It’s a while before they cross paths again. Rey wonders if the connection between them really had been manufactured by Snoke, whether that last look between them had been fuelled by the last vestiges of his power, lingering on after death.
She tries to block him out. He is beyond saving — at least for the moment. Poe had regaled her with the tale of his battle with Luke. She can’t blame Ben for his animosity, for his hatred, but from what she hears, he was utterly consumed by it. He had lost control, had fallen to pieces, descending into a murderous rage.
The Resistance is depleted. And as Supreme Leader, he is ultimately accountable for their losses, even if he didn’t pull the trigger himself. It troubles her. How she misses him. How she hates him.
She hates Kylo Ren.
She does not hate Ben Solo.
If anything, she misses Ben Solo.
Rey sighs and drops onto her bunk. She reaches down to unbuckle her boots, and kicks them off. When she sits up again, her heart stops in her chest, the air knocked out of her lungs.
He’s there. But he doesn’t look happy about it. For all she can see, he’s sitting in the chair by the door. Of course in reality he’s in his own chair, in his own quarters, thousands of lightyears away.
But he might as well be here.
Rey ignores him, knowing that even as she does it, it’s a vain effort to try and make him go away. Neither of them have much say so in how and when their connection forms. If only she could shut him out for good, things would be much easier.
But, she supposes, there is something in his sudden appearance. It answers the question for her. Snoke had exploited their connection, perhaps. But he hadn’t created. It doesn’t belong to him, and it never did. Ben’s existence here, in her tiny room, is evidence of that.
Rey unties the wraps on her left arm, the fingers of her right hand making quick work of the knots. She can feel his eyes on her as she unreels the fabric, letting the cool air of the base hit her arms. It’s a ritual — a way of literally unwinding from the day and its troubles. She is exhausted, from training, from repairing the Falcon, and from trying to not think about Ben.
She sets the fabric to one side and switches arms. Her left hand is not so dextrous, and it always takes her a few goes to work through the first knot. This one today is particularly troublesome, pulled a little too tight this morning in her hurry to not miss breakfast. She’s paying for it now, although she can’t say she regrets it. Back on Jakku, three meals a day would have seemed crazy to her. It’s the norm now though, and no matter what the days throw at her, she gets to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with friends.
In some ways, she is incredibly lucky.
Ben huffs and stands up, crossing the room in two steps. He bats her hands away and picks at the knot. She wants to tell him to leave her alone, she wants to pull away from him. But it’s like she’s stuck, glued to the spot, her voice snatched from her.
And so she lets him untie the knots. After the first, the others come easily, and he retreats to his seat without a word. Rey focuses on unwrapping the bindings, then places the strips next to the rest of the fabric.
She has no intention of altering her day for him, and so she grabs her towel, leaves her room, and walks down the corridor to the bathroom. Thankfully, they’re not tethered so closely that he is obliged to make the journey with her, and so she is able to strip off in privacy, and sink into the hot water in peace.
When she was on Jakku, she had never dared to dream of ever having a bath. But now, every few days, she indulges herself, and no one bats an eyelid. Water is plentiful, as opposed to a source of contention.
Again, she feels incredibly lucky.
She lays there for forty minutes, until finally, as the water begins to cool, she drags herself out and wraps her towel around her.
When she gets back to her bedroom, Ben is gone. She thinks the squirm in her stomach might be relief, but a small voice at the back of her head is not convinced by her conclusion.
She’s not going on the mission, but she likes to listen in to the briefing all the same. It makes her feel like she’s part of things, which is hard, when Leia has her training all day.
She wishes she could be in two places at once — not in the same way as the Force bond, but so that she can be there, with her friends, fighting the fight against the First Order, rather than training for a battle she never wants to have.
Obviously it’s not Leia’s intention, to train Rey up to kill her own son. But there is an unspoken sense of uneasiness that undercuts the training sessions. They both know that the war can only end one way. The First Order must be destroyed in its entirety. Including its Supreme Leader.
Rey pushes the thought from her mind. She doesn’t like to think about it. Somehow, she has arrived at the belief that the less she thinks about it, the less likely it is to happen. It’s nonsense, of course, and deep down she knows it. But the less time she spends thinking about it, the more time she has to try and come up with other seemingly impossible eventualities.
Her stomach rumbles, and she fidgets in a hopeless attempt at covering up the noise. She doesn’t think on it for too long, however, because without looking, she knows that something has altered around her.
There’s no great disturbance at his arrival, no noise or fanfare or hullaballoo. Suddenly, he just comes into being, and something shifts within Rey to confirm his presence. He’s standing a few feet behind her, she can tell, but then he circles around to perch next to her on the crate she’s sitting on.
She doesn’t pay him much attention, instead focusing her mind on Poe and his words. But from the corner of her eye she can see that Ben is stripped back — not quite so far as he was when they had connected on Ahch-To. She is so used to him being buttoned up to the collar that the sight of his loose undershirt throws her for a moment. She looks down and sees his bare feet grazing the floor.
