“Heal what has been hurt
Bring back what once was mine…”
—Tangled, “Healing Incantation”
“I am ALL of the Sith!” Palpatine screeched, hands raised to strike Rey with the same lightning that had fried the Resistance’s ramshackle fleet a few moments ago.
It was terrifying, especially with the voices of the Sith still roaring in her ears—but in spite of the disorienting flutter in her chest and her spinning, groggy head, Rey drew herself up to her full height. There were other voices in her head now—good, true, loving voices that slowly but surely drowned out the fearful thunder of the Sith.
Somehow, she was pretty sure she’d heard Ben Solo’s voice calling out to her as well.
The Light was drowning out the Darkness. It always did.
“And I…” she growled, holding up Luke’s lightsaber. “I am all of the Jedi!”
She called for Leia’s lightsaber, the one that had been torn out of Ben’s hand. It slammed into her palm. Palpatine’s hideous eyes widened as she crossed both shining blades. He snarled, flinging his bony hands out towards her. A sizzling shaft of light struck the humming lightsabers.
But in spite of the searing heat, the blinding light, and the sensation of being crushed under the weight of her grandfather’s power, Rey of Jakku did not falter. She gritted her teeth and locked her furious gaze on the undead Sith-lord, daring him to defeat her now.
I will not be like you! she screamed through the Force. He was where the dark whispers had always come from. He was the reason her parents were dead, the reason Ben had fallen into darkness, the reason Han Solo and Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa were dead, the reason Finn, Poe, Rose, and BB-8 were all in danger…
And I will NEVER be like you.
I am all of the Jedi, and I will save my family if it’s the last thing I do!
As if he sensed her defiance growing, Palpatine snarled in frustration. He stretched his arms out a little further, trying to channel an extra burst of power into the lightning. Rey’s knees wobbled, but she let out a desperate scream and thrust the lightsabers forward.
This time it worked. With a crack, the lightning deflected back and slammed into Palpatine.
“NOOOOOOOOOO!” he screamed. The skin of his face bubbled, slipping away in a gory mess. Rey swallowed down a wave of nausea at the sight and gripped the lightsabers even tighter.
Die! Just DIE! And don’t you ever, EVER dare to come back and haunt this world ever again!
The pressure was too much. With a crack of thunder, Palpatine’s head disintegrated. His cloaks fell in a heap, the lightning vanished, and the chamber turned dark. A sudden wind tore at Rey’s clothes and hair. Stones shivered all around her, showering her with dust.
Blessed, peaceful silence.
Rey dropped her arms and stepped forward, but her knees buckled and her stomach rolled. She gasped, staggered, tried to regain her balance, but something was wrong…her heart wasn’t beating right. Her heart. Frightened, she tried to take another step—only to draw up short with a choking cough. Pain radiated through her whole body. This was different than when she first woke up after Palpatine drained the energy from her bond with Ben. Then she’d just felt numb, but now…
Now she felt cold as ice.
She tried to focus, tried to turn around, tried to reach out to Ben. So dizzy…so weak…
One knee hit the stony ground.
No no no! A small voice shrieked in the back of her mind. Get up! Don’t give in to this…stand up…on your feet…got to find Ben…!
Rey wheezed for air and slammed her hands to the ground, but not even her arms could support her weight now. She crumpled in on herself, blind with exhaustion. Was this really what death felt like? Back on Jakku, her best dreams had centered around her parents rushing into town and buying her back from Unkar Plutt, tears of joy in their eyes. Her only recurring nightmare was of her dying alone before they could find her.
And I…I’m alone…I’m going to die alone.
Oh Ben…be with me…please be with me…
The sting of tears was the last thing she knew before everything went black.
He knew as soon as consciousness returned that his leg was broken. Maybe a rib or two, as well.
And he knew that he was Han Solo’s son again when his first coherent thought was something along the lines of, Well, that does make things a little messier, doesn’t it?
Ben propped himself on one elbow with a painful grunt and looked up. He’d fallen a pretty good distance, but probably not as far as Palpatine would’ve liked. At least he could still see the top…and the flashes of lightning.
Rey was still up there. Through their Bond, he could feel her courage pushing past her fear.
