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.
She ducks beneath the surface, and the hot water makes her scalp prickle in a nice way, a cleansing sort of way. She stays under for a little while, clamping her nose shut with her forefinger and thumb. The distant sounds of the base are nullified by the water. She feels alone here, comforted by the heat and the quiet.
Her lungs begin to protest, and so she releases her nose and sits up. And of course, when she opens her eyes, he is there.
It’s poor timing, to say the least.
He’s sitting on the bathroom floor, leaning against the far wall. His legs are drawn up to his chest, his undershirt clinging to his body. It’s soaked through.
“Where are you?” Rey asks with a frown.
“It rained,” he tells her. “Uniform’s soaked through.”
“So take that, off,” she says, gesturing one dripping hand towards his shirt. “You’ll get a fever.”
He quirks an eyebrow, and Rey drops her hand back into the water with a splash. She’s certain that from down on the floor, he can see nothing below her shoulders. Thankfully the edge of the bath tub runs high, built to accommodate species far bigger than her.
“I wanted to take a bath,” he says, and he pulls the shirt off over his head. “But I guess you beat me to it.”
Rey closes her eyes and tries to make herself comfortable. It is a vain attempt to avoid looking at him, because the second she thinks on his words, her eyes snap open.
“You were thinking about a bath, and I’m in the bath.”
“Yeah,” he says, and he rubs his face with his shirt, mopping up any excess moisture, before casting it aside. “What’s your point?”
“My point,” she says. “Is that we connected, when you wanted a bath and I was in the bath. What if we have to be…I don’t know, thinking about the same things? What if that’s what connects us?”
Ben frowns, but considers her point. While he thinks, she tries not to concern herself with the way that the dim light of the bathroom reflects off of his damp torso. She also doesn’t concern herself with his shoulders, so square, and so strong. She definitely doesn’t concern herself with the smooth line of his collarbone.
“What happened last time?” he asks.
“I was training,” she says. He narrows his eyes.
“You got shot.”
“So what?” she asks, unable to keep the petty defensiveness out of her tone.
“So,” he says, “I was getting my wound patched up.” He taps the skin at the front of right shoulder, which is red and raw. “From…” He trails off, but it doesn’t matter, because she knows where that wound is from. She has one just like it on her arm, which has since faded to a thin pink line.
Rey thinks on his conclusion for a moment or two, before shrugging. “It’s tenuous.”
“I was in a briefing,” she says, closing her eyes and sinking more deeply into the water. She doesn’t want to go on a wild goose chase, and regrets submitting the hypothesis now. He’s so thorough he’ll overanalyse every connection they’ve ever had. They could be here for hours.
“I was eating,” he tells her.
“I know,” she says, smiling at the memory. “I finished your berries.”
“Were you hungry?”
Rey opens her eyes and sits up. She nods her head, knowing as she does so, that she’ll regret it. They’ll both overthink every interaction now, what could have led them to be together at that particular moment in time. It can’t be the mere act of thinking about him, because she thinks about him a hundred times a day. It’s more random than that, like the galaxy picks its moments on a whim because there is some trivial element of their lives that runs parallel in that one second.
“I wonder what controls the duration,” he murmurs, more to himself than to her. She’s not thought too much about that. Normally he’s there far too long for her liking. Except last time. Last time had definitely been cut short. But perhaps that had been for the best.
His mind has clearly trodden the same path, because his eyes meet hers and hold her gaze, just for a little while, before he clears his throat and looks away.
A knock at the door startles Rey, the water sloshing around her.
“Rey? Are you nearly done in there?”
She focuses on her breath, and avoids Ben’s gaze. “Yeah, just five minutes, Rose!” she calls back.
The footsteps on the other side of the door recede into nothingness, and Rey lets out a shaky breath. Every moment spent with him feels like an act of treason. It feels like she is betraying those she loves most dearly just by existing — through no fault of her own — in the same time and place as him.
When her eyes land on him it’s a weak argument. He hasn’t chosen to be here either — this is just their lot. It’s the hand they’ve been dealt and somehow they’ll have to figure this mess out. He runs a hand through his hair, which is just as wet as her own, and she knows that deep down, they’re just two sides of the same coin. He’s just as human as she is.
But that too is a slippery slope, her brain reminds her.
“I need to get out,” she says. Time is pushing on, and Rose has been working on X-Wings all day. She needs this bathtub far more than Rey.
“Okay,” he says, and he closes his eyes, raising his hands to his face to gently cover them.
Rey isn’t precious. She couldn’t afford to be on Jakku. But he has had so much of her already, so much of her soul and her spirit, that she is desperate to keep a little something back for herself. She half expects him to look, and as she rises from the water she keeps a close eye for any gaps that might form between his fingers.
He doesn’t peek though, and Rey holds out a hand, her towel speeding into her grip. She wraps it around herself and steps carefully out of the tub, then pulls the plug.
She doesn’t know what to say to him. She doesn’t want to leave him there with his hands over his eyes. It feels a bit undignified, or even cruel. But this is all new to her. There isn’t a blueprint for this situation.
“I’m going back to my room,” she tells him. He lowers his hands and opens his eyes, turning his head to look at her. She presses her lips together, and under his gaze she is suddenly acutely aware of her body — the way her arms hang at her sides, the water droplet tracing a line down her thigh, her toes, curling against the stone floor.
He stands up, his mouth open to say something, but no words come. Rey thinks about last time, about what would have happened, had their time together not been shattered. She wants to ask him what that look in his eyes had been, why he had chosen to take her hand in his.
She wonders if she were to touch him — properly touch him, not just hands grazing together, not legs brushing against each other — whether he would feel truly real. Whether it would be like being in the same room as him, or whether this strange trick that the galaxy is playing on them would come to light. Would he, and his body, stand up to reality, or would he melt away?
Rey stoops to pick up her clothes, if only to break eye contact with him. She can’t just stand here — naked but for a towel — and think about touching him. If spending time in the same room as him is treachery then that, that would be something else altogether.
When she rises again, he’s there, right in front of her. She can smell the rain on him, can see the goose pimples raised on his skin. She can see every little hair, every dot of stubble on his jaw, and when he reaches out to touch her elbow, he feels as real as the floor she’s standing on.
Her breath catches in her throat, but then the control panel bleeps to mark the hour — 11 o’clock — and she ducks away from him. She uses the force to open the door while she’s still three steps away from it and she hurries back down the corridor, her heart pounding.
He doesn’t follow her, and so she supposes he must disappear back to his ship.
When she enters the bathroom the next morning, the first thing she sees is a black undershirt, hung neatly over the towel rail to dry.
He must have left it behind.
Rey takes it and smuggles it back to her room. She has no idea what to do with it, but when she gives it a tentative sniff, she can smell him instantly. She tosses it into her locker and slams the door.
She doesn’t need to think about that.
It’s late, and she should be in bed, really.
But she missed dinner because she was on the training course. Leia has pushed her today, and she is tired and sore, but above all else, she’s hungry.
Her legs feel tight as she pads into the mess hall, her blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She just needs something to tide her over until the morning. Something small, some bread or something. Her stomach grumbles loudly, but no one is around to hear it in the darkened hall.
“Were you hungry again?”
She spins around, and he’s there.
Of course he’s eating. But what, she has no idea. She frowns at the sight of it. She’s never seen one before. It’s a fruit — that much she can tell — with a golden yellow skin and a red fleshy inside that shines like a jewel. He must be somewhere well lit, because she can see him as clear as day.
“What is that?” she asks, crossing the gap between them, her wide eyes glued to the fruit.
He shrugs. “Some fruit,” he tells her with a shrug. “I can’t remember the name.”
The longer she looks at it, the more her mouth waters, and she has to swallow to stop herself from actually drooling in front of him. She’s never seen fresh fruit before.
“Do you want some?”
Before he has finished asking the question, Rey leans forward, steadying his hand with hers and taking an enormous bite. He laughs but she doesn’t pay it any mind, because there is an explosion of flavour in her mouth. It’s both sweet and sharp, and the flesh is so so soft that when she swallows, glides down her throat like nothing she’s ever eaten before.
She wipes the juice from her mouth with the edge of her thumb, then pops that in her mouth so as not to waste a single drop.
“Do you…want the rest of it?”
She looks up at him to see an amused smile tugging at his lips, and she nods. He relinquishes the fruit and she takes another bite, closing her eyes to savour the taste and texture. When she bites again, however, her teeth collide with something solid, and she recoils from the fruit, scowling at it.
“What the hell?” she digs her thumb into the centre of the fruit, peeling back the flesh to reveal something brown, like a piece of tree bark but a hundred times more solid.
“That’s the stone…” he says slowly, in a voice that suggests she should automatically know that.
“Who puts a stone inside a fruit?”
Ben presses his lips together, and she knows with complete certainty that he is trying his level best not to laugh. “That’s how it grows. It’s a seed.”
Rey stares at him.
“Have you never had fresh fruit?”
“Ben, I grew up on Jakku and now I live with the Resistance. Never mind fresh fruit, I’ve never even had fresh food.”
His amusement fades at her words, but his pity rubs her up the wrong way. She takes another bite of the fruit, careful to avoid the stone this time, and settles herself on the edge of one of the mess tables so she can properly concentrate on her late night feast.
Her blanket slips from her shoulders, but it’s the last thing she intends to worry about. She works her way steadily around the stone, gnawing every last piece of juicy flesh away from its wrinkled surface. Ben watches her, perched on the opposite table, and doesn’t interrupt. He wouldn’t get any conversation out of her anyway.
By the time she’s finished, he’s gone, disappearing in an instant without her even noticing. She feels bad about that, especially when she has neglected to say thank you for the fruit. Her eyes focus on something on the opposite table, and she gets up, her blanket trailing behind her as she crosses over to look at it.
He’s left behind two more golden fruits.
Her heart leaps at the sight of them, and she tosses the stone of the first fruit into the trash compactor, rinses her hands, then gathers up her fruit and retreats to her rooms.
She’ll have to exercise some willpower over the fruit, otherwise she’ll end up gorging herself. She’ll save them for a particularly special day, or a day when she needs cheering up. Nothing else.
“My fruit went mouldy,” she says quietly, when she realises he’s with her.
“Yeah, it does that,” he sighs. He sounds just as sleepy as she feels, but his words send her brain into an indignant overdrive.
“What do you mean it does that?” She flicks on the light above her bunk and he clamps his eyes shut, burying his head in her pillow.
“How long did you keep it for?” he asks, his voice muffled by the pillow.
“About two weeks,” she tells him. “I was saving it.”
He lifts his head up from the pillow, propping himself up on his elbow and grimacing in the bright light. “You can’t save fresh food,” he tells her. “It rots.”
“Well how am I supposed to know?” she snaps. She’s not mad at him. Not really. She’s mad at herself, because she feels like this is another one of those things that everybody knows except her. Never does she feel more like a scavenger than when some simple fact of everyday life passes her by.
“I didn’t realise you didn’t know,” he says. “I’m sorry. If I’d realised, I’d have told you.”
“All I know about food is that it comes in portions,” she tells him bitterly. “Or half portions, if Unkar Plutt’s in charge.”
Ben lays back down, and Rey heaves a sigh before dropping onto her own pillow. She reaches up for the light switch, and with a click she plunges them into darkness.
“Next time I have something worth sharing, I’ll bring you some,” he murmurs in the darkness.
“D’you promise?” she asks, anxious that this offer not be forgotten by the time he wakes up.
He hums in agreement, and some of the frustration she has carried with her the past few days dissipates. She reaches out to him and takes his hand, aware that he is bearing the brunt of her bad mood. She shuffles closer, until she can feel the ghost of his breath against her collar bone. It’s the first time they’ve shared a bed — he is evidently too tired to care, and she, though she is loathe to admit it, wants the comfort that he brings with him.
He’s far more relaxed these days than she ever remembers him being. Without Snoke breathing down his neck, twisting every thought in his head, he might finally be coming into himself. She knows the exact moment he slips into slumber. His fingers slacken around her hand, his breathing soft and level.
It’s not long before she joins him, but when she wakes in the morning after a restful night’s sleep, he is gone.
In the absence of anything truly impressive, he brings her fresh berries. Apparently he can get them fairly easily, but Rey’s envy of that fact is placated by the taste. They share the punnet, which in reality means that for every five berries Rey takes, Ben takes one, apparently choosing to watch her eat them instead.
By the time she finishes, her fingers and her lips are stained with purple juice. Rey sighs as she looks at the empty punnet.
“What’s up?” he asks. “You’re not still hungry?”
She shakes her head. She’s been full for quite some time, but that didn’t stop her from greedily stuffing berry after berry into her mouth, popping each one between her tongue and the roof of her mouth.
“I should have saved them,” she tells him. He opens his mouth to argue with her but she cuts him off. “Not forever,” she says hurriedly. “Just for a day or two. Rather than scoffing them all at once.”
He shakes his head. “No you shouldn’t.”
“I have no self control when it comes to stuff like this.”
“Things you want?” he asks.
She nods. It’s silly. To feel guilty over some berries. But she could have enjoyed them the next day too. And maybe even the day after. Instead she’ll probably sit here late into the night nursing a belly ache from overindulging. On Jakku, she’d have had the good sense to make them last. How the times change.
“Even things you can have?”
She nods again. She doesn’t worry about the things she can’t have. She accepts the way of the world — up to a point. It’s the things that are sitting right in front of her that prove to be far more troublesome.
“Rey, you’ve spent your entire life waiting for things.” He leans forward, the tips of his fingers tentatively brushing the back of her hand. “You don’t need to wait anymore. If it’s there and you can have it…take it.”
It sounds like a principle of the dark side, the sort of reasoning that someone could be taken in by. The sort of thing he truly believes to be right. She gets the feeling that’s not his point though. She’s also not entirely sure that he’s talking about berries anymore.
She looks at him, his collarbone peeping over the hem of his loose undershirt. She likes that shirt on him far better than the stuffy tunic he normally wears, but she doesn’t know how to tell him that. He might laugh at her for saying such a thing. They’re at war, after all. She’s not supposed to like his uniform.
It’s more than that. She likes the way his hair hangs at his shoulders — always a little messy but never scruffy. She likes the way he watches her too, brown eyes drinking in her every move. There was a time when she would have been suspicious of such habits, but she catches herself looking sometimes too.
Sometime being now.
Rey brushes the empty punnet aside, removing the only obstacle between them. She rises onto her knees so she can close the gap between them. There is a hint of hesitation at the back of her mind but it’s stamped out by the thought of what she wants, and what she can have.
For the first second, he’s surprised. But then his shock subsides and his hands move to her waist, drawing her against him as he kisses her back.
Rey allows herself to become lost to it, anchoring herself to him and him only. She can feel the heat of him through his shirt, and her fingers clutch at the loose fabric in a vain attempt to pull him even closer.
She ignores the alarm bells ringing in the back of her mind. The consequences can be dealt with later. Now it’s just her and him, joined together, and everything is as it ought to be.
A fist slams against the door of her room and she jolts away from him.
“Rey, come on!” It’s Poe, his voice raised with urgency. “We’re scrambling the fighters!”
Rey lets out a shaky breath, looking at the door. She can hear the alarms ringing loud and clear, but apparently Ben can’t. He tilts her head back towards his, and his lips meet hers with an urgency that she feels tightening in the pit of her stomach.
But she can’t leave her friends to fight alone.
She pulls away from him, and slips off his lap. She ducks down to pick up the empty punnet with shaking hands and passes it back to him — she doesn’t know why. She just needs all traces of him gone from her room.
“Rey what — “
“I have to go,” she breathes, and she checks her reflection in the tiny mirror above her desk before whacking the control panel with the side of her fist.
Poe gives her a look of impatience and they both break into a sprint, heading towards the hangar. She doesn’t have the headspace to think of both Ben and the fight ahead, and so she locks everything Ben-shaped up in a tiny box and stuffs it at the back of her mind.
Even so, as she prepares the Falcon for flight, her hands still trembling from what she tells herself is the adrenalin for the fight, she can’t stop thinking about him. She presses her lips together as they take off, and she is certain she can feel the echoes of his kisses, like footprints in the sand.
She knows one thing for certain.
She likes the taste of him.
The compressor has fried itself for the third time in as many flights. And so Rey has made the decision to rewire the entire panel — a decision which she is regretting, four hours in. She’s barely made any headway. The rubber casing around the wires has melted together from the repeated short-circuits, and she’s having to remove far more than she ever intended.
She’ll be here until late into the night, and she knows that if she dares leave it to finish off tomorrow, the bells will ring in the dead of night and they’ll have to scramble, but she’ll be the only idiot without a working ship.
And so she picks away at the melted wiring, trying not to damage the circuit board as she strips it back.
“I’m busy,” she tells him, when she feels him standing behind her. Her tone is soft, and under no circumstances does she want to send him away. But she cannot afford to be distracted by him. Not if she wants to be done before midnight.
“That’s fine,” he says, his voice close behind her. She tries to focus, and not think about how close he is, but her brain refuses to work, and suddenly she has no idea what to do with the wires in front of her.
Perhaps she just needs to see him.
Of course that’s what it is. After their hurried goodbye last time, she just wants to lay eyes on him, anxious to assure herself that he’s not mad at her from walking out on him.
Just one look, and then she can carry on working.
Her breath catches in her throat when she turns. She can feel the heat radiating from him, his chest rising and falling with the deep breaths that she recognises in herself, after a particularly hard training session. His shirt is frayed at the shoulders, sleeves removed to provide better movement during his sessions, and his arms are sporting a light sheen that suggests he pushed himself hard.
And he must know that he looks good, because he’s waiting there, just inches from her, his fingertips fiddling idly with the hem of her tunic.
Maybe just one kiss would get it out of her system, and she can carry on working.
He must sense the fracture in her resolve, because he makes the decision for her and she does not object. She’s been thinking about him constantly for the last week and a half, thoughts of him always whirring around in the background while she tries, distractedly, to focus on other things.
It’s not so bad during the day, when she can’t help but get lost in the hustle and bustle of the base. But at night…at night she lays awake and thinks of him, hoping that he’s thinking of her too so that they can be together, if only for a few moments, once again.
But they’re together now, and she’s waited too long for this. She drops her screwdriver, her hands instinctively moving to his hair. She doesn’t protest when he picks her up and pins her against the panel — instead she wraps her legs around his hips, drawing him closer, always, always closer.
But closer’s no good if they get caught, and the Falcon’s ramp is wide open. Anybody could come in.
“Where are you?” she asks breathlessly, her hand on his jaw, holding him steady so that his brain can kick into gear to consider the question.
“In my quarters,” he says. “You?”
“On the Falcon,” she replies.
She wants him, more than anything. It’s a dangerous position to be in. But she wants it to be private — it has to be kept private, at all costs, because what they’re both doing is foolish, and makes a mockery of this entire war.
“Alone?” he asks, though his grip on her thighs slackens. He must know.
“Not guaranteed,” she replies. She looks down, but all her eyes find is the collar of his shirt. She smoothes it with her thumb, which brushes against the skin of his collarbone. She’ll have to be a bit more patient. It’s not meant to be today.
“Can you…leave the Falcon?” he asks.
“I’m rewiring the compressor panel,” she tells him, her nose scrunched up in distaste. The job has long since lost its appeal.
“Oh god,” he says, and he drops her, rather unceremoniously. She manages to find her feet and avoids ending up in a heap on the ground. Ben shifts her to one side. “Is that what that is?”
“Can you see it?”
“Yeah,” he says, leaning in to take a closer look. “I was touching it at one point I think.” He reaches in to move a clump of wires out of the way, assessing the work she’s already done. “You know, I rewired this damn thing five times when I was a teenager. It was always blowing.”
“So you can see just this?” Rey asks, gesturing to the panel. “Just this?”
He nods. “This,” he outlines the panel with his hands, “is in my quarters. Just like you are.”
An idea ignites in Rey’s brain. One that might make the thankless task of rewiring the panel a little more palatable. “Can you see this?” She kicks her tool box, but Ben shakes his head. She crouches down, beckoning him to do the same, and he follows. She guides his hand towards it, and when he touches it, he nods.
“I can see it,” he tells her. “You know I don’t have anything really pressing for the next couple of hours…and two pairs of hands might make this happen a bit quicker.”
Rey brushes her lips against his. “I’m glad we’re on the same page.”
It’s a cramped space, which both of them are wholly aware of. Ben stands behind her, working away at the top half of the panel, while Rey continues at the bottom. They work quietly, the hum of the Falcon punctuated by sighs of frustration. Sometimes, she catches Ben murmuring to himself, as a particular connection rears its ugly head in his memory. She doesn’t say anything, but she smiles as he mutters, his breath just catching her hair.
There are footsteps on the ramp, and Rey straightens up, snatching the pliers from Ben, shushing him before he can ask. He stills against her, his breathing shallow, and Finn comes into view at the top of the ramp.
“Hey,” Rey says, relaxing just a little. It could have been Leia. She could have seen them.
“Hey,” Finn replies. “You okay up here by yourself?”
“Yeah,” Rey says, nodding, as though this will hammer the point home. “All fine, just getting through all of this.” She gestures to the panel and smiles.
“Can I help with anything?” he asks, walking along the corridor until he comes into the light of Rey’s work lamp. As she turns, Ben turns with her, remaining close, his hands on her waist as he mimics her steps.
“No,” Rey replies, feeling a little guilty. “It’s a one person job really, the panel’s quite fiddly and it’s all so small…” She smiles, before adding, “but thank you though, I appreciate it.”
“Okay,” Finn says, his hands coming to rest in the pockets of his jacket. “I just — ” he pauses, the words taking a little while to come. “I just worry about you, you know? Training all the time, being stuck in here for hours. It’s not…it’s not good for you.”
Ben’s getting restless, his fingertips tapping lightly against her. He can only hear her side of the conversation, and must be trying to fill in the gaps.
“I’m fine,” she tells him. “But thank you for worrying about me.” She smiles, and Finn nods, satisfied that his point has been made.
“Will you come in for dinner at least?” he asks.
“Yes of course,” she tells him. She thinks it’s a good idea anyway. Her connection with Ben won’t last forever, and Finn’s right, she is spending less and less time with them. In truth, she’s been taking the opportunities to find solitude, just in case the connection opens up. There’s no point being with him if she has to ignore him. It feels like a wasted opportunity.
Finn smiles at that. “Great, I’ll see you later.”
Ben, ever the distraction, lowers his head, laying a soft kiss on Rey’s neck. She bites the inside of her lower lip, determined to keep a straight face, but as Finn is about to turn away he stops, his eyes narrowing.
“What’s up?” Rey asks.
“I just…thought I saw something,” he says, his brow creased as he tries to focus on the spot just behind Rey.
“What?” The air feels too big for Rey’s lungs, and she is certain she is about to be caught. There’s no way she can explain this — him on her ship at their base, with his hands on her.
Finn shakes his head. “It must have been a shadow,” he says. “I think I’m tired.”
“Go get some rest,” Rey says, the words coming a little too quickly for her liking. Finn doesn’t notice. “Why don’t you go and lie down and I’ll see you at dinner?” Her voice is returning to its normal speed now, though her pitch is slightly elevated. If Finn does notice, he doesn’t say.
“Yeah,” he agrees, “thanks. I’ll do that.”
Rey nods, and he turns away from her, heading back down the corridor and down the ramp. Only once his footsteps have completely faded does Rey let out a long breath.
“Okay?” Ben asks.
“He saw you,” Rey hisses, turning to face him.
“Finn.” She lets out a heavy sigh, and then continues. “But he doesn’t know he saw you. He thought you were a shadow.”
“Maybe he actually saw a shadow,” Ben says, taking his pliers from her. Rey shakes her head. She knows Finn saw him. She can’t explain it, but she does know it. At her expression, Ben relents. “Could he be Force sensitive?”
“No,” Rey says immediately, shaking her head. “Not Finn.”
Ben raises an eyebrow, and Rey gives it more thought. She’s not really considered it before. Why not Finn? Why is he any more unlikely than she is? Maybe the galaxy brought them together because they’re both Force sensitive.
“Maybe…” she says, and she looks up at Ben, awaiting his opinion.
“Well,” he says, reaching past her to inspect a clump of wires, “we’ll just have to be more careful. If anyone else comes up, I’ll hide in the cockpit.”
Rey turns back to the panel and resumes her own work.
The galaxy has given them a warning shot. One that neither of them can ignore.
She wants to see him.
She’s exhausted from a long day of training, and her eyes are itching with tiredness.
But she wants to see him.
It’s been over a week since he helped her fix the Falcon, and with every hour that passes, she forgets what the closeness of him feels like. She forgets how his hands came to rest on her waist, how he had kissed her — on the temple, the top of her head, or the side of her neck — whenever he ducked down to fetch a tool.
She just wants to be close to him again.
His mind must be dwelling on similar thoughts, because when she opens the door to her bedroom, he’s there, lying back on her bunk, his boots still on the ground. He doesn’t hear her come in, and she deadlocks the door behind her, her soft soled shoes making no noise against the floor.
He could be sleeping, for his stillness, but Rey’s not convinced. And besides, he’s laying across her bed the wrong way. She can’t possibly get in it and sleep without waking him.
He inhales deeply and sits up, squinting a little in the light.
“Sorry,” she says, pulling an apologetic face. “Were you sleeping?”
“Not really,” he says, his voice thick with tiredness. He begins to unfasten his tunic, his fingers fumbling with the clasps. Rey steps forward, taking over, her own fingers making much quicker work of the task. She reaches behind him to unbuckle his thick belt, and places it gently on the floor. She slips onto his lap, and removes the quilted fabric of his tunic from him.
Ben exhales a heavy sigh, and rests his forehead against Rey’s. She closes her eyes, enjoying the closeness that she had been craving. Her hand comes to rest on his chest, and through his undershirt she can feel his heartbeat, slow and steady, in time with her own. It’s one of the things she has come to realise she likes best — being in sync with him. She’s not sure why it matters, but for her, it solidifies their connection, makes them feel more like one entity.
“Are you alone?”
Rey opens her eyes to see a hopeful expression on his face.
“I am,” she says. She bites her lip, trying to contain her smile. “I thought you were tired, though?”
“I’ll never be too tired for you,” he murmurs, and he presses a kiss against her throat, his lips soft against her skin. It’s a line — even though she’s never had any lines thrown her way before, she knows it’s a line. But she likes it nonetheless. It feels genuine from him. Which is the problem.
His hands move to the binding on her right arm, and he unties the knots. When the fabric is freed, he begins to unwind it, far, far more slowly than Rey ever has. Every moment he spends on it is another moment she has to wait, but she can’t bear to hurry him. He’s so gentle with her, his touch so delicate, and her own tiredness takes a backseat as anticipation slowly increases the tension in her muscles.
He sees to her belt next, unbuckling it and gently pulling at the leather so it unwinds from her thigh and her waist. It’s all so painfully slow. But maybe that doesn’t matter. If the universe is kind to them, they have hours together. They can afford to take their time.
