as the mood takes him. She tilts her head obligingly, letting him guide her as he works. Pale blue specters flit around the corners of his vision, nearly invisible in the bright sun. The ghosts have returned, but they don't intrude. He ignores them, and they keep to themselves, for how. Rey, with her eyes half closed, soaking in the day's warmth, doesn't notice. Fewer roam here than anywhere he's been since the First Order, but he spots a familiar face and his hands tighten briefly. Rey hisses and opens one eye to look back at him, wordlessly asking what's wrong. He shakes his head and returns his attention to his hands, running soothing fingers along her scalp in apology.

He leans back to finish braiding her hair down her back, hands brushing against her spine. She leans forward, propping her chin in her hand, elbow on her thigh. When he's done, he lies the braid over her shoulder, and she ducks her chin to look down at it. Her hands pass over the small twists wrapped around the braid and her pleasure filters across their bond. Her hair twists back from her face behind her ears, down into the braid, keeping it from sticking to her as the day grows warmer.

"I don't think I've seen this one before," she says, looking back at him.

He considers, his hand drifting over her shoulder to meet hers. "I don't think so," he agrees.

"It's very pretty." It's still a strange word on her lips, pretty, something she never had time for, couldn't afford. He wants to give her all the pretty things she'll let him, even if it's small ones like this. She hesitates a little before speaking again and he notices, focusing. "Did… Leia teach you these?"

He stiffens slightly on instinct, like she knew he would, the wound with his family too deeply ingrained after the years he sunk into it. But he forces himself to relax again. Time has let the injury fade to a scar, the skin around it still tender, but healing, as much as it ever will. He exhales slowly, connecting a pale blue face with the patterns he's woven into Rey's hair.

"Not all of them," he tells her, running a hand down the braid then settling her closer to him. She tilts her head and hums in question. "My mother was adopted, and both her birth mother and her adopted mother were known for their style. I learned from them as well."

She frowns. "You met them?"

He turns to look to the side, at a cluster of translucent blue figures, and she follows with him. "Oh," she breathes.

10 ABY, 5th Month -- Chandrila

Ben frowned, tongue between his teeth as he held handfuls of his mother's hair. She sat on the floor at his request, datapad in her lap, while he sat on the couch behind her, his short legs dangling over the edge. The pretty blue lady sat next to him, guiding his hands, though she couldn't touch. None of the blue people could, and she was one of the ones that was harder to see.

"Just like that," she said quietly, showing him how to twist his mother's hair with his small, chubby hands. The strands tangled around his fingers and he tried to tug then free.

Leia winced and her hand flew to the side of her head. "Careful, dear," she told him gently.

"Sorry, Mama." She helped pick the stubborn strands out from between his fingers, freeing him.

"It's okay, sweetheart." She kissed her fingers and reached around to pat the kiss on his arm. "What are you doing today for me?"

"It's a surprise!" His tongue slipped a little on the last word and his mother laughed.

"Okay, tell me when you're ready." She swiped through the pages on her datapad and he set back to work.

"Pull that underneath—" the blue lady guided him. He did and she smiled. "Very good. You're a natural at this Ben." He didn't quite know what that meant, but he liked how she said it and how she looked at him. She reminded him of his mother like that. "Now take a little bit there and put it aside. Just over her shoulder, perfect. Let's take this part next—"

He went slowly, his hands still learning the motions, but the blue lady guided him the whole way. His mother offered to get up and take a break halfway through, starting to push herself up from the floor, but he protested until she sat back down. He was going to do this and make them both happy.

His stomach started growling by the time he fixed his mother's hair down her back, but he barely noticed in his excitement. "All done!' he proclaimed.

His mother groaned and stretched her legs out, then pulled herself up to sit next to him on the couch. She reached around and felt the braid he'd created. Her eyes widened. She pulled her hair over her shoulder and looked down at it. He hadn't gotten all the way to the end; his mother had very long hair, but he'd gotten in enough to make it stay.

"Ben! This is very good." She felt higher up on her head. "Let's go look in the mirror?" She held out her arms and he let himself be picked up. "Oof," she said as she lifted him. "You keep growing, little man. Must be all those vegetables." He giggled and swung his legs as she took them over to the mirror in the fresher.

Leia turned her head back and forth to look at what he'd done. "This is wonderful, Ben!" She hugged him closer and pressed a kiss to his forehead. He grinned. "Who taught you how to braid like that? Uncle Chewie? Or was it Uncle Lando?"

He shook his head, dark curls flopping around his face. "No, it was the lady!"

His mother frowned. "The lady? Aunt Amilyn?"

He shook his head harder. "No, the blue lady! Over there!" He pointed to the couch, where the pretty lady still sat. Another figure stood behind her, a man, and they both looked back at him with a strange expression.

His mother's eyes went wide and she held him even closer to her. He wriggled, his arm pinned to her chest. "Ow, Mama, too tight."

She relaxed, but just a little. He freed his arm and held onto her dress, peering up at her in confusion. "Mama?"

Her eyes flicked back and forth between him and the other room. "A woman?" she asked, her voice different. He nodded. "Did she talk to you?"

"Mhmm. She told me how to do the twisting," he said proudly.

"Twisting? With my hair?" she asked. He nodded again and she sighed, her voice shaky. She looked back in the mirror and turned to see more of the style he'd done. She shifted him in her arms, looking down at him. "Does she tell you anything else?"

He thought about it. "Sometimes, when I'm not sleepy, she tells me stories."

"What kind of stories?" his mother said quickly.

His eyes lit up."'bout Jedi and 'ventures! She tells the best stories of all the blue people."

His mother's breath caught. "All the blue people? How many do you talk to?"

He shrugged. "Dunno. Lots?" He frowned up at her. "Don't you see them, Mama? They see you."

