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Broken Things (we are)

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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—



Oh.  



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. 



He wanted—



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. 



“Okay.” 



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. 

Chapter Text

For a while, he drifted. The pain shifted from here to there, as though to highlight different hurts. And in his chest, in his spirit, that wound became the most nagging. It throbbed no matter where he was, no matter how he shifted and writhed. It was only once he was brought to a new place, a new memory, that it began to subside some as his mind was distracted.

 

Somewhere in his aimless drifting Ben had decided that these were indeed memories. He would need to recollect them before… all of it was still unclear. But he was Ben Solo, and this power he was transient within held the key to his memories. Pieces of himself which he needed before he could wake.

 

In this memory, Ben could not have been more than twelve. The walls around him were brown stone, which met at a narrow, vaulted ceiling. From the outside he could hear the wild din of the jungle, thrumming like and endless baseline of bird and insect noise. This memory version of himself felt subdued, emotions backed behind a wall of childish resolve. The boy was a dam, in a sense, containing endless waves of the sort of betrayal only an abandoned child could feel.

 

It struck Ben hard, how tortured he was when he was still so young. The child rang his hands awkwardly in front of him as he traversed the halls of the structure. His knuckles were raw and bandaged, first pink hints of blood beginning to seep through. His watery sable eyes wandered as he walked, as though the passageways of the temple perturbed him despite their familiarity. Tapestries hung from the ceiling, greying and frayed and ancient. Hewn into their faces was the symbol of the Jedi Order; the brilliant blade in its circle.

 

It was glorious to behold. That glory was lost on the child who wandered anxiously in its shadow. This was not what the boy wanted, it was not what Ben had wanted. He remembered the toddler in the cockpit of the Falcon. He had wanted to be like Han Solo. Little Starfighter, the endearment echoed unbidden. Why was he here?

 

A few other children passed Ben by, none of them paying any mind. In fact, they seemed determined to ignore him. Save for a small Twi’lek girl who looked afraid, tugging anxiously at one of her green-tinted lekku. It stung.

 

They’re only jealous of you, my boy.

 

A voice, and with it tendrils of deceptive warmth which cradled the ailing child’s mind. Ben felt ill, if he had a body it might seize at the terrible familiarity of those words and their cadence. He needed no more reminder than that to know that they belonged to a great evil, a venom called Snoke. But his recollection of the creature itself was nonexistent.

 

The boy, on the other hand, leaned into it. Closing his sallow eyelids and letting that darkness cradle him for a moment. Ben wanted to shout at him, to take him by his shoulders and shake him. Tell him to run, to cry, to tell someone before whatever that parasite was could take hold and—

 

A flash behind his eyes of fiery red and spitting blue. Barred teeth, wild eyes. Power and need all wrapped up in his chest. A piece of another memory. Fleeting. There and gone again, and Ben was left to watch his child self carry on soothing his tattered heart with the blackest of poisons.

 

The boy carried himself anxiously to the end of the hall. Despite his already lofty height he made himself small before the ancient, wooden door which stood between him and a fate unknown. There was a knot in the pit of his stomach, his palms were sweaty. He was guilty about something, shame swelling into his throat until the child was nauseous with it. Again the blackness touched him, easing away some of the upheaval with its barely disguised malice.

 

With a shaking fist he knocked on the door. It swung open with a rush of cool air, the Force aiding it from the other side. Within was a study, the walls lined with shelves stacked with books and scrolls and holocrons. The air was less stifling inside, windows opening onto a small courtyard within the temple and allowing fresh air to flow. Beside them was a small bench lined with pots of growing herbs.

 

“Ben.” A voice drew his attention from across the room. It belonged to a man of middling height. He wore beige robes, and his golden brown hair was shot through with a scattering of silver. His right hand, half hidden in the shadows of his robe, was cybernetic. Standing halfway around a heavy wooden desk, both his countenance and his Force expression were carefully guarded.

 

Luke. Uncle Luke. The boy was only ashamed, but something in Ben twisted with fear. Luke Skywalker, savior of the galaxy, your uncle. Were he corporeal he might have shivered, but he could only watch on, glued to the doorway as the boy stepped further into the study.

 

“Master Skywalker.” He inclined his dark head, padawan braid dangling at his chin.

 

At the sound of his title, Luke’s shoulders shrugged, and his expression which before had been austere, morphed into reserved exhaustion. He motioned to a chair. “Ben, sit.”

 

Meekly, the boy obeyed; slumping into a low backed, too-small chair in front of his uncle’s desk. He crumpled into it, making himself seem small.

 

A beat of silence passed between the two. Luke looked at his nephew as though he were at a loss. Young Ben kept his head bowed, visibly shaking with his anxiety. Then the silence became too much and he blurted out a rushed apology.

 

“It was an accident,” he stammered, “I really didn’t mean to. I’m so sorry uncle Luke. I’ll never—

 

“Enough, Ben.” Luke’s cybernetic hand connected harshly with his desk, components whirring softly in complaint, “You broke Morar’s arm. This is more serious than your past squabbles, Ben.”

 

The boy nervously chewed his inner cheek. Ben Solo, who watched on silently, could taste the blood he drew. A memory within a memory began to unfold before him like the patterned wings of a butterfly.

 

A Zabrak boy of fifteen odd years, smaller than him, but meaner. Surrounded by a small group of rowdy boys. They watch as Ben trains, moving gracefully through his forms. The Zabrak, Morar, points and whispers something. The group erupts in boisterous laughter, and though Ben knows it is only because they envy his power, he snaps. It’s like this every day. No more.

 

He falls out of Soresu, letting his practice saber bounce off the smooth stones of the training ground. He doesn’t give the others a chance to react before he is rushing them, throwing himself into Morar with all of his weight.

 

The other boys scatter as Ben batters Morar with his fists, lost in a rush of anger that tints his vision crimson. He goes until his knuckles split and bleed. He goes until the anger flushes from his body and he is left limp and sobbing over his unconcious peer. He didn’t want this, he never wanted to hurt anyone.

 

Coming back to the present moment, but also never having left it, Ben’s presence shifted in the doorframe. He wanted to rush to the child’s defense. To his own defense, because through the eyes of a grown man he could see the unfairness, could sense the injustice about to unfold. Didn’t Uncle Luke see what was really happening? Was he truly so blind to the rash of bullying his nephew faced each day? Was he really so oblivious to the unhappiness of his own flesh and blood? Was he ignorant to the darkness which bloomed inside the child? The boy had snapped, justifiably so, and it seemed the man who should have been his protector only sought to punish him.

 

“Master Skywalker…” The boy couldn’t meet his Uncle’s eyes.

 

“What is your mother going to think, Ben? She already has enough on her plate with the upcoming elections, the last thing she needs is more trouble from you!” The Master’s breathing became heavy, face darkening in his outrage.

 

At the mention of his mother, young Ben ducked his head, blinking back tears. In that moment it all became centered once more, the memory shattered whatever boundaries of separation existed within Ben’s mind and he became acutely aware that the crying boy in the chair was, him.

 

The room became more vivid, and the emotion more visceral as he reconstructed that day’s events. He remembered the pure, vile rage that had knotted in his gut, knuckles splitting as he laid into Maror, the shame which had haunted him as he traversed the temple’s ancient halls at his Uncle’s call. And then there was the invocation of his mother. Leia Organa. He remembered her from Chandrila, when he was small. Her radiant beauty in her evening gown.

 

He remembered her eyes as well, the apprehension which had plagued them. As though she were making some terrible realization of her young son.

 

This was the result of that apprehension; cloistered away in a temple at the edge of the galaxy, unwanted. Ben had wanted to be a pilot, like his father, like Han who had hoisted the boy onto his hip and picked him wildflowers. But it had been too much, as he grew his abilities mounted and his power flourished, they became afraid. Frightened of their own son, of the boy who once chomped on flowers and run naked through their home toting his father’s blaster.

 

It was devastating, shaking him to his core; as a child and as a wandering phantom. Still rendered to his very spirit by that betrayal, Ben could no longer make out his Uncle’s cold words. The walls seemed to warp and bend around him, and the blackness of the space-between began to creep back in around the edges of his vision.

 

This time Ben didn’t fight it. He had no desire to recall the pain which saddled him. It was bitter and left a foul taste in his mouth, to be an unwanted child. The problem boy foisted off onto his unprepared uncle. He wanted to forget again, to forget the shame and misery and self loathing those years of neglect had imposed on his fragile young self.

 

It wasn’t fair. The voice again. Wherever his physical body was, her hands were pressed gently over it, ebbing some of the pain. But you fought bitterly for so long, did you not? You were so bright…

 

“I don’t know.” Ben replied, drifting once more. He still couldn’t remember much, but the image was becoming clearer, “Part of me is missing, I think. It hurts in my chest.”

 

Ahead, the voice replied, Always ahead. Your wounds were great, but your call to your destiny is greater.

 

“My destiny?”

 

Aye.

*

Rey crept on her forearms over a sandusted outcropping of red stone. It overlooked a shallow canyon which, by the light of the three moons, she could see was housing a small collection of rounded, yurt-like tents. Their frames were primitive and covered in thin, gauzy material, pale in the night.

 

This was the camp she’d received the tip on. These were the raiders who were allegedly doing business with skin traders. She ground her teeth, sickened by the thought. Groping for her lightsaber, Rey freed it clumsily from her waist, sending a scattering of pebbles cascading down into the canyon in the process.

 

Their small sounds echoed into large ones and she froze, fingertips digging anxiously into the stone under them. Below, lights began to flick on in yurts, and a few sand-people emerged. All male, donned in their loose robes and fearsome masks. They raised their staffs defensively as they sought the source of the disturbance, bleating softly to each other in their strange, alien tongue.

 

Cursing, Rey slunk backwards a few inches, assessing. There were a half dozen prowling the drifted sands, and when she shut her eyes and reached out she felt another half dozen still slumbering in their tents. Just Tuskens, she couldn’t feel the panicked signatures of any would-be slaves. Did she have the wrong encampment?

 

Her jaw tensed, and she reached out, pressing as carefully as she could into the mind of the raider nearest her. There was no gentle way to rifle through someone’s thoughts, and the mind of a Tusken Raider was a confusing place. They didn’t think like most sentients, and Rey struggled to sort through the cacophony of sight and sound that comprised his brain. Ultimately, she found nothing relating to the skin trade, but she found something else, far more troubling.

 

When she pulled out of his head the raider collapsed, unconscious but unharmed. His comrades yowled and began to fan out as Rey retreated into the darkness. Her speeder was parked behind a rock formation some hundred meters away. Far enough that the Tuskens wouldn’t hear her.