But she won’t be passive in this.
She tugs at his shirt and he pauses, allowing her to slide it over his head and toss it aside. She wants, desperately, to kiss him, but knows the second she does, their easy pace will be cast aside in favour of urgency and fervour. And she likes this, as much as it frustrates her, she likes it. She likes the heat of his hands on her thighs, his steady breath fluttering against her skin. She likes the heavy silence too, how they don’t need to say a single word to one another to make it real.
His fingers find the hem of her tunic. He pulls it away from her, the material slipping from his fingers and pooling on the floor on top of his own clothing. Her undershirt is a little tighter, the thick material clinging to her ribcage as he peels it off of her. The collar catches on her hair, and he lets out a breath of laughter as she tries to wriggle free. He carefully untangles her and discards the offending item.
She can look at him now. She could look at him forever. She’d never tire of it, she’s certain.
Her thumb traces his scar and his brown eyes track her movements, until she grazes her lips against the raised skin. She can’t feel sorry about it, and she’s sure he wouldn’t ask her to apologise. Their past is complicated — though not nearly as complicated as their present.
It doesn’t do to dwell on it.
She kisses him, her willpower caving, but she has no regrets. It’s not like the other times, where they had been frantically trying to make the most of each other in the little time they had. She’s able to savour him this time, relish him.
A knot of anxiety is building in her stomach, and she can’t quite explain its presence. She has never been so sure of anything in her life. She wants him, of course she does.
But that knot is a distraction, and she pulls away from him, in an attempt to give herself the headspace to figure it out.
“I’ve never done this before,” he confesses, his eyes dropping to the ground to avoid her gaze.
“Me neither,” she says, cupping his face and tilting it back up so she can see him properly. She kisses him again, and the knot in her stomach loosens as they sink back onto her bunk. As it dissipates, she notes in the back of her mind that it didn’t really belong to her. But that doesn’t matter now.
Nothing else does.
Her lightsaber clashes with his, and she gasps.
“Shit,” he breathes. “Sorry.”
Her heart is thudding against the inside of her ribcage, fuelled by adrenalin, spiked by the shock of seeing him. He extinguishes his blade and drops it to the ground.
She does the same.
“Training?” she asks, taking note of his attire.
He nods, and runs a hand through his hair, then sinks down onto a rock, his face in his hands. She can feel the echo of his heartbeat, racing just as fast as her own. Their connection, this time, is a little too close to harsh reality. Their comfortable bubble has protected them from this so far, but it was bound to happen sooner or later.
She walks over to him, combing his hair away from his face with her fingers. He wraps his arms around her middle, his cheek resting against her stomach.
“I could have hurt you,” he murmurs. “Could have killed you.”
Rey shushes him, her fingers moving in small, soothing motions against his scalp. She’s perfectly aware of what could have happened. That she could just as easily have killed him because the universe played a dirty trick. For the briefest moment, the image of him, lifeless in her arms, hangs in her mind, and she stubbornly rejects it.
They’re just training. That’s all it was. Just training.
But for what? Who are they intending to fight if not each other?
She doesn’t want to think about it, doesn’t want to consider the future. Something will shift in the months ahead that will solidify their path. Of that, she is certain. But it’s too much to ask him to relent right now, and she can’t have that same argument that drove them apart for so long.
He hasn’t asked her to change her mind. He hasn’t asked anything of her at all.
She’s selfish, she knows, but in all this mess, all this war and destruction, she just wants to hold on to the thing that makes her feel good. To the person who understands her. To the one she misses whenever he’s not there.
Every day she wakes up, hoping that they’ve connected, that he’ll be lying next to her, sound asleep, so that she can spend just a little time with him before she checks in with reality. But every day she is disappointed. The universe gives her crumbs, rationed on a whim. And even when she has them, there’s no guarantee they won’t be snatched away the very next minute.
There is a fear in her that doesn’t quite belong to her, and so she crouches down, her face level with his, and gently kisses him.
“It’s okay,” she tells him softly. “You’re fine, I’m fine. No harm done.”
He opens his mouth to protest, but she kisses him again, the surest way of preventing an argument and easing his anxiety. The fear, like the beginnings of an icy tornado, starts to settle, and Rey breaks away from him, her thumb lingering against his jaw.
“I could have really hurt you.”
“But you didn’t,” Rey assures him, grasping his hand and squeezing it. “You didn’t.”
“This is so dangerous,” he says, shaking his head. “This is so so dangerous.”
The fear that rises up in her is her own — a sick acidic bubbling in her stomach. He’s having second thoughts and she’s going to lose him. She’s going to lose him and things will never be the same.
“It’s just a hiccup,” she says, desperately clutching at straws that might convince him that drastic action is completely unnecessary. She doesn’t want him making any rash decisions. This isn’t what their time together is supposed to be for.
“A hiccup?” he repeats, standing up and brushing her away from him. “You think me nearly slicing you in half is a hiccup?”
“It didn’t happen though,” she argues, also standing. “It didn’t happen, Ben.”
He looks at her for just a second before he shakes his head and walks away. The undergrowth remains undisturbed by his footsteps, and Rey traipses after him, twigs snapping underfoot as she catches up with him. She grabs him by the arm and hauls him into a recess in the rock face. He leans back against the rock, looking up towards the sky.
“I’m scared of hurting you,” he confesses. His breathing is heavy but measured, as though he’s desperately trying to control his panic.
“So don’t hurt me,” she replies. It’s a simple concept to her. Yes, she’s shaken by the clash of their lightsabers, but it’s a good lesson in being aware of your surroundings. In theory, she should be strong enough to exercise control over every movement of her lightsaber, otherwise she ought not to have it at all.
“We need control over this.” He gestures between them, and Rey knows he’s referring to the connection. “We need to make sure we don’t end up doing something we regret.”
The words turn Rey’s stomach upside down. What is this entire thing between them if not a ticking time bomb? Does he really not have any concept of what would happen if anyone ever found out? Or is it just her who pushes the consequences to one side?
They could both be killed by a rogue missile tomorrow — such is the nature of war. It seems silly to worry about little things that could have happened when there’s a much bigger dark storm hanging over them both. No amount of anxiety will save them from their destinies.
“Why don’t we just train without lightsabers?” Rey suggests. “Does that work?” she asks. “Would you be happy with that?”
He takes a moment to think it over, his dark eyebrows drawn together as he works it through as a possibility. “And use what instead?” he asks.
Rey shrugs. “I could use my staff. The worst you’d get is a bonk on the head.”
He laughs at this, his shoulders shaking against the rock. He can’t help himself, and Rey’s glad, because the sight of his smile is a rare thing, the sound of his laugh even rarer.
“Ben, I don’t want to spend the little time we have together worrying about things that aren’t even happening.”
He stops laughing at that, but he nods. “Okay,” he says. He carries on nodding, as though steeling himself.
“Okay,” she agrees.
He takes her by the hand, playing idly with her fingers as he looks at her, leant up against the opposite rock face. But from there, things accelerate at a lightning fast pace.
It’s not like last time. This time it’s urgent and feverish and hungry. The sharp edges of the rock press into her back as Ben holds her fast against it. She holds him tightly, her arms wrapped around his neck, hands gripping his hair as all of his fear and anxiety is channelled into something else, a desperate energy that Rey feels all too clearly herself.
Their connection burns brightly, blindingly, and Rey loses track of the world. The training course and all its obstacles may as well exist in a different lifetime, because none of it matters, not here, not when she’s with him.
When he’s gone, she takes her time finishing the course. She pauses by the river to check her reflection as the sky overhead darkens, and she quickly reties her buns to avoid any unwanted questions.
She ambles across the log bridge, without the helmet, and puts paid to the training droid with a whack from her staff. Her lightsaber remains hooked on her belt. By the time she arrives back at the base, darkness has fallen, and most of the crew are in the mess hall.
She joins Finn and Poe at their table, and makes idle conversation, studiously ignoring Leia’s arched eyebrow.
That’s not a conversation she wants to have any time soon.
She’s sitting on her bunk, curled up at one end, with one of the hefty tomes of Jedi text in her lap. She tilts the book so it catches the bright beam of her bunk light, and tries to decipher the ancient characters.
Rey has absolutely no idea what they mean.
Her fingers trace the outlines of the diagrams, the thick paper rough beneath her fingertips. In the absence of meaning, her mind drifts to the generations of Jedi that would have studied these texts before her, across thousands and thousands of years.
It’s a heavy burden, to be the last one.
“Send me the damage report, I want to analyse it myself.”
She looks up, and he’s sitting there, stiff as a board in full uniform. Their timing must be out of sync again, the short Resistance days not quite tallying with standard time. His eyes flick towards her momentarily, and Rey hears vague echoes of a conversation that’s just out of reach, as though it’s taking place behind two closed doors.
It’s best to steer clear, she decides. She’d be angry with him if he disrupted her when she was around other people, if he risked their secret with a reckless disregard for her.
Her eyes return to the texts, and she turns the page carefully, anxious not to damage the fragile binding. The last thing she wants is to be the Jedi that manages to rip a page clean out of the sacred texts. Though there aren’t any of them left to judge her — a depressing thought in and of itself.
Ben remains silent, his eyes fixed ahead as he listens to whatever dross his First Order officers have cooked up for him. Rey shifts on her bunk, trying to find a more comfortable position, but however she sits, he’s still in her eye line, just beyond the book, glaring at an officer who’s hundreds of lightyears away.
She doesn’t like it. It’s a constant reminder of the glaring problem that hangs between them, one that could be solved if he just…
She lets out a sigh, and when she looks up his eyes are on her, brow creased. They can’t talk now, and even if they could, it’s not the conversation she wants to have with him. She doesn’t want an argument. She just wants him, as Ben, and nothing else.
The page crinkles as she turns it — unread — and she feels his eyes revert to their previous position.
“Why are you talking when you clearly have nothing to say?” His voice is cold, and it reminds her of their first encounter. There is a pause, before he adds, “That wasn’t an invitation to continue, Hux.”
She can’t help but feel deflated. They’ve been apart for nearly a month. Each day has passed without even a glimpse of him, and now all she’s given is him, in a meeting, unable to talk.
It’s a joke.
She gets up from her bunk, refusing the be the universe’s punchline, and slips into his lap. He shifts in his seat, one gloved hand coming to rest on her thigh. It’s been a long time since she’s seen him with those thick leather gloves. She’s hasn’t missed them.
Making the most of what she has, while she has it, Rey rests her head in the crook of his neck and continues reading. At least this way she can be with him, can feel his heartbeat in sync with her own. She wonders if it stays that way when they’re apart. If, even with half a galaxy between them, the fundamentals of their existence follow the same rhythm.
His eyes wander down towards the text, and she can sense the distraction in him. It’s not long before he sends the officers packing with a terse dismissal, and finally, finally, she feels him sag in their absence. He takes off his gloves, and presses a gentle kiss to her cheek, one hand playing with a loose tendril of hair at the nape of her neck.
This is much better.
“So you took those from the island,” he says.
“Yeah,” she replies, and she turns another page in the book. There’s a diagram of some sort of pyramid structure there, and Ben’s hand comes to rest on the page, his interest piqued.
“Can you read it?” she asks. She’s familiar with around a dozen languages — bargaining for every bit of survival on Jakku had required some linguistic acrobatics — but this text is lost on her. She can read part numbers from ships that hail from all systems, can spot brand names and emblems from a mile off. But this heavy, dull text is just a mystery.
“Only parts,” Ben replies. “Don’t bother reading it, it won’t make you a better Jedi.”
“Sounds like the dark side talking.” Her half joke receives a half laugh in response, and he spends a few more moments looking at the pyramid before he removes his hand, and she turns the page.
“I missed you,” she tells him, her eyes still tracing the meaningless characters. Somehow, her brain has convinced her that if she stares at them long enough, they’ll suddenly slide into focus, forming familiar words laden with wisdom, or answers to all the questions she’s ever had.
He kisses her again. “Missed you too,” he says quietly.
She stays there with him until her eyelids grow heavy and she gives up on the day. When she wakes, late into the night, she’s in her bunk, her blanket placed carefully over her, with the Jedi texts tucked under her arm.
It had rained when she was training. And obviously she was far too stubborn to concede.
When she’d arrived back at the base, Leia had gently scolded her, before sending her in the direction of the bathroom to peel off her sopping wet clothes and coax some warmth back into her bones.
She hadn’t objected, and with dinner just an hour away, there’s no queue for her to concern herself with. It is a small, but glorious luxury to lie here, in the quiet, with an entire hour stretching ahead of her.
A splash catches her attention, and she opens her eyes.
There’s a second bath tub.
Her lips curve into a smile as she realises what this must mean. Moments later he emerges from beneath the surface of the water, at the far end of his tub, hair clinging to his face.
“Hi,” she says.
“Hi,” he replies sheepishly, and he rakes his hair back from his face. He settles back in his tub, then reaches a hand over the edge. Rey reaches out too, her fingers linking with his. The tub is smaller than hers, and she realises that the First Order only needs to have bath tubs big enough for stormtroopers.
More fool them.
“I hope you’re alone this time,” she says, and he laughs. She likes making him laugh. Six months ago she wouldn’t have thought it possible, would have scoffed at the idea of such a sound rising up in him. But it’s one of the things she loves about him, the way his laughter can catch him off guard, as if it’s against his better judgement.
He relinquishes her hand far too soon for her liking, and she slips it back into the water as he begins to shave. As she watches him, she lets her mind wander. Could there ever be a day where they live like this? Where they’re just two people existing happily in the same space? She wonders where they would make a home. Maybe they wouldn’t — maybe they’d be restless forever, and hop from planet to planet with nothing tying them down.
She’d like to see the galaxy. Properly. And with him.
When he’s finished he rests his arm on the edge of her tub. He dips his hand in the water, flicking it, and creating little splashes around her. His fingertips find her leg, and he skims gentle lines along her shin.
Rey looks over to the control panel, bracing herself for the brutal truth. Her hour is nearly up.
When she looks back at him, his gaze is on her, his teeth tugging on the inside of his lower lip. There’s an expression of half hope, half expectation, and his hand migrates up towards her thigh.
“You know, I have to leave in a minute,” she tells him. Bursting his bubble is a necessary evil. If she doesn’t say no to him now, she’d never be able to say no to him again. She can’t afford to have such poor impulse control around him, especially when her friends chide her for her antisocial hours already.
“How long a minute is it?” he asks. Though his tone is optimistic, she can see in his eyes that he’s already accepted defeat.
“A regular minute,” she tells him. “Half, now.”
He sighs and settles back in his tub. Rey takes the opportunity to stand, making her decision final. She can feel his eyes on her as she steps out of the tub, following her as she walks over to the towel rail.
She’s still in half a mind to stay.
Once she wraps her towel around her, the deal is done. It’s the only one she has, and she has no desire to use a damp towel later on. On her way to the door she makes a detour, via the side of his tub. She perches on the side and leans down to kiss him, savouring the moment before she has to step back into reality. Her thumb traces the path along his jaw, completely smooth now, and she presses one last kiss to the corner of his mouth before she stands and leaves.
Back in her room, as she gets dressed, she tries not to think about how it’s getting harder and harder to leave him. Whenever things don’t turn out exactly as they want, whether it’s timing or location or company, she feels like the universe owes her something, like there’s a debt to be paid.
She reminds herself to be grateful for what she has, shoves her feet in her boots, and heads down to dinner.
The droplets patter against the roof of the base, a tinny, sporadic rhythm echoing throughout the corridors. Rey wanders along in search of a quiet place where she can read in peace. One of the heavy Jedi texts is tucked under her arm as she meanders through the maze of corridors, until at last she finds a room tucked away from the noise.
She slips inside, closing the door behind her, and the lights blink into existence. There’s a large desk in the middle of the room, a ratty old chair behind it. The shelves are stacked with boxes of hoarded junk — things that someone, somewhere, was certain would come in handy at some point. It’s not the height of luxury, but it’s peaceful here at least, with just the tap tap tap of the rain to keep her company.
Rey settles herself on the table, not quite trusting the rusted chair. She crosses her legs and sets her book down, opening it so she can pick up where she left off. Familiar characters have started to flare in her memory whenever she spots one, and although she can’t decipher them, it’s reassuring to her that she’s managing to grasp something from it all. She’s spent hours poring over these texts, as though they’ll hold the answer to every question she’s ever had.
And maybe they do.
A scratching sound distracts her, and she turns to see him, sitting in the chair that she had dismissed so quickly. He’s writing something, bowed over the paper as his pen scuttles across the page. His hair is hiding his face from her, and she quietly rotates on the spot, so she’s facing him.
She passes an idle few minutes watching him, deep in concentration, the occasional huff issuing from him. He writes quickly and elegantly, the letters looping together in a single refined style. There’s no real reason for him to be doing this by hand. Rey’s never written anything in her life, and she doubts she’d even know how to do it.
Scratching her loneliness into a wall hardly counts.
She’s not alone in this though — that she knows. Handwriting is an archaic eccentricity, reserved for those who had luxurious educations and the time to learn things that weren’t intrinsic to survival. There are other people, lots of them in fact, in the Resistance who she’s sure wouldn’t be able to write a single word.
He’s the exception, not the rule.
“You’re edgy,” he says, heaving a sigh and setting his pen down. He leans back in his seat and looks her over. “What’s wrong?”
Rey shakes her head and pulls at a loose thread on her tunic. It’s pointless avoiding the subject. He can detect her mood whether he wants to or not, can feel the prickliness that has spread through her like a poison.
“I’ve never done that,” she says stiffly, nodding towards the paper covered in his neat notes. He follows her gaze, then looks back up at her.
“Well that’s fine,” he says. “I only do it like this because it gives me time to think.”
She nods, although his words don’t ease the tightness in her muscles.
“I understand twelve languages,” she says abruptly, though she has no clue why she’s saying it out loud.
“I know,” he replies.
“And I can fly any ship, fix anything, and — ”
He stands up, moves his notes out of the way and perches on the edge of the table, his hand finding hers. “Rey, no one thinks you’re stupid.”
And there it is. That little niggling in the back of her mind, every time she comes across something completely new, but completely unremarkable. All of the things that passed her by on Jakku seem to just exist by the shipload in her new life. It’s hard to keep up — even harder when she tries to hide her ignorance from people. All of this hope resting on her shoulders, all of this expectation.
What would they think if they knew she couldn’t even write?
“You don’t know that,” she tells him, though her argument is halfhearted. She knows she’s smart in her own way, but that feels so limited. Her own way used to be everything she needed, but now she feels so small in the galaxy.
“I do know it,” he counters, his tone soft. “Because anyone who thinks you’re stupid is an idiot. And you shouldn’t listen to the opinion of an idiot.”
A smile tugs at her lips and she looks down at their hands, fingers laced together. Deep down she knows he’s right, but she needs to hear it out loud. Perhaps she’s been staring at unreadable text for too long.
“There’s more than one way to be smart,” he tells her, and he reaches out his other hand, his thumb gently tracing the side of her face. The touch is soothing, its slow trail almost meditative, and she feels the tension in her start to recede. “You’re at least ten different kinds of smart,” he tells her. “Which is ten more than some people I know.”
She laughs, and a ghost of a smile graces his lips. Rey closes the gap between them, keen to forget the world and just be with him. It never ceases to surprise her, just how tender his kisses are, how delicate every touch is.
Far too soon, he pulls away from her, a regretful expression on his face. “I’m not guaranteed any privacy here,” he tells her.
Rey glances over her shoulder at the door, which has no lock. “Me neither,” she sighs. If only she’d gone to her room. If only she’d not been so sick of those four walls — so close together. But, she supposes, they’d still be in the same boat. He’s in just as precarious a situation as she is.
He looks down, his brow creasing, one hand resting on her thigh. She forgets how warm he is.
“You don’t need to learn how to write,” he says, looking up at her once more. “But if you wanted to learn, I could show you.”
She nods, and he slips off of the desk, then takes her by the hand, guiding her down as well. He pulls out the chair for her and she sits in it, the springs under the tatty padding creaking in protest. Ben kneels on the floor next to her, takes a sheet of fresh paper from beneath his report, and hands her the pen. She knows how to hold it. She has scratched enough marks into the walls of her Jakku home to be sure of that. But even so, when she takes it, she looks across at him for reassurance that she’s not making some wildly wrong assumption.
He doesn’t say anything however, and reaches into his pocket for a spare pen.
“You have two?” It seems a little over the top to her.
“In case one runs out,” he murmurs. He reaches across to the paper and touches the nib of his pen to it. And then, in blocked characters quite unlike the looping swirls of ink on the page below, he writes three letters.
She knows what that is.
“Copy that,” he tells her, and he rests his hand on the back of her chair while she gets to work. It’s a slow process, as she moves her pen carefully on the paper. The lines are far more wiggly than his controlled strokes, but the word is clear nonetheless. And the word is her.
“And again,” he says, and presses a kiss to her shoulder for good measure before she leans forward again. She writes her name out ten times in total, and although she gets faster at it, and a little neater, it’s still nothing like the bold defined characters made so easily by his pen.
“It doesn’t look like yours,” she says, looking at the long list of REYs before her.
“Of course it doesn’t,” he replies briskly. “I’ve been doing this for twenty years. You’ve been doing it for twenty seconds.”
She grudgingly accepts his argument. It would have been ridiculous to expect the same level of precision and expertise to flow from her nib, but all the same, it would have been nice to produce something that looks like an adult wrote it, rather than a child.
“Can I write your name?” she asks. He moves his pen to the paper once more, starting a new column next to the list of REYs.
Rey copies it out ten times as before, each time getting a little more comfortable with the weight of the pen in her hand. She continues to request words, at random now, as they pop into her head, and soon there are three sheets of paper filled with columns of words. She fiddles with her pen as she thinks of the next word she wants to write, but in her distraction, the pen slips from her fingers and clatters to the floor. It rolls under the desk, and she slides back in her chair so she can fetch it.
“Don’t worry,” Ben says. “I got it.” He ducks under the desk, and just as he’s about the return the door opens. Rey’s heart freezes in her chest, and she holds Ben steady with her foot. He stills instantly.
“There you are,” Leia says. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Have you?” Rey’s mouth is dry, and when she swallows it’s painful. She’s not foolish enough to think she can hide anything from Leia, but she tries all the same. The desk, thankfully, is doing half the work for her. Its metal shell covers the front of it so Ben is completely hidden from view, trapped between Rey’s foot and the desk drawers.
Leia’s eyes land on the paper. “What are you doing?” she asks. She doesn’t sound suspicious, merely inquisitive, and Rey feels a heat rise in her cheeks.
“I was…” she trails off, her fingers fiddling with the edge of the paper. Ben’s writing is on it, though Leia probably can’t see it from where she’s standing. It feels audacious though, reckless, to have him here, in the room, his writing right there for all to see.
“You were…?” Leia prompts.
“I was trying to learn how to write,” she says quickly, the words coming out a little jumbled. She turns the paper over, to hide her own scratchy letters and Ben’s neat ones. “It’s silly, I know.”
Leia closes the door behind her and approaches the desk, leaning against the edge of it. “It’s not silly at all. There’s a time and a place for hand writing things. It’s a good skill to have.”
Rey doesn’t know what to say to that, but Leia continues. “Ben has beautiful handwriting you know.” There’s a sad smile on her lips, and her eyes are a little brighter than usual. “He used to have all of these calligraphy sets — dozens of pens and bottles and bottles of ink.”
“D’you think he still does it?” Rey asks, her foot slackening against him. If they were going to be caught, it would have happened by now, surely.
“I hope so,” Leia replies. “It used to bring him a lot of pleasure. He was always so…content when he was making beautiful things.”
She’s not given much thought to what Ben was like as a teenager, how he would have been before fully succumbing to Snoke’s influence. It doesn’t surprise her, not really, that he would have enjoyed such a thing. He’s always so precise, so neat, and focused on detail.
“I have an old writing set of his,” Leia tells her. “You’d be welcome to borrow it.”
“Don’t you think he’d mind?” She knows the real answer to the question, but she’s curious as to what Leia thinks. And curious as to Ben’s reaction when he hears it.
“No,” she replies. “But if he comes back then I’m sure I can stretch to some replacement inks.”
“D’you think he could come back?” Rey asks, before she can cower away from the question. She has lain awake so many nights wondering not about the if, but the how. If Ben decided to come back, could he really do it? Would it even be possible, after everything that’s happened?
“I have to hope,” Leia says. “I have to. My boy’s still in there somewhere, and I have to hope he can come home.”
“But if he showed up here tomorrow,” Rey presses. “If he just turned up, would you welcome him?”
“You think I could let him go through the hardest part, do the bravest thing, and then turn him away?”
“No of course not. I just thought…”
“In some ways it’s very complicated,” Leia says gently. “Of course it’s complicated. But at the end of the day, he’s my son, and that makes things very straightforward. He’ll always have a home with me, if he wants it.”
Rey nods. She’s not sure what she was expecting. Maybe that Ben would burst out from under the desk and renounce the First Order. Or maybe not that. But something, something now that he’s heard from his own mother’s mouth just how easy it would be if he could just make the commitment. If he could just take those few steps to come home. If he could decide to turn away from the dark side once and for all.
But, as Leia says, it’s complicated.
“I was actually looking for you because I wanted to talk about the reactive missions,” Leia says, changing the subject.
Rey can sense the words before they come.
“I want you to stop going. You’re fighting a different battle to the rest of the pilots and I can’t afford to lose you to a rogue blast from a TIE fighter.” She pauses, ruminating on her words. “I can’t afford to lose anybody, I should say. But if we lose you, we’re done for.”
Rey wants to argue. Those emergency missions, where the bells had rung throughout the base and she’d sprinted to the Falcon before anyone could tell her otherwise, have been her only contribution to the Resistance’s effort. Everything else is just training, preparation for something that may or may not come. She can’t bear the thought of sticking around like a spare part while everyone else risks their lives to save entire worlds from the First Order.
It makes her feel pointless.
And even though she wants to argue until she’s blue in the face, she knows she won’t win. And she can’t bring herself to even try, not when Leia’s thoughts are still clearly preoccupied by thoughts of Ben.
“Okay,” she says. Leia’s brow creases at Rey’s easy submission, but before she can question it, Rey asks, “Can I see the writing set?”
“Sure.” She stands and heads for the door, waiting for Rey to gather her things. As Rey slides her chair back she glances down. The underside of the desk is empty — he’s gone.
She has no idea when the connection broke, but she still has his report and his pens. She tucks the papers inside her book, slips the pens into her pocket, and follows Leia from the room.
She hopes he heard it all.
Sometimes it works.
Sometimes the stars are aligned and they get to be together for hours, in the dead of night, with no interruptions, no risks, and no responsibilities competing for their time.
Even though they’re squashed into her tiny bunk, she wouldn’t change any of it for the world. His hand is warm against her skin, his thumb drawing small invisible patterns on her ribcage. Her head is nestled comfortably against his arm, hand on his chest, rising and falling with each steady breath.