His mother looked paler in the lights of the fresher. She swallowed. "What do you think about going to visit your Uncle Luke? You haven't seen him in a while. After the session tomorrow, we'll all take the Falcon and go to see him."

"Okay!" He bounced a little and Leia shifted him to her hip. Uncle Luke always played with him, and he loved flying in the Falcon, even though his mother always said it was a death trap. His dad let him sit on his lap while he flew and even let him use some of the switches.

"Let's get you some lunch first, then we'll go talk to your father." The blue people by the couch watched as they went into the kitchen.

Uncle Luke had lots of questions about the blue people when they went to go see him. Ben answered all of them, but still didn't understand how none of them could see the blue figures when they were right there.

Luke warned him not to listen to everything they said; he couldn't know who they were, like strangers, but they never hurt him. More often than not, they helped him. They knew things other people didn't, and they didn't go away.

Maybe that was why, when another voice came, this one without a ghostly form, it was so easy to listen.

37 ABY, 3rd Month -- Takodana

Blue figures wait around the ramp to the Falcon as Ben stomps into the hangar. He ignores the look Luke gives him and the way his father's dimmer form opens his mouth and then closes it again. He knows. He knows he's letting his temper get the better of him again, he knows why, and he knows he'll regret it. His chest aches for a reason he refuses to confront. One last run, and then… He'll disappear. Or something. With his family, he should at least be good at that.

He pauses at the top of the ramp as he hears Rey's voice and sees blue light reflecting off the curved hall leading to the communal area. He approaches slowly, trying to keep his steps from reverberating on the metal floors. Rey's been wary of the ghosts in the few months since ability flowed across their bond, and he wonders who got her to open up. His grandfather has been curious about her since before Ben could see him again, but his master Obi-Wan was always better with words.

As he gets closer, he recognizes the voice as female. The slight accent reveals the speaker before he sees her.

"The best view was from Appenza Peak. I only climbed it twice, but both times I could never forget. It felt like you could see the entire planet once you reached the top: all the smaller peaks, spiky and sharp, the slopes of the country in the distance, and the entire labyrinth of the royal palace on the horizon. It wasn’t an easy climb..."

He sees Breha first, regal as ever, though the sometimes strict lines of her features soften as she talks to Rey. She looks over as she notices his presence, and her mouth quirks in that odd way it does around him now. He sees his mother in the gesture, something between affection and pain. Rey turns too when his adopted grandmother stops talking, leaning over in her seat to see him.

"Ben!" she says and scootches around the curved bench to stand. "Are we ready?"

He nods. "All set. I'll start us up." He turns to walk down the hall to the cockpit.

"I'll be right there," she calls after him, then says something he can't hear to Breha.

He sits in the cockpit, and quick steps follow shortly after him. His chest grows tight as she starts her half of the start up sequence naturally, like this could be something they do together for years to come. He can't think like that. He didn't mean that she had to help him; he can manage on his own, but the Falcon was made for two. Another stab to the chest.

"One last run, yeah?" he says, then guns the engines, taking off out of the hangar and into the orange sky. She glances at him briefly but doesn't say anything until they soar above the planet, oceans and continents fading into blue and green blurs behind them.

"What do you mean, 'last'?" she asks as she sets the coordinates for Chandrila.

He shrugs. "Isn't that the idea? I drop you off with your friends. I'm sure they're missing you."

"Yes, but—"

He thrusts the ship into hyperspace before she can finish. She grits her teeth against the sudden force. He should have left her and Breha to talk; this is exactly the conversation he'd been desperate to avoid. They both knew where this was going.

"Ben," she says irritably when he continues sitting in silence, staring aimlessly at the blur of space rushing over them.

"I can't stay with you," he points out, something he thought they'd both realized.

She glares at him. "Why not?"

He gives a self-deprecating smile. "Just because the new government has too many problems to deal with a trial right now doesn't mean they won't see the appeal of the idea once they start getting organized. It'd be a nice show for them-- a fresh start, you could say--, executing the former Supreme Leader of the First Order to introduce a new rule to the galaxy. It's better if I stay out of sight." He has no doubt Rey would fight all of the politicians who would suggest that method of punishment for his actions, but he didn't want that for her. She should start her own life, without being overshadowed by his crimes.

"They wouldn't," she protests, but he hears the hesitation in her voice as clearly as she does. She tries again. "I wouldn't let them."

He hesitates, then lays his hand over hers on the control panel between then. "You don't need to face their judgement for my crimes. I should find something to do with myself anyway, if I'm not going to die."

She shakes her head. "Why do you think I'd want to stay with the rest of the Resistance?" she asks, her tone snapping.

He stares at her, then blinks. "Why wouldn't you? All your friends are there. It's everything you've been working towards."

She shrugs. "I did my part. Palpatine is dead and the First Order is destroyed. I don't owe them or the galaxy anything else." Her gaze fixes on the star-streaked darkness passing around them. "I'm tired of being the Last Jedi," she says softly. "I barely even know what that means. I got a couple lessons while Luke was convincing me the Jedi should end and some books I can barely read. And his ghost hanging around doesn't help." She glances behind them, but the small cabin is thankfully empty beside the two of them. They could probably find company at the dejarik table though.

He lets her words hang in the air between them for a moment as he processes. "What do you want to be?" he asks quietly.

She hesitates. "I don't know. I still—I've barely seen the galaxy. I've heard stories all my life, from the traders, the rest of the Resistance, and—" She pauses, glancing back again, and Breha's words earlier click into place. "I still want to help people. But I don't know how to do what Finn or your mother do, get people to listen to me. I just get—" Her lips press together, and he watches, eyes locked to her face. He holds his breath, not wanting to disturb the rare revelations slowly trickling out of her. "Angry. I feel so angry, at all of the people there who didn't help, who try to tell me that the Resistance was as much at fault as the Order and if I stay there I know I'm going to end up strangling some prince and I don't want to make your mother keep cleaning up my messes."

