He was trapped somewhere, lingering in between the light and the dark. All around him the force pushed and pulled, waves over his body. He didn't think he was breathing, but his heart was beating. It thundered in his ears, throbbed behind his eyes. Body aching, he grit his teeth and tried to twist to his feet. But the space was strange, and he could find no solid purchase.
Eyes sealed shut, he began to panic. Hands on his back, small but firm, held him down. From their fingertips pulsed a calming energy, and his muscles fell slack. Something like sleep overtook him, though it was thicker and less natural. Where sleep was clean and soothed the mind, this stupor led him to unpleasant places. Old memories.
He had forgotten who he was, until he heard a familiar voice through the blackness.
“Ben.” It was gruff, careless, yet behind those things lurked affection.
An image began to take shape before him, a scenario about to unfold. Ben ? That was right, Ben. His name was Ben Solo.
...But who was Ben Solo?
His hands were very small, still chubby with youth, gripping the controls of a ship. He heard himself laugh, as though he were a simple voyeur upon the moment. Then he was laughing, real, bubbly little laughs that a child would make. He felt warm, happy. Why were those things so foreign?
“Come on, now.” The voice said, and rough hands lifted the boy out of the pilots chair. Calloused and warm, Han Solo hoisted his son onto his hip, “How’d you even get in here?”
Dark eyes glanced nervously around the cockpit. Ben giggled again, his vocabulary wasn’t developed enough to explain. But Ben raised his hands with pride anyways. It was easy to open and close things with his hands, even heavy hatches like that on the belly of the freighter.
Han quirked a brow at his son, then smiled like he smiled for no one else. Ben smiled back.
“Come on, kid.” The smuggler ducked out of the cockpit, Ben held tight to him, “Your mom is waiting on us. Dinnertime.”
Ben stuck his tongue out. Dinner meant vegetables. He didn’t like vegetables.
Mom ? He thought, once more finding himself disjointed from the scene unfolding. He was being carried by Han Solo, but also he was a silent spectator to a father and son. They looked… he didn’t know. Something inside him ached when he tried to think too deeply on it.
So he watched and was the boy, Ben Solo, who was being carried by Han Solo to Mom .
Who is she? Who am I? What is this place? He wanted to ask these things, but the lips of a child had not the ability to voice them.
Han Solo carried him out of the Falcon— the name of the ship came to him unbidden— and out onto a field of rolling grass. The blades were knee high in some places and speckled with little white wildflowers. Ben’s tiny hand reached for them, but his arms were too short.
The corner of his father’s mouth quirked, and he knelt, jostling his son but never letting go. In a large, oil stained hand he gathered a tiny bouquet of blooms, then passed them to his son.
Where are we that flowers grow? Ben wanted to ask, but the boy howling with joy, only chomped down on the petals. The cries of amusement morphed into cries of terror as he quickly discovered their bitterness. Ben tasted them too, and winced.
Han laughed as the boy sputtered and spat and wiped at his tongue.
He wheezed, but his grip on his child never wavered. The sun caught in his hair and eyes, revealing the golden highlights behind their shadow as he laughed. There were the beginnings of crows feet wrinkling at the corners of those gentle eyes, and Ben felt a pang of sourceless guilt. Then something else, affection. Maybe love.
“Oh kid— I— that was good .” He ruffled his son’s hair, even in the light of the setting sun it was black as jet. The boy pouted. Ben Solo, who both was the boy and was not, looked on confusedly.
Surely this place was not real. The child was him, and the man was his father, but he didn’t recognize them. It stirred no sense of nostalgia to see these flowers, the verdant fields, the sparkling lakes. The pair were moving steadily towards a small manor, now. It was made from white stone, quarried from some for off planet, no doubt. A droid was sweeping the porch, a servant wiping the panes of glass which comprised a set of grand bay doors.
Looking back, Ben saw the fields, and the Falcon and those lakes that could not be real. In the distance was the glitter of something else entirely, a city. The highest spires of Hanna city.