If this were to last forever, she’d have no complaints.
“Do you think it knew?” he asks, his voice soft in the darkness.
“The Force,” he adds. “Do you think it knew, when it joined us together?”
She ponders the question, wondering what would have happened if they’d continued to fight. How would either of them survived a lifetime of arguing and sniping and battling? The answer, of course, is that it would have been a short lifetime for one, if not both of them. But maybe that was never on the cards.
“Maybe it only connects people who will…connect.” She skirts around her actual thoughts, not wanting to be the one to voice it aloud. Sometimes, when he’s not here and she’s laying in this bunk, alone with her thoughts, she wonders if she’s making the biggest mistake of her life. But then he’s here, and all those thoughts vanish, because he’s Ben, and he’s not perfect, but that’s not the point.
She can’t ever imagine wanting anyone else.
“Maybe,” he says. He’s quiet for a little while, before he continues. “I’ve been doing some reading.”
“Yeah? About what?”
“About our connection,” he tells her. “It’s hard to find information. Just vague references. Eternal bonds, that sort of thing. From what I can tell, it’s rare.”
“Maybe it wouldn’t be so rare if there were more of us,” she muses. She’s thought a lot about that too. The two of them being among the last Force users in the galaxy. With nobody to train people, even those that have potential are just left with…what? A feeling? A sense of something stirring within them?
When it comes down to it, they only have each other to talk to.
“What do you think the criteria is?” She wants to probe his thoughts a little further. He’s done more reading than he’s letting on, dismissing all the detail with vagueness and throwaway words. He shifts on the mattress, trying — and most likely failing — to find a more comfortable position. Despite their best efforts, the tiny bunk refuses to allow such things.
“I think you need to be…smart, and powerful…” He’s teasing, and he gives himself away with the breath of laughter that tickles the top of her head. “And beautiful as well, obviously,” he adds. His lips graze her forehead, and Rey closes her eyes in contentment. If he knew the answer he would have told her, would have revealed every little nugget of knowledge he’d discovered. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t got a hypothesis.
“Seriously though,” she says, “what do you think makes a match?”
“I don’t know,” he sighs. His fingers twiddle absentmindedly with a lock of her hair, twirling it delicately in his fingers. “I was half serious about the power thing,” he tells her. “You can’t have a bond on an unequal footing.”
“I hadn’t had any training when we met though,” she says. “And you said you could feel it. I remember.”
“The bond accelerated your learning,” he tells her. “Everything I threw at you, you were able to respond in kind, to a degree.”
Rey frowns. “You think my power came from you?”
The pillow shifts a little as he shakes his head. “The power was yours, but you knowing how to use it…” he trails off, silent for a moment as he continues to play with his hair. “You know that level of mental strength takes years of training normally? And you were able to resist me within a few minutes.”
The point has merit. She remembers testing herself on the base. Remembers trying things she’d only heard about in stories and having them click into place for her. But that can’t be the only thing. Surely it’s just a byproduct, a result, rather than a crucial ingredient.
“I don’t know. I don’t think there’s ever been two people like us connected like this. I don’t think there’s a template, I think there’s just a sense of…it being right.”
Rey smiles. It does feel right. Of that she is sure. A silence falls between them, and there is a knot in Rey’s stomach that she knows can be sourced back to Ben. She presses a soft kiss against his chest, and it loosens a little. She tilts her head up so she can place another kiss on the underside of his jaw. Again, the anxious feeling in her stomach dissipates a little.
“This connection,” he says, and the knot tightens again, as he tries to find the right words. “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. The only thing that’s ever felt good.”
“Don’t say that.”
“It’s true,” he replies.
“I know,” Rey says, a lump building in her throat. “But it makes me sad.”
He kisses her, though it doesn’t shoo the unhappiness away. He must have been so terribly lonely, for so terribly long.
“Well I’m not going to risk it. Not for anything.”
Hope begins to build in Rey’s chest, like a flower blooming in her ribcage. This could be it. This could be the most important moment of their lives. This could change the future for the whole galaxy, turn the war around in a heartbeat.
“I know it’s complicated, and I know you have to forget a lot of stuff and I have to forget a lot of stuff, and that’s easy, when we’re together.” He’s rambling, but she doesn’t hurry him. “And I know it’s harder when we’re apart, when you’re with your friends and I’m…here. I know it’s difficult.”
“Yeah,” she breathes, desperate to hear his next words.
“I promise you,” he says. “I’m going to figure this out. I’m going to figure it out so we can be together. Properly. Not like this. Not snatching moments whenever we can get them. Just being together on our own terms.”
The hope grows so big that she can barely contain it, and he must feel it too, in the same way that she still feels that faint tug of anxiety somewhere behind her belly button. He must feel it.
“We have to fix this, somehow. Because…” He trails off, the words in his arsenal running low. He’s gotten to his final point and Rey can sense it, on the tip of his tongue.
“Because?” she breathes.
She hears him swallow, and the hand on her side is a little clammy, his fingers tapping against her skin as he tries to summon the courage.
“Say it,” she says softly. “Ben, just say it.”
But Rey’s head hits the pillow. His hands vanish from her, as does the rest of him. The connection is broken, and she is alone. A tear slips down her face as resentment gathers like a dark cloud.
She’s cold now, and so she pulls on the black undershirt tucked away in the bottom of her locker. Without him, her tiny bunk feels like it stretches on for miles.
Her breathing grows shallower as he increases his pace. His hands grasp hers above her head, fingers interlocked as the weight of him presses her into the mattress.
Ben closes his eyes, teeth pulling on his bottom lip, and Rey can’t stop looking at him. His brow creases, and there is a flicker in their connection, but then one hand moves to her thigh, gripping it so firmly that she’s sure there’ll be marks tomorrow.
She doesn’t care, but then there’s another flicker in their connection. It stutters, and stalls.
“No, shut up, shut up, shut up.”
Rey props herself up on one elbow so that she can kiss him, determined to block out the distraction for him. Their connection blinks back into life and she tangles her other hand in his hair, clutching it tightly. She won’t let him go. Whatever’s happening on his side can wait.
He breaks away from her, his teeth nipping her bottom lip, and buries his face in the crook of her neck. His breath is hot against her skin, his stubble scratching at her jaw. She falls back onto the pillows wrapping her arms around his neck, fingertips skittering over the sweaty sheen on his skin.
“No,” he whispers, and he repeats the word again and again, his movements becoming more erratic.
And then the connection breaks.
“Fuck!” The frustration bursts from him like a grenade going off. He lunges towards the table next to his bed, his hand scrabbling for something that Rey can’t see.
“What?” he demands. “What the fuck is it?”
Rey stills beneath him, one leg still hooked around him, her heart pounding in her chest. To hell with this stupid war. To hell with all of it.
Ben presses his lips together, breathing heavily, before he responds to the invisible speaker. “I’ll be there in,” he glances over Rey, “ten minutes.”
She smiles, and the warmth of their connection begins to glow again, rekindling from the ashes. He leans down, his lips millimetres from hers before he stops again, and closes his eyes.
When he reaches for the intercom again, his voice is much calmer, his breathing slower, and Rey knows it’s over. “What’s happened?” he asks reluctantly.
He listens, eyes screwed tight shut in irritation as he arrives at the same the same conclusion. His head drops in resignation, his hair tickling her neck. Rey props herself up and gazes at the smooth lines of his shoulder blades, the muscles in his back taut under the skin. She leans on one elbow so that she can run her fingers along them. There’s no guarantee of when she’ll see him again. She doesn’t want to forget the details in the meantime.
“Fine,” he sighs, and he cracks one eye open to look at her, his mouth pulled into a grimace. “I’ll be there in two minutes.”
He releases the button on the intercom and lets out a groan, his forehead sinking into her shoulder.
“Next time,” she tells him, trying to muster up a fragment of consolation. She presses a kiss to his cheek bone and he pushes himself away from her, his chest heaving with resentment.
“Was this supposed to be a distraction?” he asks. He looks across to her briefly as he pulls his trousers on. “Or are you going to tell me you didn't know about the airstrike?”
“You started it,” she replies pointedly, earning herself a reluctant grin from him. “And you know as well as I do that I couldn’t have planned this.”
“I was kidding,” he tells her, and he kisses her as he reaches over her for his shirt, laying in a crumpled heap on the other side of the bed. He pulls it on, his hair scruffy, then reaches for his tunic. The more layers he puts on, the less he looks like himself. He fastens the clasps quickly, then reaches for his belt.
She hates to see him leave.
“We need to figure this out,” he says, focusing on his belt buckle, rather than her. “Because it’s not working and I can’t…” He finishes with his belt, then glances in the mirror and rakes his hands through his hair impatiently.
Rey’s stomach twists at his words. They’re hurtling towards a decision he’s not ready to make, and that can only mean one thing.
“I can’t have Hux — of all people — interrupting this. I can’t live like that.”
She bites her lip. It will be funny tomorrow, she’s certain.
“And you have the Resistance, and I have…this,” he waves vaguely towards the surroundings that Rey can’t see.
“Do you even care?” she asks, her stomach tightening. She pulls his blanket over herself and he stops, looking at her with a frown.
“Of course I do,” he replies softly. “You know I do.”
The muscles in her stomach tighten even further, despite his reassurance. He’s got the wrong end of the stick. “I mean about the First Order.”
He inhales, ready to reply, but the words die in his throat. He throws a filthy look towards the wall, then marches over to the bedside table, thumb jabbing the intercom. “I’m coming,” he snaps, and then releases a shaky breath before he turns to her, his brown eyes assessing her as she sits there, naked but for his blanket, in his bed.
“I don’t have time for this right now.”
“But think about it?” she says hastily. “Please?”
He shrugs noncommittally, a verbal response trapped somewhere in his throat. “I have to go,” he says eventually. The gloves go on — another thing Rey hates to see.
“I love you,” she says, the words slipping easily from her mouth.
“I know,” he replies, and he pauses, his two minute deadline long since evaporated. He sinks onto the edge of the bed and pulls his boots on, tugging at the zips with leather-clad fingers. “I’ll see you later.”
His final kiss is so chaste that she truly believes him. That it will just be a few hours before they’re reunited and that they can pick up where they left off. It’s a complete fantasy — one that they both indulge in. Ben stands up and heads for the doors, patting his lightsaber to remind himself that he hasn’t forgotten it in his haste.
He turns around, one last look before he leaves.
“Don’t kill anyone.” It’s a tall order for wartime. “Please?”
He presses his lips together, and doesn’t make any promises. His thumb finds the door control and he vanishes, the connection breaking.
Rey gets dressed, her heart heavy, stomach churning. She goes to the hangar and sits with Finn, watching the screens as they blink with status updates about the fleet. She keeps waiting for red crosses to appear over the icons, marking out the fatalities.
It doesn’t happen.
Every single one of them makes it back to base safe and sound. She has no idea whether it’s dumb luck, or the turning of the tide, but a glimmer of hope sparks within her. She vows to hold onto it.
She’d forgotten how cold it was here.
Rey huddles under the Falcon, rain lashing at the rocks. She checks the time again — the third time in as many minutes. She’s still twenty minutes early, and she expects that he’s far more likely to be punctual than she is. He can make his own decisions without question, hasn’t had to come up with elaborate stories explaining why he needs to take a ship and go AWOL for a day or two.
When she had refused the company of her human friends, Poe had offered up BB-8, his dark brow creasing when she’d politely declined that too.
The most worrying thing is that Leia hadn’t pressed her for further information. Instead, she had assured her that it was fine, that she’d been training hard, and a day or two away from the base would be good for her.
Somehow, her trust had made the lies feel all the worse.
In amongst the blustery wind and thrashing of the rain, Rey detects a slight change in sound. She looks to the horizon, squinting as a dark spot bursts from the storm clouds. It grows, larger and larger, until she can make out the pointed, ostentatious wings.
The ship takes a wide curve to line up for a smooth landing, just next to the Falcon. There’s a hiss as the canopy opens, and at last she sees him. He frowns at the weather, then unbuckles his harness, before clambering out and jumping down to the ground.
Rey pulls up her hood and crosses over to meet him. He’s fifteen minutes early, but she doesn’t tell him. It’s something she’d much rather save for herself, for the days when she misses him, and needs something, some tiny little thing to remind her that he’s worth all the secrecy.
“Hey,” she says, a smile spreading across her face. He’s here, in real life, and they’re together. They’ve not been together — properly — since he killed Snoke, and the less said about that the better.
His own smile is just as broad, and he pulls her towards him, wrapping his cloak around her to shield her from the rain.
“You know there are warmer planets in the galaxy, right?”
“Yes,” she answers firmly. “But you didn’t want any interruptions, did you?”
He tilts his head to one side, conceding her point, and she rises onto her tiptoes to kiss him. Her hands are numb from the cold, and he flinches when one of them finds the warm skin of his jaw, but he doesn’t pull away.
They hike up to the nearest cluster of huts, and by the time they arrive, both of them are soaked through. Ben builds a fire in the centre of the hut, his pale hands trembling as he stacks the logs together. Rey slips out of her boots and leaves them with his, next to the door to dry. She will admit that a warmer planet sounds good right about now.
But he’s here.
It’s a difficult concept to wrap her head around. Their relationship has only existed via their connection, and now he’s here in real life, and they can do whatever they want. They’re not confined to any rules, any secrecy. At last they have their freedom, if only for a day.
They’ve both brought supplies. He’s furnished them with food and blankets, while Rey has brought roll mats so they don’t have to sleep on the stone floor. She lays them out, conscious of the numb soles of her feet, and then sits down cross legged, next to the fire.
“Come over here,” she tells him. “You’ll get cold if you stay on the floor.”
He shrugs off his cloak and tosses it into the corner, then shifts onto the makeshift bed. His tunic comes off next, unfastened with shivering fingers before he lays it next to the fire to dry out.
“You can choose next time,” she says. He laughs and wraps his arms around her. To her delight, his torso is still warm, though his undershirt is a little damp. He pulls his bag towards them and takes out the food he has brought. They eat and talk, and for the first time, Rey is truly, wholly content.
There’s always been an underlying tension, a rush to get things done in case they don’t get the chance. Their connection isn’t very forgiving, and it’s so rare that they can just savour each other’s company that it almost makes her sad.
They’re onto something else now, something that sees them relying on themselves, rather than the Force. If their connection won’t play fair, then they won’t play. Instead, they’ll meet, like real people, and do real people things together.
The thought sounds juvenile in Rey’s head.
“I thought you’d feel different,” he muses, much, much later.
She looks across to him, his face dimly lit by the dying embers of the fire. “Better? Or worse?”
“I don’t know, I just thought there’d be a difference,” he replies with a half shrug. “But you’re exactly the same.” He closes the gap between them, lips brushing hers.
If nothing else, their trip has confirmed that through their connection, they’re just as real as they would be in the flesh. On occasion, she has worried that it’s all in her head — all real — but that there’s an elaborate trick that’s deluding them.
He shuffles closer to her, slinging one arm around her waist, and kissing her arm before he lays his head down on his pillow.
Rey drifts off with ease. For the first time, she goes to sleep knowing he will still be there in the morning.
Part of her thought she’d never come back here.
She’s parked the Falcon behind the AT-AT. He’s already there waiting for her, the TIE Silencer cloaked in the minimal shadow offered by the remains of the walker. She can tell he’s already regretting giving her the choice of rendezvous point again.
Rey trots down the ramp, and the wind picks up, sand swirling around their ankles. He’s ditched his tunic, abandoning it in the cockpit of his ship, and the cloak is many moons away, lying forgotten in a hut on Ahch-To. He’s not replaced it, it seems, and for that she’s glad.
“You know there are beautiful cities all over the galaxy, don’t you?”
“Teeming with Stormtroopers, yes,” she replies. His question is the same as last time, the gentle suggestion of new and exciting place. Hospitable places. Luxurious places, even.
She looks around at her old home, and tries to convince herself that this is the perfect spot, but she’s struggling to kid herself. Her hand finds his, and she leads him to the entrance of the AT-AT, smiling at the old Rebellion helmet half buried in the sand as nostalgia rears within her.
She ducks inside and he follows, the rubber soles of his boots soft against the metal. She’s still getting used to the sound of his footsteps. Until recently, he had existed in a dreamworld, not making a sound in her reality. But here he exists. Here, he is flesh and blood.
“This is it?”
“It’s where I used to live,” she says, looking around. No one’s been here in her absence. Everything is still the same, although more sand has blown inside, gritty beneath her boots. Her hammock still hangs limply in the corner, the dried flowers still sad and decrepit on the ledge. He lets go of her hand and moves around her to inspect the place further. He pauses at the wall, covered top to bottom in inch long scratch marks, each one a testament to her loneliness.
Ben reaches out, the fingertips of his index and middle fingers running the length of one.
“This is a sad place,” he murmurs.
The words hit her like a punch to the gut. She doesn’t know what she expected. The home that she had built for herself is just the shell of an old weapon. There’s no happiness here, and bringing him here, thinking that she was bringing him home, is a fool’s errand. She can’t make a happy place in the shadows of the old Empire. Here on Jakku, she had built a space to survive. That’s it.
Surviving’s not enough anymore. She doesn’t want to just survive with him. And she doesn’t want to be here, in this cramped metal carcass, when she could be anywhere in the galaxy with him.
She shouldn’t have subjected him to this.
“I’m sorry,” she says, trying to ignore the lump in her throat. “It just…it used to feel so much bigger.”
Ben moves away from the wall, and wraps his arms around her. He doesn’t say anything, but he cradles her head with one hand, his fingers slipping between the knots in hair. It’s hot and stuffy in here, even out of the direct heat of the sun. A slight sweat is already building on his chest — he’s not built for this climate.
“What d’you want to do?” she asks. “We can’t stay here.”
He thinks for a moment, and while he does, he presses a kiss to the top of her head. “I don’t really want to waste time finding somewhere else. I have to go at first light tomorrow.”
She doesn’t ask why. But she accepts it.
Her next idea is almost as bad as her last one, and she winces as she suggests it. “We could stay on the Falcon?”
He stiffens, his hands stilling on her, no longer making tiny soothing movements against her.
“Or not,” she adds quickly. It was a cruel suggestion. Thoughtless and inconsiderate. Just because she has opened up her own wounds there’s no need to subject him to the same procedure.
“No,” he says quietly. He doesn’t look at her, but his eyes find the scratches in the wall again. “It’ll do.”
“Don’t ask me that,” he says quickly, looking down at her. “If I change my mind we’re camping and…I don’t wanna do that.” He laughs, just a little, and she knows that feeling. He’s found the humour in it all at least, is clutching it with both hands while doing his level best not to awaken old torments.
Ben takes the first step towards the opening, and together they traipse through the sand back round to the Falcon. Rey opens the ramp and walks up it into the cool air of the ship. She turns around, waiting for him at the top.
His eyes are on her — just her, like they’ve been connected through the Force again, and the Falcon belongs to some other world, just out of his line of sight. He grits his teeth, his eyes never leaving hers, and he strides up the ramp until he’s just inches from her. A shaky breath escapes him as he adjusts to the temperature.
With his eyes still on Rey, he reaches behind him, his hand finding the control panel for the ramp without a moment’s hesitation. He pushes the button, closing the ramp with all the ease and familiarity of someone who’s done it a thousand times before.
It’s her first time on Naboo.
He’s given her false papers, so she doesn’t get accosted by Stormtroopers as she weaves her way through the city. Except they’re not false. They’re about as official as you can get. As is the landing key in the Falcon’s console.
She’s never seen buildings as huge as these — great domed towers with turquoise tiles glinting in the setting sun. There are so many people too, although a heavy atmosphere clouds over them, white-clad Stormtroopers standing sentry at the doors of every major building.
Rey puts one foot in front of the other, muttering the directions to herself over and over. And then she sees it, the small street which branches off from the main thoroughfare and leads to a little square, with a small fountain in the middle. Rey crosses over to it and discovers that the marble statue at its centre is chipped and damaged. It was once a woman, holding a set of scales, but her hand has long since disappeared, her nose chipped away by a rogue blaster shot which has left a dark streak on her cheek.
The water is clear, and Rey dips a hand into it.
“That’s not drinking water.”
She turns, and she almost laughs at the sight of him. In the busy streets of Theed, they can’t afford to raise suspicion. Rey has reluctantly ditched her old clothes for full length trousers, heavy leather boots, and a light airy shirt that billows in the breeze. It’s not such a drastic change for her, but he’s had to really commit to the situation.
His trousers are of a slightly narrower cut, tapering around his calves, while his boots are a little scruffier than his usual fare. His navy shirt has a notched neck, revealing a sliver of his pale chest, and his brown leather jacket hangs well off of his broad shoulders.
The only giveaway is the lightsaber hooked on his belt, but they’re both guilty of that faux pas.
“Suits you,” she says.
He doesn’t reply, but holds out a hand. She takes it, and he guides her through the streets, ducking through alleys as though he knows the place like the back of his hand. Eventually they slip into a small tavern and take seats at a tiny table in the corner. Ben hands her a list, taking one for himself, and she soon realises it’s a menu.
She’s never seen one of these before. She’s always just eaten what she’s been given.
Rey looks at each item in turn, but she’s never heard of most of it. They’re also charging astronomical prices — ten credits here, fifteen there, all for a single meal. Naboo is truly unlike anywhere she’s ever been.
She places the menu back in its holder and he glances up at her.
“What are you having?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” she says. “Will you order something for me?”
Ben nods, and his chair legs scrape against the floor as he gets up and goes to the bar to order. He’s there for a little while, talking easily with the barman, smiling, and even laughing at one point. It’s like he’s been let out of a cage, and the glimmer of hope that she’s been nursing glows a little bit brighter.
When he returns, he’s holding two elegantly twisted glasses filled to the brim with frothy ale. She’s never drunk from glass before — only metal.
“This is new,” Rey confesses. She’s anxious, though she doesn’t say. Cities are an entirely new landscape to her. There’s so much crammed into such a small space, a constant background hum of noise.
“It’s fine,” he says. “They’re going to make us some food,” he nods towards the bar, “and then we’re going to eat. I’ve rented a room, so we can stay here tonight.” He takes her hand in his and brushes his thumb back and forth slowly across her knuckles. She didn’t realise she was jiggling her knee, but she stops, focusing instead on his touch. Her eyes travel to the collar of his shirt, and her teeth graze the inside of her lip as the firelight casts a flickering orange glow across his chest.
Ben picks up his glass and takes a sip of ale. When he lowers it, a frothy moustache remains. He wipes it with his thumb, then sucks the froth from it before returning his attention to her. But all she can wonder is why they didn’t do this sooner? They have the whole galaxy to play in — his credentials can quietly give them access to any planet, any city, any tavern.
The barman brings over their food, and Ben thanks him. She had wondered if he’d ordered them the same thing, but he hasn’t. Hers is a platter with lots of little things to try. Even in the dim light she can see the variety of colours and textures.
“Leave that till last,” he says, tapping his finger next to a small pot of lilac coloured puree. “And eat that while it’s hot.” He points to a tender looking piece of meat in the centre of the platter and Rey dives in.
When she is full, the last of her ale drained, she sits back in her seat and lets out a slow, steadying breath. She’s pleasantly warm, her head a little hazy, and her laughter comes a little more easily than usual. Ben’s more relaxed than she’s ever seen him, slouched in his seat with a grin on his face as he nurses his third ale of the evening.
He leads her through to the back staircase and upstairs to where the guest rooms are. When he swipes the pass at the door control, the light flashes red, and he scowls at it, swiping the pass again. The control doesn’t change its mind, and his scowl deepens until he glances at the number on the door.
“Oh,” he says, and he turns on his heel, overbalancing and stumbling against Rey. “This one,” he says, gesturing the pass at the opposite door. The control flashes green, the door sliding open, and he goes inside, Rey following behind.
There’s a window, which is another new thing. She’s never slept anywhere with a window. Unless you count a quick nap in pilot’s seat on the Falcon, but she’s not sure she does. She rushes over to it, gazing at the street below. The glass is cool against her palm, and her breath fogs against it as she watches people hurrying from place to place. It might be wartime, but their clothes are elegant, vibrant colours shining under the streetlights.
Ben circles his arms around her from behind, hugging her against him. He places a tender kiss against her neck and she leans into him contentedly, looking up at the dark sky above them. They could be anyone right now. Briefly, she wonders what would happen if both of them stayed here forever. Could they ever be small enough to escape from it all? Or would their destinies catch up with them?
This could be their destiny, if only they were bold enough.
One of his hands slips from her, and he begins to gently release her hair from its single knot at the nape of her neck. When it’s free he combs it carefully with his fingers and rests the side of his face against her head.
“This is perfect,” she breathes. He hums in agreement and stands with her until she’s had her fill of the view. She turns on the spot so she’s facing him, her hands on his chest. Over his shoulder, she sees the bed, at least as wide as it is long.
“The bed!” In all her life she’s never seen anything like it. When she was a child — before she found the AT-AT — she slept in small safe cubbyholes in wrecked ships, and then she had graduated to a hammock. Her bunk at the Resistance base has felt like a luxury, her own small living space that is truly hers.
But never, never has she slept in a bed like that. The closest she’s come is Ben’s bed in his quarters, which is roomy enough for his large frame with enough space to spare for her too. Even that pales in comparison. She could stretch across it, and even from the tips of her toes to the tops of her fingers she still wouldn’t reach the edges. It’s furnished with a proper quilt too — soft colourful fabric with delicate patterns stitched into it. It’s faded a little from sunlight, but it’s still the most luxurious thing she’s ever laid eyes on.
“You wanna test it out?” He has a lopsided grin on his face, his eyes alight with a sense of mischief that the ale must bring out in him. Rey moves away from him, his hands slipping from her waist. She toes her boots off, then takes a couple of steps back for a run up and launches herself onto the mattress.
She lands face down, bobbing once, twice, on the springs. She rolls over, and Ben approaches the bed, clambering onto it. He captures her lips in a soft kiss, and she can taste the ale on him. When he breaks away, he looks down at her, his loose shirt brushing against her teasingly.
There is nowhere in the entire galaxy that she’d rather be.
“I love you,” he breathes.
She knows that.
She wakes to the sound of TIE fighters screaming overhead.
“Ben.” She shakes him roughly awake, panic flooding through her. “Ben.”
He mumbles something unintelligible, batting her hand away. It’s still dark out, but the endless black of the night sky has softened to an inky blue. It’s nearing dawn.
“Ben wake up.” Rey yanks the pillow out from under him and he swears as his head hits the mattress.
“What’s going on?” He blinks at her, bleary eyes glinting in the darkness, and inhales deeply.
“I think they’ve found us,” she whispers. She rolls over and reaches down to the floor, grabbing the first item of clothing she can reach. It’s his shirt. She pulls it on and hurries over to the window. Now she’s alert, she can hear doors banging in the distance, and if she cranes her neck, she can see groups of Stormtroopers marching past the end of the alley.