She crosses her arms and doesn't look at him, taking her turn to stare out the window. Tentatively, he brushes his fingers over hers again; the lightest touch is a still new pleasure. Some of the tension goes out of her with a sigh, and he feels a fragile bubble of hope begin to rise in his chest.

"Technically, you've already strangled a prince, and it turned out better for both of us," he points out to her. His heart eases a bit when she laughs.

"True," she admits.

"And my mother would never consider helping you a burden." That hurts to say, and the way she looks at him tells him she knows it, but he swallows and moves on. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to though. You deserve to see everything the galaxy has to offer. I just didn't think—" He trails off. Rey constantly surprises him in so many ways. Even with their bond, he doesn't think he could ever expect everything that she is.

"Think what?" she asks, but he shakes his head.

"Would you really be okay? Leaving your friends?"

The evaluating way she looks at him lodges a rock in his throat. "They have each other," she says softly. Then with a self-conscious smile: "Finn and Rose deserve some time to themselves anyway. And it's not like I'll never see them again. I could always go back, or com them." Her eyes drop from his face down to their hands, still touching. "And I kind of hoped I wouldn't be leaving everyone behind."

His heart jumps. "You know, I got to see some of the galaxy when I was younger." The memories hurt, but it's worth digging into that wound for Rey. "My mother took me with her on diplomatic visits sometimes and…" He can't talk about Han out loud yet, but Rey's hand squeezes his in understanding. He clears his throat. "And Luke and I spent years bouncing from one planet to the next looking for artifacts."

"Yeah?" Rey's eyes are wide as they look into his.

"Yeah." He swallows again. "So maybe, if you don't want to go alone, I could show you some of the galaxy. If you want." His gaze slides from Rey's, heart pounding as he waits for her to pull back.

Her hand slides out from his and his heart stops altogether. He starts to stammer through an apology, but her hands on his face halt his words before they can emerge. His eyes snap to hers, hardly daring to breathe, and the look in her eyes keep him frozen in place. Her fingers gently brush over his cheeks and down to his neck.

"I do want," she says simply, and then she leans over and kisses him.

He doesn't know what to do with himself. Never a master of human relationships, the undefined intimacy between him and Rey has had him unmoored since it first appeared. Between the bond, his own desperate need for acceptance, and the war between them, he's never known what to make of it. He's wanted -- dreamed -- of kissing Rey, their bodies as close as their minds, but has remained adamantly convinced that she deserves better than a decade-older disgraced warlord haunted by the dead.

But here Rey is. Kissing him. Soft, dry lips undeniably pressed against his.

His first bizarre thought is the the two seats of the Falcon aren't well-positioned for the way she's bent towards him, so in a moment of panic he wraps his arms around her and pulls her into his lap. She could resist if she wanted, he's certain, but she instead she climbs toward him, straddling his legs. Her lips part from his with a gentle "oh," as she takes in a breath, and then she settles her legs around him and presses her lips back to his. He returns the gesture, growing more confident as the reality of the situation sets in.

Her sun-warmed scent surrounds him as she wraps her arms around his neck. He drags his lips against hers tentatively, enthralled by the new sensations. She sighs happily, fingers threading into his hair as he leaves brief kisses at the corner of her mouth, quickly, never wanting to leave her skin for long. His arms stay wrapped around her and he can feel as she presses herself even closer to him. For once, his instincts were right; this position is infinitely better. The feel of her chest against his, her legs and hands pulling him close as she keeps kissing him—He has never known a higher calling, a more beautiful sensation in the galaxy. How could he have searched for years for meaning when Rey was out there all along?

Just as strong as the pull of their bodies to each other is the joy that rings in their bond, nearly bringing him to tears. His hands clutch her, mouth passing over her skin with blind devotion, hoping that in his desperation to show her how much he has wanted this, that it feels just as good to her. She doesn’t let him go, her lips caressing his, and with the way his heart swells, he thinks it might expand beyond what he can contain.

Despite their best efforts, they finally run out of breath. Rey leans her forehead against his, her warm breath fanning across his face. He’s breathing just as hard. Their arms stay wrapped around each other, fingers tangled in clothes and hair.

"You'll really come with me?" she asks, her words close and quiet.

"Anywhere. Everywhere," he vows.

She smiles at him, just at him, and his heart skips a beat. Her hands fidget with his collar as she glances down. "I want to go to Naboo. After we stop by Chandrila."

He realizes Breha isn't the only one who's been telling her stories. Like a fading dream, he remembers Padme telling him about her home when he was small, the beauty of Theed and the lakes, and a man who shone so bright he almost hurt to look at, but rarely said anything, only watched as Padme smiled.

He brings a hand up to cover Rey's. "Okay. We'll go there. And everywhere else"

Chapter Text

20 ABY, 6th Month -- Chandrila

Not long after he became a teenager, his mother started talking about sending him to stay with Uncle Luke again. His connection with the Force kept getting stronger, more turbulent, and he knew she didn't understand. She brought it up casually while they were both working in the living area of their apartment on Chandrila, but stopped mid-sentence when she looked up and saw his face. He tried to school his features into nonchalance, but it was too late.

"It's okay," she said, putting her datapad aside to come over and kiss the top of his head. He'd grown taller than her already, and even sitting she had to lean to reach. "We don't have to decide things right now. I just worry."

"She's trying to get rid of you," the voice in his head told him. He swallowed and went back to his studying.

It came up again that night.

"I'm worried about you," she said quietly as she brushed his damp hair back from his forehead. He'd woken screaming from another nightmare, and she'd come rushing in. He hadn't realized he was awake at first, and hit her hands away before he recognized who was there. In the dim light that filtered in through his bedroom window, he thought he saw a scratch on her arm. Dark bags stood out clearly under her eyes and on his father's when he stumbled in after her, reaching for a blaster on his hip that wasn't there.