Capital of Chandrila.
Like the Millenium Falcon , it rang familiar.
“What’re you looking at, Ben?” Han called his attention back to the manor and all its splendor.
The child Ben offered as best an answer he could, “Da city.”
This seemed to satisfy his father, who opened the door carefully so as not to bother the servant.
“Leia!” Han called out, voice echoing through the polished stone and finished wood of the house. Ben blinked at the splendor; tapestries and fine dishes set back in cupboards. There were ancient, steel weapons on display above a great, cold hearth. Many of them were of a similar style.
Alderaan. Another nudge.
Wherever Alderaan was, these things were collected from it. What did this Leia—
She came cascading down the stairs in a day gown of silk and cashmere. Swaths of light green fabric intermingled with those of creme and gold. Her hair was done up in a bun, wrapped in a spiralling braid. Lips painted red. Wide, brown eyes lined to make them shine. Leia Organa.
Mom. This he knew, somewhere deep within himself he knew who this woman was. To look at her so young, vibrant and beautiful made him ache in a way he did not understand. He wanted to touch her, to ask her questions that he himself did not know. He wanted to cry.
She smiled at him and he could only liken it to the stars on a cloudless night. He could have become lost in that smile.
“Ben, baby, where’d you run off to?” She skipped over, despite the strappy shoes she wore. She was very short compared to dad, eye level with Ben. She pinched his cheek lightly, scowling when she found a flower petal on her fingertip.
Han shrugged, “Somehow he made it all the way into the falcon. Must’ve picked some flowers on the way.”
Sighing, she seemed to accept the explanation well enough, “Please get him ready quickly, our transport will be here any minute. I can’t be late to this dinner, the ambassador would have my head.”
“Yes ma’am,” Han gave a mock bow and started for the stairs. Child Ben reached for his mother, whimpering for her.
Just as they rounded a bend, Ben though he saw a flash of fear in Leia Organa’s eyes.
Then the memory fell into place, like the corner piece of a sprawling puzzle from which a greater image might be constructed.
My mother and father .
The scene faded. Ben Solo stirred, grappling to return to that moment. He had been happy there, and though he did not know why, he knew he needed to find such happiness again. It had been rendered from him somehow, ripped away with such cruelty that he was now in this dark place once more. A place of echoes and blindness. In the distance, all around him, he heard muffled voices and muted sounds. The space between his body and their countless sources could be inches or eons, space and time commingled so perplexingly here.
The blackness around him was thick. Viscous with a thousand thoughts and dreams all combining nonsensically. He still could not open his eyes. He wanted his happy dream back. He wanted little Ben held steady on Han’s hip. He wanted his mother; to see her vibrant in silks and satins.
No. A different voice. Not here, not now. Ben Solo, you must move forward, that is where your destiny lies. These are only memories, you must not linger in them longer than this place permits.
“Why?” Ben croaked; his voice was hoarse, his throat raw. The sound echoed around him, weakening until it was nothing more than a quiet addition to the ceaseless din of voices and sounds.
To linger is to remain .
Why shouldn’t he remain? He only wanted to be happy, he only wanted belonging.
Forage ahead. Only there will you find answers. The voice beckoned softly, and he thought of Leia Organa again.
His body ached all over; a deep, painful throb. A reminder of something perhaps. But he could not remember, he did not know. Ben shifted onto his side, eyes open now, but unseeing.
It wasn’t like he had a choice. He was scattered in whatever this place was; like those little petals on the wind. Chewed and spat and swirling injured and endless. Whoever Ben Solo was, whatever had unfolded to bring him to this place, he would need to uncover it to be free.
Tatooine, for all its mirage and searing sun, often fell cold once it’s twin stars sank below the horizon. Rey watched them from the doorway of her hut. It was old, sculpted from red earth into a small dome. Concerning cracks twisted around its foundations, but it wasn’t a permanent abode, so she didn’t bother with maintenance.