 

She moved toward it with purpose, the knowledge of what she had found weighing heavy behind her eyes. In the mind of the Tusken she had seen the face of the very Twi’lek who had given her this tip. Unmistakable with his sour expression, half of his right lekku missing. He had been observing them from a jagged peak. They’d chased him off.

 

Kicking her speeder into gear she gripped the handle bars with white knuckles. It was true that the locals didn’t take kindly to her presence, even if they did take advantage of her for menial errands and tasks. They saw her as an outsider, a crazed mystic wearing the last name of a long dead boy. No one would bat an eye if a clan of crazed Tusken Raiders were to descend on her in the night, especially if she had been the one to provoke them.

 

Making good time, flying uninhibited over endless kilometers of sand. The twin suns rose, and the dunes shifted from pale blue to lavender, to golden with the dawn. Behind her the ramshackle speeder kicked up a cloud of orange dust that heralded her arrival as the low stone roofs of Mos Eisley peeked over the rolling horizon.

 

It was nothing like Niima. Yet as she roamed the dusty streets she could not help but find the faces familiar. Lined with age and grit. The faces of people who had never known anything but subsistence and labor; moisture farmers and junk traders. She might have felt a kinship with them once, now the sight of them only confused her. Despite everything, her identity was still a sore spot.

 

Robes tinted red with dust, she came to a stop before the cantina she had met the Twi’lek inside of. It’s name was in Huttese, of which Rey spoke very little. Pushing past the curtain to the dingey interior, she didn’t expect to find the alien in question. She had come prepared to mind trick the bar keep into giving her his name.

 

Lucky her, that wouldn’t be necessary. The Twi’lek was sat at the bar, slumped over a chipped glass of something strong. He was drooling onto his good lekku. Rey’s nose drew up in disgust at the sight.

 

The Hutt behind the bar greeted her by name, “Ms. Skywalker!”

 

She winced, both at the name which hid her shame, and at the barkeep’s familiarity with her. It was a sharp reminder that she spent far too much time drowning her sorrows.

 

Ignoring the droid, she approached the Twi’lek with sleep-deprived irritation. She didn’t bother to be gentle. She had not kindness left in her to afford. Grabbing him by the back of his soiled shirt she hoisted him off of his bar stool. It only took one push into his mind to locate the information she wanted. Her mental hand was harsh, and she knew she would leave scars which would linger, but she didn’t care. She found what she needed.

 

The tip had been fabricated in a poorly considered attempt to drive her off world, or get her killed by a clan of raging Tuskens. He would have settled for either. Rey flung him, sending him careening across the bar in a cascade of glass and spilled liquor. The Twi’lek wailed, jerking awake then slumping against the opposite wall, pawing at his head in confusion. Still drunk, and bleeding from his assault, he looked up to her with bleary eyes.

 

“Remember me?” Rey asked, stalking forward. “You gave me a tip the other day.”

 

He shook his head, trying to scramble to his feet. He failed, tumbling back to the filthy floor in a pathetic pile of limbs and lekku. The other patrons, who had been deathly silent up to then, guffawed at him.

 

“No!” He exclaimed, backing up to another wall, nowhere left to run, “No, please I don’t—

 

“You do.” Rey said, taciturn. “You told me they were doing business with skin traders. You wanted me to kill them and bring down the wrath of a whole clan on myself, right?”

 

“No!” He rushed to explain, but Rey had already seen the truth in his mind, “No, I would never. Not to a Skywalker!”

 

The name made her cringe, she hated it, hated how she needed it to mask the true terror of her lineage. The sound of it echoing in the silent cantina was enough to ignite something vicious inside of her. Like the ripper-raptors that had scavenged the wastes of Jakku, violence consumed her like hunger. Her fingers twitched and her muscles burned, and before anyone could intervene she had her saber spitting fire in her palm. The room was cast a brilliant orange, illuminating the terrified expressions of the onlookers.

 

With a grunt, she ran it through his gut, then dragged it up. Vision swimming red, her whole body seemed to buzz. Her victim yelped and pawed weakly at her arm, then his head lilted and he let out his last, shuddering breath.

 

Rey pulled back, spun on her heel, and exited the cantina without sparing any of its denizens so much as a glance. It was more likely than not that no repercussions would come her way, not on a planet like Tatooine, not in a settlement like Mos Eisely. With mechanical cadence she found her speeder and mounted up, pulling her scarf over her face to guard against sand as she kicked it into gear.

 

It was only once she had reached the relative safety of her hut that the weight of her actions dragged her into the sand. Under the heat of the blazing suns she collapsed to her knees, shaking with the memory. There was still cinder on her fingers from her saber searing through his vest. She remembered his eyes, clouded with drunkeness, swimming with fear.

 

Rey hadn’t even known his name. He had, in a way, tried to kill her. But it wasn’t the way of a Jedi to act so rashly. And that impulse, that violent thing which had possessed her and compelled her hand… it frightened her, terrified her.

 

Doubling over, she wretched into the sand. There was nothing in her stomach but foul bile, and her abdomen cramped with the effort. Her eyes were wet, and her nose ran. She knew she must’ve been the very image of pathetic; crumpled there in the dust.

 

“I never wanted this,” she whispered, voice wavering. And she hadn’t. She didn’t like this lonely pilgrims life. Always seeking and waiting. Living at the whim of the Force when all she had ever wanted was belonging, a family. Rey hadn’t asked to be the last Jedi, heir to a thousand generations. She hadn’t wanted to be a damned Skywalker, but she needed that name to hide the shameful truth of that which she wanted the least.

 

Most of all, she hadn’t wanted Ben to die. Moments after he came back to her, gave life to her, he was torn forever from her embrace. It was sickeningly unfair that, after giving everything she had, Rey would be left entirely alone.

 

She wretched again, then managed to limp into her hut. She would need to leave Tatooine for a while. Whatever the Force had brought her here to do, it was soiled now. Rey was a murderer.

 

As she packed her things in a flurry, her eyes were drawn repeatedly to her pitiful cot. She longed for the sleep it promised, for the dreams of Ben and distant worlds. Exploring endlessly until the dawn, talking in beautiful circles and pretending that everything would be okay.

 

But she couldn’t, not now. Everything wasn’t okay. Rey needed to get away, to set up somewhere new and pretend this morning had never transpired. Only then could she rest.

 

“Just a little while,” she soothed herself. And maybe she was speaking to Ben, too. Though she knew he couldn’t hear her.

 

Adjusting her saber on her belt, Rey shouldered her singular bag and made for her x-wing. Surely by now rumors of the rogue Jedi had permeated the darkest depths of the Mos Eisley underground.

 

Breaking atmo, she decided she never wanted to see sand again.

Chapter Text

The x-wing had enough fuel left in it to make the jump to the galactic core; to the worlds of glittering metropolises that stretched from horizon to horizon. Chandrila was her destination. When she jerked out of hyperspace over the soaring skyscrapers of Hanna City she was met with immediate resistance by law enforcement.

 

A y-wing appeared on either side of her, both painted with the blue and yellow which designated them as New Republic. New restored Republic would have been more accurate, and even then much of the galaxy was still in shambles. The budding order of the core worlds would likely take decades to reach the chaos of the outer rim.

 

Her com crackled to life and a woman’s voice projected through, authoritatively, “Unknown x-wing, you have entered the protected airspace of Hanna City illegally and with intentions unknown, identify yourself or be shot down.”

 

Rey adjusted her helmet and scowled. Shooting her down over the city would be pure idiocy, but she kept that thought to herself, “Callsign Red-five, former Resistance and Rebellion.”

 

She had hoped that would suffice, but it did not.

 

“Name, pilot?”

 

Her jaw flexed and she remembered suddenly how many hours she had gone without sleeping. Maybe being shot down over Hanna City wouldn’t be such a terrible fate.

 

“Rey.” She groused, and waited, but the long pause over the humming com indicated they wanted a surname as well. Of course they did, it seemed like everybody in the fucking galaxy needed to know who her father was. It was like poison on her tongue, the stolen name that hid her shame, “...Skywalker.”

 

“Oh!” the y-wings parted and reconverged in front of her, “Master Skywalker, we apologize for the trouble. Trying times and all, we have to follow protocol. Follow us, we’ll escort you to General Dameron.”

 

At the word master Rey wanted to crawl out of her own skin. She wasn’t a master by any means, and those masters which were meant to accompany her always had been woefully silent for nearly a year. She was just Rey. Rey with a lightsaber and a borrowed name. Rey who had killed a man at sunrise and would now dine with Republic leaders at sunset.

 

What a mess.

 

They took her to a landing pad atop a tower faced in pale glass, it narrowed to a needle like point at its soaring peak. Mounted upon its sheer face was the blue emblem of the new republic. The same fishtail like design of the Resistance and Rebellion, but recolored, placed in a circle ringed in gold, and surrounded by fifteen evenly spaced stars. It looked new.

 

The landing pad was small, intended for transports, not starfighters. But Rey managed the landing, technicians and engineers rushing to clear the pad as she brought her x-wing down in a plume of wind and ebbing thrust.

 

Once her aged ship had settled on the landing pad, Rey removed her helmet and glanced around through the canopy. Coming to Chandrila, she had known this would be her destination, but all the shine and pomp still made her uneasy. At her core Rey would always be a Jakku scavenger. Scavengers never drew this near to pretty, new things. Or, if they did, they did not escape unscathed.

 

She spotted Poe waiting by the entrance to the skyscarper’s small hangar. The y-wing pilot must have signaled him ahead of time. Rey hopped down from her ship. The air had a bite to it, high up as they were, and wind cut straight through her dirty desert garb.

 

“Rey!” Poe exclaimed, waving her towards the hangar doors. He was beaming wide and white. As she drew nearer his expression began to fall, handsome face souring with worry.

 

Rey gave a weak smile. She knew she looked rough, but the confirmation in her friend’s eyes didn’t sit well.

 

“Poe,” she stopped in front of him. He was dressed in fine military regalia; a uniform of deep blue, his right shoulder lined with medals and bars which represented his achievements. General Poe Dameron. It had a nice ring to it. He had earned it, in the end. “You look well.”

 

His dark eyes wandered over her for a fleeting moment, and she knew what he was taking in. The filth of her robes, the dark circles under her eyes, the jut of her cheekbones that whispered at her wasting. She must have looked like a ghost to him, an impression of the Rey he had known prior to Exegol.