Other blue figures crowded around the corners of the room, but he ignored them. Uncle Luke told him to be careful of trusting them, and Ben thought he might be right. He barely remembered his dreams, but there were figures like those there, along with a bloody red light, before everything descended into screaming and he woke up, voice hoarse. For all he knew, they caused the dreams. No one else could see them after all. The only voices he could trust were the ones inside his head.

He looked at his mother again. Exhaustion and worry filled her face. "You're a burden to them," the voice inside him hissed, and he knew it was right. He tried to be better. He swallowed down the anger and frustration that seemed to plague him constantly now, did his best to meditate, drank warm milk before bed in hopes of a calm night. Nothing worked. He was too big, too loud, too much, and it was only getting worse. He glanced back at his mother's arm, above where her thumb rubbed soothingly over his wrist. She noticed his gaze and quickly angled it away from him.

"It's okay," she assured him. He knew it wasn't. He'd hurt her. And he couldn't stop himself from doing it again.

"I think I should go spend some time with Uncle Luke," he said, trying to keep his voice stiff.

His father made a noise of protest, but his mother waved him off. "If that's what you want," she said, and his chest tightened until it felt like he couldn't breathe. He didn't, he didn't want any of this, he wanted to go back to when he was too small to know how much trouble he caused everyone around him, when his mother would braid his hair and sing Mirrorbright to him as he fell asleep in her lap.

His face gave him away again. His mother's expression fell and she pulled him into her arms. "Oh, Ben," she sighed. He lost the battle against his emotions, fell into her chest, and cried.

It took a few weeks, but eventually Ben set off on the Falcon with Han, bags packed with his clothes and the rations his mother sent with him.

"Luke will live off of bantha milk and wear the same rags for a month," she'd warned him as she'd packed his things."If he tries, you set him straight. Tell him I told you to."

His father had argued against him leaving right up until they set off. "Dammed Force users, thinking they know everything," he'd muttered, then glanced over to Ben. "No offense, buddy." Ben had shrugged. He knew Han didn't understand. He didn't get why his father argued so much against it though. Ben only ever caused problems; it would be easier once he went.

"He doesn't want you to be trained to reach your full potential," the voice inside him whispered, but that didn't make sense. His dad had no interest in the Force, and he'd never worry about Ben fighting against him.

Ben helped his father start the Falcon up, sitting in the copilot's seat since Uncle Chewie was still on Kashyyyk and his mother had to stay to meet with the Senate. His mother usually told his father off for putting him in that seat.

"He's just a child, Han!" she'd say, and his father would shrug.

"Relax, princess, we flew at his age."

But this time she'd watched him sit there with misty eyes before kissing him goodbye. Ben didn't look back at her as she left, or the blue figures that parted for her to pass, crowding the cockpit in a way that made him edgy. Han guided the Falcon off its launch pad and into Chandrila's crystal blue sky.

Once they settled into hyperspace, Han took him back to the dejarik table, despite Ben's protests that someone should stay to watch the cockpit.

"It's just empty space between us and your uncle's latest hunk of rock," Han laughed. "Besides, the Falcon will let me know if something's wrong."

Ben believed that at least. The Falcon was probably smarter than any of its pilots. Nevertheless, he kept half an eye on the blue figures at the edges of the room. They usually knew when something was coming.

Han laughed uproariously when Ben finally won a game. "We'll make a smuggler out of you yet," he crowed, reaching up and ruffling Ben's hair.

"Dad," Ben protested, pushing him away. "I'm going to be a Jedi."

His father's smile turned crooked as he looked at him. "'Course you are kid. Best one in the galaxy. You tell your uncle that."

They landed much later than Ben expected, and he realized his father had been right. His uncle really was in the middle of nowhere. The Falcon's ramp lowered, revealing a landscape of rust-colored rocks and craggy cliffs edged with scraggly plants in shades of blue that edged on green. His father put a hand to his eyes and squinted across the horizon.

"He said he'd be here," he muttered, irritation clear in his tone. "Got half a mind to take you right back home."

He grabbed his com from his waist and spoke into it. "Luke! Luke, you dusty old nerfherder, where the kriff are you?"

They waited a moment, then his uncle's voice crackled over the com. "You landed the Falcon the next ridge over, Han. I'm on my way."

Han clipped the com back to his belt with a grunt. "Lousy directions anyway." He looked down at Ben. "Do you want to go back in, kid? Or go home? Just say the word."

Ben shook his head. "I'm fine out here." He sat at the edge of the ramp and looked over the landscape. Behind him, his father leaned against the Falcon.

Ben's heart pounded and his palms felt sweaty where his nails clenched into them. Part of him wanted to tell his father that actually, he'd changed his mind, and to please take him back home. He took a deep breath instead. It was better for him out here. Less people. And Uncle Luke knew about the ghosts, even if he couldn't see all of them that Ben did. He could help.

Ben squinted into the warm orange sun hanging low in the yellow-tinged sky. The few ghosts who'd ventured out of the Falcon could barely be seen in that light. A sliver of satisfaction shot through him. This would be better.

An engine rumbled behind them, and Ben got up to see, Han following. A large speeder came towards them, swerving through the worst of the rocky terrain. Before long it pulled up next to the Falcon, stopping close enough to his father to spray him with red dirt. Han coughed, wiping his face, then grinned as the driver hopped down, whipping off his helmet to reveal Luke's golden hair and blue eyes, slightly more lined than Ben remembered.

"Han!" he exclaimed, and the two men hugged.

"Luke, you old hermit," Han chuckled, clapping him on the back.

They separated and Luke turned to Ben. "And Ben! You keep getting taller!" He pulled Ben into a hug as well.

"I know," Ben muttered, but he hugged his uncle back.

He pulled away and found his father looking critically over the speeder. "This isn't all you've got on this rock, is it?" he demanded, scowling at Luke, who rolled his eyes.