There was no fresher, no kitchen. Only a basin of water— hard won in such a barren place— and a small cooktop where she made simple meals of portions.
Hearing the distant cry of a raider, she slunk inside, sniffing at the dust which always permeated the air.
Today she had made the hour long journey to Mos Eisley for supplies. All gathered through force trickery. A wave of her hand and she had a loaf of bread, a suggestion and she had a full water pouch. Perhaps it was cruel to take from those just scraping by, but she was a Jedi, and the Force had called her here for a higher purpose. Credits didn’t apply to her.
Outside she could hear some sorry scavenger poking about. It didn’t worry her. The locals had learned well during her previous stays not to touch her things. Her x-wing would be safe. And if for some reason it wasn’t, she could acquire another easily. Perhaps she was too blazé in her brandishing of her powers, but as she saw it the Force was stringing her along endlessly. One place to the next. Her supplies were dwindling, and she had to keep herself alive somehow.
Huffing, she undid her buns and hunched towards the side of her hut. She could only stand at full height near the center of the dome, which may have been an issue if she didn’t spend most of her time wandering the wastes… or sleeping.
Already the sight of her cot was tantalizing. It was small, creaked whenever she turned, and covered in a thin blanket that made her itch; but what it offered far outweighed its insufficiencies.
Shaking her head, she turned to the tiny cooktop, hastily throwing together some portions to pick at. She wasn’t really hungry, hadn’t been in a long time. Since Palpatine. A whole year living on scraps. It was only when she returned to visit her ex-Resistance cohorts that she was made aware of how ghastly she looked. All skin and bones, her eyes sunken and underlined with dark half-circles. So Rey tried to eat, but she never managed much.
Tonight was the same. A few bites and she was through. The meal was unappetizing to begin with, gritty and bland. Canning it, she shuffled to her water basin, where she splashed her face and glanced herself in the mirror above. It was coated in a fine layer of red-orange dust which Rey cleared away with her hand.
She still looked too thin. Thinner than she had ever been on Jakku, but the circles were mostly gone. A marked improvement in her eyes; perhaps when she next returned to the galactic core her friends wouldn’t hound her so relentlessly.
Turning to her bed, she smiled weakly to herself. Despite the discomfort of her accommodations it was the highlight of her day, to lay her head down at night. No matter where she was in the galaxy she never minded the discomfort, and she had been to many places in the past year.
The first time the Force led her to Tatooine, when she buried the Skywalker sabers, she had tried to stay in the remnants of the Lars homestead. It had felt all wrong. She had felt the ghosts that lingered there and, despite her assumed title, they had caused great disquiet in her. So she had fled to here.
Crawling under the blanket, she used her arm as a makeshift pillow. Fibers scratched uncomfortably at her skin, some mornings she even woke up with a faint rash of irritation. She didn’t care, none of it mattered.
Rey shut her eyes and breathed. Sleep came easy.
So did he.
This was the only place she could find him, in her dreams. Here some of the trauma bled away, the pain of watching Ben Solo fade into nothing before her eyes, lips still tinglingly from their kiss. The dyad that they were forever shattered. Here, the guilt could be laid aside for a moment, and the wound his loss had left in her being throbbed less insistantly.
Adrift on the waves of slumber, he appeared before her. Their surroundings were unclear, a swirl of greens and reds and oranges. Facing away from her, Rey appreciated the breadth of his shoulders, how the tight black shirt he wore clung to the musculature of his back. Once, she might have learned that form more intimately.
“Ben.” She called out to his ghost. Every night that he came to her they danced this same dance. Rey followed the steps gladly, anything to be near to him once more. They would walk, talk themselves in confounding circles, but never touch. It was beautiful. Even if it wasn’t real.
“It’s real.” Ben said, turning to face her.
He looked like he had on Exegol; filthy and bleeding. But his eyes were wide, dark, and alive as a spectre’s could be. Under his gaze she shivered, it was wild. He had always looked at her with intensity and conviction… maybe even love. In his final moments… Rey shook her head, not allowing herself to remember.