Ben’s brain must kick into gear, because he joins her at the window, looking over her shoulder as his own troops barge into people’s homes.
She turns around. “Surely you can stop this?” It seems obvious to her, but he’s acting like he’s been caught red-handed. “You’re Supreme Leader. Surely they should be following your every order?”
“I’m not supposed to be here,” he murmurs, looking down at her. “I told Hux I was going to Moorja.”
Rey frowns. “I didn’t know you answered to Hux.”
Ben huffs and turns away from her, crouching down in the dark to find his trousers. He pulls them on hurriedly, then tugs his socks on and jams his feet into his boots. “Shirt,” he snaps. “Get dressed.”
She removes the shirt and hands it to him, picking her own clothes of the floor and donning them quickly.
“Hux is already suspicious, and he hates me. If he finds us together…” Ben tails off, but she sees the outline of his shoulders, shrugging in the shadows. “He has a whole army at his command, he could shoot me out of the sky any time he likes.”
It doesn’t sound like any way to live, but now’s not the time for that. They can discuss freedom later. Right now, the priority is surviving.
“We need to get to the ships.”
Ben shakes his head. “They’ll have shut down all the docking bays. We’ll be shot before we can even get close.”
There is a sinking feeling in her stomach, as though she’s trapped in quicksand and being sucked down into the ground with no chance of escape. Her mind wanders to Leia, and what she would think if their foolishness gets them both killed. Another loss — let alone two — would be too much for her to bear.
Ben buckles his belt and hooks his lightsaber onto it. His hand hovers over the handle, and she wonders what he could possibly be thinking.
“We could style it out,” he suggests, half serious.
Were she not faced with almost certain death, she would laugh.
The square is dark. There are Stormtroopers within a hundred paces of them, and the air feels crackly, as though a storm is imminent.
“Make it look good,” he whispers. “And stay away from the face.”
He’s making a joke. At a time like this, he’s making a joke. A blaster fires in the distance and Rey swallows, igniting her lightsaber and casting a blue glow over the cobbles.
“It’s gonna be okay,” he promises, and he ignites his lightsaber too, red light joining blue to tint the cobbles a deep purple.
They stand there, a short distance apart, completely useless. Neither of them wants to make the first move, but then the sound of clattering boots draws closer and the adrenalin kicks in. Ben nods, and she raises her blade, but doesn’t strike.
And so he lunges for her.
Instinct kicks in, adrenalin surging through her. She parries the blade, whirling away from him to attack from the side. He’s just as fast though, his blade clashing with hers, crackling through the night.
In her peripheral vision, she can see Stormtroopers flooding into the square, blocking the exits, blasters raised, but Rey focuses on the swishes of red and blue. As long as they both move fast, they won’t shoot. None of them are stupid enough to risk injuring their Supreme Leader.
The tip of Ben’s lightsaber strays a little too close to her, but she’s yanked back by the force, pulled clear of danger. She hits the ground, but rolls over, bringing her own lightsaber up to crash against his, the energy rippling through the square. She manages to force his blade away from her and recover her position. To a certain extent, there’s an element of pride at stake here. She can’t go down easily. That’s not in her nature.
Rey strides forward, ready to begin a new assault, her blade cutting through the darkness in an attempt to distract the First Order forces from the fact that there’s very little serious fighting. Ben draws closer to meet her, his chest heaving in each breath. Under the red glow of his lightsaber, she can see a glint of amusement in his eyes. He’s enjoying being put through his paces — letting off steam with no threat of consequence. He’s confident. It’s a look that suits him.
Her assault is blocked easily. When she swings in for the next attack however, he tries to dodge, but his unfamiliar boot gets caught in the cobbles. Rey diverts the path of her blade, but then he stumbles, falling towards it.
He lets out a strangled yell as his arm sinks onto the very tip of her blade, too fast for her to avoid it altogether. She pulls it away, her hands trembling, lightsaber raised, but before she can do anything, the lightsaber falls from her grip, and she is yanked across the gap between them, as if by an invisible hand.
Ben’s lightsaber is still glowing, its distorted hum loud in her ears. His arm is around her neck, in a headlock of sorts, but not tight. Her back is against his chest. He’s shielding her.
“You have to surrender,” he murmurs. “They’ll kill you if they think you’re going to win.”
“I’m sorry,” she says quickly. “Ben I’m so — ”
“It doesn’t matter, it’s fine,” he says quickly, his breath coming in heavy gasps. The pain is far worse than he’s letting on, and she can smell the awful stench of burnt flesh.
“Ben — ”
“It’s fine. And I’m sorry too.”
She can feel his breath in her hair, and hidden from view, he kisses the back of her head before throwing her roughly to the ground.
It knocks the wind out of her, and she rolls over, eyes watering. She feigns a grab for her lightsaber, but it flies past her, into his hand. Everything else happens in a blur. She’s hauled to her feet by a pair of overzealous Stormtroopers. Her wrists are cuffed in front of her, and she is held in position by armour-clad hands, gripping her arms far too tightly.
One of the higher ups approaches, dressed all in black bar the rank insignia on his tunic. He’s pale, with an expression that suggests he’s never experienced happiness in his life. He glances down at Ben’s outfit, but doesn’t pass comment.
“Supreme Leader,” he begins, “we found this on board a Resistance ship.” He brandishes the landing key proudly, though his smug smile does not reach his eyes. “The Millennium Falcon, in fact. We’re returning it to the command ship for inspection and destruction.”
Ben presses his lips together, cradling his afflicted arm. “Is the landing key valid?”
“I believe so, sir.” Oily smugness, again.
“Well then there’s a spy in your ranks, Hux,” Ben replies in a cold tone. “I wouldn’t be too vocal about that if I were you.”
All of the smugness is knocked out of Hux. His eyes grow wide, his complexion impossibly paler. He opens his mouth to respond, but words fail him, and Ben moves past him, purposefully knocking him with his good shoulder. He stumbles, but regains his footing, and sends a poisonous look towards Rey.
“Oh dear,” she says, just loudly enough for him to hear.
Hux strides towards her, his face set in an ugly grimace, and raises one leather clad hand ready to strike.
He never makes contact.
Ben spins around, and with one hand outstretched, sends Hux crashing to the ground. He struggles, wriggling as though trapped beneath a giant boot, its pressure increasing with every passing second. Ben walks over slowly, his hand still tensed as the energy flows from him.
“Did I say you could touch her?” he asks, his voice soft and dangerous.
Hux continues to struggle, and when he doesn’t answer, he wheezes, his hands flying to his throat, scrabbling against the skin.
“Did I say you could touch her?”
“No, Supreme Leader.” The words come out tightly, his pale eyes bloodshot and watering as he struggles for breath.
Even though he’s an enemy, even though he’d been about to hit her, it’s not a sight she enjoys. It’s not a thought she wants to cling to either, how easily Ben has switched back into his role as Supreme Leader. How cold he is. How cruel.
But then in a moment, it’s over. Hux hauls air into his lungs, curled up on the cobbles, tears streaming down his face.
“Bring her,” Ben says to the Stormtroopers, and they give her a shove as Ben begins the walk back towards the main thoroughfare. Both of their lightsabers are hooked on his belt, glinting in the moonlight.
He stays close by, only ever a few steps ahead, and when they get on board the First Order’s ship, he sits opposite her while a med droid tends to the would on his arm. It’s even deeper than she first thought, the flesh seared through, muscle and bone peeking through the blackened damage.
She’s desperate to tell him how sorry she is. Although she cannot stand the sight of the wound, she cannot bring herself to look away from it. She must see what she’s done, what her lack of control has done.
The journey feels long. By the time they arrive, Ben has a bacta bandage secured around his partially mended wound. When the ramp lowers, nobody moves a muscle. Ben stands up, takes Rey by the arm, and leads her towards the exit. He pauses by Hux, at the end of the bench, who stands when he realises he is about to be addressed.
“The Millennium Falcon belongs to me,” Ben tells him. “It was my father’s ship, and now it’s mine. Not a single person or droid is permitted to touch it. Do you understand?”
Hux looks like he wants to protest, but his throat must still be sore, because the croaky words follow after a brief hesitation. “Yes, Supreme Leader. Where do you wish for the scavenger to be held?”
“I’ll manage her,” he says, far too quickly for Rey’s liking. “She’s too powerful to be entrusted to any of you.”
Again, the words rankle Hux, but she doesn’t have long to witness his displeasure. Ben gives her a very gentle shove towards the ramp and she walks, the cold air of the command ship’s hangar searing through the thin material of her shirt.
Ben receives a number of puzzled looks on their journey through the corridors, but not a single soul dares to question him on his attire. Perhaps they have better sense than Hux, who seems unable to hold his tongue. Perhaps they’re more intrigued by her presence, as just the two of them walk along the corridors, Stormtroopers straightening their backs as the two of them pass.
Eventually, they reach a quiet corridor with a lone door at the end. Rey follows him, glancing over her shoulder in case they have company.
“Ben, your arm.”
“It’s fine,” he says, pausing at the control panel and turning to look at her. “I promise.”
Rey shakes her head, unable to forget the time their lightsabers had clashed during their separate training sessions. He had warned her that something bad would happen. And now it had. He could have lost an arm to her poor skill.
“Rey, it wasn’t your fault. I fell.”
She swallows, the guilt tangled inside her chest. He must be feeling the weight of it, echoed in his own ribcage.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers, and the control panel bleeps, the door hissing open.
“Come on,” Ben says, and he stands aside so she can enter ahead of him.
The walls are stark and white, and Rey descends a few steps to the main floor. In one corner is a short rail, from which hangs a variety of black tunics and trousers, all neatly pressed. There is a large desk with a neat stack of fresh paper, and half a dozen pens sit in a holder, ready for use. Ink bottles are tucked snugly into small, tailor-made depressions in the desk’s surface. Everything has a place.
The podium is waist height, and on it rests the twisted mask. She knows who that belongs to. No explanation is necessary.
“Ignore that,” he says, his voice a little stiff.
“Why do you still have it?” she asks.
He doesn’t answer her question, but the cuffs drop from her wrists, landing with a loud clang on the metal floor. Ben walks ahead, heavily scaling the handful of steps in the far corner of the room. Rey follows, and there’s a slightly more recognisable sight when she reaches the top.
The bed, which she has laid in many nights, when their bond has permitted, as well as the familiar blankets and firm pillows.
“Let’s get some sleep,” he says, and he leans over to the control panel next to his bed, and presses a quick combination of keys. A thud echoes around them, and Rey frowns.
“Deadlock,” he explains. “No one’ll bother us.”
Rey nods, and leans against the wall, standing on one leg as she tugs one heavy boot off. She drops it to the floor and repeats the process with the other one. The metal is cold against the soles of her feet, and she’s keen to get into bed. But then Ben hisses as he tries to remove his ruined shirt.
Rey steps forward, batting his good hand away, and trying not to fixate on the tremor in his bad one. The shirt’s done for, and so she grabs the hem and then tugs it sharply, ripping the fabric straight up the centre of his stomach. She tugs again, careful for the movement to not disturb his injured arm, and the a third tug brings her to the edge of the collar. Her hands have to work a little bit harder to break this, but she manages it, and peels the fabric away from Ben.
He tenses beneath her fingertips as she removes the tattered sleeve from his arm, but he doesn’t say a word. His mouth is pressed into a thin line, and once the last of the shirt is laying discarded in the corner of the room, she grazes his lips with her own.
He wraps his good arm around her shoulders, pulling her against his chest and dropping his head to rest against her own. She holds him, troubled by the number of scars he bears thanks to her. She can see all of them — his face, his left shoulder, his arm, and the faint red line on his right shoulder caused by Finn.
He kisses her, then releases her, and they slip into bed. The light extinguishes when his good hand slaps the control panel, and Rey cuddles up against him in the dark.
“We’ll figure out your escape in the morning,” he murmurs.
It’s not until she hears his light snores that she allows the exhaustion to claim her, and she slips into troubled darkness.
He leaves her cuffed, her lightsaber sitting on his desk. Really, she could go anytime she pleases. But she’s just as curious about his theory as he is.
Their slumber has restored a little good humour, and another session with the med droid has eased his movements, though Rey had helped him on with his tunic. Her fingers had made quick work of the fastenings, although she is far less used to doing it up.
He’s been gone for forty minutes, and, quite frankly, she’s bored. She has to keep wiggling her fingers to shake off the pins and needles that creep in every so often. Her wrists are joined above her, secured fast to the wall. If she really wanted to remove them she could. That was the whole point. But they had been certain he would come.
She looks up when she hears footsteps in the corridor. Ben’s gait is familiar to her by now, and she knows it’s not him approaching the door. The control panel bleeps a handful of times, denying entry until finally the security protocol is overridden by an executive command.
There’s a rush of air as the doors slide open, and there he is. His ginger hair looks pale under the harsh white lights, his complexion ghostly and tired. The dark circles under his eyes stand out from a dozen paces away, and he crosses that distance with a stiff stride.
Rey scowls at him, although the reaction is completely organic. There are no pretences here — aside from Ben, he’s the highest ranking member of the First Order. He has blood on his hands.
He runs a release key over the sensor of the cuffs and they open, clattering the floor and freeing her wrists.
“Don’t tell Ren,” he says in a quiet, clipped voice, unlike the shrill nasal tone she heard the previous evening.
“Why are you doing this?” she asks, the words coming out in a rush. She gets to her feet, holds out a hand, her lightsaber flying to it in an instant. Hux eyes the weapon warily, apparently thinking she’s about to strike him down.
She can think of worse ideas.
“I have my reasons,” he says coolly. “I’ve removed the tracking beacon from your ship. If you can get to it in one piece, you can take off without issue.”
Rey frowns, unconvinced by the proposal. They had both expected he’d come, and Ben had deliberately left her unguarded with minimal security. But the intention had always been that she would escape after his visit, to draw the trail away from Ben. He’d never have thought that the landing key would be traced.
“Who gave you the landing key?” he asks, his pale blue eyes watching her carefully, as though hoping to detect a tell, uncover some secret nugget of information.
“I got it myself,” Rey says with a casual shrug.
“It was created three days ago,” Hux says pointedly, “as were your papers. He’ll want blood for this.”
“That’s not my problem,” Rey replies in a cold tone that feels uncommon to her.
Hux clenches his jaw, muscles straining as he grits his teeth. Rey can’t decipher his game. He clearly has an agenda against Ben, whose concerns about being shot out of the sky seem compounded by Hux’s treachery. But there’s something missing, something in his manner that’s casting a veil over his true motives. This doesn’t feel like a clarity of conscience. It could be the beginnings of a coup, but she has no idea how she fits into that. Ben doesn’t answer to Snoke anymore. He only answers to himself. If Hux is trying to make Ben seem accountable for her escape it doesn’t quite add up. What are the stakes? Where are the consequences?
“I’ll go. You stay for ten minutes. I need to be with him when you break out, or else my position is jeopardised.”
“And what is your position exactly?” Rey hooks her lightsaber onto her belt then rubs her aching wrists. There must have been a more comfortable position to secure her in.
Hux gives her one last cursory look before turning on his heel and leaving without a word. He drops his release key on the desk, steps out into the corridor, and the doors close behind him. Rey stands still, listening to his footsteps recede, and then lets out a slow breath.
Neither of them had predicted that.
Poe launches himself at her, hauling her against him, his arms around her neck. Finn follows with speed and force, nearly knocking Rey clean off her feet.
“Are you okay?”
“What were you doing on Naboo?”
“How did you escape?”
“We were going to send a team —”
The questions come thick and fast, and Rey’s words fail her. She doesn’t want to lie to them, but how can she tell them the truth? How can she say ‘don’t worry it was all an act’? How could she ever tell them about Ben?
That’s the truth of it. She has chosen a life of deception, betraying those she loves for the sake of love. The way Poe keeps a hold of her, his grip tight on her shoulder, reminds her only too much of the fact that Ben had once hurt him. Really hurt him. And Finn too, who had nearly lost everything in the forest, defending her from him.
From Kylo Ren, at least. But they wouldn’t understand the difference. Part of her feels like she shouldn’t expect them to.
Rose’s greeting is significantly less boisterous but no less heartfelt. Her hug is warm and solid, and one gentle hand stays on her arm as she asks: “Can I get you anything?” Rey politely declines. In reality, she wants to disappear to her room for a bit, wants to try and connect with Ben to let him know she’s okay.
But she supposes he would have felt it if anything had happened. He would have felt the dread rise within him, a darkness creeping up like an impenetrable fog.
She makes some excuses about Stormtroopers and the Force and none of it being too difficult. In reality she had relied heavily on such things, and although her heart had pounded as she made her way through the ship, her route had been suspiciously clear.
Whether she has Ben or Hux to thank for that particular detail, she has no idea.
Rey feigns tiredness, and is allowed to extricate herself from her friends. Guilt squirms within her, but she pushes it down. Her mind is racing, and she does need to lie down, somewhere dark, somewhere quiet, and take a moment to breathe.
After a meagre five minutes in her room, there is a knock at the door. Rey gets up and hits the button on the control panel, the doors sliding open.
She retreats to the bed, taking a seat. Leia closes the doors behind her and joins her.
“You okay?” she asks, in a tone that suggests she already knows the answer.
Rey nods, and pulls at the cuff of her shirt. She’s not used to having sleeves. Not real ones.
“How was he?”
Rey shrugs. “We fought,” she tells her, picking out elements of the truth. “I grazed his arm. The whole place was swarming with Stormtroopers though so I had to surrender. I think he’s okay though. I don’t think the wound was too bad.”
Leia’s brown eyes stare at her, a patient expression on her face. Rey’s insides twist themselves into knots. She always feels like Leia can read her like a book. It’s not a desirable position to be in.
The word is enough to convince. She knows. Perhaps she has always known. Perhaps she has indulged Rey’s disappearances in the hope that it will go some way to repairing the damage wreaked by the war. Perhaps she thinks their relationship could be a tool, a way of defeating the first order.
She’s his mother.
“He…” Rey trails off, her lip wobbling just a touch as she tries to come up with an honest answer. But her brain is flooded with memories of laughter and easy kisses and tender touches. All she can think about is the way he looked at her, as though she were the most precious thing in all the galaxy. How he had whispered her name in the darkness.
“He was happy,” she tells her, and for the first time, Leia’s facade fractures, tears brimming in her eyes as a tentative smile forms on her lips.
“Yeah,” Rey says, nodding, more sure of herself now. “He was really happy.”
“You ready to get your ass handed to you?”
“You know all this big talk is going to make you look silly, right? In about five minutes’ time?” Rose’s tone is sweet, and Poe’s dark eyebrows draw together in a challenging glare. He rattles the dice in the cup, making far more of a show of it than is necessary.
Finn is sitting cross legged on the floor next to him, eager to see the outcome. Poe tosses the dice from the cup and they skitter across the hangar floor. Beaumont moves one boot lazily out of the way of a rogue die, and when it stills, calls: “Five!”
Poe mutters something that sounds an awful lot like a swear word, but Rey can’t distinguish it clearly from her position by the wall. She leans her head back against it, closing her eyes. She likes this, just being. She likes the company, but without the expectation. Shrinking into the back of the crowd, enjoying the antics without being dragged in.
Sometimes it’s all a bit too much of a change from desert life. But this is nice. It’s been a long day — Leia has pushed her hard in training — and a little bit of company after dinner is going down well.
It’s difficult to pinpoint when he comes into existence, but he slides down the wall, sighing as he takes a seat on the floor next to her.
“You busy?” he asks, in a quiet voice as though he might be overheard.
“I’m with the others,” she tells him, keeping her eyes on the game. Poe is shaking the cup again, Finn’s eyes flicking between his hands and the score sheet being updated by Kaydel. She keeps her eyes fixed on Poe’s hands ready to detect any desperation-driven sleight of hand.
Ben places his hand on top of hers, and Rey makes the smallest movement so he can close his fingers gently around her palm.
“Are you all right?” she asks, trying to keep her lips from moving. She is desperate to look at him. It’s been weeks, and they’ve had to abandon their real life sojourns. After Naboo, everything had felt too risky. Even Ahch-To had felt like too much of a gamble, for both of them.
Finn and Poe have been keeping close eyes on her, keen for her to not fall into the hands of the enemy again.
It’s nice, in its own way. It makes her feel loved, at least.
She looks across at him, unable to resist for any longer. But the sight of him doesn’t fill her with joy. Her heart sinks. He’s pale — paler than usual at any rate — and there are dark circles under his eyes.
“Just tired,” he sighs, and he lets go of her hand, sinking sideways against her to rest his head in her lap, stretching out along the edge of the hangar.
Rey lightly brushes her fingers through his hair and he closes his eyes. It’s the first time she’s seen him since the incident, and the weeks have not been kind to him. She’s missed him, and now she’s worried about him. All this time she’d been carrying on as normal, her heart a little hollower with every day that passed without him. But all of this time she should have been worrying about him, checking in on him.
This isn’t the result of one bad night’s sleep.
“Why aren’t you sleeping?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” he murmurs. His hand is resting on her shin, his thumb tracing patterns on her calf.
He doesn’t reply, and delays some more before exhaling heavily. She waits, because the truth will come out soon enough, and she can’t press him for it. He’ll clam up, and she’ll draw attention by looking like she’s talking to herself. His breathing evens out eventually, and she can feel the tension eking out of the muscles in his shoulders.
But there’s something else. It’s like a smooth cold stone is sitting in the centre of her gut. The beginnings of an uncomfortable weight, a burden.
“I’ve been having dreams,” he says at last, and she has to strain to hear him above the noise of the game. Rose has just rolled three doubles on the trot, and Poe is throwing around accusations of foul play.
It’s a good distraction from her, sitting at the farthest edge of play.
“Nightmares,” he clarifies quickly. The speed at which the word tumbles from his mouth makes it feel as though he has been desperate to tell her, but something has been holding him back.
“What kind of nightmares?”
He takes his time with an answer. He fiddles with the hem of her trouser leg, running his thumb along the stitches. “I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe not nightmares.”
Again, she doesn’t press him.
“I think I’ve just been missing you,” he says at last, dismissing his own concerns. “It’s been so long.”
“I’ve been missing you too,” she replies. “But I’ve not been having nightmares.”
He doesn’t say anything, and the cold, heavy sensation in her gut doesn’t go anywhere. If anything, it feels like it anchors itself to her, like it’s growing roots within her, set to stay.
“I can feel this,” she tells him, keeping one eye on the game in front of them. Rose is totting up her score with a grin on her face. Rey’s hand moves to his stomach, resting over the same spot where she feels the cold most acutely. “This…knot. Whatever it is. I can feel it.”
“I’m sorry,” he sighs.
“I don’t want you to be sorry,” she tells him earnestly. “I want you to tell me what’s wrong. I want to help you fix it.”
He shifts, rolling onto his back so he can look up at her. His eyes are bright, a little bloodshot, and red-rimmed. “I don’t know what’s wrong,” he tells her. “I just don’t know.”
“All right,” she says, and with everyone else enthralled with the final throw of the game, she leans down to brush her lips against his forehead. “Get some sleep. I’m not going anywhere.”
He takes her hand and raises it to his lips, kissing her knuckles softly. Rey smiles down at him, though she can feel her worry creasing her brow. Ben closes his eyes, and she focuses on her own breathing. Perhaps she can offset the knot in his stomach. Perhaps, for every bad feeling that bleeds over from him, she can share something to counteract it. Getting him into a relaxed breathing rhythm would be a start, eliminating those troubled huffs that come every so often.
Poe chucks his cup to the ground and gets to his feet, moving back through the crowd. “Rey, you in?” he asks. “She’s cheating,” he adds, nodding towards Rose. “Just so you know, she’s cheating.”
“Sounds like somebody just got their ass handed to them,” Rose counters in a singsong voice. She’s not bothering to contain her grin, and Poe skews his lips to one side.
“You in?” he asks.
Rey shakes her head. “I’ll sit this one out, thanks.”
Snap tags in, picking up the discarded cup and dice. Poe edges his way out of the group, stepping carefully over outstretched legs and splayed hands. As he approaches, Rey’s heartbeat increases. Even though she knows he can’t possibly see Ben, she tightens her grip on him, as though this will somehow protect him from a threat that doesn’t technically exist.
“You okay?” Poe asks, crouching down before her. He’s wearing that anxious expression that’s becoming all too common a sight on his face.
“Fine,” she tells him. “Just tired, that’s all.”
He takes her answer at face value. “You want a beer?”
She can’t help but glance down at Ben. “No,” she says. “I’m good, thanks.”
“Okay,” he nods and stands up, squeezing her shoulder before he goes to collect half a dozen bottles from the chiller for him and the others. Rey looks down at Ben again, just in case her brain is kidding her that he’s still there. But he is, and his eyes are closed, his chest rising and falling steadily.
She looks up at the sound of footsteps. It’s Leia, near the door. She stops in her tracks, her eyes seeing only one thing. Even from a distance, Rey can tell the air has been knocked out of her.
Leia presses her lips together and takes a few tentative steps closer. As soon as she’s within a safe speaking distance, Rey says: “He’s asleep.”
“He doesn’t look well,” Leia replies, her voice tight.
“He’s not been getting much sleep lately.”
Leia closes her eyes, as though the sight of him is too much to bear for too long. When she crouches down, she winces, and Rey can hear the faint sound of her joints grinding painfully. Leia ignores the discomfort, and reaches out a hand with a faint tremor. She gently cups Ben’s face, looking down at him with bright, sorrowful eyes.
It must be the first time she’s seen him in years.
Ben sighs in his sleep, and Rey feels the weight in her stomach shrink, just a fraction. But then, after a moment, Leia withdraws her hand and stands up. She shakes her head and disappears without another word. Rey’s heart feels heavy at the thought of it all.
She just wishes Leia could have seen Ben when he was on Naboo, full of life, happy, and contented.
If she can get him through his sleep deprivation, she will. She’ll get him back to how he was on Naboo. A carefree Ben is definitely something to strive for.
And so she stays there, on the floor, watching people come and go from the group as the rowdiness ebbs and flows. Even though she’s starting to feel the creeping sensation of pins and needles in her right foot she knows that until he disappears back into his own reality, she won’t be able to move a muscle.
She’s hauled into consciousness, like an invisible foot has kicked her out of her sanctuary and into the darkness.
Panting. Panicking. Even though she feels a tightness in her chest, it’s not her laboured breathing that she’s aware of. She gropes for the light switch and flicks it on, a harsh beam falling over them.
Ben is sitting up next to her, pale and sweaty, his chest heaving, his arm shielding his eyes from the light. Rey springs into action, sitting up properly, her eyes adjusting to the brightness.
“It’s all right,” she says, wrapping her hand around his arm. “I’m here, you’re with me, you’re fine.”
Her own heart is racing, and she has to swallow down the overwhelming panic — just a fraction of what he’s feeling. She rises onto her knees, ignoring the tremble in her legs, and shuffles closer to him so she can hold him, her hand in his damp hair, thumb moving in soothing motions against his temple.
