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Haunted

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Sand pricked at Rey's calves as the wind whipped it past, whirling and spraying like a thousand tiny stinging insects. Then all at once the miniature sand spout seemed to tire of her and tore off in another direction.

She looked down at the little droid at her feet. Poor BB-8 was not particularly fond of sand.

Tatooine's second sun fell below the horizon before Rey turned reluctantly back into Master Luke's old homestead.

Three sunsets. Three days.

Rey had meant to be back with the Resistance by now. She'd wanted to go back to Ajan Kloss after paying her respects to her masters. But she hadn't left yet. The truth was, Rey was not ready to see her friends again. Not yet. Their smiling faces, their talk of plans, their selfless work to continue freeing each and every system of tyranny, of attempting to reinstate some kind of democratic government. It was too much. They were celebrating, they were doing good things, and she longed to feel a part of it. But something tore at her insides.

Rey sat heavily onto a stool at the filthy table. Everything was covered in thirty years of dirt but she couldn't bring herself to care.

"Why do I have to feel like this, BB-8?"

The droid gave a low whine.

"I know."

BB-8 was right. She did have a lot to celebrate. She had done it, hadn't she? She was a Jedi. She'd stood with Ben and defeated the Sith.

With Ben. Ben.

Her throat tightened and she forced a swallow.

There it was.

The gaping wound in her soul. The cause of the pain that would not let her sleep. Eat. Live.

She was weak. And she gave in to the memory.

Again.

She wished her vision had been clearer then, that she had memorized his wonderous smile in more detail. Even so, the way his eyes shone with hope, with love and the tender way he'd cradled her in his lap. She'd thrown herself into that kiss with everything she had.

And now, allowing herself to think of the way his lips had felt against hers was the most painful pleasure she could imagine. He was so soft, sweet as he'd responded to her and she wished she'd made it last longer. But they'd pulled away to simply stare at one another. If their kiss had been fuel for a lifetime of dreams, then the smile he offered her next had been torturous perfection. As wretched and colorless as Exegol was, Ben Solo's smile lit the entire space. It filled the empty hole in her heart she'd been trying to fill since Jakku.

And then, he'd just collapsed.

A sob came from nowhere to rack her body. Tears burned hotter than the desert sand as she grabbed the empty cup she'd brought in from the falcon, slammed it down on the table, and poured a glass of Corellian whiskey.

Damn it if that hadn't been Han Solo's bottle she'd found in the Falcon's galley and damned if she wasn't going to drink the whole thing to drown out the memory of Han Solo's son.

She relished the fire that flooded her throat as she took the first swig, eyes watering as it continued to burn all the way down to her stomach.

The kriffing idiot had vanished. Become one with the Force and completely disappeared.

Not even a body to mourn.

Rey downed the last few gulps of the whiskey and pushed herself away from the table, heading to the small pack she'd brought inside from the Falcon earlier and dropped onto a lounge chair. She pulled out the other bottle of whiskey, setting it aside for now and dug deeper into the pack.

She tugged slowly at the fabric she'd tucked carefully into the bottom of the bag, then unfolded it. The thing was huge. She could have fit two of herself in the enormous black shirt and she wondered what Ben would say if he could see her in it. Maybe he'd smile, laugh even. The image it brought to her mind tugged at one corner of her lip.

It was the first time she'd felt like smiling since coming to Tatooine.

Maybe the whiskey was helping after all.

She held the shirt up one more time, trying her best not to think about what had caused the massive hole in the garment's front, and slipped it on over her head. She swayed as a familiar scent wafted over her from the fabric. Something earthy, definitely sweaty, and laced with a delicate soapy smell. She couldn't liken the scent to anything but him. And the memory of their kiss threatened again.

Oh Force, how could she possibly live like this?

She gathered the excess material in her hands, sat down on a dusty old armchair, and cried into the only piece of Ben Solo she had.

She stayed in that chair, knees curled into her chest, clutching that sacred fabric until she felt as though she had no more tears left. BB-8 had long since rolled to the corner to power down when something familiar tugged at the edge of her consciousness.

She was standing straight in a heartbeat, still gripping Ben's shirt in her hand, listening for… something.

Another tug. She knew this feeling.

The Bond.

She spoke his name to the empty room. "Ben."

Her heart ached, a deep writhing pain when she was met with only silence.

She climbed the stairs to the outer atrium at the center of the homestead, then trudged up the hill to where the desert sand lay flat against the starry night sky. Rey looked out at those stars, tracing the swirling galaxies over and over again with her eyes.

The wind picked up, sending stray hairs tickling across her face with the breeze.

Rey.

She wasn't even sure she'd heard anything, but could it be…

"Ben?" Her response was more of a croak thanks to all the crying she'd done.

Rey.

"Ben!" This time her voice rang out strong, getting lost eventually in the expanse of the Tatooine night.

She waited.

She'd almost convinced herself she hadn't heard it when the voice came again.

I'll come back for you, sweetheart.

"Ben! Where are you? Please, I – "

But the bond, that open wound that had been left so raw since Ben had disappeared, had been suddenly right again. She'd felt connected once more, there was no mistaking that. And now, she was bleeding again from the emptiness of losing him.

What then had changed?

Rey collapsed onto her knees in the sand and looked up at the whirling patterns of stars far above. 

Nothing. Nothing had changed.

Nothing and everything.

 

I want to thank the amazing JenniferLadyBug on Tumblr for these two beautiful illustrations! And surprise, there's one for each chapter for the first several chapters!

Chapter Text

Rey cracked her eyes open tentatively, letting the morning light fill her vision gradually in a vain attempt to keep her throbbing headache at bay. At least she knew why Han had preferred the Corellian whiskey. What it lacked in flavor, it made up for in potency.

So potent in fact, it had caused her to experience auditory hallucinations after only one glass, and after three, well she could almost forget why she was still here on Tatooine. She could almost forget how her soul had been carved in two and one half ripped from her body.

And hadn't that been the point?

She rubbed her temples.

Through the fog of this horrific headache, it seemed like such a bad idea. But she knew that tonight, alone and with memories pounding at her consciousness, she would drink again. She would run out of whiskey far before she'd ever soothe the wound he'd left when he died.

And then what?

She couldn't think that far ahead.

Once Rey was sure she could tolerate the dim light of the homestead's bedroom, she rolled over and threw back the thin canvas blanket. BB-8 was already chittering to himself, rolling about, continuing the endless task of removing years of grime from the surfaces of the decrepit furniture. She watched his tiny arm extend and rotate, smearing the filth around with the remains of a towel.

He would be cleaning forever.

Why did he even try?

It took every ounce of effort for her to sit up and scoot to the edge of the bed. Her arms were weighted, her feet filled with lead.

But she couldn't find the energy to stand. Moving. Doing. Living. It was too much work.

She sighed deeply, falling heavily back onto the bed. Fresh tears clouded her eyes in an instant, yet another stinging welcome to a new day. She let them come, dabbing at them with the hem of Ben's shirt. She'd worn it all night again, despite her worry that it had already started losing his scent. Eventually, she would have to sleep alone again. More tears pricked behind her eyes with this new threatening revelation, another heart wrenching truth she wasn't yet ready to face.

Rey, please, I didn't want this for you.

The tone was deep and resonant, and it kick started her broken heart into a steady drumming beat. She jerked her head up, toward where the owner of that voice should be standing. The room was empty. She continued scanning, searching.

You can hear me?

"Ben? Yes! I – " She stood too fast, swayed on her feet a bit, before she was able to catch herself with a hand against the end of the bed. Once she was sure she wasn't going to pass out, she continued her inspection, examining every inch of the room. Was she dreaming? Still drunk? Or could this really be him? She didn't want to hope. That would only rip open new wounds she was trying to heal if this turned out to be something else. "How are you doing this?"

He sighed, his breath echoing off the pourstone walls. I don't know. I wasn't even sure you could hear me after last night.

"I thought," she shook her head, "I thought I was imagining you with me. She took a step forward, "Can you see me?"

Yes. He seemed to choke on the word. But I can't stand to watch you like this.

She looked down at herself. She'd been wearing his shirt for three days off and on. She hadn't washed her own clothes, hadn't bathed, she hadn't brushed her hair or teeth. And for the first time, she saw herself as he must see her. She wrapped her arms around her chest hoping she could shield herself from his view, keep him from seeing how pitifully low she had sunk.

"Ben, I – I can't believe you're really here, I thought I was going crazy last night."

No, not crazy. Just hopelessly intoxicated. His tone wasn't degrading or derogatory in the least. It held absolutely no judgement. It was just… sad.

"Why can't I see you? When Master Luke appeared – "

This was obviously a sore spot and he cut her off immediately. You can thank Luke for being such a horrible instructor in the ways of the spiritual Force. Without his incompetence, I could never have failed so completely at appearing to you as a Force Ghost.

Rey thought Master Luke had seemed pretty competent as a Force Ghost when he'd come to her on Ahch-To, but she didn't dare argue that point.

"Why now? Why didn't you come before?"

In an instant, all of the bitter humor had melted away and she could hear the raw emotion scraping the edge of his voice. I've been trying. I'm sorry, Rey. He was taking quick breaths between phrases now, as though he was running out of air. And I wanted to tell you so many things, on Exegol, but all I could do was smile like a fool. I can't –

He stopped mid-sentence to catch his breath.

"No, Ben. Don't say that. You gave me everything."

She wanted to tell him more. She should confess how much their kiss had meant to her. How she'd finally felt whole for the first time in her life. How she missed him so much, despite having so little time together with him, with Ben.

But she couldn't form the words.

Ben's breathing was growing louder now, as though he'd just run to her from the other side of the Dune Sea.

I wish I knew more about this. His voice came harsh, in struggling bursts. I can feel them here in the Force, Luke and Mother, but I can't find them. His voice was fading into the distance as he spoke the final time, like someone walking away, his words were gradually wrapped in silence. There's something dark here. Finding you is easier, with the bond, but I don't…

She felt the tether connecting them release, like a cord had snapped somewhere deep in her insides. "Ben!" Her pulse drummed unevenly in her ears as the emptiness crept back in.

She found the strength to breathe deeply, to center herself before her resolve had a chance to crumble under the weight of her grief. She held on to him. His memory, as she closed her eyes, and reached out through the Force for the first time since Exegol. The energy of life and death quivered in balance all around her and there, amidst it all, she sensed him. He was a part of it, the living Force. Did that mean he could appear to her as Master Luke and Leia had? Was he trying to say that there was a hope, a small shred of hope that she could see him again?

She was snapped back to the present, to where she stood leaning against the bed. BB-8 was worriedly tweeting, gears buzzing as he nervously rocked back and forth, questioning who she'd been talking to.

"Could you hear him?"

A negative buzz in response.

"He's one with the Force, BB-8."

A twittering question about who.

"A friend."

Another high rising squeal.

"No, not Leia… or Luke," she added. "But I think you'd like him, too. His name is Ben."

Of course, if BB-8 ever really found out who she was talking to, who Ben used to be, the droid would likely roll as fast as he could in the opposite direction. She hadn't gotten around to explaining all of the events leading to Palpatine's defeat, of Ben Solo's role in destroying the Sith to anyone. And now, that glaring hole in the story weighed heavy on her mind. Ben was a hero and the Resistance deserved to hear about his sacrifice. But instead, Rey had chosen to cloister herself aboard the Falcon, forge her new lightsaber, and head here to grieve.

She just hadn't expected to fall apart completely. For days.

But hearing his voice, just his voice was a medpac to her frayed soul, to that open wound that was left after he'd passed. She'd thought it was their Bond being ripped away. But could it be, that their connection remained? Despite the damage she felt to her heart, was it possible that the Bond was still there?

She thought back to something the Emperor had said. A frigid chill scuttled up her spine at the thought of him. She forced his image back, recalling instead, only the words he'd said. That she and Ben were a Force dyad, and within that dyad was "a power like life itself."

Ben thought it was the Bond that was letting him connect with her. That thought filled her with a hope that restored her energy, gave her the will to think again, to plan for tomorrow. If all they ever had was this… a different sort of connection. Just the ability to talk to him. Not all the time, even just…

She looked down at herself, taking in Ben's shirt, still stained with tears, her filthy leggings and boots, unwashed for who knows how long. She ran a hand through her greasy hair and released a long, ragged sigh.

"You deserve better than this, Ben."

She didn't know if Ben could hear her, but it didn't matter. She would show him. If he was somehow out there, a part of the Force, he didn't deserve to see her miserable. He didn't want that for her. He'd saved her so she could live, not so she could kill herself slowly like this.

BB-8 looked up, blipped an acknowledgment and went back to his cleaning.

Rey slipped Ben's shirt off, folded it neatly, and tucked it into her bag. She arranged her own clothing in proper order, gathered her hair into her signature buns and clipped her lightsaber to her belt, ignoring the blurred edges of her vision and the roiling nausea threatening to spoil her newfound motivation.

She forced down a packet of dried rations and a tall cup of water and headed to the Falcon. She was sure she'd have missed a hundred communications by now.

Her suspicions were verified by the blinking light at the comm station. She didn't bother to listen to any messages, but immediately patched a signal through to the Resistance, where Finn had asked her to contact him.

Finn's voice vibrated through the Falcon's cockpit, loud and breathless in answer to her call, "Rey!"

"Hey Finn."

His questions rushed out in one panicked stream. "What's wrong? Why haven't you responded? I couldn't feel - Is everything alright?"

"I'm fine, Finn," she assured, turning the volume down on the comm station to keep her head from exploding. "I just… needed some time."

"Are you ready to come home?" he asked, voice notably softer.

Home.

She still wasn't sure what that was. And couldn't really imagine it without…

"We need you," he continued. "There were some First Order ships not on Exegol, they are refusing to give up control of Corellia. Putting all of their existing resources into saving their shipyards there."

"You don't need me for that, you have the Free Worlds Fleet now. You and Poe – "

"Rey. Please. We need to talk. In person."

She inhaled deeply. She couldn't stay here forever, but something wouldn't let her leave. What if Ben couldn't find her on Ajan Kloss?

"I can't leave yet," she said, praying Finn wouldn't question further.

"Why?"

Rey sighed. "I just… I can't."

"Okay, then. I'll come there," he offered.

"No."

Something told her having Finn here, alone would be… awkward. And besides that, she wasn't sure the Resistance could spare him with everything going on in the aftermath of the battle of Exegol.

"Please Rey, there's more, I really need to talk to you."

Something desperate in her friend's voice pulled at her then.

And now, there were other things pulling her back to Ajan Kloss besides her friends. She needed to search for answers she could only discover in the sacred Jedi texts. She thought back to her year of training with Leia, flipping through the volumes late at night, trying to soak up as much wisdom as possible under her Master's tutelage. She was sure there were sections about Force Ghosts and resurrection, but it hadn't mattered to her then. She'd never thought… but maybe there was something she'd missed in those ancient pages that could be useful. And she'd left them at the Resistance Base.

And if a single piece of information from those texts could help Ben, then she would have to try.

The outline of a plan started to unfold in her mind. She would go to Ajan Kloss to talk to Finn, to tell the true story of what she and Ben had managed to accomplish against the Sith on Exegol, and look back at the sacred texts. But if she didn't hear Ben's voice after a few days, she would come up with another excuse to get back here to Tatooine.

"Rey?" Finn's worried voice pulled her from her thoughts.

"Okay," she finally said. "Okay Finn, I'll come."

"You will?" His voice had shot up so high in pitch, it cracked a bit at the end. "You will," he repeated. And the obvious relief she heard there brought a smile to her face.

"Yes. I'll head out soon."

"We'll be waiting. And Rey?" He paused and she could practically see his bright smile on the other side of his comm station. "Lando brought along this new cook, and oh man are you gonna love his deep fried nuna drumsticks."

Rey chuckled, a foreign sound in her throat. "I can't wait."

Rey switched off the comm and with new purpose, she packed up everything she'd brought into the homestead. Except for the bottles of whiskey. She eyed them on the table, and left them where they sat, hoping she didn't need those anymore, and readied the ship.

With the coordinates to Ajan Kloss programmed, Rey pressed the command to make the jump to lightspeed and sank back into the pilot's seat as the stars stretched into ribbons of light.

"Ben." She breathed his name into the quiet of space. "Thank you."

This time, the silent response she received wasn't one of desperate emptiness. Because if she really tried, really reached out through that interconnected web of Force that held the universe together, she could feel him somewhere. A spark, a presence, far away, but there all the same.

And she was going to do everything she could to build that twinge of a feeling into something more.

Everyone can thank the amazing JenniferLadyBug on Tumblr for another beautiful illustration! One for each chapter for the first several chapters!

Chapter Text

Rey dipped the Falcon into the atmosphere, toward the towering trees of Ajan Kloss. She loved the way the forest looked from above - nature's quilt, a patchwork of green in every shade. She was finally getting used to seeing so much of the color, but found that somehow, she still preferred the sand.

She wondered which Ben preferred.

Rey jerked her thoughts from that path immediately, before the tears had a chance to flow again. She would not break down today. There was no reason. She could just ask him next time they spoke. And there would be a next time. She would not consider the alternative.

And that was that.

A hailing beep came through the comm and she patched it through. "Welcome back, Rey."

"Thanks Connix."

"Western clearing."

"Copy that."

She eased the controls of the Falcon to skirt the clearing, touching down gently at the far side. Rey gathered her bag and stood with her hand against the door lock, steeling herself for the inevitable barrage of questions that would soon come.

The ramp hissed open and BB-8 rolled down ahead of her, twittering excitedly. The humid air of the jungle clung to her skin like a damp cloth as she traversed the muddy path to the base. Moisture gathered in beads on the foliage lining the path. New puddles reflected the billowing white clouds above. It was clear that Ajan Kloss didn't get so green by chance.

She tramped over gnarled roots and around slick, rocky outcroppings, turning the last corner before the base. Finn stood between two hulking banyan trees, a huge grin on his face.

"Rey!"

He caught her in an embrace and towed her by the arm excitedly toward the large hangar at the center of their base. "Did you even listen to any of the messages I sent?"

Rey scrunched her mouth into an apologetic wince.

He shook his head. "I didn't think so."

They approached the yawning hangar door together. Open on the North side, the hangar was carved into the face of a cliff, covered by creeping vines and roots on all sides.

"I'll give you one thing, you have great timing," Finn said, "everyone's in the mess hall."

Rey saw only two or three familiar faces on the way to the hall, nodding in greeting at each of them as she passed. And the mess hall, normally packed with people at this time for midday meal, was eerily empty.

Finn glanced her way, reading her questioning look. "Most people went home to spend time with family and friends."

He caught her eyes, and she could see the unspoken words hidden in that gaze. Then there's us. Those who don't have families to go home to.

Rey squeezed his arm and continued to follow him into the rear of the base.

She was glad to have found the family she had, this family here with the Resistance. And as they approached the scattered tables and spotted Poe and Rose rising from their meals to wave excitedly, she was convinced she'd made the right decision to come back.

"Damn it Rey, you really need to learn how to return a message." Poe's sarcastic greeting was at odds with the warmth of his embrace. The two had always butted heads, but they were like family now. And she thought, as he gave her an accusing look, that he was the obnoxious older brother she'd never had.

Rose was next, with a comforting hug in place of sarcasm. "Welcome home."

"I hope you saved some drumsticks for me," Rey said, smiling.

Poe raised an eyebrow in Finn's direction. "So, she wouldn't answer our communications, but promise a couple of drumsticks and she's here in a few hours?"

They all laughed and Finn grabbed a plate, stacking it heavily with nuna legs, spiced root vegetables, and some amazing looking sticky buns and handed it with a flourish to Rey. He then proceeded to do the same thing for himself before patting the bench next to him.

"The kitchen is still in celebration mode," Rose noted, twirling a vegetable in a pool of sauce on her plate.

Rey took a seat next to Finn and dug in. As promised, the nuna drumsticks were heavenly. A salty crunch on the outer skin paired perfectly with the juicy, savory meat inside and Rey was on her third leg before she'd raised her eyes from her plate.

"I take it you haven't been eating much?" Rose asked delicately.

Rey replied from around a mouthful. "Just dried rations."

"You also look like you haven't slept in a week," Poe said, never one to beat around the bush.

She kept chewing.

Finn looked up and down the table, making sure no one else was listening before leaning in closer to her. He looked down, gritted his teeth and took a deep breath, preparing to say whatever it was they wanted to tell her. "Look Rey, we're worried about you. You've been through a lot and we want you to know you can talk to us."

Rey stabbed at a purplish vegetable and shoveled it into her mouth. "So, ply me with food and then begin the interrogation, huh?"

"We just want to make sure you're okay," Rose said.

"I'm fine." She set her fork down and started in on a sticky bun. "There was just a lot to process."

Poe's eyes were sharp, he never let her get away with being vague. "You still haven't told us what exactly happened down there."

She hesitated, overstuffing her mouth with another bite of gooey sweetness.

"We can't help you unless you let us in, Rey." Finn's voice had assumed that infuriating tone he used when he treated her like she was something delicate, something that could break if mishandled.

"I said I'm fine." She finished chewing and straightened her shoulders, ready to tell them the story they needed to hear. "But you're right. There were some things about Exegol I think everyone should know." She spotted a pitcher of what she hoped was Jogan juice and poured a cupful. "But first, can you please pass me another bun?"


Rey was scraping the last morsels from her plate when Poe raised an eyebrow. "Alright, you've packed in enough food to feed a small herd of banthas, now… tell us."

Rey breathed deeply, leaned forward and started from the beginning. She'd mentioned the Emperor's plans before and that the Jedi who'd lived before had spoken to her, given her the power to defeat the Sith. But this time, she added in the details of the actual battle, the details she couldn't stand to describe the last time she's spoken of it. She explained how Kylo Ren turned away from the Dark Side and assumed his given name, Ben Solo. She explained how he'd faced down the Knights of Ren to get to her and in the end, how he'd sacrificed himself to save her.

It took everything she had to keep from faltering as she described how he faded away having used his life Force to resurrect her.

When she finished, Poe's mouth was hanging open, his brows at sharp angles low over his eyes.

"You want me to believe that Kylo Ren actually helped you?"

Rey wanted to slap the disgusted expression from his face.

Instead, she shot him a dagger of a look that caused him to wither just slightly. "Weren't you listening?" she asked. "Ben Solo didn't just help me. Ben Solo died to save me. To save the Resistance."

Poe looked ready to snap back with something, but Finn was leaning over the table at him with a glare that even Poe couldn't ignore.