 

“I wish I could say the same about you,” he sighed, not unkindly. He looked as though he were at a loss.

 

He took her bag from her before she could protest, pressing it into the hands of an unassuming mechanic, “Have this taken to a room for her.” That bag contained the Jedi texts, Rey didn’t want it in the hands of some stranger, but Poe didn’t allow for time to argue, “Come with me, I already paged the gang, we’ll grab a bite in the canteen and catch up.”

 

Then he offered her his hand, like he was afraid she might crumble with the effort of walking. Was she really so emaciated? Rey brushed it away with a mumbled, “I’m fine.” If her whole evening was going to be comprised of this sort of fussing she might lash out verbally. She knew it meant that these people, her friends, cared for her wellbeing, but it felt misplaced. Rey didn’t need pity. She was here for new purpose, for leads to keep her occupied while the Force remained silent to her.

 

The walk to the canteen was awkward. Though she considered Poe a friend, they had never been particularly close. There had been a sort of rivalry between them in the year leading up to Exegol. The Falcon was still a point of contention between them, even though neither were currently in possession of it. Every time he glanced over his shoulder at her he was met with a distant stare.

 

While the halls of the building had maintained the minimalist, sterile aesthetic suggested by its outer decoration, the canteen was a touch more familiar in its design. It put Rey slightly at ease to be surrounded by deep blues and oranges rather than spotless white. It was more of a restaurant than a smugglers getaway, complete with a bar and a collection of high, round tables. Most of them were occupied by men and women dressed similarly to Poe, though Rey spotted a few politicians, made obvious by their resplendent dress next to their austere military cohorts.

 

“Poe!” A familiar voice caught their attention from across the room. For a moment affectionate warmth bloomed in Rey’s chest, and the smile that tugged the corners of her mouth was real. Despite all the strife and struggle she had endured in the last year, Finn had always stuck by her as best he could. Her dearest friend.

 

Poe lead her through the throngs of supping personnel to a round table tucked into the far corner of the canteen. There was already a basket of bread waiting for them, along with cups of water and empty stemmed glasses. Beside the bread was a bottle of desert wine. She was sure it was unintentional on the part of her friends, but anything from the desert sounded entirely unappealing to her at present, even if it offered the warm embrace of inebriation.

 

Around the table were a few familiar faces, all of them cycling through various forms of concern as she climbed into one of the high backed chairs. Knocking her knuckles on the table anxiously, Rey kissed her teeth, then tried to placate them, “I know. It’s bad. But it could be worse, it has been worse, I’ve gained some weight back since I was last here.”

 

Surprisingly it was Kaydel Ko Connix who spoke up first. She was wearing the simple robes of a junior senator, following in the footsteps of Leia, who had been like a mother to her , “I don’t think so. You look worse.”

 

Rey pursed her lips in disagreement, feeling icy anger begin to take hold in her belly. They weren’t going to accept her excuses and empty platitudes this time around, “Listen, it doesn’t—

 

“Don’t say it doesn’t matter,” Finn cut in, fingers picking nervously at a piece of bread. Beside him Rose was nodding in stalwart agreement.

 

“Something is happening to you, Rey,” Always the young engineer’s voice was strong and sure, brimming with compassion, “And maybe we can’t fully understand it but we’ll do whatever you need us to do to help…” She trailed off, at a loss, but quickly found her footing again, “To help you overcome whatever this is. Watching you fall to pieces in the last year has been awful.”

 

A year. Rey had been aware of the creeping passage of time but to hear it from the lips of another was jarring. It had only been a year. The Force had abandoned her with near totality, mum save for soft pushes to distant worlds. Her body had withered, her mind was flagging. A year.

 

It felt like a decade. A century. Her whole life gone in her anguish. She dared not think of him then, though he always lingered somewhere at the edge of her mind, in the shattered bond that lingered in her chest.

 

Rey choked back her memories of Ben Solo, and let her friends believe her wet eyes were for them.

 

Poe laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. Kaydel stretched across the tabletop and gathered one of Rey’s sallow hands in her own.

 

“We want to help you,” the other woman said, squeezing. Just then a waitress arrived bearing a great wooden platter of food. It was stacked high with fruits and meats from a dozen different systems, the variation in colors and shapes made Rey gape. Two years clear of Jakku and the diversity of the galaxy still floored her from time to time.

 

They dropped the serious conversation for the duration of the meal, though it still loomed regrettably overhead. They weren’t going to simply let it go like they had in the past. Still, Rey tried to engage, feigning interest, poking food around her plate but never taking more than a timid bite or two.

 

Jannah was on world, but preoccupied with de-indoctrination exercises at the moment. Lando and Chewie were running recon on the lingering First Order cell in the outer rim. Much of their little band of rebels, survivors of Crait, had scattered to the wind.

 

The Republic was doing well, considering the circumstances. They skirted the topic of rebuilding the Jedi Order entirely, for which Rey was grateful. She thought of the texts waiting for her in some sterile room. She had tried meditating on them, not even they could catalyze the voices of the Jedi.

 

Eventually they uncorked the wine. By then Rey was so dizzy from the flurry of socialization that she gladly offered her glass to be filled. Then again, then once more. Thin as she was, hungry as she was, the drink reached her head with alarming speed, and she found herself hiccupping and leaning on Poe’s arm, face flush.

 

“Seems like we need to get you to bed, kiddo,” He laughed awkwardly, passing her off to Kaydel, “We’ll figure out exactly what to do with you tomorrow. For now, rest. You sure as hell need it.”

 

Rey wanted to argue, but the words were all jumbled up on her tongue. She took Kaydel’s arm and allowed herself to be led from the canteen. The walk was quiet, but not uncomfortably so. It was obvious to both women that Rey needed to focus on keeping her footing.

 

“Lightweight, eh?” Kaydel commented dryly as they stepped off of a lift, Rey nearly face planting on the seamless ivory floor.

 

Rey, righting her center of gravity, turned to half-face her guide, “You… your hair is like Leia’s.” The realization had come from nowhere, and the words were slurred.

 

Kaydel’s face fell at the mention of the late general. It was true, she wore it in a braided halo around her head. It was so familiar it made Rey ache.

 

“Yeah,” Kaydel replied, “I do.”

 

It struck Rey then, inebriated as she was, that other people were hurting, too. This war had left many people in shambles. Maybe she should trust them, maybe they truly could help her heal.

 

When they came to the door to her quarters, Kaydel slapped Rey’s clumsy palm down on a handpad. The machine hummed and a green light followed the contours of her hand. Rey hiccuped, wondering drunkenly how they already had her print.

 

The door hissed open, and Kaydel remained at the threshold as Rey stumbled inside. It was small, mostly grey and white. The bunk was suspended from the wall by two runnels of thick wire and there was a writing desk with a datapad in the corner. The lights flickered on and Rey winced at their fluorescence.

 

“Goodnight, Rey.” She paused, considering her words, then added, “War hurts everyone. I know your situation is more complicated than most, but we’re all survivors. If we can’t rely on one another…”

 

Rey nodded in understanding. The door slid shut between them, and she was left to her own devices. There was a set of clean clothes laid out for her on the bunk, likely Kaydel’s. A white shirt with a pocketed grey vest, and matching grey pants. Beneath the outfit were a few more of similar style, beside the stack was a pile of undergarments. Rey sighed, grateful. She’d had sand between her tits all day.

 

She picked out clean underwear and made for the fresher, eager to stand beneath the warm spray. Her whole body ached, and something about the rush of cleansing water sobered her a bit. Water units were few and far between on the worlds she had been traversing. Rey shut her eyes and surrendered to the gentle mix of warm water and alcohol.

 

She remembered something good, at least it felt good while she was drunk.

 

Lips pressed hotly to her own, broad hands pulling her close. Dead as he was, she would always have those things. She felt warm and light, and something burned low in the pit of her stomach. The memory of his bare chest came to her unbidden, her breath became shallow as her hand slid down the wet plane of her stomach.

 

Rey remembered like she had never allowed herself to. Lips and hair, dark eyes and broad hands. She remembered the ferocity with which he wielded a lightsaber, and she remembered the depth of his smooth voice.

 

She felt overhot, everywhere, but especially there.

 

Ben,” She said his name like a prayer, voice so soft it was nearly lost in the patter of falling water.

*

The temple was destroyed. Dozens massacred with it.

 

The whole galaxy would think it was him.

 

Ben’s mouth was dry, chest tight. The voice in his head had never called out so strongly as it did now.

 

What have you done, sweet boy? It cooed, even though he was a man now. To Snoke he would always be a boy.

 

“I— I didn’t mean it.” He was trembling, unable to look away from the tongues of fire licking their terrible brightness to the midnight sky. The smoke that billowed was almost indigo in its hue, unnatural and thick from the lightning strike. Tears well and spilled and he felt like a child, “I didn’t want this.”

 

Insidious warmth surrounded him, cradling him like it did when he was small. With faux concern it caressed his mind, while in truth it only injected more of its venom. Guilt, which already had held Ben firmly in its grasp, nearly sent him to his knees. He wretched.

 

Come to me, Snoke beckoned, You cannot stay here now. And who could love you after such a travesty as this? Who could love such a pitiful, violent creature? I am the only one who has such kindness left in me, child, to love one like you. I know the truth, Ben. My boy. Come to me.

 

And the dark creature of his childhood was right. The blackness swelled and overtook his wrought heart, and Ben Solo was turned. By the time Snoke held the young man in his scarred, twisted arms, he had already become Kylo Ren.

 

A child in a mask.

 

Ben was torn from this memory with near violence, his whole body humming with distress. He was sobbing, eyes bleary, body shaking as he remembered the cruelty of that day. Stars how he had tried. And tried and tried and tried. There had been so much light in him that he had resisted for twenty-two years before poisoned darkness finally rooted itself deep.

 

No one had ever attempted to help him. He had only ever been met with fear and punishment.

 

“Why show me this?” He asked through his grief. He did not want to remember Kylo Ren.

 

I did not show you anything. The voice replied, It is the will of the Force that guides you. It shows you those moments which most shaped you.

 

“How?”

 

A story I will tell you when you wake up. There was a note of melancholy to her tone.

 

“I am awake,” He insisted, though the world was dark all around him, “I don’t want to see things like that. I don’t want to remember.”

 

You must.

 

“Why?” Growing frustrated, he moved through the blackness, but there was nothing to see but more dark.

 

The Force is bleeding… and someone is waiting for you, though she does not know it.

 

Cryptic, he struggled to make sense of the words. Someone was waiting for him? Why would anyone wait for someone so lost? Why would someone wait for a monster?

