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The pain in his back was excruciating, his leg feeling like it was on fire. His breathing was uneven as he staggered forward on hands and knees, the jagged edges of cracked earth from Exogol’s terrain from nicking holes in the fabric of his sweater. He tried to stand, but only made it a second or two before collapsing hard to the freezing ground once more.

Ben Solo exhaled a shaky breath. Closed his eyes. Centered his thoughts away from the pain, and onto the woman he loved so deeply. And kept moving.

At the sight of her, relief surged through him. But when he noticed how bloodied she was, how she lay motionless on her side, eyes open wide and staring at nothing—an indescribable fear seized his chest.

He moved forward a few more inches, reaching to check her pulse. Nothing. He could feel the last bits of her life force slowly leaving her body, which only made the panic in his stomach increase tenfold. His entire body shook from the effort of lifting her from the ground, her petite frame limp as he pulled her flush against his chest with all the strength he could muster.

Ben’s eyes searched around frantically, wondering, hoping for any sort of help from those who were already one with the Force. But as the deafening silence continued, he knew they were alone.

“No, no. Rey–” His voice was thick with emotion. ”Come back to me, sweetheart. Please...”

Her head lolled back, face pallid and gray, eyes devoid of vibrance. Ben felt the sting of tears once he realized he was too late; she was gone. His arms instinctively tightened around her, holding onto her as though if he let go, she would disappear. He’d always envisioned—in the canvas of his dreams, when they weren’t tormenting him—holding her like this, warmth radiating through them both as they basked in the peace and happiness they’d been searching for all their lives.

Rey deserved more than for things to end this way. She deserved to live a full, free life. Him? Maybe. His parents had forgiven him, but that didn’t mean a whole galaxy would. And he hadn’t even begun to walk down the road of forgiving himself.

But Rey? It was indisputable. If it were between his life and hers, he’d choose hers, always. Nothing else made sense.

The gears in Ben’s mind slowly began to turn as an idea formed, one that struck a chord of fear in his heart, but also a measure of peace. It would work; it had to. She’d do it for him.

Gently, Ben pulled Rey’s body away from his own, tenderly cradling her head with his hand. The other he placed on her abdomen. Then, he closed his eyes, his breathing calm as he focused on the energy from the Force surrounding them. He’d never done anything like this before—transferring one’s life force had a finality to it, in a way. Ben had heard stories of Jedi and Sith alike utilizing such a skill, and thus he hoped...no, prayed...that this would save her.

If the galaxy went on unaware of what he’d done, of the steps he’d taken to bring himself out from under the cloud of darkness he’d been shrouded in since birth, then he would have to make peace with it. 

But the galaxy needed Rey more than it needed him. And that was okay.

The seconds ticked by at an agonizing pace. Was it working? Was the Force no longer on his side? Maybe if he’d gotten to her sooner, it would’ve–

Wait.

In the swiftest of motions, Rey’s hand moved to rest atop his. And suddenly, Ben could breathe again.

Relief crashed over his soul like waves against sand once Rey sat upright, breathing returning to normal as she stared at him wide-eyed. She searched the planes of his face, brushing her fingertips against the side of his cheek where her lightsaber had once scarred him; a scar that had now fully healed. Her voice was soft as she whispered, “Ben.”

Overwhelmed, Ben laughed ever so softly as his eyes glistened with tears. His hand came to rest at the back of her neck, stroking the skin softly. “I’m here.”

“I thought I’d lost you, I thought he killed you...”  She gasped out the words in a teary rush, almost as if the realization of what they’d both been through was hitting her all at once. “Are you alright?”

“...I wouldn’t say no to a bacta pack right now, but otherwise I’m alright.”

Hearing her laugh for the first time was the purest sound he’d ever had the pleasure of listening to.  They sat there for a moment, holding each other at arm's length and savoring the once foreign feeling. How far they’d come since their first meeting in the forest on Takodana. Every step since they'd locked eyes had lead to this moment. The moment where Rey, overcome with indescribable emotions churning to the core of her soul, cupped Ben’s cheek with her hand, and tentatively leaned in closer.

The moment when she pressed her lips to his, and he immediately drew her body closer to deepen the embrace. Her soft sigh of relief as she curled her fingers in his hair. The warmth that spread from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.

The sheer feeling of comfort as the Force wrapped its arms around them both and gave its blessing to the ones who had, at last, brought balance.

They pulled away in unison, faces still mere inches apart. Rey tenderly brushed her thumb against the corner of his mouth, her heart soaring at the sensation of his skin against hers.

Ben’s eyes drifted shut and a large smile broke across his face. Not a moment later, still clutching Rey’s hand, he fell backwards onto the ground. Rey came to rest on top of him, their chests touching. To her surprise, he began to laugh. “What’s so funny?”

Once his laughter subsided, Ben took her hand that he’d been holding onto and placed it on his cheek. “The voices,” He responded, voice barely above a whisper. “They’re gone.”

Rey kisses him again, a little more confident this time, and Ben responds in kind. For the first time in who remembers how long, they are both at peace. Somehow, it’s all that matters. 

Slowly, and with concentrated effort, each helps the other to their feet. She puts an arm around his shoulders to support his weight, while his encircled her waist. 

"Come on," Rey breathed softly, a renewed strength in her bones as Ben leaned against her. "Let's go home."