"Yeah, I just rode that down here from hyperspace. I have a ship, Han."

His father threw his hands up. "For all I know, you got some trader to drop you off here. I just want to make sure you have something to get you out of here when you poke your nose into something new and get yourself into trouble. It's a long journey out here for me to come and save you, even for the Falcon."

Luke sighed with exaggerated patience. "The planet's been dead for thousands of years. No trouble for me."

Han looked at him suspiciously. "You'd manage."

"Look who's talking," Luke shot back, then softened. "We're just out here to explore an old temple. Nothing exciting, I promise. He'll be safe."

"You found a temple?" Ben interrupted. "How old?"

Luke turned to grin at him. "Very. A few thousand years, but it's hard to tell. This dirt gets everywhere." He kicked the ground in emphasis.

Ben's eyes widened. He knew his uncle was looking to learn about the Jedi, but he'd still been immersed in old stories on the holonet last time he'd seen him. He didn't know they'd found something new.

Han looked between them and sighed. "Let me get the kid's stuff." He stomped back up into the Falcon while Luke told Ben more about his find and emerged laden with bags. Luke paused mid-sentence to watch him toss them in the back of the speeder.

"I guess you're planning on staying for a while?" he asked Ben.

Ben nodded firmly. Han snorted. "Don't judge until you've seen how much he eats. He's still growing, needs his meals." He turned back to Luke with a glare. "And I better not hear you're trying to raise him off of… rocks and good feelings, or whatever it is you Jedi eat. You take care of him better than yourself, understand?" He waved a finger for emphasis.

Luke smiled under the beration. "I will. I promise."

"Good," Han said gruffly, then turned to Ben. "Guess this is it, kid."

Ben swallowed around an inexplicable lump in his throat. "Yeah."

They looked at each other, then his father said, "Come here," and wrapped his arms around him. Ben hugged him back with burning eyes, breathing in deeply the familiar leather scent of his father's coat. "Don't let him give you any shit," his father rumbled in his ear. "You keep him in line. And if anything happens, anything goes wrong at all, you let me know. I'll get the Falcon here before you know it."

Ben sniffed. "Okay," he said quietly. His father gave him a last squeeze, then let go.

"Okay," he echoed, then looked at Luke and repeated it again. "Okay. I guess I'll see you two around. Leia says you better bring him back for the holidays, or she'll hunt you down herself."

Luke chuckled. "That I believe. We'll be there."

Han nodded. "And you better call before that. Both of you."

"We will," Luke agreed.

Han gave him a suspicious look. "You better." He clapped Luke on the shoulder, then ruffled Ben's hair. "Take care, kid." With a last look over his shoulder, he climbed up into the Falcon.

"May the Force be with you," Luke called after him. Han waved in response.

Luke turned to Ben. "Ready?" Ben nodded. "Hop up then." He climbed back into the speeder, and Ben followed. Luke started the engine and they pulled away from the Falcon, then turned around to watch it take off.

"He loves you very much, you know," Luke said quietly as the Falcon's familiar shape disappeared into the sky.

"I know," Ben mumbled. "Does he?" the voice in his head whispered. Luke gave him a peculiar look, and Ben had a moment of panic that he could hear the voice too.

Luke started the speeder again, directing it back the way he came. "Come on, I'll introduce you to the others. I think you'll like them."

Luke's group consisted of a guide and a couple of students eager to learn from the fabled Jedi hero of the Rebellion. Over time, Ben found that those students came and went, some quickly becoming disillusioned with his uncle's lack of firm answers, others sticking by him with a tenacity Ben found unnerving. He didn't talk to them much. None of them were like him, they didn't have blue ghosts trailing them everywhere they went, they didn't feel the Force so much it hurt. He preferred helping his uncle with his research on his own, learning what he could from the remnants of a destroyed order.

Luke told him how Darth Vader destroyed the Jedi under the influence of Darth Sidious and how he repented of his actions as he died. Ben wasn't sure he believed that part, but his uncle liked to tell it, so he listened. Things like that were probably why not many people listened to Uncle Luke, but every so often they'd come across another scholar who would listen intently to his uncle's stories like they gave some great revelation.

Ben studied, and he eventually found the nightmares came less frequently when he collapsed exhausted at night. He'd wake up with a crick in his neck from what tablet he'd fallen asleep over, but it was worth hearing the screaming less often. He didn't think it was a coincidence that the ghosts appeared less often when he kept himself too busy to notice them too. He felt a twinge of satisfaction that his own voice had been right; those old figures had been tormenting him all along. He started falling asleep easier, assured he was free from any further deception. He'd figured out their tricks.

36 ABY, 12th Month -- Chandrila

Ben walks with Rey along the streets of Chandrila to where the fledgling Senate is holding their meeting, and he can't help notice the way she keeps glancing over her shoulder. They could have taken a speeder over, even though Chandrila has fewer of those on its wide streets, but she'd insisted on walking. She wanted to see the city, and he'd thought it'd be nice to see it with her.

He can't blame her for being edgy. She'd certainly rather be with her friends celebrating rather them babysitting him and sitting through endless council meetings, but she's stuck with him for the moment, as the only one trusted to reign him in should he decide to execute a sudden return to villainy. Only a few months have passed since they defeated Sidious, months crowded with hasty rebuilding and politics as the galaxy struggles to take control again, and he knows exactly how much most of the new government trusts him. Including those who were there at the final battle. He feels guilty over commanding all her time, has argued against it, but a part of him clings to the time he gets to spend with her before they part ways again.

Still, the way she looks behind them every few steps feels like more than eagerness to be free of his presence. He looks behind them too, but sees nothing unusual. The normal crowds, a few blue-tinged ghosts here and there, difficult to see in the daylight. His uncle follows not far from them and Ben glares.

He faces forward again, still confused, then stumbles when a thought occurs to him. Something Rey had said when they were flying away from the ruins of the Death Star. Could she see them too? How?