He must be on his ship. They’re out of sync with galactic time on the base, and he must be getting ready for bed.
She hears a crinkle, and looks down to see a foil packet of dried berries in his hand. He shakes it, offering her some, but she declines — out of principle — with a shake of her head.
Poe has stopped talking, and when Rey looks up she sees dozens of faces turned in her direction.
“What?” she asks.
“Did you wanna say something?” Poe asks. “You looked like - ”
“Oh no sorry,” she says, “I’m just a bit cold.” The lie comes to her lips more easily than she’d like, and she gives a little shiver to drive her point home. Ben lets out a quiet snort of laughter next to her.
She ignores him.
Her guts squirm guiltily as Poe continues, shrugging off his jacket and tossing it to her. It hits Ben in the face and he drops his berries. The ‘thank you’ that Rey mouths at Poe is dual purpose (though he doesn’t know it) and she slips the jacket on, suppressing her smile as she concentrates on the rest of the briefing.
Ben disappears towards the end, and she misses the heat of him next to her, his thigh brushing softly against hers. When it’s all over, she slips down from the crate, and something bursts under her foot. She lifts up her boot to see the purple splattered remains of a berry.
Next to her other foot is a foil packet. She picks it up, and pops a berry into her mouth. It’s a little sour, but she likes the taste. She keeps them.
He’s the first one to break the silence.
She’s training on the course, and the training droid manages to scald her shoulder with a lucky blast before she manages to subdue it.
Rey doesn’t turn around. Instead, she carries on to the next part of the course, ducking and diving through low hanging branches before arriving at a deep gorge. She takes a run up, believing wholly in herself, and launches herself off of the ground.
She soars over the gorge, but when she lands, he’s right in front of her.
“Move,” she says. She won’t offer him any pleasantries. He doesn’t deserve them.
“Are you training?” he asks.
She doesn’t answer, and sidesteps him instead. But he’s there again, right in front of her.
“Will you stop?”
“I didn’t move,” he tells her. “It’s not me.”
Frustration bubbles up inside her. She wants to lash out, move him forcibly from her path, but she knows it’s no more his fault than it is hers. She can’t control their connection, even though she wishes, desperately, that she could.
“Fine,” she says, giving in. She drops down to the grass with more force than intended, her tail bone connecting painfully with the ground. “We wait it out.”
He shrugs and takes a seat in front of her, one leg bent so he can prop his forearm on his kneecap. It’s a very casual pose — she’s not used to casualness when it comes to him. Usually he is wound so tightly, every inch of him shackled in heavy black cloth. Even though he’s wearing his full uniform right now, the top few notches on his tunic are unfastened, the material falling open to reveal an equally black undershirt.
She supposes the First Order ships are cold, and he needs the layers.
“I miss you,” he says.
“Don’t what? Don’t miss you?”
She blinks, and turns to look at the trees. She cannot bear the sight of him, not after he has uttered those words. It would be so much easier if she didn’t care about him. Didn’t miss him. Hearing him say those words only heightens her feelings, and she wants to reach out and touch him, just like she did on Ahch-To.
But she can’t. Not after what the First Order has done.
Her hands are resting on her knees, fingers gripping them tightly. She wonders how long she will have to endure this for. Him and his face, and his presence which she feels in her chest, swirling around like guilty pleasure.
His hand covers hers and she can’t help the sudden intake of breath. She looks down at it, his large hand tentatively on her own. When she doesn’t fight him, he scoots a little closer, his fingers closing gently around her palm.
There is a lump in her throat, and she tries to swallow it down, but it’s just as stubborn as she is.
“Ben…” She doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t know how to communicate the sensation inside of her, the constant battle of enemy versus…she doesn’t know what Ben Solo is to her.
“I know,” he says, his words soft. He sounds much more like himself than when she last heard him, yelling and screaming and pleading with her to join him. All the anger and bitterness in him is suppressed, and she wonders if this is the true Ben Solo, peeking through the shell of Kylo Ren.
She looks at him, which is a mistake. She’s not prepared for how close he is, or how she can see every tiny movement of his brown eyes as he watches her. She can smell him too, though she can’t define his scent as anything other than him. Sometimes she forgets that Ben Solo is just a man.
“I do miss you,” he says again. “And…”
She waits for the ‘and’ to lead to something meaningful, but his words must fail him because he sighs and looks down at the ground. She has no words to offer him, but her body has other ideas, and she shuffles a little closer to him, so their legs are touching.
Despite everything her brain tries to convince her of, she likes it when he’s close to her. Even now, after everything, she knows that he understands her in a way that her friends never will. He knows what it’s like to feel like this, and can sense it in her as much as she can sense it in him. They are, she knows, irreversibly bound together.
His eyes meet hers, his face just a few inches from her own. Something flickers in his gaze, as though he has come to a decision, but before he can act on it, he disappears.
Rey sits in the middle of the forest, her hand empty, heart racing in her chest.