 

Enough talk for now. Your wounds are healed, but your body is still weak. Rest.

 

And with those words Ben Solo slipped away once more.

Chapter Text

Rey dreamed.

 

On this night the planet was Jakku, shifting sands familiar under her soles. She stood at the edge of Niima outpost. Her old bo staff was slung over her shoulder, and she savored the reassuring pressure of it. It promised safety from competing scavengers when she used to spend her days out in the wrecks. The sun was at its midday peak, but all the water basins were void of scrubbing scavengers and thirsty luggabeasts. Unkar Plutt’s personal stall stood empty, too. Rey swallowed, grateful that her unconscious mind would spare her the sight of him.

 

They sold you… The words echoed in her head. Maybe there was more to it than that, but those were the only ones that mattered. Sold. She swallowed that memory down with the lump that had formed in her throat. The world was quiet, silent as a desert could be. In the distance, all around, mirage warped the horizon.

 

“Rey.” She turned, and there he was. The hole from her strike was still in his shirt, blood was still gathered at the corner of his mouth. He was still filthy and bruised, but his hands… his hands looked better, somehow.

 

“Ben.” She smiled at him, determined not to sully this dream like she had the last one. Rey wanted to pretend. Here, in this place between conscious and unconscious, her body was heart and whole. She could wander for hours without tiring. Here she could smile again. Here she could be just Rey, her responsibilities felt distant, the sting of her wounds was numbed.

 

In this place she could pretend Ben was alive. That he was beside her once more. That the man who stood before her wasn’t just an impression, but a bittersweet memory of something that never really was.

 

“Rey.” He said her name again, smiling back. Ben’s smile was beautiful. She’d only ever seen it once, but she didn’t want to think about that.

 

Rey nodded towards the wastes and began to walk. The way was familiar. Because it was a dream she didn’t think much about where she was going, only followed where her feet took her.

 

Ben trailed more closely than usual this time. She wondered if his dark clothing was too stifling under the Jakku sun. Did the spirits that haunted dreams feel such sensation? And because it was a dream, and here the bond lived on in spite of his death, Ben answered her, “It is hot, but I don’t mind. Much of my training took place on worlds with hostile climates.”

 

Rey scowled to think of his training, the torture he must have endured under Snoke. She had seen the old master once, a puppet of something even more sinister. He had been cruel and twisted and his goal had been only to bring Kylo more suffering, to bleed him until none of Ben remained. He had failed. But Ben had died anyways. She shuddered and spoke, trying to forget and be present in the moment, “What do you know about Chandrila?”

 

It was the first thing that came to mind, considering her present circumstances. She just wanted to hear him speak, to drag out this bliss as long as she could.

 

Ben’s foot hit awkwardly at the side of a sand dune, and he slid down a meter before clambering back up to his feet. He was awkward on the sand, inexperienced with how to traverse it. Rey laughed at him, it was genuine and light, and so unfamiliar a sound that it came as a surprise to her own ears

 

“Some things.” Ben said, panting as he managed to catch up with her. “It’s unfair.”

 

“What?” Rey was grinning, and came to a stop at the crest of the dune. She quirked an eyebrow at him in question as he joined her, “Chandrila is unfair?”

 

Ben pouted at her and gestured to her staff, “You have that. You’d fall too if you didn’t.”

 

Rey snorted, amused by his boyishness. It was cute, “I lived here my whole life, up until the time we met. I won’t fall.” And because she didn’t want him to fade by an accidental brush of their fingers, she tossed the staff between them. He caught it and his hand dwarfed it. Rey smirked as he puzzled over it.

 

“When I built it I didn’t consider someone your size ever needing it.” When she built it she had never even considered the possibility of meeting a man, let alone letting one use something that was so essential to her. Yet here he was, “Try not to break it.”

 

Rey turned to face sideways and let the sand carry her down the opposite face of the dune. An old, simple trick. No bo staff required. Ben followed her down less gracefully, but he managed not to fall a second time.

 

“See? I didn’t fall,” she teased, feet light. She spun to face him again. A gust of wind caught the tendrils of her wrap, making them billow. She realized then, as he stalked towards her with playful gall written across his face, that they might be flirting.

 

She had only done that once before, briefly, when he had helped her from her pod on the Supremacy. They had teased one another over Luke’s lightsaber. Her heart fluttered with longing as she remembered. And she was again reminded of how little time they had.

 

Ben seemed to sense her sudden malaise, and he tapped her on the arm with the staff, drawing her attention back to him. It was strange how dream Ben seemed to instinctively know not to touch her, “You asked me about Chandrila.”

 

Rey nodded and began to walk again. The sun was moving fast across the sky, hues intensifying from muted yellows to bleeding orange, time making little sense in the dream. Sunset was when she often arrived home after a hard day of scavenging. They weren’t far off, now.

 

Ben kept pace with her, using the staff to help him navigate the terrain. “I was born there, five years after the battle of Yavin. I grew up there, sort of. It’s complicated.”

 

His voice was sad, and Rey glanced at him. His brow was furrowed and his eyes are distant, as though he were recalling something he didn’t quite understand, “There was a manor. Dad would land the Falcon in a field when he was around, in the spring it was full of wildflowers.”

 

Rey blinked at him, “Where?”

 

It was a dumb question, self-indulgent. She immediately regretted asking. Even if she were to find this manor, it likely hosted a new family. And what did one do in the halls of a dead lineage? There would be nothing there for Rey but pain.

 

The AT-AT came into view, drawing him back from whatever memory he was reliving. He never answered her question, he might not have even registered it. Instead he countered with a claim. “I know this place.”

 

Rey’s eyes ran over her patchwork home. The outside was rusted and weathered, half swallowed by the sands. The hatch was shut tight, as if Rey had only been gone for a day and would be returning at dusk. The AT-AT on the actual Jakku had likely been ransacked within days of her departure.

 

“On Starkiller, I saw it in your head.”

 

Rey winced at the memory of his intrusion. Essential to their bond as it may have been, it hadn’t been pleasant, she had been terrified. “I remember. Do you want to see the inside?”

 

Something twisted in her gut, a wave of reluctance washing over her as she led him to the hatch. It came open with a metallic whine, rust and grit flaking onto her fingers. As the door swung open, and the orange light of dusk illuminated the dark insides of her once home, Rey began to shiver. Apprehension turned to dread, but she choked it down.

 

There was something within that she feared, that she did not want to see, paradoxically it only made her more curious. What was her subconscious trying to conceal from her?

 

“Are you okay?” Ben asked, but Rey could only nod in response.

 

He looked like he wanted to catch her by the bicep to keep her from entering, his broad hand was poised at his side. But he didn’t, maybe couldn’t. As she passed through the hatch he followed, ducking his head to keep from banging it on the durasteel.

 

Rey heard him sniff behind her, probably taking in the full scope of her childhood destitution. None of that mattered though, when she was faced with her wall. She wasn’t surprised by its existence in the slightest, she thought of it often enough in the waking world. Years of endless tallies, one by one, row by row. She had even etched in retroactively those first scant days before she found her AT-AT.

 

Now, in this dream iteration of what had once been her prison, things had changed. The wall was still there, each one of its little markings a testament to her solitude. But also it was dynamic, different in a way that made her stomach turn and her knees weak. There were more tallies, and more on top of those. They scratched themselves out before her eyes, hundreds of them, thousands. Where once they had stopped with the day she left Jakku, they now numbered well past her current age. Up and down, the wall was covered in them until they spilled around a corner to the next.

 

From the darkest depths of her mind her most deeply held fear flooded forward. Rey collapsed to her knees, unable to look away. She had begun to cry, a low mournful sound dragging from her throat.

 

Behind her a phantom watched on, “Rey?”

 

She shook her head slowly, fingertips scraping across the grated flooring, “Ben?”

 

Her voice was high and tight, her lips trembling. He approached and knelt beside her, black eyes swimming with worry. His fingers twitched, and she knew he wanted to touch her, but the dream wouldn’t allow for it, “Rey, what was that? Why are you crying?”

 

When she answered, her voice was dead, all emotion bled from her. Tears still streaked her face. “I’m alone, Ben. And I always will be.”

 

Maybe she wanted to die. Maybe she was already in the process of dying, withering away, “You were the only one— you understood, Ben.

 

“Rey…”

 

“I only ever wanted you.” She continued in a rush, gritting her teeth against a torrent of tears, “And then you came for me, you came back to me when no one else could, because it was always just us.”

 

“I don’t understand.” The phantom said, and Rey sobbed.

 

She doubled over, arms wrapping around her middle, cradling herself because there was no one else who could. A shaking sob wracked her body as she remembered and all around her the dream began to shiver and shatter. “You came for me, Ben. And then you died.”

 

“I’m not dead.”

 

“You are,” she heaved, “You are.”

 

The dream began to warp, everything around her began to feel almost ethereal in its unrealness. Her vision blurred and began to darken as total unconsciousness crept back in. It’s over. She told herself, I can be numb again.

 

It was almost gone entirely, swept away with the rest of her dreams, when she felt a phantom hand on her shoulder, another at her waist. Lips against her ear, their soft, ghostly breath stirring her hair.

 

His voice came harsh, like he had run a ways to reach her. It was almost tremulous, desperate, afraid, “Rey.” Fingers dragged down her back, and his lips pressed to her jaw.

 

It didn’t make sense. He shouldn’t have been able to touch her. The dream should have ended and she should have jolted awake in her bunk on Chandrila. She shuddered under his hands and mouth, uncurling as her tears began to dry. All the rules were breaking themselves. She wanted to kiss him back, even if it wasn’t real.

 

It felt real.

 

“Rey,” He breathed, and his hand cupped her breast like she had imagined in the shower, “I—

 

A knock on her door. Rey sat bolt upright, gasping. Her body was coated in a fine sheen of sweat, hair plastered to her forehead and neck.

 

“Rey?” It was Rose.

 

Her eyes flicked to the chrono on the desk. She’d slept in past midday.

 

“Rey, are you awake?” More knocking.

 

Rey sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. They were shaking, and she wasn’t sure if she would be able to stand.

 

“Yeah, sorry!” She tried her best not to sound shaken, her face was still damp from crying, eyes swollen, “I overslept, I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

 

Rose seemed to accept this without question, voice coming muffled through the door “Good, you needed the rest. Poe wants to see you in his office as soon as possible.”

 

“Okay.” Rey said, nodding her head though the other woman couldn’t see her.