Ben doesn’t say anything, but Rey continues to whisper words of comfort to him. Gradually, his heart rate slows in time with hers, his breathing still heavy but less urgent now.
“Nightmare?” she asks.
He swallows, but doesn’t say anything. He’s sagged against her, his sweat dampening her shirt. She doesn’t need an answer, not really. She has no idea how long he’s been here, but all she can do is hope that she gets to keep him long enough to make him feel better. It’s been more than three weeks since she’d slept on the hangar floor with him.
She dreads to think about all the nightmares that have happened in between. All the sleepless nights, casting a deeper shade over the circles under his eyes. If she could trade places with him, she would in an instant. Ease this burden for him so he doesn’t get crushed beneath the weight of it.
Rey coaxes him back down onto the bed, and she lays facing him, her hand on his cheek. She kisses him, trying to remind him of the good things he has, a distraction from the poison his mind has subjected him to these past weeks.
He watches her, his blinks few and far between, as though he doesn’t want to close his eyes, and Rey runs her thumb along his jaw. It’s a little rougher than usual, his stubble having made more progress than would normally be permitted.
Maybe it’s time he came home.
“Have you heard him?” he asks, his words soft. “Has he called out to you?”
His expression falters, there’s a flicker in his eyes, and the cold stone — present once more in her stomach — becomes heavier.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does,” Rey argues. “Clearly it does. Ben, you can tell me. Anything.”
He shakes his head, his lips pressed together. He had been expecting a different answer. Perhaps he had thought that if she could feel his anxiety, she would be able to feel everything else. But none of that matters. What matters is the he who’s calling to him.
Could it be Luke?
Maybe the time is approaching fast for both of them, and Luke is reaching out to give Ben the final shove he needs in order to return to the light. He’s been hovering around the edges for a long while, dipping his toes in the water, straying into the right path. But the decision must come.
It’s not good for him, being pulled in two directions.
She leaves the matter be, kisses him again, and settles down onto her pillow. Even though he’s exhausted, and even though he’s a shadow of the man he was in Naboo, he still looks at her in exactly the same way. With those same eyes.
In that moment, she knows that he’d give her the universe and everything in it. But she doesn’t want any of those things. The one thing she does want, she can’t ask for.
And so she doesn’t ask for anything at all.
The nightmares don’t let up.
His solution is to avoid sleep at all costs, but that just makes the exhaustion worse, and he grows more and more irritable by the day.
Their connections are stretching further and further apart, keeping them separate at a time when they ought to be together. She has half a mind to go to his command ship, to walk straight up to his quarters and burst in, telling him he’s going to look after himself whether he likes it or not. But whenever she raises the question of seeing each other in real life, he dismisses it.
He’s still worried after last time.
She wakes in the middle of the night to see him hunched over her desk. She can hear his pen, scratching against the paper, and the rustle as he turns the pages of his book. When she joins him, one hand on his shoulder as she drops a light kiss on the top of his head, he flinches.
“Sorry,” she says, ignoring the pang of disappointment in her heart. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s fine,” he says, only briefly interrupting his concentration to glance up at her. He leans back over his work, frowning at his page before returning his attention to the book, consulting a language that Rey can’t read.
“Ben, why don’t you come to bed?” she asks. “Come and get some sleep. All of that will still be there in the morning.”
“I’ll come later,” he says, then turns around in his seat. “You go, I’ll finish this.”
It feels like she’s being dismissed. She retreats, her heart heavy in her chest, and tries to ignore the underlying prickle of anxiety that she can only associate with him these days. It fades as soon as he is reclaimed by his First Order life, and reappears as soon as she’s conscious of him.
It must sit with him all the time.
With that troublesome thought resting uncomfortably in her mind, she climbs back into bed, covering herself with her blanket. The light from the desk lamp is far too bright, and when she closes her eyes, it permeates her eyelids like the Jakku sun. She rolls over, turning to face the wall, and falls asleep to the sound of his pen.
When she wakes, it’s with her alarm. He’s still there, his tunic cast to one side, the sleeves of his undershirt rolled up to the elbows. His legs are crossed at the ankles, his shoulders hunched, and Rey has to suppress the desire to straighten him out.
Instead, she leaves him working as she goes to get washed and dressed. She returns with breakfast for both of them, and it’s only with a great deal of coercion that he agrees to eat with his left hand, while his right hand continues to scrawl on the paper.
His writing isn’t the same as it used to be. Those big looping swirls that had made her so envious are now frantic scratchings littered with crossings out and blotches of ink. At the edge of the page there are frustrated doodles which presumably have kept his pen busy while his mind whirred.
“I have to go in a minute,” she tells him. It’s not true, but she can’t stand to just sit here in silence while he ignores her. It’s not even the lack of attention, it’s the fact that he is throwing himself towards a burnout — if he’s not already there — and she can’t bear to watch him self destruct.
She wonders if Luke had considered the impact of an intervention, from him specifically. It must be turning up all sorts of long forgotten feelings, none of them good.
“Okay,” he says, and he sets his pen down. He rotates the chair towards her, holding out a hand as though he has sensed her own disquiet. She takes it, and he pulls her into his lap, wrapping his arms tightly around her, and pressing a kiss to her cheek. Some of the surface hurt dissipates, but the deep rooted concerns still remain.
“What are you working on?”
“I found something,” he says, his words a little muffled by her hair.
“What kind of something?”
None of it’s any clearer. She can feel through his shirt that he’s cold, and so she reaches towards the desk, taking her tea and handing it to him.
“Drink this,” she says, before following up with her question. “What about us?”
He takes a sip, and she’s not sure whether he’s recognising the state he’s in, or whether he’s just choosing not to argue with her on so small a point.
“Our bond,” he tells her. “I found something, but the translation’s difficult.”
“Can’t you get a droid to do it?”
He shakes his head and takes another sip of tea. Somehow he feels a little bit more whole to her now. Now that his head is out of his book and his voice is coming back to him. She doesn’t like it when he’s silent. Quiet is one thing, but silence is another. It speaks too much of him bottling things up.
“The language is too old, none of our droids are compatible.”
Rey knows one droid who might be. “What about Threepio?”
Ben stiffens, the tea raised halfway to his mouth. Rey twists in his lap to look at him, and in his eyes she can detect something of a chain reaction, laced with frustration and misery.
He needs to stop this. He’s going to kill himself, chasing after all these myths. What they have is what they have and it’s special and unique to them. It’s brought them together in a way that nothing else ever could, and the history of it, the tales and the references aren’t important. Not to her, at least.
But when she voices this to him, he shakes his head, swallowing a mouthful of tea.
“If we understand it then we can control it.” Ben sets the empty cup down on the desk much harder than necessary, metal clashing against metal, the clang echoing around the small room. “Rey, I don’t want this to be dictated by the Force. I want to be with you whenever I want — whenever you want. Not a couple of hours, weeks apart. And I’m not risking you being hurt by doing another Naboo stunt. That was stupid and I never should have…not with them watching me all the time.” His words become jumbled, his thoughts merging together before they can make it out of his mouth. But the feeling is clear.
He wants freedom.
But he’s obsessing over it, all in the wrong way.
“I just…” He closes his eyes and rests his forehead against hers. If she could give him calm, she would. If she could give him energy, she would. But she can’t. It makes her feel useless.
“I just want to be able to sleep in the same bed as you, wake up with you, eat dinner with you. All those things we did in Naboo before it…”
She wants all of those things too, but the difference is, she’s not relying on the Force to give them to her. She’s relying on him.
But she can’t tell him that right now. He’s on the brink of falling apart, and she won’t be the one to push him over the edge.
Even when he makes time for her, he’s itching to get back to his work. On the nights where she has him, the nights where she takes him to bed and rekindles some of their passion from days gone by, she still wakes in the early hours to find him at the desk. Writing.
Other times, she’s woken by his nightmares, and she spends a solid half hour bringing him back to reality after his mind has sent him spinning out of control. She does her best, but all of this is far beyond her capabilities. She’s never had anyone to look after, let alone someone who spends most of his time on the other side of the galaxy.
But now he’s crying. He’s exhausted and scared, and he’s burying his face in her pillow, his shoulders shuddering as his composure falls to pieces.
She can’t tell him it’s all right. It’s not. She’d be lying if she suggested — even for a minute — that things weren’t as bad as they seem. Her experience of him tells her that things are infinitely worse than they seem.
Rey lies next to him, her hand on his back, and she kisses his shoulder. It’s all she knows how to do, to tell him that she’s there, she’s with him, and she won’t let him suffer this alone.
But it’s been weeks since she’s last seen him.
Something’s got to give.
“D’you think it’s time you came home?”
She has held off asking the question for so long, always fearing the reaction, always worried that it would be too much too soon. But now, things can’t go any further south. They’re at the end of the road, and either he takes a leap of faith, or he stays exactly where he is.
Regret swells within her. She should have asked him sooner. She should have been braver. But she didn’t want to spoil his happiness, didn’t want to start a fight. None of those things are at stake now. He hasn’t been happy since Naboo, and a fight would be something, at least. It would let them both know where they stand.
Ben lifts his head from the pillow, and turns to face her. His eyes are bright with tears, red-rimmed, his cheeks stained with misery.
“I don’t have a home.”
“Of course you do,” she says, brushing his hair back from his face. “With me.”
He swallows, then releases a breath that makes his cheeks puff a little. “Will you come be with me? Please?”
She can’t deny him. Not when he’s like this. Even when her head is screaming to her that it’s a terrible idea, she can’t leave him distraught and alone on that cold command ship.
“Okay,” she says, nodding, and she kisses him. “Send your coordinates through. Make sure no one kills me on the approach.”
He nods and sits up, reaching across her for his shirt. Rey gets out of her bunk and begins to get dressed. Once she’s decent, she sits at the desk and writes a short note.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m leaving a note,” she tells him. “So she doesn’t worry.”
He doesn’t ask who the ‘she’ is, and instead shifts to the edge of the bed. He pulls his trousers on and stands up, but all he does is pace, one shaky hand pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Coordinates,” she reminds him.
He nods. “Coordinates.”
It’s eerily quiet when she walks down the ramp of the Falcon. The hangar is clear of Stormtroopers, but a few engineers are working quietly on a TIE fighter on the far side.
Rey manages to dredge the path up from memory, treading along the identical corridors and trying to place landmarks along her route. Nobody questions her. It’s as though a message has rung out across the ship — leave the scavenger alone.
She’d even been treated politely by the hangar control crew when she’d made contact over the comms link.
It’s all very bizarre.
“Are you defecting?” Hux falls into step with her, and Rey grits her teeth. “Or is he defecting?”
“No one’s defecting.” Not yet, at least. She’s hoping against hope that she can leave this ship with Ben though. That she can take him back to the base, back to Leia, back home.
“Then why are you here? And at his invitation?”
“Force stuff,” she says dismissively. She doesn’t have time for his questions, his prying. Nor does she give a damn about lying to him. He has his own agenda, and she refuses to play a part in it. She won’t give him a single crumb of information to consider. It’s not worth the risk.
“What kind —”
“You’re to stay away,” she snaps, running out of patience. It’s bad enough having to talk with the First Order’s general, let alone have him tail her all the way to Ben’s quarters. “Or I’ll kill you myself.”
Hux stops dead in his tracks and Rey turns around. He tries to shift his feet, but they’re stuck fast to the floor. He pulls on his leg, but to no avail, then looks up at Rey. She’s not sure if she did it out of hotheadedness, or impatience, or if she even lost control for a brief minute. Either way, he’s not her problem anymore.
She walks to the end of the corridor, and turns right.
“It’s the other way,” he calls after her.
Rey stops, closing her eyes. He’s right, and she hates the idea of him knowing it. She turns around, walks back the other way, and carries on to the quiet corner of the ship where Ben’s quarters reside. Only when she’s outside Ben’s door does she release Hux, satisfied that he won’t be able to reach her before she can get inside.
When she does step over the threshold, she gasps.
Ben has trashed the room — at some point, not today. Not since she last saw him at least. He appears at the stairs in the corner, gaunt and exhausted, and Rey rushes to him, wrapping her arms around him. He buries his face in her shoulder, and she tries not to concentrate on the carnage around them. His lightsaber has slashed into the walls, leaving wires exposed, some melted altogether. It explains the intermittent flicker in the lights at least. His desk chair is upturned, and everything that had been on the desk had been swiped aside in anger. Ink bottles lay smashed on the floor, dry pools of black, blue, and green staining the floor around them.
But he’s the real mess.
Even as she holds him, more tightly than she has ever held him before, he shakes, his nerves sent into overdrive by exhaustion. He smells too, of sweat and fear, and she doesn’t know when he last showered.
His stubble is rough against her lips when she kisses him, and he squeezes her tighter, fingers digging into her flesh. There’ll be marks later, she’s sure. But it’s a small price to pay to offer him a lifeline.
She murmurs soft words to him, ones that she hopes will soothe, and eventually she convinces him to have a bath. Rey leads him by the hand to the bathroom, which thankfully has escaped his ire. He sits on the lid of the toilet, face in his hands while Rey runs a bath.
She doesn’t have much of a plan beyond this. If only she could speak to Leia, someone who has even a basic understanding of him and the things that might be going on in his head. Even Luke might be able to shed some light. If only he would reach out to her, too.
When the bath is full, she holds out a hand. He takes it, and she pulls him to his feet. Her hands find the hem of his shirt and lift it over his head. Rey kisses his chest, just over the spot where his heart is, and rests a hand again his clammy skin.
“I love you,” she reminds him.
He doesn’t say the words back, but he nods stiffly. He knows.
Ben removes his trousers and she keeps a cautious hand on his elbow as he steps into the bath. He’s unsteady enough as it is, and the last thing either of them need is a nasty fall. He hisses as he sinks into the water, and she realises she probably runs it a lot hotter than he would. The heat rises in his skin, a pink blush blooming across his shoulders and up his chest.
He stays silent as Rey washes his hair, but as she massages his scalp, he leans back into it closing his eyes. At least she’s getting something right. When she’s done, she presses a kiss to his cheek, and he tilts his face towards her, opening his eyes.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” he mumbles. He lifts one hand from the water, cupping her face. A trail of water runs down the side of her neck and into her tunic, but she doesn’t have time to worry about it because he draws her towards him, kissing her deeply, as though she’s his last lifeline.
It’s a relief, of sorts. She’d been worried that he was being swallowed up by the bad, abandoning everything good, everything that’s ever made him happy.
But then there’s a flash in her mind. Darkness fractured by lightning, and a horrible voice creeping out of the black. She can’t decipher it, doesn’t want to, and she pulls away from him, the image vanishing in an instant.
“What?” he asks.
“I saw...” She doesn’t know what she saw. But she wants to run away from it. She wants to shut it out for good.
“Rey...” His thumb brushes her cheek and it’s only now that she realises she’s crying. Just a flash of what she’s seen is enough to send her body into panic and she rises swiftly to her feet.
“I’ll get you some clean clothes,” she tells him, and she disappears from the bathroom.
Outside she leans against the wall, her heart pounding. Her brain is still trying to process it, the abstract horror and creeping sense of dread.
Whoever’s voice that was, it wasn’t Luke’s. Optimism had led her in completely the wrong direction, and she realises that the flicker of hope in her chest has long since extinguished.
She can’t afford to worry about herself. He needs her, now more than ever, before he slips out of reach entirely. Her last chance to save him is here, now.
The first port of call is the state of his quarters. She spends a few minutes fixing what she can, dumping that which she can’t rescue into the trash chute. The chair returns to the desk along with his papers, and Rey tugs on the damaged wire that’s causing the flicker in the lights. One section of the room falls into shadow, but it’s better than the headache inducing flash that only reminds her of the lightning in her vision.
Once things are straighter, she sources a fresh pair of trousers from his rail of clothes. In the drawers next to the rail, she finds a folded stack of his standard black undershirts. She pulls one from the pile and opens the other drawers. In the bottom one she finds a knitted jumper, large and loose with a few dropped stitches here and there. But it’s soft and comforting beneath her fingers, so she takes that too and adds it to the pile.
When she returns to the bathroom he’s already drying himself, the water draining from the tub with a gurgling swirl. Rey hands him his clothes, and he dresses without a word. She wonders if he will protest the jumper — clearly a relic — but he pulls it over his head. His hair is still dripping wet and so she gently towel dries it for him, his head bowed, hands resting on her hips as she works most of the moisture out of it.
He kisses her forehead when she’s done, an unspoken thank you while his words feel out of reach.
“I think you should get some sleep,” she tells him. “You’re exhausted.”
He tenses at the suggestion, but before he can protest, she tries to placate his concerns.
“I’ll stay with you. I promise.”
Ben chews on his lip, looking around the bathroom as he considers his options. “You’ll wake me up if...”
He nods, albeit reluctantly, and before he can change his mind she leads him to his bed, pulling back the blankets so he can climb in. Rey reaches for the light switch but he catches her by the wrist.
She nods, retracting her hand, and climbs into bed next to him.
“Come here,” she says, and he complies, shifting closer and laying his head on her chest. They stay there together, in silence, but he doesn’t slip into slumber. Her own stomach is twisting with his anxiety, and there’s no way she’d be able to sleep with that distraction.
“Do you want me to help you?” she asks.
His reply is a long time coming. “Okay.”
She brushes her hand gently over his eyelids and he slumps against her, his brain checked out for the first time in months.
He’s out of the world for nearly eighteen hours. She stays close by, just in case the nightmares should permeate his slumber. He lies still, breathing steady, and every few hours she turns him, lest he crick his neck or cramp his shoulder. He doesn’t stir, even when she heaves him from his front onto his back, and he sags like a rag doll, limbs loose.
When he comes to, she’s sitting next to him on the bed, writing with one of the pens she managed to rescue. She’s leaning her paper against the remains of a panel that had been slashed by his lightsaber, the edges rough and twisted from the heat.
“What are you writing?” he asks sleepily.
Rey shrugs. “Nothing really. Just practicing.”
He yawns and buries his face in the pillow. She reaches out to pluck a stray bit of fluff from his jumper, then rests her hand against his shoulder blade.
“Are you feeling any better?”
He exhales heavily into the pillow, but when he speaks, he avoids the question altogether. “What time is it?”
Rey glances over to the control panel. “Quarter past ten,” she tells him.
“In the morning?”
He props himself up at this, dark eyebrows drawn into a frown as he considers her with bleary eyes. “Really?”
“Have you eaten?”
She nods again. The First Order staff delivered first his breakfast, then his lunch, and lastly his dinner. With Ben dead to the world, she had taken care of the offerings, though her appetite had been somewhat diminished, her mind preoccupied with him.
“Tell me what’s going on,” she says, and she puts her writing to one side. She shifts down on the bed, laying on her side, and reaches out to comb his hair away from his face. “Ben, that vision.”
“I’m sorry you had to see that,” he says, and he sits up abruptly, dismissing her ministrations and he rubs the sleep from his eyes.
“If you don’t tell me what’s going on I can’t help.” She sits up too, and she wants desperately to touch him, her hand lingering at his shoulder before she thinks better of it.
“I don’t want you to help,” he tells her. “I don’t want you to have to carry this.”
But she is carrying it. Not only is she here, in the heart of the First Order’s command ship in order to be with him, not only has she abandoned her friends without explanation, but she can feel his anxiety and paranoia eating away at her from the inside. She can’t tell him that though. It wouldn’t be fair to add that to his worries as well. It’s not his fault after all. But it’s compounded by her own worries for him, the ones that are all the worse because he won’t tell her what’s wrong.
“You told me once that you’ve never lied to me,” she reminds him. It’s a low blow, but she’s left with very few options. “Can you be honest with me now? Please?”
He looks across to her, his lower lip tugging as he bites at the inside of it, considering her.
“Ben, I just want the truth. Please.”
He looks down and fiddles with the cuff of his jumper. It has to come out. They can’t carry on like this. He can’t carry on like this. He’s driving himself into the ground, fraught with stress that grows like a cancer with every passing day. And he must know that. He must. He can’t be under any illusions that what he’s going through is okay.
“I thought...” the words are weak, as though he’s had to force them out. But Rey listens carefully, to every syllable he murmurs. “I thought once I killed Snoke...” He trails off again, and Rey moves closer to him, taking his hand in hers. “I thought I’d stop hearing...”
He withdraws his hand from Rey’s, covering his face with his hands and drawing his knees up to his chest.
“It’s all right,” she whispers. “Ben, you can say.”
It takes a few moments, but then the words come, broken as he says it aloud, making it real. “I thought I’d finally get rid of the voices.” He cracks, pressing the heels of his palms against eye sockets.
Rey rises onto her knees, wrapping her arms around him and his shoulders shudder as he suppresses a sob. She kisses his hair, her heart aching, and holds him as tightly as she can. It’s all she knows how to do. She doesn’t have any solutions for him, she doesn’t have a magic wand that can eliminate the torment that has plagued him all his life.
“Snoke’s voice?” she asks.
He shakes his head.
He hesitates, but then a single word comes.
Rey sinks back onto her haunches, her arms slackening around him. “What do you mean Palpatine?”
“I mean Palpatine,” he snaps, as though he’s already regretting saying anything at all.
It can’t be real.
It’s real to him though, which is what matters. She wonders whether there are people who can fix things like this. Snatch away the power from voices in someone’s head. Leave them mute and benign.
“What does he say?”
Ben doesn’t reply straight away. It’s as though he has to process the words several times over, move through several stages of grief before he can bring himself to utter them.
“It’s time I fulfil my destiny.”
“Your destiny is none of his business,” Rey replies sharply. “He’s dead, he’s been dead for years, and if he thinks he can get his claws into you...” She’s stopped in her tracks by the quirk of Ben’s lips. A tiny tug at the corner of his mouth, fuelled by amusement. “What?”
“You,” he says. He pulls her towards him and she settles with her back against his chest, his arms around her shoulders.
“I’ve been trying to find him,” he confesses. “There’s a device which I can use to trace his planet, but I have to find it.”
“Why?” Rey frowns. If there Emperor is reaching out to Ben, surely no good can come of trying to find him. Surely the best thing would be to tell him in no uncertain terms to get lost, leave him to rot in whatever grisly grave he wound up in. If he’s waited thirty years to reach Ben, he can’t be all that powerful, wherever he is.
“To destroy him.”
She understands the desire. But that seems like a terrible idea. Whatever Palpatine’s motives, his primary concern must be getting Ben to come to him. And with Ben’s position so fragile, his return to the light within touching distance, neither of them can afford for him to be diverted. Not now, not at this crucial point.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she says slowly. “You’ve been obsessed for weeks. Months even. And if he really has any power left, he’ll want to use it against you.”
“I can destroy him,” Ben says quietly. “I know I can.”
“And what if that doesn’t bring you the peace you think it will? What if you still hear voices?”
His grip on her falters, and she knows he doesn’t want to hear what she has to say. “What would you have me do?” he asks. “Have him in my head for the rest of my life?”
“Come home,” she urges. “Let me take care of you, leave all of this behind.”
Whatever power Palpatine has, he’s using it to isolate Ben. Whether that’s leaving him awake at all hours of the day and night, translating ancient texts instead of being with her, or making him withdraw from his life in the First Order. Acid rises within her as she wonders if he’s powerful enough to have any control over their connection, as Snoke had claimed to have. It’s been sporadic of late, visits weeks apart. And all this time he’s been unravelling.
“I thought this was home,” he says. “Now you’re here.”
“I can’t stay here, Ben,” she tells him, a frown forming on her brow. “It’s the First Order.” His arms drop from her completely and she turns to face him. “I didn’t come here to join the First Order,” she tells him. “You do know that, don’t you?”
She’d never considered it could have been interpreted any other way, but the disappointment evident in his face, the same disappointment that’s creeping through the pit of her stomach.
“So why did you come?” He blinks and looks away from her.
“Because you asked me to.”
“Yeah, and I’m asking you to stay.” He’s still not looking at her, sending a dark glare towards his mattress instead.
“It’s not the same thing,” she replies in a whisper. “At all.”
He pushes himself away from her and gets off the bed. He stumbles a little, his legs stiff from laying down for so long. “I thought you’d stay…”
“You know I can’t do that. And this isn’t working for you, obviously. Come home with me and I’ll take care of you. I promise.” A slow cold panic starts to creep through her. Yes, she can understand him getting confused, getting their wires crossed. Yes, she understands that he can hardly be thinking straight when he’s barely slept for the past few months. But no, she cannot understand how he could ever expect her to join the dark side.
He shakes his head. “You can’t compromise even a little, but you expect me to just walk straight into that?”
“The First Order murders people,” Rey replies, and she feels as though she is having to explain this to a child. “You can’t seriously believe in any of it.”
“You can do what you want with the Order,” he bargains. “You can have the fleet. Come with me, destroy Palpatine, and we won’t have to worry about anything ever again. We can live how we want to live.” He’s desperate, she can hear it — she can feel it too — making promises that he surely cannot keep. But that’s not even the issue. It never was.
“Ben we can’t take our own freedom at the cost of everyone else’s. The First Order must be destroyed.”
He opens his mouth to argue, but she’s not having it.
“Ben, it steals children and turns them into soldiers!” It’s ridiculous that she’s having to spell this out. The First Order can no longer be an uncomfortable truth. They can’t ignore it for any longer. “Look at Finn! None of this is okay!”
“What did you think would happen?” he snaps, his temper fraying. “Did you think I’d just give everything up? That I’d renounce it all just because you wanted me to?”
“You want to be responsible for mass slaughter?” she asks in disbelief. “Ben, Starkiller base destroyed the New Republic. Your weapons could wipe me out at any given second.”
“As what? A hostage?”
“You know that’s not what I meant,” he growls. He’s pacing now, one hand gripping his hair as though he’s trying to fight off a headache.
It feels like the walls are closing in on her. Maybe they have been all along, but the room was just too big for her to notice them steadily drifting inwards. In her gut she knows this conversation — this argument — has been a long time coming. But she had always thought he’d be far more ready for it.
She hadn’t bargained on Palpatine, spoiling everything.
“You’d have them wipe the Resistance out in a heartbeat,” she breathes. It’s not about her. It’s never been about her. It’s about everyone that the Resistance fights for, every time they fly headlong into a battle where they are mercilessly outgunned.
“Well as long as they stay put that won’t happen,” he bites back.
She falls silent, though frustration continues to bubble away inside of her, frothing up and spitting.
“You really think I didn’t know where you were?” he continues, his tone sharp. “I deleted your entire quadrant off of the mapping system. To keep you and your stupid friends safe.”
All this time. All this time they’ve been at his mercy. They’ve been allowed to rebuild because he knew, deep down, that wiping them out was wrong, that there needed to be some way back.
“So you’ll betray your own army but you won’t agree to come home with me? To where you belong? Is that what you’re saying? That you know you’re on the side of evil but you won’t do anything about it?”
Ben lets out a humourless laugh and stomps down the steps to his main quarters. “Because it’s that black and white, isn’t it?” he calls back. “It’s good versus evil and nothing else matters. Because the Sith are vile and the Jedi are so pure.”