"We're listening, Rey," Finn said. "It's just, you're right, it's like you said, it's hard to process." He nudged her gently, brows furrowed. "I saw you fighting him, though. On the Death Star wreckage."

Rey wasn't sure she could admit to everything that had happened in between. Her vision, the way she'd skirted dangerously close to the Dark Side, that she'd actually killed him and brought him back. Their connection, their kiss… She wasn't sure they would understand, even now.

"He got the upper hand in that battle, but he couldn't kill me. Then I… well, I couldn't kill him either."

"Why not?" Rose asked, voice quiet.

Because I need him.

"Because I… we understood each other."

"How in the hell could you understand someone like that?" Poe snapped.

Rey stood up, a wave of Force crashing through her like a reflex, rocking the table and causing the bench they were sitting on to fall backwards. Finn tumbled backward and looked up confused.

"Finn." She wanted to explain, to fight for Ben's honor and explain it to them until they could understand, but the emotion was still so raw, right below the surface. She couldn't.

"I'm sorry," was all she could manage to Finn before turning to go. She headed to the small personal quarters she'd called home for the last year, trying to ignore the image of her friends' shocked expressions carved into her memory.

How could she call herself a Jedi? She still couldn't control her anger despite everything she'd been through.

She took the stairs to the upper level two at a time. Her room was set back into the cliff with one side open toward the jungle. She preferred it this way, many of the other rooms made her feel trapped, this was the only one she'd ever found any sleep in.

Closing the door behind her, she stood panting, looking out over the mist that was rising over the canopy. One deep breath and she called the Force to her, seeking balance, peace.

A rush of comfort filled her to overflowing, and with it, his voice.

Thank you, Rey.

Nothing else in the galaxy could have given her the instant surge of warmth straight into her veins that his voice gave her.

"Ben." His name came to her lips like a prayer.

You were… you were defending me.

He sounded shocked, which hurt just a bit. "Of course I was. They need to know what happened."

He spoke the next words low, almost as if they were meant for himself. No one's ever defended me.

"That's not true," she said.

There was a long silence, broken only by the clattering of tools in the hangar outside, and the chirping of birds in the jungle trees.

You're right. She could hear his breathing as he paused, its steady rise and fall filling her small quarters. Mother died defending me. From myself.

"Oh Ben," she said. "I'm so sorry." She looked out over the jungle, remembering Leia's training with a fondness that burned in that empty space inside of herself. "I miss her."

Me, too.

They remained quiet together for a long moment as a mutual silence of love and loss for General Leia Organa passed between them. She waited for him to speak first. She'd almost begun to think he'd faded away by the time he responded again.

I can't stand that pilot.

Rey was not surprised to hear that Ben Solo was capable of holding a grudge.

"He can be difficult."

Ben huffed in response. Even so, I'm glad you're here. You can't close yourself off again like that.

She nodded. "I know." She searched the small room, hoping that he'd found a way to show himself to her. She craved to see his face, Ben Solo's face, as he spoke. She'd had so little time with him. "How much of that conversation did you see?"

Enough to know why you feel alone. And you still didn't tell them the whole story. There was an edge to his tone this time, a vein of hurt running through his words. About me. About us.

Rey sat down heavily on her bunk. "I'm not sure they could understand the Bond between us."

Then how can they ever understand you?

He had a point. He'd become so much of her and she so much of him. The Bond was part of who she was. Could she possibly explain such a thing? She could imagine the sarcastic reply Poe would give, but maybe Finn had a better chance of understanding.

Rey focused her attention on it then, on that connection between Ben and herself. With him so close in the Force, it was alive with life and energy. She'd been wanting to try something. She knew he'd used the Bond to communicate with her, and she wanted to do the same.

She reached out, feeling the Force of their link, and sent him an image. One of her most precious memories: the time she'd reached for his hand on Ahch-to.

She heard his sharp intake of breath as he experienced her own anticipation, her own desire to feel the touch of his skin, and Rey sensed his focus shift to their Bond.

The Force hummed through and around her and she directed it to her hand, lying palm up on the bed where she sat. She pulled as hard as she could at that thread connecting the two of them, willing him to come to her.

She was breathless with anticipation as long fingers, radiating a faint blue glow, laced slowly through her own, and she heard him gasp. His palm pressed fully against hers and came to rest there, warm and reassuring. She smiled, heart swelling, and when he cradled her whole hand in his, squeezing tight protectively, she melted a little around the edges.

A heady feeling, a tingly mixture of heart thudding expectation and pure joy at his contact threatened to overtake her completely. It reminded her a bit of the feeling she got after the first cup of Corellian whiskey, except this was multiplied tenfold.

Rey.

His voice was lower, more fragile than she'd ever heard it.

She swallowed, not trusting her voice to work at just this moment. She couldn't believe he was here. And he was holding her hand. It was more than she could have ever wished for.

She glanced down again, studying the outline of his hand, along with a very faint contour of a sleeve, clear up to the elbow before it faded completely at the upper arm. As she worked to memorize the shape of him, she realized she wanted to know him, too, in a way she'd never been allowed when he was Kylo Ren. She wanted to have a normal conversation with Ben Solo. And she knew just where to start.

"Which do you prefer, the jungle or the desert?"

He chuckled at this, a wonderful rolling sound from deep in his chest and it brought a smile to her lips.

That is not a question I was expecting. He paused to consider. But if you must know, the jungle.

He lifted her hand then, testing his ability to manipulate their physical connection. And you? Have you had enough of the desert?

"Actually, no. I still prefer it."

Oh? He seemed to have moved closer now, his deep voice sending strange tingles down her arms and into her fingertips. Once a scavenger always a scavenger.

She wanted to lean into him, tried to imagine it, to send the thought as an image through their connection as she had before, but was met with a fuzzy sort of resistance.

I wish. I wish we had more time.

And something was already twisting at the Bond. They didn't have long.

"Are you afraid?"

There was a long silence as he weighed his answer. Rey wished she could look into those expressive eyes of his to see the truth.

No.

"I want to know what it's like for you."

Most of the time it's peaceful, like floating in a calm lagoon. I don't feel much, really, until I feel you.

Rey wasn't sure what any of that would be like, but had the fleeting thought that she would love to find out. With him.

When he spoke again, she was relieved to find he hadn't sensed the direction of her thoughts. So, I'm not afraid for myself, no.

"That's not a full answer."

He gave another low laugh. You're right.

She heard him breathe deeply before continuing on. There are moments when I sense something else, a different place. He sucked in another draught of air. I have this feeling, that if I could just get there and go down the right path, I could… well, maybe I could come back to you.

"What?" Rey honestly wasn't sure she could handle the amount of hope his words brought to her tattered emotions. "How do you know?"

A feeling.

His words were coming in staccato now, just as they had before and she could feel he was fading. She squeezed his hand one last time, imprinting his touch to her memory, to re-live over and over until she could feel him again.

"You mentioned sensing something dark."

Yes.

"I don't understand," she said.

But his presence had faded, leaving behind a stinging void in that familiar place in her chest, and she glanced down at her open hand lying useless and empty at her side.

Rey closed her eyes and rested her head in her hands.

A double knock at the door echoed through the space.

"Come in," she managed to croak, rising from the bed and pretending to be busy unpacking.

Poe stood in the doorway, looking slightly cowed, eyes on the floor. "Rey, I… look, I came to apologize. I shouldn't have – "

"It's alright, Poe."

He looked up, dark eyes taking in her features, likely noting her glossy eyes or stricken expression. She was never good at hiding the feelings on her face.

"Who –" he began, doing a quick scan of the room, "who were you talking to?"

Don't forget to thank the amazing JenniferLadyBug on Tumblr for another beautiful illustration! One for each chapter for the first several chapters!

Chapter Text

Who was she talking to? Well, there was no way Rey could answer that one honestly, at least not yet, and especially not to Poe.

"No one," she sputtered, fumbling for some excuse. She gestured around the empty room. "No one here, just talking to myself."

"Well, I didn't hear anyone else." Poe's eyes narrowed as he craned his head to look around her empty bunk. "But it sure sounded like you were having a full-blown conversation to me."

Rey furrowed her brows. "Like I said before, I'm just trying to process all of this."

Poe heaved a breath and stepped forward. "If you need to talk, you don't have to use the wall," he said, gesturing to what he obviously thought she'd been communicating with. "Come back and talk to us. I shouldn't have snapped." He shook his head. "There's obviously a lot to the story I missed. I should have listened."

Rey nodded. "I promise I'll fill you in. But what I really need right now is some time to myself."

He dipped his chin in a tense nod. "Alright," he said, pressing his lips together and turning to leave.

"Poe," she said forcing a pained smile "Thank you."

He flashed a weak smile in return, but his eyes remained untouched. He was not buying what she was selling and would be back, and would likely bring Finn and Rose with him. He gave her one last concerned glance before heading back out the way he came.

The tension she'd been carrying drained from her as soon as the door clicked shut. She wasn't ready to explain Ben's predicament to anyone quite yet.

She could only imagine how that conversation might go.

But Ben was right, she should tell them at some point. It might help them understand where she was coming from and how she was feeling.

She thought back to something Poe had said that stuck out in her mind. Poe hadn't heard Ben's voice. Neither had BB-8, in fact. She thought she remembered reading that only those who were Force sensitive were able to commune with those in the realm of the Living Force. And she thought that's where Ben probably was.

But everything wasn't clicking into place. If he was truly there, one with the Force, then why did she still feel their connection? Why hadn't he been able to pass on immediately? She thought back to his description of another place, someplace that would lead back to her.

What was he talking about, and why was there a darkness there?

There were too many questions to try to consider. And Rey was starting to feel trapped, nerves causing her shoulders to tense up again, cold sweat breaking across her forehead.

She needed to move.


Rey ran the training course twice before falling into a heap against the monstrous bigleaf maple, gulping air and shaking from exertion. The tree had become something akin to a friend over the last year, the beginning of its roots forming nature's perfect chaise lounge after such hard won tests of physical endurance.

As her shoulders pitched with heavy panting breaths, Rey felt both exhausted and rejuvenated as she always did after a physical trial. She reached out through the Force, in attempt to find a place of calm in all of the chaos of the past day.

She felt herself separate from the ground, rising as she became encapsulated in the embrace of the Force.

"Be with me," she whispered, falling deeper into the space where only the Force could exist. "Be with me."

And they were. As she continued to meditate, she could feel them as one with the Force. All of the Jedi who came before and she wondered how she had been so blind as to miss them before. They had always been there. She was not alone and would never be alone again. They were with her wherever she was if she would only listen.

A familiar tug at her core announced another appearance in the Force, and cracking open an eyelid, she sensed Ben, only a very faint cross-legged outline of him, meditating alongside her.

She wanted to scream from relief, to study his face, to assault him with more questions. but she knew the only thing keeping him here was their powerful connection. A bond that was fueled by the Force and she would not lose focus on it, instead letting it expand and contract with the energy of interconnected life surrounding them.

Clearing her mind of questions, she tried to just be.

Minutes or hours passed, it didn't matter. The Force was both instant and eternal all at once.

Then… darkness. Her stomach twisted and she was dropped into a battle. Bare trees backlit by an eerie red haze, glowing embers falling like snow over the planet's colonists. They all wore flattened dome-shaped helmets and goggles and looked like ghosts with their protective cloaks skimming the ground of the boggy landscape.

Not ghosts, but soon to be, she thought, as she recognized the approach of a vicious red saber and the haunting apparition wielding it.

Ben.

No, not Ben. This was pure Kylo Ren, using all of his hulking frame to slash, kick, and slam each of his enemies into the ground. The look on his face was pure, unadulterated rage. The power of each lightsaber stroke reminded her of what it felt like to face him in combat. She'd sensed, all along that he'd held back with her, and she was glad she'd never have to face his full fury. Two dozen enemies fell in under a minute, along with the occasional tree that got in the way.

Suddenly, Rey was overcome with the feeling that time had unfolded in an instant and these colonists, much fewer in number now, stood elsewhere, huddled around a table, speaking to a holo-projection of a hooded figure. The figure's robes were tattered and frayed at the ends and its hood hung so low, there was no way to see the features lurking underneath.

In a flash of dizziness, Rey was somewhere else.

Drifting above a blue planet, slashed across with streams of white clouds, cities glittering far below. A Corellian ship waited far above the atmosphere. Rey drifted closer, passing through the hull of the vessel, reaching the control room where four hooded figures stood with arms crossed talking in hushed whispers.

She wandered closer, trying to pick up their words.

"We are close," one hissed. "They are there if they could only find a way to pass through."

"We need the dyad."

"It is destroyed."

"No," came a reply. "It hangs on." It was the same hooded figure from before, robes in shreds, features unrecognizable. "By a thread." All four figures snapped their heads in her direction, all four sets of eyes locked onto hers and she was pushed back. Hard.

She landed, the sickening thump of her own flesh and bones crashing against the jungle floor was the only thing she heard for a long moment.

What in the kriffing hell was that?

A squawking buntu bird was her mocking response as she scanned the jungle nervously. It was later than she thought, the light was turning thick and orange, as it always did close to twilight in the jungle.

"Ben," she said, her voice catching in her throat. "Who were those people?"

She took one more breath to steady herself, rose to dust herself off, and began the long walk back to the base. She had a lot of reading to do.


The texts were where she left them, in an alcove, stuffed into a drawer on the west side of the hangar. She found a lantern that still shone weakly and got to work, trying to ignore echoes of the visions the Force had offered her.

It was a half hour or so until she found anything of interest – a thick tome, full to bursting with theories about the living Force. The writer had translated the volume with perfect, fine strokes of the pen, speculating that in order to fully pass through into the Living Force, one must be completely willing.

"Once willing, the Jedi is able to sublimate their organic cells into a state of pure energy that they can choose to manipulate. In this state of being, they may appear to other Force sensitive listeners, even going so far as interacting with the listener or the listener's environment." – Master San Li'Kwa

Rey read on, learning of the limitations of this type of power after death.

If Ben had begun to appear to her, he must have passed on into death. He must have been willing to die for her.

She'd known this, but reading it pushed her to pay attention to it again. Acknowledging just how much he had sacrificed.

She wiped the back of her hand across her cheek, not allowing her search to falter. She would help him. There must be a way. The same book, full of spiritual guidance for the Jedi, held several passages on the mythos of the Force Dyad. She'd read these pages with interest before, suspecting that this could explain how she'd been drawn to him over and over during her time on Ahch-To, but now the Bond had been all but confirmed and she read the passages again with a new vigor.

"A bond between two living beings is not something easily broken. It is not a choice… it is like breaking a feeling. Like turning away from the Force. To break a bond, your feelings would have to change, or one of you would have to die—but even then, the bond wouldn't go away, it would simply… it would simply be empty, a wound."―Master Zez-Kai Ell

And that's exactly what it was. When he wasn't there, it ached raw like an open wound. But Rey knew that the bond remained in some capacity, because when Ben appeared to her she felt its pull. She sensed his presence. She could still draw on him, as she'd done today while meditating, they were still connected. Even in death.

She continued her search, poring over pages, re-reading passages hoping to memorize them, to share with Ben later. Her neck was aching from stooping low over the books, her eyes growing fuzzy with focusing, when someone cleared their throat nearby.

Rose stood smiling, a pile of folded clothes in her outstretched arms. "Hey."

"Hey," she answered, her voice feeling creaky from disuse.

"It's almost two in the morning," Rose said. "I wanted to see if you were hungry and bring you this."

"What's that?" Rey asked.

"You dropped your pack in the mess hall, so I gathered up the stuff that spilled and took it to wash. They're all clean and folded now."

It was such a Rose thing to do. To look out for her like that.

Rey stood, stretching frozen joints and laid a hand on her friend's arm. "Thank you, Rose. That was so sweet of you."

Rey looked down at the pile of clothes, her favorite white cropped leggings and tunic and draped fabric she wore for protection from the sand, though she really didn't need that part anymore. It was more habitual than anything else. But without the flowing fabric and arm wrappings, she felt… exposed.

Rose smiled up at her. "It was no problem, I was washing mine anyway."

"I'm sorry I've been, you know. I've been different."

But Rose shook away the apology. "We're just glad you're here."

Rose held the pile out for her and that's when Rey saw it. Folded and stuffed in between her signature white and cream - a corner of black fabric peeking from underneath her own garments.

His shirt.

Rey's mouth went dry and she reached for the clothes with her hands shaking.

Rose tugged at the dark fabric. "This was with your things, too. But I didn't recognize it. Is it yours?"

"Yes," she croaked. "Yes." She repeated, attempting to steady her voice.

"It looked pretty big, are you sure?" Rose asked, finally meeting her eyes.

Rey attempted non-chalance but was sure she was failing miserably. She nodded and Rose cocked her head, studying her face.

"Oh Rey," Her friend's brows came together in an expression of complete sympathy. "It's his isn't it?"

And she was running again. Pushing past Rose, she was running into the misty dark of the jungle until she was alone, lost amidst the hanging vines and towering trunks. Alone where she could breathe, where she could think. Where she could remember him. Her ragged breath was loud in her ears, the usual vitality of life in the jungle silenced by the night. And finally far from the base, she stopped and unclipped her saber to light her path. The trees around her glowed gold as the warm radiance of her weapon filled the darkness around her.

Your saber is magnificent.

Her stomach clenched, a reflexive reaction to the timbre of his voice.

"Ben, I need you here. I can't do this."

I am here.

"I still don't understand how? The texts…"

The texts were written to guide a single Jedi, not a dyad. I wanted to pass on, I knew I had to according to Luke's teaching. But the texts, Luke's lessons, they never mentioned a Force Bond. I couldn't imagine leaving you alone.

"Then how are you appearing to me?"

This is something different.

Rey felt the tug of his spirit in that moment, a silent request to echo his focus. He was remembering his body, imagining looking into a mirror and willing his energy to manifest into that familiar physical form. Rey's heart beat faster as she realized what he was attempting. She drew from the vast expanse of Force she had access to here in the physical world and felt him draw from another place.

And they met somewhere in the middle.

Slowly, he began to take shape before her - his deep sensitive eyes, his strong nose, soft lips framed by waves of raven hair. Below that, broad shoulders materialized followed by the rest of his sturdy form. The only differences between this Ben and the memory she held of him, were the bluish glow radiating from his outline and the surprising change in clothing. He was wearing a cream-colored tunic with a V-shaped neckline set low enough to reveal a hint of his muscular chest. Draped over this, he wore the hooded robe of a Jedi. She drank deeply of the misty night air as her pulse hammered loudly in her ears. Force, he was beautiful. Even in death, Ben Solo, Prince of Alderaan, had taken her breath away.

She swallowed hard, eyes locked onto his.

You look like you've seen a ghost.

And with that, she was laughing. A gut-busting, snort-inducing laugh that warmed her blood and brought her back to life.

When she'd finally caught her breath, she looked up at him. "Ben Solo, did you just tell a joke?"

He winked as a half-smile curled one lip, an expression that instantly reminded her of Han.

I'll tell more if you promise to snort like that again.

He held out his arms to her and she looked up at him, questioning. She didn't want to push this too far. What if she lost him? But the temptation of his touch was too much to deny.

She let her concentration deepen, wrapping herself in the Force and supporting Ben's unwavering focus, willing his form to be firm under her hands before she stepped into his arms. To her shock, at first touch he was solid. She circled her arms around his shoulders, feeling the outline of him under her fingertips. Tracing the hard lines of muscle she found there, she relished the rush of blood that followed, making her dizzy, sending her world spinning.

She laid her head against his shoulder and felt him pull her closer against his chest.

The soft sound he made, somewhere between a hum and a moan, sent her reeling again, stomach flipping more violently than it did when she was running the training course. She inhaled, blessed with that heady scent of him, both earthy and delicate. She was swimming in him now and if she could choose to drown there, she would.

It was in his arms that she found the strength to realize she'd been wrong to run. Her friends deserved to know about not just what Ben had sacrificed, but what he meant to her.

Don't forget to thank the amazing JenniferLadyBug on Tumblr for these beautiful illustrations!

Chapter Text

Rey grudgingly lifted her head from Ben's shoulder, giving in to her desire to see his face again before he faded away. She longed to see him smile like he had on Exegol. A rare, beautiful expression she felt was just for her. But when something tugged gently at their Bond, she knew she wouldn't see it tonight.

They didn't have long.

Instead, she reached her hand up to stroke the side of his face, running her fingers over the place on his cheek that would dimple if he smiled. She studied the line of his jaw, the angle of his lips, thinking of how they would feel against hers again.

He sighed, his warm breath tickling the back of her hand and she raised her gaze to meet his.

He was watching her intently. Searching her face, reaching for her emotions through the Bond. As his eyes burned into hers, she gathered the courage to draw her thumb along his bottom lip, wanting so much to memorize every curve, every feature.

But her fingers passed right through him, as if he were just a holo image. He was fading.

She tried so hard to keep the terror from her face, but when his frown lines deepened, she knew she hadn't been successful.

"We really need to work on making whatever this is last longer."

Trust me, that's the only thing I've been thinking about.

"If you aren't completely part of the living Force, then where are you?"

Her heart sank when his words started coming in short bursts. I'm not sure. I use the Living Force to reach you, but there's something else. Luke mentioned an in between, but I don't think I'm there either.

"That vision earlier, you were with me. What was that?"

There's something wrong, those were Sith cultists. They must –

His words faded into the misty night along with his outline and she was left standing alone.

Rey's lip trembled and she fought against the prickling heat behind her eyes. This back and forth, having him for five minutes and losing him again. It was emotionally exhausting to say the least.

But she gathered herself, flicked on her saber to light her way, and followed the winding path back toward the base.

She was completely lost in thought, until something snapped in the distance. In a split second, she was on high alert, scanning the distance for the source of the noise. She spotted Rose about thirty meters down the path, lantern in hand, brows knitted in concern.

Rey only briefly considered making an excuse as to why she couldn't talk, before remembering the newfound resolve she'd found in Ben's protective arms. Besides that, there was something in Rose's earnest expression that kept her feet planted firm. Rose knew all about loss, having lost her whole family and the thing most precious to her because of this war. She knew all about how it felt when a bond was broken. Rey could talk about this with her, she could share this part of herself.

Rose closed the space between them, speaking in a tone that was kind, but firm. "I have no idea what you're going through, and you don't have to tell me if you don't want to. But I knew you'd still want this." She hung the lantern on her forearm, freeing both hands to present Ben's black shirt to her, handling it like one would hold a priceless, fragile relic. "And there was no way I was letting you run off at this time of night."