Around them the world began to steady, and the humming jungle of Takodana began to take shape. The worlds these liaisons took place upon never had much sense to them. Rey suspected they were selected randomly from her memory. Wet leaves slapped strangely under her feet as she closed the distance between them. It had rained recently in this dream. In the distance, beyond the verdant canopy, she could see the peaking spires of Maz’s castle.
“Rey.” Ben smiled at her when she stopped in front of him. The same wide, handsome grin he had smiled before he had dropped to the floor in front of her. Pain echoed dully in her chest, and Rey was grateful that she could not recall it with its full vicerality here.
“We do this every night, Ben.” She said, plainly, knowing he wouldn’t remember. This Ben was a ghost, after all. She couldn’t look away from him; blaster on his hip, blood still smudged over his face and spread across his knuckles. His scar was gone. Hers wasn’t, it stung beneath the leather she wrapped it in. Two hands reaching, never touching. She might have cried once, to think of it, but her heart had long since hardened.
“I miss you.” She whispered.
His smile never faltered and he extended one of his bloody, broken hands, “I’m right here, nothing to miss. I’ll always be right here.”
Eyes glossing over, Rey shook her head. If she took his hand he would vanish and she would wake up. He wasn’t real, or if he was his existence was that of a phantom who did not know its place in the Force. The Ben she met each night was just a fragment of the one she had known, yet she clung to it desperately. It kept her sane, was a balm on the aching wound of their shattered bond.
“I know.” When she didn’t take his hand his smile fell into a look of dejection, but he said nothing.
She brushed past him and into the humid jungle where they had first met. It had been terrifying, chased down by a hulking, masked fiend wielding a crimson lightsaber. Now Rey remembered it with an odd fondness.
“I found you alluring, even then,” Ben commented from behind her. He is tearing through the brush with all the finesse of a bantha, “Not just for your power.”
Rey knew if she looked back her tagalong ghost would be blushing, she certainly was. Her whole life she’d been nothing more than a Jakku junk-rat, and here a man was calling her beautiful. A dead man.
“I was terrified of you,” she admitted, “But now I’m grateful for the time we had.”
There was na icy pause, and Ben had stopped moving behind her, “...the time we had?”
Two rules of dream world. The first was no touching, the second was not to remind Ben that he was dead.
“I— I meant—
She had wanted to take him to the rocks where he had taken her, had wanted to wander the halls of Maz’s castle. Talk about everything and nothing, like they always did. Rey and her phantom. Already the world around them was beginning to fade. Ben’s eyes were wet and confused.
This night was a failure, then. Rey sighed, knowing it would be easier to end it now than wait for her dream to implode.
“Ben.” When she said his name his glassy eyes met hers, “I’m so sorry, for everything.”
His full, handsome mouth parted, but before he could say a word she lunged at him. It only took a brush of her fingers over his hand to send her rocketing back to wakefulness.
Rey sat up gasping, covered in a fine sheen of sweat which the Tatooine dust liked to settle and stick in. Blinking, she frantically swiped at her eyes with the backs of her hands, clearing away the tears which had begun to pool.
All of her aches were renewed, every crack and sting and bite weaving their voices together in an agonizing symphony. But it was those things that hurt within that ached the worst. It was rare for her to fail now that she understood the conditions of these blissful dreams. But when she did fail…
Glancing out her port window she found she’d only slept for a scant few hours. Much of the night still lay before her. Sighing, she wiped a final few tears from the corners of her eyes and sat up, swinging shaking legs over the side of her cot. There would be no more sleep. Ghosts could wait.
Raising a trembling hand, her lightsaber slapped haphazardly into her palm. When she ignited it the whole of her tiny abode was warmed by its citrine glow.
There were things to be done, unpleasant as they might be to do by dark of night. Namely a raider camp that needed clearing beyond the western ridge. She’d heard that they were capturing women to sell to skin traders.
Rey had been sold once.
She let that lingering anger fuel her as she stepped out into the chill night air.