She knows what’s driving this new turn of thought. It’s so obvious. She follows him down the steps, pausing on the last one. “Don’t let your feelings about Luke control you now. You know what the First Order does is wrong. You know it is.”
The frustration within her spills into anger, but it’s his words that are filled with venom as he rounds on her, cornering her against the stairwell.
“You want to talk about right and wrong, huh? You want to talk about kids being taken? You don’t have the first idea about what the Jedi practice.” He’s so close to her that she can feel every single word on her face, and the anger within him flows through her like a tidal wave of red hot rage. “You’re the last one, you trained as an adult. You weren’t taken as a kid, or sent away by your own family. You know what they’d do to you? If they were still around? If you dared to love another person?”
She doesn’t have an answer for him. She wasn’t raised with knowledge and stories around her. All she had were engines and rust and wire brushes. All she had were scars of the Empire. He had the luxury of family and education, and for him to throw that in her face now feels like a brutal betrayal.
“It doesn’t stop this from being wrong.”
“But I told you,” he says exasperatedly. “After Snoke. I told you, let it all go to hell. If you want balance, we can bring balance together. If you were as pure as you make out, you’d never have gone into the cave on the island. You’d never have come here. Don’t pretend to be this holier than thou —”
“I’ve never pretended anything,” she snaps, and she shoves past him, having had enough of his overbearing demeanour. She only takes three paces before she turns on her heel and steps back towards him, anger rippling through her. “You’re just scared of the things you can’t control, that’s all this is. It’s fear. But you will never control the galaxy.”
“You’re scared of your own power!” he counters, taking a step forward so they’re toe to toe. “You’ve only just tapped the surface and you’re scared to explore it any further.”
“And you want to let Palpatine explore your power?” She lets out a frustrated huff, her hands clenched into fists as his own ire echoes hers. She’s feeding off of it, her words harsher and harsher with each passing moment. “You want to lay the blame at the door of these monsters, but you refuse to take any responsibility for your actions. There are people who are dead on your orders.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” he growls. “If you knew what it was like to —”
“So why are you seeking him out?” she cries, throwing her hands up in the air. “Ben, get a grip! You’re obsessed with him! If he had any real power he’d have done something by now. But he wants to use you and so of course you nearly destroy yourself trying to find him. You’re playing right into his hands!”
“What would you have me do?” he yells. “Just sit there for the rest of my life with his voice in my head? You talk about freedom but you’ve always been content in your cage. Too scared to leave the desert. Too scared to leave the Resistance. I can’t live with him in my head. I need to kill him.”
Rey’s breath feels tight in her chest, his words stinging more than they have any right to. She knows the jibe buried in there. How she had convinced him to meet in that sad shell on Jakku. He must have been storing that up for ages, keeping it as ammo for the day when he would eventually unleash it.
It hurts. All of it hurts. Even looking at him hurts. Rage flows through her veins as readily as it does through his, and she’s had enough. They can sling words back and forth all night if they want, but what will it actually achieve? He’s not prepared to leave the First Order. He won’t renounce the dark side.
She turns away from him and goes to the corner where her boots lie. She pulls them on, one hand against the wall to aid her balance. Her eyes stay fixed on the wall, refusing to look at him, but she can feel his gaze on her, burning her skin with its fury.
“What are you doing?”
“But you left the Resistance. They won’t take you back now. Not after you’ve been with me.”
Rey pulls a face. “What do you think you are?” she asks, but she doesn’t care to wait for an answer. “Do you think I go around with a sign that says ‘I fucked Ben Solo’?”
He presses his lips together, but has no retort.
“The note I left for your mother told her that I would be gone for a while because you needed someone to take care of you.” Rey grabs her belt from the table, slinging it round her waist twice for the sake of speed, rather than wasting time to tie it into a thigh holster. “She’s the only one who knows where I am. And she’s known about us for a long time.”
His Adam’s apple bobs in his throat as he gulps, the information an unwelcome surprise.
“She’s seen you, by the way,” she adds for good measure. An uncharacteristically vicious part of her has reared its head, and she can’t help herself. She wants him to hurt as much as she does. “Touched you, even. When you were sleeping.”
He grits his teeth and looks away, but the light catches the brightness in his eyes. Rey holds out her hand for her lightsaber and it flies into her grip. She hooks it on her belt. It’s the last thing. Unless he’s going to change his mind.
Her hand reaches for the control panel but he catches it, his grip firm around her wrist. There’s no gentleness to his touch. The delicate dexterity that she has grown so used to is nowhere to be found.
“Stay,” he says. “Please.”
“Leave with me,” she counters softly. “Please.”
He shakes his head, and her heart breaks in two. She plunges her teeth into her lower lip to give herself something to focus on, then snatches her wrist from his grip. Her knuckles collide with the panel with more force than necessary, but the door opens, and she walks through it before she can change her mind.
He follows her, barefoot on the cold metal floor. Not that she cares about his feet anymore. That’s his business.
“Rey, if I don’t find him and kill him, he’ll come for both of us, eventually.”
“You don’t know that.” All this supposition is driving her crazy. Anyone can think of a worst case scenario but that doesn’t mean it will play out. Palpatine’s nothing but a ghost over-stretching his reach. He’s a phantom, nothing more. Ben’s exhausted, weak from torment. And he wants to face off against the old Emperor.
“He’s told me he will.”
“Well he can come and find me if he wants. But I won’t go to him,” she says, taking long strides along the corridor. “I’m not an idiot.”
There is a sharp pang within her at the sound of her words, and the line between his feelings and hers becomes more and more blurred. But she can’t stifle the rage pulsing within her. She just wants to get back onto the Falcon, and go home, to her friends — her family.
“No you just want to sit in the base while everybody else risks their lives —”
“And why do they have to risk them?” She wheels around and he stops in his tracks. “Because of you, and this whole stupid, fucking, First Order! Because you want to kill everybody who won’t fall into line, but you don’t even know what you believe in.” Hot tears are spilling down her face now, and she’s powerless to stop them. “You’re just going to keep killing and killing and killing until there’s nothing left. And for what? For nothing.”
He opens his mouth to reply, but no words come.
“What will you have at the end of this?” she asks. “Tell me. Please.” She needs to understand. At the very least, she needs to understand.
“Peace,” he mumbles. And then he taps a finger to his temple. “In here.”
The remnants of her heart fracture. But it’s not enough. He’s old enough and smart enough to know better than this. “If murder brings you peace, then you don’t deserve it.” Her voice cracks as she says it, and she already knows she’ll regret it. But what is there left to say? He won’t budge, at all. Not one bit.
She turns away. She won’t prolong the argument any further. Not when all it does is hurt both of them. There’s no winning here. For either of them.
“Rey.” Her name isn’t followed by any plea, or bargain. There’s no suggestion of working things out. Just one syllable hanging in the air as though she’ll change her position based on the sound of it.
Her feet keep moving, one in front of the other, and the further away from his quarters they get, the busier the corridors are. Stormtroopers and officers alike gape as he follows her, his bare feet slapping against the ground, cloaked in the same jumper she had sourced from the remnants of his former life.
He hadn’t argued when she’d given it to him. He’d had no problem slipping it on. It had all been so easy.
She makes it to the hangar, the Falcon sitting on its own away from the fleet of TIE fighters. His TIE whisper is tucked out of sight, the wing tips just peeking past the rest of the group. The ramp lets out a hiss as it lowers, and Rey catches the familiar scent that has become synonymous with her place of safety and comfort this past year.
But there he is. Utterly, utterly broken.
And she can’t fix him. She’s tried, and she’s tried to be understanding, to accommodate him. But some things cannot slip by unchallenged. Some things are unacceptable.
War is cold. And brutal. And their relationship is just one casualty of millions.
“Please,” he says, the word hoarse and desperate. A tear slips down his cheek and he makes no motion to wipe it. Instead he steps forward, cupping her face in his hands, brushing her tears aside with gentle strokes of his thumbs. He rests his forehead against hers, and Rey closes her eyes, more tears leaking out as she stifles a sob.
It should never have come to this.
“I know you’re scared,” she whispers. “But she’ll welcome you back. Even after everything. She loves you. I love you.”
“What if we ran away?” he bargains, the crack in his voice enough to let her know that his own tears are free flowing now. “We could live a normal life. Like on Naboo.”
“We’d be hunted by the First Order —”
“They’d never find us.”
“They would. And I won’t be a coward. Not while they’re destroying worlds.” The lives of all those people snuffed out by the First Order rest heavy in her heart. It is a particular pain, one laden with responsibility even though she had no part in it herself. But he did. And he’s as much her as she is him.
She opens her eyes, and he must sense it, because he opens his too, his hands still warm and soft against her cheeks.
“Last chance,” she whispers. “And I mean it. Me, or the First Order.”
“It’s not as simple as that. You know it’s not.”
“It should be,” she says.
But maybe that’s the problem.
She turns and runs up the ramp before she can change her mind. Before she can brush the hair back from his face and wipe away his tears, promising that they’ll find a way to fix things. Only he can fix this. She’s done her bit.
The truth is hard and painful. She had fallen in love with the man she hoped he was, rather than the one in front of her.
Her hands flick the switches on the console automatically, the colours and lights blurred by her tears. She can’t afford to linger. In case his anger with her skews his judgement and he tries to keep her behind.
She can’t trust herself not to fight him.
The Falcon lurches into light speed, and the First Order disappears behind her as she hurtles towards home.
It’s not her finest landing. It could even be described as reckless and dangerous, leaving felled trees in its wake. But she doesn’t much care. She can’t bring herself to care about anything.
She can’t leave the Falcon. There is a pull keeping her here. Maybe it’s him. It wasn’t so long ago that he was walking around this ship with all the familiarity of someone who had once called it a home away from home. It wasn’t so long ago that they had sheltered from the Jakku sun here, together, content.
It feels like a lifetime ago.
Rey draws her knees up to her chest and slumps in the pilot seat. The sobs rack through her as she lets the misery fall out of her. She can’t understand it, how it could go to hell so quickly.
What did he think would happen? Did he really think she’d side with him? With oppression and murder and destruction? He’d always seemed so smart, but maybe she was just young. Maybe she couldn’t see the real him because she was always so focused on what he could be.
And now there’s only one way forward. The time for the Resistance to rebuild has come to an end. The war is coming to a head and with Ben distracted — possibly away from the First Order altogether while he chases a malevolent spirit — the time to strike is fast approaching.
Rain thrashes against the viewport, the corridors of the Falcon echoing with a dreary rhythm. The world outside is grey, and even the plants look like they’ve given up, bowed by the wind.
The ramp descends with a hiss and a set of footsteps hurries up into the ship.
She doesn’t want company.
But there Poe is, soaked to the skin, hair clinging to his face. Rey’s insides squirm. Does he know? Did Leia tell all of them after she left? Was her note read aloud to the entire Resistance?
No. She wouldn’t do that.
He takes one look at her and then collapses sideways into the co-pilot’s seat. He’s a little out of breath, his chest rising and falling rapidly as his body edges back to its regular rhythm. Fresh mud is splattered up his calves. He ran here.
Rey tries to nod, but she can’t force the lie. Not to him. Not when he ran all the way to her without even knowing what was wrong. How can she have been so stupid to go to Ben, on his ship, in the heart of the enemy?
Nobody here expects her to alter her most basic beliefs in exchange for their love.
She should have stayed.
Before she can stop herself, she’s crying again, the argument replaying over and over in her head. Poe crosses over to her seat, shunting her across as he makes room for himself. Rey sinks against him, his arms closing around her and holding her tightly. He’s cold, and wet, which is fine, but his heartbeat is out of sync with hers. All it does is remind her of what she can no longer have.
Her connection with Ben was rare, she knows that. She’ll never have anything else like that. Never experience that level of intimacy. Of knowing someone better than they know themselves.
What a laughable thought.
She had been mistaken. She hadn’t known him at all. Luke was right. She had put far too much hope in Ben. She should have been concentrating on the Resistance, on her training. Not him, not the driving force behind the murder machine. He could stop it any time he likes.
Either he doesn’t want to or he’s a coward.
Whichever one it is, she can’t find a way to be with either man when the result is the same.
She wishes she’d been smarter. Ten different kinds of smart but she’s an idiot when it comes to him.
Poe holds her until the rain eases off, his stubble scratching against the side of her face whenever he swallows. He doesn’t ask her to explain, doesn’t ask her to justify any of it. He just wraps a blanket around her shoulders and takes her back to the base.
She doesn’t deserve him.
Finn doesn’t know what’s wrong. But he brings her tea and sits with her in the far corner of the mess hall long after everyone else has disappeared off to bed.
“You can tell me anything,” he says for the fourth time. “I promise. Whatever it is, I want to help.”
“You can’t help,” she says, also for the fourth time. “But thank you.”
He looks down at the table, unable to suggest anything else. And so instead he tells her about everything that’s unfolded in the day she’s been gone. There’s not a lot, truth be told, but he digs into the detail — a funny thing Rose said, how Snap had made him roll his eyes so far back into his head that he thought he would pass out.
He talks and talks and talks and the sound is nice. His voice is soothing, filled with quirks and quips as he recounts every single moment to her.
If nothing else it gives her something to focus on.
But then his words run out and silence reigns. Her mind drifts to Ben, and she wonders what he’s doing now. Who he’s talking to. He doesn’t have any friends.
He could have had her.
Something shifts within her and her eyes are drawn to the corner of the room. He’s there, sitting on the floor, back against the wall. His eyes are closed, and he heaves in a breath, exhaling it in an enormous sigh.
He looks even more exhausted than he did a few hours ago.
She misses him.
He opens his eyes, his gaze meeting hers for a split second before she shuts the connection down with an enormous concentrated effort.
He disappears in the blink of an eye. It’s the first time she’s ever been able to control it. And now she feels empty, as her heart beats out a lonely rhythm that she knows runs in time with his on the other side of the galaxy.
Finn’s worried. And then she realises she’s crying again. It’s been at least an hour since she’s done that.
“I’m fine,” she lies, and she wipes her face with the heel of her palm, handling her tears far more roughly than she would have ever have handled Ben’s.
Finn sighs and purses his lips. He has already argued this point with her twice, and must realise by now that the third time would be just as fruitless.
“You don’t need to hide anything from us you know,” he says, his eyes still on the table. “Whatever it is, it’s okay. There’s nothing you could do that wouldn’t ever be okay.”
I fell in love with the man who tortured Poe and nearly killed you.
Even in her head it’s a non-starter. They would never forgive her, and perhaps she doesn’t deserve forgiveness. She just needs to get through this war, whatever that might mean, and afterwards she can rebuild. Afterwards she can drift away from them, she can reconcile her guilt alone. And if her connection with Ben is still active then, she can keep them safe from that too.
She won’t live the rest of her life around them, with this awful secret lodged inside her.
They don’t deserve that.
“We’re doing a recruitment run tomorrow,” he tells her. “We’ve had a few messages from interested people, so we’re going to pick them up. D’you want to come along for the ride?”
She does want to. But she can barely control herself at the moment. Any potential recruits would run a mile at the sight of her bawling her eyes out without explanation.
“I don’t think that’s the best idea,” she says. “Not tomorrow anyway. But thank you.”
He nods, and doesn’t push the point.
“I can stay here with you if you want?”
She doesn’t deserve him.
It’s late when Leia comes. She knocks quietly on the door before entering. Rey is sitting at one end of her bunk, wrapped in her blanket, but she has no plans to sleep any time soon. Leia sits down next to her, and Rey presses her lips together so tightly it hurts. She cannot bear the disappointment that will inevitably crush Leia’s heart.
“What happened?” she asks, in a tone that tells Rey she has already prepared for the worst. She doesn’t know how acutely Leia is attuned to Ben’s presence in the force. Maybe she felt the argument raging across the stars.
Rey doesn’t know where to begin, but even if she did, it would be no use. The tears come thick and fast, and soon she is enveloped in Leia’s arms.
“I’m so sorry,” she sobs, the words like spikes in her throat. “I tried, I really did. I thought he was ready.”
Leia holds her close, yet another thing Rey doesn’t deserve. All of this love and affection when she has spent all of her feelings on Ben. She has neglected them all for so long, desperately chasing those quiet moments where she might have the chance to be with him.
And yet here they all are, loving her regardless.
It’s well into the early hours by the time she’s able to speak. Her words feel numb in her mouth, and they pour from her, as though someone else is doing all the thinking for her, and she’s just reliving it, over and over and over.
“I was so angry with him,” she says. “And he was angry with me, and I could feel that, and it just kept getting worse and worse and worse.”
“Your connection,” Leia murmurs, and Rey nods. “It’s so strong that you’re aware of each other’s pain, even when you’re the ones causing pain to each other.”
Rey has known it for some time, all that twisting anxiety she had lain awake with when they had been together. All the resentment that had bubbled up inside her during their fight, and the fear. Her fear of losing him was enormous, but she had still walked away from him.
She hardly knows what she feels anymore.
“I really thought he’d come back with me,” she says, words muffled by the lip of her cup. She takes a sip of tea and then looks across to Leia. “He told me something.”
Her gut ties itself in knots as she considers telling Leia. But this is about safety now. It’s not about trust. He betrayed her trust when he chose to throw his lot in with murderers.
“He said Palpatine’s reaching out to him. Through the Force. Telling him to come and find him.”
Leia’s eyes flash, but she doesn’t say anything.
“It’s all gone to hell since then. That’s why he hasn’t been sleeping. And now he wants to find him.”
Leia sighs and looks down at her hands. “Did you believe him?” she asks, her voice heavy. “When he said Palpatine was back?”
Rey pauses. Her initial reaction is that of course she believed him, but now Leia is questioning her, she’s thinking twice about it. “I believe he believes it,” she says at last. He’s had so many voices in his head over the years, so much influence from the dark side. How could he possibly know whether it’s truly the Emperor? It could just as easily be an imposter, a trickster.
She tells Leia the rest, how she had begged him to come, and how he had begged her to stay. None of it shocks Leia, who listens patiently, nodding every so often, squeezing Rey’s hand when she stumbles over a particularly gruelling part of the tale.
“I really thought I could bring him home,” she says. It must be the tenth time she’s said it, but it’s the one thought that keeps going round and round in her mind. How can she have messed this up so badly? When he was so vulnerable? When he was in such desperate need of love?
Her guilt heightens, and when she blinks she sees a flash of a black tunic. But nothing more. It’s so quick that she starts to doubt she even saw anything at all.
“Get some sleep,” Leia says, and she gets up from the bunk. “You’ve had a long day.” She takes Rey’s cup from her, and lifts the blanket from the bunk so that Rey can climb in. She can’t ever remember being taken care of like this. Her mother’s face is but a blur in her memory, and she can only assume that at one point she was shown affection.
But assumptions don’t mean much.
Leia sets the cup on Rey’s desk, then turns back to her, tugging the blanket into place to that she’s wholly covered by it.
The prospect of sleep is an unlikely one, but maybe the exhaustion will claim her. She can only hope.
“You know,” Leia says, pulling Rey’s desk chair over to the side of the bunk. “Han and I…we used to fight like nobody else I knew…” She tucks a loose strand of Rey’s hair behind her ear. “But it didn’t mean it was ever the end…just that we needed some time to rethink.”
“But it’s so —”
“I know, I know,” Leia says. “It feels enormous. And it is. It’s the only thing that matters in the whole galaxy. And it’s all gone wrong.”
Rey nods, Leia’s hand soft and warm against her cheek. The contact is soothing, and for a moment, quells the ache in her heart.
“It’s a big and complicated thing,” Leia sighs.
“Love,” she replies, and she leans forward, kissing Rey’s forehead before she gets up. “Sleep tight,” she says. “Things will feel better soon. I promise.”
Rey wants to believe her, but doesn’t see how she can.
All the same, she doesn’t deserve her.
Life is quiet without him.
She misses him, far more than she wants to. Every night she lays awake, wondering if he will appear in the darkness. If all of a sudden she will feel the warmth of him next to her, of if she’ll wake to find him there, his arm slung over her waist.
But she is utterly cut off from him.
He feels further away than ever, and she daren’t reach out, for fear of skewing his expectations. She can’t go over to the dark side for him. She can’t even sit somewhere in the middle and ignore some uncomfortable realities in exchange for his love.
If nothing else, these past few weeks have shown her what unconditional love is. Her friends have rallied around her, not knowing a single thing about the burden she bears. All they know is that she’s too ashamed to speak of it. If she ever did, she’s certain she’d be pushing the boundaries of unconditional love to their most extreme limits.
For now, she is able to function. She’s numb to the world around her, and sometimes people talk to her and she simply doesn’t hear them. Sometimes, someone makes a joke and it flies right over her head. Other times, an entire afternoon will pass by while she stares out of the hangar at the trees.
She is just about able to function.
“I’m upgrading the GNO-380s,” Rose says, interrupting Rey’s reveries. “I’ve had a delivery of the 400s, but need an extra pair of hands.”
“Sure,” Rey says. She’s scrubbed GNO-260s clean dozens of times before. Each time her piece has earned her half a portion less, and so she had learned to ration them out, hide them in her home while she waited for the others to shift.
It had worked too, and she’d managed to up the price on Jakku by managing the flow of supply.
Rey follows Rose to the hangar, where the belly of one X-Wing is already open. They work quietly, replacing the part on each X-Wing, wiring the new part in with care.
It’s the most relaxed Rey has been for weeks. She gets to use her hands, but she’s not obliged to think at all. The engines of the X-Wings are familiar stomping grounds now, and she operates on autopilot, the task requiring just enough concentration so that her mind doesn’t stray.
More than that, Rose isn’t asking her questions, asking her to talk about it, or emphasising that Rey can indeed trust her. Rose is in fact the only one who understands that Rey doesn’t want to talk about it at all, that the hurt is so fresh and so raw that it would be prodding an open wound to dig it all up again.
Instead, Rose tells her about Paige, the games they played as children, the pact they had made to join the Resistance as soon as they were old enough.
“When I lost her,” Rose says, frowning up at the engine as she positions her wire cutters just so, “I thought I’d never be happy again. I couldn’t think straight for weeks, months even. Couldn’t really talk, just shut myself away.”
Rey doesn’t know how to tell her that Ben’s not dead. She appreciates the sentiment all the same. The underlying notion of everything healing in time, that it’s okay to take her time over it. And for the first time since Leia, she feels like speaking. Not out of obligation, not a sense of repaying trust and patience, but because she thinks Rose might really understand.
“We had a connection,” she tells her, and her fingers fumble with the screwdriver. It falls from her grip but Rose catches it and hands it back to her. “I could feel what he felt.”
Rose is quiet for a moment. “You mean like empathy?”
“No,” Rey says, and she almost wishes she’d not said anything at all. Saying one thing is just a gateway to saying another and another and another, and she’d not been ready for that.
“Then what?” Rose’s tone is patient, curious, but her gaze is focused on her work, giving Rey the headspace she needs to navigate her way through a clumsy explanation.
“Whenever he was scared or angry or anxious...I could feel it. Like it was my own. Sort of. To a lesser extent.”
Rose pauses and removes her gaze from the engine, her brown eyes catching Rey’s.
She misses Ben’s eyes.
“You two must have been really close,” she says.
Rey nods, and busies herself with finding the right size wrench to bolt the engine casing shut.
“Did you feel it when he was happy?”
The thought had never crossed her mind. Rose closes the panel and holds it in place while Rey levers the wrench, far slower than her muscle memory is used to.
“I was always happy when I was with him,” she tells her. “So I didn’t really notice.”
Rose nods and lets out a hum of understanding. “And what about now? What do you feel now?”
Rey shrugs, but the word comes to her, in the end. “Absence.”
It’s not entirely true. There is a gaping chasm within her, but her anger with him ebbs and flows. Or maybe it’s his anger. It’s been a while since she’s been able to tell the difference.
Everyday, when she wakes up and is forced to face up to the renewed disappointment of him not being there, she thinks about what could have been. What they could have had, if only he’d been brave enough. And she’s furious with him. She’s furious with him for choosing a side which he knows, he must know is wrong. And for what?
She can feel that darkness, rising within her, climbing up her ribcage like a poisonous plant, winding its way around her bones, becoming part of the furniture.
But then Poe barrels into the hangar, chest heaving as he skids to a halt, hand pressed against the landing gear to balance himself after his sprint.
“We have a spy,” he says breathlessly, and he must have run all the way from Leia’s office at the back of the base. He swallows hard, before adding: “In the First Order.”
Rey drops her wrench and it hits the ground with a clang.
“What?” Rose asks. But Rey’s question is burning inside her, and she can’t contain it.
“Who?” It comes out softly, as though she dare not believe it, even for a moment.
“I don’t know who,” Poe says. “But it sounds legit. Somebody sent a coded message from the command ship. Leia’s arranging a rendezvous now.”
Maybe he’s changed his mind. Maybe this is the first compromise. Maybe he will sabotage the First Order with a view to walking away from the ashes with her. Maybe this is him, reaching out. An apology through action.
“I gotta tell Finn,” Poe says, and he legs it out of the hangar.
Rey looks at Rose, and it’s in that moment that she realises she knows. She knows exactly what’s going through Rey’s head, knows the intolerable limbo she’s trapped in until something solid can break through.
Rose takes her hand and squeezes it. She doesn’t say anything.
Rey doesn’t deserve her.
Poe wants her to join the pick up mission. It’s almost refreshing to hear someone else argue, to know that someone is as angry as she feels, at least for a moment.
“General we need her! And she needs this! What, you want her to sit around for the rest of this damn war?”
“Poe —” Leia begins, but in an uncharacteristic show of disrespect Poe cuts across her, his anger reddening his cheeks.
“She’s the best pilot we have and you’re keeping her here, locked up and away from the fight! She’s going stir crazy, and we’re incurring casualties without her! I gotta tell ya —”
“Poe!” Leia’s voice is sharp and loud and cuts through his ranting. Finn places a firm hand on his shoulder, hauling him back half a pace.
“My decision is final.” She fixes him with a cool gaze and his shoulders sag in defeat. Her eyes flick towards Rey momentarily.
If the spy is who they’re both hoping it is, Rey knows that Leia needs her to be on hand to offer an olive branch of her own. To reach out to him in kind and make her own apologies for the words she hurled at him.
If this is him making amends, she’ll take it all back in a heartbeat.
Except it’s not him. The information merely confirms Palpatine’s existence, and a fleet, which Ben will inevitably be chasing in his bid to try and control all the things that could possibly hurt him.
When the briefing is over, and people shuffle away with a sense of impending defeat hanging over them. Leia moves over to Rey, who has stayed sitting on an upturned crate, her feet dangling a few inches from the floor. Leia leans against the crate and lets out a heavy sigh.
“It’s not him,” Rey mumbles.
“No,” Leia replies. “It’s not.”
Rey swallows down the disappointment building in her throat, but her voice betrays her, cracking as she speaks. “I really thought —” The lump in her throat is too big to continue.