 

Rose left, and Rey was alone once more. Her head ached and her limbs shook, her tongue felt like sandpaper, and everywhere he had touched burned like her flesh had been pressed to a live thruster.

 

Slowly she rose to her feet, then she took a few steadying breaths, centering herself. All of it lingered, even as her body and heart began to steady. She remembered the wall, all of its tallies, each one a day spent suffering in her solitude. She remembered Ben, his touch, his lips at her jaw. In the end he had sounded intense, frightened. Dream Ben had never presented with such emotion before.

 

It was jarring, and confusing, so she went to the fresher to splash her face with cold water. It did little to help, and when she caught sight of herself in the mirror she grimaced at the wraith she saw. Her cheeks were hollow, her eyes dull, skin sallow; she understood why her comrades were so afraid now. But after her nightmare she was certain they couldn’t help her.

 

The only person who could assuage this sickness was a year dead.

 

She dressed herself with shaking hands. Clipping her lightsaber to her belt, she paused over her satchel, eyes scanning the bindings of the Jedi texts. Anger coursed through her veins, hot and raw. Silence. All at once they had come to her and then a year of silence. Even the voices of the dead had abandoned her to her fate.

 

All save Ben. The piece of him which remained with her.

 

She took another few steadying breaths, quieting her rage before she considered them again. They were simple and leather bound, wholly inconspicuous to most. But their contents were priceless, and their connection to their framers moreso. Maybe, she thought, maybe I’ll try one more time.

 

So Rey resolved to meditate over them again come evening, after she had spoken to Poe about work and taken the time to catch up with Finn. She needed something, anything to fill the void in her chest. If she could find purpose as a Jedi once more then maybe she wouldn’t need to rely so heavily on her dreams. They were becoming just as agonizing as her waking hours, her mind determined to torment her. Remembering the tallies, she shuddered. Her skin still seared where Ben had touched her.

 

On her way out the door, anxious and tired, another memory returned unbidden. A memory of vomit in the sand, of a dimly lit canteen, of her saber illuminating each mote of dust in the putrid air as she carved a man open.

 

At your core, she thought, That is all you will ever be. It is your legacy, Rey.

 

It was the kind of thought she had become adept at ignoring, even if it made sickening sense if she dwelled on it. Rey Skywalker was her best defence against it. She hated Rey Skywalker nearly as much.

 

Shivering, she shut her door and stepped out into the sterile, white hallway. Poe would provide her with sufficient distraction.

*

The memories that followed the birth of Kylo Ren escalated in their brutality with each passing episode. He was belittled, and beaten, and shot full of lighting. Each memory ended with him curled up on a cold, barren bunk deriding himself for the light that he couldn’t squander. No matter how hard he tried.

 

Then Ben would be yanked forcefully from the memory and be rushed headlong into the next. It was agony. He was never given a moment to rest or process what he was seeing. As he watched himself be undone time and time again, he was acutely aware that there would be no reprieve. It was torture of the hightest degree. He had cried at first, panicked as each memory took hold and once more became a part of his person.

 

What a broken creature he was.

 

Having lost count many motions past, he was simply numb. What Ben Solo had suffered while under the care of his family was amplified magnitudes now that he was beholden to Supreme Leader Snoke. Kylo Ren was a shivering shell of a man, barely clinging to his wretched existence. Every action he took was to honor a legacy that Snoke had spun into his head. The dark dregs of lineage hung about him as the voice of his dead grandfather guided him from beyond.

 

Each memory was an echo of the last, on and on they went and on and on Ben was dragged with them. He was beginning to wonder if this was all he had ever been, if he would soon witness the death of Kylo Ren, and by extension, himself. Alone, touch-starved, terrified and brimming with hatred.

 

When he came to a memory of luscious green world, something felt different. The air sparked with a sensation which was utterly kairotic as he watched himself plunge gracelessly through forest underbrush, breath heavy through his mask. Ben wondered at how insufferably hot Kylo must have been beneath his robes, the air was sticky and humid.

 

The buzz that encompassed everything seemed lost on the pillaging Kylo, he appeared to be keen on something that Ben had not yet detected. Like a loth wolf hot on a scent trail. In the distance he could hear blaster fire, and overhead TIE fighters shrieked through the sky. A small battalion of storm troopers trailed the dark apprentice, Ben could sense their fear.

 

Trailing along beside Kylo Ren he wasn't given the chance to truly take in his surroundings as they rushed by, leaving no opportunity to attempt to deduce his location. But as the foreboding trembling of the Force began to climb towards some unknown crescendo, such details were lost in the din. Something was coming. Something climacteric within the tale of Kylo Ren loomed before him and he could not see it for the mask obscuring his eyes.

 

They tore through the forest until they came to a small break in the trees. Kylo Ren stopped abruptly and the troopers fanned out at his order. He must have detected something, or someone. Ben could feel nothing but the vibrations of air around him. The tips of his fingers tingled, his mouth was dry. A play of fate was about to unfold and he felt his insides seize with anxiety. Was this the moment he would see himself felled? If that happened would he cease to exist?

 

What transpired next was a blur of crimson and blaster fire.

 

The step of his shadow was predatory light as he stalked between the trees, breath deep and steady. Ben’s gaze wandered as well, flitting from trunk to trunk. For a moment everything became deathly still as the sound of muffled breathing met his ears.

 

As Kylo rounded the tree from which it was emanating, Ben held his breath, anticipating the end of his spirit journey. Surely this must have been the equivalent of his life flashing before his eyes. He braced himself for the end.

 

But it was only a girl. Small and dressed in desert garb. She was beautiful. The sight of her stunned him, sending him into a daze as she took on the infamous Kylo Ren with only a blaster and her wits.

 

By the time Ben returned, Kylo had her on her knees, his saber held beside her neck. Her eyes were wide with fear, breath burdened with it. Ben felt ill at the sight, not just due to his assault of an innocent, but because something seated more deeply within him was moved by the fear in her eyes. Had his body accompanied him to this place he would have been shaking with a confusing cocktail of rage and bubbling grief. He would have shielded her. He wanted to.

 

It didn’t make sense. He didn’t know her, at least not yet.

 

His vision was beginning to swim when Kylo spoke, “She’s seen the map. We have what we need.”

 

Then the black shell of Ben Solo closed the splayed fingers of his hand and the girl collapsed, unconscious. Ben lurched at that, dizzying outrage bubbling up from within. Kylo took the girl in his arms and whisked her away. He carried her like a reaper might a maiden, for all his brutality he showed some gentleness in that. Uncharacteristic for the creature he had become.

 

Ben wondered if he sensed something unique within her, or if Kylo Ren simply found her beautiful as well.

 

The memory was an odd change of pace. No torture or murder, just the girl. A deviation from the norm which was welcome, though perhaps a bit confounding, Ben thought.

 

Then the memory aligned with his own, falling into place within the puzzle that he was. The girl… there was no name to attach to her yet, but he felt as though his entire body were alight. In that moment, when Kylo Ren had pried into her mind and gleaned the information he sought, he had sewn the seeds of something momentous.

 

Ben could not recall what that something was, because he had not yet reached it in the timeline of these torturous recollections. Around him the jungle of Takodana began to blur and vanish, giving way to darkness once more.

 

Ben could not unsee her face, the cut of her cheekbones and the bow of her lip. Her eyes had been so afraid. Despite not even knowing her name, he knew he never wanted to see that fear again. His chest twisted with feelings he could not place because they still lacked their context within his psyche; grief, envy, unmitigated joy, warm things, and soft things, and things so blazingly intense they made his eyes water.

 

Through the blackness, the voice returned, You are strengthening with each passing day.

 

He still hurt, his chest still throbbed as though it had been run through with a saber. His voice was hoarse when he pled for answers, “Who was she? What was her name? I didn’t hurt her, did I?”

 

The thought of bringing harm to her… his head throbbed. Around him the darkness pulsed with tiny pinpricks of white light. They danced over his vision. But he only saw the girl.

 

I cannot say, the voice replied, I can only encourage you to keep moving, you cannot stop now.

 

Remembering all the agony of his turning and torture, Ben rolled through the blackness, groaning. The flurry rush of pain had been too much, he felt weakened. And now he was plagued by the face of a phantom woman. Brown hair, and tanned skin. Hazel eyes and a wide, soft mouth.

 

He felt hot, an odd sensation stirred in his middle. It was embarrassing, but the voice did not comment on his flushed state.

 

She is important to you, Ben Solo, she acquiesced, Onward, and you will encounter her again.

 

Heaving a sigh, Ben waited for the next memory to descend. But none came. A moment to rest, finally.

 

He shut his eyes.

Chapter Text

As he watched Kylo Ren interrogate the girl he wanted to strangle him. He was sloppy upon entry into her mind and Ben could see the pain in her expression as she fought, teeth bared. Even under duress there was something incomprehensibly gravitational about her; beautiful in her ferocity. She did not break under Kylo Ren’s pressure, but pushed back, digging with equal ineptitude into his mind and pulling forth his own well kept hurts.

 

Vader. The dark lineage that did not truly exist, Kylo’s great shame that he did not live up to the imagined prestige of his late grandfather.

 

Ben remembered her name then Rey. Just Rey. It fit her, all sun-tanned and wild. She was from Jakku, she was no one.

 

Clearly, not to him. To him she was everything, or she would be.

 

Even Kylo, with all his pomp and pride, was stunned and then enamored by her strength.

 

Rey, Ben thought, Rey Rey Rey Rey Rey.

 

She was Force sensitive. Kylo’s— and by extension Ben’s— equal. Something within Kylo snapped into place, and for a moment he was viscerally aware of the girl’s own loneliness, how it mirrored that which dwelled in the darkest depths of him.

 

Ben exhaled a sigh of relief when his shadow retreated, choosing to cause no further harm to Rey. Rey. He wished there was a way for him to pause the dream sequence so he might take a moment just to observe her passively. He knew nothing of her beyond her name and her loneliness, but something innate within him had already decided he would move galaxies for her.

 

With Kylo’s exit, the dream was done, and Ben was cast back into darkness to dream of Rey some more. They weren’t memory dreams, just dreams of his own manufacture. Dreams of touching, of kissing, sometimes more. Often the voice would rouse him before they went too far, but this dream different.

 

From somewhere beyond the blackness, he felt a sudden, intense attraction. A pull to a place he physically could not manifest, and yet—

 

He opened his eyes to behold his surroundings, they were grey and modern. There was a bunk suspended from the wall across from him. On it, tangled in sheets, was the object of this fantasy. Though he could not see her face, he could tell by her voice, soft and steady.