Rey took the fabric in her fist and pressed it against her chest, nodding. "Thank you."

Rey captured her friend in a hug with one hand, while still gripping Ben's shirt with the other. Images of everyone she'd lost flashed through her mind, and that ache was back again, that yearning to have him back coupled with a crippling grief for Leia, for her parents, and everyone else they'd lost. She and Rose had both paid a terrible price for this war and Rey could sense that they would both know healing, too. Someday. It wasn't a hopeless grief they shared, but one of rebuilding.

Rey pulled away, looking down at her friend, her heart heavy with regret for how she'd behaved. "I really don't deserve you."

"Don't be ridiculous. This is what friends do."

Rey glanced back down the path toward the base. "I guess we should get back."

But Rose was towing her by the hand, guiding her to sit on a flat boulder near the path.

"Oh no," Rose said. "You aren't getting away again that easily."

Rey realized, self-consciously, that she was still desperately clutching Ben's shirt, holding it tightly to her chest.

Rose noticed her expression and smiled sadly, wrapping her own fist around the medallion she always wore around her neck. "Don't ever be embarrassed for what you do to heal. I get it, Rey."

She needed no more convincing, settling herself onto the boulder.

They shared a long, silent moment watching the mists part to reveal the moons of Ajan Kloss, one pale red, one pale blue, engaged in an eternal chase across the darkened sky.

"Will you tell me?" Rose asked.

When Rey didn't respond immediately, Rose gestured to Ben's shirt. "You wouldn't have kept that, you wouldn't be holding it like you are, if he didn't mean something to you."

Rey swallowed. "I do care – I care about him."

Rose only nodded, taking a seat on an exposed root and setting her lantern at her feet. She leaned forward and rested her chin on her hands, waiting.

"Ben Solo of course, not Kylo Ren. I know it sounds crazy, but they really were two different people."

"How so?"

"Emperor Palpatine had found a way into Ben's mind from the time he was a boy. I saw it in flashes, in memories." Rey shook her head, trying to find the words to describe their inexplicable bond. "Ben and I are connected in the Force somehow."

Rose was nodding, eyes wide as she tried to understand.

"Palpatine manipulated him, groomed him for the Dark Side through Snoke who was just another one of Palpatine's creations. Then one night at the Jedi training temple, Master Skywalker saw that darkness in Ben's mind, saw Palpatine's influence and thought about killing Ben. Ben reacted in self-defense. He felt betrayed and thought he had nowhere else to go, so he sought shelter with Snoke. That's why he became Kylo Ren."

Rose's brows knitted together. "That's definitely not what I expected."

"Me neither," she admitted.

Rey's thoughts drifted back to a moment ago, how incredibly right it had felt for Ben to hold her. To lean against him and feel him so close, to remain in peace, feeling nothing but their bodies and their Bond humming with life between them. And the truth was she needed someone to know. After the way Ben made her feel, she needed to make sure everyone knew. Starting with Rose.

"I can still see him," Rey said.

Rose fingered her medallion, voice growing distant. "I still talk to Paige sometimes. I think that's normal."

Rey rubbed at her forehead, searching for words for all of this. "Not like that Rose. I mean, I can really still see him. Touch him, even." Oh kriff, this sounded insane but she was in too far to stop now. "Before you got here, we… I mean, we hugged. Through the Force."

Even by the dim light of the lantern, Rey could clearly see Rose's eyebrows jump.

"Is that, I mean, is that normal? I mean with the Force, can that happen?"

Rey pressed her lips together and nodded. "It can happen. Master Skywalker appeared to me before, even Leia, but I don't know if what Ben and I have is normal."

Rose's brows knitted together and Rey could practically see the thoughts chasing each other across her face. Shock, confusion, and was that disgust? But it was gone in an instant, at least Rose was trying to understand. Her features finally settled, and she spoke. "Wow, no wonder you're confused."

Rey blew out her lips. "At first, I tried to mourn. But now, I wonder if I need to be searching for something to bring him back."

Rose leaned in, lantern light casting shadows over half of her face. "You think that's possible?"

"I have to hope."

Rose smiled then, highlighting the warmth in her cheeks, the kindness in her eyes. "Good thing we've got experience building things on hope."


When Rey climbed into her bunk in the early hours of the morning, she felt comfortable for the first time in a more than a week. Those first days spent building her lightsaber had blurred together completely into a hazy fog of shock. The days on Tatooine had been twenty-four hour marathons of pure grief. But here, among friends and with Ben's short visits, she was actually living again.

She fell asleep quickly and slept late, rising as the sun's rays shone brightly onto the plant life beyond the hangar. She stood and folded Ben's shirt, trying to ignore the scent of detergent that had replaced him, and rested it delicately onto her pillow. She found the fresher, tied up her hair, and dressed in white.

Rey descended the stairs down to the main level of the base feeling nearly human again, following the smells of breakfast from the mess hall.

Poe and Finn sat on one side of the table, heads together, talking and laughing over their plates. Chewie sat on the other side, looking very involved in breakfast. Finn looked up and spotted her immediately, waving her over.

This was home.

The familiar sound of gears whirring announced C3P0's arrival before his sunny voice could greet her. "Oh. There you are. Mistress Rey! Poe and Finn have invited you to breakfast!"

"Thanks, 3P0," she said, laying a hand on his shoulder joint. "I seem to have found them."

"So good to have everyone here," he twittered to himself, heading off in another direction. Rey figured he was probably heading to the hangar to fill in R2 or BB-8 about whatever news there was to be shared.

"Rey, how are you feeling?" Finn poured a cup of steaming caf and pushed it across the table to her. She inhaled the nutty aroma, an instant comfort, and sipped as Finn insisted on making a plate for her.

"Much better," she said, nodding thanks as he passed the breakfast over.

Chewie growled a comment about the incredible breakfast.

"You would not believe these cholla sausages," Finn said.

He made a show of spearing one on his fork, bringing it slowly in for a bite, and chewing with his eyes closed for full dramatic effect.

"Where's Rose?" she asked, slicing her sausages.

"Working on the X-wings in the central landing area."

Rey nodded, placing a bite of sausage on her tongue. She took her time to appreciate the spicy flavor and the way the meat released a burst of savory juice with each slow chew.

She really needed to meet this new cook.

They filled the breakfast table with conversation, talking of their friends' paths before the conversation eventually turned to Lando Calrissian and Maz Kanata's political futures.

"I'm surprised she agreed to oversee things," Poe said. "She never seemed like one to get involved with politics."

"Desperate times," Finn said. "Besides, it's only for a little while, until the Free Worlds Alliance has a backbone. Then she'll be back doing… well doing whatever it is she does.

"Tell me about what's happening on Corellia," Rey said.

Poe and Finn shared a mutual glance, likely wondering where this new interest was coming from.

"Seems some Imperial loyalists are trying to unify the remaining vessels in the First Order fleet," Poe said.

"Imperial?" Rey asked, gesturing for the sugar.

He handed her the sugar tin. "Lando has a lead on someone from Bestoon. A Sith Loyalist with ties to the old Empire."

Rey stirred a spoonful of sugar into her caf as she put the pieces together. She knew of only one Sith Loyalist from Bestoon. "But Ochi is dead."

"He is," Poe confirmed. "But he may have had a family. Or friends. Who knows."

Finn leaned over the table, tension visible in the set of his jaw as he chewed with more intensity than was truly necessary for the consumption of breakfast sausage. "That's what we need to figure out. Problem is the Free Worlds Fleet was deployed all over the galaxy after the battle of Exegol, those who were willing were sent to defend the systems most impacted by the First Order. We are spread too thin and these loyalists know it."

Rey felt something cold gnawing at the pit of her stomach despite the warmth of the caf. "What do they want?"

"I don't know exactly, but I have a bad feeling, you know?" Finn said.

"I saw something," Rey said quietly. "A vision of these Sith Loyalists."

"I think," she paused to make certain this was how she really felt. But there was no denying that vision. "I think they are looking for me."

Poe was shaking his head before Rey ever finished her sentence. "There's no way. What would they want from you?"

"Power," she said, a shiver snaking up her back. She'd heard the cloaked figures mention the Dyad, the same power that had restored Palpatine's body. And if there was any of that Bond left, these Sith Loyalists would come looking for it. "I shouldn't have come back. If I'm here, you all are in danger."

Finn was standing in a heartbeat. "No. No, Rey. You don't' get to run off again." His eyes shone with a ferocity that pushed back any arguments she could think of. Then, realizing everyone in the mess hall had turned to stare at him, he sat slowly back down. "No. We are in this together, remember?"

"He's right," Poe said. "We've already established that fact, so you can just stop this self-sacrificing bantha shit."

She divided a stony glare between her two friends, until gradually, she was able to reign in her fear and see the concern on their faces. She let her gaze soften, feeling her expression melt from icy into something more like affection. She relaxed when she saw the same feeling mirrored on their faces.

She breathed deeply, shoulders relaxing. "Alright. I need to find out why they want me, first. Which means more reading and meditating. Maybe the Force will show me more."

Finn nodded. "And we should get this information to Lando and Maz, so they can put their ears out."

"If you find out anything, you tell us." Poe's eyes were locked onto hers.

She nodded, noting that this probably would be a good time to tell them about the Dyad. But they were already pushing the bench out, standing to clear their breakfast plates.

Later.


Rey lay gasping in the dappled sunlight against her favorite tree, having just run the training course in record time, all while carrying four of the sacred texts in a pack on her back.

She pulled out her canteen, pouring a stream of cool water into her open mouth, relishing the way it soothed her dry, burning throat on the way down. She was present in this moment, not looking back or forward, as Leia had taught. Only here. Now.

As her breath slowly evened out, she found her way easily into the interconnected web of energy that was the Force.

Master Luke was there with her a moment later. His untidy hair and beard were starkly at odds with the full Jedi regalia he was wearing.

"You've learned control," he noted, stepping forward. "Maybe you can help my hopeless nephew with that. Force knows I tried for years."

Rey smiled. "I had some good teachers."

Rey felt a ripple of thanks from another warm place in the Force.

"Where is she?" Rey asked, wondering why she hadn't seen Leia since that first day on Tatooine.

"She's new to all of this," he said, gesturing to his own bluish outline, "she also pushed herself very hard to save her son, but she'll perfect it in time."

Master Luke looked up into the canopy, as though he could catch a glimpse of his sister there. When he seemed to come back to himself, he crossed the uneven ground with careful steps before locking eyes with Rey. When he was an arm's length away, he reached a hand into his robes, retrieving something she never thought she would see again.

It looked so much bigger in Master Luke's grasp than it ever had in Ben's. But then again, Luke's hands weren't nearly as large. The black hilt was a good foot long, exposed red wiring running the entire length, crossguard vents creating a fierce angle…

"Kylo Ren's lightsaber?"

Luke offered it to her, but she only stared at it.

"What would I want with that?" she asked.

His voice took on an edge of impatience. "If you're planning to fight together to free him, he will need a weapon, too."

"I don't even know what we're fighting."

He narrowed his eyes, presenting the saber again.

She crossed her arms in protest. "But it's… dark. Unstable. He's not – "

Luke clicked his tongue. "Bodies aren't the only things that can be healed."

"I can't heal that crystal. I won't do it."

"You're right," he said, blue eyes blazing through the Force. "Only he can."

"From - from wherever he is? How is that possible?"

Master Luke shook his head, shaggy hair waving back and forth. "Rey, if you two can, well…" He made a humiliating mime of two index fingers coming together and touching in front of his face. "If he can interact with you," he said, twisting the word, making her cheeks flush with embarrassment, "then he can focus on this."

"Where is he?" she asked, trying to deflect her embarrassment.

"I thought he'd traveled to the World Between Worlds, that's where Leia had tried to guide him in her last moments, but it seems he is still tethered by your Bond."

"What do we do?" She asked, feeling a thousand more questions bubbling up inside of her, but managing to put voice to only one.

He stared at her for long moment, expression frustratingly stoic.

"This is your journey, Rey."

She lowered her brows, glaring at the ghost of her former master. "How did I know you were going to say that?"

He offered only a wry smile in response before fading away into the Force.

Thank you to the amazing JenniferLadybug for the amazing art!

Chapter Text

As soon as Rey was sure she was alone again, she settled back against her tree and cracked open one of the texts. The pages of this tome were filled to bursting with diagrams, most of which had completely gone over her head during her first read. But she had a faint recollection, triggered by something Master Luke had said.

A World Between Worlds.

She flipped through the worn pages, searching for the diagram she remembered, studying page after page as the sun moved between the trees overhead. She pulled a packet of mealbread from her bag to quiet her growling stomach and chewed as she continued her search. She dusted crumbs from the pages, glad Master Luke wasn't there to chastise her for disrespecting these priceless artifacts of Jedi history.

Pages and pages more, until…

There.

Rey ran her fingers over the aged paper, tracing lines and angles connecting points in a sort of organized geometrical array. She read several lines of text until she found something that made sense.

"Chain Worlds Theorum."

"This is it, Ben. The World Between Worlds," she breathed.

His only reply was the buzzing chorus of insects and birds, going about their daily battles to survive.

"But how do we get there?"

She flipped another page. It detailed theories of the Vergence Scatter, another name for this interconnected world beyond. It seemed these Jedi of long ago had postulated that if one could access this world, they would have complete control over space and time, choosing to follow paths to alter history or travel to another dimension in time.

Something shifted at the core of her spirit. A tingling awareness of belonging and connection, like two pieces of a puzzle fitting perfectly together again.

And with that feeling came his voice, That's it.

Ben's breath was warm on her neck as he spoke. The sensation caused a shiver of pleasure to ripple through her which she tried to hide. Why did her traitorous body have to react so strongly to him? They really just needed to talk.

But I can't get through. There's something else there, blocking my path.

"The darkness you sensed."

He grunted his assent.

She flipped through more indecipherable explanations, until she reached a sprawling two-page diagram detailing a gnarled, twisting tree, its branches spreading across both pages. The Great Tree, whose roots are said to peer into the World Between Worlds.

But she didn't need to peer into it, she wanted to go there, to help Ben get there, or something. Kriff, she didn't even know what she was looking for. She continued skimming, noticing connections between several worlds, Lothal, Ahch-To, even Exegol. But there was no information about how to gain access to this space between worlds.

"Has anyone been there?" she asked.

Luke mentioned several Jedi who have travelled there.

"Any names?"

Luke give helpful information? He huffed. He only said that few had managed it.

Rey pulled out the next to continue their search. Just a clue about where to begin.

As they studied, she remained keenly aware of Ben's presence. He was so close she could hear the steady whisper of his breath. She could sometimes sense his gaze falling upon her. And though his outline was very faint, she occasionally felt the brush of an arm or sleeve against her own as he leaned forward to study something on a page.

The sun was falling lower still, when, now on the third book, she came upon something more useful. She read out loud for both of them to hear:

"Another early example of a Force Bond was one forged between Jedi Bastila Shan and the Sith Lord Darth Revan. The Jedi council sent Shan to capture the Sith Lord, but during the battle Revan was betrayed by Darth Malak and left on the verge of death. Remembering the Jedi way, to preserve life wherever possible, Shan saved Revan and a powerful Force Bond was forged."

Rey studied the simple illustration of the pair, light and dark colors exemplifying their opposite natures, though they were pictured hand in hand. Nothing more was written on this page about this early Force Bond, but Rey was still curious.

Ben's voice rumbled low in her ear, answering her unspoken question. I've heard this legend, he said, assuming the dramatic voice of a storyteller. Bastila Shan healed Revan and brought him back to the Light, but was eventually seduced by the Dark Side herself. When Shan and Revan finally faced each other in battle, it was Revan who brought Shan back in the end, by showing her that he trusted her completely. He left himself open to her attack, confessing his love for her.

Rey turned away from the drawing, focusing on their Bond, willing Ben's form to appear. Ben joined her focus, reciprocating through the Force. She wanted to look on his face as he told the end of the story.

His outline sharpened and she could see he was completely focused on her, the intensity of his gaze bringing immediate heat to her cheeks, as he continued on. Shan realized she could never do Revan harm, and she confessed her feelings for him.

Rey tried to control her breathing as she stared into his eyes. "What happened to them?"

His lip twitched into that little half-smile of his. Together they turned the tide of the battle. Then, as though an afterthought, he added, And they lived happily ever after of course.

Ben turned his body face to her, his dark eyes reflecting the mottled sunset as it filtered through the leaves. He leaned in closer, looking like he would say more and Rey felt her breath hitch. She was unable to move, unable to look anywhere but his eyes, his lips. Here was her chance to show him what he meant to her and not just because he had saved her, but because she truly cared for him. She wanted to feel his lips against hers. She wanted to taste him.

Her entire body was screaming for him to touch her.

He scooped up her hand and placed it in his lap intertwining his fingers with hers. Some of the tension bled into their touch, but she could still hear her pulse thundering in her ears, her body announcing that it wanted more than just his hands. And when he began tracing gentle lines on her palms, her fingers, the back of her hand, she wasn't sure how much more she could take. Her chest was contracting, filling with what felt like fire and she just needed to…

His lips found hers in a desperate, crushing kiss that spoke plainly of his pent-up desire. His need, a wild urgency, surged from him down the Bond and she was overcome by the intensity of it. Like Revan, this was his confession and he was kissing her again, harder and deeper, with a fanatical type of want that she'd never known was possible. And she wanted more.

She knotted her fists in his robes and drew him closer, kissing him harder still, leaving no questions about the confession she was making in return. His insistent mouth parted her lips, leaving her lost in the sensation of him. She tried to breathe, but found that tasting him again, just one more time was much more important than air.

A low groan came from the back of his throat, announcing what she couldn't speak. More. Closer.

And he was pulling her onto his lap, cradling her against his arm so they fit together perfectly. The Bond was singing with their contact, emotions coursing between them, and she wasn't sure which ones he was feeling and which were hers.

It didn't matter. They were one and the same.

Ben pulled back, leaving his hand to cup her cheek as he studied her from inches away. His lips were reddened, cheeks flushed with their kiss, and those adorable smile lines were etched at the corners of his eyes.

If this is all we ever get, it will have been worth it.

She reached up to his face, running her thumb over his bottom lip like she'd wanted to yesterday. His shoulders dipped and tightened as a shiver ran through him. She saw his body's reaction at the same time she felt it through their Bond.

She didn't want to ruin this moment with words, so she let the intensity of her gaze be her response to his tender profession, taking a handful of his hair and pulling him back into her.

Leaning in, she captured his mouth gently this time, showing him the soft, unrelenting affection she thought would give voice to the feelings crowding her heart. If their first kiss was demanding, this one was effortless. Each caress of his lips was an unspoken lesson, teaching her just how thoroughly he ruled her heart. Each taste of him lured her deeper into a closeness she couldn't understand and could never explain.

She was breathless when their lips parted again, and keenly aware of a tightening pressure at the core of her that begged for more of his skin against hers. It gave her a thrill to see him flushed and panting for her, too.

Feelings screamed down their Bond now, louder than they'd ever been. A chorus of desire that only they could hear and that was very hard to ignore. Difficult as it was, she attempted to put some space between them, pulling herself from his lap and sitting cross-legged opposite him. They needed to talk and with her heart hammering to the rhythm of his body, that was proving to be impossible.

Rey. His voice was low, husky, and a new shock of need blossomed inside of her. She sensed he would say more if he could, but his voice wasn't working properly. Instead, he leaned in a bit, tucking a stray strand of her hair behind her ear. His fingers left tingles on her skin, her body begging him for more.

"I feel it, too," she admitted, her own voice coming hoarse.

Do you remember the first time you felt it?

She would never forget. "You had me strapped to an interrogation chair."

What I wouldn't give to have you there again. And there was that adorably crooked smirk again.

She squirmed uncomfortably, trying to ignore the persistent heat he'd ignited inside of her that would not be extinguished.

It was like seeing into this moment for a millisecond. A shock of this feeling, but all at once.

Rey remembered. And now, hearing him talk to her like this. Talking about his feelings for her, showing her his emotions when for so long they had both tried to hold it all back. She would not lose this. It was not an option. It gave her a newfound sense of urgency, and she stood, crossing to her bag where she'd stowed his lightsaber.

"We are going to fight for this," she said, "for us." She slid the weapon from her bag and held it out to Ben.

She could have been holding a venomous snake for the way he startled when he saw it.

His throat bobbed with a hard swallow. I threw that into the sea.

"Master Luke wants you to have it."

He scowled as she extended the hilt toward him, shadows of the faltering evening sunlight accentuating his dark, angular features as he studied it. He had such an uncommon handsomeness to him, an attractive uniqueness that forced her to look when he spoke, when he moved. Another shock of desire tore through her veins again and she wondered if she would ever stop wanting to kiss him now that she'd had a taste.

He rose to face her, brows twisted in confusion, staring at the saber, then back at her. Then, a dawning expression of understanding relaxed his features. I have to start again, heal the crystal and rebuild it.

She nodded and he took it, turning it over and over in his hands.

Will you hold it for me? He asked, offering it back to her again. I'm not sure I can keep it with me.

"Of course," she said, letting her hand linger on his as she took the saber. "I think we are getting better at this, look how long you've stayed with me." She cleared her throat, trying to sound more in control. "Next time, I'll have the materials and tools set out for you. And you can start working on the crystal."

Thank you.

Her heart thudded in her chest as the jungle birds cried their final calls into the twilight.

"What's our next step?" she asked.

He raised his eyebrows before closing the space between them. I can think of a few steps I'd like to take.

He kissed her again, this time not lingering long at her mouth, but instead grazing his lips across her cheek and coming to rest against her neck, breathing heavily into her ear. Her skin erupted in gooseflesh, and in an instant, that heat was back in her belly.

Oh stars, he was getting better at this. And bolder.

"I meant about the World Between Worlds," she said, voice strangled between gasps.

He hummed against her skin, sending new tingles coursing down to her toes.

"You are impossible, Ben Solo."

A deep chuckle resonated in his chest and now, his hands were joined in the assault, perching on her hips first, then exploring the small of her back as his lips worked at her collar bone.

"Ben," she breathed, trying to infuse her voice with an edge of seriousness.

He sighed. The book mentioned the Great Tree. His hot breath ignited the skin at her neck as he spoke. If anything, it's a lead. Or go ask Maz, that woman is a thousand years old. She'll know something about it.

Rey ran her hands over his robed forearms and up to his shoulders. "This suits you," she admitted, fingering the edge of his hood. "You look so, official."