His mind races through the possibilities as they walk. With how distracted the two of them are, it's a wonder they don't end up hit by a passing speeder.

A block away from the Senate building, as Rey's head swivels again, he can't take it anymore. He grabs her hand and, with a quick look around, pulls her into an alley. She makes a brief noise of protest but then quickly follows.

As soon as they're out of view of the street, she turns to face him, hand still in his, eyes wide. "What is it? Are you okay?"

His words freeze before they make it out of his mouth. How does she do that? Everytime, he can never predict her. His lips purse, halfway to a smile. "I was going to ask you the same thing."

"Oh." She looks back towards the street, but it's just the two of them in this narrow space. His hand feels sweaty in hers, but he won't let go before she does. She hesitates, not meeting his eyes. His hand tightens around hers, and he tries to bend to look into her face. “Rey?”

She takes a deep breath. “Ever since the Death Star, when we opened ourselves to each other, I keep… seeing things.” Her voice drops. “I think something got inside my head.”

His heart skips a beat. “What kind of things?”

She shakes her head. “Spirits. Ghosts. It’s like the stories on Jakku, like they’re haunting me. At first it was just Luke, and I thought I’d imagined it. But they’re always there.”

He feels like she’s kicked him in the chest. “You can see them too?”

Her head jerks up and she stares at him. “What?”

“The ghosts.” He motions out to the edge of the alley where a vague blue form lingers. “I’ve seen them all my life.”

Her eyes go impossibly wide. "What the kriff." Her gaze darts between him and the ghosts lingering in the street, and he waits for her to sort her thoughts, his own mind racing. He'd found so little information about Force ghosts at all, let alone his ability. He can't think of any precedent for a situation like theirs. Maybe some shared abilities between pairs with a strong bond? But those were most likely to be master and apprentice, maybe with a bond reinforced by some trial, like him and Rey--

"Is this a Jedi thing?" she asks, still looking dazed. "Luke never mentioned, though he didn't say much. The real Luke, not --" She gestures vaguely. "I never heard about this in the stories."

"No," he says. "Not a Jedi thing. Luke said he saw some of them, after the second Death Star, but it wasn't the same. I see them, all the time."

Her mouth drops open. “All of them?”

His gaze sharpens. "How many do you see?"

Her mouth purses as she thinks. "It depends. They're not always there, but usually, especially around you. Luke is there a lot and--" She trails off, emotion clouding her face.

He swallows around the lump in his throat. "And Han," he finishes, naming his other most frequent shadow. She dips her chin in agreement. "Who else do you see?"

"They're the only ones I recognize," she says, looking past him. He doesn't turn, wanting to focus on her. "Some of them look like Jedi though, with the robes. There's a few that remind me of you."

He almost can't believe what she's saying, but knows she could never invent something like this. "I see them too," he confirms. "Do they talk to you?"

She balks. "They can do that?"

"Sometimes." He doesn't know how to explain the whims of the Force to her when he hasn't figured them out himself.

"And you've always seen them? Not just since…"

He doesn't know whether she means Snoke or Sidious, but he nods. “It must be because of the bond,” he muses, gesturing vaguely between them. “When we opened it to defeat Sidious, it must have affected you.” His lips pull down. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?” She frowns. “Ben, this isn’t your fault.”

“No, I should have—protected you, or something, I should have realized it could have bled across. You shouldn’t have to deal with this.”

Rey’s hand clenching around his stops his words from spiraling further. “Ben.” He looks at her, heart racing. She smiles. “I’m just glad I’m not going mad.”

He smiles weakly back. “Not any more than I am.” He can’t quite shake the bleakness from his tone.

Her smile widens to a grin. “I think I can handle that. They’re real then?”

“As far as I can tell,” he says, glancing back to where a few linger near the street. “They were there before I knew who they were. They’re not the same as the person they were, especially those who weren’t as connected to the Force, but they’re still them. Sort of an impression.” He runs a free hand through his hair, trying to think back to the little information he’d been able to find as a scared child. “Emotions, relationships, connect people after they’ve passed. They’re everywhere, more or less, but most people can’t see. It’s a kind of sensitivity, I guess.”

Her thumb brushes over the back of his hand. “I saw more once we landed here, but most of them seem to be around you,” she observes.

He grimaces. “They do.”

“Is it because of your family? Could they see them too?” Now that he’s confirmed she wasn’t falling prey to something left by Sidious, he sees the spark of curiosity lighting inside her.

“I don't know. No one else could. I assumed I was just cursed.” He sighs. "I think they attach themselves to people. And they've decided I need help. Or that I'd be the most fun to watch fail."

Her lips press together in something between amusement and exasperation. “Maybe they were watching out for you,” she suggests, voice soft.

Before he can respond, her com beeps insistently on her belt. Barely a second later, his starts beeping as well. Rey checks the time and winces. “We’re late.”

He figured as much. They’ve lingered too long. He starts to walk back out of the alley, but her grip on his hand stops him. He looks back, confused.

“Later,” she tells him, and his brows crease. “We’ll talk about this more, later,” she clarifies. “I’m not done with you yet, Ben.”

He doesn’t know how to react to the myriad of emotions that statement inspires in him, so he simply squeezes her hand and agrees. “Later.”

28 ABY, 1st Month -- The Finalizer

Kylo had grown used to quiet in his years with Luke. His parents tended to be louder, always moving, and even in the quiet of Chandrila, Hanna City never slept while the Senate was in session. His uncle —no, he was beyond those connections now —Skywalker let things come more easily. And Kylo liked his time alone.

The quiet he found on the ships of the First Order was of a different sort. Not the rich quiet of an ancient library, full with potential knowledge, the slight whisper of pieces of flimsi sliding against each other. Nor the restless quiet of night on an unfamiliar planet, wind whispering across their shelter, the subtle sounds of wildlife going about their nightly hunts. The silence of the First Order was cold and absolute, like a choked and unfinished breath, interrupted by only the most precise sounds: boots against metal, snapped orders, the beeps of regimented droids.