“I know you did,” Leia says, wrapping her arms around Rey. “I know.”
It’s like he’s broken her heart all over again, and doesn’t even realise.
And if he did, he probably wouldn’t care.
She’s been numb for weeks.
She thought crafting a new lightsaber, one of her own, would give her time to focus, would be the first step to healing.
She thought laying Luke and Leia’s lightsabers to rest would help to turn the page, help her move on to the next chapter.
But all it did was remind her of how desperately alone she is.
Her friends are still celebrating victory, weeks on. There’s work to be done, lots to rebuild, and remote First Order factions to eliminate before they can really say the job is done. But the people have risen, and are emboldened to take direct action, now that they know their world won’t be disintegrated at the push of a button.
And yes, there’s an element of mourning. Yes, they’ve incurred heavy losses. But for everyone else the outcome is jubilation that segues into quiet moments of contemplation.
For Rey, however, she just feels lost. The war had ripped her from her repetitive days of toil on Jakku and had given her a purpose. She has grown so much in the last eighteen months, and now has friends, a family of sorts. But what does she do now?
She’d always thought he’d still be here at the end of it. Somehow.
But all she’d been given was one last dazed and golden moment with him. She hadn’t realised that the sense of peace within her had been his. Acceptance, contentment at having finally found his place. And then he had disappeared in her arms.
Now there’s just the absence of him.
With him gone, she feels like she lives in an echo chamber. That she could shout all day into it and not feel anything. Not even a flicker.
Even in his last days, she had still felt him, out there, somewhere. As though he were just out of sight behind a locked door.
But now it’s excruciating emptiness.
Rose is the only one who has any sense of what she’s going through. Even though she had told the others what Ben did. How he had saved her, given his life for hers.
“Good,” was all Finn had said.
Poe hadn‘t said anything at all. He’d held her gaze for a long while, then shook his head and turned away. Later he had come to her and held her tightly. He’d kissed her roughly on the cheek before disappearing back to the celebrations, which had gone on for days and days.
Maybe he does know. Just a little. She doesn’t want to find out for sure.
She is simultaneously restless and paralysed. She can’t vocalise her desire to be elsewhere, can’t reason it out when everyone expects her to be so delighted with their victory. And so it comes to pass that she leaves in the night, like a coward, a note pinned to the main console in the hangar where she knows Poe will find it at first light.
Her hand had shaken as she had written the words, tears splashing onto the paper. Because now she can’t even write without thinking of Ben. It’s his pen she uses, his sweeping letters that plague her mind, and that touch of his hand on hers as he guided her pen through tricky characters.
It seems she can’t do anything without thinking of him.
At night she sleeps in his shirt — the one with the hole in it. She tries to find comfort in it, but the more she sleeps in it, the more it loses its smell of him. It’s an impossible situation.
There’s only one place for her to go. Far out of reach of the rest of the galaxy.
When she lands on Ahch-To it is raining, and she traipses up the rocks to the nearest cluster of huts. She doesn’t know what she expects to accomplish, but she needs space to grieve. To think it all through. To try and forgive him — and herself — for all the mistakes they made along the way.
She’s only here because he loved her so much that he didn’t know what to do with it. She knows that. That he couldn’t face the rest of the galaxy without the First Order, without his mother, and without her.
He’d given up as much as anything else. And she’s furious with him for it. But any time she musters up any real anger, it dissolves into grief along with her composure.
It’s no different here, on the island, where they had met for the first time in person since Snoke. She had wondered if she might get a sense of deja vu, that she might feel the memory of him, within her, or beside her, or somewhere around her.
But she’s as empty as ever.
In the hut there is a small pile of firewood and the remnants of a long since extinguished fire. She looks around, and there, in the corner, is a long black cloak, cast aside when it was saturated with rainwater.
She used to hate that cloak.
Rey edges towards it, still wary of it, and all that it used to represent. But it’s the only thing she has left except memories. She picks it up, the fabric coarse and dry, and she sniffs it. It smells of rain more than anything else, but she wraps it around herself regardless, if only to feel close to him for a little while.
She doesn’t understand why it has to hurt so much.
She lays down on the hard stone bunk and looks up at the domed ceiling of the hut. If only she could take back all those awful words. If only she’d known what would happen. If only she’d been able to save him.
Rey indulges herself, closing her eyes and daydreaming about what they’d be doing if he were still here. Maybe they’d have gone to Naboo to celebrate. Maybe they’d have gone to a different planet altogether. Or maybe they’d be hanging in limbo in deep space, waiting for the dust to settle before they set foot on a single planet.
Either way, in every scenario she imagines, they’re together.
She almost understands now, his desire to try and control the galaxy. After years of chasing the dream of her parents, of wishing and hoping and praying for them to come back, she had finally taken the first steps forward. And yet, here she is, her future family snatched from her as if by a thief.
Perhaps the galaxy wishes for her to be alone.
If she had any power over it, this mindless decision-maker, she’d want to teach it a lesson too.
Rey sits bolt upright, as if awoken from a dream. She is alert, her muscles tense and tingling, and there is something, some sort of pull that she can’t quite decipher. It’s as though she’s operating on autopilot, and she stands up, the cloak falling to the floor of the hut.
It’s dark outside and she treads numbly down the mountainside, her boots slipping against the rocks. The rain soaks her in seconds, but she carries on until she reaches the cave.
The pit is calling to her, more persistent than ever, beckoning her into the blackness. In her daze, she nearly steps right into it, but she regains a sense of control just as she’s about to cross over the precipice.
Her heart pounds in her chest, the mental paralysis receding into the shadows. But even now she’s once again herself, she still wants to descend. Is it temptation, or is there a reason she’s being called? Last time she thought she would find her parents at the bottom of this abyss.
There’s a good chance it only holds further heartbreak.
But there’s only one way to find out.
Carefully she scales down the side of the pit. She has to use all of her senses in the pitch black, feeling the hand and footholds and having faith in her own abilities as she descends. The climb feels like it lasts an eternity, and she tries not to lose focus as she gets deeper and deeper. The little moonlight that had spilled into the cave is nothing but a distant speck now.
If she were to fall, nobody would ever find her.
She shakes the thought from her head. She can’t afford to lose focus, or give in to dangerous distractions.
Time becomes meaningless, and she wonders whether this is some form of hell, if her punishment for giving in to curiosity is to climb forever with an infinite pool of black beneath her.
But then a rock gives way beneath her foot, and her fingers slip against the vines. Her breath catches in her throat and she doesn’t have time to scream before she hits the ground.
She can’t have fallen any more than a few feet.
As the shock subsides, she realises her elbow is stinging. She touches her fingertips to it gently, only to discover that it’s warm and slick with blood.
It doesn’t matter.
She draws her lightsaber, igniting it and shedding a warm yellow glow over the pit. There’s only one dark tunnel through which she can proceed and so she steps forward decisively, a new sense of resolve solidifying within her.
The pebbles are slippery, shifting under her feet at will, it seems. But she carries on, down the tunnel until she reaches a clearing.
She hadn’t dreamed that he would be waiting for her. The thought hadn’t even crossed her mind.
“You betrayed us,” he says, his lip curling with disgust. “You couldn’t control yourself and so you betrayed us. You abandoned us for his darkness. You’re selfish. Cruel. We’re all ashamed of you.”
The words hit her like a blaster shot. “That’s not what happened. I never abandoned any of you, ask Leia.” As soon as the words leave her mouth, she remembers that Leia’s gone.
“Leia’s dead because of you,” Poe hisses. “I loved her. We all did, and now she’s gone because of you.”
“She died to save Ben,” Rey breathes. “It was her choice. She wanted to bring him back to the light. She succeeded. She saved Ben Solo.”
“Is that what you’re calling him? The man who tortured me?”
She doesn’t have any argument for that. Poe is in no state to be reasoned with, or to hear of Snoke’s lifelong manipulative campaign against Ben. But then Finn steps out of the shadows, taking his place next to Poe.
“He nearly killed me.”
“I know,” Rey breathes. Hot tears spill down her face. Their hatred is even worse than she imagined. Never in her mind’s eye had she been able to contort their faces into such maligned expressions of distrust.
“All that time I was laying there in the med bay, hovering between life and death, and all you could do was nurture your bond with him.”
“I thought I could save him.” Her grip on her lightsaber is weak now, as the guilt swirls around and around inside her. Her voice is weak too, her vision blurred by her tears. She knows she has hurt them, of course she does, but if they could only understand…
“You risked all our lives,” Rose says, stepping out of the shadows. “You risked the entire Resistance, the fate of the galaxy.” Her tone is colder than Rey has ever heard it, and it’s a wonder she’s capable of such a thing. “You could have plunged all worlds into darkness with your recklessness.”
“You traded your beliefs for a pretty face,” Poe sneers.
“Did I mention he nearly killed me?”
“He tortured me.”
“I nearly died on his ship.”
Rey shakes her head, even though it’s all true. All of it. But somewhere, faintly, in the back of her head, alarm bells are ringing. There’s something off, something that doesn’t seem right. She removes one hand from her lightsaber, and wipes her face with the back of her hand, clearing her tears and her thoughts.
If that were really Poe, and he were really furious about Ben, and all of his offences…he wouldn’t be citing his own torture as the example of the worst thing Ben had done. He would be citing Finn’s injuries — the near death experience. And Finn, in return, would be furious about Poe’s torture. Rose likewise, wouldn’t be furious about some narrow escape. She lost her sister to the First Order.
If anyone’s selfish here, it’s these imposters.
Poe, Finn, and Rose are lightyears away. They’re not here, in some dark tunnel at the bottom of a pit on a hidden island. They’re at the base. And of course they’d be furious with her if they found out. But they haven’t.
This is all a nonsense.
She readjusts her grip on her lightsaber, both hands firmly on the hilt. “You’re not real,” she tells them.
Their eyes flash in unison, an eerie uncanniness growing more and more apparent.
“I’m going to move past you, and if you come near me, I will strike you,” she says firmly. She is certain now. Certain this is just a trick, a test, or even a joke. She won’t be swayed by it.
“Then you have truly joined him,” Rose says.
“You join the murderer in darkness,” Finn adds.
“Your place was never in the light.” Poe rounds off the baiting comments. But she doesn’t care.
“My place is with him.” She strides forward, lightsaber raised, ready to attack at the first sudden movement. But they don’t try and stop her, they just whisper taunts in the darkness before fading into nothing.
It’s nothing but a cruel trick.
The Force is not kind, even after everything she has endured.
A drip, drip, drip, of water sounds ahead, and Rey hurries forward, ready to greet any test head on. The rocks shift under her feet as she walks, and she jars her ankle more than once on the awkward ground, but it doesn’t slow her. The dripping grows louder, her heart thudding in her chest.
But there’s nothing but a dimly lit cavern. There’s a small pool of water in the centre, and the drip is coming from the top of the cave, water trickling through the rock. There’s no source for the light, which spreads coolly and evenly across the rocks.
On the far side of the pool is a wall. It looks like ice, or frosted glass, and she skirts around the edge of the water until she is face to face with it.
The voice is gruff, one she hasn’t heard in a long time. One that can’t possibly be here.
It’s also one that makes her heart swell with grief.
Rey turns on the spot and he’s standing there, still in that same leather jacket and once-white tunic. His hair is a little whiter, his mouth a little less crooked, and he stands with his arms by his sides.
She has a much stronger memory of him resting his hands on his hips, as though that was always the most comfortable spot.
“You’re not really here,” she tells him.
He stares at her. If it were Han, or Han’s spirit, or whatever form he might be represented with, he would have some sort of reaction. A half smile, a quirked eyebrow, just something to show that her words had hit home.
“He killed me, you know.” He tells her.
“I was there,” Rey says frostily.
“He killed his mother too.”
“She died to save him.”
“He could kill you too.”
She turns away, unwilling to entertain this trick for a moment longer. If she refuses to engage, there’s no conversation to be had. He’ll just have to stare at her until his time with her is up. That’s fine. She has bigger things to worry about.
The frosted wall is some sort of translucent rock, littered with scratches and glinting in the low light. She remembers this wall. She had begged this wall for answers long ago, and it had given her nothing.
There’s only one thing she wants now, and she reaches forward, her fingers brushing against the surface of the rock. It’s icy cold, and she flinches, but perseveres, pressing her palm flat against it.
The fog begins to swirl, and a shadow forms in the centre. It grows larger, and larger, until it is bigger than she is. Her lungs are paralysed, breath caught, her pulse pounding in her ears. A tear drips down her cheek and she presses her hand more firmly against the rock, as though this will hurry things along.
She can’t dare to think a single thought. If she does, she might be tricked into hoping. And if she hopes, she’ll get her heart broken.
But then the fog clears.
And there he is, his hand pressed against the other side, as if trying to touch her.
She looks into his eyes, and he mouths her name, though she cannot hear his voice. It doesn’t matter though, because she says his in return, quiet and soft, and full of all the love she has for him.
“I’m getting you out of there,” she says. He frowns, then raises one hand, tapping a finger to his ear.
Rey steps back from the wall, half anticipating that he will disappear the second she takes her hand away, but he’s still there. She raises her lightsaber, and he takes a cautious step back, but when she tries to force it into the rock, it stops an inch shy of the surface, as though an invisible barrier is protecting it.
Her lips skew to one side as she thinks. One hand fiddles idly with the handle of her blaster as she tries to convince herself that it’s worth a shot — quite literally. When she draws it, Ben steps forward again, waving his hands wildly and shaking his head.
She ignores him.
Nobody ever achieved anything by playing it safe.
With one eye closed, she takes aim at the lower corner, trying to figure out the least dangerous angle for her to fire. Her finger tightens on the trigger, then she squeezes it. She ducks down as the blast rebounds around the cave until it punctures a hole through the rock on the other side of the cavern.
Perhaps he had been right. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.
There are tools on board the Falcon. She could bring those down — try to break through the rock with those instead. But if her lightsaber won’t penetrate the wall, if it won’t even touch it, what hope can she have that her blow torch will achieve anything? That her hammer will make even the slightest dent in the barrier? What use is a chisel against such a huge obstacle?
Rey steps back towards the wall, placing her hand against it. Ben matches her movement, and rests his forehead against the rock. She does the same, and closes her eyes, reaching out for him through the force.
There’s nothing there though. She’ll have to find another way to communicate with him.
“I’m coming back,” she tells him, though he cannot hear. She tries to mime it, by pointing towards herself and then the tunnel, then back to him and the ground, telling him to stay put. He frowns, but he doesn’t move.
Rey kisses her fingertips and presses them against the rock, at the spot where his cheek would be if she could only break through. He mirrors her movement, his fingertips brushing the rock where her lips are.
Leaving him, after all the time, after they barely got to exchange a word, is the worst thing she has ever done. But she goes back through the tunnel, her lightsaber raised and ready for any ghouls that might try and throw her off track.
The journey back is much quicker, and when she reaches the bottom of the pit, she scales the side of it in fifteen minutes. It’s hard work, but it’s nothing like the journey down. Her mental note of tools builds in her head as she decides to abseil back down to him.
They can’t afford to waste any time.
On the Falcon, she grabs her backpack, filling it with anything that might be of value. She throws some food portions in too and refills her water canteen. She has no idea how long she might have to stay down there to try and get him out.
When she descends the ramp, ready to head back into the darkness, she stops dead in her tracks. Another ghost has decided to join her, but this one looks a little more real — as ghosts go. There’s something about the eyes that feels entirely familiar, the pull of his frown and his scruffy brows.
“Master Luke,” she breathes, nearly dropping the spool of rope in her arms.
“Hey,” he says, and he sits down on a large rock, his hands on his knees.
Rey hits the button to raise the ramp and goes to join him. Her stomach is tight as she waits for him to deliver whatever message he feels is important enough for him to show himself to her. He’s probably going to tell her to leave Ben where he is, that he needs to atone for the damage he has wrought throughout the galaxy.
It won’t make any difference. Not to her.
“Do you know how I can get him out?” she asks, looking down into the mud. “My lightsaber wouldn’t work. Neither did my blaster.”
She chances a look up at him, and he nods, as though such things are to be expected. But an answer doesn’t really come.
“I don’t know much about that place,” he tells her. “I never went down there.”
Rey frowns. “Never?”
Luke shakes his head. “I was scared of what I’d find down there. About myself.”
It’s a less noble answer than she was expecting, and there’s no scolding for her own perilous curiosity. Luke lets out a sigh, his blue tinted form wavering in the night. It’s reassuring to see him, after the doppelgängers of the others had emerged from the darkness with hateful words. Just his presence is a comfort to her.
His guidance right now could change her life.
“I saw Han down there,” she tells him.
He’s the one that hurts the most. And her brain can’t help but whir and whir and whir. What if Ben is being tortured by similar apparitions? What if every moment he is being accused by the image of his dead father?
She needs to get him out.
“You didn’t see Han,” Luke tells her. “But you know that.”
She nods, but can’t bring herself to say anything. Despite the fact that she’d shaken the image off, seeing somebody long gone — somebody who she can’t just jump in the Falcon and go to see in real life — has shaken her more than she’d realised.
“Do you think they’re trying to stop me from getting him out?” she asks eventually.
“Maybe. Or maybe it’s a test of character. We can all take things that are easy without a second thought. But maybe if the thing you want is complicated, and needs care and attention, they want to find out if you’re really committed.”
Ben’s complicated all right. But she has more than enough love for him to overcome that.
But there’s still an impenetrable wall between her and him, one that defies logic. Perhaps if Luke doesn’t know the how, he might know the if. The question in itself makes her feel sick, acid rising in her throat, but she asks it anyway, to put herself out of her misery.
“Do you think I actually can get him out? Do you think it’s possible?”
Luke’s mouth twitches, but she’s not sure whether it’s a smile or an involuntary reaction to a difficult question.
“If I told you it was impossible, would it stop you from trying? Would it really make a difference?”
“No.” She knows herself too well to give that question any real consideration.
Luke raises his hands. “Well there you are then,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s possible, but what I do know is this.” He leans forward now, elbows resting on his knees, and Rey shifts on her rock to get closer.
“What?” she asks, her heart thumping as she awaits the answer.
“He’s Ben. And you’re Rey. And I know you’re not leaving this island without him.”
It’s a heavy thought. A lot of responsibility on her shoulders, or if not, a life sentence that will keep her on this island forever, only ever able to communicate with Ben through gestures and mime. And yet, even as she considers the possibility of a lifetime like that, she knows she’d never be able to leave. She’d make her home in that cave if necessary, and build the kind of life that works for both of them.
If he had gone — really, truly gone — she might have been able to move on eventually. She might have been able to find someone who could make her smile, who she could wake up next to and feel content. But knowing he’s here, trapped, changes things altogether. She could never walk away from him now, and condemn him to an eternity of whatever’s on the other side of that wall.
She loves him far too much for that.
“If I could help you I would,” Luke tells her.
“Even after everything he’s done?” She wouldn’t blame anyone. She has no delusions about Ben’s past. About his part in it, regardless of other influences. And she could never blame anybody for not being able to stretch to forgiveness on that scale.
“Of course,” Luke replies. “He made the right choice. Gave everything for the sake of the light. Better late than never, right?”
The comment lifts Rey’s heart, just a touch. If only he’d made the choice a few weeks sooner, they might never have been in this mess. But what’s done is done, her role in the war is complete, and peace is slowly starting to settle throughout the galaxy.
Now she can focus on him. And there’s no time like the present.
“Go get him,” Luke says, waving a hand towards the cave. He smiles, the silver hairs in his beard glinting in the moonlight.
“Thank you,” she says, and she collects up her rope and stands. She takes one last look at Luke, then turns away, ready to break down anything that stands between her and Ben.
When she arrives at the pit, she secures the rope and tugs it sharply to test its strength. Satisfied, she slings her backpack onto her shoulders, pulls on her gloves, and switches on her head torch.
This time she’s prepared.
Though she is filled with uncertainty as she descends, the rope stays taut, and she hops down the wall of the pit in short bursts. Within five minutes her feet touch the ground, and she flinches, wholly unprepared for the contact so soon. She leaves the rope where it is and heads for the tunnel, her muscles tense as she steps into the darkness.
“You betrayed us.”
The fake Poe steps out, but Rey ignores him and continues walking. Finn steps out too, but she brushes him aside before he can open his mouth, and Rose’s twin receives the same treatment. They might have tapped into her fears the first time around, but they won’t fool her again. She only has one thing to concentrate on, and she won’t lose a single second of her time negotiating with these pale imitations of her friends.
She edges around the lake, as she did only an hour before, and approaches the wall. To her relief, Ben is still there, sitting cross legged on the ground on the other side of the rock. He looks up when she arrives, and moves to get up, but she waves a hand, sitting down opposite him.
Rey shrugs her backpack off and brings it round to the front of her. Hastily she opens it, and pulls out the handful of tools she brought from the ship. Ben eyes them as she picks up the first — her welding torch.
She glances up to see Han’s imposter. Then turns her attention back to Ben.
“He killed me, you know.”
Rey grits her teeth, then twists to look at him. “If you want to talk about right and wrong, then let’s talk about mimicking a dead man, shall we? What kind of ghoulish moral high ground is this?”
The fake Han has no response, but looks down at her coldly. His brown eyes are missing that characteristic glint in them. Always an underlying hint of humour somewhere. This shell is nothing like the real one.
“Leave me alone,” she tells him. “Let Han rest. He was a good man, he deserves peace.”
She turns away, her eyes on Ben, who doesn’t seem to have seen the image of his father. It’s for the best. While Rey might be able to shut him out, she’s not sure Ben would. Within a few moments, the projection of Han is gone, and Rey is able to return to the task at hand.
The welding torch ignites with a crackle and she tries the flame against the surface of the rock. It’s so cold that she wonders if heat will have any impact on it whatsoever. She holds it against the surface of the rock, the flame flickering against its surface.
Rey perseveres with the torch for too long, and the flame begins to sputter as the fuel cells empty. She gives up on it with a huff, tossing it to one side. Gingerly, she reaches towards the spot where she used it, index finger poised. She touches it, withdrawing her hand rapidly in case she burns it, but the wall is stone cold. She double checks it by pressing her palm flat against it and leaving it there for a few seconds, but it’s the same once again.
On the other side of the rock, Ben’s eyes watch her every move. He’s waiting for something, anything that could give him hope.
It must have been so terribly lonely for him, all this time.
Her hammer is next on the list, but when she thwacks it against the rock, a resounding clang echoes throughout the cavern. The force of the blow travels through her hand, up her wrist and is absorbed by the bones in her forearm. She’s almost pleased that the hammer doesn’t scratch the surface. She has absolutely no intention of doing that again.
The hammer stays in her right hand though, as she roots around in her bag for the chisel. Maybe something with a sharper point will make a difference. When she taps the top of the chisel firmly with the hammer, the blade just skitters against the rock, despite her firm grip. It’s almost as if the wall is protecting itself, brushing off her attempts to break through it.
Rey gets to her feet. The axe in her bag is only small — more of a hatchet than anything else, but she wants to take a big swing before she casts it aside for definite. She has a strong feeling that everything she’s brought down here is useless.
As with the hammer, the impact of the axe echoes up her forearm, jarring her bones painfully. She drops it onto the floor, resisting the urge to punch the wall. Despite her instincts, deep down she knows she’ll only feel worse for it.
She paces in front of the wall, kicking the pebbles and sending them shooting across the ground. Some even make it as far as the lake, soft splashes interrupting her frustration.
There must be a way. He can’t stay locked up in there for all eternity. Not after the sacrifice he made. That’s not justice. He helped to save the galaxy from the Emperor. If anyone should be locked up it’s Palpatine, facing an infinite stretch of loneliness and torment.
Not Ben. Not her Ben.
Rey digs her boot deep into the ground and hoofs a mixture of dirt and stone across the clearing. Her anger remains the same, seething through her veins as her mind focuses on just how unfair all of this is.
Why punish her too? Because that’s what this is. It’s torture for both of them. It’s pointless and cruel and ridiculous. She can’t bear to look at Ben. Can’t let him see the hopelessness she’s feeling.
Luke was right. She’s not leaving here without him. She’ll have to get used to life in this cave.
She turns on her heel, ready to stick the toe of her boot into the earth again, but something catches her eye. It glints under the light of her head torch, and Rey drops to her knees hard, wincing. Her hands scurry through the dirt, digging and digging and digging until she can get a grip on it.
It’s hard and cold, and the edges are sharp. It’s twice the size of her fist, maybe a little bigger. It’s exactly the same type of rock that separates her from Ben. And if nothing in her toolbox can damage it, then maybe, just maybe, it needs something a little closer to home.
She weighs it in her hand, then rotates it so the heaviest end is closest to the wall. Ben watches her, his teeth tugging at his lower lip anxiously. She raises it, and then she strikes.
Pain shoots through her hand as the edges press into her flesh, her gloves doing little to protect her. But when she withdraws the rock, the tiniest piece of grit falls to the ground.
Rey moves closer, trying to find a mark. And there it is, the tiniest of blemishes. She bites the finger of her left glove and tugs her hand out of it, running her fingertips over the mark.
It’s definitely real.
She smiles, and meets Ben’s eyes.
“I’m getting you out of there.”
For the first time, he dares to smile.
If she scratches the days into the rock as they pass, she’d go mad. So would he for that matter.
Her arms are sore constantly now, her hands rough and raw. When she went back up above ground to get more food, she had found extra pairs of gloves on the Falcon, jamming them onto her hands to try and create a cushion.
It doesn’t do much, but it’s something.
She hits the wall 1,500 times a day. She starts when she wakes up in the morning on the camp bed she has set up next to the wall, and she continues until late into the evening. There’s not much concept of time down here, but she can feel it passing through her, with every blow to the wall.
Sometimes she loses count, and does an extra one hundred strikes to be sure. It’s been twelve days so far, and she’s smashed away at the rock thousands upon thousands of times. Now there is a dent the size of her index finger. It’s not much, but it’s progress.
All Ben can do is watch silently from his prison. On the first day he had dug deep into the dirt, staining his hands, trying to find some similar lump of rock, but his search had been fruitless.
It is a hard lesson in patience for both of them. It’s made all the worse by the fact that they can’t even speak to one another. If she could hear his voice, instead of the repetitive chink, chink, chink, of rock on rock, then this would be all the more tolerable.
But they can communicate. Sort of. At the very least they have rough hand signals — are you okay? don’t worry. have a rest. eat. sleep. i miss you. i love you.
And so every day, for hours and hours and hours, Rey chips away at the rock, fragment by fragment, using every atom of energy she has to try and break through to Ben.
It’s been weeks.
She knows that much. She doesn’t want to know any more than that.
The dent is larger than her fist now, and she has to angle the rock just so to make sure she strikes at the deepest point. She is desperate to make it through to the other side, even just one tiny hole, just so she knows it can be done.