His lip twitched. At least I got something out of this deal. And there it was, the full, toothy grin she'd longed for. It wrinkled the corners of his eyes and his dimples were just where she'd remembered them. But I am sorry to announce that it seems you were not the Last Jedi after all.

"For about 30 seconds," she said, trying her best at a deadpan delivery.

She cracked a smile when he shoved her playfully. And Rey realized, this was what she'd been grieving for. She'd been mourning the loss of moments like this, getting to know the Ben Solo she'd seen and felt through the Bond. And now, the Force had given them a second chance.

"Rey!"

She tensed, snatching her hands back from Ben's as her name came floating over the treetops.

It was Rose's voice first, then Finn's "Where are you?"

"Ben, you have to go, they're coming," she said in a tense whisper.

He gave her an injured look. Let them come. They can't see me anyway.

And the arrogant son of Han Solo trapped her in another kiss, just to prove a point. With her raw desire for him still so close to the surface, Rey didn't have the self-control to deny him.

A rush of alarm echoed somewhere nearby in the Force, and she turned to see her friends standing not too far down the path. Rose and Poe were smiling, glad to see her.

But Finn.

Finn's eyes were wide with shock. Like he'd seen…

A ghost.

And then Finn was sprinting towards them, pulling his blaster free from its holster, pointing it at Ben's outline.

Ben put his hands up in a gesture of surrender, before awkwardly realizing a blaster bolt couldn't make him any more dead, and lowered them. He glanced back and forth between Rey and Finn as realization dawned on his face. Oh Force, you've got to be kidding. He can see me?

"Yes, I can see you!" Finn was yelling, hand shaking as he gripped the blaster, searching Rey's face for a sign of what to do.

"Finn," she said. "Put that thing away."

"What the hell are you doing, Finn?" Poe caught up to him, prying the blaster out of his friend's hand.

Rey imagined what it must look like to Poe and Rose, who couldn't see Ben at all.

As Poe continued to hold him back, Finn divided a hard stare between Rey and Ben, trying to understand what he was seeing.

"What the hell were you doing, Rey?" Finn asked, incredulously. "You said you understood him. Not that you, that you… What the hell Rey? You were kissing a dead guy!"

Poe and Rose froze into the same stance. A perfect parody of shock on each of their faces. "Wait, what?" Poe asked.

"Not just any dead guy," Finn answered, pointing to the space Ben was occupying. "That's Kylo Ren."

Thank you JenniferLadyBug for the art!

Chapter Text

Rey was thankful for Ben's silence as she tried to find the best way to diffuse the situation.

"The last time I saw you," Finn said, now settling for pointing his finger at Ben, since Poe had snatched away his blaster, "You were trying to kill her!"

I was never trying to kill her.

"Like hell you weren't! You were swinging a damned lightsaber at her!"

Rey put a hand up, trying to stop the argument while struggling to keep her own voice calm. "Ben had me beaten on Kef Bir but didn't strike me down. I was the aggressor. And I regret it."

She couldn't look at Ben as she spoke those words. She was not ready to face the shame of that moment quite yet and was glad when Finn moved on quickly.

"Okay, that's all well and good," Finn said, gesticulating wildly. "But he's still Kylo Ren. Supreme Leader of the First Order, Rey!"

She rubbed her temples in frustration. "Were you even listening when I told you what really happened on Exegol? This is not Kylo Ren. This is Ben Solo!"

Poe stepped into the fray with an expression of utter exasperation. "Excuse me, sorry to interrupt here… but I still can't see anyone except two of my friends who have completely lost their minds."

Finn ignored the comment. He was standing eerily still, fists clenched, glaring at Ben's ghostly blue outline. "What are you doing here?"

I'm not doing anything, I'm – Rey cut him off quickly, not trusting him to carry this conversation to a calm destination.

"Ben hasn't done anything that I haven't asked him to do," she said.

Poe and Rose shared confused looks, with Rose finally speaking up. "Wait, Kylo … err, Ben Solo is here?" she asked, then turned to Finn to answer her second question. "And you can see him?"

Finn nodded tensely, his icy stare thawing a bit under their questioning gaze. "I've been trying to tell you for days, Rey," he said. "I feel, I can feel things. I think I've been feeling the Force."

"Perfect," Rey said with a desperate sigh. "This is not how I wanted this to go."

"What did you expect, a welcome party for him?" Finn had his arms crossed now, still glaring.

"Can someone please explain what the hell is going on here?" Poe looked to the empty space that Finn seemed to be glaring at. "Let me rephrase that, can someone I can see please explain?"

Rey sucked in a deep breath, grabbing for Ben's hand for support and started in on the explanation she should have given them all from the beginning. Ben Solo had sacrificed himself to save her. They were two halves of one whole, a Dyad in the Force. And after Ben's death, it became clear that he wasn't really gone. He was stuck somewhere, in a place between life and death, but their Bond anchored him nearby, allowing him short visits as a Force Ghost. He is physically able to interact with her and the world for short periods of time and since it seems Finn is Force sensitive, he is able to see Ben, too.

"I think these remaining Sith Loyalists may be after the power our Dyad can bring. I just have no idea what they want it for."

When she finished the explanation, she was out of breath, leaving her three friends staring open-mouthed, a tight-lipped Ben still gripping her hand.

"Okay, but that doesn't explain why you were kissing him!" Finn snapped.

"Come on, Finn," Rose said, laying a hand on his arm.

He ripped out of her grasp. "No, I want to hear what she has to say!"

But Rey was livid now. Ben Solo had died for her and Finn refused to even respect his sacrifice. "I don't need to explain myself to you!" Her voice echoed off the enormous tree trunks surrounding them, causing a few roosting birds to burst from the nearby foliage in search of a calmer perch.

She recognized the rage coursing through her and a cold chill crawled across her skin. It caused her to step back, away from everyone to collect herself. Before… well, before something happened.

She felt a tiny soothing ripple of Force from the Bond, a warmth to thaw the chill of the dark side. She didn't need to be reminded of how close it lingered to the surface of her emotions. But Ben was there, with her now, continuing to send comfort. He understood. He had always understood.

After a few calming breaths she returned, clasping Ben's hand again and looking out at her friend's questioning faces.

She didn't have to explain herself to Finn, no, but Ben deserved to be spoken for. She cleared her throat, found some control over her voice, and offered the explanation Ben deserved. "I care about him." She was going to stop there, but when she stole a sidelong glance at Ben and saw the way his eyes had softened, she kept going. "And yes, I was kissing him. If that is a problem, let's talk about it now."

She felt a swell of pride crash through the Force and she didn't miss the self-satisfied expression on Ben's face.

Poe, Rose, and Finn stood completely still for a moment.

It was Rose who finally broke the tense silence. "Where is he?" she asked.

Rey pointed to where Ben stood at her side, clutching her hand. Rose approached and straightened her shoulders before speaking into the space she thought he was occupying. "Thank you for bringing our friend back to us."

A peace offering.

Ben smiled faintly. I couldn't image living with half of a soul. He looked down at Rey with such an expression of longing, she had to swallow against the emotion clamping down on her throat.

"He said – "

Rey began to translate, but Finn cut in, "He said, 'I couldn't imagine living with half of a soul.'" Finn's scowl had tempered noticeably by the time he'd finished repeating Ben's words.

"I'm not sure this could get any more awkward," Poe said.

"You're the ones making this awkward," Rose said with a fire in her tone. "Rey wants us to trust Ben. And I trust Rey. End of story."

"Okay, but you weren't tortured by the guy," Poe said, crossing his arms.

"And almost killed by him," Finn added under his breath.

Rey shot the two of them a look as sharp as a Sith dagger. "Leia's final act was to appear to Ben, to help him find this World Between Worlds, so he could have a hope of coming back. She never gave up on him."

A low blow to bring up Leia, but it deflated their tempers, the anger and disgust melting away from their expressions.

But Rey wasn't finished yet. She shared what she'd told Rose last night, of Palpatine's manipulation since Ben was a child. Of the unfortunate events of Luke's temple, of how Ben felt he had nowhere to go but to Snoke, and she repeated the details of Leia's last attempt to reach her son, and how Ben had listened. Without him, they would all have been destroyed by Palpatine.

It was completely dark now and Rey flicked on her lightsaber to see her friend's reactions.

"I'm still not sure someone like him deserves a second chance, no matter what Leia thought." Poe's voice was hopelessly unforgiving as he pulled his flashlight from his belt.

A vibration, like a plucked string pulled at their Bond and Rey knew what that meant.

Finn stepped closer to Ben, standing face to face now. Rey felt herself tense as she watched him eye Ben up and down. Ben stood tall, but kept his face neutral as he stared back. Finally, Finn spoke. "If the Force has chosen him to carry out its plan, then maybe we should see how this plays out."

Rey let out the breath she didn't know she'd been holding. She offered Poe an expectant look, wanting see how this proclamation had affected him, but she was distracted by the sudden loss of Ben's warmth. When she looked down at her hand, it was empty and Ben was gone.

She should be happy he'd been with her for so long. Hours this time, but still, the feeling of the Bond being torn apart was hard to bear. It was the lack of control that was the most difficult in all of this.

Finn's expression changed from grudging acceptance to confusion in seconds. "Where did he go?"

Rey twisted at the fabric of her armbands, trying not to think too hard about how long it might be until she saw him again. "This is how it's been. We get only moments together, before the Force rips him away again."

Finn chewed the inside of his lip as he studied her deflated expression. "Rey," he said, shoulders heaving in a sigh, "I'm sorry. I do trust you, I really do. And if you care about… about Ben. Then we'll figure out how to help you." His voice still carried an edge of reluctance, but it was a start.

He glanced at Rose, who was nodding eagerly, and Poe, who looked slightly less enthused, but possibly willing to be dragged along into this.

"We do this together," Finn said, echoing a promise from days ago when they'd embarked on a different adventure.

Finn extended his arms, and she walked into them easily. Of course, she would forgive him, they'd come so far and at least he was trying to understand.

As the three walked back toward the hangar, she elbowed Finn in the side, trying to change the subject away from Ben. "So when were you planning on telling me about, you know?"

"I tried, it just never seemed like the right time."

Poe stopped in front of them on the path, slapping his hands against his knees. "Is that what you were going to tell her when we were in the sinking sands? Damn, that's been bothering me for a week."

A collective laugh rippled through the group, putting them at ease as they finished the walk back to the base.


Rey had finished dinner and helped her friends wrap up the day's duties. It was late by the time she moved to the main hangar where Chewie was tinkering around the underbelly of a particularly testy A-wing. The Wookiee had been quiet since Leia had passed, and was grieving the only way he knew how, by falling into his work.

Rey, Finn, Rose, and Poe were gathered around, lounging on crates and overturned buckets, sharing a bottle of Chandrilan Raava that one of the Free Worlds had sent as a thank you. Rey had hoped to avoid any more talk of Ben for the rest of the night, allowing them to settle into a comfortable acceptance before she broached the subject again. So far, she'd been successful, with the conversation now turning back to Finn's revelation about being able to sense the Force.

"I thought it was just you, I was sensing. You know, a best friend thing," he said, smiling and holding up his cup in salute. "But when I could feel Ren coming for you on Pasaana, I knew there was more to it."

Poe nodded, taking another sip from his own cup. "I wonder sometimes if the Force has guided me, too. It always feels like so much of what I do in the cockpit is instinct, but maybe there's more to it than that."

This was the first time she'd ever heard Poe Dameron acknowledge something abstract, something beyond his own skill as a pilot.

Rose was nodding along. "I've always felt like there was some kind of plan to all this." And Rey didn't miss the way she ran her fingers along the edge of her medallion.

They were enjoying each other's company, each other's friendship, and it felt good. She only wished Ben could be here, too. And she couldn't help but wonder if, over time, he would build friendships too.

Her chest tightened with longing, not realizing how important it was to her that he had that chance.

She took another swig of the Raava. It was sweet and hot going down, warming her insides and loosening her tongue.

"Have you guys ever heard of the Great Tree?" she asked, not bothering to segue smoothly into the new topic.

Chewie growled a response from below the ship's belly, rolling out from under the A-wing to join the conversation. "Large tree near Kerritamba Village. Sacred."

"No, I don't think it's the one on Kashyyyk," Rey said. "The text mentioned a Force-sensitive tree, whose roots could peer into the World Between Worlds."

Poe perked up suddenly, eyes wide. "The Great Tree huh?" he said, "You know, that damned tree's caused me a scat-load of trouble, if we're being completely honest."

A mischievous smile spread across his face as he basked in their obvious shock. Rey had to admit, she wasn't actually expecting anyone to knowabout the tree.

Poe took a sip of Raava through smug lips and started in on his story. "They're also called Uneti trees. One used to grow on Coruscant, at the center of the Jedi Temple before it was destroyed. Luke Skywalker managed to find a fragment of the tree that the Empire had kept hidden. He and my mom retrieved the cutting and planted it in our front yard. It's probably still there on Yavin IV."

Finn's disbelieving look made Rey laugh at loud.

"I'm not kidding. I had to nurse that thing back to health when I was a kid after an unfortunate accident with a couple of jury-rigged pod-racing engines."

Rose leaned forward with the raise of an eyebrow. "Nearly burning down an ancient, Force-sensitive tree after enacting some dangerously hare-brained plan?" She shook her head in mock disbelief. "Doesn't sound like you at all."

This time they all laughed and Poe raised his glass in a silent request for a toast. "To more hare-brained schemes."

Chewie growled his agreement.

"Many more," Rey said, raising her own glass as the other's echoed the toast.

After they drank to Poe's toast and their laughs had settled down a bit, Finn asked the question they were probably all thinking. "What do we need this Great Tree for?"

"In one of the Jedi texts, there are some passages about the tree being a way to peer into the World Between Worlds," she said. "There may be a way to get Ben back. But it's not just that. Ben senses something dark and Master Luke had a feeling a fight was coming. Something is wrong and it might all be related."

The drink seemed to be hitting Finn as his voice had shot up a few volume levels. "And today you just happened to read a passage about how the Great Tree could be of some help, and Poe just happened to have this same tree planted in his front yard?" Finn looked up, as if speaking to the universe. "Tell me the Force isn't real!"

Rose nodded in agreement, but Poe seemed especially interested in the bottom of his drink, swirling it around and staring at the contents. He repeated this process, alternating swirling and staring, swirling and staring until suddenly, he slammed the cup down on a nearby toolbox and leaned forward. "I can't believe I'm going to do this. But, I owe this to Leia. If the Force wants us to help her son, maybe we should."

Better late than never, Rey thought. Instead, she bit back the comment and thanked him gracefully.

He mumbled into his cup and downed the last of his Raava. "I guess it helps that I won't be able to see him."

"I wish I had that luxury," Finn muttered, taking another long draught.

Rey shifted uncomfortably. So much for avoiding the Ben subject for the night.

"You guys, come on. Can't you see how awkward this is for Rey?" Rose said. "You're talking about him like she's not even here."

Rey waved the comments away. "It's okay, Rose. I get it. He's done some terrible things."

"Yes, but you said it was Palpatine in his head the whole time." She shot the two men a disappointed look. "At least you two could give him a chance to prove himself. You of all people should understand second chances. And it's obvious she cares about him."

They both softened under Rose's hard gaze and the truth of what she was saying.

"I just don't get it, Rey," Finn said, looking genuinely confused. "Why him?"

She took several seconds to choose the words, recognizing that this would be important. If she wanted them to understand how she felt about Ben, she had to get this right.

"You know that feeling you get, Finn?" she began. "That little tingle inside when you can sense you are on the right path?"

He nodded. "Yeah?"

"Imagine if that feeling was bigger, more demanding. Imagine if the feeling was intensely magnetic, and you knew the Force itself was pulling you toward a particular person. Showing you flashes of this person's memories, their feelings, desires. Creating an insatiable need to be close to this person in every way."

Finn swallowed hard. His frown lines had begun to smooth, and his eyes had grown pensive. Finally, he was starting to understand.

"That is what it's like to be one half of a Dyad," she said. "To be bonded to someone in the Force. And that is why I need to get him back."

Finn's frustration had now dissolved completely into an expression of muted awe. "Woah, Rey. That's heavy stuff."

Rose shook her head slowly in reverential disbelief. "Like Force soulmates or something?"

It seemed they were all lost in thought, gazing out over the empty hangar into the jungle night. It was Poe who broke the spell, raising his eyebrow and offering a wicked-looking grin. "Woah, so have you guys, ummm…"

Rey rubbed the side of her face, trying and failing to hide her burning cheeks.

"Oh for gravity's sake, Poe. Give it a rest," Rose snapped.

"I haven't had nearly enough Raava to have this conversation," Finn said.

But they were all peering at her over the rims of their cups. Did they actually want her to answer?

"No," she said, but when they continued to stare, she repeated herself again with more force, closing the discussion. "No!"

Rose shook her head, a small smile pulling at one lip, and Poe was chuckling to himself.

"Well, we should figure out our next move, anyway," Finn said, gracefully attempting to change the subject.

Rey was happy to oblige. "My other thought was to talk to Maz," she said, feeling the warmth in her face gradually fade as she spoke. "Maybe she knows something more about the World Between Worlds."

Poe drummed his fingers against his empty cup. "I think she's staying close to Corellia at the moment, trying whatever she can to avoid an all-out war in the system."

"Does this mean we have a new mission?" Finn said, mouth upturned into a hopeful smile.

"Investigate this Great Tree and if we've got no leads there, get to Maz," Poe confirmed.

Rose stood, placing her hands on her hips as though they were leaving right this second. "And this time I'm going with you guys."

Rey smiled. "I wouldn't have it any other way."

Thank you again to JenniferLadyBug for the art. I cannot stop staring.

Chapter Text

Rey woke early to begin preparations for their trip to Yavin IV. Unfortunately, the Falcon was not in flying shape and needed some work before they'd be ready to travel. Poe also had some things to attend to today, namely organizing a small crew for Maz who needed some back-up on Corellia.

Chewie kept Rey company as they worked on the Falcon's hyperdrive. Poe had done a serious number on the poor ship with his lightspeed skipping, and though they'd made some hasty repairs a few days ago, the ship was in need of some real attention.

The Wookiee rumbled a curse at the fried wiring harness.

"I know, it's a mess," she agreed.

She sighed, wishing to be on with this mission already. If she had something to do, a goal in mind, she could stop thinking about him. She felt foolish for letting him consume her thoughts, but she'd never kissed anyone before, never wanted to, really. Until now. Now she couldn't stop daydreaming about him, his voice in her ear, his hands on her hips as he held her close, his lips, his smell, his taste. Oh kriff, she was staring at the wall again, not sure how much time had passed.

When she looked back up at Chewie, he was studying her. "You think more of Solo Pup than fixing Falcon."

She'd never heard Chewbacca talk of Ben, only seen his anger as it was directed at Kylo Ren. She was amused to hear the name he had for him in Shriiwook. Sometimes translating from the Wookiee language to Galactic Basic was problematic, but this time, it was kind of adorable.

"Maybe," she admitted, shifting uncomfortably and feigning interest in a charred pair of capacitors.

His perceptiveness had always been unsettling. He could read humans very well for someone of a different species. She figured it was because he had so many years of experience. And lying to him was pointless, he would see right through her.

Chewie growled another, even more jarring question. "You love Solo Pup?"

She dropped her hydrospanner.

Chewie cocked his head in an expression of amusement.

"I…" she started speaking with no idea where her words would take her. "I… no… our, what we have, its way more complicated than that. I mean, we were enemies for over a year and this is… it's too new."

She was babbling now and Chewie's shrewd gaze was not helping.

"Humans overthink." He growled deeply to add an edge of impatience and pointed his strap wrench at her in accusation. "You defend Solo Pup. You understand Solo Pup. You desire Solo Pup." He shrugged. "You love Solo Pup."

Wookiees were so forward with things like this and she… well she wasn't. She could argue the point further, but it seemed safer to feign interest in something else. Lowering her head to peer around a loose panel, she reached in to peel away a melted casing.

"Solo Pup was funny. Brave," his growl was muted, almost whimsical. "Curious about every small thing."

Chewie's memories of a young Ben brought a smile to her lips.

Then, an angrier howl reverberated in the small space. "Killing father. Hard to forgive."

Chewie was being honest with her and his conflict about Ben was undertstandable. They'd never really talked about what had happened to Han, but she was sure the wound he'd left behind would never fully heal.

"You're right. It was horrible," she said. "Palpatine had Ben so twisted in the Dark Side he didn't even resemble that brave, curious boy you remember. But you'd be proud, Chewie, of the way he fought for what was right at the end."

A triple barking reply indicated a feeling of hope for the future for which there were no words in Galactic Basic.

"I hope you're right," she said.


They worked through the day, with Rose bringing them lunch and then staying to help with the hyperdrive. But as the sun began to set behind the base, it was clear that they wouldn't be leaving for Yavin IV until at least tomorrow.

Rey was prying a particularly rough looking heat diverter from the scorched remains of its rigging when she felt that familiar tug at her core.

A smile pulled at her lips and she stood scanning the hall, waiting quietly, not wanting to miss his greeting, or the first touch of his hand on hers when he appeared.

A bolt of frozen lightning cinched around that sacred thread connecting her to Ben and she was thrown to her knees. The icy punch of it sucked the air from her lungs as she landed hard against the floor of the Falcon. She gripped her chest with one hand, trying to breathe, trying to slow the dizzying spin of the world around her as she was drawn into a pitch black infinite space, cut through with white, geometric paths spanning out into oblivion.

She reached out through the Force, calling for Ben to help, trying to follow the Bond to whatever was holding her here, struggling to free herself from the claws digging deep into her chest.

A face. A human face that wasn't whole narrowed his eyes at her as he emerged from nothing, his prosthetic jaw limited the extent of his emotional expression to a single feeling – anger. Blue-black tattoos ran vertically along his scalp and his eyes were hard and cold. And he wasn't alone.

Farther down the path, Rey saw glimpses of several shadowy forms, spectral fingers all pulling at the Bond and she could feel the strength of that golden thread fraying now, feel the veins of darkness weaken the tether as these… things ripped into it. Another hooded figure, this one with a skeletal white half-mask with open eye sockets, turned to stare as he ignited a red lightsaber and began his slow approach. And she knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, they were Sith.

Suddenly, her vision tunneled, and she was lying flat on the Falcon's steel floor, chest heaving with panicked breaths, sweat beading on her forehead.

Rose was kneeling over her, pale with worry, shaking her from her stupor. "Rey? What happened?"