 

“Be with me,” she said, over and over, “Be with me, be with me, be with me.”

 

I love you. The sentiment echoed between them, though Ben could not deduce its origin. It made his heart stutter in his chest, he felt warm. He did love her. He loved her.

 

Ben smiled, eager to grant her wish, be with me, “Rey, I’m here.”

*

Rey’s meeting with Poe went well, he agreed to allow her to participate in the final push to extinguish the First Order. Caveat being; only as long as she remained on base in her off time so her health could be monitored. Rey had accepted, and they shook on it.

 

“We could use someone like you out there, anyways,” Poe remarked offhandedly as he accompanied her to the hangar, “You know, laser sword and all. Scares the piss out of ‘em.”

 

A scowl tugged at the corners of Rey’s mouth, but she made a soft sound of agreement. Someone like you. He meant nothing by it, and she knew that. But at the back of her mind a name echoed, almost accusatory; Palpatine.

 

Finn was lounging in the hangar while Rose worked on a y-wing. He smiled at the sight of Rey. Poe’s com buzzed with a coded message and he huffed, waving goodbye before even getting the chance to say hello.

 

Rey was secretly relieved. One less person to contend with, one less volley of questions she would inevitably have to dodge.

 

“Hey, sleepyhead! Good to see you up.” Finn jumped to his feet and pulled her into a hug.

 

Rose rolled out from under the ship, wiping her hands with an oil blackened bandana, “We were waiting for you, want to grab a late lunch with us?”

 

Rey wasn’t hungry, but she was never hungry. And if she wanted to maintain her new agent status with Poe should would need to at least feign compliance and willingness to recover. She smiled and lied through her teeth, all the while remembering her dream. The tallies. Ben’s hands on her body. His lips on her skin.

 

“Sure.” She licked her lips, “I’m starved.”

 

The statement was almost morbid enough to make her laugh, skeletal as she was. Finn and Rose glanced nervously at her and then each other.

 

They ended up in the on base canteen again. Rey managed a few bites of bread and some steamed vegetables, which seemed to appease both Rose and Finn. She allowed herself to loosen up a bit with a glass of Corellian brandy, but she was careful to steer conversation away from herself. They didn’t need to know of her tumult, they could never understand it.

 

“I’ve been practicing a bit,” Finn admitted at one point.

 

Rey quirked a confused eyebrow at him, head beginning swim as the bartender refilled her glass.

 

“I’ve been practicing reaching out, like you showed me on Ajan Kloss.” He was beaming at her. Rose wore an amused expression.

 

She sipped her liquor, “Oh. That’s good.”

 

What else was she supposed to say? What did he expect from her? If she exploded into the tirade which bubbled in her throat they would know how unhinged she had become. The Force was dangerous, she wanted to say. It will only bring you death and pain. She thought of Ben, and her grip tightened on her glass.

 

“I’m getting better at sensing emotions and intent, I think.” He was still smiling, obliviously, “I don’t want to become a Jedi or anything, but do you think you could show me a few tricks sometime? Maybe—

 

The glass cracked and shattered in her palm, cutting up her fingers and then dousing them in stinging alcohol. Rey’s face was impassive, but her hands shook as she stood up from the table. All around them the canteen had fallen silent at the sound of shattering glass.

 

Rey looked between the mess and her bloody hand and said icily, “I’m going to return to my quarters. I’ll see both of you tomorrow.”

 

Neither called after her, neither pursued. She could sense their mortification and was glad for it. Perhaps the message would be understood without her having to speak the words aloud; the Force would take from you everything you loved. It was dangerous, and silent. Rey hated it.

 

She left a trail of blood in her wake as she made her way back to her quarters. People stared as she passed, bewildered by her brisk step and the obvious wound in her hand. But none of them offered help, because they were afraid. Because they knew she was the last Jedi. Skywalker. Palpatine. She hated how they all knew, hated that her dark lineage had become an open secret whispered in seedy bars the galaxy over. Did you hear? Did you know? Skywalker is just a cover. How could she be the last Jedi? What happened to General Organa’s son?

 

It was her greatest shame. It seemed she would never find true reprieve from it, she was alone. It was her dark burden to bear, and she felt as though she might crumble beneath its weight.

 

Upon returning to her quarters she went straight to the refresher, picking tiny shards of glass from her palm over the sink. Once it was free of debris she ran it under the faucet, rinsing away the blood and revealing the full extent of the damage. Nothing a few bacta patches couldn’t mend, but when she opened the mirror cabinet she found it void of a first aid kit.

 

Right. She was in the military headquarters of the New Republic, safely stationed on a world in the galactic core. They didn’t need to have first aid available in every room, this was a place of politics, not war. Any minor injuries could be tended to in the infirmary.

 

Rey didn’t want to deal with any more sentients. She was tired of the sideways looks and whispers, and the harmless comments that would inevitably send her careening back into despair. Still, her hand bled. But Rey had spent over a decade of her life tending to wounds without modern amenities.

 

It had already been doused in alcohol, the painful part was through. Wincing as she twisted her palm, Rey removed her top, leaving her in only her trousers and a breast band. She tore a long strip of fabric from the hem of the shirt, and wound it carefully around her palm. She tucked it, and marveled numbly at her work. It would take a week or so to heal, but her bandage would hold.

 

She stood in the fresher for a quiet moment, head buzzing, body still warm with alcohol. The morning felt like a distant memory, and when she stepped back out into the tiny bedroom, her eyes didn’t so much as linger on the texts.

 

It wouldn’t matter. If she meditated on them she would only be met with further quiet. Abandoned by the force. The truth of it was that the voices had only come to her because Ben was in the pit. She had been their last, desperate option to destroy the evil that had tainted the Force for so long. Rey was meant to stay dead along with her grandfather, she was meant to have died the last Palpatine. Ben’s choice to save her, to give her his life, had been an aberration from that which was meant to be. She was the unbalance in the Force.

 

It was a terrible truth that she had known from the moment he died in her arms. Ben was the last Skywalker, the light had always shone bright and strong from within him, even in his darkest moments. He had always felt it, his greatest strength perceived to be his greatest weakness.

 

Rey was monster. The last in a line of many monsters.

 

It should have been her. It was supposed to be her.

 

Hollow, she crawled into her bunk and wrapped herself in a blanket. She was guilty, filled with shame and afraid of the silence all around her. The living Force had abandoned her. The cosmic Force felt alien and distant.

 

She didn’t care.

 

All Rey wanted was to see Ben again, to ease this ceaseless aching in her chest. She loved him, Force help her she would always love him. He had died in her arms. It was unfair. He was gone, forever beyond her reach.

 

Except in her dream, he had touched her then. It had felt real.

 

They were a dyad in the Force, that one could live on without the other, even as a shadow such as she… it seemed unlikely. Perhaps that piece of him that had never left her, that lingered in her unconscious mind, could be called out. Maybe Ben wasn’t really dead.

 

Letting out a shuddering breath, Rey shut her eyes and clutched at the blanket. She cleared her mind of everything but her memory of Ben, the last one she had, a brief moment of happiness as he smiled.

 

“Be with me.” She said, “Be with me, be with me, be with me.”

 

And after her plea she thought, I love you. I love you. Come back to me. I love you.

 

Rey reached out, across the base, and the planet, the whole damned galaxy, to the edges of existence she expanded her consciousness. She reached until she felt it, a flicker of something familiar so far away that she could not fathom it’s distance. Perhaps even time stood between them. Space. Reality.

 

Hope fluttered unbidden in her chest and then—

 

“Rey.”

 

She was pulled from her meditation by a sudden presence in her quarters. It was powerful, bright, achingly familiar.

 

“Rey,” he said, “I’m here.”

 

Slowly, tears already gathering in the corners of her eyes, Rey pulled the blanket away from her face. And there he was, leaning against the opposite wall, slumped slightly forward. He was naked, and his body was still bruised in some places, but he was otherwise whole. He was smiling.

 

“Ben.” She breathed in disbelief. He was there, in her quarters with her. Not a ghost, nor a dream. She could feel his presence in the Force as clearly as she had on Takodana, on the Supremacy, on Exegol.

 

She scrambled from her bunk and onto the floor, crawling to him in her desperation. When she touched his cheek she found it soft and real, flesh pliant under her palm. His dark eyes glittered under the fluorescent lights. She could even smell him; salt and earth and man.

 

Perhaps the Force was not so cruel after all.

 

Rey kissed him.

Chapter Text

Rey savored the soft press of his mouth against hers. Stifling the memory of the last time, she leaned into him, hands pressing tentatively to his bare chest. Her wounds twinged at the pressure, but she ignored them. Nothing could take this moment from her. She needed it. She needed to feel him again, warm and alive under her touch.

 

When she pulled back she took a moment to marvel at him, at his presence. Ben was there, he was really there. Bright in the Force as he had ever been. Alive. Her eyes glittered with unshed tears, disbelieving still, despite all the evidence.

 

Rey traced a finger from Ben’s brow to his jaw, following the path her saber once took. Starkiller felt eons past and the scar she had left was gone entirely, leaving only soft, pale skin in its wake.

 

“I can’t believe you’re here,” She breathed, settled between his bare thighs. She kissed him again, gentle and chaste, neither of them were well practiced. Suddenly her stomach was full of butterflies, her limbs buzzing with nerves. Like a lovestruck teenager she was fawning, trying to ignore his nudity but unable to keep her gaze from flitting between his legs. A flush spread across her cheeks. It felt so normal, so mundane. One of the many things her desolate existence on Jakku had refused her was this nerve-wracking sensation of first love. His lips were soft. She never wanted to stop kissing him.

 

“I’m here.” He replied when she pulled back. He was grinning ear to ear, cheeks dimpled. It made her think of Exegol, how he’d smiled then. How he’d died.

 

Letting out a shuddering breath Rey ducked her face into his shoulder, biting her lip, fighting back a torrent of tears that had gone a year unshed. Butterflies melting away into acrid agony that stung her eyes and made her stomach turn. The tenderness of the moment overshadowed by her inability to forget. Like a shadow always looming, Exegol lingered in the back of her mind. Her joy was usurped by dread, because beautiful things were born to die. A sob tore from her chest.

 

Cautiously at first, just his fingers and hands, then all at once, Ben embraced her. Arms winding tight around her waist and crushing her to his chest.

 

“It’s okay.” It sounded like a promise, “I’m here now.”

 

Rey wept in deep, heaving, mournful gasps. Clutching at Ben and choking on air between her sobs as what might have been a lifetime of grief spilled into the narrow space between them. She wanted to ask a million questions, had a million things to say, but all of it was lost to her pain. She couldn’t speak for her wracking shoulders and the unending tears.