Every soft often she swaps hands, to give her muscles a rest, and she shifts her position on the ground so she can continue to strike. The sound no longer affects her. It has faded into the background, along with the dripping from the top of the cavern. At night, it is too quiet, but sleep comes quickly these days, and she falls out of the world for a few hours before she’s up and at it again.
Every few days she goes above ground to find food. Luke had made it work, and she does too, using his old harpoon to spear an enormous fish that she cooks piece by piece over a fire in the evenings. It doesn’t taste particularly good, but the portions stored on the Falcon have long since run out.
There are greens too, provided by the Lanai, which break up the monotony of the fish. She can’t take too much pleasure in them — every moment spent eating is time she’s not spending on getting through to Ben.
She refills her water canteen from the pool in the cavern, which is fresh enough to keep her going. The cavern has become something of a home for her — bed, blanket, a box of clean clothes and a rack to hang them after they’ve been washed.
Time spent going to the surface is time wasted. She has nearly everything she needs down here.
And so week after week passes, and each day she wakes up, convinced that the hole is getting bigger and bigger, little by little.
When she tires of it, when pain is shooting through her hands with every impact, she pauses, and her eyes meet Ben’s. Just seeing him there on the other side, so close and yet so far, recharges her, and she’s able to continue. Hour after hour, day after day, week after week.
Month after month.
And then, one day, she hits the rock, and instead of a chink, there is a crunch, and her rock falls a little further into the wall.
She’s made it through.
She’s so relieved that she drops the rock. It tumbles to the floor, and she bursts into tears of relief as Ben says words she cannot process through the tiniest hole in the wall.
He convinces her to take the rest of the day off, so they can sit and talk. Eventually she agrees, and she wraps herself in a blanket and leans sideways against the wall. He leans against the other side, facing her. His voice is distant as he speaks, as he apologises dozens and dozens of times for all the things he thinks he could and should have done.
But none of it matters now. It’s all in the past.
The future is what counts. They have one now. Both of them. Together.
There are milestones.
The first hole was a big one. And then she had managed to chip away at the edges, until the tip of her little finger could brush against his.
It’s another victory.
Every time she gets a little bit further, it spurs her on. Her hands will never be the same — a fate she accepted long ago. At night they twitch, the muscles spasming, and her joints are stiff and swollen. But none of it matters, because every day she gets a little bit closer.
It’s a very hard lesson in patience.
But it’s a lesson she is willing to take.
Further rewards come on the day when she is able to squeeze her hand through — sans gloves — to the other side and hold his hand. Instinctively her fingers find the inside of his wrist, feeling for his pulse. It’s there, and it’s a moment before she realises that it’s beating time with her own, a slightly elevated thud thud, thud thud.
But she can’t feel him. Not yet. Even though she can touch him it’s as though he’s sealed off from the Force. Sealed off from her.
With a little perseverance, the time comes when their hands can meet through the hole at night, and they can fall asleep hand in hand, even if it gives them stiff shoulders the next day.
The pain isn’t really a concern anymore. It’s all blurred into one constant ache. Maybe one day she’ll feel whole again, but it won’t be until she has him back with her. One night lying next to him and she’s certain all of her aches and pains would melt away.
And then one day she hears footsteps. She stops hitting the wall and turns around, squinting towards the mouth of the tunnel. There’s muttering too, and she glances back to Ben, who’s looking in the same direction.
He can hear it too.
The three of them step out into the dim light of the cavern, and Rey, shakes her head and turns around.
Clearly the Force hadn’t expected her to get this far, and so it’s amping up its attempts to try and inject some fear into her. But the sight of her friends’ doppelgängers will do no such thing. She won’t lose focus now. Not for a moment.
She ignores Finn. She strikes the wall again, but Ben’s hand reaches through, taking her by the wrist and stilling her.
“They’re real,” he murmurs. “Not like the others.”
Rey shakes her head. “The others are back at the base,” she tells him. “They’d never find me here.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do,” she says, and she tugs her wrist out of his grip, shooing his hand away so she can strike again.
There’s a clatter of rock, as one of them hurries ahead of the others, but she doesn’t turn around. She won’t fall into this trap. Not ever. Even if the Force has done its homework, has made its projections more realistic, she won’t spiral into a fit of grief for the friends she knows she must give up if she is to save Ben.
They’ll be fine without her, and that’s all that matters.
“Rey.” It’s Rose’s voice now. Rey gives in and turns to look at her. Bright brown eyes stare back. Her hair is tied in a loose braid that hangs over her shoulder, her hair longer than it was when Rey last laid eyes on her. Rose reaches out, and Rey recoils.
“You’re not real,” she hisses.
Rose crouches down, sitting on her haunches so she’s at the same level as Rey. “If we’re not real, then what are we?”
“You’re not going to fool me,” Rey tells her stubbornly. “I’m not scared of you.”
“I don’t want you to be scared of me. Rey.”
Rose’s hand closes around Rey’s forearm before she can dodge it. The hand is cold and a little clammy, but it’s deceptively human.
“We came to find you,” Rose tells her. “We were worried about you.”
There is a lump in Rey’s throat. The truth has to come out now. There’s no way around it. Poe and Finn have edged around the pool and are standing a few feet behind Rose, watching her with concerned expressions on their faces.
“Well you can turn around,” Rey tells them. “Now that you know, you won’t want anything to do with me. And that’s fine. I respect that.” She tugs her arm from Rose’s grip and jams the rock into the wall harder than ever. A small chunk breaks away from the edge and patters against the side of the wall until it comes to rest on the ground.
Footsteps crunch against the pebbles and then another hand closes around the rock before she can strike again. It’s solid and firm, and Poe crouches down behind her, his arms over her shoulders as he gently tries to pry the rock from her fingers.
“Give me that,” he says softly.
“No,” she says, shaking her head, tears building fast. “I have to get him out.”
“You’re exhausted,” Poe tells her. “Give me the rock. Please.”
She only squeezes it tighter, the edges digging painfully into her palm, but she won’t give it up.
“Rey.” Finn has come forward now, his hands on hers too, peeling back her fingers from the rock.
“Rey, give it to them.”
“Sweetheart.” The word is soft and kind and carries everything she needs from him. It knocks her sideways with its tenderness, her concentration lapsing, and in a heartbeat, the rock is confiscated from her.
The tears fall down her face now, and she breaks into sobs, covering her face with her hands. She can’t give him up, not now she’s come this far. Just a few more months and he could squeeze through, she’s sure of it. The hole is nearly big enough for his head after all, she just needs to try and accommodate those ridiculous shoulders of his.
She doesn’t know who’s holding her, but she sinks against them, starved of anything more than hand holding through a sharp and unforgiving hole in a wall.
But then she hears a loud, forceful chink.
Rey opens her eyes, her vision blurred by tears and exhaustion. Poe has taken up the task, and he raises his fist again, battering away at the hole with the rock.
“Poe you don’t —”
“You never needed to do this alone,” Finn murmurs into her ear.
“But he —”
“I haven’t forgotten. None of us have.”
Poe slams the rock into the wall again, his leather pilots gloves providing him with a minimal amount of protection.
“If it matters to you,” Rose says, her hand finding Rey’s. “It matters to us.”
There’s nothing she can say to that. All this time she had been so scared of what they would say, had been terrified of the hatred that would form in their eyes, the disgust on their faces.
She had never considered that unconditional love could be exactly that.
All those years waiting for her family to return, and here she is, in some hellish purgatorial cavern, with her real family around her. It throws all of those hot and thankless days on Jakku into perspective. But if she knows anything about anything, she knows about perseverance.
If only she hadn’t been so pigheaded as to go it alone.
“Come on,” Finn says, and he helps her up and leads her over to the camp bed. He eases her down into it, tucks her blanket around her, and Rey can barely keep her eyes open for a moment longer.
“I know you’re not doing this for me.” Ben’s voice is distant, and soft, and lulls her towards sleep. “But thank you.”
She falls asleep to the comforting sound of rock crashing against rock.
“She couldn’t pass it through to me. It just wouldn’t let her. I don’t think the point is for me to break out. It’s for someone to think I’m worth…saving.”
Rey exhales softly, snuggling into her blanket. Ben’s voice is quiet and calming. It’s the best thing to wake up to.
“It’s a hell of a thing to do to her.”
“I never asked her to.”
“I know. I mean for them to do to her.” Finn’s voice breaks off as the rock cracks against the wall again. “What’s the point? She’s been down here for —”
“Don’t.” Ben’s voice is sharp. “If she hears you…she’s fragile. You know that. And I can’t do anything about it because I’m stuck behind here and she’s too damn stubborn to listen to me. But do not tell her how long she’s been down here.”
“She’s asleep,” Finn says.
The words aren’t really permeating her brain. She’s aware of them, of course. But they don’t really make any sense to her. The sound is comforting, and that’s all she needs.
“No,” Ben replies. “Her breathing’s changed.”
Finn pauses, the sound of rock on rock ceasing for a moment. “You can really tell from the other side of this that her breathing has changed?”
“She’s the only good thing I’ve ever had in my life,” Ben replies. “Every detail is important.”
Rey rolls over, sleeping claiming her swiftly, and the sound of Ben and Finn’s conversation dissolves into nothing.
When she wakes, she feels far more rested. But things are happening, she can hear Poe and Rose now. She sits up, wiping the grit from her eyes as they adjust to the light of the cavern.
Rose sets down a metal stand, bolted together from various parts borrowed from their ship. Poe, meanwhile, has some sort of device in his hand that even from this distance, Rey can see is held together with three different kinds of tape.
This doesn’t bode well.
Rey gets up, as Rose digs her heels into the ground so that she can bury the legs of the stand deep in the earth. Finn has abandoned his assault on the wall for a moment, and is gathering up the largest rocks he can to place against the legs, securing its position.
Poe loads the device into the stand, and Finn hands him the rock. He places it in a roughly constructed metal claw, tightening the grip with screws. Rose flicks a switch, and the fuel cells light up with an electric blue glow.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” Ben asks. “By which I mean, please don’t break that rock.”
“It should hit the wall once every two seconds,” Rose tells him, frowning at the settings. “Which means thirty times a minute, which means 1,800 times an hour. We have two sets of fuel cells, which we can have on rotation. So if we run it 24 hours a day, we should make contact…more than 43,000 times a day.”
Rey snuffs out the hope building in the pit of her stomach, and when Ben’s eyes meet hers she gives him a brief smile. If this contraption works at the rate Rose says it does, they can achieve a month’s worth of work in one day.
He could be out of there in a week.
But she can’t afford to hope. Not now. Not until she sees it in action.
Finn aims the device, lining it up with the edge of the hole. It’s like a mini battering ram, attached to a pneumatic pump. And in it is the rock that has barely left her hand for…she doesn’t know how long.
A whirring sound builds in pitch, and then the rock speeds towards the wall, crashing into it with more brute force than any of them could ever have mustered. It retracts, and then surges forward again, the surface of the wall crunching under its impact.
“You’re a genius,” Ben says, his eyes on Rose.
“Never waste time doing anything that a machine can do quicker and better than you can,” she replies.
Poe cups her face and presses a kiss to her forehead. “You’re incredible,” he says. “We’ll be out of here in no time.”
Six days pass, and they pass with a giddy sense of achievement as the hole in the wall grows bigger and bigger at an alarming rate. Rey hardly knows what she’s going to do once Ben’s actually free. She’d not allowed herself to think that far ahead. Instead she had focused on every single blow she had laid upon the wall, tethering herself to the present and the present alone.
They take it in turns to operate the machine, which only requires the occasional change of the fuel cells, and recalibration of the aim to ensure they’re tackling the hole in the most efficient way. When it’s big enough for Rey to fit through, she has to focus herself. She can’t give in to that temptation. The idea is not for her to join him in prison, but for him to join her in freedom.
She doesn’t trust the Force, or any part of this ridiculous charade. She wouldn’t be surprised if it reacted vengefully against their application of the machine. And so, in the last few days before Ben and his inconveniently broad shoulders can fit through the hole, she busies herself with every available task. She makes the food when mealtimes come, passing a plate through to Ben, despite the fact that he claims never to be hungry. She washes clothes, scrubbing out stubborn stains and hangs them to dry near the fire. She makes the trip up into daylight — painful for her eyes — and collects the recharged fuel cells from the Falcon every time they need switching over. And then goes back up again to put the dead cells on charge.
It’s only by keeping busy that she’s able to cope. The others are content to sit around and talk — sometimes they talk to Ben, which is too ridiculous for her to even comprehend.
Late at night, when Finn and Rose are already sound asleep on their own camp beds, she hears Poe’s voice drift across from his spot by the wall.
“Tell me what she was like. Before all of this.”
Ben lets out a sigh. “I couldn’t really tell you. She sent me away to train when I was a kid. And before that she was always working.”
“Always?” Poe asks.
“Yeah,” Ben replies. “The New Republic was the most important thing to her.”
Poe shakes his head, then says softly: “That’s not true.”
“She spent more time debating in congress than she ever spent with me.” The words aren’t bitter, but they aren’t forgiving either. There’s a horrible sense of acceptance to them, as though he never thought it ought to be any different. “But I was young then. I went away with Luke quite young.”
“All the time I’ve known her,” Poe tells him. “Which is…a while, you were always the most important thing to her.”
“I doubt it,” Ben replies. “Not after everything that happened.”
Poe lets out a sour laugh. “Do you have any idea how jealous I was of you?” he says. It’s the first time Rey has ever heard Poe say such a thing. He’s never even mentioned Ben to her, and hardly mentioned his relationship with Leia. There was always so much going on that they’ve never really had time to sit and talk and share.
“Yeah, you. You went over to the dark side, and still, all she could think about was how to get you back. And there I was, risking my damn life every day, nearly getting my ass shot out of the sky by you, and all she could do was say ‘well done Poe,’ any time I made it back alive. I hated you.”
“And what about now?” Ben asks tentatively. The use of past tense hasn’t slipped by Rey’s attention.
“It’s hard,” Poe sighs. “You both are and aren’t the guy that nearly killed Finn.” He pauses, rubbing his jaw as he looks down at the ground, elbows resting on his knees. “I don’t know what to make of it. But you’re her son, and she loved you. And I know she’d want me to help you. What I want doesn’t really matter. Because what will this be in a week, or a month?” He shrugs, half a smile forming briefly on his lips before disappearing. “A few days in a cave so that I can sleep easy knowing Rey’s happy, and Leia’s happy? It’s a small price to pay.”
Rey walks over and kisses the top of Poe’s head. “Go and get some sleep,” she tells him. “I’ll take over.”
Poe doesn’t need telling twice, and soon Rey is sitting hand in hand with Ben, watching Rose’s machine chip away at the last of their problem.
The fuel cells die, and Rey takes them out of the casing, slipping the new ones into place.
“Hold on,” Finn says, his hand on her arm, stopping her.
He points at the hole. “I think he can fit through.”
Rey’s heart stops in her chest. She’d not thought about it until Finn had pointed it out. She’d been sure they’d have to sit here for at least a few more days before they could free him.
Always a few more days. It’s like her brain won’t actually let her believe she’s getting him back. And still, even now, she refuses to hope until she has him, here, in her arms.
“I’ll get the others,” Finn mutters. “Just in case.”
Rey doesn’t want to know what he’s preparing for, and so she stays close to the wall, her hands clammy as she tries to regulate her breathing.
“It’s gonna be okay,” Ben tells her. “I can fit through.”
“What if it doesn’t let you?” She doesn’t look at him when she asks the question, but picks up a pebble from the ground and rotates it in her hand, thumb and forefinger anxiously expelling nervous energy.
“It wouldn’t have let you get this far,” he tells her. “It wouldn’t let you spend all this time.”
Rey’s not convinced. Her experience in the cave hasn’t been one of fairness, or justice. The Force seems to operate on whims, streaked with cruelty. Not even just here, but from the moment it connected her with Ben, only to have him ripped away again. She’s never expected an easy ride. But something other than this, surely.
“Have faith,” Ben tells her quietly. “Don’t lose hope now.”
She looks across to him, then reaches through the hole and takes his hand. The urge to pull him through now is overwhelming, but she can’t afford to lose him over impatience. She needs her friends around her.
It’s quiet without the sound of rock on rock. Eerie.
She has no idea how she will become accustomed to silence again. But perhaps Ben can fill the quiet. With his voice. With the scratching of his pen. With the soft sounds he sometimes makes in his sleep. Or his laugh. She is so ready to hear that.
Rapid footsteps crunch against the ground, and Finn returns with Poe and Rose in tow. They hurry over to the wall, and Rose places her hands on either side of the hole, gauging its size.
“Can you get the winch?” she says, glancing towards Poe, who hurries over to the pile of equipment stacked next to Rose’s camp bed. He sets it up, bracing the legs and unfurling the cable. He tosses it through the hole to Ben.
“Tie that round yourself,” Poe says. “Just in case.”
Never has Rey been more grateful for her friends. She doesn’t have the headspace to make contingencies. The months and months spent in this cave have skewed her thinking, her perspective, and now that they’re so close to the end, she is having to consider how she might fare when she’s back in the real world.
She never really thought the day would come.
The harness of the winch clicks as Ben secures it around himself. Rey steps over the cable so that she’s in front of the hole.
“We both grab him,” she says to Poe. “And get him through as quick as we can. I don’t trust this.”
Poe nods, and together they both crouch down, reaching an arm each through the hole. Rey’s hand finds Ben’s and she grips it tightly. She looks at him through the glass, and he nods, before lowering his head in line with the gap. Rey looks across to Poe who nods, and Rose turns on the winch, the cable pulling taut.
“Okay,” Rey says. “On three. One, two, three.” Ben’s arms come through first, hands locked with Rey’s and Poe’s. Then his head emerges, his shoulders following.
But then he stops.
“Are you caught?” Rey asks, her arm tensed as she holds him in place. But she’s fighting hard. A bead of sweat breaks out Poe’s forehead as he grits his teeth, trying to keep a hold on Ben.
“It’s dragging me back,” Ben whispers. He looks up at her, his brown eyes glazed with a fear that she’s rarely seen in them. “Don’t let me go. Please don’t let me go.”
Rey drops to the ground and braces her feet against the wall, and as the winch pulls and pulls, Ben grunts in pain, his face screwed up as he tries to wriggle forwards. Finn rushes forward, grabbing him around the shoulders, but they can’t budge him.
This can’t be happening. She was supposed to be proved wrong. Her cynicism was supposed to be mocked. Her months and months of toil were supposed to be rewarded with the only thing she wants in the whole galaxy.
Her fingers are digging into his flesh, but such is her fear of losing him that she doesn’t relent. Not now.
Please, not now.
Dread builds in her, her fear escalating and escalating as darkness seeps into the cavern. She looks up at the wall, and behind Ben there are shadows. The shadows merge into one figure, that grows larger and larger as it nears the wall.
“Who is that?”
Ben looks up at her. “You can see him?” he gasps.
And then the word comes, breathless and laden with shame. “Palpatine.”
Fury supersedes any fear. A rage unlike any she has ever known flows through her.
“Take him!” she yells at Finn, thrusting Ben’s arm towards him. “Do not let go.”
Finn doesn’t argue, and Rey stands up, her hands nearly numb. That hardly matters. She places her palms flat against the wall, then closes her eyes. The energy flows through her, like a red hot tidal wave, crashing into the wall. It rumbles beneath her skin, and her anger rages and rages inside her, whipping into a frenzy like a tornado inside her.
The ground vibrates beneath her feet, and there’s a crack as the wall fractures beneath her fingertips. It spreads through the surface like a spider’s web, the cracks penetrating deeper and deeper until the entire thing crumbles, lumps of rock tumbling to the floor.
Rey opens her eyes, the wall disintegrated, and she ignores the scurrying next to her. Her eyes are fixed on the cloaked figure standing half a dozen steps ahead of her. There’s no mistaking him. Beneath the hood she can see the pale chin, the frosty jagged line of his mouth, and the skin that sags around his neck in folds.
He is utterly repellant.
“You can’t have him,” she growls. “He’s not yours, and he never was.”
Palpatine opens his mouth to respond, his pointed yellowing teeth bared, but Rey isn’t interested in hearing a single word from his mouth. She focuses, more than she’s ever focused in her life. It feels like her brain is swelling, bursting against the inside of her skull.
The remnants of the wall rise with an eerie calm, her hand outstretched, guiding their paths.
And then she closes her fist.
Palpatine is engulfed. Rocks speed towards him from every angle, far more than had ever made up the crumbled wall. They lift from the ground with a thunderous rumble, imprisoning him in layer after layer after layer. Her lungs burn, and she can’t remember the last time she took a breath, but it doesn’t matter, because she won’t let him escape. She won’t let him lay a finger on Ben. He won’t hurt him ever again.
All this time, all these months she had been chipping away at that rock and he had been tormented by a ghoul that he thought was inside his head. All that doubt, that endless stretch of cruelty ahead of him.
How desperate he must have been.
There is a crash, and a large chunk of rock falls from the top of the cavern, landing on the icy prison encasing Palpatine. Another crash follows in quick succession, and another, and another, until the cave is collapsing on top of him, burying him beneath its depths.
But it’s still not enough.
He had created Snoke. He had sought Ben out from the very beginning.
He had taken Ben from her in the first instance.
All of her pent up grief pours from her, destroying the cave until there’s no more, not a single pebble that can be added to his cold and jagged grave.
If she could, she would send this entire island to the bottom of the sea. Just to be sure.
His voice is soft, his hand too, which closes around her fist, lowering it from its merciless assault.
“That’s enough now.” He steps in front of her but Rey dodges him.
“I have to be sure,” she says, her voice cracking. “I won’t let him get you again, I won’t.” Her voice breaks now, tears spilling down her cheeks, as the rock shifts and compacts and grinds against itself. The ground beneath them shakes, as Palpatine’s tomb is forced deeper and deeper into the earth, descending in great shunting movements.
“I’m here. We’re both safe. But we have to get out of here.” He touches her face, tilting it towards him. “We have a life to live. So let’s get out of here, okay?”
The grinding stops, the vibrations beneath them petering out, but she doesn’t lower her hand.
“I have to —” But she can’t tell him what she has to do. The words won’t form in her brain, let alone make a sound in her throat. Ben wraps his arms around her, and she sinks against him, sobbing into his chest.
She’s still so angry, and she never thought it would be like this. She never thought her skin would prickle with such acute animosity. She had always thought she would be focusing on him, on loving him and treasuring him.
He kisses her face, again and again, pressing his lips against her cheek, her forehead, her jaw, her eyelids, as though he has spent all this time thinking of all the ways he wanted to kiss her. As though he’s making up for all of their lost time.
When he reaches her lips, the hatred dissipates. She leans into him, her hands desperately gripping his shirt as though he might be ripped away from her at any moment. At the edge of the darkness, a dim light starts to creep in, a latent sense of peace, of contentment.
The dim light grows in strength, building and building until it is a pure and golden glow that fills her veins with joy and relief. It smooths over the cracks in her spirit, irons out the creases, and when he pulls away, all she can do is drink in the sight of him. She cups his face gently, running a thumb across his lower lip, before she rises onto her tip toes to kiss him again.
She could kiss him forever.
And she might just be able to.
The ground rumbles beneath her feet and Rey hauls Ben behind her, backing away towards the tunnel. Water splashes around them as she inadvertently leads them into the pool, soaking them up to their ankles. From the wreckage, a new wall rises, thick and crystalline and impenetrable. It seals itself against the rock, Palpatine’s tomb buried on the other side.
Rey can feel Ben’s heartbeat, elevated and in tune with her own.
“I think we did it,” he breathes.
“Yeah,” Rey says. “I think we did.”
She looks over to Poe, Finn and Rose. It’s difficult to know what to say. They have done this for her, she knows, and she can’t expect any of them to want anything to do with Ben at all. But before she can try and negotiate the complexities of it in her head, Finn steps forward, hand outstretched.
Ben takes it, and shakes it. Rose is next, and she offers Ben a smile, and is followed by Poe, who gives Ben a gruff nod as he shakes his hand.
It’s a small gesture from each of them. But it’s huge. More than Rey ever could have dreamed of. And so she throws herself at each of them in turn, wrapping her arms tightly around them, whispering her gratitude in their ears as her hands tremble with exhaustion and relief.
She doesn’t know what she’s done to ever deserve them. But she’s so glad she has them.
The co-pilot’s seat is chilly, but Ben lays a blanket over her, tucking it around her to eliminate any possible draughts. Through the viewport, she sees the Resistance ship, taking off and steering its way past the clouds, before disappearing in a flash of electric blue light.
“We can stay here tonight if you want?” Ben suggests. He leans over and kisses her on the side of her head. “We don’t have to travel.”
“No,” Rey murmurs, snuggling deeper into the blanket. “I want to go.”
“Okay,” Ben replies. He flips the switches, unaware of Rey’s eyes fixating on his every move. Everything in this cockpit is second nature to him, and it makes her heart hurt to think about how long it must have been since he was last here.
“Yeah,” he says, momentarily distracted by their flightpath data. He turns to look at her once he’s keyed it in. “What?”
The phrasing is difficult. But it won’t get any easier the longer she leaves it. In truth, she wants to leave every bad thought and feeling on this awful island.
“Will you tell me? If you ever…hear anything again?”
He looks down at the floor briefly, then back up at her, and he nods.
“Don’t let it consume you,” she tells him. “Don’t leave it too late.”
He nods again. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“I’m not asking you to apologise,” she tells him. She’s as much at fault as he is. She should have handled it all differently. They both should have.
“I know,” he tells her, turning back to the console. “But I’m sorry all the same.” His hands move smoothly against the controls, and the Falcon lifts off the ground, rising into the air in one fluid motion. Rey is pressed back into her seat as they head for the horizon, gathering speed until the clear blue dissolves into an inky black.
The stars stretch before her eyes, and the engine whines as they make the jump to light speed. Her eyes drop down the the flight plan tracking their progress.
“I take it you won’t be using the name,” he says, staring out at whir of lights streaking past them.
She doesn’t need to ask which name he’s referring to. She had rejected it long ago, the second she found out it bore any relation to her. It’s never had anything to do with her.
“I used the name Skywalker, actually. Once. Before I came here.”
He turns to look at her, eyebrow raised. “You did?”
She hums in confirmation, and the corner of his mouth twitches into a lopsided smile that reminds her of someone else who once sat in that pilot’s seat.
“Well I think we can do better than that,” he tells her. The Falcon drags as they return to normal speed, and Rey smiles as she spots a familiar sight beneath them.
The Falcon descends to Naboo, and soon they touch down on the planet’s surface, ready to begin anew.
Thank you to all of you who have joined me for this fairly intense ride. I opened this document just after midnight on 28 December and now 50k words and 3 weeks, 4 days later it has come to an end.
I can finally concentrate on doing some real life stuff, however, I will begin posting a new multi-chapter fic in the next few weeks. It's Ben Solo oriented, but with endgame Reylo. It will very likely be an extremely slow burn, so if you're into that sort of thing, do subscribe.
Thanks again for following this story. :)