She choked out a response, "A vision."

Chewie held a furry arm out to help her up, barking a request to tell them what happened.

"Sith… I thought they died with Palpatine," Rey was shaking her head, rubbing her forehead with trembling fingers, trying to get this to make sense. "But they were there, in my vision."

"Are you sure? Could you have seen something from the past?"

"I don't know."

Rose laid a comforting hand on her shoulder and stayed with her until Rey assured her she was fine. They both went back to finishing the repairs, but there was a tension in her shoulders that wasn't there before. She'd thought once they'd destroyed Palpatine that the Sith would be gone. And as much as she'd love to think that vision was from the past, she wasn't so sure. Not with everything else going on. Rey was glad for something to do, something to repair, as it helped keep her from falling into her own mind too much.

It was getting late when she and Rose started cleaning up and gathering their tools to meet Chewie at the front of the ship.

"Have you seen him today?" Rose asked, trying to be casual as she sealed a control panel and collected a few fallen screws from their work area.

Rey shook her head, trying, and failing to appear optimistic.

"I don't blame him," she said, trying to add some levity to the situation. "After the reception he got last night."

Rey forced a smile for Rose's sake.

"And no more weird visions?" Rose asked.

She shook her head. "Thank goodness. I'm going to go get cleaned up," Rey said, looking down at her greasy hands.

"See you at dinner?"

"I'm not too hungry," she said. "I'll probably just have a quick ration packet in my room and go to bed."

"Alright Rey," she said, unable to keep the worry from her eyes. "Let me know if you need anything."


Rey made a visit to the fresher before heading back to her room. Once there, she realized she still wasn't all that hungry yet. And she wasn't tired. She was feeling… off.

And she couldn't stop thinking about him. About her conversation with Chewie. About how cruel it was that the dark side of the Force could pull on the Bond, that private connection that was supposed to be between her and Ben only. The fact that it had led to visions of the Sith made her feel sick.

She sank down on the bed and lifted Ben's shirt from the pillow. Gripping the fabric in one hand, she focused on that connection, trying to will him to come to her. But it was as though the Bond had never existed. It was completely cut off as it had been on Tatooine.

She pressed her lips tight together and threw the shirt on over her head. It was big enough to be a dress on her, so she wore it that way. She was tempted to crawl in bed and just lie there but remembered her promise to help Ben. She would not stop trying until she had him back.

If he wasn't able to come to her today, then she would do something thoughtful for him. She crossed from the bed to the table in the corner where she'd collected an array of materials for rebuilding Ben's lightsaber, pliers and wire strippers, diatum power cells, energy modulators, and other odds and ends. She was just waiting on Ben to appear to get to work. Only he hadn't come today.

She took a breath, banishing the prickling heat of tears, and strode across the room, sitting down on one the stools she'd arranged around the table. Kylo Ren's weapon lay untouched at the center of the workstation, gleaming under the bright work lights. She could at least get started dismantling it for him. It would give her something to do anyway.

She lifted the saber from the table, revealing a puddle where it had lain. The whole weapon was waterlogged. She'd have to disassemble it and dry out the parts before he'd be able to put it back together. Turning the weapon over in her hands, she stared at the build in disbelief. Why he'd decided to haphazardly add wiring to the outside of the hilt was beyond her. The whole assembly seemed unstable, just as liable to explode in the wielder's hand than cut down an enemy. It was the product of a man so conflicted, he didn't care much about self-preservation, so she guessed symmetry was the least of his worries.

She twisted the hand grip, dismantling the hilt to discover that the inner casing was tarnished with a layer of muck. She shouldn't be surprised since the thing was sitting at the bottom of an ocean for a few days. But she'd need some de-greasing soap and a brush if she had any chance of cleaning up these parts to reuse.

With her mind on a project, she was already feeling more energetic. She ran downstairs, grabbed the degreaser, a brush, and a basin full of water and returned to her room to finish the cleaning.

She squeezed a glob of sticky bluish soap between two hands and used the small brush to de-muck the casing. She wasn't sure if the electronics were all fried from being underwater, but she separated them from the outer shell of the saber and set them aside to dry. She would find out soon enough.

You were supposed to wait for me.

The moment he spoke, it was as if her body had been waiting for him, building up to this moment all day. His voice was soft against her ear and in an instant, her skin was alive with electricity.

"It's," she swallowed against the thickness in her throat, "it's so late, I didn't think you'd be able to make it today."

"The darkness is growing, making it harder to find you," he admitted.

"I know. I had a vision."

Me too.

"We'll find out more tomorrow, we're going to the Great Tree."

Your friends agreed to help?

"They did."

He hummed acknowledgement and she could sense him leaning closer.

Don't let me interrupt what you were doing. His breath was warm, tickling the hairs at the back of her neck.

Wanting to feel more of him than just his breath, she closed her eyes and willed his Force to take shape. She felt him reach out at the other end of the Bond and his outline took on a more solid form behind her.

She tried to turn to face him, but he held her gently by the shoulders, settling her neatly in his embrace with her back to his chest.

He Force-pulled a stool for himself and settled onto it. As she leaned back, nested safely against his body, she was overcome with his size, his complete domination over the physical space around him. She shouldn't feel so safe, so protected, not with everything threatening to steal him from her. But his influence on her body and on the Force was commanding and she felt the stress of the day drain from her aching muscles as she relaxed into him.

He rolled up his sleeves and leaned forward, arms outstretched next to hers, and offered his hands to her, palms up.

She stiffened, "My hands are dirty," she protested.

Mmm hmm. Mine will be, too.

She couldn't see his face, but she didn't need to. His hands, those hands she had dreamed about so many nights after they'd touched on Ahch-To, were open to her again. Large hands with strong lines, a graceful curve to each finger. Those hands he had extended to her again and again, but she'd always had to deny. It hadn't been right to take them before. But now, here…

These were Ben Solo's hands.

She reached for them, soapy and wet and with muck under her nails, and when their skin touched, she could forget all of what had come before.

The current she felt rippling between them, through the Bond, was powerful enough to leave her winded. She heard his breath hitch, too, but he pressed his body closer, wrapping around her shoulders completely.

I want to help you with this.

A gasp caught in her throat as his fingers laced through hers, soap squelching between them, skin sliding together easily.

He dipped his hands into the basin, waiting for her to mirror his motions before knitting his long fingers between hers again, and guiding her to the scouring brush. He cradled her hands and she melted into his gentle touch, closing her eyes and giving in to the sensation of him completely. The cool water, the soapy slickness, his warm grip on her hands. She was floating, heat prickling her skin, breaths coming short and fast, aching with want for more of him. Water dripped down her arms, spilling onto her bare legs, dousing the fire that seemed to burn across every inch of her skin.

He reached for the last section of dirty casing, his inner thighs pressing against her hips as he leaned forward. Warm lips grazed her neck as he dropped the filthy part into the basin. A shiver erupted across her shoulders from the contact as he squeezed more soap into her hand. His thumbs kneaded the thick paste into her palm, building a generous lather, and he was controlling her movements with the brush now, rocking her hands back and forth, again and again, her skin gliding against his as they scoured the casings to a shine.

With the parts clean, he drew his wet fingertips up her arms and back down one more time, leaving trails of heat in their wake. Then he gathered her close, nuzzling his mouth and nose against her neck as he held her, arms crossed, against his chest.

She sighed, a low whimper escaping her throat and his arms tightened around her. She felt an immediate surge of desire through the Bond and his mouth was moving against her skin again.

The light brush of his lips against her collarbone felt more like the caress of a breeze than a man. And Rey realized with a devastating pang of sorrow, that it was neither.

It was the kiss of a ghost.

I would wait in the In Between forever, Rey. Just for this.

The Bond was open wide, thrumming in time to her beating heart, and she marveled at the beauty of it.

He held her close, pressing those small, ghosting kisses against her neck, until she couldn't contain the rising tightness in her chest, need spurring her to seek more of him, and she turned to find his lips.

She willed him to be real, solid and true, with everything she had as she kissed him, drawing from the expanse of Force so strongly it brought tears to her eyes. But when she pulled away finally, with the taste of him thick on her lips, he was still framed in that blue-green aura of the dead.

Don't look at me like that.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I just… want you. Here."

Flushed and open-mouthed, he gave his husky reply, Then have me.

The words twisted at a visceral place inside of herself and she threw herself back into him, this time trying to lose herself completely in his touch, his taste. They molded together, as if sculpted from the beginning to fit this way. His mouth opened to hers and their tongues touched for a heartbeat before that wretched heaving pressure down the Bond announced their time was short.

In a frenzy, she pulled Ben to stand, pressing herself flush against him, feeling the shallow rise and fall of his chest and the thundering of his heart against hers, and feeling him. Oh stars, the hardness of his need against her belly was… she had to bite her lip to keep from crying out. Instead, she captured him in another kiss, using her lips to tell him what he was doing to her, a silent request to take her deeper. He obeyed, daring to rove his hands under the fabric of her shirt, up her sides, wrapping around her waist. His fingers kneading circles against her back stoked a fire with each motion, building a coiling heat in her belly, ramping up a need for him that she could no longer ignore.

Then she was pushing him, pushing him back against her bed as she tangled her fingers in his hair and framed his face with her hands, demanding another taste of him. He fell heavy onto the mattress, and she lowered herself next to him, straddling his leg as she continued to feelhim everywhere. She whined as the pressure building between her legs found the slightest bit of friction from his thigh as she lay tangled with him on the bed.

He reached out a hand to cup her cheek, eyes blazing with the same need that raged inside of her.

But his fingers never found purchase, slipping through her as his physical body slowly melted away into the Force and a lonely silence took his place.

Her own shallow panting breaths filled her ears and Rey was left alone and aching in more ways than one.

Could these illustrations be any more perfect?! *le sigh* Thank you again for your talent, JenniferLadyBug

Chapter Text

Rey's eyes burned as she tried and failed to keep the tears back. She ached for him still, hours after he'd gone.

But as she sat alone, thinking of his death on Exegol, her parents' murders, the reason for her miserable life on Jakku, the ache was replaced with anger. A white-hot fury in the pit of her stomach feeding on her fear and loneliness. Why was the Force doing this to her? Over and over again, people were taken from her.

"Why?!" The word tore from her throat and she was standing, fists clenched tight with her nails digging into her palms, pulse pounding in her ears.

A wave of Force streaked from her hands, overturning the stools, the table, the carefully cleaned saber parts. Water from the basin sloshed across the floor, dripping down the table legs as she stared, shoulders heaving. It took every ounce of strength she had to keep from unleashing another wave of rage.

Instead, she bit her lip hard enough to distract her from this tidal wave of feeling. Find balance, she needed to find balance. She would not let this happen. She was in control. She closed her eyes, focusing on nothing but the air entering and leaving her lungs, the rise and fall of her chest, until finally, the fury ebbed and she was left with the shame of her outburst on top of the frustration of the situation.

She swallowed hard, ignoring the mess, and sank down on the mattress, staring at the ceiling until the task of keeping her eyes open became too much and she slept.


Far away, the clink of metal and harsh snipping roused her from her dreams.

Rey rubbed the sleep from her eyes, trying to decide whether it was really Ben sitting with his back to her at the worktable or if he was just a vestige of the dream she'd been having. His outline was much fainter compared with how he normally appeared.

Good morning.

His voice jolted her head from the pillow.

"Why'd you let me sleep? We could have had more time…" She hastily smoothed her hair; it had fallen free of its ties in the night and was likely sticking out every which way. "You should have woken me."

He was still bent over the project at the table. You were snoring and having a good dream by the sound of it.

Heat rose up the back of her neck. "Well, with the way things ended last night…"

I'm sorry. He turned from the worktable to gaze at her. Force, you don't know how sorry I am, how much I wanted to stay.

His dark hair was tousled and falling into his eyes, lending him a boyish charm that was undeniable. He brushed it away with the back of his hand and gave her his heart-stopping Solo smirk. A slight blush came to his cheeks as he spoke again, visible to her despite his ghost-blue pallor. Well, maybe you do know how much I wanted that.

Oh, she knew all right. She wasn't sure she could ever forget how his body had felt pressed against her. How it felt to be wanted by him. She pushed the blankets off and stood to join him at the table before she let her imagination take her any further.

"Don't you dare apologize for that. This is not your fault," she said. "None of this."

He pressed his lips together, eyes darting to where the entire basin of water and all of the saber parts had been scattered last night. Are you, I mean… Are you okay? I saw…

She picked up a diatum power cell he'd managed to salvage, turning it over and over in her hands to avoid looking at him. "I was upset."

His perceptive gaze traveled over her, scrutinizing her head to toe, but he didn’t say more about it. Instead, he let his eyes linger on the oversize shirt she still wore. His shirt.

T hat looks much better on you.

She felt her face redden again and she was back to studying the power cell.

Don’t do that. Don’t look away.

His voice was a low purr in her ears. That deep timbre had always excited her and the richness of it stirred something primal at her core. He was commanding and she wanted to obey.

So she did, meeting his gaze and locking onto his eyes. Those expressive dark eyes had always spoken to her in a way no one else’s could, and now they joined with his voice to orchestrate her complete domination. Stars, what was happening to her? He’d only spoken, looked at her for Force’s sake and she was unravelling at the edges. Was this what it was like to be falling for someone?  

You have no idea what it did to me, to see you clinging to that shirt on Tatooine, the only piece of me you had. His fingers clenched into fists and his lip wobbled, barely perceptibly. Don't doubt for one minute, that if I could have retained a scrap of anything from you, I would have done the same.

She smiled shyly, pulling the collar of the shirt up so she could breathe in the scent of the fabric. To her surprise it held a trace of him.

"It smells like you again," she admitted, voice still small. Talking of her feelings, urges and desires she'd hidden for so long, it was still… strange.

Well, you were all over me last night. His cheek dimpled with a sly smile and she couldn't help but smile back.

He turned his attention back to the saber parts set out on the table. He'd picked up all the fallen pieces, arranged the parts that were usable on one side and gathered the broken scraps in a bucket, and had already begun adjusting the mounts for the primary crystal.

I was worried I wouldn't be able to heal the crystal at all, he said. I should have been more worried about how to put this wreck back together.

"You did it?" she said, eyes going wide. "You already healed it?"

It didn't take long, almost like the crystal itself appreciated being put back together.

"Will it be blue again?" She'd seen his lightsaber in flashes in his memories and wondered if healing it would restore the kyber crystal to its original color.

You'll have to wait and see. But the glint in his eye promised something unexpected.

Rey glanced at the pile of ruined scrap, pinching a long red wire between two fingers and holding it out in front of her like a dead worm. "I have to admit, I was unimpressed with your previous craftsmanship."

He huffed. Well, we can't all be good at everything, sweetheart. A playful expression danced across his face before he turned his attention back to his task. The modulating circuits are ruined. And for time's sake, I'll have to keep the lateral vents.

Rey reached over to the bin she'd stowed under the table, filled with spare parts from her own lightsaber build. She rifled around, plucked out a few circuits that might be usable, and held them out for Ben.

You've thought of everything.

His form had become more solid now and when he reached to take the parts, he grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her close.

She sucked in a quick breath, filling her lungs with his scent, and leaned into his embrace. He ran his hands up the back of her neck, raking fingers through her hair, and pressed a tender kiss to her lips.

He pulled away, giving her a look that sent her pulse racing.

"You are getting very good at that, Ben Solo."

Practice makes perfect.

Rey's curiosity got the better of her as she wondered how much practice he'd had. Surely Kylo Ren could have had any woman in the First Order. Even Ben Solo likely had some prospects at the Jedi academy. Either way, it was obvious he'd had more practice than she had.

He was studying her face, one eyebrow raised quizzically. What was that look?

"Nothing," she said, squirming from his arms and scooting her stool next to his.

That wasn't nothing.

When she didn't respond, he focused a reprimanding glare in her felt the brush of his mind against hers, not really trying to get in, mostly testing her reaction. She Force-slammed that door in an instant.

"Don't even think about it," she warned.

He sighed and pouted a little, actually going as far as to stick out his bottom lip.

So far, Ben Solo had maintained one key characteristic from the persona of Kylo Ren – persistence. He did not know how to let something go. Then again, both Han and Leia were incredibly stubborn, so maybe it was genetic.

She dared another glance at him and… oh kriff, he had no right to be so adorable.

It was her turn to sigh. "I was just wondering how many girls you'd kissed before me. Not that it matters, I was just curious." She had to stop herself short to keep from babbling inanely.

One, he said. Just once. It was stupid really, I was fourteen and we were playing this game, and it was more of a dare really.

"A game?" The idea of a young Ben Solo playing a kissing game had her immediate interest.

Spin the lightsaber. He ran a hand through his hair, leaving it there to scratch nervously at the back of his head as his ears went as pink as a Zeltron's. You spin it and whoever it points to you have to kiss.

She covered a laugh with her hand. She'd never seen him embarrassed. It pulled at a place in her heart she didn't know existed, and a pleasant warmth spread through her.

I told you it was stupid.

"I think it's cute."

He tried to scowl, daring her to keep teasing him, but the crooked expression he wore instead struck her as the funniest thing she'd seen in a long while, and she was laughing, a full, loud belly-aching laugh that seemed to last forever. Not long ago, he'd been the master of the scowl, the very epitome of rage and now, here, Ben Solo couldn't even manage a proper frown. Just when she'd nearly composed herself, the thought doubled her over a second time, peals of laughter ringing against the walls.

His face strained comically as he tried to remain serious. Then, all at once, his laugh joined hers. It was a surprisingly musical thing, an unexpected sound that only served to enhance her own joy.

When they finally quieted, muscles aching with effort, breaths coming in little gasping hiccups, she leaned in close to him. "You can't even scowl at me properly anymore," she teased.

He put a sturdy arm around her and she was sure this was what she'd been fighting for her whole life. All traces of rage and loneliness were washed away in his company.

The protection of his touch gave her the courage to talk about things she never thought she could. "At least you've had more experience than I have. I'd never kissed anyone before you," she said. "I'm not really sure what I'm doing."

I don't believe that for a second. You know exactly what you are doing to me.

In that moment, she nearly admitted just how much she wanted to know him. In that way. In every way, but this honesty between them was so new. This intimacy with another human being was so unfamiliar, that the thought stayed just that, a thought.

He pulled her in closer, burrowing his nose in the crook of her neck and humming contentedly against her skin.

He jerked away quickly as though he'd been stung by a sand bee. Lifting his head to listen, he stared into nothing.

She felt it too, the Bond contracting into something strained. Even with all of the honesty and laughter of their conversation, it seemed in the light of a new day something was close, threatening to take it all away. It was as though the Force itself was anxious and it bled through into their touch.

An unsettling prickling sensation climbed up the back of her neck, giving her the feeling someone was watching them, and she shifted uncomfortably.

Ben felt it, too, straightening awkwardly before bending to inspect the work at the table. I have a feeling I'm going to need this. Soon.

There was a knock at the door.

"Come in!"

Finn poked his head in, saw Ben working at the table and turned back to Rey. "Uh… sorry. Just wanted to let you know there's breakfast, and Poe says we can get an early start. Everyone's all packed."

"Thanks," she said. "I'll be down in a bit."

Finn nodded, darting one last glance between the two of them and ducked out of the room.

Go ahead and eat, I'll stay and see what I can do about this.

"Come with me," she said.

I can't. I… I don't think I'm ready for that.

She appreciated his honesty, but the naive image of him becoming friendly with Finn, Poe, and Rose came crumbling down completely. Her friends were not the only ones hesitant about working together.

"It will just take time," she said, unsure of what else to give in terms of encouragement.

When he didn't respond, Rey was tempted to reach out through the Force to get a hint of how he was feeling. He was keeping his expression frustratingly guarded as he continued to shape his coupler.

I'm not used to this. He slipped the finished coupling over the mount he was working to stabilize and turned it toward the light to inspect his work. I never was that great with people, but now…

He trailed off, not finishing his thought, instead, becoming lost in the work of his hands.

"Do you want me to bring you something from the mess hall? I mean, can you eat?"

I don't think so. And he gave her a sad smile. But you better enjoy your breakfast, last chance for something besides ration packets for a while.

"I don't know," she said, "maybe I can sneak some leftovers into the Falcon's galley, keep it in the conservator for later."

Her thoughts drifted to those drumsticks again.

A worthy use of your scavenging skills. He gifted her a worshipful glance, eyes gleaming as the lights from the workstation reflected in them, revealing flecks of golden brown than she'd never seen before. Then he was hunched over again, turning his attention to the housing brackets.

She grabbed her normal clothes to change into downstairs and walked to breakfast alone. Alone, but warm all over.


The jungle sang with life from either side of the path to the Falcon. Rainwater glistened on the foliage, reflecting the morning light in countless rainbow puddles and prismatic droplets.

"Your throne awaits," Poe said, elbowing her in the side as he passed her along the path to the ship.

She smiled broadly at him. They always fought over the pilot's seat and the fact that he was ready to hand it over just like that… "You go ahead, I want to work on something."

He craned his neck to see what was inside the box she held at her hip. "Working on another lightsaber?"

"For Ben."

To his credit, he kept the disgust from his face, nodding and holding out his hands, offering to carry the box the rest of the way to the Falcon. She was already loaded down with her pack full of belongings, so she graciously took the help.

"How are you feeling about this?" she asked as they walked.

"It'll be strange to see home again, with Mom and Dad gone," his voice had taken on an uncharacteristic softness. "I haven't seen the old place in years."

Rey squeezed his shoulder before they parted ways. He returned the box and headed to the cockpit and she moved toward the main cabin.

Rose, Finn, and Chewie were already inside the Falcon with Chewie goading them into another game of Dejarik. Rey wondered fleetingly if Ben and Chewie used to play together. She added that to the ever-growing list of things she wanted to do with him, cheeks warming as she thought about the other thing that was now number one on that list.

Every touch, every conversation, every moment they could spend together, these were what she was fighting for. Rey wouldn't let herself forget that as she strapped herself in for the jump to lightspeed.


She'd moved to the co-pilot's seat to watch their approach and now sat mesmerized by the endless expanse of green treetops spread out before them. This was not the fresh, sprightly jungle of Ajan Kloss. This forest was aged, imbued with an ancient wisdom, like the trees here seemed to possess the knowledge of nature itself. The Force was alive with this heavy awareness. They'd moved from one jungle to another, but this one couldn't be more different.