His little scavenger. His brave, beautiful, fierce, full-of-faith-in-him Rey—
She’s facing him alone.
That one thought cleared the groggy haze. Something hot and fierce flared in his chest, the same rage he’d felt when Snoke tried to kill her. Sure, she could probably handle Palpatine herself—if anyone could handle him alone, it would be Rey—but everything in him still screamed to defend her with his life.
Groaning through his teeth, he forced himself up onto his good leg. Sheer bullheaded stubbornness got him to the steep wall. By the time he found solid grips for his strong (if bloodied) fingers, he could hear Palpatine cackling in triumph.
I’ll kill you if you touch her, Ben thought ferociously, hurling himself up for the climb. Just like I killed Snoke—just like I’ll kill anyone who—
His mother’s voice called out to him across worlds, and Ben Solo’s heart dropped to his toes. His clenched teeth relaxed and his chin wobbled as tears sprang to his eyes.
I’ve got to save her, Mom. I can’t lose everyone…I can’t.
“I know,” he heard her whisper back. “But even if you save her, you will lose her in a different way if you give into hate.”
Ben drew in a shuddering breath and reached for a higher grip.
“Breathe. Just breathe. Save Rey because you love us…not because you hate him.”
The tears slipped down his cheeks. Groaning, Ben climbed higher, higher, letting the cathartic love and longing that he’d smothered for so long wash over him like waves. Longing for his mother’s embrace…his father’s smirk…his uncle’s quiet looks of pride and approval…Chewie’s roar…
And always Rey’s smile, Rey’s eyes, and Rey’s hand reaching out to him across galaxies. The memories filled him with a warmth that, unlike the flame of hate, did not scorch at all.
But at the bloodcurdling scream—Palpatine’s, not Rey’s—thundering off the walls, Ben froze in real terror. He pressed himself close to the wall, holding on tight as the whole planet trembled. It lasted only a few moments before everything went eerily silent. He lifted his head, looked around, and reached out.
Rey! he called through the Bond. Rey!!
Nothing. Not even a hint of her consciousness. He climbed faster, faster. When his fingers finally gripped the edge of the cliff, he nearly cried again from sheer relief. His broken leg dangled, but he just ground his teeth as it dragged against the rocks.
He’d made it. He was back in the throne room. Palpatine was gone; so were the ghostly Sith. An ominous rumble warned him that another earthquake was on its way, and he could still see the star war overhead—but otherwise, the place was quiet. Too quiet.
Still no response, but her still form lay in front of the throne. He hobbled to her as fast as he could and dropped to his good knee, then his hip. Quickly, gently, he hauled her into his lap, cradling her in the crook of his elbow. She fit perfectly in his arms.
But her head rolled back, limp and lifeless, and her hazel eyes were open and unseeing.
For a moment Ben just stared at her, not quite believing what lay before him.
She’s dead. She’s dead.
And it’s all my fault.
He tried and failed to swallow down the burning lump in his throat. He pressed her close, rocked her small form gently, and squeezed his eyes shut.
No, no, no…don’t leave me now, Rey. You’re my only hope. I turned for you and Mom, I swear I did. Come back, Rey. Be with me, please!
What was it Palpatine had called them? A Dyad of the Force. Ben recalled enough from his uncle’s sacred texts to know that a Dyad was a rare and beautiful thing—a bond that only happened once every couple thousand years, if that. Not even death could break such a connection. Seemed he even remembered something about how one half of the Dyad couldn’t die without the other following soon after…or maybe that was just his emotions talking.
Whatever the case, she had saved him on Kef Bir. She’d shown him a mercy he hadn’t deserved by healing the stab wound she herself had inflicted. And if she was a Jedi, capable of working that kind of a miracle…and if he was still a Jedi, in spite of everything he’d done…
Ben lowered Rey so he could see her face again. He swallowed hard enough this time and took a long, deep, calming breath. His broken ribs scraped together as he inhaled, but he ignored the pain, closed his eyes, let the breath go…
And brought one of his hands to rest against Rey’s slender waist.
Be with me, Rey. Be with me, please.