And it was empty. Vast starships waiting to be filled with troopers made blank and filled to order. High ceilinged ship bays with sleek new transports waiting in their places. No clutter, nothing out of place or unnecessary. There was no place for ghosts there. Nothing for them to cling to. He slowly fell out of the expectation of seeing their cool glow out of the corner of his eye. No one watched his back should he turn to look behind.

He thought he should feel lonely, separated from his last connections to the life he’d burned and left. The niggling sensation in the back of his mind, like long fingers lingering at the base of his neck, let him know who was still watching. He couldn’t be alone, not now.

He walked down the long monochrome hallways and knew his master waited for him. He would allow no other distractions.

36 ABY, 10th Month -- Death Star Remains

Ben stumbles onto the Falcon as the planet burns and falls away beneath them, feeling something like deja vu. But now, instead of being hauled by faceless soldiers and a general as likely to kill him as anything, a familiar furry arm drags him onto the ship. He gapes, half-expecting his honorary uncle to let go and let him fall when he realizes who he’s helping, but Chewie pulls him to safety.

“Rey,” he gasps as he nearly falls onto his face. Chewie roars that she’s there and they have her before loping back to the cockpit to get the ship out of danger.

He feels her in his mind as clearly as the metal grates against his hands and knees, and he knows she’s close. They’d had to open every barrier between them in order for their plan to work, to have any chance against the most powerful Sith the galaxy had ever known, but he hadn’t anticipated how much that would be. More emotions than he knows how to handle have poured back and forth between them since they tore their connection open. They’ve pushed them aside in order to focus on the necessity of their mission, but the pull of those feelings lingers, just like the tug he feels to Rey herself.

Winded, bleeding, and exhausted, he nevertheless pushes himself to his feet, bracing himself on the achingly familiar walls of the ship as he staggers towards the other end of his bond. He has no presence of mind to pay attention to the Force ghosts crowding around him, some with hands outstretched as if to help. He ignores them and focuses on the effort of one step after another, even as the Falcon takes off into the sky.

He finally makes it to the cabin and finds Rey collapsed onto the bunk set into the wall, looking just as awful as he feels. Her eyes are closed, her chest barely moving, and her clothes are soaked through and stained with blood, dirt, and who knows what else, but he knows from the fierce presence joined with his mind that she’s made it, as he was sure he wouldn’t. Against all odds, they’ve both survived this suicidal plan.

He falls to his knees next to her, hand reaching out before he realizes what he’s doing. He stops, hand hovering over her skin.

Like she senses him even half-asleep, her eyes fly open and she gasps. She jerks up, pushing her cheek into his hand and he gasps too. He could never have imagined this sensation, feeling the too cool and damp skin of her cheek under his palm at the same time as he feels, like an echo, a hot and rough hand against his face. He’s simultaneously kneeling on the floor and laying the bed, dizzy and caught off balance by the duality. He knows Rey feels it too, her thoughts mixed with his, and they both struggle to separate into their own selves again.

“Sorry,” he rasps, voice rough from screaming. “I didn’t expect how—” He doesn’t know the word to encompass everything swirling between them.

Rey nods, understanding without him saying, because they have no secrets in these moments. “I know. It was worth it.”

He doesn’t say anything, but he agrees, and she knows that. Anything was worth finishing his grandfather’s work and ridding the galaxy of Sidious, even as he feels guilt for inflicting his fractured psyche on Rey.

Soon, they’ll have to disentangle themselves, rebuild the walls between them. Right now, he thinks he might fall asleep on the floor. Rey’s eyelids flutter, sleep clearly about to reclaim her as well.

The ship lurches, nearly throwing him across the room. He doesn’t know where Chewie is taking them, and at this point, he doesn’t care. His job is done.

Eyes nearly closed, Rey reaches out a hand to him. “C’mere,” she mutters.

He’s about to protest, but her fingers grab his shirt, her fragile grasp keeping him close. Not letting go, she shifts slightly on the bed, clearly attempting to make room for him. He opens his mouth to tell her not to worry on his account, but she stops him with a simple, “Ben.”

Minds open to each other, he knows she doesn’t intend to let herself succumb to the darkness closing in on her thoughts until he obeys. Without another word, he pulls himself into the narrow bunk, trying to give her room. Rey collapses against him, eyes falling shut almost immediately. He can't even spare enough energy to marvel at them sharing a bed like this. Before she passes out once more, her eyes flicker open, a frown crossing her face as she looks at something over his shoulder. She mutters a word that sounds suspiciously like “Luke?” before closing her eyes again with a slight shake.

He looks back over his shoulder and sees only the few ghosts that followed him into the room, his uncle among them, but nothing Rey would have seen. Possibly some odd flicker in the Force. Ignoring them once more, he turns towards Rey, using the last of his energy to wrap his arms around her before slipping into a more peaceful darkness than he’s known in years.

36 ABY, 9th Month -- Unknown

When he first saw Rey in the forests of Takodana, he froze, his mind suddenly regressing and ten years and insisting she had to be a ghost. Clearer and more real than any he remembered, but it couldn’t be possible that this girl he’d seen in his dreams stood before him, his father’s spare blaster in her hand. He reacted on instinct to her shots, knocking them away as he advanced, drawn to her by something he didn’t fully understand.

And then he had her in his arms and she was real, incredibly so, warm and burning bright in the Force like no ghost ever could.

He’d known he wasn’t strong enough, known he was faltering in his master’s mission before her, but she fed into the cracks, widening them until it all fell apart. He was powerless against her.