Poe was leaning forward slightly in his seat, scanning the horizon eagerly. She felt the pulse of Finn in the Force now, excitement for a new journey, content surrounded by friends. Chewie and Rose leaned in the doorway of the cockpit to look out, too.

And a tug on the Force introduced the missing member of their party.

"Hello, Ben," she said. Announcing him to the rest of the team.

Finn, who was sitting behind Poe, had already turned to lock eyes on him, as Ben had slowly appeared behind where Rey sat.

All four of her friends gave polite, if not tense, greetings as their eyes darted around the cabin uneasily.

Ben's reply was no less stiff, uttering a very forced, hello.

For her though, his greeting was much the opposite. He gently rested his hands on her shoulders, running them over her taut muscles in a gesture of intimate acknowledgement, as he simultaneously sent a wave of relief down the Bond. She reached up, placing her palms on his hands and squeezed gently.

Your pull on me was much stronger when you arrived here. It didn't take me long to find you.

"Maybe there's something to this Uneti Tree after all," she said, trying to hope, despite the unsettled feeling they'd shared this morning.

Poe maneuvered toward an area where the forest had been cleared. A small expanse of open fields, dotted with animal pens and modest stone dwellings – a village by the looks of it. Poe looked wistful as he pulled the controls, urging the Falcon toward the far side of the village.

"I'm sure there's another family here by now, and I don't want to cause a scene. I'm going to set her down in the clearing way out back, then we can walk to the Tree."

They touched down without incident, and Rey stood, lacing her fingers with Ben's.

She didn't miss the way his eyes lingered on every panel as they passed, every closet and hidden compartment. She half expected him to start rifling through a drawer to find something he'd stowed away.

"It should be yours," she said, whispering so the others wouldn't hear.

He actually winced in response to her observation. I don't deserve it. The pilot seems to be handling it just fine.

Rey thought of the lightspeed skipping and decided not to tell Ben. He didn't need another reason to avoid talking to Poe.

"You know, if you called them by their names, it might help break the ice a bit," she teased, elbowing him playfully.

A grunt was his only reply as they followed behind the group.

They approached a small clearing, which was surrounded by the towering jungle canopy on all sides. These trees framing the space seemed to lean in, their branches reaching to shield the precious treasure at the center of the open field. The Great Tree. But the Uneti tree, with its twisting bark, ribbons of browns and golds coiling the length of its trunk, and large, fan-shaped leaves seemed less a tree and more… well, Rey wasn't sure. But if a tree could appear at once regal and sensible, this tree did.

The Force hummed loud in her ears, buzzing along her skin, and she saw Finn snatch a glance in their direction. He felt it too. This tree was alive.

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Chapter Text

The leaves of the Great Tree hissed in the breeze, seeming to shiver with anticipation as the group approached. Poe, Rose, Finn, and Chewie stopped short of the massive trunk, staring reverently at the sprawling branches overhead, allowing Rey and Ben to lead the way.

Something was happening with the Bond now, it was expanding and contracting, keeping a steady rhythm as though it had developed a pulse. The throbbing beat pounded loud in Rey's ears, strengthened as they neared the base of the tree, blocking out the twittering forest creatures and the soft swish of her friends' feet through the grass. Ben swallowed, squeezing her hand protectively as he approached the trunk with his free hand extended, palm out.

Rey echoed Ben's gesture, reminded so much of her experience in the cave at the heart of Ahch-To, when she'd reached out to touch the mirror.

As soon as her hand rested on the sacred bark, she was falling. The vision pulled her down, leaving her stomach behind in a dizzying lurch of gravity.

"Rey!" The terror in Ben's voice gripped her wholly, like a set of binders clasped around her heart.

"Ben!"

She couldn't see him, she couldn't see anything. It was dark here, completely black like the vacuum of space, but she could sense him.

Barely.

Only a thread of the Bond remained. The realization of the sheer weakness of their connection sent her crashing to her knees. With the crushing weight of absolute emptiness stooping her back and shoulders, she searched for him, feeling in the dark on hands and knees, calling for him until her voice was raw with the effort for what felt like hours. Days.

There was no time in this place.

Then, with a bone-jarring snap, the last thread connecting her to Ben Solo was ripped away and she was falling again. Falling forever into a void of grief. The nothingness of it was indescribable, the pressure of it against her consciousness was too much to fight, like the gravity of a black hole. She lay there, immersed in a silent ocean of nonexistence wishing for something, for anything. Wishing for it to end. Wishing to die.

Then a voice she didn't recognize, cool and robotic, broke through the void and she clung to it the way someone would cling to a hand if they were drowning. You can still save him. Meet me here and I will show you.

A face emerged from the shadows, the man with the prosthetic jaw and the facial tattoos, the one from her vision. "Where?" she demanded. "Meet you where?"

You will know, Rey Palpatine, when the time comes.

And she was falling now, through oblivion, barreling through the universe, flailing for purchase against something to slow her fall. She slid through empty space until her body struck the cool earth with a thud, eyes jarred open by the fall, staring up at the tangled branches of the Great Tree.

She struggled to regain her breath after it had been pounded from her lungs.

Rose, Finn, Poe and Chewie were standing above her, repeating her name over and over, their voices colored in varying shades of panic.

Rose helped her up by an elbow and when the world spun, Rey steadied herself with a palm on the grass and surveyed their concerned faces.

"Where's Ben?" she asked.

A muscle in Finn's jaw twitched. "He disappeared as soon as you touched the tree."

"How long was I… uh, gone?"

"You passed out at least two hours ago, Rey." Rose rubbed nervously at an eyebrow. "We were so worried."

Two hours. It took her several seconds to process how long that was through the fog clouding her thoughts.

Two hours? Maybe they were right, the sun was hanging very low on the horizon now. But Two hours?

"I have to try to find him," Rey said, pushing herself to stand.

She managed only a few steps before stumbling, unsure why she kept falling, only that her knees didn't seem to be working properly.

Poe was there, slinging her arm over his shoulder and steadying her at the waist. "Easy, Rey."

Chewie growled a simultaneous admonishment.

Finn spoke next, his voice muted. "There's something dark in there Rey. It showed me a place." He swallowed, darting glances anywhere but at her. "You were there, you looked… different."

"I saw something, too," she said, voice trembling, "that's why we have to find him."

"You can't help him like this," Finn said, gesturing to her weakened body. "I say we go back to the Falcon and rest a bit. We can try again tomorrow. The sun is setting."

"No," she said shaking her head.

"We are not risking our necks to do something stupid," Poe said. "Now, lets get back –"

"No!" she said, pushing Poe's help away. "I am going to find him!"

She staggered again, this time the world spun so violently she ended up on her knees. What was going on?

She closed her eyes, reaching deeply for the Bond, that golden light of their connection. It was there, maimed perhaps by the intensity of that vision, but she could still feel that he was… somewhere.

It was only a small relief though, after what she had just seen. The Sith had taunted her with the need to save Ben and he'd asked her to meet him there. Did he mean the World Between Worlds?

Ben had said their connection was stronger here on Yavin IV. Maybe it would be easier to see him here? Maybe if she focused on the Bond instead of what the Tree wanted to show her, she could see him in the In-Between.

So she did, concentrating with everything she had on pulling Ben to her. Again and again she reached out through the Force until sweat beaded on her forehead. Why wasn't it working?

"What are you doing, Rey?" Finn warned. "Just relax."

It wasn't enough to focus on the Bond alone, then.

That was stupid.

If Ben's connection to her was stronger here, then it was The Great Tree's link to the World Between Worlds that would help her see Ben. She had to focus on Ben and the Tree. She had to focus on both. Rey was standing on wobbly legs in an instant, pressing her palm against the bark again, this time grasping with all of her strength onto Ben Solo's Force signature.

"Rey stop!"

Down the endless black tunnel again, but this time she didn't fall long. An instant later, she was standing in that place of geometric lines and crossing paths, watching the solid outline of Ben Solo as he approached a shadowy figure. The reality of what she was seeing struck her a moment later. No ghostly blue outline, Ben was solid in this place.

"Let me pass," Ben said, voice as threatening as she'd ever heard it.

The laugh that came in response sent gooseflesh spreading across her skin. It was that same metallic voice coming through that prosthetic jaw's voice modulator.

The owner of the voice stepped forward, his muscular build visible through a red suit of ribbed fabric. A black cloak clung to his shoulders and his cape fluttered behind him in an eerie breeze that she couldn't feel on her skin. He was not as tall as Ben, but close to it, and he stared with shrewd grey eyes at Ben.

"Kylo Ren," the man said.

"Kylo Ren is dead," Ben responded flatly.

"Hmmm, so he is. Too bad. He could have been unstoppable." The man squinted his eyes and looked Ben up and down. "And you, Solo?" He snorted derisively. "Well, it's a good thing you brought your other half. She at least, has some potential."

Rey stepped forward from the shadows, toward the unknown Sith, taking her place at Ben's side.

"Speak of the devil," the man said, voice a musical drone.

"Who are you?" Rey demanded.

He ignored the question, igniting his lightsaber with a flick of his thumb and stepped forward into an aggressive stance.

"The Force has chosen you then. I recognize that little connection between you," he twisted the word in revulsion. "And I will break it." Then, he turned his gaze to Rey. "I will break you just as I broke Bastila Shan and you will offer the power of your Dyad to the Sith."

"Darth Malak," Ben breathed, and suddenly, Rey was very aware of the blood pounding in her ears. This was same Darth Malak from the legend Ben had told her of Bastila and Revan? How was this possible?

"You failed," Ben continued. "You failed almost four thousand years ago. Bastila went back to the light and you were killed."

"And I've had almost four thousand years to think about how to remedy my shortcomings," his eyes were a predator's locked on its prey.

"If you're here, you're trapped," Ben said. "We can just let you rot here."

"You mistake this place," he spat. "The World Between Worlds is simply another plane of existence. I am as alive as you. Trapped, yes. But alive."

"That's impossible. The Sith were destroyed," Rey said.

Malak's lip twitched in morbid excitement. "When Shreev Palpatine drained some of the power of your Dyad and was destroyed, the spirits of the Sith were finally released into this plane. We grow stronger every day, ever closer to breaking through into the physical realm. Even now what remains of the Sith Eternal are working to restore our former glory. The fact that you are here, Solo was a pleasant turn of events. You are trapped with us, too it seems."

"No," Rey said, flicking on her own lightsaber and taking a step forward.

He leveled his gaze at her. "Palpatine's bloodline lives. Therefore, you will complete the cycle, fulfill the prophesy of your Dyad and restore power to the Sith." He said it as though he were stating a simple fact.

It was Rey's turn to laugh. Nothing sounded more preposterous than the idea of her giving up her connection to Ben to turn to the dark side.

"You think yourself above me? Such arrogance." Malak turned to look behind him where a dozen shadows played eerily in the darkness. "What then… would you say to all of them?"

A line of shrouded faces was revealed one by one. She recognized the ghostly figure with the half-mask from her vision, next to him a bald, muscular human with Sith eye tattoos, a Zabrak with vicious rows of horns and piercing yellow eyes, a Twi'lek woman with red and black patterned lekku, and several more lurking further in shadows. As one, the Sith ignited their sabers, casting a red glow over their faces, illuminating a dozen twisted smiles dripping with darkness.

Malak twirled his own crimson saber with a threatening flourish, eyes flashing to Ben. She felt Ben's pull on the Force, a powerful, jarring rip of energy, both dark and light, that he sent crashing into the Sith. The wave of energy was so all-consuming, she was pulled forward by the aftershock.

But Malak only smiled as all of the Sith raised their palms as one to deflect the blow.

"Is that all you have? And not even a lightsaber?" he teased. "You've become more impotent than I thought."

Blaster fire issued from somewhere behind her and Malak watched, unconcerned as the bolt passed right through his body. Rey turned in time to see Finn's blaster clatter uselessly to the ground. She never realized he was there.

Rey was running at Malak before she had a chance to think, charging with everything she had to keep his attention away from Finn, away from Ben. She leaped, pulling at the Force to propel the swing of her lightsaber, slicing vertically in a vicious downward arc.

The saber passed right through him and she landed awkwardly, rolling her ankle, seeing a bright flash all across her vision as fire tore up her leg. She stumbled, attempting to correct her balance and, favoring her injured leg, she stood to face him again.

That laugh rang out, everywhere in her mind and in this strange half-place.

"I told you, Rey Palpatine, weren't you listening? You must meet me here. Pass through completely into the World Between Worlds. The Tree is only a looking glass. You are unreachable to me, and I to you… for now."

Dread had already begun gnawing at her insides, but when Malak turned a threatening eye on Ben, terror swallowed her whole. "But for your other half, I'm sorry to say, we can destroy him without a second thought."

Malak took several slow, menacing steps toward Ben, lightsaber buzzing ominously in his hand. The dark figures lurking behind did the same.

Then, moving as one, the Sith raised collective hands, lifting Ben by the throat and leaving his feet dangling grotesquely a foot from the floor. Ben groped for the invisible hand at his neck, but there was nothing to grip. She watched him close his eyes, sensed his focus on the Force, and she tried something. She sent a surge of energy straight down the Bond and a second later, he unleashed a Force push so fierce, Malak and three of the Sith in its path were swept away like scrap in a sandstorm.

Unfortunately, the countless remaining Sith maintained their holds.

Rey was already leaping toward them when she heard Finn scream her name. "Rey no!"

She propelled herself skyward in a Force-fueled push, this time slashing recklessly at the line of Sith as she landed. Her saber passed through their bodies, unable to reach any of them physically in this place. She gritted her teeth, anticipating an excruciating landing. She'd tried to come down with most of her weight on her good leg, but even so, an electric shock of pain ripped through her. Tears burned behind her eyes, and as she watched Ben's lips turn a sickening blue, it was as though Malak had taken her heart in his fist and twisted.

Ben was mere steps away from her, but they were separated by an entire dimension of existence. Panic morphed into that familiar white-hot rage, clouding her vision as heat and energy swelled in her fingertips.

"So close to your edge, Rey Palpatine," Malak crooned, having found his feet again after Ben's attack. "Perhaps this was why the Jedi forbade attachments."

Just as she felt Ben's grip on consciousness slipping, Malak flicked his wrist and the line of Sith followed suit, releasing their hold and sending Ben's body crumpling to the ground.

"Don't worry, it's not his life we want. It's the power of your Dyad. Give it to us and you may both live. I may even let him pass through this plane to join you again."

The Bond surged with pain, fear, desperation – whose she couldn't tell, but his gasping breaths at least told her he was alive.

Knowing that Ben was sorely outmatched and out of options, Rey closed her eyes, focusing on their link and attempted to pass her lightsaber to him as she had on Exegol. He responded, their thoughts melding as one, focused on the weapon. But it didn't move, as though mired in invisible quicksand, she felt him pulling but it wouldn't budge. This wasn't working, she was not able to interact at all in this In Between, not even through the Bond.

Ben was stuck in this World Between Worlds.

He had no weapon and no way to fight through to escape the In-Between, not with these Sith blocking his path. But she knew what the Sith wanted now. They wanted the power of the Dyad and could only have it if she and Ben were both in the World Between Worlds together.

Their only choice was to run. And their only advantage was their Bond.

Focus back on the tree. It was as if they'd both had the same thought at the same time and shecentered her concentration on the physical world. She imagined their palms against the bark of the tree, feeling the tether between herself and Ben, imagining his solid form, his hand in hers. And as she felt herself pull away, she yelled a warning for Finn.

"Focus on the tree, Finn."

Blackness wound around her, ripping at her clothes, twisting at her hair until she stood panting with her palm pressed to the Great Tree. Her vision swam, but through the rocking of the earth under her feet she saw Finn appear nearby, moonlight illuminating his silhouette.

Ben's hand materialized solid in hers and she collapsed to her knees.

One great sob came out in a hiccup and she clutched Ben's robes in her free hand as he stood before her. She didn't miss how he clung to her other hand as though it was his anchor to this place. She wasn't sure she could stand, her ankle throbbed with agonizing heat, but Ben steadied her, helping her find her balance. She wasn't sure she could put any weight on her foot, but she didn't need to worry. Ben's arm was wrapped tight around her waist now, keeping her upright.

She placed a shaking hand against his chest, convincing herself that he was solid, that he was really there under her fingertips. Ben didn't take his eyes off her as he brushed his thumb across her cheek to dry a streaking tear.

"This can't be happening," Finn was saying from behind her, "How can we fight all of that?"

Somewhere in the background of her screaming emotions, she heard Finn explaining to the others what had happened, her friends' eager questions coming in rapid fire.

But the Bond was demanding her attention at the moment, and she found herself unable to focus on anything but Ben. Angry red streaks that would most certainly be bruises cut across his neck. She extended a trembling hand, running her fingers through the hair around his ear, tracing gently down his jaw and to his lips. Memories of those lips, twisted into a grimace and lined in the blue shades of suffocation, pounded at her emotional walls. Something wrenched out of place inside of her when he'd been dangled like that before her. A realization of just how far she might go to keep from seeing him hurt.

Her first vision given to her by the Great Tree was put into stark focus. The blackness, the void… that was how she imagined her world without Ben. Malak's words from that first vision twisted through her thoughts. You can still save him. Meet me here and I will show you.

And she knew she would. She would travel to the World Between Worlds to meet the Sith. She would find a way. Not to join them, but to destroy them.

Rey.

Ben was gazing at her. Yavin's moons reflected in his eyes, highlighting the welling tears glistening at their corners. Worry creased his brow as he leaned forward, pressing his forehead to hers.

"Ben."

With their names, they spoke a thousand words. The Bond had pulled him out of that place and now it sang in victory. The Bond was alive. That golden thread connecting them was vibrating with energy and relief, chanting a chorus of need and belonging that she'd only ever felt with him.

He nudged her chin up with his thumb, his gaze gentling as his eyes roamed over her face, settling at her mouth. His fingers laced into her hair and her lips parted with a sharp intake of breath as he pulled her into his kiss. She felt her walls shatter completely in that moment. Those mental shields she'd tried so hard to maintain, crumbled under the weight of her feelings for Ben. With every movement of his lips, every caress of his fingers against her skin, he stripped away her defenses until she shared everything.

With their bodies molded in a perfect embrace it became clear that she was in much deeper than she ever thought she could be. And she didn't care if he knew.

He gasped, pulling away just long enough to give her a look of complete disbelief before his arms encircled her fully and he buried himself in their kiss again. In that moment, she felt him slowly draw back the veil he'd used to shroud his own innermost thoughts. She shuddered at the complete coupling of their minds, realizing with awe just how wholly she was bound to this man.

She didn't realize how much effort it had taken to keep him at a distance until she was completely open to him. She never knew how much more the Bond could give them if they surrendered wholly to it. But now their connection hummed a chorus of feelings, pure power radiating all around them, as though the Force itself agreed with this new level of intimacy between them and had granted them a gift. She felt his emotions, his desires now as her own. His fear was hers, his pain, his regret. And when he groaned softly against her mouth, causing immediate heat to bloom at the very core of her, she knew, her body was his, too.

This was the strength of their Bond. The potential of a Dyad in the Force.

And she would never let that Bond be broken.

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Chapter Text

 

Rey had almost forgotten the others were there, she was so wrapped up in Ben's kiss and the power of their entwined Force buzzing in the night air.

But when Poe raised his voice from the far side of the tree, his tone thick with sarcasm, she realized her friends were all gaping at her with varying levels of disgust and fascination on their faces. "So, uh… either Rey is suddenly the most inappropriate mime in the galaxy, or I take it she found Ben."

"Mime? What?" Finn wrinkled his brows, his expression just visible under the light of Yavin's moons. "Wait, you still can't see him?"

Rey pulled away from Ben's embrace, breathless and warm everywhere. She hungered for more of him, but a sinking feeling had settled into the pit of her stomach with her friends' words.

"Should I be able to?" Poe asked.

"He looks completely solid to me now," Finn said, shaking his head in confusion. "I thought he was actually here."

"I still can't see him, either," said Rose.

Chewie growled his agreement.

Rey reached up, brushing her fingertips along Ben's jaw. "But, I see you as solid as I see them," she whispered, her elation dampening into cold dread.

Fear threatened now, like the point of that Sith dagger pressed against the skin of her breastbone.

He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. The Bond is stronger.

"Then why can't they see you?"

What you see is still a projection. I'm still… there. In the In-Between.

His words plunged the dagger into her heart and twisted.

He reacted immediately to her emotions, sending soothing warmth down the Bond. Rey. Nothing has changed. I still want… I still feel… He grunted in frustration as he grappled for words. The Force has given us this gift. At least I can move around in the World Between Worlds, and we're away from them.

"But for how long?" She didn't want to be yelling at him, but the fear was gripping her completely, squeezing the words out at twice her intended volume.

Ben didn't flinch. He was running comforting fingers along her arm.

But Rey's heart was thrashing an angry rhythm against her ribcage now. Her fingers tingled with it, the power of her rage, and with the rushing torrent of her fury beginning to carry her away, she pounded a fist against his chest and screamed. "You heard Malak! They won't let you leave!"

Waves of comfort lapped against her chaotic thoughts as his Force, his energy, cradled her protectively. He was trying to help her control her fear. We'll find a way.

And before she could argue back, his strong arms were wrapped around her, holding her to his chest.

"You feel so real," she said, voice choked with emotion.

If our Bond can do this, can make me so solid here, then who knows what else we are capable of? He took her face between his hands, and the hope she saw in his eyes burned away the icy fear in her veins. Force Rey, when you sent that energy to me through the Bond, and I could wield it, he shook his head in disbelief. There's still so much we don't know about the power of our connection.

"But if you're still in the World Between Worlds, won't they find you?"

We know if they do, they won't hurt me. They don't want me. They want us. They need the power of the Dyad.

She wanted to hope, but with the disappointment and fading adrenaline, came the return of the throbbing pain of her ankle. Stars, she needed some pain meds, maybe there was some numbspray back on the Falcon.

"I just thought…" she sighed. "It felt so good to think we'd actually had a victory."

I'd say this is a victory, wouldn't you? And after seeing the life drain from him at the hands of the Sith, maybe he was right. Even if this was just a projection, it was a kriffing beautiful one. Solid, just as she remembered him from Exegol.

He didn't give her a chance to answer before he captured her mouth again and she softened, instinctively drawing closer. When he deepened the kiss, demanding more, she yielded to him, willingly helpless in his arms. She was surprised by her desire to surrender everything to him, to let him control her. Had she ever dreamed she would trust anyone enough to make her feel this way?