A still, soft peace enveloped him. Exegol, throbbing with the hate of the Sith, had probably never known such tranquility. He blocked every memory of Rey except for the one he cherished more than anything: the image of her sitting in a warm hut on Ach-To, her hand reaching out to him. Their fingers had touched so briefly, but it had meant the world to him. Somebody had wanted him in that moment, and the Light had never been so blindingly bright.
Come back, Rey. Come back to me, please.
Say it, his mother whispered from the edges of his mind. Say what you truly mean, Son.
Ben pressed his lips together and concentrated on the energy swirling around him. The memory of Rey in the hut was so clear now, he could feel her fingertips on his, see the hope in her eyes, and hear her soft, shivery gasp.
I love you, Rey of Jakku, he whispered to the memory. Come back…and be with me.
The Rey of his memory smiled—falteringly at first, like she couldn’t believe her own ears, then so brilliantly that it made his breath catch. He was aware, too, of his mother’s satisfied smile and the pride and relief of the Jedi who surrounded him, carrying him the last few steps into the Light.
When he heard a sharp gasp and felt her bloodied hand clutching his own, his eyes flew open. With a wheeze and a weary, confused blinking, she tried to lift her head from its uncomfortable angle against his forearm. He hastily cupped the back of her head in his hand. Still coughing, she gripped the front of his torn sweater and pulled herself up.
But when she looked at him, she froze. Ben held his breath. Maybe she’d forgotten everything; a good knock to the head could do that to you. The bruises and blood on her face told him she’d had more than her fair share today. He opened his mouth to say something, trying to be brave.
But before he could get a word out, the shock in her face melted away in the most joyful smile he’d ever seen.
“Ben!” she cried.
He let go of the breath he’d been holding. She knew. She remembered everything.
And that was all that mattered.
Hold on a minute, Rey—make sure you’re not dreaming!
Rey almost laughed out loud at the thought. She was more awake and alive than she’d ever been, and he was here. Of course she wasn’t dreaming!
But she still reached out and cupped his cheek in her hand, just to make sure he was really there. He shuddered and leaned into her palm, his breath hitching in his throat.
You’re alive, his deep, resonant voice whispered in her head. You came back to me.
This time Rey really did laugh, and then she did something she’d never done before. She’d seen a few of the girls in the Resistance do it with their flyboys back at the Base, and it had awakened thoughts of Ben every time—but she’d never practiced with anyone else. Now she saw her chance and seized it. She took his face in both hands and crashed her lips against his.
Ben stiffened in surprise, but she felt his smile against her lips and heard a low, rumbling chuckle in his chest. His arms tightened around her and a wild, joyous heat flooded her entire being.
She pulled back, gasping for air. He leaned his forehead against hers, still smiling as he let out a long, contented sigh and ran his fingertips along her grimy cheek.
I love you, he murmured into her mind.
I know, she whispered back. And I love you.
He raised his eyes to hers, dark and peaceful and so full of love that she almost kissed him again right then and there.
She knew something was wrong when he winced. She frowned, confused.
“Ben?” she said aloud.
His smile faltered and he let out a groan that, to be honest, sounded more surprised than pained. Rey cried out as he suddenly went limp in her arms.
“Ben! No no no no—what’s wrong?—Ben, talk to me!”
She just managed to thrust her hand behind his head, preventing him from slamming into the stony ground. His eyes were still open, but as she laid him down his eyelids fluttered and he groaned again, this time in real pain. Rey frantically checked his pulse and his heartbeat. Both were faint.
“Ben,” she pleaded. “Don’t do this. Please, stay with me.”
He swallowed with difficulty.
“Go,” he croaked. “Go, Rey…go…”
She pressed her quivering lips together and shook her head. “No. No, I’m not leaving you. I’m going to save you.”
Ben smiled weakly. With an effort, he lifted his hand. Rey caught it and pressed his palm to her cheek.
“You already did,” he rasped.
Rey tried to laugh, but it sounded more like a sob. She hated herself for it. A tear rolled down her cheek; he wiped it away with his thumb.
“Don’t cry…Sweetheart,” he whispered.
His eyes closed, his labored breathing stopped, and his hand went limp and dead in hers.