He didn’t notice them at first, the ghosts following him through the Finalizer as he carried out his duties as Supreme Leader. Or maybe he told himself he didn’t. They no longer spoke to him, didn’t try to reach out, simply watched.

And when he crashes his ship into an uninhabited planet, destroying his tracker and escape route, he sees them surrounding him as he reaches out across the galaxy to her, with no expectations but a tiny, fluttering hope.

Chapter Text

38 ABY, 11th Month -- Tatooine

Rey stands squinting into the suns, one hand in Ben’s, the other shading her eyes. She’s almost forgotten the way the heat burns through clothes in the desert, settling against her skin, and Tatooine has two suns to Jakku’s one. She starts slightly when her gaze catches on the ghosts caught in the bright sunlight just ahead of them. Even after all these months with Ben, she’s still adjusting to them. She squints to see if she can recognize who’s come with them today.

It hasn’t escaped her notice that in the many different ghosts that flit in and out of their lives, she’s never found anyone who has her features, who sparks some recognition in the child buried deep inside of her. It makes sense. Ben’s theorized about the ties that lead the spirits to linger around him. But it still hurts in a way she thought she’d left behind that the people who abandoned her left no bonds to her at all. It’s easier not to dwell on that, especially when she’s surrounded by generations of Skywalkers and Jedi. They seem to find her as fascinating as she does them, seeking her out as much as Ben. She’d decided when she left with Ben that he was more than enough family for her, and the spiritual chaos that follows in his wake eases her need for anything more.

It has been growing quieter as of late though, and she finds she appreciates the change. She hadn’t even noticed the thinned crowds until she’d looked up from studying the Jedi texts one day to ask a question of one of the masters and found herself alone. She hasn’t told Ben, but she thinks the ghosts have decided they’ve accomplished their purpose in following the last of the Skywalkers. The galaxy has found some semblance of peace again, for however long they can make it last this time, and, as fractured and damaged as they are, the remaining Skywalkers have found some happiness. She and Ben both still have nightmares, but at least they don’t wake up alone.

Some ghosts still linger though. Like the slight woman standing just beyond them, even her bright light difficult to see in the evening suns. As Rey watches, Luke approaches her from behind and lays a hand on her shoulder, his expression impossible to figure out. Shmi doesn’t turn back, but she rests her hand over his. They both stare through the streets of the rundown desert town before them, seeing things Rey can’t. Rey wonders if the ghosts have their own sight, if they can see the paths of the many creatures who must have once lived here, or if it’s just their memories consuming them.

She turns and looks up at Ben, noticing the complicated expression twisting his features too. The strain in his jaw and the way he half bites his lower lip, she’s seen it in Leia before, but she realizes his great-grandmother has the same look. Her chest tightens, and an entirely different complex set of emotions settles in her gut, but she doesn’t stop to dwell on them.

“Let’s walk?” she suggests quietly. She doesn’t usually put much stock in decorum, but the quiet of this planet seems too much for them to interrupt. It’s like a weight, all the old memories clinging to this place, things she has no relation to but can’t help feeling anyway.

Ben nods, and they slowly walk down the main street, sand shifting under their feet. The wind blows, throwing more sand against them, and Rey tugs at the fabric wrapped around her head, protecting her face.

Most of the round, sand-colored buildings they pass stand empty. Though much bigger, it forcibly reminds Rey of the Outpost on Jakku. This place was run by Hutts too, and just like Niima, the Hutt died. Ben had told her that story, with Luke only occasionally interjecting, sounding as shyly proud of his mother as she thinks she’s ever heard him.

But like anywhere the Hutts go, they leave an empty carcass behind. Sand piles in doorways, and rusted landspeeders sit unused and stripped of anything worthwhile. Luke hasn’t spoken much of his time here, and she struggles to imagine him, Han, and Chewie, much younger than the men she’d known, walking through these streets with Ben’s namesake, not knowing what was to come. Back before Kylo Ren and Ben Solo, before Snoke and the First Order, when Alderaan was still a planet and Leia still a princess.

And then even before that, Shmi and Anakin in a city similar to this one, when the Jedi were a power in the galaxy, not just a myth. Out of all the ghosts, Anakin doesn’t show himself much, but as Rey’s eyes scan the houses they pass, she sees him, a startling bright blue even in the sharp sunlight, his hand reached out as if to touch the houses as he walks, expression at once angry and devastated. She looks away, feeling like an intruder.

Without talking, she and Ben walk until they reach the end of the town, then stand on the edge, looking out across the desert landscape dotted with the tall spikes of moisture farms. Occasionally a speeder or a caravan of teedos pass across the horizon, but for the most part, it remains still. Ben shifts until he’s behind her, his arms wrapped across her chest like he’s holding himself together. She wraps her arms over his. His head falls to rest against the curve of her neck, his breathing ragged at first, but gradually calming. They watch as the twin suns slowly sink below the horizon, not saying a word.

When the suns have all but disappeared, leaving the town nearly dark, shadows stretching until they blend together, she stirs, standing straighter. Ben seems to come back to himself, pulling his arms away, and she lets him, though she doesn’t go far.

“Ready to go back?” she murmurs.

He glances around them, with one last look to the horizon. “Yes,” he says, voice firm. “I’m ready.”

They walk back through the town to their ship waiting on the other side, not lingering this time. They stay quiet as they start up the engines, though Ben pauses one more time before they take off. His gaze passes over the old shuttleport, empty except for them, nearly dark except for a few straggling lights. His jaw firms, his hands tightening on the controls. She watches, and he slowly relaxes again, tension slipping out of him with a sigh. He glances over at her, then quickly leans over and presses a quick kiss to the corner of her mouth.

“Thank you,” he whispers, and she hears the many things he means by those two words, feels them through the bond.

Straightening again, he takes the controls back in his hands and eases them out of the spaceport and towards the sky. Eyes fixed ahead, they have the cockpit to themselves as the ship takes off, leaving only stardust in its wake.