She heard Rose's voice from the other side of the tree. "Do you guys think there's a tavern or something at that little colony we passed? Want to go get something warm to eat?" Rey didn't miss the commanding tone in her voice. Bless her, Rose was trying to give them some privacy.

"Yeah, there is. We'll just… uh. See you back at the Falcon."

"Yeah," Finn agreed.

"This is not getting any less weird," she heard Poe mumble as their footsteps receded into the night.

The stars peaked through the Great Tree's canopy and she gazed up at them. Ben's eyes followed hers and he held her close, silently watching the galaxy move around them, feeling the Force between them, reveling in the deep connection to each other and the overwhelming life all around.

Where would you want to go? When this is over.

"I don't care where I go, just who I'm with."

His eyes found hers and they were wrapped in each other all over again. His hands found their way under her tunic, exploring the curve of her hips. His touch was the only thing that could make her forget what she'd seen today, and Maker did she want to forget. Around her waist, up her sides, her back, his warm fingers kneaded her bare flesh. A half-strangled moan escaped her lips as she realized what a strange feeling this was, to have Ben so close, but to still be longing for him.

I… Ben's voice was obviously strained, but evened out a bit as he spoke. I want to be with you, Rey. But I've never, I mean… I don't want it to be while I'm still there.

She growled her frustration at that. "Then just touch me." She shifted her weight to be closer to him, forgetting about her ankle. She sucked a breath through clenched teeth as a shock of pain up screamed up her leg.

Without a word, Ben whisked her off her feet, holding her to his chest and carried her away.

She squeaked. "What are you doing?"

He didn't slow down. In fact, he was picking up speed. With his long strides, they'd be back to the Falcon in minutes. Well, you need something for that foot. And we can't exactly do, well do this properly out here.

"Why not?"

I don't know. I just thought…

He held her close to his chest, and she felt overwhelmingly protected. In her years on Jakku, she'd never needed protecting, having earned her survival minute by minute with her own two hands. But she found that she didn't mind letting Ben care for her. It felt good.

She looked up at him, and her breath caught. The slightest blue-green glow framed his face. "Ben. You're fading."

His brows furrowed in thought and he looked down at her and back at the Tree. His expression slackened with the same dawning realization she was having.

"The Tree," she whispered.

Let's do a little experiment.

He corrected his course, turning back toward the Tree again.

Several paces later, there was a notable difference. "It's working," she said, noticing the glow beginning to disappear as he slowly became more solid.

I suppose it makes sense. He had the look of a scientist now, puzzling out a problem with her. The Tree serves as a way to view the World Between Worlds. And when you're near it, it strengthens your connection to me in the In-Between.

"So… we'll just never leave this spot."

The roguish half-smile he gifted her in that moment was the most sensual thing she'd ever seen in her life, though she supposed she didn't have much in the way of that kind of experience. Still, it heated her instantly and she was ready to have him wherever.

You need to stop looking at me like that.

"Or what."

Or I'll never be able to stop touching you.

"Would that be so bad?"

His need rippled across the Bond, and she shivered as she let the sensation wash over her.

I wanted to get you something for your ankle, he insisted, now gritting his teeth as he tried to focus.

"It's fine. Just, lay me down at the base of the tree over there."

Oh stars. Lay her down. What was she asking? Were they really going to…

Rey, he said. I, this. I mean… He swallowed hard and was looking anywhere but at her.

Even with the Bond still completely open, practically screaming how much he wanted her, he was still adorably shy about speaking these innermost thoughts.

"Ben. I want to. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but right now, you are solid and I want to touch you."

He did as she asked, laying her down gently in the soft grass at the base of the tree.

It's just, I can't believe you feel the same way.

"Please, you can sense my every desire," she said, feeling her lips turn up into a smile.

He sat down in the grass beside her, eyes turned up to the stars in thought. I almost kissed you in that elevator. He brought his gaze back down to her to study her reaction.

"I know," she said.

I would have, if I knew I could have hidden those feelings from Snoke.

"I wonder if it would have changed things." She remembered the electricity she'd felt in that moment, and every moment they'd been together since then.

Please, he said, eyebrow raised. One kiss and you would have been begging to join the First Order.

She laughed and pulled herself closer, resting her head in his lap. So much had changed so quickly. From enemies, to this. Either way, the connection had been there, but she much preferred this to fighting.

Rey looked out at the edge of the forest. The leaves were tipped in moonlight, swishing in the breeze and she had to admit, there was something magical about green places. There was just so much life.

You were so infernally stubborn. A year of Force connections and a year of you ignoring me completely. It killed me a little more every day.

"You know why I couldn't talk to you."

He was silent for a moment, thinking, his lips pressing together as his thoughts churned in his mind, feelings bleeding down the Bond. So many times I wanted to walk away from it. To come find you. But I always told myself it was too late. I'd done too many wrongs for too long. Then when I felt mother… The rest of his sentence was lost in the swirling torrent of his emotions. She felt them like a rushing river down their connection as he confided in her. I saw my dad. Just a memory, but he looked so solid.

"He would be proud of what you've done, what you are going to do," she said.

I don't deserve this. You. Any of it. The sharp edge to his voice wrenched a bit at her heart. He was still so broken.

"You get a lifetime to prove that you do."

He gave a sad smile, taking a lock of her hair that had fallen from its tie and twisting it around his finger.

You are the only reason I'm still here.

"And you are the only reason I'm still here. I nearly fell… to the Emperor," she said, wanting him to see that even the pull to the darkness was something she could understand. "That loneliness, that fear was so overpowering, the idea that I could strike him down was…"

You had no other choice.

"Until you gave me one," she said, reaching for his hand and lacing her fingers through his.

She would never forget that moment. The relief, the pure joy of seeing Ben Solo through the Force Bond for the first time. That precious instant when she realized Kylo Ren was gone and it was Ben who had appeared to show her another way.

"And you had no other choice," she said. "Until you found another way."

Ben lay back then, gathering her in his arms to lie side by side, pulling her head onto his chest to gaze up through the canopy together. Insects buzzed and glowflies hovered overhead, blinking their conversations to each other in the night.

With Rey's body curled comfortably next to his, it was easy to imagine a life after this. A life where she wasn't alone.

You'll never be alone again. I promise.

And they were kissing. Tangled in each other, the tangy scent of grass mingling with the intoxicating smell of him. The sounds of the night melded with his breathy gasps as, all the while, the Bond lay open, their souls bared for one another.

He rolled her over onto her back, cradling her head in his hand and kissed her fiercely. His need was obvious, pressing against her hip now as he grazed kisses down her neck. She fisted her hands in his hair as his mouth found the tender skin of her collarbone.

His hand pulled at her belt, finding its way under her tunic, caressing her exposed navel, her hips, her waist. He stilled, and she sensed his hesitation. She helped him along, pulling her tunic over her head and freeing herself from the layers of fabric.

In the moonlight, his gaze seemed reverent, his eyes paying homage to every inch of her exposed skin. Oh, but this wasn't fair. He had so many layers on and she was bare besides her breastband and pants.

She gave him a look from underneath her lashes that she suspected might ease his nerves before reaching to help pull off his outer robe. He shrugged it off, tossing it aside in a gesture that made her toes curl. Oh stars, this was taking too long.

His fingers worked at his belt and he slid it off as she fumbled for his overtunic. He pulled this off revealing one more frustrating layer which she helped him shed, and finally Rey found herself marveling at the perfection that was Ben's muscular body. She remembered the first time she'd seen him bare chested, feeling instant attraction despite wishing he would just cover himself up. She flushed at the memory and the realness of him before her now.

She was biting her lip as he lowered himself down to her.

He hummed a contented sound in her ear as their skin finally pressed together, warm and smooth. Her hands worked of their own accord, stroking his shoulders, his back, and fueled by his raw desire practically screaming down the bond, she moved them lower.

He sucked in a breath as her hands found the perfectly sculpted muscles at his rear and she pulled him onto her, centering him to gather his delicious weight on top of her, just there where she needed him.

The guttural sound he made in response turned her insides into a quivering mess of need and he kissed her again. Only, this kiss was different. This kiss was a year's worth of desire unleashed. This kiss was his tongue showing her just what it could do to her body.

Her heart was a fluttering thing in her chest now as tingles erupted across her skin. She needed him to touch her. Everywhere.

His tentative fingers reached for the edge of her breastband, searching, fumbling. Rey found the corner of the wrap, pulling it free and placing it in his trembling hand. His breath was shallow now as he unwrapped the band of cloth with agonizing caution. Finally, unbound and exposed to the cool night air she ached for him to touch her. She saw his lips press together, worrying the way they did when he was contemplating a problem.

His tentative care as a lover would have been endearing, had it not been for the fire now raging fully between her legs.

She grabbed his hands and pulled them to her, hissing a breath through clenched teeth as his hands cupped her breasts and started moving, rubbing, caressing. Oh Maker, his fingers grazed the curve of her breast and she was melting.

Rey didn't know the details of how everything worked, but what she did know was that she needed his hands everywhere.

"Ben." She hardly recognized her voice it was so rough with need. "Touch me."

She saw his unspoken confusion in the knit of his brows.

I am -

She reached for his hand, abruptly cutting him off, and guided it under the waistband of her pants.

Ben, Maker bless him, didn't hesitate much longer despite his wide-eyed expression. He shifted some of his weight to his elbow and pushed his hand to that raging center of her heat. She felt him harden against her leg, pressing himself closer.

His breath was hot in her ear, voice ragged. Rey, are you sure this –

"Yes," she hissed. "Please."

He exhaled softly, pressing kisses to the shell of her ear, sending a shiver through her and his hand was so close. So excruciatingly close and she could feel how wet she was for him. Kriff.

He drifted closer, feeling, stroking, but he wasn't there yet. She took his hand, guiding his fingers to part her folds and showed him just where to touch her. When his fingers grazed perfectly against the center of her, she couldn't help but rock her hips to meet his hand as he worked up a delicious rhythm.

Ben was propped on an elbow now, kissing at her neck, and his fingers, slick with her desire, were now getting bolder. When he slowly slipped one finger inside of her, she nearly came undone, bucking and pressing herself harder against his hand.

She felt a deep rumbling in his chest. He'd actually chuckled a little at that.

"Alright hotshot…" She intended it to be a rebuke, but was undermined by the breathiness in her voice.

There was no way she was going to let him give her all the pleasure. She would find a way to make him beg for her. She had no idea how he liked to be touched, but the Bond itself was crying out with his desire and she was sure when she had it right, she'd know.

So she adjusted her position just enough to reach him, gathered her courage, and slipped her own hand underneath his waistband and around his length. She swallowed hard, trying to focus on him despite the waves of pleasure threatening to drown her.

His skin was impossibly smooth, silken in her calloused hands. She caressed him, moved her hand against him, trying to find what he liked best, and when he groaned, she didn't need the Bond to tell her that he liked it this way.

Then, as if moving to some ancient instinctual dance, they fell into the rhythm of their hands. Eyes closed, she focused on just feeling. The brush of his lips, the heat of his skin, the stroke of his fingers.

He was thrusting into her hand now, his own ministrations becoming more clumsy between her legs, and she knew he must be close. She found his mouth again, biting his lip and teasing it with her tongue. As she felt his rhythm quicken, she tried to match him, kissing him hard as he began to tense. He moaned into her mouth as his release came hot against her palm.

His heart pounded so hard in his chest, she felt it against hers as he nuzzled closer to her, his panting breaths tickling her neck. As he came back to himself, his hand's exploration resumed with dizzying intensity. Now he'd found where to put the heel of his palm to deliver a light pressure she could rock against. Oh stars, she was close. Her body was meeting the glide of his finger and he got the beautiful idea to add a second digit. She whimpered as he took her closer to that edge. He was watching her writhe and moan underneath him as each caress of his hand wound that sweltering knot inside of her tighter and tighter.

Her entire being became the rhythm of his fingers.

More her body begged. More, more, more and with one last stroke of his fingers, the knot in the core of herself dissolved into liquid fire, melting into a puddle of blissful sensation and she rode those waves for what felt like eternity, trembling as she clutched his muscular arms.

When she stopped shaking, he slowly extricated himself from her underclothes and sank heavily down upon her.

She relished his crushing weight as they lay there in the grass, hearts pressed together, panting and bare from the waist up.

Stars, he was heavy. But she felt so safe, sheltered there underneath him, she didn't dare to move. Even when her arm went numb, she tried to ignore it. Finally, he must have felt her squirm a bit below him, because he sighed dreamily, rolling over onto his back. He gathered her into his arms and pressed a tender kiss to the top of her head.

That was not exactly how I imagined that would go. A flash of embarrassment down the Bond came with his next words. I've just wanted you for so long.

She pressed a finger to his lips. "It was perfect," she said, smiling. "Though I imagined less laughing," she said with a smirk.

I'm sorry - he began, but she shushed him before he could finish.

"I said, you were perfect," she assured him. Then, stretching languorously in his arms, she realized she hadn't even thought of the pain in her ankle. "Way better than pain meds or numbspray."

He rumbled another low chuckle. That's not very reassuring.

But she didn't need to use reassuring words to tell him how she felt. The poignant truth of it was already flowing between them through their connection. She burrowed into that soft space between his neck and shoulder and inhaled deeply, letting his scent wash over her, relaxing into his tender touch as he ran his fingers through her hair.

With the Bond blindingly bright and the intensity of his Force wrapped around her, there was no denying what she felt. Their bodies were built for each other and Rey would ensure that she had many more chances to explore how they fit together.

Chapter Text

Rey lay cradled in Ben's arms talking late into the night. They gazed together at Yavin's moons, one pale pink, one pale blue, mesmerized by the slow arc of their orbits overhead. She wondered how many millions of years they'd been chasing each other through the sky. How many lovers through the ages had fixed their eyes on these moons as they had done tonight?

As the glowing spheres traversed the skies, she learned of Ben's favorite foods, his hobbies before the First Order, and his adventures at Luke's academy, all of which he conveyed with the dramatic zest of a true storyteller.

She would rather have just listened to him, but he insisted she tell about her days on Jakku, about the first time she could remember using the Force, and about the year spent training with his mother. Rey would have stayed with him all night, and it seemed the Force would allow them this gift, until she started to shiver. Mist was beading on the grass, and her clothes were damp with it now. Gooseflesh prickled on her arms and Ben ran gentle fingers over the raised bumps.

How's your ankle? he asked.

"About the same," she admitted.

I may have to carry you back.

Unless… he said, sitting up and knitting his brows as he regarded her injured foot. Then, his contemplative look broke into a thin smile and kneeling beside her, he placed his hand on her ankle and closed his eyes. His chest expanded with a deep breath and the dull ache in her foot slowly drained away into nothing, the balm of his Force knitting her torn muscles back together.

He exhaled, lifting his eyes to hers. I don't know why I didn't think to try that hours ago.

She wiggled her ankle , finding that it complied easily.

On second thought, he offered her that lopsided smirk that turned her insides to jelly. Maybe I wasn't thinking quite as clearly a few hours ago.

"That makes two of us," she said.

Let's get back to the Falcon, he said, his voice a command not a suggestion.

"And what if I said I wasn't ready yet?" she said, raising her eyebrows in mock-indignation.

Shadows played across his face as moonlight shone down between the fluttering leaves overhead. Then I might say I don't care if you're ready or not.

"It seems that our Supreme Leader got a little too used to getting his way all the time."

His brows hardened, dark eyes carved in a stony glare. I have ways of making you obey, he said, and before she knew what he'd done, her wrists were pinned into the grass over her head, Force flowing around him, dark and passionate. Was he using the Dark Side? Oh stars, her heart was already hammering in anticipation as he straddled her, easily overpowering her halfhearted attempts to escape him.

She closed her eyes, letting the cool caress of his Darkness trail across her skin, vibrating through the Force in a way she didn't realize was physically possible. He bent to trail hot kisses from her collarbone up her neck, sighing against her ear as he bit down gently on her earlobe and grazed his tongue along the curve of her ear.

The shiver that tore through her then had nothing to do with the cold. The steely energy of his Force binding her wrists, the size of him as he knelt over her, the playful expression he wore as he raised his eyes to hers. Kriff, she was ready for him all over again.

Then, all at once Ben Solo released his Force hold on her and winked. He actually winked at her, and if her insides were jelly already, this was enough to make her want to push him back down into the grass and absolutely ravage him, freezing cold or not.

He sucked in a breath and his eyes went wide as he felt her desire through the Bond. Then a slow, satisfied smile unfurled across his lips.

"Don't you get cocky now, Ben Solo, or Maker help me, I will find a way to block you out of my thoughts," she said.

But they both knew that was an empty threat and he attempted to stifle a laugh with the back of his hand.

"Besides," she began, trying to sound convincing. "I'm not sure the Jedi would condone such uses of the Force." But her thundering pulse was a dead giveaway that she didn't really care too much for what the ancient Jedi thought.

Good thing they're not here to give their opinions. He pressed a warm kiss to the back of her hand, letting his lips linger against her knuckles as he sent a light touch of Force up her arm.

She couldn't hide the tremor it sent through her body.

As much as I'd like to finish this, your skin is like ice and… if you please, he pulled away now, and by his tone, it was obvious he was trying really hard to behave, if you please, would you accompany me back to the Falcon?

Then he stood and offered a chivalrous bow along with his outstretched hand. She gave him an unsightly pout before reluctantly taking his hand and letting him help her to her feet.

"I suppose that would be acceptable. Thank you for asking," she added with a barbed tone on the last word.

What she didn't say was that she'd much rather freeze to death if that meant he would just wrap her in that tight grip of passionate Force and do whatever it seemed like he was about to do to her. The thought warmed her from the inside out and she found that her shivers were gone. She could only hope he hadn't been listening too close to her thoughts as she found her discarded lightsaber in the grass and clipped it back to her belt.

Ben shrugged off his outer cloak as they began to walk and wrapped it tenderly around her shoulders. It was way too large and the hem dragged behind her, catching on the patches of longer grass and shrubs in the clearing. She hardly noticed, far too busy marveling at the way his arm fit so well around her shoulders as they walked together through the misty night back to the ship.


They returned to find the others were already asleep. Poe, Finn, and Chewie had taken one triple bunk, and Rose was in the other cabin in the top bunk lightly snoring.

As Rey stood staring at the empty bunks below Rose, contemplating her next move, she realized perhaps she should have thought this out better beforehand. It would be awkward to lie with Ben in the same room as her friend. That was if Ben even wanted to share a bed. Maybe she presumed too much. Maybe he preferred to sleep alone. Maybe he was forced to sleep in the World Between Worlds. Did he even need to sleep at all?

She avoided his gaze as she chewed her lip.

Let's go to the bunk behind the lounge seat.

Relieved, she grabbed the backpack she'd stowed in the bottom bunk and followed Ben to the Dejarik table in the main living space. He looked down at her, reading her expression and drew back a bit, pressing his lips together. Unless, I mean… He raked a nervous hand through his hair. If you prefer to sleep alone. 

Oh stars, now she'd made him nervous. "No!, No, I don't want to." Her voice came out a bit louder than she'd intended, she adjusted her volume and continued. "I don't want to sleep alone, I mean. I just didn't want to assume this is what you wanted."

His shoulders relaxed and that twinkling mischief had returned to his eyes. There will never be a time I'd choose to be away from you. You're stuck with me now, sweetheart.

He reached a hand to her face, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips. Peace and contentment were the chorus down the Bond and she couldn't help but smile against his lips. She felt him smiling too, before he drew back from their kiss, and pressed his forehead against hers.

He gazed at her, his eyes filled with a boyish eagerness that was beyond endearing. This still doesn't feel real. I can't believe this is us.

"Us," she repeated. "I like the sound of that."

She offered her most heartfelt smile, before she turned to rifle through her backpack, pulling out the only shirt she'd brought to sleep in.

His eyes shone with such adoration, that any embarrassment about what she'd thought was a childish attachment to his shirt vanished.

However, that embarrassing problem was quickly replaced with a new one. Where to change. Should she just change in front of him? He'd already seen and touched every part of her. Did that mean she should just go ahead and strip down? Oh stars, now her cheeks were hot, and she was probably redder than a salakberry.

Without saying a word, Ben turned away from her modestly, allowing her to strip off her damp clothes in privacy. She slipped his oversized shirt on, along with a fresh set of underthings and clambered over the lounge seat and into the bunk.

Ben followed, climbing in clumsily behind her. He was so comically large for the space, he had to fold himself against her to fit all the way.

Rey had never slept in this bunk before, preferring the privacy of the actual crew quarters.

This used to be my favorite place to sleep, he said.

Rey closed her eyes, focusing on the overwhelming comfort of that moment, nestled against his chest, finally warm, feeling his voice reverberate against her body as much as hearing it in her ears. They couldn't close the door on me here, so I could listen to everything going on.

She felt him shift slightly under her and she opened her heavy eyes to investigate. He'd raised a hand, tracing something along the low ceiling of the bunk.

Lettering.

Sweeping black strokes of a pen against the yellowing cast-plast ceiling. It was a beautiful composition of symmetry and grace, lines of perfect parallel construction, flaring tails and runaway curls adding a dramatic elegance to each word.

"There is no emotion, there is peace.

There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.

There is no passion, there is serenity.

There is no chaos, there is harmony.

There is no death, there is the Force."

The Bond writhed uncomfortably, twisting with a guilty ache. And she understood.

"The Jedi code," she whispered. "Ben, did you do this?"

Yes.

When he didn't offer more, she urged him with a gentle voice. "Tell me about it?"

Their connection stirred in an eddying stream of emotion and he took his time to answer. I was fifteen. I'd already been training with Luke for several years and… Dad, he said, his voice catching on the word, had picked me up to visit with my mother.

The mention of his parents amplified the ache of shame twining across their connection. She felt him reach for calm, pulling a bit of her warm energy to help him balance the dark feelings creeping into his Force.

He glanced at her briefly, to ensure this wasn't a violation of some sort. But Rey was happy to give Ben anything, so long as he just kept talking to her. She lifted her head from his chest long enough to let him see her smile and clutched him tighter to encourage him to continue.

Even then, I knew I would fail to be the Jedi they all wanted me to be.

Rey could imagine a young Ben, trying so hard to live up to impossible expectations, lying alone and scared in this very bunk. The image tore at her heart and she reached out to run her fingers through his hair. She willed her hands to communicate the depth of her growing affection for him as she knew her words would never manage.

He squeezed her a little tighter.

When Ben finally spoke again, his voice was brittle, on the verge of shattering. Now I realize, I hardly had a chance. Palpatine had been whispering thoughts into my mind since I can remember.