 

Ben held her. He kissed her hair and stroked a broad hand over her back. He held her as her nails raked over his skin, as she pounded her fists against his chest in unbridled rage and begged to know why?. Why did he do it? Why did he give his life to her and then leave her so completely and utterly alone? It wasn’t supposed to be that way. It should have been her.

 

Through it all, he held her. Until her lungs and throat burned raw from her wails and her muscles were limp with exhaustion. Mind foggy, she hiccupped into his neck, hiding her swollen eyes from him. Ashamed by her outburst, perhaps, but more so she feared that if she looked up he would be someone else, or have vanished entirely.

 

“I’m here.” He breathed again, once she had gone still in his arms. And maybe it was strange that his emotions didn’t rival her own, but Rey disregarded that. It didn’t matter. Because he was there.

 

Hiccuping she sat back to gaze at him once more. Soft black hair and dark brown eyes. And he was naked. Force, he was naked. She’d seen his chest before, but that had been but an appetizer for the feast that was the whole of him. Rey traced a careful finger between his pecs, following the line of his body down his abdomen. He was a large man, in all aspects. And beautiful, she’d never met anyone so uniquely beautiful as him.

 

Her chest still felt hollow, her throat raw from crying, her eyes chaffed and dry. Emptiness had been her existence for an entire year, her whole life in some regards, and now before her sat the solution.

 

“I’m sorry,” Ben whispered, leaning close. His forehead bumped hers, and she made to shift backwards, but he caught her bicep in a gentle hand. “I’m here now. I know I was gone but I’m here and I want…”

 

His gaze was glassy, sable eyes distant. Not entirely present, struggling to remain. Rey swallowed back fear that he might fade away again, his outline was still sure and solid, unwavering.

 

“What do you want, Ben?” Rey knew what she wanted. Maybe it was wrong to want such a thing so soon, when so much remained unclear. But she had been empty for so long, a piece of herself lost with him. She wanted him to press her down on the bunk and make her feel whole again.

 

Sensing her desire he sucked in a sharp breath. When he replied his tone was irresolute, as if he didn’t fully grasp the meaning of their exchange, “You?”

 

Shutting her eyes, Rey breathed in his breath and whispered, her heart thundering in her chest, “Okay.”

 

She couldn’t tell who initiated the kiss, perhaps they had met in the middle, equally starved for physicality. But instigation hardly mattered when it was so immediately intense. Those few which they had shared before had been chaste and soft, whispers of untold wants pressed between closed mouths. Now all of that bashful pretense crumbled away into aching need.

 

They were sloppy but quick to learn. Teeth scraping, pulling back, tongues seeking, they found a rhythm. It came easily, almost instinctively. Because they were a dyad in the Force, one made two, and Rey had wanted this since the throne room, since Starkiller. She had wanted this before she had known what this was, what it entailed, how tied up in her destiny this man would become.

 

Her hands roamed his body as they kissed, stopping just short of his cock where it had stirred to life between his thighs. Pulling away to catch her breath, Rey let her fingertips trace along the ‘V’ of his hips. The bruises that remained there perturbed her, but the way his muscles jumped beneath her touch made her pupils blow wide.

 

Meeting his eyes, she found his expression equally desperate. His fingers played at the hem of her top, and she helped him pull it over her head. Her undressing was rather unceremoniously. Quickly and clumsily they peeled away the layers— her breast band, trousers, and simple white underwear— until the only skin that was covered was her bandaged hand.

 

Hands dwarfing her waist, Ben’s eyes languidly followed the hard cuts and juts of her malnourished body. He didn’t seem put-off or revolted like she feared, but his brows knitted in concern.

 

Rey shook her head, denying his worries before he could give them voice, “Living without you was hard, but you’re here now. I’ll be okay.”

 

Ben’s full lips parted as if he were going to speak, but she didn’t let him, standing on her toes and crushing her mouth to his. They melted into one another, into the hot press and slide of their lips.

 

Ben’s hands found Rey’s ass and squeezed in a way that made her squeal. Moaning in reply, he began to walk them backwards towards the narrow bunk, cock jostling awkwardly between their bellies. Chuffing, Rey broke away again, grabbing him by the hand and closing the few feet swiftly. She sat pointedly on the side of the mattress, uncertain that any other position would fit on the narrow stretch of bunk.

 

Ben planted his broad palms on either side of her hips and kissed down her throat, taking a moment to nip at the divot of her collarbone before drawing her into another searing kiss. All of her anxiety had dissolved away, leaving Rey near electrically ecstatic. Ben was here. Ben was alive and with her and they were going to… she didn’t know what to think of it yet.

 

Making love felt dishonest, because they hadn’t yet whispered those precious words yet, true as they might’ve been. Sex felt too clinical. She determined that she would decide what it was after. Besides, his hands pressing her gently back onto the thin mattress were distinctly distracting. They spanned her waist easily, thumbs meeting under her navel. His lips burned a trail over her flesh. Nuzzling momentarily between her small breasts he murmured quietly. His voice was low and tremulous, and she couldn’t make out the words as his lips formed them against her skin.

 

Raking her fingers through his hair she asked, “Have you done this before?”

 

He met her curious stare with glittering black eyes, and she felt a pulse of warmth between her legs. Rising up and centering his wide body between her knees, he shook his head, “I don’t know.”

 

Rey didn’t have time to process the strangeness of that answer before he was kissing her again; her breasts and jaw and throat.

 

“You’re so beautiful.” His voice was husky, almost disbelieving, “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”

 

Flushing, she took his face between her hands and pulled him up to kiss her again, locking her legs around his waist to hold him over her. It was a slow, sweet thing, and she could feel the slide of his cock between her thighs, his hips rocking with half-conscious motion. Her hands caressed up and down the switching muscles of his back, and she whined high in the back of her throat as his erection angled awkwardly past her center.

 

“Ben,” she warbled, “Ben, please.”

 

Not needing to be told twice, he reached between them, clumsily aligning himself with her slit. The head bumped her clit, then dropped to pressed snugly to her opening. Ben glanced from between their bodies to meet Rey’s eyes. His were wide and wanting, as if he were asking one final time for permission.

 

“Please, Ben.” She half sobbed, fingers raking his back.

 

Puffing his cheeks, sable gaze unwavering, he eased his hips forward. With a muffled, Kriff and a blood tinged slide, Rey felt whole again.

*

It was wrong, Force, he knew it was wrong. It wasn’t his time yet, he wasn’t supposed to be here. She knew things he didn’t yet know, he wasn’t her Ben. But she was so sad, so soft and small and achingly beautiful. How could he deny her? How could he shun this thing they were doing when it felt so impossibly right?

 

He settled between her thighs, cock throbbing painfully as his inexperienced hand stumbled to find her entrance. And then, with her permission, he pressed forward. He watched as her near reverent expression morphed into pain at his intrusion, and he moved to bottom out as quickly as he could. He didn’t like the thought of Rey in pain.

 

Under him, Rey sucked in a sharp breath, hands coming to clutch at his biceps. She was tight to an almost uncomfortable degree. Wet, but not quite wet enough for him to comfortably rut.

 

“Big.” She explained, shifting her hips, and even though it wasn’t intended as praise, Ben’s ego still swelled, “It’s okay. Please, move.”

 

She still sounded pained, so he leaned forward to kiss her as he began to slowly pump his hips. He didn’t want to look down and see her blood on his cock, and he didn’t want her to either. Ben wanted her to feel him, the push and pull of their bodies and the press of his mouth. He wanted her to know how beautiful she was, how he loved her even though he did not know her, not yet.

 

Slowly, her body began to relax, and the vice-like grip of her cunt began to ease. Wetness began to gather, her body slickening, the pass of his own easier with each slide. Rey began to shift beneath him, mewling into his mouth, fingers trailing his sides to feel his muscles switch with each thrust.

 

Breaking the kiss with a wet smack he pressed their sweaty foreheads together, trying to keep his pace even and slow. He could already feel himself climbing, and he didn’t want to leave her unfulfilled. But her breathy moans played like erotic music over his earsdrums, volume ever increasing, and the tight, wet clench of her was overwhelming his senses.

 

She sublime under him, around him, undulating her tight little body as he sheathed himself again and again. Ben’s control over his higher functions began to slip, and he ducked his face into her shoulder, hips stuttering rough and erratic.

 

“‘m close,” Rey slurred into his ear, nails biting into his shoulders, “Please, ‘m so close.”

 

He could feel it in the pull of her muscles, the wetness that dripped under them, staining the sheets. His own body swelled in response, fire taking hold low in his belly as he delivered the penultimate thrusts. Something radiant sparked between them then, threads mending and binding themselves as sensations bled and traveled between them. He felt the tight, hot clench of Rey’s cunt around him, but also the sharp sweet sensation of being fucked.

 

Ben shut his eyes and gasped at the unfamiliarity of that pleasure alongside his own. It was too much, body alight he buried himself deep, cock twitching as he rode out his orgasm. Rey came simultaneously, and whatever this erotic, numinous thing between them was, it allowed him to feel her release. White hot, the sensation of it all overwhelmed him and he collapsed forward, narrowly avoiding crushing his partner by catching himself on his forearms.

 

They rode the aftershocks, then more aftershocks as they echoed between them. They kissed and sucked caressed until their lips were swollen and their bodies began to ache with the exhaustion of what had just transpired.

 

Wordlessly, Ben rolled onto the narrow bunk, pulling Rey onto his chest. His feet stuck off the end, and Rey gave a breathless laugh, nuzzling into his shoulder.

 

“You’re like a luggabeast.” She said, smiling. Her smile was beautiful, it took his breath away, “So big.”

 

A flush spread over her cheeks, and he felt some of his come drip out of her and onto his thigh. She craned her neck to kiss his jaw, pushing strands of black hair away from his ear, lips brushing the delicate shell, “I love you, Ben.”

 

She whispered the words like a cherished secret. In that thing which had formed between them he felt immense warmth, affection, relief. Her honey eyes were wide and wet with tears once more. Ben didn’t want to see her cry, she had already cried so much.

 

“I love you, too.” He replied, and it wasn’t a lie. He did love her, with all of his being he loved this girl. Every fiber of his existence was branded with her in a way he could not yet comprehend, but that didn’t matter, because he could still speak the words with truth and confidence. Rey deserved that. With her body as lean and bony as it was he knew she struggled. At least he could give her this, his love.