"I'm so sorry." And she didn't know what else to say. A deep, black sorrow had entrenched itself across their Bond and she willingly shared the burden. Ben's chest heaved a little underneath her head and she thought he might be crying. She felt the pinpricks of tears beginning behind her own eyes as she imagined Ben as a child, hearing that voice as he tried to play ball with his Uncle Chewie or blocking out dark, twisted images as he sat on his Dad's lap to steer the Falcon.

His breathing was uneven now and she turned to look at him then. In the dim light, she could see the tears glistening in his eyes. His lips were drawn up into a tight, trembling frown and she could see his body was fighting the tears, as they probably had for so many years.

Ben Solo had never even learned to cry properly.

She wanted to tell him it was okay. That she understood. She wanted to hold him as he broke, crying the tears that he couldn't for so long. She wanted him to know that he could tell her anything. But as the silence stretched on, she just waited. Eventually, the rise and fall of his chest became more regular and he spoke again.

I took up calligraphy. It gave me an outlet, and a way to make solid, the teachings of the Jedi. I hoped if I just repeated the words enough that I could rid myself of the passion, the chaos, the Darkness.

"An impossible standard," she said, thinking back to some of her most private fears while training with Leia. Rey had tried to rid herself of those same feelings, but they were always there, lurking like a loth-cat ready to pounce. "What if the Jedi had it wrong? What if passion and emotion can coexist with peace and harmony?"

Luke would have said 'that's the Dark Side talking.'

"Master Luke himself admitted he was wrong about a few things," she said.

Yes, he was.

Another surge of indescribable heartbreak shot straight down the Bond and she felt it as if it were her own. Betrayal.

"Oh Ben," she said, reaching a finger to trace the letters spelling out the impossible ideals hanging over both of their heads.

They stared up at the words on the ceiling, and Rey tried to focus on the beauty of the script, appreciating the graceful hands of their creator as she laced her own fingers through his.

"I read something in one of the texts that struck me. Did you ever read the Grey Jedi Code?"

Yes.

And Ben went on to recite the code as easily as one would recite the galactic alphabet.

"Flowing through all, there is balance.

There is no peace without a passion to create.

There is no passion without peace to guide.

Knowledge blinds without the strength to act.

Power blinds without the serenity to see.

There is freedom in life.

There is purpose in death.

The Force is all things and I am the Force."

The dark and light. Balance. It made her think of the mosaic in the pool on Ahch-To. The image of a Jedi in meditation, created from tilework of white and black, juxtaposed in harmonious balance. Why then, were the Jedi so afraid of emotion and attachment, of passion and power?

It made so much sense to me, Ben said. But Luke became upset that I'd taken the time to memorize such a thing. These ideas were dangerous, and he forbade me to speak of them again.

"If the Force is in constant balance, why shouldn't the Jedi be?"

Ben positioned her hand over his heart and covered it with his. And though he didn't speak the words, she understood his meaningHe was thanking her for understanding him, for accepting him as the Bond between them shone as bright and warm as Jakku's midday sun. She sighed contentedly, finding a way to burrow even closer against him.

"Goodnight Ben," she said.

Goodnight.

And with their thoughts and bodies fully intertwined, she relaxed into his arms, listening to his steady breathing, letting it lull her into a place of complete tranquility. Her eyes eventually fell closed and she drifted off, safer and more at peace than she'd ever slept before.


Rey woke to the sound of muffled talking from down the corridor. She could have sworn Ben's voice was one of them.

She crawled out of the bunk, noting the lightsaber parts scattered across the Dejarik table, before she hastily dressed for the day. She followed the corridor, past the crew quarters and down the hallway. It was here in the open passageway that she found Ben standing squarely across from Finn.

Finn's knuckles were white, wrapped tight around Rey's lightsaber which was raised in a defensive position over one shoulder. The plasma blade's buzz echoed loudly in passageway as he stared hard at Ben.

Rey's heart lodged in her throat as her mind, still foggy from sleep, started to piece the scene together.

You're clumsier than a Bantha in a china shop, Ben said, laughing smugly.

Finn readjusted his grip on the saber. "Shut-up."

Rey rushed past Ben and put her hand out. "Finn, stop!" she yelled.

He froze, brows wrinkled in confusion. Ben shared the same look, then glancing back and forth between the two of them, he quirked a half-smile.

"Good morning," Ben said, his easy expression at odds with the situation he found himself in.

She divided a look between the two of them and Finn flicked the saber off.

"Rey, it's okay," Finn explained. "This arrogant Hutt-spawn was just showing me a few things."

All at once, she felt it. A third Force signature in the room. One that she'd only ever felt as a tiny glimmer, never like this before. Realization was slow to dawn on her, but when it did, she still wasn't quite ready to believe it. "Wait," she said, leveling her gaze at Ben. "You were training him?"

Finn responded through clenched teeth. "I saw him working on his lightsaber this morning, and he couldn't help but run his mouth."

Okay, so Finn wasn't exactly happy about this. But either way, this was happening. She continued to stare open-mouthed as Finn pushed down the blast-shield on his helmet, completely blocking his vision, and reignited her lightsaber. This was a training exercise, she realized. He was talking tough, but the truth of it was, Finn was letting Ben teach him.

Ben gave a three count before he resumed hurling small pieces of scrap from Rey's bucket of ruined saber parts at Finn for him to try to block with the saber.

An old powercell made its way through Finn's defense and struck him squarely on the shoulder.

"Ow, kriffing sithspit!" Finn rubbed his shoulder with his free hand, continuing the string of expletives under his breath. "This is pointless." He reached to pull the helmet off, but Ben stepped forward to catch his hand.

Rey tensed, expecting this to escalate to the place she'd been dreading, but Ben's voice was actually calm, encouraging even.

One more time, he said. Shut down your conscious senses. Use your instincts.

Finn took a deep breath, and this time, she felt his energy brush against hers as he reached out through the Force, saber at the ready. Ben pulled another scrap from his bucket and threw it squarely at Finn, except this time, he cut through it, sending the two halves clattering against the durasteel compartment doors below him.

Finn pulled the helmet off in one smooth motion, his smile shining even brighter than her saber.

"That was amazing, I could really see the path of your throw," Finn said.

Maybe you're not so hopeless after all.

Finn gave a narrow-eyed look of irritation at Ben, before softening as he turned to smile at Rey. "Everyone else is in the cockpit."

Rey nodded and started in that direction, elbowing Ben in the side as she passed, whispering into his ear. "You are going to have to tell me how that all got started."

He gave an innocent shrug before clasping her hand and following Finn.

In the cockpit, they came upon a heated conversation already in progress. Chewie was standing, rumbling a forceful suggestion to Poe. "Maz needs reinforcements? Then we go to her!"

"It's not that easy," Poe was arguing. "She's sent word of a Star Destroyer hanging around nearby. The one confirmed from the Sith Fleet."

"The Derriphan?" Rose asked, eyes going wide. "Near here?"

"She thinks so," Poe said. "Which means -"

"That ship has death star tech," Rey interrupted.

Dread hung heavy in the air and Finn's voice was dull and toneless under the weight of it. "That's the ship that destroyed Kijimi."

An alarm blared loudly over the Falcon's comm. In seconds, Rose was bent over the panel, stabbing at the communication controls. She pulled a headset over her ear and the expression that crossed her face was darker than the shadow of the Derriphan itself.

"We've got company," she said.

Chapter Text

"Stupid." Poe was mumbling to himself as he toggled a switch to illuminate the main sensor array and began the progression to fire up the engines. "So Maker-damned stupid. I should have realized they'd be watching this ship."

Or watching me, Rey thought. A cold chill scuttled down her spine as she recalled the feeling of dark eyes following her, stalking her across the galaxy from the In-Between. The Sith. You can still save him. Meet me here and I will show you, Malak had said. It had been so easy to fall into Ben's arms and forget, but life had always been a cruel teacher and now she was paying for her complacency.

Rey took the co-pilot's chair, punching in the launch sequences to speed up their take-off as Chewie growled a question from behind her.

"No," Rose answered, hands balled into nervous fists, "the grids are still misaligned." She fished into one deep pocket, coming up with a spanner she'd obviously been keeping handy for the job, and scrambled toward the maintenance crawlway to finish her tweaks on the fore deflector shields.

"Ben's here too," Rey said, making the announcement in case she had to translate for her friends who couldn't hear him.

"Great, what a wonderful opportunity for him," Poe said, engaging the repulsorlift drive. "Not everyone gets a chance to die twice."

The ship shuddered to life, sending Chewie, Finn, and Ben who weren't seated, sidestepping to starboard as the Falcon listed uncontrollably.

That's why you give the repulsorlift drive at least twenty seconds to warm up! Ben was leaning over the back of the pilot's seat, complaining at full volume despite the pilot's inability to hear him.

"I don't think we have twenty seconds," Rey answered.

Chewie growled something about having tried to warn Poe a thousand times before.

"What?" Poe yelled. "I'm getting half a conversation here. I don't speak ghost, remember?" But he was distracted by another alert coming through the comm.

She doesn't handle as well if you don't give her the twenty count, Ben said, holding tight to the back of the captain's chair. Those drives need time, otherwise she'll handle like a wet noodle.

"You aren't missing much," Finn said, cupping his hand to direct his speech to Poe, "Flyboy here is delusional, trying to give the best pilot in the galaxy advice about flying."

Best pilot in the galaxy? Ben gave Finn a sharp sidelong glance before grudgingly settling into the seat behind Poe with a huff.

"Get to the gun well." Poe gestured to Finn with one hand, and pulled at the control yoke with the other, maneuvering through the trees to stay low, glancing nervously at the sky. As if on cue, the unmistakable whine of a TIE's twin ion engine announced what they'd been dreading. "Hurry!" he added, though he didn't need to. Finn's boots were already pounding hard as he sprinted to the gunner's position.

Chewie strapped in behind Rey and Ben did the same behind Poe. The ship teetered to starboard again before Poe was able to correct, evening out over the canopy.

I told you, Ben mumbled under his breath.

The jungle was veiled in a thick morning mist as if the trees themselves clung to it for protection. Poe slid the Falcon into a wide arc to cut right through it, seeking cover from the heavy enemy presence to the west displayed on the sensor array. Unfortunately, as they cleared the edge of a vine-covered cliff, and Poe eased off the grips to even them out, three TIEs they hadn't detected streamed in from the east.

A red-orange indicator blinked to life on the console in front of Rey, alerting her that Finn had activated the ventral cannon. She slipped on a headset to communicate with him, just as a fourth ship roared by.

Poe snapped an order through his headset, "Tell Rose to get on the other gun!"

She could just hear Finn's voice over the engines, echoing down the hall as he yelled for Rose to take up the dorsal cannon.

Rey reached out with her feelings, trying to get a sense for how many ships there were.

"There, at ten o'clock." Rey jabbed a finger toward two more ships coming in.

Poe rotated the control grips and pitched the Falcon's nose upward into a backwards roll, leaving her stomach behind. This put Finn's gun in range and he fired, missing by a hair's breadth.

Ben jammed on his headset. I take back what I said earlier. You are hopeless.

"Who asked you?" Finn snapped. But Rey didn't miss the gentle ripple in the Force as Finn stretched out with his feelings before he sent another round of fire at an incoming TIE. This time, red bolts cut across the ship's wing, sending it careening into the trees before it erupted into a fiery mass.

Rey gripped the edge of her seat to keep from sliding out, as Poe maneuvered low, circling back to keep away from the village and setting them up for another shot.

A hollow fear settled in her chest as she sensed the approach of more ships.

There's too many of them, Ben said flatly.

"We need to get out of here, Poe," Rey said, "There are more incoming."

"Gladly," Poe adjusted his grip on the controls and the Falcon bucked like an angry Fathier, as he pushed hard on the throttle.

Rey aimed a blistering glare in his direction. "And no lightspeed skipping this time."

"No promises," he said, white-knuckling the controls, barely dodging a mossy grove of thick-trunked ironwood trees.

What? He was skippingBen looked absolutely scandalized by this exchange, running agitated hands through his hair as he forced himself back into his seat.

Unfortunately, their quick escape path was already blocked by more incoming fighters, including some approaching overhead which had already begun laying a blanket of laser fire in their direction. The ship lurched as it was struck along the dorsal shields.

Why aren't you using the SubLight Acceleration Motor? Ben was practically screaming at Poe now, desperately looking at Rey to translate.

"He's asking why you don't use the SubLight Acceleration Motor?" Rey repeated.

"The what?" Poe asked, slamming forward on the throttle to avoid hitting another TIE that had somehow entered their airspace not a hundred meters ahead.

Canon fire thundered against the ship's shields and Ben raised his voice even louder to be heard over the roar of engines and weapons. To draw backup power from the systems we're not using!

Rey hammered the controls to bolster the Falcon's aft shields as the TIEs passed, raining more fire from overhead.

Ben was standing now, leaning around the pilot's seat, stretching a long arm toward the instrument panel. He pulled on several levers, deactivating the lighting, circulation, and hyperdrive systems before pressing another unrecognizable sequence. This last adjustment sent a staggering surge of power through the thrust pressure manifold and they barreled ahead at a speed she was sure the Falcon hadn't seen for a long while.

At that moment, Ben grabbed one side of the control yoke, seemingly out of pure instinct, using all the extra thrust to steer around the web of TIEs who hadn't expected the sudden acceleration.

"What the hell?" Poe yelled, taking the controls back and elbowing the air, trying to move an invisible body out of his sacred piloting zone. "You are not the captain here!"

Ben gritted his teeth in frustration but was still working at the controls. As he bent over the console again, it became clear that he was occupying some of the same space as Poe. Rey was finding it difficult to grasp the physics of this interaction, but she didn't have time to puzzle it out now. Alerts screamed from every panel in discordant wails, competing for which one could be the most obnoxious. She wished for BB-8's built-in fire extinguishers as she saw smoke alarms triggered near the ion flux stabilizer.

Before she even had to ask, Chewie was unstrapping himself and headed down the corridor.

Checking the viewport, she saw that Ben had managed to lose the half-dozen or so ships that had cut them off. She watched Poe from the corner of her eye as he exhaled, eyes narrowed at the controls in reluctant deliberation.

The calm didn't last long. Two new TIEs circled in tight formation ahead, engines howling and cannons already unleashing their full fire power directly at the front of the ship. She could only hope that Rose was finished with those last tweaks on the fore deflector shields, as she flicked a switch to divert more of their defenses up front.

Red bolts from the ventral cannon managed to clip one fighter, but it continued on course along with its partner in formation.

Back in the pilot's chair, there was a different battle being waged. A battle of wills. And Ben was not relenting. Poe could only watch, exasperated as switches were activated and controls were tweaked right under his nose. As the TIEs came around for a second pass, Ben pulled back hard on the throttle, flipping an auxiliary switch to funnel power to the sublight drive, and the Falcon spun with gut-wrenching finesse, putting them at a better angle to pursue the fighters.

Poe leaned back off the controls, mouth hanging slightly open. The Falcon had gone from prey to predator in a single fluid motion.

Rey smiled to herself as they screamed past the stunned fighters and slipped through a narrow opening in the forest before lining up a shot for Rose, who had finally activated the dorsal gun.

Rey couldn't see the shot, but she heard Rose's whoop of victory through her earpiece.

Finn's voice confirmed the hit. "Nice one."

With this last maneuver, Poe had now slid out of the pilot's seat completely, his hard stare thawing into an almost reverent gaze as he appreciated Ben's ease with the Falcon's touchy controls. Ben didn't hesitate to take his chance, stretching out to claim the captain's chair like the birthright it was. With eyes sharp and hands drifting deftly from yoke to grip to throttle, he worked the Falcon like an artist works clay. He was sculpting something beautiful, creating a synergy with the machine that she'd never seen, not since Han himself had been at the controls, and even then, she wasn't sure the famed Han Solo could have pulled off a maneuver like that.

She watched in silent admiration as Ben effortlessly bypassed systems to fuel extra thrusts of the engines when needed. She felt the Falcon's easy roll as he coordinated perfectly timed pushes of the foot pedals to control the yaw. She was overwhelmed by his pull on the Force, wave after wave of powerful sensation buzzed through her, as he used everything he had to feel for the best openings, to time his movements.

TIE pilots who dared to match his speed slammed into tree trunks, cliffsides, and each other. Those that didn't wreck were baited into the perfect position for Finn and Rose. And in the span of a few minutes, Ben had somehow managed to either lose or destroy an entire squadron of fighters.

Rey's adrenaline began to subside, replaced by a liquid warmth bubbling up inside of her as she gazed at Ben. She became suspended in the gravity of this moment, the weight of a dawning awareness as she realized...

Ben Solo was made for that captain's chair.

With his eyes focused out the viewport, his hands gripping the controls, and his heart fighting for something he truly believed in, he was home. He'd been lost for so long, but here… this was where he was always meant to be, at the helm of his father's ship.

And she could watch him like this forever.

He was a beautiful sight, and lost so deep in concentration, he didn't notice her eyes drinking him in. Brows furrowed, jaw clenched, and muscles taut with the exhilaration of flight, the intensity of his physical presence so close had her thinking of other things. Her chest tightened, breathless, her stomach lurched and not from the barrel rolls, as she studiously followed his every motion - his hands fisting tight on the throttle, palms curling around the handgrips, lithe fingers sliding deftly over the switches and levers.

Stars, he could have been touching her with the way she burned for him now. Swallowing hard, she adjusted herself awkwardly in her seat in an attempt to relieve some of the pressure building there. How he managed this without even looking at her...

She wasn't sure how long Poe had been yelling at her when she finally registered his voice nearby. "Rey!" he repeated, growing louder now. "Rey! Oh for Kriff's sake, Rey!"

She shook herself from her stupor, cheeks blazing with heat as she tried to attend to the new alarms buzzing all over the console.

"Sorry, sorry," she mumbled, avoiding Poe's questioning gaze at all costs. She buried herself in the action of flipping switches to quiet the alarms and patched through a waiting communication from the Free Worlds Fleet.

"Get out of there!" It was Maz Kanata's voice and it carried an urgency it rarely held.

Working on it, Ben responded, half under his breath as they barreled toward freedom with not a TIE in sight.

"Was that - ?" And Rey could hear the smile in Maz's voice, even from behind the staticky Falcon's comm system.

"Don't tell me," Poe said, shaking his head. "You can hear him, too?"

"As clearly as I hear you, General," Maz answered. "And you'll need all the help you can get if you're to meet us on Corellia. And hurry up about it, BB-8 has been a pain, I think he misses you already."

"You sure that's wise? Meeting on Corellia?" Poe asked, "We'd definitely be coming in hot."

"We need you here, the crew you sent uncovered a splinter group of Sith Loyalists. The Acolytes of the Beyond, Vader supporters since the Battle of Endor," she said. "We think they've got something to do with this re-organization of the remaining Sith and First Order fleets."

"They're there?!" Rey's adrenaline was back in an instant. Could these Acolytes be the remnant of the Sith Eternal that Malak had warned about? She wondered if freeing Ben from the World Between Worlds could be as simple as destroying these Sith Loyalists. "You found them?"

"Just a small subset of their operation, but it's a start," Maz said. "Now get out of there. There may be more than one Star Destroyer headed your way."

"Wonderful," Poe said.

"Just get clear and I'll send you coordinates. And Ben Solo?" Maz asked, pausing long enough for Rey to wonder if her signal had been lost.

Yes?  Ben finally responded and Rey had to wonder if Maz was just testing his reaction to his given name.

"I believe that ship belongs to you, now. Your father would have wanted you to have it."

Rey watched as a dozen expressions seemed to chase across Ben's face and she felt each one directly through the Bond. A wince - shock, then he was chewing his lip - guilt, after a moment, his brows finally relaxed and he was able to respond.

Thank you, he said. But I don't think I've earned it yet.

"You'd better get to work then, Solo," she responded, followed by dead air indicating she'd cut the connection.

Ben's throat bobbed in a hard swallow and he was leaning forward, checking the scanners, and plotting the best course away from Yavin IV.

Rey had no doubt that Ben would work for the rest of his days trying to convince himself he deserved his parents' legacy. The thought was both heart wrenching and heart warming all at once.

"TIEs coming in again," Poe warned, pointing to the sensor array.

I see them.

"Does he see them?" Poe asked Rey. She'd almost forgotten he couldn't hear Ben. A pilot who couldn't communicate with his crew. This was going to be a problem.

Ben circled back toward the village which the scanners indicated was still clear of enemy ships. And as the Falcon dipped low to circle around, Rey took one last look at the sprawling branches of the Great Tree below before Ben lifted the Falcon's nose toward what was clear sky a moment ago.

But now, the shadow of a second Star Destroyer hung menacingly in the blue sky.

Poe slammed a hand against the back of the pilot's seat in frustration. "Where the hell did that come from?!"

Just came out of hyperspace.

Rey translated.

Ben pulled on the controls yet again, adjusting his path out of the atmosphere.

An impossible crash, like a thousand thunderclaps all at once erupted from the surface of Yavin IV. Rey peered through the viewport, eyes widening to take in the pillar of smoke and flame boiling up from the grassy clearing where the Great Tree had been. A geyser of red and orange spouted up from the earth, cycling through the colors again and again, red, orange, red, orange, as the cloud of flame grew. Then, finally reaching its apex, the color gave way to the dull hues of smoke and ash.

The aftershock of the explosion reached the Falcon a moment later, punishing the ship with shuddering heat and Ben…

Ben should have been seizing the controls to even them out. Ben would have handled it easily, with a twist of his palm and a rock of the throttle.

But the pilot's seat was empty.

The Falcon listed dangerously, succumbing to the shock of the blast.

"What's he doing?" Poe was screaming.

"What's going on up there?" came Finn's simultaneous demand through the earpiece.

"He's gone!" Rey said, reaching to steady the controls, desperate to stay focused on their escape and not the pain of Ben's abrupt disappearance and the complete silencing of the Bond.

Poe was scrambling over the pilot's seat, taking control again, tugging at the control yoke to smooth them out. TIEs screamed closer again, but Ben's head start had given them a chance, and Poe kept them speeding toward the safety of space.

Rey snuck a look down at the village and the clearing, knowing what she would find, but needing to see it anyway.

She put a hand to her mouth, not just to stifle her anguished cry, but to try to push back the dark emotions welling up inside of her. Where the Great Uneti Tree once stood, lay a smoking crater, and what was left of the sacred tree was now raining down over Poe's village as ash.