 

Rey shuddered and sighed, sallow eyelids fluttering closed. Between them the thing he couldn’t name hummed, low and sweet, a steady thrum of muted emotions. He felt her contentedness, her relief, her joy. Kissing her hair, his eyes roamed the naked expanse of her body where it sprawled over his. His fingers traced each of her ribs, and along the divot then swell of her hips.

 

Her hand, splayed on his chest, was bandaged with a scrap of torn fabric, frayed about its edge. It was clearly her own work. He had noticed it before, but in the haze of his lust he hadn’t spotted the red bleeding through the hastily placed wrap. It was fresh, still weeping.

 

He hummed, and lifted her hand off of his chest. Struck by the sudden impulse that he could help, somehow. The thought came unbidden, a fraction of a piece of a memory. The knowledge that the Force could heal, at a cost. But costs didn’t matter when Rey was bleeding. He hated even the thought of it, and as he peeled the bandage away he felt his blood begin to boil.

 

It was a series of gashes across the inside of her palm and fingers, they were split wide, two of them were near to the bone.

 

Rey stirred on his chest, but didn’t bother to lift her head. She was exhausted, fucked out. He could feel it through their fledgling bond, or perhaps it wasn’t fledgling, but reforged.

 

“No one hurt me,” she explained, feeling his outrage, “I broke a glass, that’s all.”

 

“Pretty gnarly for broken glass,” He said dryly, tossing the soiled bandage onto the floor.

 

“I was angry.”

 

Ben hummed and sandwiched the wounded hand gently between both of his. She was so small, utterly dwarfed by him, fingers vanishing beneath his. Rey winced at the pressure, but said nothing, eyeing him with uncertainty.

 

Exhaling, Ben shut his eyes and focused on Rey, on her palm and fingers, on the wounds that stung up her arm. They bled still, nerves frayed and vessels torn. He felt them, and then he felt himself. Already dim in this place where he did not belong, pulled out of time, still weak from his own endeavours. True as those things were, he was alive, and life could give life.

 

He felt it, warm in his chest, his hands, his fingertips, the Force within him that comprised his existence. Golden and light. He jostled some free, willing it between himself and Rey, directing it towards her wounded hand. He heard her gasp, and felt the steady drip of her blood into his palm taper off. There was warmth there, and when he opened his hands he found her wounds scarred over. Not gone, but healed enough that she didn’t hurt any longer.

 

Ben wouldn’t have had the strength to heal them entirely, not when just closing them drained him so. He fell backward onto the single thin, lumpy pillow and shut his eyes. Breath coming shallow.

 

“Ben?” Rey whispered, and he felt her prop herself up beside him. Concern vibrated through their bond.

 

He huffed and pulled her back to his chest, wanting to relish the feel of her there, pressed against him, skin to skin. He was weak. It had been a stupid thing to do, but he hated the thought of Rey in pain.

 

“Just tired,” he said, but it was more than that, “I love you.”

 

Rey, because she needed to, accepted his explanation and settled back onto his broad chest. Her lids fell closed and her body relaxed against him, breath coming shallow and even. Gazing down at her, a pulse of guilt rattled through Ben, because he could feel himself fading. Soon he would return to the dark place, he would go back to finish out his task and regain the whole of whoever Ben was.

 

He would have to leave this shadow of the girl in the forest behind.

 

Rey; emaciated, pale skinned, and hollow eyed, had already lost Ben once. He questioned whether she would survive losing him again.

Chapter Text

When Rey woke, she found Ben already awake beside her. His eyes were half lidded and his hand was limp where it rested on her hip. He probably hadn’t slept at all.

 

Faced with him in the sobering cold of her quarters, mind washed of unrepentant desire, she could no longer deny that there was something strange about him. In the way he spoke, his cadence, even the subtleties of his scent were different, somehow.

 

She remembered how he’d kissed her, touched her, made love to her as gently as he could. She remembered how he had breathed the words I love you with such unyielding reverence, how his black eyes glittered like opaque gemstones, full of hope and want. But also they had swam with apprehension, as though he were moving blindly, trying his best to follow the steps of a dance he hadn’t learned.

 

Warm and sick with love, but also toiling with her growing suspicions, Rey shifted so she straddled Ben’s stomach. His eyes widened, but he didn’t startle. He felt clammy under her touch, and the hairs at the back of her neck began to stand on end. Her body already seemed to understand what was about to happen, but Rey wasn’t yet ready to accept it, not when happiness felt so close at hand.

 

Leaning forward, she sealed their lips in gentle, reaffirming kiss. His lips were chapped and cold. Fear settled deep in her middle, turning her blood to ice. She only kissed him harder. Broad hands lifted off of the mattress to caress up and down her thighs.

 

When she pulled away she found his eyes still open, distant.

 

“You aren’t my Ben, are you.” It wasn’t a question. Those eyes were unfamiliar to her. Not in their color but in their depth, there was something missing from him.

 

Head still resting on the pillow, but eyes now trained intently on her, he admitted, “No. I don’t think so, not yet.”

 

“Not yet?”

 

He shook his head. “It’s hard to explain. I don’t really understand it.”

 

“You’re going to leave me again.” Her voice was hollow, she felt weak, numb.

 

“I love you,” he replied, and he stroked her cheek with the backs of his knuckles. “I may not understand why yet, but I know I love you. I know I would die for you.”

 

“Don’t say that!” Rey bit, tears springing fresh and hot at the corners of her eyes. She could feel him beginning to fade, his outline wavering, signature growing more distant as though he were being dragged away.

 

Confusion flashed across his handsome face and she knew he didn’t know. That he had no memory of Exegol, of his choice to throw everything away. Awash with grief she begged for some sore of closure, some inkling of understanding as to why.

 

“It’s not fair.” She choked, leaning over him, caressing his face like her touch might spare him a moment longer, “Why’d you do it? The Force is unbalanced because I should have died, not you. The Jedi only came to me because you weren’t there! You were the Skywalker, Ben! It was your legacy and you threw it all away!”

 

Rey was shouting, voice raw. Sobs overcame her, wracking her shoulders until speech was lost to her, she could only duck her face into his chest and feel him fade away. It was slow at first, gradual as his hands caressed soothingly at her back. Then all at once.

 

Wordlessly, he was gone. But an impression hung in the air, a sentiment imposed on the Force in those final moments before his flame was snuffed out.

 

I love you.

 

Weeping softly, Rey curled up in the thin sheets. Pressing the pillow to her face she inhaled deeply of his scent, proof that he had been real, that he had laid beside her, rutted over her. Ben Solo had been real. Ben Solo had manifested in her quarters, kissed her, loved her and professed his love to her. Ben Solo had healed the wounds of her rendered palm in something like a mockery of his choice on Exegol, and then Ben Solo had faded away again.

 

It was a twist of the knife. Something she could never explain to her friends on the base, they’d think she was losing her mind.

 

Resigned to bear her newfound burden alone, Rey curled in on herself, still crying and confused. And with Ben Solo’s cum still crusted to her thighs, she whimpered herself to sleep, begging for it to have all been a nightmare.

*

Like an icy hand scruffing him by the nape, Ben was yanked from his place beneath Rey’s hands and back out of time. Into the blackness which enveloped him in its coldness once more. He hadn’t realized its chill before, but now that he knew the fire of Rey’s touch he couldn’t help but shiver in the dark.

 

She is powerful, an unfamiliar voice echoed through the blackness. Perhaps frighteningly so, to pull you from this place.

 

Ben still ached with the pain of being torn from her, Rey. He didn’t like how the voice spoke of her, as if she were nothing but a nuisance.

 

It was not your fault that she discovered you before your time. The voice added, almost amiably. We will hide you better, now.

 

“Who is ‘we’?” Ben blurted, still reeling. His head was a rush of disjointed thought and emotion.

 

It ignored him, prattling on, But you are weakened now. And your decision to heal her wounds? A pointless waste of life.

 

“What do you mean?” Ben spat, swinging his fists into the blackness testily. He’d do it again. He’d do it a million times over. Anything to spare the sight of her blood, her pretty face scrunching with pain. “I’m fine.”

 

As if to demonstrate, Ben was suddenly dropped from his odd suspension to stand on an unseen surface. He could barely hold himself upright, every fiber of his ailing being cried out for succor, to collapse and face whatever fate awaited such a withering being.

 

Gritting his teeth, he managed to remain upright until he was lifted again, weightless once more. No longer able to ignore it, Ben remained limp, his tired limbs burning down to the bone. He felt like something was eating away at him, flesh and muscle and tendon. Exhaustion, maybe death.

 

You will need to rest. Came another voice, this one more familiar. Time is of the essence, but you are useless unless you are fully recovered.

 

Thinking of Rey, of her pain and of the darkness that had swirled behind her eyes, he doubted he would ever rest again. Not until he was by her side once more. She needed him.

 

You are of no use to her as you are now. You don’t even remember who she is, Ben Solo. You will rest.

 

“I can’t. I need to see the rest of my memories. I need—

 

To rest. Sustaining your physicality outside of this place took energy, healing Rey’s hand took even more. You are wasting away physically. Its tone was elevated, but Ben wasn’t afraid. A pivotal moment has passed in the Force this day, and should you continue to argue it’s consequences may go unabated.

 

Head pounding Ben took a moment to wonder at the absurdity of it all. Maybe he was dead, maybe none of this had actually transpired. Stomach rolling with nausea, he shut his eyes. Behind them he saw Rey’s face; cheeks hollow, eyes dark and sunken, sallow skinned. He knew that was real. True, unmitigated suffering carved deep into the features of a women he was certain he loved. And if she were real, so was this.

 

“I will rest.” He agreed, and he felt the very blackness that contained him release some tension, “But first I need you to tell me where I am, and who you are. All of you.”

 

There was most definitely more than one of them. Steadying himself and feeling outward he could not distinguish them from one another, trying to decipher the presences he detected only caused his head to throb more insistently. It was as if they were innate to the very background hum of the Force itself.

 

‘Twas a final wish that brought you here, and none is owed to you but the conditions of said prayer. A more masculine voice took over. Perhaps when your slumber is over you will uncover the truth, but for now I bid you rest.

 

It was no longer a thing of asking. Ben felt his whole body grow leaden, lids heavy. His final thought as he was forced into unnatural slumber was of Rey. Of how desperately he wanted to know her, of how unfair it was that they had laid together then been torn apart.

 

He thought of citrine eyes. A scar. A baby’s cries.

 

For a moment Ben Solo was terrified.

 

Then the blackness swallowed his mind whole.